Life intrudes. One of the great ones, Bill in Portland Maine, has retired Cheers and Jeers.
Here’s a rum and coke to you my friend. Daily Kos will never be the same without Cheers and Jeers.
Oct 04 2007
Just a reminder! If you have ANYTHING to say about the horrific oppression, repression and slaughter of innocents in Burma/Myanmar, say it tomorrow.
Free Burma! International Bloggers’ Day for Burma on the 4th of October. It’s what the graphic in our upper right hand corner is about…and tomorrow we will have the banner up below ours. It’s nice that the colors match so well!
International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words “Free Burma!”.
The call to not post on the 4th is great for smaller or individual blogs, but I think we can do more to help by writing whatever we can about Burma.
Please help if you can.
Since most of us don’t know much about Burma, here are some links, starting with Jill’s excellent post from NION.
Here is a site with pics to give a bit of a feeling for Burma.
A page for collecting the names of corporations screwing with the Burmese.
It’s parent site
As I said earlier to oculus “Ideally we would have a flood of diaries…even if they are repetitive, short, or even not very good (pre-empting all excuses, lol) to show our support for the People of Burma!”
Let’s do whatever small thing we can do here to help.
Oct 04 2007
I KNOW it’s not politics, but my head needed some clearing today and so I thought the kids and I would build the faeries a new home. Since winter is approaching, now is the time to hunt and gather like all the other critters around here, plus the yard needed cleaning and it’s a perfect way to pick up the debris laying around and make it useful. We chose one of our Oak trees as the back drop, it has a rock circle around it and the circle contained our spring flowers that have now become weeds…..
Of course, the oaks are dropping all of their acorns right now, it’s constant bombardment and we all got conked on the head a few times, but that’s just part of the fun really!
Any faeries passing through are welcome to stay…
A great way to pass an afternoon!
AND, we’re pretty sure faeries exist, just look at TinkerBell!
Oct 04 2007
This is worth yelling louder:
BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Residents of Iraq’s southern city of Basra have begun strolling riverfront streets again after four years of fear, their city much quieter since British troops withdrew from the grand Saddam Hussein-era Basra Palace.
Political assassinations and sectarian violence continue, some city officials say, but on a much smaller scale than at any time since British troops moved into the city after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
This has been the last resort argument against bringing the troops home – they must ensure that Iraq does not spiral into civil war.
Beyond the facts that:
the argument that there is a responsibility not to abandon the Iraqis to war and chaos has had surprising force.
Well, although for most of us on the site it is not a good enough argument to keep the troops over there (and keep the occupation going, and the deathtoll increasing), it happens that it is not even true!
“The situation these days is better. We were living in hell … the area is calm since their withdrawal,” said housewife Khairiya Salman, who lives near the palace.
Civil servant Wisam Abdul Sada agreed. “We do not hear the sounds of explosions which were shaking our houses and terrifying our women and children,” he told Reuters.
It had been feared the British withdrawal would trigger an upsurge in violence in Basra. Merchant Faris Mohammed Ali described the British soldiers as a “scarecrow”.
“Frankly I didn’t want the British troops to withdraw, not because I liked them but because I am afraid of the factions and their armed groups, they are in a constant struggle which may burn the city one day,” he said.
But for now Basra seems quieter and safer to some families who have started to come out at night to stroll along the banks of the Shatt al-Arab river, something that would have been unthinkable not long ago.
Despite the very real infighting between Iraqis, the occupation troops are making things worse, not better.
There’s not a single reason to keep them in.
Oct 03 2007
(here’s an original voice… interesting ideas and suggest reading – promoted by pfiore8)
I have a .net head and a .org heart.
I am trying to transform a .com game using .gov players.
The nature of American politics is highly competitive. It is not rule by the majority. It is rule by those who can take power and dig the deepest trenches to defend it. Getting an office is a series of rivalries and victories. At each step another 49% of the voices get pushed aside, and the remaining 51% go on to the next divisive round. Tiny factions get the spoils.
This paradigm of competition is such a deep part of the structure, that to generate participation I sometimes have to cloak ‘all of us together’ projects in the language of ‘us vs. them.’
I think there is a larger point to be made here about cooperative blog projects, the ecology of bloggers each doing their own thing, and the underlying competitiveness of Left vs. Right, Dem vs Rep, DLC vs Progressive, and my blog vs. their blog.
I am not sure that I can fully make that point, but I will nibble around the edges while telling you what I am doing to mess with the system in the Colorado 2nd Congressional District ‘Coats and Cans‘ straw poll.
In Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Mark Udall (D) is vacating his relatively safe seat to launch a race for the Senate.
Three very worthy successors have stepped up and are fighting what might be the most expensive congressional primary in the history of American politics. Their quarterly reports aren’t in yet, but it looks like they have combined to raise close to $2 million already.
Money is flying around for consultants and media buys, but it is a district rife with foreclosures and layoffs. How could we give these three civic minded folks an excuse to step away from the knife fight, and spend a few moments doing the work they all really came here to do?
Democrats Work has set up the ‘Coats and Cans‘ poll.
The rules are simple: one can = one vote; one coat = five votes.
Ballot box stuffing is encouraged.
We found partner charities in the district who could distribute the donations, and we are hosting park cleanups and tree plantings in places where we have invited people to stop by and ‘cast their votes.’
The campaigns have appeared eager to participate. Why not? Good press for everybody, bragging rights for somebody, and a way to rally the troops around an event before the holidays scatter them.
I think it is going to generate a lot of good, and if anyone wants to do something like this on any scale in your area I would be happy to let you know what is working for us and what problems we run into along the way.
It is great that we are able to coat community service in a competitive sugary coating so that the political beast will swallow it faster, but it has me wondering about the next step. It has me thinking about possible futures.
Other sites have been great at joining people together to support political races, but essentially that means they have brought people together to fight other people. That has its place, and in all honesty, it is part of my job at Democrats Work; I am trying to build a stronger Democratic Party.
But there is another part to the job; I am helping to build a BETTER Democratic Party. The goal is to have people working together to improve the world for everyone. I think that this website could foster projects with that spirit.
I think Docudharma is a great rain forest of wondrous and strange bloggers, each doing in their own niche what is right for them. I do not want to tamper with that. I like being part of a co-created world that stirs together all of those unique and varied visions.
At the same time, I would love to be able to move forward with the efficiency that is common to ugly industrial machines. By stoking the fires of competition I expect us to do more for the food banks than we could have with just the request. I want to tap into the power of combined action.
I guess that ultimately I am looking for something between the jungle and the machine. I want to find a tribe. I want more partners. I want to band together with other individuals and work in our individual ways towards a common purpose.
It doesn’t have to be anything to do with my projects in particular, but I would like to see something emerge here that creates an opportunity for combined action.
If you would like to work together to create ways to raise donations then I certainly would love to have a conversation about ways we could spend them. We always need $ for events, and I would love the seed money to create self-perpetuating blog ads that can keep spreading the word while supporting the good sites.
But really this does not have to be about Democrats Work…
You tell me.
Is there something we can do together that works outside the zero-sum world of competition?
Is there something we can cultivate together that will make the world richer as it grows?
Invite me in.
Oct 03 2007
Sometime in the next few weeks the Senate will once again take up legislation regarding immigration reform. This time it will be the DREAM Act sponsored by Sen.Dick Durbin(D-Il). The legislation would allow hundreds of thousands of students who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents to go on and complete their education and eventually earn the right to become legal residents and citizens.
This piece of legislation is so important right now because the right-wing, flush from their victory in stalling any form of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, have decided to make defeating the DREAM Act their top priority. They feel that they are in a position now where they do not need to give an inch on any reforms, and would view the passage of DREAM as a major defeat.
Unfortunately it is the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids that are being effected by this Washington gamesmanship. With that in mind, I’m more than willing to risk the appearance of monotony, and discuss another group of young people who anxiously await the passage of DREAM …those who have already graduated from college …because their futures depend on it now.
The debate about the Dream Act often concentrates on the 65,000 high school graduates each year who are unable to follow their dream of acquiring a higher education due to the undocumented status passed on to them by their parents.
But there is another group of young people, who have worked hard and proven themselves, who also need the passage of the Dream Act…perhaps even more.
These are the young people who have managed against all odds to complete their higher educations. Working low paying jobs just to make ends meet and pay their own college costs, many of these students, once completing their educations, face an uncertain future where the skills and knowledge they have worked so hard to acquire cannot be put to use.
Without proper documentation and social security numbers they are unable to move from the “underground economy” of their parents world into the mainstream workforce that their education gives them the ability to participate in.
Without the Dream Act these young people will forever be stuck in limbo, somewhere between the undocumented world of their parents, and their dreams of a bright future.
This is the second in a series of videos that will be posted featuring the voices or stories of those who have waited so long for the passage of the Dream Act.
Learn more about the DREAM ACT
Previous dairies Featuring the voices and stories of the Dream Act students.
More on the Dream Act from MigraMatters
Contact your Senators and tell them to give these young people the opportunity they deserve by supporting the DREAM Act.
Oct 03 2007
One of the great strengths of this social experiment we call ‘blogging’ is how one writer’s words can inspire others to look at problems in a new light. Even casual throw away comments can cause a light bulb to flash somewhere and start a chain reaction leading to…well, to anywhere one might imagine.
There has been a lot of brainstorming about what to ‘do next’ around here, and it’s all very inspirational stuff. The other day, Meteor Blades stopped by in Buhdy’s manifesto diary with a link to a 40-year old article discussing many of the issues we are struggling with today.
Light bulb. People have been through this before. Duh – how obvious. Still, sometimes the obvious escapes us. Other groups, other communities, other countries have struggled with very similar issues we face today. How do you break through and effect real change? Where do we find our inspiration? How will we be nurtured on this journey? Perhaps history can help us a little.
This is a story about a man of very humble origins who found himself leading a movement very similar to one many here long to see. Along the way, he found inspiration, power, influence, loss, humility and peace. The man’s name was Tommy Douglas. His story ends with a twist he likely would have found quite surprising and delightful.
T.C. (Tommy) Douglas was born in Scotland in 1904. In 1910 his working class family emigrated from Scotland to Canada and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Two events in his youth had a great impact on his political outlook in later life. The first was nearly losing his leg to osteomyelitis. This was only averted when a local doctor decided he would treat Tommy for free on the condition he be a study patient for his class. The second was witnessing first hand the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Young Tommy watched from the rooftops on June 21 as police ran roughshod over the strikers, injuring dozens, killing one and burning buildings along the way.
Tommy became an amateur boxer of some renown in his youth. In 1924, he went to college to study for the ministry and he eventually obtained his Master’s degree in Sociology in 1933. During his college years, Tommy was influenced by the social gospel movement, a blend of church doctrine and progressive politics. Also during college, he met and married Irma Dempsey. As an aside, their eldest daughter Shirley Douglas was an actress and is the mother of Kiefer Sutherland.
The Great Depression was the next big influence in Tommy’s life. As a Baptist minister in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Douglas saw the devastating effects of the depression on his local congregation. He decided to join the young CCF (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation). Make no mistake, the CCF was a Socialist political party, and they received a great deal of resistance from the powers that be. But the CCF was also first and foremost a populist party, and they enjoyed some early successes in the economically devastated prairie Province of Saskatchewan.
Tommy was elected to federal office in 1935, and through his quick wit and sharp debating skills on the issues of the day, he rapidly achieved prominence in the party. By 1942, he wanted to try his hand at Provincial politics and he won his bid to be leader of the CCF in Saskatchewan. In 1944, he became the first duly elected Socialist leader in North America when he won the general election and became Premier.
As Premier, Tommy moved quickly to enact his legislative agenda. The agenda included creating numerous public owned corporations, encouraging government workers to unionize, providing free hospital care to all citizens, and writing the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights. The latter legislation was groundbreaking in the personal protections offered to the ordinary citizen.
Along the way, Tommy was a fiscal moderate and his government managed to pay down a huge inherited debt load and create a budget surplus. Not surprisingly, Tommy’s CCF won five Provincial elections in a row, and by 1961 Tommy was ready to introduce his crowning achievement – a bill providing universal health coverage for all residents of Saskatchewan.
At the same time, Tommy felt it was time to leverage his popularity back home and reenter the national scene. He ran for and won the first leadership race of the newly formed NDP (New Democratic Party) which incorporated the CCF and other ‘leftist’ parties. Tommy wanted to springboard from his Provincial success to become Prime Minister of Canada.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. The main two parties in Canada, the Liberals and the Conservatives, saw what Tommy was up to and scrambled to steal his ideas. In 1962, Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker created the Royal Commission on National Health Care, and in 1966, the Liberal minority government led by Lester B. Pearson implemented a program largely based off the Saskatchewan model.
With his number one issue stolen from him, Tommy never did achieve his dream of becoming Prime Minister. Instead, he struggled to stay elected over the next decade, winning most often but losing twice and moving about the country to maintain his influence. In 1971, he resigned as the leader of the NDP. He left federal politics in 1979.
But he maintained his sense of humor and integrity through it all. Tommy once said:
I don’t mind being a symbol but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I’ve seen what the pigeons do to them.
In his later years, Tommy was a well respected elder statesman of the Canadian political scene. He received numerous honors and awards including the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, membership into the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and election into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
Tommy Douglas died of cancer on February 24, 1986 at the age of 81.
But Tommy’s legend did not die with him. In 2004, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sponsored a national contest to elect ‘The Greatest Canadian’ of all time. They received 140,000 nominations and well over a million votes. From start to finish, the leader of the competition was Tommy Douglas. He beat out every politician, every historical figure, and even every hockey legend (Wayne Gretzky was voted #10).
Tommy Douglas, the combative small town minister and acknowledged father of the Canadian health care system, was elected by the citizens of his adopted country as the Greatest Canadian Ever. It is difficult to see how they could have chosen better.
Oct 03 2007
This is an OPEN THREAD. Here are four stories in the news at 4 o’clock to get you started.
As expected, George W. Bush, the ‘compassionate conservative’, vetoed the children’s health insurance bill Congress sent to him. The New York Times reports, Bush Vetoes Children’s Health Insurance Bill. “Mr. Bush wielded his pen with no fanfare just before leaving for a visit to Lancaster, Pa. The veto was only the fourth of Mr. Bush’s presidency. ¶ ‘Because the Congress has chosen to send me a bill that moves our health care system in the wrong direction, I must veto it,’ Mr. Bush said in his veto statement, adding that he hoped to work with the lawmakers ‘to produce a good bill that puts poorer children first.’ ¶ The bill was approved by Congress with unusual bipartisan support, as many Republicans who side with the president on almost everything else voted to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Schip, from its current enrollment of about 6.6 million children to more than 10 million.” In its story, the Washington Post reports Bush saying, “The initial intent of the program is not being recognized. It is not being met.” “He also repeated claims, disputed by some, that the measure he vetoed would allow children in families earning as much as $83,000 a year to receive coverage under the program. ¶ ‘That doesn’t sound poor to me,’ Bush said.” With Bush’s weak dollar, that doesn’t sound very wealthy either. I recommend anyone with a craven Republican representative who didn’t vote for this, to give them a call supporting a veto override.
BBC News reports that monks are ‘trying to escape Rangoon’. “Scores of monks are trying to leave Burma’s main city, Rangoon, following the military’s bloody crackdown on anti-government protests, reports say. Monks were seen at the railway station and bus drivers were reportedly refusing to take them, out of fear they would not be allowed petrol. Curfews and night-time police raids are continuing in Rangoon. Correspondents describe a climate of fear there.” The Guardian reports that an unnamed Burmese army major defected to Thailand. “A Burmese army major defected today, raising renewed hopes of dissent in the armed forces that is seen as crucial to bringing down the ruling junta. The unnamed officer fled to Thailand apparently in disgust after being ordered to beat Buddhist monks protesting against the regime last week.”
The military rulers of Burma, er Myanmar have cut off communication to the outside world. Reporting for The New York Time, Seth Mydans filed this story: In Crackdown, Myanmar Junta Unplugs Internet. “It was about as simple and uncomplicated as shooting demonstrators in the streets. Embarrassed by smuggled video and photographs that showed their people rising up against them, the generals who run Myanmar simply switched off the Internet. ¶ Until last Friday television screens and newspapers abroad were flooded with scenes of tens of thousands of red-robed monks in the streets and of chaos and violence as the junta stamped out the biggest popular uprising there in two decades. ¶ But then the images, text messages and posts stopped, shut down by generals who belatedly grasped the power of the Internet to jeopardize their crackdown. ¶ ‘Finally they realized that this was their biggest enemy, and they took it down,’ said Aung Zaw, editor of an exile magazine called Irrawaddy, whose Web site has been a leading source of news over the past weeks.”
In today’s Four at Four, I focus on the Blackwater news not directly related to yesterday’s hearing. For my hearing coverage, please see my essay, Pop! Or, how the Blackwater Hearing Was Covered by the Media.
In ‘From Errand to Fatal Shot to Hail of Fire to 17 Deaths‘ reporting for The New York Times, James Glanz and Alissa Rubin meet with Haider and Mariam Ahmed, whose mother and older brother were killed by Blackwater in the Nisour Square massacre, and their father. ” The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee. ¶ As the gunfire continued, at least one of the Blackwater guards began screaming, ‘No! No! No!’ and gesturing to his colleagues to stop shooting, according to an Iraqi lawyer who was stuck in traffic and was shot in the back as he tried to flee… A traffic policeman standing at the edge of the square, Sarhan Thiab, saw that a young man in a car had been hit.”
“We tried to help him,” Mr. Thiab said. “I saw the left side of his head was destroyed and his mother was crying out: ‘My son, my son. Help me, help me.’”
…Then Blackwater guards opened fire with a barrage of bullets, according to the police and numerous witnesses. Mr. Ahmed’s father later counted 40 bullet holes in the car. His mother, Mohassin Kadhim, appears to have been shot to death as she cradled her son in her arms. Moments later the car caught fire after the Blackwater guards fired a type of grenade into the vehicle…
The shooting started like rain; everyone escaped his car,” said Fareed Walid Hassan, a truck driver who hauls goods in his Hyundai minibus. He saw a woman dragging her child. “He was around 10 or 11,” he said. “He was dead. She was pulling him by one hand to get him away. She hoped that he was still alive.”
You must read this piece.
ABC News suggests mental stress on employees may be factor in Blackwater killings. Said one military contractor, “Blackwater might have a house shrink, but I’d be surprised if they do. Anyone who has spent more than a few months in Iraq is bound to have mental health issues… You put a bunch of jittery guys into a situation where everyone wants to bomb or kill Americans and that’s a recipe for a really bad situation.” “The VA estimates that 34 percent of soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress. A DynCorp study found that 24 percent of contractors reported having symptoms, a number the company’s psychologist, Paul Brand, said was probably low due to people too embarrassed to report conditions honestly. ¶ Some 125,000 American and international contractors are working in Iraq.”
The AP reports that “Congress is moving to close a loophole in the law that has left private security contractors in Iraq like Blackwater immune to criminal prosecution, despite warnings by the White House that expanding the law could cause new problems. ¶ The House was expected to pass legislation on Wednesday by Rep. David Price, D-N.C., that would extend criminal jurisdiction of U.S. courts to any federal contractor working alongside military operations. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit as soon as possible and send the measure to… Bush to sign… ¶ White House officials say they support increasing accountability of contractors abroad, but worry that the House bill is too vague and may go too far. An administration statement issued Wednesday said the bill would have ‘unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations.'” In an earlier story, Legal Avenues Against Blackwater Murky, the AP reported “Somewhere in western Washington state is a former Blackwater contractor who might, under normal circumstances, be on trial in Baghdad… Amid an outcry from Iraqis who questioned how an American could kill someone in those circumstances and return to the U.S. a free man, the Justice Department announced it would investigate.” Anonymous Bush administration officials claimed “the case has been turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office for western Washington, where the man lives”. “It’s been 10 months and the Justice Department has not done anything to him,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) said. “If you work for Blackwater, you get packed up and you leave within two days and you face a $1,000 fine.”
The AP reports that John Edwards wants to limit the government’s of security contractors. In remarks provided by his campaign to the AP, Edwards says “We must put the democracy back in our military and prevent a disaster like the continuation of the Iraq War from ever occurring again… As commander in chief, I will transfer most security missions currently performed by contractors back to military command, where they belong… If you’re not ending combat operations, you’re not ending the war”.
Once again according to AFP, Iraq PM says ‘unfit’ Blackwater must go. “Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday that Blackwater should leave the country because of the mountain of evidence against the under-fire US security firm… ¶ ‘I believe the abundance of evidence against it makes it unfit to stay in Iraq,’ Maliki told a televised press conference in Baghdad.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the State Department is examining its Iraq security practices. “Members of a team dispatched by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have begun a review of the State Department’s security practices in Iraq… ¶ Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s director of management policy, and Ambassador Eric Boswell, a former assistant secretary of State for diplomatic security, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday and have begun meeting with U.S. and Iraqi officials, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo. Other members of the team are expected to arrive soon. Kennedy, who heads the panel, will present his preliminary findings to Rice by the end of the week, Nantongo said.”
Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post reports that, shock, mercenaries report far fewer incidents than actually occur. “Two former Blackwater security guards said they believed employees fired more often than the company has disclosed. One, a former Blackwater guard who spent nearly three years in Iraq, said his 20-man team averaged ‘four or five’ shootings a week, or several times the rate of 1.4 incidents a week reported by the company. The underreporting of shooting incidents was routine in Iraq, according to this former guard.” David Horner, a former truck driver contractor for Crescent Security Group said preemptive firing was part of traveling through town. “I know that I personally never saw anyone shoot at us, but we blazed through that town all the time… Personally I did not take aim at one person. But I don’t know what everybody else did. We’d come back at the end of the day, and a lot of times we were out of ammo.” Horner “said he quit after one of Crescent’s Iraqi employees fired a belt-fed PK machine gun from the bed of Horner’s truck and hit what appeared to be two members of the Iraqi National Guard.” The man in charge of monitoring contractors under military contract in Iraq, Maj. Kent Lightner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said he normally accepted a company’s report. “I’m not going to investigate. I’m not going to worry about it, unless somebody comes back and says, ‘Yeah, they dropped two children, or they dropped a woman,'” Lightner said.
Somewhat lost in yesterday’s hearing, the House Oversight Committee released a memo on ‘The Crash of Blackwater Flight 61’. “On November 27, 2004, a flight operated by Blackwater Aviation and designated ‘Blackwater 61’ crashed in a canyon in a remote area of Afghanistan, killing the members of the flight crew and three U.S. military personnel who were passengers. According to government investigative reports and other documents obtained by the Committee, the crash and the deaths of the crew and passengers were caused by a combination of reckless conduct by the Blackwater pilots and multiple mistakes by Blackwater, including hiring unqualified and inexperienced pilots, failure to file flight plans, and failure to have proper equipment for tracking and locating missing aircraft.”
And now for something completely different. The Telegraph reports a new Wallace and Gromit film is in the works. “The adventures of plasticine friends Wallace and Gromit are set to continue with the pairs’ next film, a murder mystery set in a bakery entitled Trouble At Mill. Creator Nick Park has revealed to fans details of the next Aardman Animations venture… Trouble At Mill, to be shown on BBC1, is a return to the 30 minute format… It sees flat-cap favourite Wallace in his new bakery where he is ‘dough-eyed’ in love with bread enthusiast Piella Bakewell… The film is currently in pre-production but exclusive clips can be viewed on the Wallace and Gromit website.”
So, what else is happening?
Oct 03 2007
Cross-posted on Daily Kos.
This diary is an overview of yesterday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee featuring testimony from Blackwater CEO Erik Prince and three officials from the State Department: Ambassador David Statterfield, Ambassador Richard Griffin, and Deputy Assistant Secretary William Moser. Video of the hearing is available.
This diary is also a follow up to my previous diary, BOOM! Waxman Fires a Shot Across Blackwater’s Bow!
The overview is divided into two parts: blog coverage and traditional media coverage. But first, here are my three observations that I didn’t see covered anywhere else. My observations concern the remarks of Ranking Member Tom Davis (R-VA) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
Davis explained away how Prince/Blackwater operated as “just performing his contract“. I think this is today’s equivalent to “just following orders”.
When Davis was explaining why the U.S. military did not protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, he said “let me just say, troops are there, ah, are not paid to protect civilians. That’s not what military troops are trained for.” I found that remark simply stunning. Our military is not trained to protect civilians meaning you and me. If our military is not defensive, then surely the Defense Department should revert to its original name: the War Department.
Lastly, I think Kucinich was 100 percent on mark when he said “if war is privatized, then private contractors have a vested interest in keeping the war going. Longer the war goes on, the more money they make.” This rather obvious observation was ignored by all the traditional media coverage I read.
Now on to the blog coverage. As is our custom, progressive blogs including Daily Kos, Firedoglake, and TPMmuckraker liveblogged the hearing. TPMmuckraker had good coverage of the Blackwater hearing yesterday with sixteen posts during the hearing.
Spencer Ackerman continues with ‘Blackwater’s Prince Digs In For Tough Hearing‘. “The thin, baby-faced Prince walked in wearing a crisp blue suit, a starched white shirt, and his shoulders square. He gave a quick smile before sitting at the witness table. An associate in a black suit behind him clapped him on the back for support during what’s sure to be an uncomfortable hearing.” I digress. Ackerman omitted from his description what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described as “his blond hair in a military cut and tapped his pen as he fielded questions”. Not to be outdone, the other reporters fixed on Prince’s hair too. John Broder of the NY Times described Prince as wearing “a trim dark blue suit with his blond hair in a fresh cut”. Were these a deliberate Aryan reference? Continuing, “Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) started the hearing by paying Prince a backhanded compliment. So many of the scions of the nation’s ‘wealthy and politically connected families’ don’t join the military, Waxman said, before thanking Prince, who was a Navy SEAL before founding Blackwater, for his service.”
About 30 minutes later, Ackerman weighs in with this idiotic reasoning from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) ‘Attack on Blackwater is Attack on… Petraeus‘. ‘What they couldn’t do to our men in women in uniform… I’m not here to defend Blackwater,’ Issa said with the utmost sincerity, ‘but I am here to defend General Petraeus and members of the military.’ (Blackwater contractors, by the way, make on average six times more than U.S. troops in Iraq.) … ‘they’re trying to discredit contractors now.'” Issa was a one-trick dog in the hearing, yapping about how Blackwater wasn’t a Republican business, which it is. “Labeling some company as Republican-oriented because of family members is inappropriate, and I would hope that we not do it again,” Issa would later whine. To which, Waxman responded: “Well, the only one who’s done it is you.” Issa was left sputtering. Ackerman blogs on the exchange in ‘Is Blackwater A Republican Company?‘
Perhaps the largest connect-the-dots insight from TPMmuckraker came from a post-hearing post from Paul Kiel on Prince and the Republicans efforts to sandbag the Democratic candidate for senate in 2006 in Pennsylvania. In ‘Prince, Solid Republican, Also Supported Green‘ Kiel writes, Prince “and his wife shelled out $10,000 in contributions for a Green. ¶ It was part of an effort by connected Republicans (lobbyists and millionaire CEOs among them) to recruit Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli to enter the 2006 Senate race.” Issa said Prince’s support of a Green was proof that “there were people on both the far left and the far right relative to the Chairman [Waxman] who may have benefited by your company…”
The next post by Ackerman recapped an exchange between Prince and political doofus, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) who asked what Prince “meant by the ‘use of force continuum’ that his contractors in Iraq used. Are their rules dictated by the State Department? ‘Yes sir,’ Prince replied. ¶ Are they similar to the Defense Department’s rules of engagement? McHenry asked. ¶ ‘Yes, they’re essentially the same,’ Prince said — before correcting himself. ‘Sorry, that’s the Department of Defense rules for contractors. We do not have the same rules as soldiers.’
Ackerman then blogs on ‘The Case of the Drunken Blackwater Shooter‘. Prince made no excuse on behalf of a drunken Blackwater mercenary who killed the bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president. “‘We can fire, we can fine, but we cannot detain,’ was Prince’s answer. Did Blackwater help him flee the country? ‘It could easily be,’ Prince said.
In Prince: We Didn’t Get No-Bid Contracts, Ackerman recounts how Prince described the government choosing his firm as “like buying something from the Sears catalog”. In an update, Ackerman writes “Prince, after conferring with aides, said that ‘one of the contracts I said was GSA schedule was in fact sole-source.’ He said he didn’t know anything further”.
In the post, Blackwater vs. U.S. Counterinsurgency Efforts, “Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) read out a raft of quotes from U.S. military counterinsurgency experts… who say it’s better for counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq if contractors fell within the military chain of command… Prince replied, but he didn’t say that his efforts don’t come into conflict with the mission… “The broader question of whether Blackwater hurts counterinsurgency efforts, as some experts contend, went unaddressed.”
The next post, ‘Prince Equivocates on ‘Non-Compete’ Clauses‘ delved into mercenary firms recruiting soldiers from the military. Prince said “it would be upsetting to a lot of soldiers if they didn’t have the ability to use the skills they learned in the in military in the private sector.” If that doesn’t sound scary to you, it should.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) tried to pin down Prince on ‘What Laws Govern Blackwater?‘ But really, not Prince, not the State Department weasels, nor anyone else really could say what laws apply to mercenaries in Iraq.
In ‘Prince: “I’m Not A Financially Driven Guy”‘, Ackerman writes “Two bits of testimony Prince would come to regret: He said earlier today that Blackwater gets about 90 percent of its business from federal contracts, and he said that, ‘as an example,’ under some of the contracts Blackwater has, it earns about a 10 percent profit margin.” Rep Christopher Murphy (D-CT) “said Prince’s plea of ignorance is ‘hard to believe.’ Prince’s reply? ‘I’m not a financially driven guy.'” In what I think was a major lost opportunity, Murphy should have followed-up with this question: ‘what does drive you Mr. Prince?‘
The remaining posts from Ackerman on the hearing cover the testimony of the senior State Department weasels. In ‘Why Did State Help Drunken Blackwater Shooter Flee Iraq?‘ Weasel Richard Griffin used the “it’s not appropriate for me to comment” in an ongoing investigation excuse favored by those in the Bush administration. Griffin added, “The area about what laws are available for prosecution is very murky… Lack of clarity is part of the problem.” You can say that again! Lack of Bush administration accountability is a significant part of the problem too. The State Department confirmed ‘Blackwater Got Sole-Source Contract in 2004‘ that an audit “found that Blackwater had overbilled State for an undisclosed amount of money.” Weasel Griffin explained how the State Department had ‘Blackwater’s Rules of Engagement Made Simple‘. “One does not have to wait until the protectee or co-worker is physically harmed before taking action,” Griffin said.
Finally, the State Department’s “don’t recalls” were out in full force with questioning Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) on ‘Did State Investigate Blackwater’s 2005 al-Hilla Shooting?‘ “‘We will get back to you,’ Satterfield said. ¶ Lynch was incredulous. Didn’t Satterfield, the former deputy chief of mission, recall whether the embassy investigated an improper shooting and subsequent apparent cover-up? ‘Not with the detail it deserves,’ he said. ‘I would prefer to respond to you in writing.’ Pressed repeatedly, Satterfield finally said he ‘cannot recall’ if the incident was ever investigated. ¶ Waxman complained that the committee received ‘a better response from Blackwater than the State Department.’
Traditional Media Coverage
Here is how the hearing was covered by the traditional media.
In Iraq security firm denies trigger-happy charge by Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian, writes “The US company at the centre of the scandal over the role of private security guards in Iraq brushed aside accusations that it was a cowboy outfit yesterday, even as details emerged about a incident in which an allegedly drunken member was involved in a fatal shooting. Testifying before a congressional hearing Erik Prince, the normally secretive head of Blackwater, denied his company was overly aggressive… A former navy Seal, Mr Prince portrayed his company as professional and patriotic. He denied it was overly aggressive and insisted it whisked away clients from ambush sites as quickly as possible. ‘We only play defence,’ he said… He stressed the dangers that his team faced in carrying out their work, which was to get clients – ‘our package’ – away from an ambush site as fast as possible.”
There were updates throughout the hearings from The New York Times with Mike Nizza liveblogging in his blog column, The Lede. For example:
1:23 p.m. Mr. Prince does not like being called a “mercenary.”
“A lot of people call us mercenaries,” he said, even though “We have Americans working for America protecting Americans.” That’s in stark contrast to the Oxford English Dictionary definition: “A professional soldier working for a foreign government.”
But that’s the second definition in The American Heritage Dictionary. Here’s the first: “Motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain.”
With his entry for 12:31 p.m., Nizza triumphantly writes “The Times’s first article on the hearings is in.” The story is a decent piece of reporting on deadline by five NY Times reporters that was updated and expanded upon throughout the hearing. I like Nizza’s liveblog style, although professional rivalry at times seems it irk him that Waxman is quoting from the Washington Post.
Reporting for The New York Times, John Broder files ‘Chief of Blackwater Defends His Employees‘. Erik Prince “accused Congress and the news media of a ‘rush to judgment’ about Blackwater episodes that left civilians dead, including a chaotic confrontation in a Baghdad square on Sept. 16 that killed at least 17 Iraqis… Prince said he welcomed additional oversight and new regulations from Congress to clarify the company’s roles and legal responsibilities overseas.” The State Department stooges “defended the government’s use of security employees from Blackwater and other firms that handle diplomatic security in Iraq, saying the armed guards performed a critical service. ‘Without private security details, we would not be able to interface with Iraqi government officials, institutions and other Iraqi civilians critical to our mission there,’ said David M. Satterfield, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq and a senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” Satterfield also said he had personally benefitted from Blackwater’s protection. Conflict of interest at the State Department, perchance?
In, ‘Blackwater Chief Defends Firm‘, Karen DeYoung puts in the report for the Washington Post. “The chairman of the Blackwater… said… that guards working for his company have ‘acted appropriately at all times’ while protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq and accused critics of making ‘baseless allegations of wrongdoing’ against them.”
Erik Prince said it is up to the Justice Department, not Blackwater, to investigate shootings and other acts of violence involving Blackwater employees and, if warranted, prosecute personnel involved in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
“We fired him,” he said of a Blackwater employee who allegedly shot and killed a security guard of one Iraq’s vice presidents last Christmas Eve while intoxicated. The man was fined “multiple thousands of dollars,” Prince said. But “we can’t flog him. We can’t incarcerate him. That’s up to the Justice Department.” The guard has not been charged.
But, of course, the designated senior State Department weasels “testified that it remains unclear whether U.S. laws cover the contractors. ‘The area of laws available for prosecution is very murky,’ said Richard J. Griffin… ‘That lack of clarity is part of the problem.'”
Peter Spiegel reports for the Los Angeles Times in Blackwater gets a united defense. “Top State Department officials and the head of their beleaguered private security firm, Blackwater USA, put forth a unified defense Tuesday against an onslaught of congressional criticism over the company’s violent encounters with Iraqis. ¶ The State Department and security officials attempted to portray Blackwater’s armed guards as highly trained professionals who open fire in the streets of Baghdad only when the lives of the diplomats they are hired to protect are threatened.” That sure smacks of collusion to me.
The State Department’s top Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, praised Blackwater and said its guards had performed “exceedingly well.” He denied that the department had improperly allowed contractors to evade prosecution for wrongdoing.
“We do believe that the overall mission of security contractors in Iraq is performed . . . with professionalism, with courage,” Satterfield said.
The mutual defense, in back-to-back appearances before the House Oversight Committee, seemed to frustrate congressional Democrats. At one point, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois accused the State Department’s top security official of parroting Blackwater’s “talking points.”
In Blackwater head defends firm from congressional critics, Warren Strobel reports on the hearing for the McClatchy Newspapers. Strobel ends his piece with:
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., told Prince that even if companies such as Blackwater are living up to their contract’s terms, they could harm the overall U.S. effort.
Tierney quoted Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq and a counter-insurgency expert: “Counterinsurgents that use excessive force to limit short-term risk alienate the local populace.”
“It does appear from some of the evidence here that Blackwater and other companies sometimes, at least, conduct their missions in ways that lead exactly in the opposite direction that General Petraeus wants to go. That doesn’t mean you’re not fulfilling your contractual obligations,” Tierney said.
Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitors in More questions on Blackwater, combines reporting on the hearings with outside analysis. “‘The use of contractors appears to be hampering efforts to actually win the counterinsurgency campaign [in Iraq] on multiple levels,’ writes Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a just-published report on the subject… ¶ The very presence of private firms performing functions once carried out by the US military has created a ‘dependency syndrome,’ he writes. ¶ Outsourcing of logistical jobs as well as protective services ‘has become the ultimate enabler, allowing operations to happen that otherwise might be politically impossible,’ according to Singer… ¶ Some Democratic lawmakers questioned whether an investigation led by the State Department could be impartial, given the department’s close relationship with Blackwater. ¶ ‘Yes, we believe that is possible,’ said Mr. Satterfield in response. He added that around the world the State Department dismisses security contractors it finds deficient ‘every day.'” Yeah right. Of the Prince testimony, Grier reports: “US government outsourcing of bodyguard and protective functions to firms such as his is an effective marshaling of resources, said Prince. ‘By doing so, more American soldiers are available to fight the enemy,’ he said… ‘To the extent that there is any loss of innocent life ever [in Iraq], let me express that is tragic,’ he said.” One wonders if Prince, Bush, and the other warmongers believe there is ‘innocent life’ in Iraq?
Surprisingly, the normally impartial The Hill gives a one-sided account of Tuesday’s hearing in Partisan battle rages over Blackwater. The article begins by quoting the Republicans’ goto doofus, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who said he was “grateful” for Blackwater’s big, sweaty guys protecting him in Iraq. And apparently without choking on the irony in what he was saying, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) noted “there has been no congressman killed while in Iraq”.
Dana Milbank weighs in with a piece for his column in the Washington Post, ‘The Man From Blackwater, Shooting From the Lip‘.
“Like the company he founded, defense contractor Erik Prince doesn’t seem to answer to anybody. His security business, Blackwater, has been involved in at least 195 shootings in Iraq — but it has operated outside U.S. and Iraqi laws. Similarly, when Prince made a rare public appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, he acted as if the lawmakers were wasting his time.
How much does Blackwater, recipient of $1 billion in federal contracts, make in profits? “We’re a private company, and there’s a key word there — private,” Prince answered…
The lack of prosecution for a drunken Blackwater worker who shot and killed a security guard to an Iraqi vice president? “We can’t flog him,” Prince said…
As the hearing stretched through the lunch hour, the witness grew cockier. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) said no more than “Thank you for being with us” before Prince shot back: “Glad I could come here and correct some facts.”
Prince had evidently made enough corrections, for a member of his entourage caught the chairman’s eye and made a “timeout” signal. The hearing thus adjourned, the Blackwater chief picked up the “MR. PRINCE” nameplate and, with a sly look, pocketed the souvenir.
Erik Prince is pictured here with his attorney, Stephen Ryan.
Finally, blogging for The Nation, John Nichols writes of ‘Blackwater’s Enablers at the State Department‘. “‘It’s hard to read these e-mails and not come to the conclusion that the State Department is acting as Blackwater’s enabler,’ Waxman told a hearing that saw Blackwater founder Erik Prince claim with a straight face that his company ‘acted appropriately at all times’… Blackwater, which has collected more than $1 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2001 to do security work once assigned to Marines, may be indefensible operation… ¶ Every indication is that Prince is a very bad man… But this investigation will not be done until Condoleezza Rice and her top aides have been placed under oath and required to testify about the high crimes and misdemeanors that enabled Blackwater and its employees to kill without consequences.” Absolutely. Rice’s testimony is a must.
Once again according to AFP, Iraq PM says ‘unfit’ Blackwater must go.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday that Blackwater should leave the country because of the mountain of evidence against the under-fire US security firm…
‘I believe the abundance of evidence against it makes it unfit to stay in Iraq,’ Maliki told a televised press conference in Baghdad.”
Someone, anyone, in Congress needs to stand up and state the obvious. As long as the Bush administration permits Blackwater to remain in Iraq, the legitimacy of Iraq’s government and its sovereignty is completely at doubt.
Oct 03 2007
In a recent post, I excoriated Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her statement on not funding the Iraq Debacle. But as mcjoan notes, one has to wonder who is calling the shots in the House. After all, Pelosi voted against the war and championed John Murtha for the #2 slot in the House leadership. The question to ask – is Steny Hoyer the actual Dem leader in the House?
Internal tensions erupted yesterday among House Dem leaders over Rep. David Obey's threat to block war funding without withdrawal timetables and his suggestion of a war tax, The Hill reports. . . . “It’s hard to believe you could pick a worse time to do something to divide the caucus than the day Democrats and Republicans come together on both an Iraq bill and in sending the children’s health bill to the president,” a Democratic leadership aide told the paper. “The timing of this announcement made no sense.”
I'm told, however, that there's a bit more to these tensions than meet the eye. House insiders say they think that this anonymous dumping on Obey came from the office of House Dem leader Steny Hoyer. Hoyer is a big proponent of the new House Iraq bill being sponsored by Dem Rep. Neil Abercrombie that was voted on yesterday and passed overwhelmingly. Because this measure lacks a binding withdrawal timetable, others in leadership — like Pelosi — are cool to the idea, insiders point out.
. . . “The dumping on Obey likely came from Hoyer, who was much more enthusiastic about the moderate — read: toothless — Ambercrombie legislation than the rest of leadership is,” a House insider tells me.
Steny Hoyer, like Rahm Emanuel, has been awful on Iraq and obviously he seeks to torpedo the not funding without a timeline idea. It looks like he and Rahm Emanuel are the problem.
Greg Sargent updates:
Late Update: Hoyer’s office adamantly denies that it was the source of the criticism of Obey. “This is categorically false and the person making this statement has no idea what he or she is talking about,” Hoyer spokesperson Stacey Bernards told me.
Just to clarify, the House insider quoted above was speculating that he/she thought that Hoyer’s office was the logical source of the criticism based on his/her reading of the internal dynamics at play in the House. The insider conceded that he/she had no direct knowledge that this had happened, nor did he/she say she did.
What is interesting to me is what Hoyer does NOT deny, that he is not in favor of Obey’s initiative and that he is still championing Abercrombie’s ridiculous proposal.
In other words, Hoyer is STILL the problem.
Oct 03 2007
skymutt has an excellent diary up on Representative David Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Amondgst other things, he discusses the tax aspect of Obey’s recent statements….and that is what the media is covering.
Is Obey the key to ending the Iraq Occupation? If his statements are any indication it is indeed a possibility. He is the first person in our government to take the next STRATEGIC step in ending the war….or at least changing the conversation. By indicating he will not just give Bush a blank check, this at the very least, changes the balance of power.
Obey is indicating that he will…as is within his power, defund the war. This bold statement is well worth our support. Especially when that support….support to take the next step in the ending the occupation will take about…..five whole minutes of your time.
Crossposted at Orange.
Is defunding the absolute silver bullet perfect solution to ending the occupation? Perhaps not. Is there another solution besides, as Rahm and Pelosi have recently said…. waiting for a Dem President?
That means nothing at all will change for over a year from now….and that is just to start the process.
Yes there are, theoretically, ways Bush can get around defunding. But strategically defunding changes everything. In two very important ways.
It makes Bush have to be proactive….he has to take action to thwart the will of Congress and of the American people to end his war. If he wants to find the money someplace else….let him. And let him explain WHY he is going outside of standard government procedure to APPROPRIATE (steal) $200 Billion of taxpayers money.
It makes the Republicans have to introduce a bill to fund the war. So instead of Democrats buying responsibility for the war, the Republicans have to take ALL the responsibility….and blame….for continuing this horrible nightmare.
From Obey’s statement:
The President is asking Congress to appropriate an additional supplemental request of almost 200 billion dollars, a blank check to finance US activities in Iraq, and he clearly expects that request to be repeated for years to come. I would be more than willing to report out a supplemental meeting the President’s request if that request were made in support of a change in policy that would do three things:
First– establish as a goal the end of US involvement in combat operations by January of 2009;
Second– ensure that troops would have adequate home time between deployments as outlined in the Murtha and Webb Amendments;
Third– as part of a determination to engage in an intensive broad scale diplomatic offensive, involving other countries in that region.
But this policy does not do that. It simply borrows almost 200 billion dollars to give to the Departments of Defense, State, Energy, and Justice– with no change in sight. As Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I have absolutely no intention of reporting out of committee anytime this session any such request that simply serves to continue the status quo.
People have objections to defunding…and like any policy or strategy, it is not perfect. But what is the alternative at this point?
Doing Nothing…..except giving Bush more blood money.
So go ahead in the comments, make your objections. But before you do, give Obey’s office a call and tell them you support the plan. If for no other reason than it DOES change the status quo. If for no other reason than we are OUT of other options. We all want to end the war, right?
Here is an opportunity to do SOMETHING towards that ending. So even if you have objections to defunding….
Please call Obey.
Please e-mail or fax or call Speaker Pelosi and tell her office you support Obey.
At this point, when Pelosi has given up, what do we have to lose? Congress has NO other solutions. This is quite possibly our last chance to do SOMETHING …..besides wait…..while people die…..to end the war. We all want to end the war, but we are all discouraged. Here is a lone bright spot of hope…so once again I urge you to….
RIDE KOSSAKS RIDE …and not give up until WE have done everything WE can do to End The War
Washington, DC Office (202) 225-3365
Toll Free Contact Congress! 1-800-828-0498
Office of the Speaker
I want to say this one last time.
Without this step, without at least INVOKING the Power of the Purse……..ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE can change the conversation, can change the balance of power. By lending our support to this proposal and helping it grow, we are taking what may truly be our last chance to End the War in Congress.
Without shaking things up with defunding, there is literally, nothing else left that we can do.