Monday, December 26

Bin Laden Pin-up Pics

Has 9/11 been good for the career of aspiring singer Wafah Dufour? The niece of Osama Bin Laden has been attracting the media spotlight since shortly after her uncle's attack against the United States. Her near constant declarations of love for America have become a bit self-aggrandizing to some. She even sang and took part in some sort of weird newsmagazine music video when she was profiled by ABC's 20/20. Now Wafah has decided the true path to winning American love and acceptance is posing for a men's magazine. Thanks to the BBC.
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Wednesday, December 21

Iraqis in Former Insurgent Stronghold Cheer American Soldiers

Needless to say you won't read this one in the NY Times. It comes from The Telegraph of London and brings us details about the rather amazing turnaround in Tal Afar. It's hard to know how to judge success in Iraq. Is infrastructure reconstruction a better measure than a body count? I hope so.
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Sadr City

Sadr City has long been one of the most serious trouble spots in Iraq. A year ago the locals were battling U.S. troops and much of the MSM pointed to the slums as an area beyond the reach of U.S. or Iraqi forces. Today Sadr City is peaceful and seems to be an example of U.S. reconstruction projects winning the peace.
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Tuesday, December 20

Reality Check

One of the most damaging changes in American political culture has been the shift away from evidence of impropriety as the standard of wrongdoing. The emerging standard for scandal or wrongdoing has come to be settled upon as simply the appearance of impropriety. Facts no longer matter. Only appearances do. In a similar vein, Andrew Cochran is challenging opponents of The Patriot Act to produce some real victims of all the alleged abuses:

"So what strikes me about the Patriot Act debate is that, after 4 years, the opponents can't show us actual victims of all that 'abuse.' You don't see the weeping and crying, the class action lawsuits, and aggrieved parties with lives shattered by the junkyard-dog tactics of overzealous prosecutors and law enforcement. They weren't at congressional oversight hearings, they aren't at the press conferences, and they aren't cited in op-eds. The DOJ Inspector General hasn't found any. We've had four years of experience, and that's long enough - where are they?

So instead of talking about 'the potential for abuse,' as Victor Comras posted again below, I challenge Patriot Act opponents to show me the victims. Show me the real, actual, proven, damaged, victims - the dozens, scores, hundreds, or thousands - of all that Patriot Act "abuse." No more platitudes, cliches, or claims by advocacy groups, please."
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Clinton Embraced No-Warrant Searches

Clinton Democrats such as myself have to be honest about the recent history of executive branch debate over no-warrant searches. Bill Clinton, not George Bush, first argued against the FISA court. Byron York of National Review remembers.
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Fatalism Kills

Former Clinton strategist Dick Morris says the hypocrisy of democrats voting against key provisions of the Patriot Act is galling:

"How galling? One of the key provisions due to expire in two weeks is one that President Bill Clinton presented as the cornerstone of his response to the escalation of terrorism in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The measure allows 'roving wiretaps' — so that the FBI can tap all phones a suspect uses, rather than just one specific number. Hillary's vote to let this provision expire is incredible."

Bush's speech Sunday night has really boxed Democrats into a corner where they can accurately be portrayed as the party of fatalism. Saying you are against the Patriot Act without offering an alternative strategey is intellectually lazy, or even worse, fatalistic. If no course of action is acceptable, then why don't they just kill us already? That's not a policy. Forward looking optimistic candidates win American elections. Democrats need to remember that.
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Executive Authority

I hope the American people are sufficiently engaged to take note of the debate ignited by President Bush's Sunday night address. Conservative columnist George Will says Bush is grabbing too much executive power with the recently revealed domestic surveillance program. Will argues that our discussion should start with the 2002 Justice Department brief justifying W's power grab:

"Perhaps the brief argues, as its author John Yoo — now a professor of law at Berkeley, but then a deputy assistant attorney general — argued 14 days after 9/11 in a memorandum on 'the President's constitutional authority to conduct military operations against terrorists and nations supporting them,' that the President's constitutional power to take 'military actions' is 'plenary.' The Oxford English Dictionary defines "plenary" as 'complete, entire, perfect, not deficient in any element or respect.'

The brief should be declassified and debated, beginning with this question: Who decides which tactics — e.g., domestic surveillance — should be considered part of taking 'military actions'" ?
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Monday, December 19

Address to the Nation

For more than four years I've been waiting for George Bush to deliver an adult speech about the war on terror. A speech that acknowledges all the complexities and uncertainties inherent in asymmetrical warfare. Sunday night Bush finally delivered the speech. But here's the key, I didn't see it on TV, I read the text of the speech on the White House web site. Bush's physical appearance and manner are so alarmingly unpresidential that I've finally resorted to reading the speeches and don't even bother to TiVo the suckers. John Podhoretz of The New York Post offers a pretty smart take on the speech:

"And yes, he said, there is a serious argument against his entire approach in Iraq and the War on Terror that cannot simply be dismissed. The loss of life and limb in Iraq 'has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.'

He called that question 'important,' and said 'the answer depends on your view of the War on Terror.'

Those killing and maiming American troops include foreign terrorists, which has made Iraq a battlefield in the terror war. 'If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone,' he said.

This is a very simple, but ultimately accurate, reflection of a strain of so-called 'realist' thought that courses through the non-psycho criticisms of the Bush administration policy. We are under attack, according to this line of thinking, because we are being provocative towards our attackers.

'This,' Bush said, 'is not the threat I see.' 'My conviction comes down to this,' Bush said. 'We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them.'

Thus, in a gesture rare for any president, did Bush fairly summarize criticism of his policy and then attempt to rebut it in a straightforward and humble fashion.
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Thursday, December 15

No Evidence of Secret CIA Prisons

That's according to the top justice official at the European Union, via the NY Times:

"The European Union's top justice official said Wednesday that there was no proof yet to back up claims that the Central Intelligence Agency had set up secret prisons in Europe, contradicting allegations made the day before in a report by the Council of Europe."

Perhaps the European Union can subpoena Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and demand to know her sources for the original report? To hell with a free press, it's Europe after all. They could get all Judith Miller on her ass and throw her in a secret prison. Perhaps in Poland.
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Good News, Really

The election in Iraq looks like a great success. High turnout and little violence. So why does Spencer Ackerman of The New Republic feel so pessimistic?

"From here on out, measuring the Iraqi political process will be vastly murkier, and the United States will have no obvious point at which it can say its goals have been achieved--thereby facilitating an honorable withdrawal with minimal damage to U.S. credibility."

This clearly takes some sort of prize for missing the point. President Bush has repeatedly and clearly stated that U.S. forces will be withdrawn once Iraqi forces are fully functioning. The political process has never been key in driving the schedule for removing troops. Never.
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Wednesday, December 14

Bush Admits Bad Intelligence

From AP:

"President Bush accepted responsibility on Wednesday for the decision to go to war with Iraq despite faulty intelligence but said the decision to oust Saddam Hussein was still correct."

"'It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq,' the president told The Woodrow Wilson Center on the eve of elections to establish Iraq's first permanent, democratically elected government. 'And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.'"

What Holocaust?

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have fallen in love with the sound of his own anti-Semitic voice. Please Mamoud, we heard ya the first time...
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Blame the Messenger

Iraqis have discovered one of the secrets of western democracy. Attack the media! Angry Shiites are protesting Al-Jazeera following the broadcast of anti-Shiite remarks by a secular Sunni. This comes from AP:

"thousands of people chanted anti-Al-Jazeera slogans in the streets of the Baghdad neighborhoods of Sadr City and Karradah, and in the southern cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The demonstrations, which turned into political rallies, threatened to further polarize Thursday's parliamentary elections

A group of senior religious students in the Shiite holy city in Najaf, where the country's top four Shiite clerics live, called the program 'a provocation and flagrant aggression on the values and feelings of Muslims whether in Iraq or around the world.'

The statement said Al-Jazeera 'is financed by countries, governments, regimes, intelligence agencies and Muslim extremists who came to power through military coups.'

The students said people will respond to Al-Jazeera at the polls Thursday."
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Women & The Future of Iraq

How women are treated is one of the best indicators we have for judging the health of a nation. The future of Iraq may well be decided by how the winners of tomorrow's election view the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law. Isobel Coleman, writing in Foreign Affairs, says there's room for progressive reform:

"Contrary to the claims of secularists who deny the compatibility of Islam and modern notions of women's rights, Islamic attitudes on the question actually vary quite widely. According to "Islamic feminists," Islam is actually a very progressive religion for women, was radically egalitarian for its time, and remains so in some of its Scriptures. They contend that Islamic law has evolved in ways that are inimical to gender equality not because it clearly pointed in that direction, but because of selective interpretation by patriarchal leaders and a mingling of Islamic teachings with tribal customs and traditions. Islamic feminists now seek to revive the equality bestowed on women in the religion's early years by rereading the Koran, putting the Scriptures in context, and disentangling them from tribal practices."
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Liberals for The Solomon Act

Should liberals be supporting the Solomon Act? Pulling federal funding from law schools that ban military recruiters on campus doesn't feel like a liberal position at first glance. But T.A. Frank of TNR Online is hoping to change how the issue is framed:

"The Solomon Amendment controversy, in sum, awakens two competing liberal imperatives: promoting equality for gays and lesbians; and encouraging all members of society--and not just a segregated warrior class--to sacrifice for our national security. One of these efforts is going quite well; the other is going quite poorly."

"Princeton class of 1956, over 400 students of about 750 served in the military. By 2004, that number was down to 8 students out of about 1,100. These numbers are for undergraduates, of course, not law school students. But the fact is that the entire culture of elite education--undergraduate, graduate, and professional--has grown hostile towards the idea of military service over the past 50 years."
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Tuesday, December 13

Optimistic Iraqis Salute America

That's the NY Post headline on the findings of an ABC News/Time magazine poll of 1,711 Iraqis conducted in October and November.

"Iraqis are surprisingly optimistic about their lives and future despite violence and terrorism — most say they feel safe and a growing majority supports democracy, an intriguing ABC News poll found.

Most Iraqis also want U.S. forces to stay until security is better, the poll found — even though they don't like being occupied.

Some 71 percent of Iraqis say their own lives are going well now and they're also very bullish on Thursday's election — an impressive 76 percent say they expect that vote to pick a stable Iraqi government."
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Broad Optimism in Iraq

That's the ABC headline on the same poll results:

"An ABC News poll in Iraq, conducted with Time magazine and other media partners, includes some remarkable results: Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.
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Iraqis Upbeat, Yet Critical of U.S.

That's the lede on the Time magazine version of the same poll.
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Civilian Deaths

During the debate before the start of the Iraq War the so-called peace activists of ANSWER and No Blood for Oil told us there would be 500,000 civilian deaths during the invasion and immediate aftermath. Today the anti-war crowd likes to say that American forces have killed 100,000 civilians. The actual number, as best as can be estimated from The American Enterprise Institute Iraq Index is just under 30,000 civilian deaths over the last two years. The vast majority of those civilians were killed by terrorists, insurgents and Baathists. President Bush finally acknowledged the number yesterday. This comes from AP.
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Patriot Act

More than a dozen provisions of The Patriot Act are about to expire and The Counterterrorism Blog is urging Congress to take swift action:

"We can't risk sending a message of retreat and defeat to the terrorists or to our allies by resurrecting the "wall" between intel and law enforcement and reducing the tools which have been available to law enforcement for 4 years."
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Tookie

Convicted killer Tookie Williams was put to death early this morning. I've never managed to come up with an intellectually consistent position on the death penalty myself. But please, feel free to enlighten me with your comments on Tookie's death. This comes from AP.
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