The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Saturday, September 18, 2004

GIs Claim Army Threatens Iraq Posting -- Two GIs in Colorado are accusing the U.S. Army of using the Iraq War to force them to re-enlist.
Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit say they have been issued an ultimatum - re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq.

Hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were presented with that message and a re-enlistment form in a series of assemblies last Thursday, said two soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The effort is part of a restructuring of the Army into smaller, more flexible forces that can deploy rapidly around the world.

A Fort Carson spokesman confirmed the re-enlistment drive is under way and one of the soldiers provided the form to the Rocky Mountain News. An Army spokesmen denied, however, that soldiers who don't re-enlist with the brigade were threatened.

The form, if signed, would bind the soldier to the 3rd Brigade until Dec. 31, 2007. The two soldiers said they were told that those who did not sign would be transferred out of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

"They said if you refuse to re-enlist with the 3rd Brigade, we'll send you down to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is going to Iraq for a year, and you can stay with them, or we'll send you to Korea, or to Fort Riley (in Kansas) where they're going to Iraq," said one of the soldiers, a sergeant.

The second soldier, an enlisted man who was interviewed separately, essentially echoed that view.

"They told us if we don't re-enlist, then we'd have to be reassigned. And where we're most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months. So if you think you're getting out, you're not," he said.

The brigade's presentation outraged many soldiers who are close to fulfilling their obligation and are looking forward to civilian life, the sergeant said.

"We have a whole platoon who refuses to sign," he said.

A Fort Carson spokesman said Wednesday that 3rd Brigade recruitment officers denied threatening the soldiers with Iraq duty.

"I can only tell you what the retention officers told us: The soldiers were not being told they will go to Iraq, but they may go to Iraq," said the spokesman, who gave that explanation before being told later to direct all inquiries to the Pentagon.
But some soldiers presented with the re-enlistment message last week believe they've already done their duty and should not be penalized for choosing to leave. They deployed to Iraq for a year with the 3rd Brigade last April.

"I don't want to go back to Iraq," said the sergeant. "I went through a lot of things for the Army that weren't necessary and were risky. Iraq has changed a lot of people.''

The enlisted soldier said the recruiters' message left him troubled, unable to sleep and "filled with dread."
What the hell is this? If this is accurate, I'd like to know why the U.S. Army is behaving like the mafia. Do as we say or we'll send you to that sandy graveyard? It reminds me of "Hogans Heroes" and the way Colonel Klink was always being threatened with the ultimate punishment: Being sent to the eastern front. Except this isn't so funny.

HERE'S A SHOCK -- Rick James didn't die of natural causes, as his family claimed.
Rick James, the flamboyant funk musician who died suddenly in August, had nine drugs in his system including cocaine, methamphetamine, valium and vicodin, according to a coroner's report on Thursday.

James, 56, died in his sleep on Aug. 6 in his Los Angeles home of a heart attack, but the drugs in his system likely contributed to the organ's failure, the report said.
Nine drugs at one time. Even for Rick James that's an impressive achievement. Of a sort.

NETFLIX -- I just watched my first movie using Netflix. This is probably unnecessary, but I'll explain it anyway. With Netflix, you pay a set fee [about $22/month] for access to their dvd library. You make a number of requests and they send you three dvd at a time. You watch them at your leisure, never paying late fees. You keep them as long as you like, but you can't get anymore until you return them. Return one of the three you ordered and get one movie in return, the next on your list. Return all three movies and get three in return.

Anyway, I just finished "Master and Commander," starring Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Paul Bettany as his friend and ship's doctor. [He doesn't call him "Bones," but much of their relationship will seem familiar to any "Star Trek" fan.] I quite enjoyed the movie and will send it off on Monday.

I think I may like this Netflix.

THIS IS IRAQ -- Not a pretty sight to see and Mr Bush does not want you to see it.
Where freedom was promised, chaos and carnage now reign. A suicide bomber in a car blows himself up in the heart of Baghdad killing 13 people. Air raids by US near the city of Fallujah kill scores more. And so ends one of the bleakest weeks in Iraq's grim recent history.

Between them, suicide bombers targeting Iraqi police and US air strikes aimed at rebels have killed some 300 Iraqis since last Saturday - many of them were civilians. The escalating violence throws into doubt the elections planned for January and the ability of the US and interim Iraqi government to control the country.

The repeated suicide-bomb attacks and kidnappings in the centre of Baghdad are eroding whatever remaining optimism there might be about the success of the government of Iyad Allawi, the Prime Minister, in restoring order in an increasingly fragmented country.

Violence and abductions are ensuring that even tentative efforts at economic reconstruction have ground to a halt. Earlier in the week, the US diverted $3.4bn (£2bn) of funds intended for water and electricity projects to security and the oil industry. Many Iraqi businessmen and doctors have fled to Amman and Damascus because of fear of being taken hostage. The abduction of one British and two American contractors this week will make it very difficult for any foreigners to live in Baghdad outside fortified enclaves.

Yesterday, a car packed with explosives blew up near a row of police cars blocking off a bridge in the centre of the Baghdad. Police tried to get the bomber to stop but he drove on into the middle of the parked cars. "I saw human flesh and blood in the street, then I fled," said Mouayed Shehab.
And, of course, Iraqis suffer. The US Air Force has stepped up its policy of trying to assault insurgents from the air while the army avoids ground attacks that could lead to heavy US casualties. In this case, the air strikes were against a compound in the village of Fazat Shnetir 12 miles south of Fallujah. The US military said they had attacked a meeting of militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi planning fresh attacks on US forces.

The residents of Fazat Shnetir were later seen digging mass graves to bury the bodies in groups of four. A health ministry spokesman, Saad al-Amili, said that 44 people were killed and 27 injured in the Fallujah attacks with 17 children and two women among the wounded. The floor of the Fallujah hospital was awash with blood. Relatives cried out with grief and called for vengeance.

The truth about who is being killed by the US air strikes is difficult to ascertain exactly because Islamic militants make it very dangerous for journalists to go to places recently attacked. Bodies are buried quickly and wounded insurgents do not generally go to public hospitals. But, where the casualties can be checked, many of those who die or are injured have proved to be innocent civilians.

The surge of violence in the past week is making it less likely there will be free elections in January as promised by George Bush. Elections themselves may not guarantee a way out of the quagmire. Should they not happen though, there are likely to be more weeks like these.
He bought it. He broke it. He can't fix it.

Friday, September 17, 2004

WORSE AND WORSE -- At least 52 died in Baghdad tonight, as a result of widepread bomb attacks by anti-occupation insurgents. Meanwhile, the country is exploding elsewhere and the more the military tries to tighten its grip on the country, the more the Iraqi people slip through our fingers.
U.S. warplanes later hit a two-story house inside Fallujah that was also allegedly being used by fighters belonging to Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group.

Militants who survived the strikes in the compound sought refuge in nearby villages, but U.S. forces said they broke off an offensive to hunt them down to avoid civilian casualties.

Blood covered the floors of Fallujah General Hospital as doctors struggled to cope with a flood of casualties, many brought to the hospital in private cars. Relatives pounded their chests in grief and denounced the United States.

Religious leaders switched on loudspeakers at the Fallujah mosque, calling on residents to donate blood and chanting: "God is great."

As night fell, a U.S. jet carried out another strike on the city, firing a missile at a house in the central Dhubat neighborhood that the military said was an al-Zarqawi hideout. At least three bodies were visible at the scene.

Insurgents have only strengthened their grip on Fallujah since the April siege ended, regularly mounting attacks against Marine positions and military convoys on the city's outskirts.
This sort of fiasco is precisely the reason many of us objected to the Iraq War in the first place. Getting rid of Saddam was never the problem, that was the easy part. Everything after that would prove to be much more difficult, we thought, and that has certainly proven to be the case. And considering the low quality of public servants in the Bush administration, mastering a job of this difficulty was simply out of the question.


Tornados Sweep Through Maryland

WHO WOULD VOTE FOR GEORGE W. BUSH? -- What foreigners would vote for George W. Bush in the November elections if they could? These guys. The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, who are responsible for the Madrid train bombings, is quite keen for Mr Bush to get another four years.
The statement tells Americans that Abu Hafs al-Masri supports the re-election of President George W. Bush.

"We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections," it said.

Addressing Bush, it said: "We know that a heavyweight operation would destroy your government, and this is what we don't want. We are not going to find a bigger idiot than you." The statement said Abu Hafs al-Masri needs what it called Bush's "idiocy and religious fanaticism" because they would "wake up" the Islamic world. Comparing Bush with his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, the statement tells the president, "Actually, there is no difference between you and Kerry, but Kerry will kill our community, while it is unaware, because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish infidelity and present it to the Arab and Islamic community as civilization."
Yeah, Bush makes the fanatics grow and Kerry would kill them off. Finally, I've found something I can agree upon with these nutballs.

SKY CAPTAIN -- I think I'll see this film.

BOB HERBERT IN THE TIMES -- This is getting it right.
Three more marines were killed yesterday in Iraq. Kidnappings are commonplace. The insurgency is growing and becoming more sophisticated, which means more deadly. Ordinary Iraqis are becoming ever more enraged at the U.S.

When the newscaster David Brinkley, appalled by the carnage in Vietnam, asked Lyndon Johnson why he didn't just bring the troops home, Johnson replied, "I'm not going to be the first American president to lose a war."

George W. Bush is now trapped as tightly in Iraq as Johnson was in Vietnam. The war is going badly. The president's own intelligence estimates are pessimistic. There is no plan to actually win the war in Iraq, and no willingness to concede defeat.

I wonder who the last man or woman will be to die for this colossal mistake.
George W. Bush and his neocon handlers launched this war because they thought it would intimidate the rest of the planet and make the United States look tough. All it has done is make us look wicked and weak--at the same time--the eyes of several billion human beings around the globe. If that was Mr Bush's mission then he can truly say Mission Accomplished.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

NOTHING FOUND -- First, David Kay, the original CIA official directed to look for WMD in Iraq reported that there was nothing to be found. When that answer didn't satisfy the GOP, another was sent to look for them. Same answer.
Charles Duelfer, the CIA-appointed leader of the weapons hunt, was still finalizing the roughly 1,500 page-report, which was expected to say no stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons were found, the sources told Reuters.

The perceived threat from weapons of mass destruction was the main justification used by the Bush administration for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Duelfer is expected to complete the report in the next several weeks.

His predecessor, David Kay, said when he stepped down in January that no large stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons existed in Iraq when the United States went to war.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell told lawmakers he now thought stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons would probably never be found.
Would it be too much to ask for the media and the American people to pay some real attention to this. Nothing there. War fought for WMD that does not exist. Lies. Incompetence.

Go get 'em, Senator Kerry.

KERRY BACK ON TRACK -- The preceding post found John Kerry in top form and its a sign that some top Democrats, apparently, regard as symptomatic of a campaign on the comeback. Let's hope they're right.
Despite turmoil in the John Kerry campaign, key Democrats believe Kerry is back on-message and poised to overtake President Bush by Election Day. Following two weeks of Kerry campaign reorganization, optimism flourishes among Democratic insiders.

Veteran Democratic strategists agree that John Kerry had a poor August, was off message and allowed President Bush to drive the momentum of the campaign. That’s ending, in party veterans’ view.

While the cohesiveness of the Democratic campaign remains in question, Kerry’s coming turn around does not among many party veterans. They believe the Kerry campaign has sufficiently restructured and is now on track.

Certainly, in the past week, Kerry has been his best: clear spoken and fervent in driving home a difference between he and the incumbent.

It’s where former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean wanted Kerry the past year. “He’s really needs to take it to the president,” the onetime Democratic front-runner said. Kerry overtook Dean in January; Dean believes Kerry will do the same with the president.

“The idea of taking it right to the president,” is what Dean said he likes about the Kerry of late. “The president is a very cheerful, charming person who is not very truthful,” Dean continued. “The only way to burst through that is to take it on.”

In a speech Wednesday to the Detroit Economic Club, Kerry did just that. The Democratic nominee slammed Mr. Bush’s first term as “the excuse presidency.” Kerry chided Bush for being belligerent, “never wrong, never responsible, never to blame.”

It was vintage September Kerry, abandoning an earlier theme of optimism for blunt attacks on the Bush presidency.
Indications are the Kerry comeback may already be underway.

Polling by the Pew Research Center Sept. 8-10 showed President Bush ahead of Kerry by 12 points among registered voters. In a second poll, done Sept. 11-14, the presidential race was a dead heat -- President Bush and John Kerry each with 46 percent of the vote.

With less than two weeks until the first presidential debate, the presidency is far from decided. After expressing frustration following the month of August, Democrats are confident Kerry has gotten back on track.

“They made some mistakes,” said James Carville, a CNN commentator and former Clinton strategist. “I think they recognized the mistakes. And I think they are working to correct them, and that’s good.”

Renowned for his hardball political play in the Democratic Party, Carville said, “Running for president is tough, being president is tough. This is just a tough business.”

And in Carville’s eyes, as with other Democratic strategists, the Kerry campaign has gotten tough since Labor Day weekend. Some say this is the ebb and flow of elections. But the credit in large part has gone to the recent addition of three former staff members of President Clinton to the Kerry campaign.

On Tuesday, former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry joined the Kerry camp. Prior to McCurry, Clinton’s onetime legislative strategist Joel Johnson joined along with Joe Lockhart, who like McCurry is also a former Clinton press secretary.

“The hallmark of the Clinton campaign in 1992 was instantaneous response, never let your opponent write on your blank slate,” said Steve Grossman, who co-chaired Kerry’s 1996 senate campaign and during Mr. Clinton's presidency was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“Clearly they will be aggressive,” Grossman said of the Clintonistas, what the former president onetime staff has been dubbed.

Yet a Kerry comeback is “inevitable,” Grossman said. “Post-Republican convention, post-Labor Day, political candidates,” Grossman added, “tend to play their best ball.”

“I believe John Kerry is the Reggie Jackson of American Politics; the Mr. October label that was prescribed to Reggie Jackson,” he continued, “is a perfect way to describe John Kerry.”

But as with others, Grossman also credits the Clinton veterans’ ability to play hardball politics.
This is music to my ears. Or eyes. You know what I mean. I've never been a believer in the notion that negative politics doesn't work. It's absurd. As Mr Bush has shown, as his father showed, as Tom DeLay has shown, negative politics DOES work. If you do it well, it works very well. Senator Kerry is trying to take the job Mr Bush won illegitimately. To take someone's job you have to not only tell the people why you will do it well, but also why the incumbent has not--and will not--do the job well. Get rough. Get mean. Get it done.

ATTABOY! -- While speaking to the National Guard Association in Las Vegas today, John Kerry hit one right out of the park.
"[The president] did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings. He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder — that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away... You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security, who will not ignore his own intelligence, while living in a fantasy world of spin, and who will give the American people the truth about the challenge our brave men and women face on the front lines."
Bam! Goodbye, Mr Spalding!


NO SAFE PLACE -- Outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq is a blood-stained cauldron of hatred and violence. We knew that. What we didn't know is that this blood-stained cauldron could soon spill over into the last place westerners feel safe in Iraq--the Green Zone itself
US military officers in Baghdad have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees.

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety. The Green Zone, in Baghdad's centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it.

But insurgency has escalated this week, spreading to the centre of Baghdad. The zone is home to several thousand Iraqis, and on Sunday it came under the heaviest attack since it was established. Up to 60 unexploded rockets were found inside its perimeters after a five-hour barrage.
It's almost impossible to be surprised by anything in Iraq anymore, but this one did throw me a bit. The U.S. has set up this santized Green Zone in Baghdad to insulate their people from the great unwashed [and dangerous] mass of Iraqis. It's rather like the extraterritorial areas created by imperial western powers in China in the late 19th century. The whole point of the Green Zone is to be safe and secure. If the occupation forces cannot even keep this one patch of Iraqi territory safe, it is hard to imagine them accomplishing much of anything in Iraq from now on.

"THE WAR IS LOST" -- Sidney Blumenthal's new piece in Salon is a devastating indictmentof the Bush admin's debacle in Iraq.
Almost every day in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how we are "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.

But according to the U.S. military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost.

Retired Gen. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse -- he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He added: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving [Osama] bin Laden's ends."

Retired Gen. Joseph Hoare, the former Marine commandant and head of the U.S. Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

"I see no ray of light on the horizon at all," said Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College. "The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after World War II in Germany and Japan."

"I don't think that you can kill the insurgency," said W. Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, the top expert on Iraq there. According to Terrill, the anti-U.S. insurgency, centered in the Sunni triangle, and holding several key cities and towns, including Fallujah, is expanding and becoming more capable as a direct consequence of U.S. policy. "We have a growing, maturing insurgency group," he told me. "We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are X number of insurgents and when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the U.S. presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view."
"I see no exit," said Record. "We've been down that road before. It's called Vietnamization. The idea we're going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can't defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq."

"This is far graver than Vietnam," said Gen. Odom. "There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with a war that was not constructive for U.S. aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile and we're in much worse shape with our allies."
Gen. Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and senior military officers over Iraq is worse than any he has ever seen with any previous U.S. government, including during Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."
Lest anyone consider this a mere political attack by those disgruntled with the Bush administration, please read on...

IT REALLY IS THAT BAD -- Despite the tough words coming from the Bush campaign right now, the situation in Iraq is terrible and getting worse. And that's not just Democratic spin, that's the opinion of the U.S. intelligence services, in a National Intelligence Memo on the subject.
A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday.

The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.

"There's a significant amount of pessimism," said one government official who has read the document, which runs about 50 pages. The officials declined to discuss the key judgments - concise, carefully written statements of intelligence analysts' conclusions - included in the document.

The intelligence estimate, the first on Iraq since October 2002, was prepared by the National Intelligence Council and was approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board under John E. McLaughlin, the acting director of central intelligence. Such estimates can be requested by the White House or Congress, but this one was initiated by the intelligence council under George J. Tenet, who stepped down as director of central intelligence on July 9, the government officials said.

As described by the officials, the pessimistic tone of the new estimate stands in contrast to recent statements by Bush administration officials, including comments on Wednesday by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, who asserted that progress was being made.

"You know, every step of the way in Iraq there have been pessimists and hand-wringers who said it can't be done," Mr. McClellan said at a news briefing. "And every step of the way, the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi people have proven them wrong because they are determined to have a free and peaceful future."

President Bush, who was briefed on the new intelligence estimate, has not significantly changed the tenor of his public remarks on the war's course over the summer, consistently emphasizing progress while acknowledging the difficulties.

Mr. Bush's opponent, Senator John Kerry, criticized the administration's optimistic public position on Iraq on Wednesday and questioned whether it would be possible to hold elections there in January.

"I think it is very difficult to see today how you're going to distribute ballots in places like Falluja, and Ramadi and Najaf and other parts of the country, without having established the security,'' Mr. Kerry said in a call-in phone call to Don Imus, the radio talk show host. "I know that the people who are supposed to run that election believe that they need a longer period of time and greater security before they can even begin to do it, and they just can't do it at this point in time. So I'm not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation either at this point.''

The situation in Iraq prompted harsh comments from Republicans and Democrats at a hearing into the shift of spending from reconstruction to security. Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called it "exasperating for anybody look at this from any vantage point," and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said of the overall lack of spending: "It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing. It is now in the zone of dangerous."
And the people responsible for this gigantic screw-up of all screw-ups might actually win the November elections. Feeling better yet?

UNKNOWN SOLDIERS -- "Nearly 17,000 service members medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan are absent from public Pentagon casualty reports, according to military data reviewed by United Press International." Source.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

EVEN REPUBLICANS NOW... -- Even top Senate Republicans are now admitting that Iraq, under the U.S. occupation, is failing.
Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said today that the Bush administration's request to divert more than $3 billion from reconstruction work in Iraq to security measures was a sign that the American campaign in Iraq is in serious trouble.

"Although we recognize these funds must not be spent unwisely," the committee chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said, "the slow pace of reconstruction spending means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence the direction of Iraq."

Mr. Lugar expressed his concerns as two State Department officials came before the committee seeking permission to divert more than $3.4 billion in reconstruction funds to security efforts. The request came a day after one of the bloodiest days in Iraq in recent months.

The $3.4 billion is part of an $18 billion package approved by Congress last year for public works projects like water and electrical facilities. The $18 billion in turn is part of an $87 billion package that Congress passed for the American-led effort in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Mr. Lugar said the Iraqi people were looking for signs of stability as elections in their country drew near. "Few signs of stability are more convincing than successful reconstruction projects that boost the economy, repair infrastructure and restore municipal services," Mr. Lugar said.

"If the shift of these funds slows down reconstruction, security may suffer in the long run," Mr. Lugar said, adding that security and reconstruction ought to be achieved "simultaneously."
During the committee hearing, Mr. Hagel praised the two State Department officials, Ronald Schlicher, the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq, and Joseph Bowab, the deputy assistant secretary for foreign assistance, for the "directness and the honesty" they were showing in asking for the fund diversion.

Mr. Hagel said the State Department request was "a clear acknowledgment that we are not holding ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we're winning."

Mr. Hagel went on to say that the request for reprogramming the money "does not add up, in my opinion, to a pretty picture, to a picture that shows that we're winning. But it does add up to this, an acknowledgment that we are in deep trouble."

There was no indication at the hearing that the administration's request would be rejected. But the expressions of concern by two leading Republicans could cause discomfort in the White House. Mr. Lugar expressed concern that of the roughly $18 billion approved for Iraq about 10 months ago, just over $1 billion had been dispersed as of a few days ago.

"If the shift of these funds slows down reconstruction, security may suffer in the long run," Mr. Lugar said, adding that security and reconstruction ought to be achieved "simultaneously."

The committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, was far more outspoken. "The window's closing, the window of opportunity," Mr. Biden said. "I think it's about ready to slam shut."
Senator Kerry must find a way to make the awful and readily apparent failure of Mr Bush's Iraq policy a big issue in the campaign. Right now, the issue is not resonating with the public as it should. It is up to Mr Kerry to ensure that the American people pay attention to this slow-motion catastrophe because Mr Bush and the media are quite content to ignore it--at least until after the election.

WHAT A SCANDAL -- Bush partisans never waste an opportunity to claim President Bill Clinton ignored the peril from International Jihad [IJ], but the fact is that, three years after the 9/11/01 attacks, the Bush administration is STILL treating the most deadly problem of our time as an afterthought.
Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency has fewer experienced case officers assigned to its headquarters unit dealing with Osama bin Laden than it did at the time of the attacks, despite repeated pleas from the unit's leaders for reinforcements, a senior C.I.A. officer with extensive counterterrorism experience has told Congress.

The bin Laden unit is stretched so thin that it relies on inexperienced officers rotated in and out every 60 to 90 days, and they leave before they know enough to be able to perform any meaningful work, according to a letter the C.I.A. officer has written to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

"There has been no systematic effort to groom Al Qaeda expertise" among C.I.A. officers since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the letter, written by Michael F. Scheuer, the former chief of the agency's bin Laden unit and the author of a best-selling book that is critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror.
The Bush admin denies this, of course, but they always deny these things and offer no evidence to substantiate their assertions. No difference here.

ABOUT DAMN TIME -- Are the gloves finally coming off?
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry attacked the Bush administration as the "excuse presidency" on Wednesday, charging that the president stood by while jobs disappeared and the middle class lost ground.

"This president has created more excuses than jobs. His is the excuse presidency — never wrong, never responsible, never to blame," Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club. "President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops, it's where the blame begins."

Kerry also reassured the largely Republican group that he would be a friend to business if elected president.

"Our plan is pro-worker and pro-business," he said. "I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat."

The speech marked some of Kerry's strongest criticisms of the president's economic record, an issue he's been hammering along the campaign trail. Democratic analysts have urged Kerry to take a stronger stance against the president.

"We are punching back," Kerry told radio host Don Imus in an interview Wednesday. "I am absolutely taking the gloves off. I'm prepared to take them on and everything."

The sharper attacks included a swipe at the president's decisions in Iraq. Kerry said Bush's actions have made it harder for the next president to withdraw troops and argued that Bush should be under more pressure to develop his own withdrawal plan.
Yes, it appears they are. I wonder what they've been waiting for? The media? Ha! This Bush is only going to be taken down the way the last Bush was taken down: Aggressive and unapologetic condemnations of his many failures. Get cracking, John!

WEEK 2 POWER POLL -- Well, the first week of the NFL is in the books and all of the projections made in the first BB Power Poll turned out to be absolutely accurate--aside from those that were not. Oh, well. We're still doing better than Len Pasquarelli .

01. New England Patriots [1-0]: Tom Brady and an opportunistic defense opened the NFL regular season with a bang, defeating a top Colts squad. On top until they're beaten. [No change]

02. Philadelphia Eagles [1-0]: McNabb and Owens annihilate a bad Giants team. The Eagles are tops in the NFC until proven otherwise. [No change]

03. Seattle Seahawks [1-0]: And this just might be the team to prove otherwise. Seattle looked great blasting the Saints in New Orleans and opening their season with the most important thing of all: A road win. [+1]

04. Minnesota Vikings [1-0]: Took on the number one defense in the NFL last year, Dallas , and smashed it to pieces. Daunte Culpepper looks scary. [+4]

05. Green Bay Packers [1-0]: Went into North Carolina and completely dominated the reigning NFC champs on their own turf. Best part: Offensive line and TB Ahman Green shredding the vaunted Panthers defensive line. [+4]

06. Indianapolis Colts [0-1]: No shame in losing to the Super Bowl champs in their own place, but the Colts must start playing better defense if they're to advance. [-3]

07. Tennessee Titans [1-0]: It's probably not a great accomplishment to dominate the Miami Dolphins in Florida this year, but they did it anyway. [+3]

08. Denver Broncos [1-0]: They sure didn't miss TB Clinton Portis on Sunday night, as his replacement Quentin Griffin humiliated the Kansas City Chiefs defense en route to a 10-point victory. Of course, that was the Chiefs defense. [+5]

09. Kansas City Chiefs [0-1]: TB Priest Holmes runs for more than 100 yards and scores three TD and the Chiefs still lose by ten points? Play some defense, guys. [-3]

10. New York Jets [1-0]: The Bengals turned out to be a stern test, but the Jets offense was in midseason form, with the ageless wonder TB Curtis Martin rushing for more than 190 yards and a TD. [+4]

11. St. Louis Rams [1-0]: Struggled to win at home against a bad Cardinals team. The pigskin nerds at the hR Power Poll are not impressed. [+1]

12. Washington Redskins [1-0]: Opened Joe Gibbs 2.0 with a solid home victory over a stubborn Tampa Bay defense. [I say that because the Tampa offense never showed up to the game. Must have had trouble with baggage at the Tampa airport.] [+4]

13. Carolina Panthers [0-1]: Lost to a good Packers team on Monday night, so why would I have the NFC Champ Panthers behind the 5-11 Washington Redskins? Well, losing at home wasn't good, but the big problem is that their budding star wideout Steve Smith is probably lost for the season with a broken leg. Very bad news. [-8]

14. Baltimore Ravens [0-1]: I still can't believe they're as bad as they looked in losing to the ugly Cleveland Browns. The recipe for success against the Ravens is set, though: Over-commit to stop TB Jamal Lewis, force QB Kyle Boller to beat you, and play conservative offense so the Ravens defense cannot get turnovers and set up the offense for easy scores. If you force the Ravens to mount long drives to score points, they probably cannot do it. [-7]

15. New Orleans Saints [0-1]: Looked lifeless in a home loss. Poised to plummet. [-4]

16. Dallas Cowboys [0-1]: Having Vinne Testaverde throw 50 times was not how Bill Parcells planned to win games this year. Where was the top-ranked defense? [-1]

17. Jacksonville Jaguars [1-0]: Byron Leftwich looked lost until the last two minutes, when he drove the length of the field for the game-winning score. Defense was supposed to be good and they looked even better than that. [+1]

18. Detroit Lions [1-0]: If you haven't won a road game in three years and nine months, you get a nice jump up the hR Power Poll when it finally happens--even if you do it against the Chicago Bears. [+6]

19. Buffalo Bills [0-1]: The defense looked fine, but why is Drew Bledsoe still in a funk and for how long can the Bills allow it to continue? TB Willis McGahee was furious about not getting the start, but when he got in there he could do no more than Travis Henry against that stout Jacksonville defensive line. [-2]

20. Atlanta Falcons [1-0]: Beating the 49ers just isn't a big deal anymore. Still don't like Vick in that West Coast offense. [No change]

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [0-1]: Defense still has the goods, but that offense is hideous. Jon Gruden is going to go from looking like murderous doll Chucky to acting like murderous doll Chucky if this continues. [-2]

22. Cleveland Browns [1-0]: Stomped the Ravens in their opener with a great game plan. If they don't win another game all year, at least the Dawg Pound will remember beating the Ravens in Cleveland . [+3]

23. Pittsburgh Steelers [1-0]: Loved TB Jerome Bettis' stat line: Three carries, one yard, three TD. Now that's making the most of your opportunities. [+3]

24. Cincinnati Bengals [0-1]: QB Carson Palmer looked great in his NFL debut, but Head Coach Marvin Lewis has to get his defense to stop somebody. [-3]

25. Oakland Raiders [0-1]: Showed more fight than last year, but this team still makes too many mistakes and is Norv Turner really the man to fix that? [-3]

26. San Diego Chargers [1-0]: Where was that Drew Brees last year? If he'd ever shown up the Chargers wouldn't have bothered drafting Eli Manning or trading for Phillip Rivers . And they wouldn't have had the first pick in the draft either. [+6]

27. Houston Texans [0-1]: Lost at home to the San Diego Chargers. Looks like Dom Capers and Charley Casserly still have plenty of work to do. [-4]

28. Miami Dolphins [0-1]: They can still play good defense, but the QB situation is a mess, with Dave Wannstedt going back and forth between Jay Fiedler and A.J. Feeley . That's like a debate about whether you'd like to be burned in oil or burnt at the stake. [-1]

29. Arizona Cardinals [0-1]: Put up a real fight against the Rams in St. Louis . If they give that effort every week the Cardinals could easily win six games this year. [No change]

30. San Francisco 49ers [0-1]: I like the way that defense is developing and OLB Julian Peterson is a complete stud. Unfortunately, offense is a dud. [+1]

31. Chicago Bears [0-1]: Gave up a road win to the Lions. Enough said. [-3]

32. New York Giants [0-1]: Tom Coughlin to inaugurate 9 AM firing squads for randomly selected players every Monday. New York media welcomes the news. [-2]

ATTABOY! -- Speaking to the National Guard Association in Las Vegas today, John Kerry hit one right out of the park.
"[The president] did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings. He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder — that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away... You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security, who will not ignore his own intelligence, while living in a fantasy world of spin, and who will give the American people the truth about the challenge our brave men and women face on the front lines."
Bam! Goodbye, Mr Spalding!

THUG FIRES KERRY SUPPORTER -- A woman has been fired for driving to work with a pro-John Kerry bumper sticker on her car. Her employer is a Bush supporter and has been aggressively urging his employees to vote for Mr Bush in November.

"We were going back to work from break, and my manager told me that Phil said to remove the sticker off my car or I was fired," she said. "I told him that Phil couldn't tell me who to vote for. He said, 'Go tell him.'"

She went to [Geddes'] office, knocked on the door and entered on his orders.

"Phil and another man who works there were there," she said. "I asked him if he said to remove the sticker and he said, 'Yes, I did.' I told him he couldn't tell me who
to vote for. When I told him that, he told me, 'I own this place.' I told him he still couldn't tell me who to vote for."

Gobbell said [Geddes] told her to "get out of here."

"I asked him if I was fired and he told me he was thinking about it," she said. "I said, 'Well, am I fired?' He hollered and said, 'Get out of here and shut the door.'"

She said her manager was standing in another room and she asked him if that meant for her to go back to work or go home. The manager told her to go back to work, but he came back a few minutes later and said, "I reckon you're fired. You could either work for him or John Kerry," Gobbell said.

"I took off my gloves and threw them in the garbage and left," Gobbell said.

There is one piece of good news, however. Ms. Gobbell has already found a new job--working for John Kerry. The Democrat heard about the story and called the woman to offer a job, which she accepted.