Monday, August 08, 2005

ramblins of buddy don: a lil this n that fer mundy

i gutta git to wurk a lil early today, so i dont have much time fer commentairy, witch i reckun ye jes gut lucky today! but thangs is happenin!
  • The Republican pork barrel:
    AT $286.4 BILLION, the highway bill just passed by Congress is the most expensive public works legislation in US history. In addition to funding the interstate highway system and other federal transportation programs, it sets a new record for pork-barrel spending, earmarking $24 billion for a staggering 6,376 pet projects, spread among virtually every congressional district in the land. The enormous bill -- 1,752 pages long -- wasn't made public until just before it was brought to a vote, and so, as The New York Times noted, ''it is safe to bet that none of the lawmakers, not even the main authors, had read the entire package."

    That didn't stop them from voting for it. It passed 412 to 8 in the House, 91 to 4 in the Senate.

    Huge as the bill was, it wasn't quite huge enough for Representative Don Young of Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. ''It's not as big as what he'd like," a committee spokesman said, ''but is still a very good bill and will play a major role in addressing transportation and highway needs."

    One wonders what more Young could have wanted. The bill funnels upward of $941 million to 119 earmarked projects in Alaska, including $223 million for a mile-long bridge linking an island with 50 residents to the town of Ketchikan on the mainland. Another $231 million is earmarked for a new bridge in Anchorage, to be named -- this is specified in the legislation -- Don Young's Way. There is $3 million for a film ''about infrastructure that demonstrates advancements in Alaska, the last frontier." The bill even doffs its cap to Young's wife, Lu: The House formally called it ''The Transportation Equity Act -- a Legacy for Users," or TEA-LU.
  • Afghanistan's Forgotten War:
    Afghanistan is out of the headlines, but its war against the Taliban goes on. These days, it is not going well. One of the most important reasons for that is the ambivalence of Pakistan, the nation that originally helped create, nurture and train the Taliban. Even now, Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, seems to invest far more energy in explaining his government's tolerance of Taliban activities than he does in trying to shut them down.

    General Musharraf has provided logistical help to Pentagon operations and cooperation to American law enforcement agencies trying to track down Al Qaeda leaders. But his aid has been frustratingly selective. He has been an intermittent collaborator in the fight against international terrorism rather than a fully committed ally. Washington has been understandably reluctant to push him for more consistency, not wanting to risk losing the help he does offer.

    Pakistan's passive enabling of the Taliban, however, is too important and dangerous for Washington to overlook. The current Taliban offensive is killing American soldiers - at least 38 have died in action so far this year, as well as hundreds of Afghans. It also endangers next month's parliamentary elections.

    Successful elections are crucial to extending the geographical reach of Afghanistan's new national institutions. And they can provide needed political accountability for President Hamid Karzai, who now rules without an elected Parliament. Afghanistan will be a functioning democracy only when citizens can take their grievances against the central government to elected local representatives instead of to armed local warlords. Those grievances are real. Some governors and police chiefs Mr. Karzai has appointed are thuggish and corrupt. Antidrug efforts go after poor farmers while traffickers thrive. Alternative development lags. A lack of judges stymies the rule of law.
  • Some Bombs Used in Iraq Are Made in Iran, U.S. Says:
    Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents.

    American commanders say the deadlier bombs could become more common as insurgent bomb makers learn the techniques to make the weapons themselves in Iraq.

    But just as troubling is that the spread of the new weapons seems to suggest a new and unusual area of cooperation between Iranian Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis to drive American forces out - a possibility that the commanders said they could make little sense of given the increasing violence between the sects in Iraq.

    Unlike the improvised explosive devices devised from Iraq's vast stockpiles of missiles, artillery shells and other arms, the new weapons are specially designed to destroy armored vehicles, military bomb experts say. The bombs feature shaped charges, which penetrate armor by focusing explosive power in a single direction and by firing a metal projectile embedded in the device into the target at high speed. The design is crude but effective if the vehicle's armor plating is struck at the correct angle, the experts said.
  • Why America Is More Dependent Than Ever on Saudi Arabia:
    President Bush might not have turned up personally in Riyadh yesterday but he certainly sent a high-powered delegation to pay his respects to the new leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.

    The American turnout, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, former President George H. W. Bush, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, was the latest signal that relations between the two countries have thawed since the strains of 9/11. But it was also an acknowledgment of a simple fact: like it or not, the United States is more dependent than ever on Saudi Arabia.

    "The Saudis are in a great position today," said Jean-François Seznec, a professor at Columbia University's Middle East Institute. "We cannot be enemies with everybody. We need their oil desperately."

    Indeed, the alternatives to Saudi Arabia are fewer today than seemed to be the case just three years ago. Predictions of a boom in Iraqi oil have been proved wrong; Iran, OPEC's second-largest oil producer, is locked on a collision course with the West; Venezuela is following an erratic path; and Russia's commitment to market reforms and foreign investments seems increasingly unreliable.

    All this has added to Saudi Arabia's already impressive clout. What is more, other powers - mainly from Asia - seek greater access to its resources and have been increasingly courting the Saudis. "They can play the United States against other buyers, like China," Mr. Seznec said. "And why wouldn't they?"
  • Military Says Troops Demanded 'Rent' From Iraqi Vendors:
    California Army National Guard troops charged unauthorized, off-the-books "rent" to Iraqi-owned businesses inside Baghdad's Green Zone in Iraq to raise money for a "soldier's fund," military officials and sources within the troops' battalion said Friday.

    The disclosure is the latest to emerge from a wide-ranging investigation into the conduct of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment of the Guard, which is headquartered in Modesto, Calif.

    Military officials had confirmed previously that the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Frey, had been suspended and that one of the battalion's companies, based in Fullerton, Calif., had been removed from patrol duties and restricted to an Army base south of Baghdad, the capital.

    According to military officials and members of the battalion, soldiers from the battalion's Bravo Company, which is based in Dublin, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco, approached several businesses earlier this year that were owned and operated by Iraqi nationals.

    The businesses -- a dry cleaner, a convenience store and the like -- catered to U.S. soldiers and were located on the fringe of the U.S. military's operating base inside the Green Zone, the fortified hub of the Iraqi government, U.S. occupation officials, embassies and contractor headquarters. The businesses were asked to pay the soldiers "rent."

    Lt. Col. Cliff Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, confirmed Friday that two vendors agreed to pay.
  • Of the Many Deaths in Iraq, One Mother's Loss Becomes a Problem for the President:
    CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 7 - President Bush draws antiwar protesters just about wherever he goes, but few generate the kind of attention that Cindy Sheehan has since she drove down the winding road toward his ranch here this weekend and sought to tell him face to face that he must pull all Americans troops out of Iraq now.

    Ms. Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed last year in Iraq, after which she became an antiwar activist. She says she and her family met with the president two months later at Fort Lewis in Washington State.

    But when she was blocked by the police a few miles from Mr. Bush's 1,600-acre spread on Saturday, the 48-year-old Ms. Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., was transformed into a news media phenomenon, the new face of opposition to the Iraq conflict at a moment when public opinion is in flux and the politics of the war have grown more complicated for the president and the Republican Party.

    Ms. Sheehan has vowed to camp out on the spot until Mr. Bush agrees to meet with her, even if it means spending all of August under a broiling sun by the dusty road. Early on Sunday afternoon, 25 hours after she was turned back as she approached Mr. Bush's ranch, Prairie Chapel, Ms. Sheehan stood red-faced from the heat at the makeshift campsite that she says will be her home until the president relents or leaves to go back to Washington. A reporter from The Associated Press had just finished interviewing her. CBS was taping a segment on her. She had already appeared on CNN, and was scheduled to appear live on ABC on Monday morning. Reporters from across the country were calling her cellphone.

    "It's just snowballed," Ms. Sheehan said beside a small stand of trees and a patch of shade that contained a sleeping bag, some candles, a jar of nuts and a few other supplies. "We have opened up a debate in the country."

    Seeking to head off exactly the situation that now seems to be unfolding, the administration sent two senior officials out from the ranch on Saturday afternoon to meet with her. But Ms. Sheehan said after talking to the officials - Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joe Hagin, a deputy White House chief of staff - that she would not back down in her demand to see the president.
  • Abuse Cases Open Command Issues at Army Prison:
    FORT BLISS, Tex., Aug. 4 - In a small courtroom at this vast Army training base, military prosecutors have been moving briskly to dispense with the cases they have filed in the brutal deaths in 2002 of two Afghan prisoners at the American military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan.

    On Thursday, a 24-year-old military intelligence sergeant pleaded guilty to assault and dereliction of duty for abusing one of the prisoners during an interrogation. Another interrogator, accused of tormenting the same detainee, agreed to plead guilty two days before. Military lawyers said that a plea deal was being negotiated with a third interrogator and that two reservist military policemen who received lesser punishments were cooperating with the inquiry.

    Military officials said they hoped the prosecutions would send a message that such abuses will not be tolerated, even in the country's fight against terrorism.
    But whatever their long-term implications, the cases have so far tended to illustrate how unprepared many soldiers were for their duties at Bagram, how loosely some were supervised and how vaguely the rules under which they operated were often defined.

    Along with other information that has emerged, trial testimony has underscored a question long at the core of this case: what is the responsibility of more senior military personnel for the abuses that took place?

    Many former Bagram officers have denied knowing about any serious mistreatment of detainees before the two deaths. But others said some of the methods that prosecutors have cited as a basis for criminal charges, including chaining prisoners to the ceilings of isolation cells for long periods, were either standard practice at the prison or well-known to those who oversaw it.

    None of the nine soldiers prosecuted thus far are officers.
    The Pain Deep Inside:
    Specialist Craig Peter Olander Jr. has the look of a mischievous kid, except that his eyes sometimes telegraph that they've seen too much. And there's a weariness that tends to slip into his voice that seems unusual for someone just 21 years old. Killing can do that to a person.

    Specialist Olander was a teenager from Waynesburg, Ohio, population 1,000, when he joined the Army in 2003. "It was very appealing," he said. "The benefits. College. And it was something I'd always wanted to do since I was a small boy - be in the Army."

    He had mixed feelings about going to Iraq, but he wasn't particularly upset. He didn't dwell on the possibility of getting killed or wounded. And he gave no thought at all to the spiritual or psychological toll that combat can take. "I was very confident in my training and I was very religious," he said. "I'd always read Bible stories as a child and I believed the Lord would look over me and his will would be done."

    He went to Iraq in early 2004 and quickly learned that nothing - not his military training, not the Bible, nothing - had adequately prepared him for the experience. By the time he returned several months later, he said, the trauma he had encountered in Iraq had reached deep inside him. There was both fear and the hint of a plea in his voice as he told me, with surprising candor, that he believed the things he'd had to do in Iraq might jeopardize the salvation of his soul.
nuff sed.

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