Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 27th, 2007

Training the enemy

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Now it’s evident that the US troops in Iraq are training those who later use that training against our troops. The NY Times:

Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought: ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers — the younger, more recent enlistees in particular — seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs — planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints — and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

It is not a question of loyalty, the soldiers insist. Sergeant Safstrom, for example, comes from a thoroughly military family. His mother and father have served in the armed forces, as have his three sisters, one brother and several uncles. One week after the Sept. 11 attacks, he walked into a recruiter’s office and joined the Army.

“You guys want to start a fight in my backyard, I got something for you,” he recalls thinking at the time.

But in Sergeant Safstrom’s view, the American presence is futile. “If we stayed here for 5, even 10 more years, the day we leave here these guys will go crazy,” he said. “It would go straight into a civil war. That’s how it feels, like we’re putting a Band-Aid on this country until we leave here.”

Their many deployments have added to the strain. After spending six months in Iraq, the soldiers of Delta Company had been home for only 24 hours last December when the news came. “Change your plans,” they recall being told. “We’re going back to Iraq.”

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 8:15 pm

The new US, under Bush

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 People often ask if I have ever experienced prejudice in the US because of my Iranian background. Up to now, I have always replied in the negative.

The last place I ever expected to encounter ignorance and apparent discrimination was at my university, a place renowned for international studies. But last week, at Georgetown University’s graduation ceremony, I found myself in shock and awe.

In awe at the inspiring keynote speech about America’s tradition of freedom made by Harvard historian Dr Bernard Bailyn.

In shock at one particular display of America’s post-9/11 insecurities and hyper-vigilance.

The university is located in the well-to-do Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington DC. I was there to support a graduating classmate. Sitting in the front row among proud parents, family and friends of graduating students, I was captivated by the speaker’s words.

“Nations and people do have dominant characteristics, and it’s a good time, a necessary time, to think briefly about our own essential characteristics. What others think about us, how we see ourselves, and how we actually are, matters.”

But, the sense of awe did not last long. Two portly university security guards brought me back to reality. “Please come with us,” one of them ordered. He caught me off guard. When I asked why, he told me, “You’re making some people here nervous.”

It was disturbing to think that nothing more than my Middle Eastern appearance had aroused someone’s suspicion. More shocking was the blunt inquiry of one of the guards about my national origin.

I told him I was a US citizen. After showing forms of identification, including my card from the BBC Persian Service, he commented: “So, you’re from Persia. Aren’t Babylon and the Tigris River in Persia?”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

Finding the Senator who placed the secret hold

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I blogged earlier about the Republican Senator who anonymously placed a hold on the Open Government Act. As we know from previous instances, once the cloak of anonymity is lifted, the Senator will usually immediately back down, saying (for example) that he just wanted a chance to read the bill, and releasing the hold.

You can expedite the process as described here.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 8:46 am

Posted in Congress, GOP

I hope this soda-pop scare is exaggerated

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But maybe it’s not:

A new health scare erupted over soft drinks last night amid evidence they may cause serious cell damage. Research from a British university suggests a common preservative found in drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA.

The problem – more usually associated with ageing and alcohol abuse – can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

The findings could have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who consume fizzy drinks. They will also intensify the controversy about food additives, which have been linked to hyperactivity in children.

Concerns centre on the safety of E211, known as sodium benzoate, a preservative used for decades by the £74bn global carbonated drinks industry. Sodium benzoate derives from benzoic acid. It occurs naturally in berries, but is used in large quantities to prevent mould in soft drinks such as Sprite, Oasis and Dr Pepper. It is also added to pickles and sauces.

Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance. A Food Standards Agency survey of benzene in drinks last year found high levels in four brands which were removed from sale.

Now, an expert in ageing at Sheffield University, who has been working on sodium benzoate since publishing a research paper in 1999, has decided to speak out about another danger. Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells known as the mitochondria.

He told The Independent on Sunday: “These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether.

“The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it – as happens in a number if diseased states – then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA – Parkinson’s and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing.”

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 8:42 am

Be careful using PayPal

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Interesting correspondence about an eBay sale that resulted in delivery of a different item. PayPal did not protect the buyer, apparently (from the correspondence) because he had mistakenly chosen the wrong category of transaction.

Be careful.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 8:39 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The mainstream media’s war against Gore

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What is it about Gore that so arouses the ire of the mainstream media? Look at this contrast between the treatments for Fred Thompson and Al Gore:

“Hero tales” and “demon tales” now drive (and decide) our White House elections. These tales come from the mainstream press corps—not just from “the right-wing machine.” You’ll hear these goony tales on the right too. But it’s the mainstream press which can tip our elections—and our mainstream press corps is deeply involved in distinguishing devils from angels.

By the way, in case you’ve missed it: The “hero tales” are bestowed on Reps; the “demon tales” are handed to Dems. The way this works has never been clearer. Consider the treatment handed two pols this week—treatment which differed by party.

Hero tales (Republican): First, consider Republican Fred Thompson. As far as we know, Thompson is a perfectly OK guy, if a bit on the slick, oily side. But at best, he’s a modestly-successful former pol with a mediocre, eight-year Senate record. Since leaving the Senate, he’s had a modest career as a TV and film actor.
Thompson’s political career has been modest. But what happened to “Ole Fred” in late March when he began making noise about seeking the White House? Of course! On Hardball, Chris Matthews gathered the clan to build standard “hero frameworks” around him. For excerpts from these fawning discussions, see yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER. But according to Matthews and his panel, Thompson is smart, handsome and articulate. He’s a tough guy who looks like a Daddy. He sounds like a president—and he looks like a president. He would win a match-up with Hillary Clinton. And of course, he seems honest and open. Beyond that, Matthews described how he “fell in love” with Thompson during his 1994 run for the Senate. After a weekend’s rest, Matthews continued the gushing. “He looks classic wise man. He has gravitas,” the talker gushingly said. “He’s got that Colin Powell feature, where you just sort of trust him.”

Last Sunday, the Washington Post built these same hero tales around Thompson, comparing him to John Wayne and Ronald Reagan. Outlook’s John Pomfret had scoured the country in search of the dumbest possible writer—and he published the dumbest possible piece about how much fun Ole Fred really is. Liz Garrigan gushed, smooched, pandered and fawned, even telling us that Thompson looks like Work—and, of course, that he’s great with the ladies. Almost two full pages of Outlook were built around this clownish gushing. It came with two pictures of Thompson, one quite large, and a chart which showed us his Reaganesque lineage.

No surprise. At present, that’s what happens to Major Reps when they decide to run for the White House. They’re constantly referred to as “America’s Mayor,” or as the head of the “Straight Talk Express.” Or Outlook decides to pour it on, telling us how much we should like them.

That’s what happened to a Big Rep this week. Now, consider what happened to a Big Dem. Consider what happened to Gore.

Demon tales (Democrat): Al Gore has not had a mediocre career. His Oscar-winning documentary film has been credited with transforming the world debate about warming. He’s now a Nobel Prize nominee for his decades of work in this area. Indeed, he wrote the book on warming all the way back in 1992, with his first best-seller, Earth in the Balance. In his spare time, he warned the country in 2002 against the idea of war with Iraq. Almost everyone now agrees that his advice should have been heeded. Thompson, by contrast, voted for the war resolution in October 2002. Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Ole Dumb-bell has warned us: People, Mars is warming!

By any standard, Gore is one of the most honored public figures in the world. So what happened this week when his new book was published? Of course! In the New York Times, a famous columnist devoted her column to the notion that Gore is just too f*cking fat. And Outlook decided to trash him too; Garrigan didn’t just pander to Thompson, she also filled her bizarre Outlook piece with insults directed at Gore. Her denigrations were so old and so tired that Pomfret seemed to have dug her up from a time machine. In Outlook, Gore was still being described as “road-kill.” Garrigan showed little sign of having heard about Gore’s cosmic successes.

Has it ever been more clear how modern White House politics works? This has gone on for quite a few years—and career liberals have staunchly refused to discuss it. But has it ever been more clear? Has the agenda behind the mainstream coverage ever been more freaking obvious?

Thompson’s a mediocrity—a borderline dope. Gore is one of the world’s most honored public servants. So readers, when even Gore gets trashed this way, isn’t it finally perfectly obvious? That no matter what a big Democrat does, he will be trashed as too fat and too phony? Has it ever been more clear? Has the mainstream press corps—the Pomfrets, the Matthews, the Dowds—ever made it more blindingly obvious?

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 8:02 am

Posted in Media

Iraq post-war chaos: Bush was warned

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Before the war began, reports clearly show that Bush was warned about what would happen after the collapse of the central government. But Bush ignores anything contrary to what he wants to hear, and so the reports went unheeded.

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq that ousting Saddam Hussein would create a “significant risk” of sectarian strife, encourage al-Qaida attacks and open the way for Iranian interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday released declassified prewar intelligence reports and summaries of others that cautioned that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “long, difficult and probably turbulent” and said that while most Iraqis would welcome elections, the country’s ethnic and religious leaders would be unwilling to share power.

Nevertheless, President Bush, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top aides decided not to deploy the major occupation that force military planners had recommended, planned to reduce U.S. troops rapidly after the invasion and believed that ousting Saddam would ignite a democratic revolution across the Middle East.

The administration also instituted a massive purge of members of Saddam’s Baath Party and disbanded the Iraqi army – moves that helped spark the country’s Sunni Muslim insurgency – even though the newly declassified intelligence reports had recommended against doing so.

The committee released two newly declassified January 2003 analyses by the National Intelligence Council – whose work reflects the consensus of the nation’s intelligence agencies – and summaries of reports by individual agencies as part of a four-year investigation into the administration’s use of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2007 at 7:52 am

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