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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, November 30, 2003

Many dead in Iraqi city firefight

The US says it faced uniformed pro-Saddam militants

The US military has reported killing 46 militants and wounding 18 in clashes in the central Iraqi city of Samarra.

Five US soldiers and a civilian were wounded in the fighting which raged as militants made a series of attacks on convoys in the city on Sunday.

But witnesses said a US tank had fired indiscriminately during the fighting, killing at least two factory-workers.

News of the fighting comes after a weekend of bloody ambushes across Iraq, largely targeting American allies.

US spokesman Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald said that the US forces had fought back with tank fire when they were attacked three times by militants wearing uniforms of the pro-Saddam Fedayeen fighters.

Bradley fighting vehicles responded with 120mm tank rounds and 25mm cannon fire, destroying three buildings in the city, he said.

"We're sending a clear message that anyone who attempts to attack our convoys will pay the price," the spokesman said.

Samarra is within the so-called "Sunni triangle" north of Baghdad - the heartland of Saddam Hussein loyalists

Ok, to a sane person, this is what we call a major escalation. A daylight attack by a force of at least 100 men, which gathered, formed up and sprung an ambush. It was obvious that it would end in failure, but to see uniformed Fedayeen pop up in a large unit seven months after Saddam's demise is not good news. Not in the slightest.

You won't see any more fiascos like this in the near future, but it was a definite message to the Americans, at the end of a bloody week of a bloody month. The Iraqis will stand, fight and die when they choose to. Which is something which should scare the American commanders. They're proving willing to take heavy losses to make a point. Months after major combat was supposed to be over.

posted by Steve @ 11:21:00 PM

11:21:00 PM

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A look inside our American Gulag

Though U.S. officials have released some inmates deemed harmless, new ones are still arriving, with about 20 coming and going last week. Amid a global argument about their rights, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide whether the captives at Guantanamo can at least challenge their detention in federal court. But in the meantime, however great the outcry from allies and human-rights groups, the U.S. military, along with the White House and the Justice Department, has not retreated from an unprecedented approach to prisoners captured in an unprecedented war.

If you are a government hungry for clues about the enemies' plans, one problem with the Geneva Convention governing treatment of traditional prisoners of war is that it includes strict rules limiting interrogation. So these detainees are called "enemy combatants," and there is no field manual outlining the rules for handling them. Inmates arrive with no knowledge of how long they will stay, facing the possibility of trial by a military tribunal whose procedures have yet to be tested, on charges that have yet to be revealed and that carry sentences that may depend on not just what crimes they committed but what country they are from. The U.S. last week cut a deal with Australia that if its detainee David Hicks is found guilty, he will not be executed and will be allowed to have his family in the courtroom and talk to his lawyers without Americans listening in. But the Brits are pushing for more, and what about the inmates from Yemen or Pakistan or Afghanistan? Seeing the risks of multiple standards of justice, Pentagon officials said last week that they are conducting a wholesale review of the tribunal rules.

Washington attorney Thomas Wilner represents the families of 12 Kuwaiti detainees whose case is among those the Supreme Court will hear early next year. He rejects the Bush Administration's insistence that detainees have no legal rights. "The arrogance of saying 'Well, we're feeding them well' is just absolutely absurd," he argues. Two of his clients' fathers have died while they were incarcerated. "They have had children born and parents die.*spaceThey don't get to see their families, and they have no hope of getting out, even if they are innocent. That is what the Geneva Convention is about." Wilner has no problem with the U.S. imprisoning proven terrorists. He just wants a way to establish who the bad guys are. "Can you imagine being an innocent person being swept up into this thing and having no opportunity to say to somebody 'Hey, you've got the wrong guy?'"

So far, the processing of detainees, whether for trial or release, has been slow; the Supreme Court's intervention, however, may have delivered a jolt. A U.S. military official tells Time that at least 140 detainees—"the easiest 20%"—are scheduled for release. The processing of these men has sped up since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case, said the source, who believes the military is "waiting for a politically propitious time to release them." U.S. officials concluded that some detainees were there because they had been kidnapped by Afghan warlords and sold for the bounty the U.S. was offering for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. "Many would not have been detained under the normal rules of engagement," the source concedes. "We're dealing with some very, very dangerous people, but the pendulum is swinging too far in the wrong direction."

The real question is not if Gitmo is right, any sane person knows it isn't. But if Gitmo is a failure. That's the question which should be on everyone's mind. Is Gitmo really contributing enough intelligence to make it worthwhile.

My feeling is that in terms of intel, Gitmo stopped being useful long ago. But we cannot just ship these people back, for political reasons, if nothing else. Any trial held there would be a farce. Maybe 20 percent are guilty of anything resembling a crime by traditional courts. Yet, their home governments don't want them.

Their ability to conduct a defense is obviously compromised by their indefinite detention alone. What are they going to be charged with? When? Why?

This detention, done arbitrarily and in clear contravention of the Geneva Accords, has no basis in logic. It leaves everything to the discretion of the president and that will backfire if there are ever trials. Like most things done by the Bush Administration, it is a short-sighted policy with a long term detriment.

posted by Steve @ 11:06:00 PM

11:06:00 PM

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More wishful thinking

OK, So this isn't by Paul Krugman. I swear to God I saw his name linked on the Times web page. Obviously, this is more of the same idiocy from Tom Friedman. I would have commented on this, differently, of course, but hey, it was a mistake. I was going to catch some football at a friend's bar and I haven't done that in a few years. Long story. Let's just say, watching football, drinking beer and eating causes you to gain weight. In my case, 10lbs in one month.

The Chant Not Heard

Published: November 30, 2003


But here's why the left needs to get beyond its opposition to the war and start pitching in with its own ideas and moral support to try to make lemons into lemonade in Baghdad:

First, even though the Bush team came to this theme late in the day, this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don't know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot.

Unless we begin the long process of partnering with the Arab world to dig it out of the developmental hole it's in, this angry, frustrated region is going to spew out threats to world peace forever. The next six months in Iraq — which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there — are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time. And it is way too important to leave it to the Bush team alone.

On Iraq, there has to be more to the left than anti-Bushism. The senior Democrat who understands that best is the one not running for president — Senator Joe Biden. He understands that the liberal opposition to the Bush team should be from the right — to demand that we send more troops to Iraq, and more committed democracy builders, to do the job better and smarter than the Bush team has.

Krugman has fallen, sadly, into the trap of believing democracy can work by impositon. Which it, of course, cannot.

The focus of US forces in Iraq is basically humiliating men in front of their families and killing children in a desperate bid to stay alive. It's not building anything like democracy. It's not building stability or security. It wasn't noble or decent or good. It was a mistake based on a series of conscious lies and distortions. Desperate teenagers are trying to stay alive by any means, and if that means dead seven year olds, policemen and IGC members, that's their problem.

We cannot partner with the Arab world. We have alienated them to a degree which is beyond frightening. From our racist slurs to our open disrespect of Arab culture and Islam, as varied as letting dogs search bags with Korans to treating the IGC as American puppets, the Arab world has no reason to help us in Iraq.

The reality is simple: Ayatollah Sistani and his Sunni peers will decide who runs Iraq. Not any amount of nation building, not trying harder, not making nice. We have thousands of Iraqis in jail, we fired the Iraqi Army and sent them into penury. We treat Iraqis with racist contempt and disrespect. The President's brother plots to carve his share from Iraq. We imposed a little known and detested exile as the next dictator of Iraq, without even considering that those who survived Saddam might disagree.

The Bush team embarked on this project cloaked in lies. They never told the truth to the American public. It is beyond redemption. The only thing is left is our escape from Iraq.

We have no allies in Iraq. No support, no friends. Only collaborators and lackies. The shia watch and wait for us to fail. The Iraqi resistance garners more support daily. The embittered ex-soldiers having thrown their lot in the resistance, based not in religion or love of Saddam, but a deep nationalism which crosses ethnic and religious borders.

There is nothing for us to build. We build what the resistance allows us to build. So schools go up, but the pipeline stays broken. CPA headquarters gets shelled every night, while it is the middle of a city. The resistance can mortar a division headquarters without fear of discovery. Spanish intelligence officers are murdered and dismembered before a cheering crowd. Democracy is not the issue, survival is.

There is no nobility in our misguided attempt to remake Iraq. Only hubris and folly. We have precluded success and leave only degrees of failure. Our last hope is that Sistani allows us a peaceful transition and does not openly join the resistance. Because if that happens, escape from Iraq, like escape from Vietnam in 1975, will be the only available option.

posted by Steve @ 2:04:00 PM

2:04:00 PM

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The conventions: interesting for once?

Kevin Phillips, writing in the LA Times makes two points, one silly, one scary.

When Democratic delegates head to Boston for their late July convention, they might not have an obvious nominee. This possibility flies in the face of the party's record of the last three decades. Each time, the leading contender who won the bulk of the primaries won the nomination — on the first ballot.

In 2004, if no candidate breaks away from the pack early and clearly, Balkanization could set in, because too many convention delegates might be selected too quickly. By mid-March, with two-thirds of the delegates already chosen, you could have an incipient stalemate, with Howard Dean holding 28% of them, Dick Gephardt 22%, John Kerry 16%, Wesley Clark 12%, John Edwards 8%, Joe Lieberman 7% and Al Sharpton 5%.

Historically, this would augur ill for the Democrats. Since World War I, they have lost all four elections in which they chose a dark-horse compromise candidate after embarrassingly long bickering (more than 40 ballots in 1920, more than 100 in 1924) or later picked a nominee who had not run in the early primaries (Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Hubert Humphrey in 1968). At first blush, doing so again in 2004 would look dumb.

However, should Dean or someone else lead with a delegate count below or around 30% through March, that probably wouldn't be enough to command the nomination. To win, the early leader would have to politick heavily enough and persuasively enough in the spring to gather 38% to 40% of the delegates by May or June.

Hence, the wisdom of Dean and Kerry to forgo the public financing system for the primary period. Either would need more money than the system would allow to stay in high gear during April and May. Reaching 40% of the delegate count without that extra money might be impossible.

This kind of talk happens every year and is the wet dream of reporters. In reality, Dean or Clark should come into the convention with enough delegates to win, because of two things: one, the supporters switch horses. People who were supporting Edwards or Gephardt, will back away from them as they lose more and more. Because they want to be on the winning team, they will come to back the winner. The idea of a split convention is unlikely. Then the super delegates also make this impossible. Unless an accident happens, it should be clear by the end of March who is going to win. I'd say the momentum is with Dean, but Clark could overcome that, especially in the South. And the super delegates would be pressured by their state delegates to follow their lead. So while possible, it's unlikely that it will happen.

I don't see Gephardt having the money or support to win the states he needs to. Dean's money offensive makes it really hard, as did getting both the AFSCME and SEIU support. SEIU, having minority members, is a very good get for Dean, and those two unions denied the AFL-CIO endorsement for Gephardt in all practical terms. It's more than likely that Dean will get the full endorsement if he has a good Super Tuesday.

The Republican primary race, by contrast, will not be a race but a coronation. There will be no excitement, no drama. Yet, drama aplenty will start to swell in late August as GOP delegates arrive in Manhattan — accompanied, perhaps, by thousands from the FBI and military intelligence, as well as conceivably more Army Rangers and National Guard soldiers taking up stations to protect the president.

In 2002, the idea of again draping the mantle of 9/11 around Bush at a 2004 nomination convention just a few miles from "ground zero" must have seemed highly opportune to GOP strategists. But many months and embarrassments later, the United States is heading toward 2004 with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein apparently alive and uncaptured, perhaps watching eagerly as the U.S. positions in Iraq and Afghanistan deteriorate and terrorism rebounds on a wave of Islamic hostility toward Bush and the U.S. presence on Iraqi soil. Almost unbelievably, the White House has dissipated the wave of global sympathy for the United States after 9/11 and replaced it with a sullen hostility that reaches beyond Islam into much of Europe, East Asia and Latin America.

But there are other reasons why this could make New York City an anxious place next September. The city has a Muslim population estimated at more than half a million and, according to the Arab American Institute, some 200,000 Arabs, the vast majority of them citizens. Another 150,000 Arabs live in adjacent northeastern New Jersey.

Brooklyn, less than a mile from Manhattan, has the biggest concentrations of Muslims in the city. Many of its Islamic neighborhoods became familiar to FBI agents after 9/11. Given the general animosity worldwide toward Bush's policies, it seems quite possible that the authorities, looking to head off acts of terrorism, could antagonize a huge swath of Islamic New York.

One can easily imagine that the FBI and the military will feel they must take extraordinary precautions for the GOP convention. New York City has 130 mosques and dozens of Arab neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. The Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Queens houses North America's largest Shiite Muslim congregation. In the face of the inevitable crackdown, it's quite conceivable the GOP convention could serve as a magnet for terrorists itching to prove the U.S. president's ineffectiveness.

The problem with this is that much of this would involve litigation. Any massive security operation would face fairly strong political opposition from the city's politicians. The problem is that Bloomberg is not a fighter. He's basically tried to backroom deal everything with New York's enemies and quietly resolve conflict. Which can work in some circumstances, but with the massive protests guaranteed for the convention, it will make London a walk in the park.

Phillips concern for the Muslim community is overwrought, many of them having escaped the tyranny of their countries and have zero ties to Al Qaeda.

He also forgets that the Muslim population of New York is not only not monolithic but mostly West African. People who have little interest in Osama Bin Laden. Such an overwheming military presence is not going to be accepted lightly. And God forbid one of those Rangers or Guardsmen caps some kid, all hell would break loose. Bloomberg is coming to realize that doing a good job isn't enough to be reelected. Mayors who don't fight, lose. If Bloomberg sits by and lets martial law happen without objecting strongly, his political career will be over. If he trusts Bush to do the right thing, well, he's going to be disappointed.

posted by Steve @ 1:25:00 PM

1:25:00 PM

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Pig at the Trough

MIDDLE EAST & THE AMERICAS: Consultant on Iraq contracts employed president's brother

By Stephen Fidler and Thomas Catýn in London
Financial Times; Nov 28, 2003

Neil Bush, a younger brother of US President George W. Bush, has had a $60,000-a-year employment contract with a top adviser to a Washington-based consulting firm set up this year to help companies secure contracts in Iraq.

Neil Bush disclosed the payments during divorce proceedings in March from his now ex-wife, Sharon. The divorce was finalised in April and the court papers were disclosed by the Houston Chronicle this week.

Mr Bush said he was co-chairman of Crest Investment Corporation, a company based in Houston, Texas, that invests in energy and other ventures. For this he received $15,000 every three months for working an average three or four hours a week.

The other co-chairman and principal of Crest is Jamal Daniel, a Syrian-American who is an advisory board member of New Bridge Strategies, a company set up this year by a group of businessmen with close links to the Bush family or administrations. Its chairman is Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush's campaign director in the 2000 presidential elections

Oink, oink, oink, come down to the grand Iraqi buffet, where you can get all the slops and mud you can handle. Rutting and manure production extra...

Man, these folks know no shame. None.

posted by Steve @ 10:46:00 AM

10:46:00 AM

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So why did you support the war?

I posted this on Calpundit and I wanted to republish it here.


You read me, you've read Kos. Where were we wrong? We said in February and March what would happen and to our utter astonishment, that is exactly what happened.

Well, we haven't had the civil war yet, but what we have had is total disorder and a widespread resistance.

Was there anything beyond your personal belief in the power of democracy that indicated that Bush could or would be able to pull this off? Did you think the French, Canadians, Germans and Russians were acting out of personal pique? Or were their objections substanially and fundamentally correct and sound. That there would be consequences to the removal of Saddam.

Unfortunately, it is completely ridiculous to think Bush could have any success in rebuilding Iraq, at least in the half-assed way we did it. With no support from the UN, an unreasonable reliance on exiles, many of whom had not been in Iraq for decades, and a refusal to understand that internal leadership always has primacy in the change of government, we are embarking on a massive policy of inevitable failure.

Even if that wasn't obvious, the cool reception given to us by Sistani should have been the hint things were not all gravy and rice.

From the day the INC and Marines pulled down Saddam's statue, the whole rotten policy should have been exposed. There has not been a day, not one, since March, where US troops have not engaged in a combat action.

Then, disbanding the Iraqi Army, for some vague political goal of deBaathistation, has helped fuel the Iraqi resitance to the point they're firing Strelas at anything that flies.

Anyone who supported this war, should, in my opinion, be ashamed to have done so. The evidence of Bush's lies and false assumptions weren't there in March, they were there in December. Tony Cordesman pointed them out in a CSIS paper. He said, clearly, with no stutter or mistep, that the most important part of the war would come after the Iraqi Army disappeared.

And that is where the failure came. As far as I know Cordesman is no liberal, and a former Army officer. Not one to pander to the NPR crowd. Yet, so many people fell for the Bush lie, a lie we all knew was a lie (drone bombers, handing nukes to Al Qaeda) that they feel the need to justify this by claiming we were deceived.

Although I thought Saddam had retained some rump chemical capability, the fact it wasn't found in the forward depots pretty much ended that idea. But it was clear then that much of what he had was destroyed in 1998. Ritter said so, Blix said so, El Baradai said so, Ikeus said so. This wasn't a secret.

Only Bush and the PNAC crowd felt that he was a threat and much of that was hoked up intel from Chalabi and their own biases and cherry picking.

So exactly what reason was there to support this war? None which I can see that bore out. And before you whip out the bloody dead Shia, we're the ones who encouraged them to revolt in 1991 and then watched them get slaughtered by the Iraqi Army, all in the name of realpolitik stability.

Bush lied. He was not misled or confused. He lied and thousands of people died behind those lies.

posted by Steve @ 10:07:00 AM

10:07:00 AM

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Saturday, November 29, 2003

Indian prime minister says opposition to job outsourcing will hurt West

NEW DELHI (AP) - India's prime minister today said Western workers' opposition to the outsourcing of jobs to India will hurt their companies and their countries' economies.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee attributed the recent surge in outsourcing to visa restrictions blocking the movement of skilled workers to rich countries.

Companies in the United States and Europe are cutting costs by tapping cheap labor in India and other developing countries, particularly in software development and in so-called ``back office'' work such as the handling of customer calls and payroll processing.

Tens of thousands of technology jobs in Europe, mostly Britain, are moving overseas. In the United States the numbers are even bigger.

But Vajpayee said outsourcing means savings and profits for Western economies.

So let's see, the choice is greater immigration or we'll steal your jobs anyway. Well, let's see, how best to describe my reaction to this: oh yes-fuck you.

posted by Steve @ 9:14:00 PM

9:14:00 PM

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The Bloodiest month of the War

No, things aren't getting better, unless you're a member of the Iraqi resistance. If you are, this is a kick ass month. With nothing more than small arms and home made bombs, you've killed more Americans and Coalition troops than Saddam's ineffective army. It's time for a smoke and a lamb pita for your work.

If you're an American, you're in hell until the freedom bird ships your ass home, to the increasingly likely fate of unemployment, a broken home and massive debts.

Let me put it this way, this has been the bloodiest Ramadan in the Middle East since Lebanon's Civil War. Over 100 American and Coalition troops killed in combat, not counting the two Japanese envoys.

November Deadliest Month in Iraq

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2003; Page A14

More U.S. troops have died in Iraq in November than in any month since the war began in March, according to Defense Department figures.

With November nearly over, the official death count yesterday stood at 79, surpassing March (65) and April (73), when the invasion was underway and fighting was most intense and widespread.

The surge has reflected an increase in the effectiveness and the frequency of guerrilla attacks.

About half of the deaths resulted from the downing of four military helicopters, in which 39 soldiers were killed. U.S. aircraft in Iraq have been targeted in the past, but these incidents, involving either a surface-to-air missile or rocket-propelled grenade, marked the first major hits.

Most of the other U.S. combat fatalities occurred in ground attacks by enemy fighters using weapons that have become characteristic of their resistance: guns, rocket-propelled grenades and remote-controlled explosives.

At one point during the month, military officials reported that the number of guerrilla attacks was averaging more than 40 a day. In response to the heightened activity, U.S. troops intensified their tactics, engaging in a stronger show of force that included greater use of artillery, tanks, attack helicopters, F-16 fighters and AC-130 gunships to pound targets throughout central Iraq. The move was followed by a drop in the rate of assaults on U.S. forces to fewer than 30 a day.

In contrast to the higher combat deaths in November, the number of accidental deaths -- 11 -- stayed comparatively low.

In all, 437 troops have died in Iraq since the war began, 2,094 have been listed as wounded in action and 2,464 have suffered noncombat-related injuries, ranging from accidental gunshots to broken bones and injuries in vehicle accidents. Since May 1, when President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, 298 troops have died.

Now, the exiles are looking to cover their asses after this mess has exploded into an ongoing war against the occupation.

Iraqi Leaders Say U.S. Was Warned of Disorder After Hussein, but Little Was Done

Published: November 30, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 29 — In the months before the Iraq invasion, Iraqi exile leaders trooped through the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department carrying a message about the future of their homeland: without a strong plan for managing Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein, widespread looting and violence would erupt.


"On many occasions, I told the Americans that from the very moment the regime fell, if an alternative government was not ready there would be a power vacuum and there would be chaos and looting," said Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and a longtime ally of the United States. "Given our history, it is very obvious this would occur."

Similar warnings came from international relief experts and from within the United States government. In 1999 the same military command that was preparing to attack Iraq conducted a detailed war game that found that toppling Mr. Hussein risked creating a major security void, said Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who headed the command.

But as Pentagon officials hurriedly prepared for war last winter, they envisioned Iraq after the fall of Mr. Hussein's government as far more manageable.

That miscalculation and the low priority given to planning for the aftermath of Mr. Hussein's fall have taken on new significance with the recent wave of deadly attacks and the Bush administration's abrupt decision this month to accelerate its timetable for transferring control to the kind of Iraqi authority that leading exiles were calling for a year ago.

The exiles were among the most energetic cheerleaders for the war, and critics of the Bush administration have accused some of them of skewing the facts in the process. But more than a dozen of the leaders who have returned to Iraq said in interviews here that they had also warned about the chaos that could follow.

The fact that the administration embraced their encouragement to go to war but apparently discounted their warnings is an insight into the Pentagon's prewar planning.

"I told them, `Let there not be a political vacuum,' " said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi author and college professor who said he had consulted with several senior administration officials and met twice with President Bush.

In many ways the war plan drove the postwar plan, senior military officials said. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the invasion force be kept as small as possible, prompting his commanders to build an attack plan based on speed and surprise. Any recommendations for sending more troops to maintain order afterward would probably have collided with the war plan, the officials said.

Besides, the plan for after the Iraqi government fell assumed that Iraqi troops and police officers would stay on the job — an assumption that proved wrong. "The political leadership bought its own spin," said one senior Defense Department official involved in the planning, in part because it "made selling the war easier."

Senior administration officials acknowledged that they had considered these warnings before the war, but defended their judgments

Does this get better next month? I doubt it highly.

Americans have to consider, seriously, that Iraqis are lying to them as a matter of course, not on occasion. 30 years under the rule of a sociopathic killer doesn't make the virtues of honesty and independence highly valued. You can see the schizophrenia which developed in the New Yorker article on the war:

There was a commotion outside the office—loud, accusatory voices. Prior put on his helmet and flak vest, grabbed his rifle, and went out to the pumps. Customers had left their vehicles, a crowd had formed, and it was getting ugly enough that the soldiers who had been waiting by the Humvees were trying to intervene. Amid the shouting, Prior established that an employee of the Oil Ministry had come to collect diesel samples from each of the pumps for routine testing. One of the council members was accusing him of stealing benzene.

“No accusations!” Prior said. “Let’s go see.”

The crowd followed him under the blinding sun to the ministry employee’s truck. Five metal jerricans stood in back. Prior opened the first can with the air of making a point and sniffed: “Diesel.” He opened the second: “Diesel.” As he unscrewed the cap on the third jerrican and bent over to smell it, hot diesel fuel sprayed in his face.

Everyone fell silent. Prior stood motionless with the effort to control himself. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed them with his fingers. The fuel was on his helmet, his flak vest. A sergeant rushed over with bottled water. Then the chorus of shouts rose again.

“Everybody shut up!” Prior yelled. “I’m going to solve this. What is the problem? No accusations.” His face wet, he began to interrogate the accusing council member, who now looked sheepish.

“How do you know someone gave him benzene? This is a great object lesson, everybody!” Prior was speaking to the crowd now, as his translator frantically rendered the lesson in Arabic. “You came out here and said this guy’s a thief, and everybody’s angry and he’s going to get fired—and now you’re backing down.”

“It wasn’t just an accusation,” the council member said. “The guy drove up on the wrong side—”

“But what proof do you have that he did it? Wait! Hold on! I’m trying to make a point here. How would you like it if my soldiers broke into your house because your neighbors said you have rocket-propelled grenades, and I didn’t see them but I broke into your house—how would you feel? Stop accusing people, for the love of God!”

“I caught him red-handed,” the council member insisted.

“No, you didn’t.”

“O.K., no problem.”

Prior wasn’t letting it go. “There is a problem: the problem is that you people accuse each other without proof! That’s the problem.”
Shouket is a pale, pretty twenty-eight-year-old computer programmer who works for the university administration. Her cream-colored veil seemed incongruous, given her vitality, and in fact it was just a prop: she wore it to keep from being killed by fundamentalists.

There were many fears in Shouket’s life. She was afraid of kidnappers: a group of them had snatched her friend as she got off the bus; Shouket had barely managed to run away. She was afraid of her neighbors, who said that they would harm her if she took another picture of American soldiers. She was afraid of the woman who ran her office, a former Baathist who used to wear a uniform and sidearm to work, and whose three framed photographs of Saddam were still propped up on the floor, facing the wall.

“Do you feel danger here? I feel danger,” Shouket said as we spoke in her office. “I feel a life in prison—after liberation! I want to see the world, I want to learn more, I want to feel I’m getting something important for my life.” She paused. “Danger is still in the streets. In this room. Especially in this room.”

The office manager walked in and glared. She told Shouket that I would have to leave.

“I have no freedom,” Shouket whispered.

I offered to drive Shouket home. She lived with her parents and an uncle who had become mentally ill after imprisonment and torture. Their modest house, in an underbuilt new neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, stood baking in the relentless yellow light of midday. They served me a dish of rice and beans.

During the war, Shouket’s mother had written a Koranic verse in chalk on the living-room wall; it was a prayer for safety that the family recited together. On another wall hung a photograph of her mother’s parents, from 1948—a man with a small mustache, a woman with bright lipstick.

“During royal times, the people were more modern than now,” Shouket’s father said. He was an architect in the Ministry of Information. In 1965, he had studied in Manchester, England, but the family now belonged to Iraq’s beaten-down middle class.

Before the war, Shouket’s pay had been six dollars a month; the Americans raised it to a hundred and twenty dollars. The family passionately supported the Americans. If this was colonialism, Shouket was ready to be colonized. She had wept watching the war on TV, urging the 3rd Infantry Division on to Baghdad; the bombs exploding outside had given her heart. Now, every Saturday, the family sat down together and listened to Bremer’s weekly address. “I feel him very close,” Shouket said. “Even his way, I like it—he’s a simple man.”

“The Americans should change the region,” Shouket’s father said. He predicted that Iranians would be inspired to revolt “if they saw what happened in Iraq, and we progress by liberation and wealthy life.”

Her veil off, Shouket wore her hennaed hair in a long braid. She brought out her large collection of American movies—she had learned English from watching Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge” and Sharon Stone in “The Quick and the Dead.” She said, “It needs time, I think, a very long time, to make connection between the two civilizations. To make us civilized, I mean.”

Shouket sat on the couch between her sad-faced parents and talked excitedly about her future. “I’m always saying to my mother, ‘I lost my life.’ And she says, ‘No, you’re young, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Maybe.’ Maybe now I’ll catch the rest of my life to see the world.” She went on, “I want to leave Baghdad, I want to be free. Just improving myself—my mind, my way of life.”

Her mother was on the verge of tears; her parents were afraid for her to leave Iraq. Shouket put her arm around her mother and touched her father’s hand. “He believes in me,” she said.

When I rose to leave, they offered me their family heirlooms. I declined by saying that the gifts would be confiscated at the Jordanian border. Outside, Shouket’s mad uncle was pacing, holding a glass in his hand. I was thinking how isolated the family seemed. They had no political party or religious militia, no ayatollah or tribal sheikh; they had only the Americans, who didn’t know of their existence. Shouket had never spoken to a foreigner before the morning we met. She wanted to travel, but she was too frightened to go into town and set up an e-mail account at an Internet café. The pressure of her yearning filled the small room.

This is what we are dealing with and we are unequiped to do so in any meaningful way. We understand less about these people than they understand about us. And that is not just a tragedy, it has cost 437 lives.

posted by Steve @ 9:11:00 PM

9:11:00 PM

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At least six killed in Iraq attack on Spanish military intelligence agents

NIKO PRICE, Associated Press Writer Saturday, November 29, 2003


(11-29) 10:07 PST BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) --

Attackers ambushed a convoy of Spanish military intelligence officers on a highway south of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least six agents and wounding one, a Spanish defense ministry official said.

The official, reached by telephone in Madrid, said a coalition helicopter that reached the scene of the attack, 30 miles south of Baghdad, evacuated six bodies and one wounded person to a medical center. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

Spanish officials earlier had said eight agents were in the convoy. The ministry official said he had no information about the whereabouts of the possible eighth person.

The convoy of two civilian four-wheel-drive vehicles was traveling south from Baghdad to the city of Hillah, according to Capt. Ivan Morgan, a spokesman for a multinational division in southern Iraq. He described the men as Spanish soldiers attached to an intelligence unit.

A television cameraman who drove by the scene at 5:15 p.m., shortly after the attack, said he saw two destroyed vehicles -- one still burning -- and four bodies on the road.

The cameraman for Sky News, Adam Murch, described a jubilant crowd kicking the bodies. He said some in the crowd said the bodies belonged to CIA agents. He said the crowd appeared hostile and the journalists were forced to leave.

Kicking the bodies.

You know, I'm coming to the conclusion that the Iraqis tell us one thing, and say something completely different between each other. And it isn't pro-Coalition.

posted by Steve @ 2:11:00 PM

2:11:00 PM

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Uh, no, they really did lie

Atrios points out a post by Matt Yglesias about how the Bush Administration deluded themselves and the American public into going to war in Iraq.

I'm sorry, but that's a bunch of horseshit. They lied. They lied like teenagers caught with a bottle of Jack and a half dressed girl between their thighs. They lied about Saddam's intentions, his capabilities and his agressive posture and we knew it at the time. Saddam didn't want war and didn't do anything, or much of anything to provoke it. He'd buried his air force and didn't trust his commanders to have chemical weapons.

What drives me nuts about Matt's bland statement about how because us liberals hated Bush, we ignored their arguments about how removing Saddam was a good thing. Which is even more horseshit. There was no good argument for war. None. Iraq was a distraction when we had real enemies in Afghanistan. Saddam couldn't trust more than 12,000 of his 600,000 man police force and Army. Even the Republican Guard had turned on him in the mid-90's.

Now, certainly, Chalabi spun a tale which would have Scherazade green with envy, but Bush and his cronies not only lied by comission, but omission as well. They suggested tales of frightening drones coming to bomb London like it was 1944 and handoffs of nukes to Al Qaeda. Fantasies so lurid, Larry Flynt wouldn't have touched them. And none, in the end, true.

What we said in the run up to the war was simple: once you invade, you open Pandora's Box. It wasn't about hating Bush. I didn't like Reagan, but going into Lebanon was based on good, if naive, motives. Iraq was the absolute opposite. Chalabi was the Iraqi version of Jorge Mas Canosa, the exile who thought he'd replace Castro because the CIA liked him. Anything from his mouth was a lie.

But what Matt, and Josh Marshall and the rest of the pro-war crew didn't get, and it was as evident as googling Iraqi history, was that any occupation would run smack into Iraqi nationalism. That unless there was a parallel, internal resistance movement, our invasion would be seen as an occupation. Also, many of Saddam's decisions were not based on mental illness, but the reality of Iraq's strategic situation. The Kurds had acted against Iraq's territorial integrity, as had the Shia. This wasn't some random threat, but a real, strategic concern. A concern which had been a problem since the 1960's, before Saddam came on the scene.

Not liking Bush is one thing. Questioning his policies is quite another. Iraq just didn't make sense. The French, who were going to participate as late as January, even sent the Clemenceau towards the Gulf, realized what a mistake this policy was going to be. They didn't trust the follow-on planning. And said so. Resulting in drawing all the heat when in fact, the Germans had the far more dogmatic position.

Now, we have too few troops, declining morale, and a growing resistance movement and the best we get from Bush is his standard "we gonna get them terraist sum uh bitches" speech, one belied by his sneaking into Iraq in the dark, turning out the lights in Baghdad and running away two hours later. Which says everything you need to know about security in Iraq.

The war was always wrong, always destined to fail. Those who thought we could impose democracy or even a non-Saddam Iraq were wrong and it's nice to see them say so. Even if they had to wait months to see the folly of their ways.

posted by Steve @ 1:00:00 PM

1:00:00 PM

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Bush's luck strikes again

Normally, when a president visits troops overseas for the holidays, it's rarely criticized. But since the boy genius Karl Rove has such a heavy touch, his boss catches hell the day after a stunt.

Reuters is running this charming item, which screams coward:

Aides Prodded Reluctant Bush on Iraq Trip

By Adam Entous

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - For a president fond of a tough-guy image, George W. Bush was uneasy when an aide casually asked him, "You want to go to Baghdad?"
It was White House chief of staff Andrew Card who first proposed the surprise trip -- not the president.

"Andy (Card), as he often does, said (to Bush) almost in passing: 'Thanksgiving's coming up. Where do you want to go? You want to go to Baghdad?"' Rice recalled, and the planning got under way.

Seven months after his dramatic landing in a flight suit on the USS Abraham Lincoln with its "Mission Accomplished" banner, Bush conceded about the Iraq visit, "I was the biggest skeptic of all."

Instead of a flight suit, Bush wore a standard Army jacket to meet with the troops, and acknowledged he thought "all along" it might be too risky and that he "had a lot of questions" about security.

Bush aides considered scrapping the visit less than a week ago after a DHL cargo plane, landing at the same airport, was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

"The president had made clear that he was prepared to call this off at any time," Rice said, adding the DHL incident "made people go back and take a look at whether we thought the plane would be safe going in."

Can't you smell the cowardice from here?

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton and Jack Reed spent 10 hours on the ground, after a day in Afghanistan, where troops greeted her and asked them to sign autographs for their daughters.

Of course, Iraqis who cares, were either contemptuous or insulted by Bush's booty call of a visit.

Ahmed Kheiri, 24, saw the visit as a campaign tactic.

"He came for the sake of the elections," Kheiri said. "He never thought of the Iraqi people. He doesn't care about us. It was a personal visit for his own sake."

Iraqi politicians had mixed reactions to the visit. Mouwafik al-Rubei'e, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council who met Bush on Thursday night, said the president "reaffirmed his country's commitment to building a new, democratic and prosperous Iraq."

Another member of the Governing Council, Mahmoud Othman, said the trip meant little.

"We cannot consider Bush's arrival at Baghdad International Airport yesterday a visit to Iraq," he said. "He did not meet with ordinary Iraqis. Bush was only trying to boost the morale of his troops."

Indeed, many Iraqis questioned how the trip could possibly help improve their dire situation. Eight months after the U.S. invasion, Iraqis complain they still have few jobs, little security and no political representation.

During Friday prayers on the Muslim holy day, imams at Shiite and Sunni mosques alike criticized the visit, saying Bush should expend his energy helping Iraq recover from war instead of flying across the world to pose for the cameras.

"Instead of coming here to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops, Bush should release the innocent people in his prisons and arrest the real terrorists conducting attacks," Skeikh Abdul Hadi al-Daraji said at the Muhsen Mosque in the poor, Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City.

"First Bush said he would liberate Iraq. Now he is occupying it. How long will he stay?" asked the imam at Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque, Abu Hanifa.

Bush's visit was spent entirely on the grounds of Baghdad International Airport, a 15-square-mile complex heavily guarded by U.S. troops. He flew in under complete secrecy, keeping his plans even from his own parents, whom he had invited to his Texas ranch for Thanksgiving dinner.

News of his visit didn't emerge until he had left Iraq, and given the power outages in some Baghdad neighborhoods Thursday night, that meant many Iraqis didn't hear about it until Friday.

While U.S. troops called the trip courageous, some Iraqis saw it as cowardly.

"The way he made the trip shows he's afraid of Iraqis," said Mohammed Kamel, 40, a former soldier who now drives a taxi. "He should be; we're a fierce people."

And of course, the trip became fodder for Bush's critics at home, which included many of the organizations which had been left behind.

CRAWFORD, United States (AFP) - President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s national security adviser defended his lightning trip to Baghdad, denying it was a political stunt that inadvertently highlighted the chaos still blighting Iraq (news - web sites).


Some critics, including the presidential campaign of retired general Wesley Clark (news - web sites), said the brevity and cloak-and-dagger nature of the visit -- which the White House sold as a morale-booster -- actually showed how little Washington has accomplished in Iraq since taking control in April.

"The trip highlights how insecure Iraq is and shows how we need to get our allies in to get the American face off the occupation," Clark spokesman Jamal Simmons told AFP.

"Hopefully, President Bush realized, when he looked into the faces of those soldiers, that he owes them a success strategy in Iraq so that we can get back to the business of fighting the war on terrorism," said Simmons.

Bush's visit overshadowed a similar one a day later by Senator Hillary Clinton (news - web sites). A source familiar with the planning of her visit said the administration was informed in late September that she would go.

Uh, she's not running for president. And she still made Bush look bad because of the way he snuck in and out.

Rove has some solid short term ideas, but ever since Mission Accomplished, they have blown up like an IED. Steel tariffs, the judicial 30 hour marathon, now this. Bush got one day of good press and about a week of abuse coming up. Even when you want to give him some credit, you can't. And then not going to Walter Reed or Ft. Stewart just makes this look even more like a stunt. If he had visited the wounded, it would have muted much of the criticism. This didn't.

How this, a sure-fire hit, could get so screwed up, is beyond me. How the president is on the defensive for this, and being quoted as both craven and cowardly, after all, the 19 year old 11B's only have their wits and rifles to protect them, is beyond me.

Of course, Clark's and Clinton's call for a now almost completely impossible international occupying force isn't much better, but at least it sounds sane. as opposed to Bush's tough talk and sneak thief actions.

posted by Steve @ 2:47:00 AM

2:47:00 AM

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Friday, November 28, 2003

The view from Iran

''The American nation should know that Iraq is America's quagmire and America is sinking deeper into it by staying longer in Iraq,'' Khamenei said in a sermon broadcast live on state media to mark the official end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Iran.

'The Americans are so desperate that they are bombing an occupied country...this (Middle East) region does not tolerate occupation,'' the conservative cleric told tens of thousands of worshippers who gathered at a large mosque in Tehran.

Iran has repeatedly called for the acceleration of a power transfer in Iraq and the formation of an independent Iraqi government.


''In free elections the majority of the Iraqi people will choose those who will not allow the Americans to stay one more day in Iraq,'' he said.

Khamenei said instead of providing democracy for Iraq, Washington was oppressing the Iraqi people.

'The Americans, who entered Iraq in the name of human rights, have oppressed the Iraqis so much that they punched the Americans in the face,'' Khamenei said.

''The Americans' claim about bringing democracy to the region is a disgraceful lie,'' he added

posted by Steve @ 12:30:00 PM

12:30:00 PM

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The Leopard is back: Mobutu's sons return to reclaim the nation plundered by their father
By Declan Walsh in Kinshasa
28 November 2003

Nzanga Mobutu stared out over the chocolate-brown sweep of the Congo river, and remembered his father. Mobutu Sese Seko was one of Africa's most reviled dictators. For 32 years he ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire, with an iron rod and stolen wealth. Then rebels toppled him, sending him to exile and death.

Six years later, the "Leopard" is back. Standing outside the family's recently reclaimed villa in Kinshasa, 33-year-old Nzanga wore a green shirt with his father's beaming portrait. The legend read: "We will never forget you." Mobutu's family and friends are returning home as Congo's war, one of Africa's most terrible conflicts, grinds to a halt. The Mobutists are not fondly remembered. Their leader bankrupted the country, using its legendary wealth to buy political loyalties and build palaces where pink champagne flowed like water. Enemies were ruthlessly suppressed, often with the connivance of Western Cold War sponsors.

When rebels toppled Mobutu in 1997, the ailing autocrat fled to Morocco, where he died four months later. His cronies followed, clutching suitcases stuffed with designer clothes and offshore bank details. Many relieved Congolese thought they were gone for good.

But as five years of war ­ an orgy of rape, murder and plunder that left more than three million dead ­ draws to an end, the Mobutists are coming home. A transitional government uniting rebels and government has been cobbled together in Kinshasa. Since the door of national reconciliation was wedged open, the monied exiles have flooding in.

"It is good to be home," said Nzanga at the riverside villa returned to his family this week. The urbane son, who, until recently, ran a media company in Morocco, apologised for the lack of furniture. The previous tenant, an army general, left reluctantly, he explained, taking everything with him. All that remained was the echoing marble floors.

In the past two weeks, Nzanga has been joined by his older brother, Manda, who flew in from Paris, and Leon Kengo wa Dondo, a former prime minister. Lesser Mobutists, some of whom fought in the rebellion, have also returned, some with ministerial positions.

The mood of change has filtered down to the tattered streets of Kinshasa. Mobutu shirts and leopard-print hats are worn openly, a practically treasonable offence only six months ago. But the return of the Mobutists has also sparked recriminations. Angry residents rained stones on Mr Wa Dondo's motorcade as it entered the city two weeks ago.
Nzanga said: "I'm not saying it was the best of regimes but to say my father was the worst dictator is just wrong. At least then there was peace, and people could eat. Those are the facts." But the Mobutu flame quietly burned on during the Kabila years under Catherine Nzuzi wa Mbombo, one of the few who refused to run.

A former vice-president of Mobutu's Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) party, Mrs Nzuzi was charged with high treason and jailed for 20 months under Laurent Kabila. "Why should I have left?" she said in explanation.

"I stole nothing. Everything you see here comes from the sweat of my brow." Draped in gold jewellery and sporting thick-framed, Christian Dior glasses, Mrs Nzuzi is, in appearance at least, the heir of Mobutism. Like the Leopard, she walks with a cane, but hers came from injuries sustained during her time in prison.

Now she has been appointed Minister for Solidarity and Humanitarian Affairs, and Congo's poor are her charges. But as there are no offices yet, Mrs Nzuzi works from home, the opulent penthouse of a four-storey apartment building she had built in the 1970s, at the height of Mobutu's powers

In the bad news department....

In theory, Congo should be rich. It has an abundance of natural wealth. But the kleptocracy of Mobutu and his family left them billionaires and Congo a disease-ridden, war ravaged wasteland. Africa has suffered from many of these parasites, but none more devestating than the Mobutus.

posted by Steve @ 12:21:00 PM

12:21:00 PM

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Iraq is not a jigsaw puzzle

Juan Cole points this article out about how Americans misperceive Iraq and their ideas of nationalism:

Iraq's Shi'ites have consistently demonstrated their loyalty to the Iraqi nation. Shi'ites constituted the overwhelming majority of foot soldiers in the Iraqi army, even during the eight year war with Iran, a Shi'ite state to whom both Saddam Hussein and a Shi'ite-phobic American establishment assumed Iraqi Shi'ites were actually loyal. The Saudis recognized this in the Shi'ite uprising that followed Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and according to former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, the Saudi government asked for US support of the Shi'ite rebels, seeing them as they saw themselves, Iraqis first, Shi'ites second, and not pawns of Iran.

Iraq is unique in the Muslim world as a country where Sunnis and Shi'ites, both secular and religious leaders, have often collaborated against internal oppression and external aggression, and have not engaged in the vicious sectarian bloodshed seen in Pakistan, or the Wahhabi view of Shi'ites as heretics and polytheists. Shi'ite ayatollahs supported Sunni opposition movements, and a radical Shi'ite movement like the Da'wa party had a Sunni membership of 10 percent.

Immediately following the fall of Saddam's regime a remarkable movement of Sunni-Shi'ite unity emerged with the participation of Iraq's alleged extreme religious leaders, including the Shi'ite Muqtada Sadr and the Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Kubaisi. When asked about differences between them, Iraqis from Tikrit to Najaf invariably say "there is no difference, we are all Iraqis", or "we are all Muslims". Often they would add that Americans are attempting to divide them by stressing their differences.

Evidence of this is seen in the American appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), whose members were all selected because of their ethnic or religious identity. For the first time in Iraqi history, the ethnic and religious divisions were institutionalized. This was in fact the same error the international community made in Bosnia, where it enshrined the ethnic principle as the basis for the new government.

It is wrong to speak of an artificial "Sunni triangle". Iraqis do not divide their country into religious regions like this. It is also wrong to say that Sunnis dominated Iraq under Saddam. More accurate would be to say that members of Saddam's extended tribe, or of his hometown, dominated Iraq, to the exclusion of everyone else. Many Sunnis in the so called Sunni triangle resent the undue importance Saddam gave to Tikritis, for example. Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites are related by common history and often common tribal relations, since Iraq only became a majority Shi'ite state after Sunni tribes converted to Shi'itism in the 18th century. Even the most extreme Iraqi Shi'ites are Iraqi nationalists and view Iran with suspicion. Iraqi Shi'ites believe their country is the rightful leader of the Shi'ite world, since Shi'itism began in Iraq, most sacred Shi'ite sites are in Iraq and the Hawza, or the Shi'ite clerical academy of Najaf, thought dominated by Shi'ites until recently. Iran is a rival for them. Iraqi nationalism and unity were proven when all members of the IGC unanimously rejected the American proposal to introduce Turkish peacekeepers into the country.

An Iraqi population already skeptical of American motives would view any suggestion of further division as proof of a nefarious scheme to divide and plunder their country. Sunnis and Shi'ites would all take up arms and the resistance would be universal. There is no Sunni or Shi'ite Iraqi who wants to divide his country. The Kurds of Iraq are of course a separate ethnic group. However, they have participated in united opposition movements before the war, the reconstruction efforts after the war and are represented in the IGC by both major Kurdish parties. Even the Iraqi foreign minister is Kurdish. During Saddam's reign and before, many Kurds actually cooperated with the regime, serving as ministers and officers and even fighting the rebel brethren.

A point which has to be understood is that Iraqi nationalism trumps Iraqi national identity. Many of the "conflicts" are closer to American ethnic bitching between blacks and puerto ricans than the Balkans. There are no strong nationalist or ethnic movements in Iraq as there were in Yugoslavia. Iraqis have been taught, at least since 1920, that their sense of Iraqi nationhood is more important than their own ethnic identity. Even the conflicts with the Kurds have never been as neat as people would like to define them, with Kurds making and breaking deals with Saddam and other Iraqis over the years.

Americans see Iraq in the prism of the Balkans and that is the wrong prism to look through. Iraqis have never had a history of extended ethnic conflict and even Sunnis hated Saddam and his cronies, with Fallouja being the home of a ferverent anti-Saddam resistance.

We have listened to the self-interested exiles for far too long and not seen Iraq as a real state with real people. The Iraqis are a single people with ethnic differences, not three nations jammed together.

posted by Steve @ 12:15:00 PM

12:15:00 PM

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Our President abroad

The stunt of landing in Iraq at the dead of night to not eat with our troops says two things about Iraq, neither of them good. Yes, he only served food, he didn't eat any.

One, Iraq is still so scary dangerous that Air Force One (and the not mentioned strike package/fighter escort) had to land in blackout conditions. Oddly enough, the power was down across most of Baghdad as well, making for a fun final night of Eid, which is more or less the Muslim Christmas (although that's a cheap analogy). Bush was so afraid he might be attacked, his trip was granted the secrecy usually given the movement of commanders planning major operations. The flak teams were probably having lamb and relaxing and missing the kill which would have won the war for them. While they're probably kicking themselves, they have to chuckle at the fear Bush has of them.

Two, Bush still has no answers on how to deal with Iraq other than "we're gonna get them terrarist sums uh bitches". The one game plan which isn't working. So he sneaks in, pats a few soldiers on the back, happy to see anyone from home, and sneaks back out. Does he stop at Walter Reed? Invite some local Waco-area families who lost kids in Iraq over to the ranch for pecan pie? Nope. See, only the healthy soldiers were needed for this photo op. Any reminder of sacrifice was a bad thing. And it kind of hard to get the right visuals when you have soldiers struggling to eat with a hook where their hand used to be.

And like all Bush trips, there was the inevitable screwup

Soldiers said they were impressed to see the commander in chief in Baghdad days after a cargo plane was struck by a shoulder-fired missile.

"It was a display of confidence in our ability to protect not just us, but him," said Pfc. Telo Monahan, 20, of Woodinville.

But other soldiers grew angry that their departure from the airport was delayed for an hour, while they waited for Air Force One to leave. Finding the door barred, about 50 troops got into a shouting match with the soldier blocking their exit. The streets of Baghdad were too dangerous to delay their departure any longer, they shouted.

"Do you have any idea how many IEDs are on this road?" one soldier who didn't give his name shouted, referring to improvised explosive devices or roadside bombs. "I have to get back to my base. I don't want to lose a soldier because the president wants us to sit here."

Remember when Clinton was excoriated for tying up traffic while he got a haircut on Air Force One at LAX, a story later proven to be untrue? Well, in this case, soldiers could have died waiting for Air Force One to leave. But you won't hear anyone protesting that. Apparently, a drive from Baghdad to the airport isn't safe. Six months after our occupation began. And that one little fact cannot be negated by a drive by visit from the commander in chief.

posted by Steve @ 11:43:00 AM

11:43:00 AM

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Football - it's in the blood

A Manchester City fan received a life-saving transplant from his brother - but only after he promised to support rivals United instead.


To ensure all blue blood will be replaced with RED
All outer clothing to be RED - with hints of white
Interior and exterior decoration of home to be changed to RED
All blue coloured materials to be used as rags to clean up dirt
Contract to be signed and witnessed under RED seal

Martin Warburton, 50, made brother Paul sign a contract - under a red seal, naturally - to the effect that he would change allegiance.

Paul, 59, who is fighting leukaemia, had the stem-cell transplant in Belfast - but admits he has mixed feelings after agreeing to the unusual conditions.

"I was really lucky that Martin's cells matched, as some people can have seven or eight siblings and find that none of them matches up," he told the Daily Telegraph.

If your SO ever complains about your watching sports on the weekend, whip this story out, basically under the catagory of " you think I'm bad...". It's not that he wouldn't have given his brother the stem cells, but it was a perfect way to tweak your older brother.

posted by Steve @ 9:15:00 AM

9:15:00 AM

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Thursday, November 27, 2003

Bush's visit

There was explosive, euphoric reaction here. These soldiers, men and women, are extraordinarily homesick, so any familiar face from home would have been welcome. And, of course, the president's their commander in chief. So all the more so.

I spoke with more than a few soldiers about all of this, and they said they were especially touched because he came to show how he really felt about us.

Another soldier said that it was very important for the president to come and share the hazards of the war zone with these soldiers.

Still, off the record -- that is, not for attribution -- other soldiers with whom I spoke still had their doubts about being here. One soldier, even after the president was here, and he spoke highly of the president's visit, went on to say, "All I care about now is getting out of here alive."

Another soldier, praising the president, also said he thinks the troops have been here too long. He thinks they should go home.

And another soldier, again praising the president's courage and his commitment to being here, said the danger now is worse than it was several months ago when he came.

Again, very important statement made by the president about his commitment. It was a bold and intrepid visit by the president. Having said that, very doubtful it's going to change a very bad situation on the ground here.

O'BRIEN: And even as the president was flying in, that bad situation continued. More mortars flying and more explosions to report?

RODGERS: That's true. I was here in this very same camera position when you were rolling tape of the president's visit. Now, he had been airborne for several minutes after that, but having said that, I could hear explosions behind me. Down here, in central Baghdad, it's not been a particularly loud night. There are many nights when there are many more explosions, shellings, mortars and so forth. But again, tonight, I can hear the AK-47, you know, automatic rifle fire in the background. That's a daily event here.

I think Walter Rodgers is on crack when he calls this bold and intrepid. But the soldiers were happy to see a familiar face on a holiday they would much rather be at home for. The Washington Post questions the secrecy and political nature of the trip.

Although journalists routinely keep secret details of military operations, as they did during the war in Iraq, it is highly unusual for them not to reveal a major presidential trip overseas.

Former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, who worked for President Bill Clinton, said: "There's no way to do this kind of trip if it's broadcast in advance, for security reasons. My problem with this is not that he misled the press. This is a president who has been unwilling to provide his presence to the families who have suffered but thinks nothing of flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop."

Kathryn Kross, CNN's Washington bureau chief, said a two-person crew from her network was dismissed from the White House pool Wednesday, with the understanding that no further news would be made. "We're all for the president boosting the troops however the White House feels is appropriate," she said. "But apparently the White House put together its own group of people to accompany the president on this trip, and we're real interested to learn their reasons for doing that."

The surprise visit produced upbeat, sometimes gushing coverage on the cable networks, which kept rerunning video of Bush with a turkey platter and his pep talk to the troops. "This is a show of power. . . . This has significance in terms of showing the power of the presidency," Fox anchor David Asman said.

While some families were less than happy about the whole thing.

Bush's visit also surprised Tami Kruzel of Sartell, whose husband, Randy, is with the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion north of Baghdad. "I think it's wonderful that he did that," she said. "I think the troops needed to know that he's supporting them."

But her feelings toward the president are mixed: "At times I believe in what he's doing, at times I don't. I'm just disappointed that the soldiers are there" so long.

Kruzel said she is not happy with the recent news that her husband's return home has been pushed back from April to June. She and her three children have not seen him since March, and his phone calls are too short and frequently marred by poor connections.

There is, however, good news. Her husband called Wednesday and confirmed that he will be home for a 15-day leave in January. "I needed that," she said.

David Swing watched Bush's visit from his home in Watertown. His son, Nathan, a Marine, was in the Persian Gulf but returned to the United States in June. "I watched it for about 30 seconds and turned the football game back on," he said. "I guess I'm surprised by it."

Swing said, though, that "my blood is starting to boil a little more every day" over the continuing deaths of American troops in Iraq. "Every day my opinion of him gets a little lower," he said. "I don't see an end to this."

The fact that people are already debating whether this is a stunt or not and cheery pictures of Iraqis looting an ambushed convoy undercuts his message. With the intense security and crying family members, this may not turn out to be the political home run Rove imagined it would be.

posted by Steve @ 11:08:00 PM

11:08:00 PM

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Attacks on G.I.'s in Mosul Rise as Good Will Fades

Published: November 27, 2003

MOSUL, Iraq, Nov. 26 — Since the Americans came to town seven months ago, the firefighters in this northern Iraqi city have gotten new trucks and new uniforms, American training and salaries 10 times larger than they used to be.

But when word came Sunday afternoon that two American soldiers had been shot in the head and killed a block away, the men of Ras al Jada fire station ran to the site and looked on with glee as a crowd of locals dragged the Americans from their car and tore off their watches and jackets and boots.

"I was happy, everyone was happy," Waadallah Muhammad, one of the firefighters, said as he stood in front of the firehouse. "The Americans, yes, they do good things, but only to enhance their reputation. They are occupiers. We want them to leave."

It was not supposed to be this way in Mosul, an ethnically diverse city of two million people and the economic and cultural center of northern Iraq.

As places like Ramadi and Falluja and Tikrit burned and their residents rebelled against the American occupation this summer, Mosul stayed calm, the one city with a Sunni Arab majority where most people still seemed to regard the Americans as their friends. A vigorous and far-reaching effort by the 101st Airborne Division to rebuild the city's roads, schools and public buildings seemed to cement an unusually warm bond.

That appears to be changing very fast. The money the American occupiers once doled out freely has dried up, and other reconstruction aid has yet to arrive. Attacks on Americans, which have killed more than 25 in the Mosul area this month, have highlighted what local Iraqis say is a rapidly deteriorating relationship.

While Iraqi leaders once saluted American soldiers as their partners in building a new country, many now say their complaints go unheard. Moderate Iraqis cooperating with the Americans say the young men of Mosul are increasingly heeding the calls of militant clerics. With three prominent Iraqi civil servants killed in recent weeks, the Iraqis say, they are paying a steadily higher price for their cooperation.

Yeah, well, you can't keep bursting into people's homes and not have them get pissed.

posted by Steve @ 10:09:00 PM

10:09:00 PM

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As you relax, watch the Cowboys (God two teams I despise playing each other, the Boys and the Fish, goddamnit. At least Detroit won), I want to make a special plea for tomorrow, America's biggest shopping day of the year. It's a simple one, really, and one I've noticed over the years: don't buy toys which kids get to watch.

All those remote control toys bought for tweeners (8-12 yo) which get played with for an hour or two and then get sunk into the miasma of a child's bedroom.

"Seen that Jimmy Neutron wheel?"

"No mom."

Kids like to be involved with their toys. They like to control them. Batteries make them spectators. Now, I know junior thinks he wants that fire truck and Missy swears that she wanted the shitting, talking, puking baby, but in reality, they are the one night stands of the toy world. Sure, they look pretty for a night or two, but then, like that guy you met on vacation, you lose their number and forget about that torrid weekend and that flexible tongue. When you bump into them on the street, you have to wonder if they made a sales call at your job.

Older kids like RC toys, but to a 12-13 year old, they're playing speed racer or whatever kids play these day, maybe crash Jeff Gordon's car. And over 13, there are only two words for, at least male children, which matters, Xbox or Playstation 2. All their hopes and desires can be encapscled by those two items. So, maybe blowing away tangos or taking over Miami's drug trade on a sea of dead Haitians aren't your taste, but it will keep them occupied, maybe with stint of Madden football, NBA basketball or WWE Wrestling.

Make no mistake, they will take your money, any stray money and if they are old enough to work, their money, to feed the monster which is console gaming. If they're a little more advanced, they're not smoking dope in the basement, they're setting up the Battlefield 1942 frag party. Any women along are more interested in shooting them on the screen than smoking their pole. Trust me on that. The only thing you have to worry about is running out of Mountain Dew and Doritios. Don't worry about the Cat5 cable and stray computers, if all you is watch TV in the dark, your electric bill will only be 20 perecent above average. Shutting things down at 8 PM Sunday is a good way to prevent the filing of missing person reports.

But for boys, the need for interactivity is met in two ways, either by building or racing things, when not hitting their siblings, or by console gaming. As I found out last Christmas. And while you can whine about violence and negative stereotypes, remember what High School was like and I think console gaming is a pleasing alternative.

What parents may forget is that the need to console game starts early, by the end of first grade. So while they may still want Legos and Hot Wheels, it just isn't Christmas without a couple of video games. And don't get those kid safe games, they suck. Get the games the kids want to play, as long as it meets your moral standards. There's no reason for a 9 year old to play Grand Theft Auto Vice City. His friends parents may have bought it, but that doesn't mean you need it in your home. When he's old enough to work, he's old enough to sneak it into your house.

Of course, the newest games are $50 each, something which makes my head spin. When I was a kid 30 years ago, that was a bike. Now, that's a game. My eight year old nephew not only gets two or three of them, he buys a couple. Now, when I was eight, $50 was as unreal as naked women. But for him, it's what he gets. Oh, and it's not just the Playstation habit. Oh no. There's the Gane Boy Advance habit. The newest version costs $99 and the games $30 each. Between the two systems, my sisters and my nephews spend maybe $1000 a year. And that's not including the "free" PC software they get from their schoolmates.

Now, as they say, it's different for girls. You can buy stuffed animals for women well into their 20's and they "collect" Barbie for longer than one would think. They morph from toy into hobby. Girls may occasionally dabble in console gaming, some may even cross over, but the market, for the most part is for boys and men. I have learned the hard way that women do not always appreciate the purchase of said games. They think it disconcerting that a man would be fascinated with console and PC gaming into his 30's and beyond. Which means you need to do a good job hiding it.

But someone will argue that those old fashioned toys are cute. And they are, but for most kids, they aren't relevant. They want to play their own movies and be their own heroes.

And that's my real point. While people sneer at console gaming, for most kids, it's a liberating experience. I mean, they can abuse it and avoid contact with real humans, but for most kids, it fuels, not limits their imagination. Having my nephew play as Michael Jordan was a liberating experience for him, an empowering one. Because he wasn't just a kid, he was playing with the best players on the planet on their level. Or living out some other adventure he's only seen in movies. In the end, these games help, not hinder imagination. Substituting your judgement on what you liked for what they like is a waste of time and money.

Get them toys they'll use and not only will they be happy, you'll save money. After all, Santa only exists as a drunken, sodomizing, theiveing bum, at least in this year's movies.

posted by Steve @ 4:46:00 PM

4:46:00 PM

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Winning by blackmail

GOP pulled no punches in struggle for Medicare bill

November 27, 2003


During 14 years in the Michigan Legislature and 11 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Smith had never experienced anything like it. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in the wee hours last Saturday morning, pressed him to vote for the Medicare bill. But Smith refused. Then things got personal.

Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

The bill providing prescription drug benefits under Medicare would have been easily defeated by Republicans save for the most efficient party whip operation in congressional history. Although President Bush had to be awakened to collect the last two votes, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Majority Whip Roy Blunt made it that close. ''DeLay the Hammer'' on Saturday morning was hammering fellow conservatives.

Last Friday night, Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania hosted a dinner at the Hunan restaurant on Capitol Hill for 30 Republicans opposed to the bill. They agreed on a scaled-down plan devised by Toomey and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. It would cover only seniors without private prescription drug insurance, while retaining the bill's authorization of private health savings accounts. First, they had to defeat their president and their congressional leadership.

They almost did. There were only 210 yes votes after an hour (long past the usual time for House roll calls), against 224 no's. A weary George W. Bush, just returned from Europe, was awakened at 4 a.m. to make personal calls to House members.

Republicans voting against the bill were told they were endangering their political futures. Major contributors warned Rep. Jim DeMint they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina. A Missouri state legislator called Rep. Todd Akin to threaten a primary challenge against him

Jesus. And of course, you know the punchline is that so many seniors are so pissed about this bill, they may well lose their seats anyway. Bushco wanted to say they delivered something for seniors, but as they look at the details of this bill, many are growing angrier by the day. I know my mother and uncle are not happy with this bill and don't think it will do much for them. You have thousands of AARP members cancelling their memberships, and that anger is only going to grow as people realize they got huckstered by this bill.

posted by Steve @ 4:13:00 PM

4:13:00 PM

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Bush surprises troops in Baghdad

Nov. 27 — President Bush gets a loud welcome at Baghdad International Airport.


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 27 — President Bush made a surprise visit Thursday to U.S. troops in Baghdad, flying secretly to violence-scarred Iraq on a trip tense with concerns about his safety.

THE VISIT, timed to coincide with Thanksgiving, was the first trip ever by a U.S. president to Iraq.

Air Force One landed in darkness at Baghdad International Airport. Security fears were heightened by an attack Saturday in which a missile struck a DHL cargo plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing at the airport with its wing aflame.

Bush spend only about two hours on the ground, limiting his visit to a dinner at the airport with U.S. forces. The troops had been told that the VIP guests would be Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

"You are defending the American people from danger, and we are grateful,� Bush told 600 soldiers who were stunned and delighted by his appearance.

Bush spoke with soldiers from the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division at an airport mess hall. “You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,� he said, “so we don’t have to face them in our own country.�

Terrorists are testing America’s resolve, Bush said, and “they hope we will run.�

“We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins,� the president said, prompting a standing ovation and cheers.

Wearing an exercise jacket with a 1st Armored Division patch, Bush stood in a line for food, dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a platter of a fresh-baked turkey.

So we're all supposed to be impressed he snuck into Baghdad at the dead of night, took a few feel good pictures, and then went home two hours later?

Hey, it's a nice thing to do, and of course, it trumps Hillary's trip to our forgotten war in Afghanistan. But I would be more impressed if he had gone to Walter Reed's Ward 57 instead. I think they need a presidential visit more than the rear area troops eating dinner in one of Saddam's palaces.

Karl Rove: weakened, but still dangerous.

posted by Steve @ 2:13:00 PM

2:13:00 PM

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The real Thanksgiving

I asked my six year old niece about what thanksgiving was. It's the kind of thing they usually teach first graders and I wanted to know what her answer would be. She said, "It was a day for giving thanks". And then "the Indians and the Pilgrims had a feast". Now, that's acceptable for a six year old growing up in New England, but we can handle a more accurate version of history.

Now, we all know that the Pilgrims were Calvinist pains in the ass and drove both the British and Dutch crazy. They were only too glad to boot them out into the wilderness. And when they arrived, they didn't see the Indians as friendly hosts, but rivals. If you go to Connecticut today, you'll see the legacy of mistrust between whites and natives. We call them Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. They can build casinos because of the treaties the whites were forced to sign and which are still in force. In reality, the first thanksgiving was more like the wartime truce between the Germans and Brits on the Western Front than some coming together in harmony.

3. The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in England, but some of them were themselves religious bigots by our modern standards. The Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the "Chosen Elect" mentioned in the book of Revelation. They strove to "purify" first themselves and then everyone else of everything they did not accept in their own interpretation of scripture. Later New England Puritans used any means, including deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to achieve that end.(4) They saw themselves as fighting a holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed with them was the enemy. This rigid fundamentalism was transmitted to America by the Plymouth colonists, and it sheds a very different light on the "Pilgrim" image we have of them. This is best illustrated in the written text of the Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth in 1623 by "Mather the Elder." In it, Mather the Elder gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag Indians who had been their benefactors. He praised God for destroying "chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth", i.e., the Pilgrims.(5) In as much as these Indians were the Pilgrim's benefactors, and Squanto, in particular, was the instrument of their salvation that first year, how are we to interpret this apparent callousness towards their misfortune?

4. The Wampanoag Indians were not the "friendly savages" some of us were told about when we were in the primary grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the Pilgrims' hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims' harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood. The Wampanoag were members of a widespread confederacy of Algonkian-speaking peoples known as the League of the Delaware. For six hundred years they had been defending themselves from my other ancestors, the Iroquois, and for the last hundred years they had also had encounters with European fishermen and explorers but especially with European slavers, who had been raiding their coastal villages.(6) They knew something of the power of the white people, and they did not fully trust them. But their religion taught that they were to give charity to the helpless and hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty hands.(7) Also, Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, had a very real love for a British explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second father to him several years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Clearly, Squanto saw these Pilgrims as Weymouth's people.(8) To the Pilgrims the Indians were heathens and, therefore, the natural instruments of the Devil. Squanto, as the only educated and baptized Christian among the Wampanoag, was seen as merely an instrument of God, set in the wilderness to provide for the survival of His chosen people, the Pilgrims. The Indians were comparatively powerful and, therefore, dangerous; and they were to be courted until the next ships arrived with more Pilgrim colonists and the balance of power shifted. The Wampanoag were actually invited to that Thanksgiving feast for the purpose of negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. It should also be noted that the INDIANS, possibly out of a sense of charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing the majority of the food for the feast.(9)

5. A generation later, after the balance of power had indeed shifted, the Indian and White children of that Thanksgiving were striving to kill each other in the genocidal conflict known as King Philip's War. At the end of that conflict most of the New England Indians were either exterminated or refugees among the French in Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans. So successful was this early trade in Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of the South, thus founding the American-based slave trade.(10)

So it wasn't just a happy gathering of neighbors. And it was an exceptional moment, not a harbinger of peace.

But the tradition of Thanksgiving, not the actual day, has a very different meaning. The legend of Thanksgiving is probably far more important than the actual event, because, despite the realities, it does set a prescident of interethnic harmony and unity. The myth defines America in a way that the reality never could. While the Pilgrims and Indians routinely savaged each other in bitter skirmishes, the myth of Thanksgiving reappeared in 1863, during the Civil War. Lincoln used it to call for two days of thanks, one ion August 6th for the victory at Gettysburg and on the last Thursday of November.

In the years after the Civil War, Thanksgiving became the way to create a unified national identity without creating a stultifying myth. In most countries with imnmigrants, France, the UK, Australia, national holidays are about assimiliation and identification. But since there is no one way to be an American, our holidays don't have such a pull. The 4th of July is a very different thing than Bastille day, more picnics and cookouts than military parades.

But Thanksgiving is a unique holiday. It is a national holiday without overt patriotism or religious meaning. It is about food and family. And it embraces the difference within American life. We all agree on the turkey, 95 percent of Americans will eat the bird today, but from there, we all go our different ways, rice and potatoes, green bean casserole and baked ziti. That's not just a dietary choice, but a statement of national unity which goes way, way beyond anything seen on the 4th. If you walk into most American homes today, you will see a turkey, some badly cooked, some moist and juicy, sitting there. It defines us as a single people, with at least one single, shared value, which goes way beyond a bird.

The turkey is about a specific kind of assimilation. All Americans believe, in some degree, in the constitution. It is the bedrock of our civic identity. To be an American, despite the beliefs of some, your skin color, race, religion doesn't matter. But your fundamental belief in the rights of your fellow citizens does. Well, that turkey, as the centerpiece of the thanksgiving dinner does the same thing in terms of food. No matter what you serve it with, thanksgiving turkey is far more a symbol of national untiy than any flag.

Oddly enough, not until 1941 was Thanksgiving was a fixed holiday. Until then, it was up to the President to proclaim the holiday. Well. as with many things, Franklin Roosevelt had a better idea, or so he thought.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1939, Franklin Roosevelt carved the turkey at the annual Thanksgiving Dinner at Warm Springs, Georgia, and wished all Americans across the country a Happy Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, his greeting went unanswered in some states; many Americans were not observing Thanksgiving on the same day as the President. Instead, they were waiting to carve their turkeys on the following Thursday because November 30th in many states was the official Thanksgiving Day. Two Thanksgivings? Why were Americans celebrating a national holiday on two different days?

At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday; it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on. However, Thanksgiving was always the last Thursday in November because that was the day President Abraham Lincoln observed the holiday when he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Franklin Roosevelt continued that tradition, but he soon found that tradition was difficult to keep in extreme circumstances such as the Great Depression. His first Thanksgiving in office, 1933, fell on November 30th, the last day of the month, because November had five Thursdays that year. Since statistics showed that most people did not do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving, business leaders feared they would lose money, especially during the Depression, because there were only 24 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They asked Franklin Roosevelt to make Thanksgiving one week earlier. President Roosevelt ignored those concerns in 1933, but when Thanksgiving once again threatened to fall on the last day of November in 1939, FDR reconsidered the request and moved the date of Thanksgiving up one week. Thanksgiving 1939 would be held, President Roosevelt proclaimed, on November 23rd and not November 30th.

Changing the date of Thanksgiving seemed harmless enough, but in actuality proved quite controversial. It was so upsetting that thousands of letters poured into the White House once President Roosevelt announced the date change. Some retailers were pleased because they hoped the extra week of Christmas shopping would increase profits, but smaller businesses complained they would lose business to larger stores. Other companies that depended on Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of November lost money; calendar makers were the worst hit because they printed calendars years in advance and FDR made their calendars out of date for the next two years. Schools were also disrupted by Roosevelt's decision; most schools had already scheduled vacations and annual Thanksgiving Day football games by the time they learned of Thanksgiving's new date and had to decide whether or not to reschedule everything. Moreover, many Americans were angry that Roosevelt tried to alter such a long-standing tradition and American values just to help businesses make more money.*

As opposition grew, some states took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation. Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! Family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

Franklin Roosevelt observed Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November for two more years, but the amount of public outrage prompted Congress to pass a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

It is surprising to realize that this most national of holidays was dependent on a president's whim until 60 years ago. Which makes it a unique holiday in many ways.

posted by Steve @ 11:59:00 AM

11:59:00 AM

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