The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Saturday, April 10, 2004

LOOK CLOSELY... -- and you will see that this document is not vague or historical at all.
The White House declassified and released Saturday the daily intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush a month before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
So what is actually in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing? Just this:
• An intelligence report received in May 2001 indicating that al Qaeda was trying to send operatives to the United States through Canada to carry out an attack using explosives. That information had been passed on to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

• An allegation that al Qaeda had been considering ways to hijack American planes to win the release of operatives who had been arrested in 1998 and 1999.

• An allegation that bin Laden was set on striking the United States as early as 1997 and through early 2001.

• Intelligence suggesting that suspected al Qaeda operatives were traveling to and from the United States, were U.S. citizens, and may have had a support network in the country.

• A report that at least 70 FBI investigations were under way in 2001 regarding possible al Qaeda cells/terrorist-related operations in the United States.
Combined with other reports and "chatter" the Bush admin saw about Islamic terrorists planning an apocalyptic attack on the U.S. in the Summer of 2001, this PDB should have set off alarm bells in the White House, the Pentagon, Langley, you name it. But it didn't. Why not?

WHAT ME, WORRY?

Enjoy that little fish, Mr Bush. In November the big one gets away.

SOME PEOPLE LIKE MR BUSH'S IRAQ POLICY

Unfortunately, they're all playing for the other team.

KERRY BY 7 IN NEW POLL -- A new Newsweek poll has good tidings for Senator John Kerry.
After weeks of increasingly violent news from Iraq, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts now leads the president in a two-way trial heat by seven points (50 percent to 43 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.
...
Meanwhile, just 36 percent of those polled say they are satisfied with "the way things are going in this country." More than half (59 percent) say they are dissatisfied. And while President George W. Bush’s job approval rating remains steady at 49 percent, where it has been since the end of January, the president's favorability ratings are lower than they’ve ever been. Forty-eight percent of those polled view Bush favorably, down four points over last month. Kerry’s ratings remain unchanged at 51 percent favorable.

At least half of those polled disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy (55 percent versus 41 percent approving) and Iraq (51 percent versus 44 percent). And while 59 percent approve of his handling of terrorism and homeland security, that number is down from 70 percent earlier this year.
It's the internals to all these polls which interest me more than anything. With support for his Iraq policy dwindling and the American people never sold on his economic policies at all, Mr Bush is running out of issues to campaign on.

Oh, well. At least he's still got all that money.

SLIPPING -- A new CNN poll shows Herr Bush's support slipping where it counts.
Americans appear divided over how well President Bush is handling his job as president, while support for his Iraq policy is slipping, according to a recent poll.

In addition, the CNN/Time poll showed that Bush didn't pick up significant support for his handling of the economy despite the robust March jobs report announced last week.
...
It shows that 49 percent of those polled approve of the way the president is handling his job, while 47 percent do not.
...
The approval rating for Bush's terrorism policy dipped from 58 percent in a CNN/Time poll taken two weeks ago to 55 percent now, within the margin of error.

A steeper decline can be seen in support for the president's handling of Iraq.

In the March 26-28 poll, 51 percent approved of Bush's handling of the war. In the most recent poll, 44 percent said they approve.

The economic numbers were virtually unchanged, with 41 percent expressing approval and 54 percent disapproval, both down 1 point.
A few more weeks like this and the GOP will be wondering if they can dump Bush, not Cheney.

THEM NAKED WOMEN IS SINFUL! -- Lord, we've got some dumbass people in this country.

THEY WILL WELCOME US AS LIBERATORS -- Welcome to Iraq, Yanks.
IRAQI gunmen danced over the bodies of their victims near Baghdad yesterday in a gruesome celebration after an attack on a fuel convoy.

As the vehicles burned, one rebel battered a corpse with a tyre jack while another stole a dead man's boots and held them up in triumph.

They had attacked the US fuel convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and guns in a strike that left up to nine men dead and a pall of black smoke hanging in the sky. One US soldier was reported killed.

Witnesses saw bodies burning inside the vehicles, which included military machines and tankers.
Angry enough about all the lies yet?

HISTORY REPEATING -- The Propellerheads would say it's all just a little bit of history repeating. Too bad the U.S. government is not being run by people with a knowledge of or respect for history. Niall Ferguson, the conservative British historian who has argued on behalf of a new American empire, writes in The Daily Telegraph that
in 1917 a British general had occupied Baghdad and proclaimed: "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." By the same token, scarcely any American outside university history departments is aware that within just a few months of the formal British takeover of Iraq, there was a full-scale anti-British revolt.

What happened in Iraq last week so closely resembles the events of 1920 that only a historical ignoramus could be surprised. It began in May, just after the announcement that Iraq would henceforth be a League of Nations "mandate" under British trusteeship. (Nota bene, if you think a handover to the UN would solve everything.) Anti-British demonstrations began in Baghdad mosques, spread to the Shi'ite holy centre of Karbala, swept on through Rumaytha and Samawa - where British forces were besieged - and reached as far as Kirkuk.

Contrary to British expectations, Sunnis, Shi'ites and even Kurds acted together. Stories abounded of mutilated British bodies. By August the situation was so desperate that the British commander appealed to London for poison gas bombs or shells (though these turned out not to be available). By the time order had been restored in December - with a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions - British forces had sustained over 2,000 casualties and the financial cost of the operation was being denounced in Parliament.
The questions are these:
[1] Is the Bush regime willing to go to those lengths to ensure its occupation of Iraq?; and
[2] Will the Iraqi people knuckle under this time, even if confronted by savage anti-insurgency warfare?

NOW THIS IS FREAKING BRILLIANT! -- It's Right Wing Eye and it's coming for you...soon.

ANOTHER FREEPER FREAKOUT -- Wonkette has something both revolting and deliciously revealing. Enjoy.

LIES WITHOUT END -- Did the Bush regime tell the truth about anything to do with September 11, 2001?
President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday.

The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr. Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 6, 2001. A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a "closely held intelligence report" that month about the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda, and the official confirmed an account by The Associated Press on Friday saying that the report was in fact part of the president's briefing in Crawford.

The disclosure appears to contradict the White House's repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was "historical" in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders.
Stonewall, lie, stonewall, lie, excuse, lie, stonewall, excuse, and lie. That's all the American people get from the Bush regime. Never a straight sentence is spoken by these scoundrels. When will it end? January 2005, I suspect.

Friday, April 09, 2004

THINGS FALL APART -- Could things get worse in Iraq? Oh, yes they could. They have.
The people of Fallujah carried their dead to the city's soccer stadium and buried them under the field on Friday, unable to get to cemeteries because of a U.S. siege of the city.

As the struggle for Fallujah entered a fifth day, hundreds of women, children and the elderly streamed out of the city. Marines ordered Iraqi men of "military age" to stay behind, sometimes turning back entire families if they refused to be separated.

"A lot of the women were crying," said Lance Cpl. Robert Harriot, 22, of Eldred, N.Y. "There was one car with two women and a man. I told them that he couldn't leave. They tried to plead with me. But I told them no, so they turned around."

The fighting has killed more than 280 Iraqis and four Marines, and has seen heavy battles that have damaged mosques and destroyed buildings — angering even pro-U.S. politicians and turning the city of 200,000 into a symbol of resistance for some Iraqis.
...
Maj. Larry Kaifesh, 36, of Chicago, said the rebels were disguising themselves as civilians and hiding their weapons in white rice sacks to move around the city before launching ambushes against the troops.

"It is hard to differentiate between people who are insurgents or civilians. It is hard to get an honest picture. You just have to go with your gut feeling," he said.

Soldiers also said they found weapons hidden inside an ambulance.
This is why Bush41 didn't go into Iraq when he had the chance back in '91. Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, noted that even if we got Baghdad there was no telling what, if anything, we could do with it. Now, we are seeing what he feared then and forgot later.

Innocent people are dying. Lots of them. When will the incompetent gasbags who started this war pay the price for their arrogance?

BIBLE-THUMPER MEDIA -- It's here:
American cinephiles will soon be able to enjoy their movies without sex, violence, swearing - indeed, without any of the interesting bits.

Wal-Mart, the country's mightiest retailer, is preparing to ship a $79 DVD player that automatically strips out potentially offensive content.
...
The RCA player is the first to incorporate the screening technology of Clearplay, a Salt Lake City-based company.

Many firms provide bowdlerised versions - not always legally - of Hollywood films, but Clearplay operates at a higher level of sophistication.

Clearplay scans movies for dodgy content, and then programs that data into its system.

Subscribers can then watch standard copies of the 500-or-so films on its list, with the assurance that they will automatically skip over mute anything that children or the squeamish may not like.

Until now, Clearplay has only run through a PC.
Naturally, Hollywood is objecting to this, but this is one case where I'm definitely rooting for the right wing against Hollywood. I'm hopeful that if conservatives get this technology they will leave the rest of us alone, millions of Americans who enjoy some occasional filth.

Just imagine the possibilities for you! American Pie ceases to be a low-brow movie about sex-crazed teenagers and is instead transformed into a touching film about young Americans and their love for fine baked goods. And in Road Warrior, instead of savage fighting over oil, the antagonists will form a Bible study group and receive a revelation from God that the if they all move to Alaska and drill in the Wildlife Reserve, there will be oil enough for everyone. [Alternate ending for the Road Warrior dvd: The Bible study group is told by God to go to the Middle East, convert the Arabs into Southern Baptists, and then take their oil.]

ARG: KERRY LEADS OVER BUSH -- Senator John Kerry has maintained his lead over George W. Bush in the new American Research Group poll. Although Senator Kerry is competitive with Mr Bush with political independents, his true strength lies in his ability to command virtually universal support from Democrats.

THINGS FALL APART -- Is Iraq slipping into the ninth plane of Hell?
Thousands of Sunni and Shiite Muslims forced their way through US military checkpoints Thursday to ferry food and medical supplies to the besieged Sunni bastion of Fallujah where US marines are trying to crush insurgents.

Troops in armoured vehicles tried to stop the convoy of cars and pedestrians from reaching the town located 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.

But US forces were overwhelmed as residents of villages west of the capital came to the convoy's assistance, hurling insults and stones at the beleaguered troops.

Some 20 kilometers west of Baghdad, a US patrol was attacked just moments before the Iraqi marchers arrived. Armed insurgents could be seen dancing around two blazing military vehicles.

Two US Humvees tried to stop the marchers but were forced to drive off as residents joined the marchers, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater).

US troops again blocked the highway further west, but were forced to let the Iraqis past as they came under a hail of stones.

Sitting on top of supply trucks, young men also hurled empty bottles of water and waved their shoes in sign of disdain at the US troops.

The cross-community demonstration of support for Fallujah had been organized by Baghdad clerics both Sunni and Shiite amid reports that the death toll in the town had reached 105 since late Tuesday.
I feel terrible for our soldiers, placed in this awful situation by an administration of incompetent liars.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

CRACKS APPEAR -- Are some normally loyal Republicans becoming nervous about the unfolding disaster in Iraq?
"If we have two or three more weeks of this you are going to start to see Republican members of Congress who have never been critical of President Bush and the Iraq policy starting to get that way," said Charles Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Republican Party ranks are beginning to break and the White House is worried. Longtime GOP critics on Iraq are growing progressively more vocal in their condemnation.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, has strongly suggested that the Bush administration reconsider its June 30 deadline to transfer sovereignty from the interim government to Iraqis.

"How do you know, come June 30, that a civil war will not occur?" Lugar said on Voice of America radio. "After all, the coalition has not disarmed all of these militia that these religious groups have in various places. They still are armed and apparently ready to fight."

Usually loyal pundits are speaking out, too. Conservative columnist George Will wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday, "U.S. forces in Iraq are insufficient."
Apparently so.

MORE BUSH LIES ABOUT IRAQ -- If Mr Bush's lies about WMD were not enough, we've got more. If Mr Bush's lies about Iraq's ability to support itself after the fall of Saddam Hussein were not enough, we've got more. If Mr Bush's lies about how U.S. troops would be received by Iraqi civilians, we've got more. The latest Bush lie on Iraq involves the popular support enjoyed by the counter-insurgency in that country. Consider:
United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.

That assertion contradicts repeated statements by the Bush administration and American officials in Iraq. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they did not believe the United States was facing a broad-based Shiite insurgency. Administration officials have portrayed Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces, as the catalyst of the rising violence within the Shiite community of Iraq.

But intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising.

A year ago, many Shiites rejoiced at the American invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who had brutally repressed the Shiites for decades. But American intelligence officials now believe that hatred of the American occupation has spread rapidly among Shiites, and is now so large that Mr. Sadr and his forces represent just one element.
Pretty alarming, eh? It's not just al-Sadr [a true nutjob] and his followers who loathe the U.S. occupation, it is a wide swathe of Shiite society in Iraq. Since Shiites comprise somewhere between 50-60% of the Iraqi population, that's not a good sign. Could it get any worse? Oh, yes it could. In fact, it already has.
United States intelligence says that the Sunni rebellion also goes far beyond former Baathist government members. Sunni tribal leaders, particularly in Al Anbar Province, home to Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Falluja, have turned against the United States and are helping to lead the Sunni rebellion, intelligence officials say.

The result is that the United States is facing two broad-based insurgencies that are now on parallel tracks.

The Bush administration has sought to portray the opposition much more narrowly. In the Sunni insurgency, the White House and the Pentagon have focused on the role of the former leaders of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein's government, while in the Shiite rebellion they have focused almost exclusively on the role of Mr. Sadr. Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon that the fighting in Iraq was just the work of "thugs, gangs and terrorists," and not a popular uprising. General Myers added that "it's not a Shiite uprising. Sadr has a very small following."

According to some experts on Iraq's Shiites, the uprising has spread to many Shiites who are not followers of Mr. Sadr. "There is a general mood of anti-Americanism among the people in the streets," said Ghassan R. al-Attiyah, executive director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in Baghdad. "They identify with Sadr not because they believe in him but because they have their own grievances."

While they share the broader anger in Iraq over the lack of jobs and security, many Shiites suspect that the handover of sovereignty to Iraqi politicians from the American occupying powers on June 30 will bypass their interests, Mr. Attiyah said.
So, let's see if we can get this straight. The Shiite rebellion against the U.S. has spread beyond supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr and is gaining popularity among mainstream Shiites throughout the country. The Sunni rebellion against the U.S. has spread beyond Baathist dead-enders and is now gaining popularity among mainstream Sunnis throughout the country. So that's what is going wrong.

What's going right? Who knows? Ask Mr Bush. I'm sure he'll have a story to tell you.

PROBLEMS EVERYWHERE -- While the world's attention has been focused on the unfolding disaster in Iraq, recent setbacks in Afghanistan have received less notice.
Forces of a renegade adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai have overrun the capital of a northern province, a defense ministry official said on Thursday.

Forces of ethnic Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum invaded Faryab province on Wednesday, prompting the central government to dispatch national army troops there on Thursday in an attempt to restore order.

"Both the governor and the commander have fled. Dostum's forces have overrun Maimana," said a defense ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban have not left Afghanistan. They are still there--and so are the various local strongmen who have tyrannized localities in Afghanistan for centuries. These local warlords are natural allies of Al Qaeda and other terrorists who wish to defeat the administration of Hamid Karzai, the most loyal U.S. ally in central Asia. The local warlords wish to preserve their fedual independence and Al Qaeda can offer them assistance with that goal. The U.S. must recommit itself to Afghanistan and to Hamid Karzai. The local warlords and Al Qaeda must be crushed. Afghanistan must be united under a stronger central government. Terrorists and the money they derive from drug cultivation/smuggling must be destroyed. Otherwise, we are begging for another September 11, 2001.

SUNSHINE STATE DOWN ON MR BUSH -- California knows better:
With the Iraq war taking a difficult turn and questions raised at home about the administration's terrorism policy, the poll by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University released Monday puts Bush's state approval ratings at just 38 percent, while 50 percent disapprove.

That's a dramatic change from the start of the year, when 49 percent of Californians approved of the job the president was doing, and 40 percent disapproved.

Even more telling may be the downward shift in public opinion in the nation's most populous state regarding Bush's handling of the war on terror and the war in Iraq -- two areas that Republicans have touted as the president's strengths.

The poll shows that on Iraq, just 36 percent of Californians now approve of his handling of the war, compared to 54 percent who do not. In January, 47 percent of Californians approved, and 43 percent disapproved. In two key GOP base areas, the Central Valley and Southern California counties outside Los Angeles, including Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside, Bush held just a 1 percent margin of support, the poll showed.

On the economy, the president's numbers are not much better: 35 percent of California residents approve of his handling, and 53 percent disapprove, the poll showed.
This is no surprise. California was never part of Karl Rove's calculus for Mr Bush's 2004 campaign and Bush has made little or no effort to win the state over. Fair enough. If the GOP can take Texas for granted then the Dems can take California for granted in 2004. And California is bigger than Texas.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

GET LOST, JERKS -- I'm not the first, but let me be the next to congratulate the residents of Inglewood, California for sensibly telling Wal-Mart to drop dead.
A bid by the world's largest corporation to bypass uncooperative elected officials and take its aggressive expansion plans to voters failed Tuesday, as Inglewood residents overwhelmingly rejected Wal-Mart's proposal to build a colossal retail and grocery center without an environmental review or public hearings.

With all votes counted Tuesday evening, 4,575 Inglewood residents had voted in favor of Wal-Mart's plan, while 7,049 had voted against it.
Wal-Mart, that purveyor of cheap junk manufactured by 14-year-old girls chained to their looms in Pakistan [or Honduras or Vietnam or any one of fifty different countries] and employer of hordes of minimum-wage-and-no-health-benefits-earning peons will not give up in their attempt to conquer the California market and reduce the Main Street on hundreds of towns from thriving centers of commerce into ghost avenues of boarded-up shops. They'll be back. Let's hope the people in other towns aside from Inglewood show as much sense.

In the meantime, I'd like to conclude by leaving you with these thoughts.

ANTI-TERROR OFFICIALS QUIT IN DISGUST -- Counterterrorism officials at the highest levels of government are quitting in disgust, say some former anti-terror officials.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has faced a steady exodus of counterterrorism officials, many disappointed by a preoccupation with Iraq they said undermined the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Former counterterrorism officials said at least half a dozen have left the White House Office for Combating Terrorism or related agencies in frustration in the 2 1/2 years since the attacks.

Some also left because they felt President Bush had sidelined his counterterrorism experts and paid almost exclusive heed to the vice president, the defense secretary and other Cabinet members in planning the "war on terror," former counterterrorism officials said.

"I'm kind of hoping for regime change," one official who quit told Reuters.
...
Similar charges were made by Bush's former counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who told the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the administration ignored the al Qaeda threat beforehand and was fixated on Iraq afterward. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 panel on Thursday.

"Iraq has been a distraction from the whole counterterrorism effort," said the former official, adding the policy had frustrated many in the White House anti-terrorism office, about two-thirds of whom have left and been replaced since Sept. 11.
...
Roger Cressey, who served under Clarke in the White House counterterrorism office, said: "Dick accurately reflects the frustration of many in the counterterrorism community in getting the new administration to take the al Qaeda issue seriously."

Cressey left the office in November 2001, when he became chief of staff of the White House's cybersecurity office until September 2002.

The attrition among all levels of the Office for Combating Terrorism began shortly after the attacks and continued into this year. At least eight officials in the office -- which numbers a dozen people -- have left and been replaced since 9/11. Several of the officials were contacted by Reuters.

The office has been run by four different people since the attacks, and at least three have held the No. 2 slot.

"There has been excessively high turnover in the Office for Combating Terrorism," said Flynt Leverett, who served on the White House National Security Council for about a year until March 2003 and is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.

"If you take the (White House) counterterrorism and Middle East offices, you've got about a dozen people ... who came to this administration wanting to work on these important issues and left after a year or often less because they just don't think that this administration is dealing seriously with the issues that matter," he said.

Rand Beers, a former No. 2 in the office who quit last year over the administration's handling of the war on terrorism, told Reuters the turnover had been "unusually high" since the hijacked airliner attacks in New York and Washington.

"And one of the reasons is frustration with the way counterterrorism policy has been conducted, including the focus on Iraq," said Beers, who now serves as a foreign policy adviser for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who hopes to unseat Bush in November.
The Bush regime has damaged the war on terror by focusing so much attention, treasure, and manpower on a target [Iraq] that was not a legitimate part of the struggle in the first place. The best and brightest, dismayed by this Bush-Cheney obsession with Iraq, have increasingly fled the government, leaving far too many neocon staffers--people for whom ideology trumps competence--in positions of power and influence.

The Bush regime has run a faith-based anti-terror war. We're all supposed to have faith that they know what they are doing, but as the evidence continues to pile up that the inmates are running the asylum, it is becoming ever-more-difficult to hide the truth about the most mendacious and incompetent administration in modern American history.

NO GOOD CHOICES IN IRAQ -- Harold Meyerson correctly analyzes the mess in Iraq and the very few options left open to John Kerry when he becomes President of the United States in January of 2005. The Bush regime has bungled absolutely everything--EVERYTHING--about Iraq and the situation will only worsen between now and November.
And rather than internationalize control, it's increasingly apparent that we've opted to privatize our force -- relying on private security guards to supplement our official force on the ground. The decision epitomizes much that's wrong with the Bush presidency -- in particular, its desire to evade responsibility and accountability for its actions. If the bodies of the security guards killed in Fallujah had not been mutilated, how many American voters would have noticed? One recent poll shows that near-plurality of Americans now favors our leaving Iraq. But precisely because this was not a war we had to fight, just up and leaving would be politically and morally duplicitous. We wrested control of Iraq when we did not have to, and leaving it to its own devices as sectarian violence grows worse would be a dismal end. The only unequivocally good policy option before the American people is to dump the president who got us into this mess, who had no trouble sending our young people to Iraq but who cannot steel himself to face the Sept. 11 commission alone.
Indeed. It is unclear who, if anyone, can fix this gigantic mess in Iraq, but one thing is clear: The gang that got us into this mess in the first place has no idea how to get us out again.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED UPDATE -- Two more U.S. Marinesare dead from fighting in Fallujah.

REMEMBER THIS?

TRACKING POLL UPDATE -- The deteriorating situation in Iraq is a leading factor in a nine-point swing towards John Kerry in the latest Rasmussen tracking poll. Kerry trailed George W. Bush 47-44% last Friday, but now leads 48-42 percent. That six-point lead over Bush is the largest Kerry has enjoyed this year and Mr Bush's approval ratings are the lowest since John Kerry became the Democratic frontrunner.

In addition, Democrats now enjoy a 10-point lead in the generic Congressional ballot poll. That's the biggest lead for the Democrats this year. The reason for this change in fortunes for the Democrats is that they now enjoy a 21-point lead among political independents.

ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS! -- This is what your tax dollars are being spent on:
Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.
But it does get better.
Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, which offers "hard-core" porn on the Hot Network channel (at $11.99 per film in Baltimore), was co-chair of Philadelphia 2000, the host committee that brought the Republican National Convention to Philadelphia. In February, the Bush campaign honored Comcast President Stephen Burke with "Ranger" status, for agreeing to raise at least $200,000 for the president's re-election effort. Comcast's executive vice president, David Cohen, has close ties to Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Apparently, porn has very good connections.

I think First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria voices the opinion that would be shared by many Americans:
"I think a lot of adults would say this is not what they had in mind, spending millions of dollars and the time of the courts and FBI agents and postal inspectors and prosecutors investigating what consenting adults are doing and watching."
I mean, isn't the FBI and Justice Department in charge of counter-terrorism efforts in this country?

I'm just sayin'...

BUSH IS GETTING WEIRDER -- What is all this about?
President Bush has a penchant for dishing out good-natured insults, and usually the victim laughs along. But Sammie Briery didn't seem much amused when Bush fired one at her Tuesday.

Bush was wrapping up a town hall-style appearance at South Arkansas Community College when he let the jest fly. It was a mother joke, a blonde joke and an insult all in one.

"You and my mother go to the same hair-dye person," Bush said to Briery, whose blondish bob bore little resemblance to Barbara Bush's shock of white hair.

The audience in the gymnasium laughed, and Briery smiled, but replied firmly: "President Bush, I'm a natural blonde."

"Oh, yes," Bush agreed.

"I'm just a natural blonde," she repeated.

"I couldn't help myself, sorry," Bush shrugged.

With that, Bush moved quickly to end the session. He turned to Bob Watson, superintendent of the El Dorado Public Schools who had opened the meeting by inadvertently insulting Bush.

"Governor excuse me, President," Watson said.

Bush muttered, "How quickly they forget."

When Watson offered to shake Bush's hand, the president shot back: "Just don't hug me."
Que pasa, Senor Arbusto?

TRACKING POLL -- Rasmussen Reports has it at 47-44% for John Kerry today.

DISASTER -- One day after his forces seized the southern city of Najaf, armed groups loyal to outlawed Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have taken control of the town of Kut, just south of Baghdad. In addition, the Associated Press is reporting that a U.S. helicopter is down somewhere over Iraq, for reasons unknown.

Most worrying of all, however, is the confirmed report that the U.S. has dropped a 500-pound bomb on or near the Aziz al-Samarrai mosque. Preliminary reports are sketchy but 40 people could be dead from that one attack. One can only imagine how Iraq and the entire Islamic world--from Indonesia to Morocco--will react to this news. Osama Bin Laden must be smiling. Do Islamic fundamentalists dance? If so, he's dancing, too.

UPDATE -- The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. military deliberately targeted the mosque after our soldiers took fire from the building.
Five Marines had been shot from the mosque before commanders authorized the use of air power and laser-guided missiles against it. They had rejected the air attack several times, according to Marine officers and radio communications monitored from a command post by a Washington Post reporter.

"We've got to be careful," said one officer receiving a request for air support from the Marines around the mosque.

"We have some bad folks dug in," came the response. "They're creating a problem for us. What should we do? We need backup."

"We need regimental approval," came the reply.

Not long afterwards, a spokesman at the command post said the air support was authorized. A spokesman said the missiles were fired from a helicopter and a jet.

Neither the number of people inside at the time nor the number injured in the air strike could be determined.
I can see the sense in that from a military standpoint, but I don't think over a billion Muslims worldwide will be impressed.

UPDATE -- It gets worse:
The strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers, witnesses said. Temporary hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial.
How can we claim the support of most Iraqis after they see something like this?

AREN'T YOU SO PROUD? -- What do China, Iran, and the United States have in common? We execute a lot of people!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

BLEEDING IRAQ -- Early reports are that about a dozen U.S. soldiers have been killed today in fighting inside the Sunni Triangle. Apparently, some deaths have been reported in Fallujah, as the U.S. military begins its attempt to retake the city. [What they do with it after they've got it is another story.] However, other deaths are being reported west of Fallujah, in the town of Ramadi, where anti-occupation forces attacked U.S. soldiers. An offensive action by organized anti-occupation forces would be a new development.

Sky News is reporting that up to 130 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq today. Be warned, however, that Sky News is notoriously slack and will put almost anything on the air. It's owned by Rupert Murdoch, after all. We may not know the true death toll for some days. The fighting is continuing...

GOP SEEKS TRANSVESTITE VOTE! -- Okay, not really, but I did find this very amusing:
His family made a fortune on men's work clothing. But it's Sam Walls' apparent fondness for women's apparel that is dividing the Johnson County Republican Party.

Walls, 64, is in the April 13 GOP primary runoff against Burleson real estate broker Rob Orr for the House District 58 seat. As a leading businessman, former Republican Party chairman and benefactor of Harris Methodist Walls Regional Hospital, Walls seemed the odds-on favorite to win.

The victor is likely to succeed Arlene Wohlgemuth in the Texas Legislature.

But then pictures of Walls in women's clothing -- several of which were provided to the Star-Telegram -- began circulating late last week around Burleson and Cleburne, rival towns on opposite ends of the district.
I'd be willing to bet this fellow has a lot more company among Texas Republicans than you might think. It's always the ones you love to boast about being macho, you know. I won't even mention their governor...

UNDER 50 -- Mr Bush's job approval has fallen to 49% in the latest Rasmussen Report poll. Fifty percent disapprove of the job Mr Bush is doing. It's the first time this year Mr Bush's job approval rating has fallen below 50 percent in the Rasmussen poll.

NAJAF FALLS TO AL-SADR -- The outlawed cleri's forces have overrun a key center of anti-occupation activity.
Supporters of maverick Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr controlled government, religious and security buildings in the holy city of Najaf early Tuesday evening, according to a coalition source in southern Iraq.

The source said al-Sadr's followers controlled the governor's office, police stations and the Imam Ali mosque, one of Shia Muslim's holiest shrines.
...
The source also said al-Sadr was busing followers into Najaf from Sadr City in Baghdad and that many members of his outlawed militia, Mehdi's Army, were from surrounding provinces.
But things are going well in Iraq. The country is on course to self-government by July 1. Just keep telling yourself that. And remember: Anyone who says differently hates America.

THEY MIGHT BE CATCHING ON -- The stench of failure, incompetence and death in Iraq has finally reached the nostrils of American voters.
Four in 10, or 40 percent, approve of the way Bush is handling Iraq, while 53 percent disapprove. That's down from six in 10 who approved in mid-January, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Bush's overall job approval is at 43 percent, a low point for his presidency, down from 56 percent in mid-January. In the new poll, 47 percent disapproved of Bush's job performance.
Welcome to reality, folks. It's a bitch. You know who to blame.

RUMSFELD ADMITS THE OBVIOUS -- In an appearance in Virginia today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted more U.S. troops might be needed in Iraq. I wonder what tipped him off.

INCAPABLE OF EMBARRASSMENT -- You'd think Ralph Nader would be embarrassed by failing to get on the ballot in Oregon, but I'm not sure it is entirely possible to embarrass Mr Nader at this point. He's moved beyond that point.

MAKING OUR ENEMIES STRONGER -- At least eight more American soldiers have died in Iraq since Monday in clashes with anti-occupation forces in various parts of the country.
U.S. troops battled guerrillas Tuesday on the edges of Fallujah, where hundreds of Marines and Iraqi troops have surrounded one of Iraq's most violent cities in an operation to crush the insurgency there. The military reported five Marines were killed and two wounded in the operation, which was more than 24 hours old.

With the Marines engaged in fighting around Fallujah, there was more violence in northern Baghdad in which three soldiers died Monday and Tuesday.

The U.S.-led coalition remained in a standoff with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters and militias were responsible for clashes throughout the country over the weekend.

In a series of U.S. television interviews Tuesday, L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, conceded not all was going smoothly as the coalition approached a June 30 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis.
What's going on here is that Muqtada al-Sadr learned he was going to be excluded from the expanded Iraqi Governing Council when power is passed to it on July 1. Annoyed, al-Sadr has decided to turn his hotheaded supporters loose on coalition forces--Americans, Italians, anyone who doesn't look like an Iraqi. The Americans didn't want to build up al-Sadr by including him on the expanded Council because they regard him, correctly, as an Islamic radical and an anti-occupation activist. Unfortunately, by terming him an outlaw and essentially declaring war on him, the U.S. has elevated al-Sadr in a very different way. Now, al-Sadr is in a position to tell the Iraqi people that anyone on the expanded Council is an American stooge and that he, al-Sadr, is the only Iraqi leader who represents true nationalism in the country. The Bush regime has transformed al-Sadr from a radical with several thousand supporters into a nationalist hero who may soon command the loyalty of millions.

So what should the Bush regime have done? Should they have included al-Sadr on the Council? Probably not. The fact is there are no good choices to make here. Of course, that's a fine argument for those who noted before the war that this sort of thing was bound to happen. It's a fine argument for not invading the country in the first place.

U.S. v. EVERYBODY -- The enemy in Iraq just keeps changing, depending on who is the latest group of people to challenge the Bush regime's plans to turn the country into a reliable satellite. What emerges from this is a picture of an administration that has alienated an increasing number of Iraqis and has no idea what to do about it aside from repeating meaningless slogans.
" . . . We've got to stay the course, and we will stay the course," the president said in Charlotte, N.C., where he was campaigning. "The message to Iraqi citizens is, they don't have to fear that America will turn and run. If they think that we're not sincere about staying the course, many people will not continue to take ... the risk toward freedom and democracy."

Staying the course, however, could require an escalating American commitment to Iraq just as the presidential campaign is gathering steam. Opposition to the U.S.-led occupation is spreading from Sunni Muslim Saddam Hussein diehards and their foreign allies to radical members of the country's Shiite majority, and on Monday, a U.S. military official publicly raised for the first time the possibility that more American troops may be needed in Iraq if violent protests continue to spread.

More important, Sunday's insurrection pitted U.S. soldiers against the Iraqis who the advocates of invading Iraq in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office thought would be America's allies: Shiite opponents of Saddam's regime. That will make it harder for the administration to defend the guerrilla war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, just as a new poll Monday suggested that the war is eroding Bush's approval rating.

Bush and other administration officials repeatedly blamed Sunday's uprising by thousands of Shiites on one man: Muqtada al Sadr, a 31-year-old Shiite cleric who urged his followers Sunday to "terrorize your enemy."

"This is one person who is deciding that rather than allow democracy to flourish, he's going to exercise force," the president said. "And we can't let that stand."

Experts questioned the administration's grasp of the situation.

"It's a lot more serious than the Bush administration is letting on," said Shibley Telhami, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a center-left policy-research center. He returned last week from the Middle East. "At first we were told the opposition was Saddam loyalists, then it became the Sunnis in general, now we're told it's only one leader of the Shia. They are not coming to grips with the greater realities of the opposition in Iraq. It's far more widespread than the administration is letting on."
...
Some senior U.S. officials now say that with both Sunnis and Shiites rebelling against the occupation, they see no way out of Iraq, no way the United States can oversee a smooth transition to Iraqi democratic rule in the foreseeable future and little chance that U.S. forces in Iraq can restore security without more troops.

"The last thing you want in the months before the (American presidential) election is escalation," said one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his remarks were unauthorized and pessimistic. "But seeing Iraq descend into civil war probably would be even worse."

Bush may be sticking to the June 30 deadline for turning authority over Iraqi "sovereignty" to an as-yet-unidentified governing body, but administration officials have given strong hints that the transfer will mean very little in terms of U.S. involvement.
In other words, prepare yourself for another broken promise from the Bush administration. It happen so often us Americans are getting numb to it, but how will the Iraqis respond to the phony "independence" they will receive on July 1? The early indication is that they won't respond well at all.

The entire country is turning against us. Well, everyone except the Kurds and who knows how long it is before the Bush regime decides to stab them in the back? Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry is getting in on the act:
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, criticized Bush's unilateral approach to Iraq and foreign policy, saying, "They're courting disaster. ... There's very little in what they've done so far that in my judgment does what's necessary to minimize long-term risks."

Decrying the spreading instability in Iraq, Kerry said in Washington: "We can't allow this to continue. There has to be a political and diplomatic solution, which, regrettably, this administration seems stubbornly determined to avoid."

Kerry renewed his call for more international involvement and challenged Bush to outline his plans. "I think the president owes it to the American people to explain who we're turning over sovereignty to and how June 30th, and what is the security plan for after June 30th?"

Asked if he would support sending more American troops to Iraq, Kerry said he would do "whatever's necessary to protect our troops that are there and to provide for stability and success, but my preference by far" is more international cooperation.
There are no good ways out of Iraq now. Bush regime bungling has left every option fraught with peril and bad choices, but John Kerry is the man who will find the least awful road out of Baghdad.

PROMISES, PROMISES -- U.S. troops in Iraq who thought they were about to be rotated home have received the bad news.
Since the war began a year ago, senior military leaders have given frequent assurances to troops and their families that Iraq duty would be no longer than a year.

Now, those assurances have met the reality of Iraq, where military leaders are planning for the possibility that anti-U.S. violence will spread. U.S. troops are stretched thin around the world, and the Pentagon has few options to increase the force in Iraq if necessary.

On Monday, a senior official with U.S. Central Command said that the return home of about 24,000 U.S. troops who were scheduled to leave in the next few weeks would be delayed as their replacements arrive.
Isn't it time for that smug Donald Rumsfeld to get his piehole on TV [as he once loved to do] and explain why the committment to a smaller U.S. force in Iraq--his idea--wasn't a gigantic mistake that has set back American plans for the country and cost the lives of our soldiers and countless Iraqis?

THOSE RADICAL MUSLIMS -- Atrios drew my attention to this lovely bit of propaganda from the Associated Press:
Deeply conservative and anti-American, Fallujah has a population of some 200,000, all of whom are members of Islam's mainstream Sunni Muslim sect. Some subscribe to radical interpretations of Islam, finding behavior by American troops like raiding homes and detaining men in front of wives and children as deeply offensive.
As opposed to all those reasonable Christians and Jews who don't object at all when their home [not to mention their country] is invaded, their furniture smashed, and family members hauled away by foreign troops with no explanation.