Super Sunday! Bread and circuses and suicide bombings!

The Taliban conduct a night ambush against U.S. troops on January 24. A commenter on this YouTube video wrote: "holy cow, tracer rounds are so cool!" Yeah, really cool.


What a Sunday in sports and terror: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought to the death in a Grand Slam final, and so did the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. Best Super Bowl I've ever seen. Best display of tennis skills I've ever seen.

Now that those matches are over, let the real games begin.

Sorry, Cardinal fans, but the worst news Sunday was the latest fight to the death in Afghanistan — yet another suicide bombing by the Taliban:

A man wrapped in explosives walked into a compound filled with Afghan police officers Monday morning and detonated his payload, killing 21 officers and himself, the Interior Ministry said.

The attacker struck in Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, a mountainous area where the government's authority is being contested by the Taliban. Oruzgan is the birthplace of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban movement.

This is ominous news, and not because of the location. Here's some context missing from the New York Times story quoted above. The BBC (yes, it uses a different spelling for the Taliban) explains:

The Taleban have changed tactics since facing foreign troops in open battles two years ago, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul.

The tactics of insurgents in Iraq are being duplicated, with more suicide bombings, roadside bombs and hit-and-run ambushes, our correspondent says.

Just another reason to rue the Bush regime's unjustified invasion of Iraq. Taliban fanatics were able to hone their killing skills by adopting a strategy perfected by other fanatics in Iraq. Once again, we're reminded of George W. Bush's most enduring legacy, his accidentally truth-telling words from 2004:

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

One could argue that the scary increase in suicide bombings in Afghanistan probably wouldn't be happening if not for the Bush-Cheney regime's vital contribution of spreading the "war on terror" to Iraq and thus giving fanatics the chance to think of new ways to commit suicide/homicide.

Meanwhile, in other business...


N.Y. Times: 'Afghan Suicide Bomber Kills 18'

N.Y. Times: 'Bailouts for Bunglers' (Paul Krugman)

Question: what happens if you lose vast amounts of other people's money? Answer: you get a big gift from the federal government -- but the president says some very harsh things about you before forking over the cash.

Am I being unfair? I hope so. But right now that's what seems to be happening.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the Obama administration's plan to support jobs and output with a large, temporary rise in federal spending, which is very much the right thing to do. I'm talking, instead, about the administration's plans for a banking system rescue -- plans that are shaping up as a classic exercise in "lemon socialism": taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right.

When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I've entered a time warp -- as if it's still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism.


N.Y. Times: 'A Month Free? Rents Are Falling Fast'


Wall Street Journal: 'Firms Getting U.S. Aid Face Strict Pay Curbs'

The White House is expected to impose tougher restrictions on executive compensation at firms that get substantial government aid, as part of an effort to improve public perception of the $700 billion financial bailout.

N.Y. Daily News: 'No joke -- I'll fire 23,000, Mike warns'

Digital Journalist: '"Dr. Strangelove and President Bush'

N.Y. Times: 'Gaza Notebook: The Bullets in My In-Box' (Ethan Bronner)

NewsBusters: 'Robert Gibbs, Reporters Laugh Off Fairness Doctrine Question' [SEE TRANSCRIPT or VIDEO]


President Obama watched last night's Super Bowl with a few political pals - and a couple of foes.

Obama, a Steeler fan, had 11 Democrats and four Republicans over -- including Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, who once warned electing Obama would spark "dancing in the streets among the terrorists of the world."

N.Y. Times: 'Herbert Hoover Lives' (Frank Rich)

Here's a bottom line to keep you up at night: The economy is falling faster than Washington can get moving. President Obama says his stimulus plan will save or create four million jobs in two years. In the last four months of 2008 alone, employment fell by 1.9 million. Do the math....

What are Americans still buying? Big Macs, Campbell's soup, Hershey's chocolate and Spam -- the four food groups of the apocalypse.

N.Y. Times: 'Welfare Aid Not Growing as Economy Drops Off'

Wall Street Journal: 'Recession Gives Cobblers New Traction'

The shoe-repair industry has been given a new lease on life as Americans opt to repair shoes rather than replace them.

N.Y. Daily News: 'Brilliant student, pal cut down in stolen car crash'

N.Y. Times: 'Risks Are Vast in Revaluation of Assets'

As the Obama administration prepares its strategy to rescue the nation's banks by buying or guaranteeing troubled assets on their books, it confronts one central problem: How should they be valued?

Not just billions, but hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

N.Y. Times: 'Israeli, Palestinian Attacks Batter Gaza Ceasefire'


Just when it started to look as if The New York Times Co. had found a way to dig itself out from under its massive debt load, the beleaguered newspaper company may be on the verge of getting knocked down again.

The cash-strapped publisher last week reported that its pension plan was facing a $625 million shortfall at the end of 2008, compared with a deficit of $48 million a year earlier....

More than $1 billion in debt is looming over the ad-starved company, which was forced to get a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim at a steep 14 percent interest rate, to put its stake in the Boston Red Sox up for sale and to negotiate the sale of part of its brand-new Eighth Avenue headquarters.

Now, the company is getting socked again by the financial crisis and subsequent market turmoil as it wreaks havoc on its pension plan. To be sure, the Times doesn't owe billions in retirement benefits like the Big Three automakers, but it's one of hundreds of US companies suffering from a severe pension squeeze.

N.Y. Times: 'Obama Promises Review Board for Bailout Program'


Last week was a painful one for magazines, as Condé Nast decided to shutter Domino and Readers Digest's parent laid off a chunk of its staff. While advertising pages are down across the board, there are a number of mags that are fighting for their survival.

N.Y. Times: 'Oil Below $41 as US Crude Workers May Strike'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Super Bowl XLIII is no quick fix for the economy' (Mike Lupica)

N.Y. Times: 'Spinach and Peanuts, With a Dash of Radiation'


N.Y. Times: 'Justice Dept. Under Obama Is Preparing for Doctrinal Shift in Policies of Bush Years'

N.Y. Daily News: 'More than 100 killed in Kenya oil tanker explosion'

N.Y. Times: 'Rising Acidity Is Threatening Food Web of Oceans, Science Panel Says'

Wall Street Journal: 'Now Hiring: Lehman'

Lehman has become a hot source of work for finance professionals needed for the process of dissolving the firm.


A group of angry Bank of America shareholders plans to demand that Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ken Lewis get the boot at the bank's upcoming annual meeting.

N.Y. Times: 'Phelps Apologizes for Marijuana Pipe Photo'

The Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps quickly acknowledged his poor judgment after a photograph showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe was published Sunday in a British newspaper. Although his admission is unlikely to effect his swimming eligibility, it could affect the millions of dollars he has secured in endorsement deals....

Since his record-breaking performance in Beijing, Phelps has added Kellogg's, Mazda and Subway, among others, to an endorsement portfolio that already included Visa and AT&T. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired in December, Phelps's agent...said that Phelps could earn more than $100 million over his lifetime.

IPS: 'MEDIA-US: Gaza Coverage Echoed Govt Support of Israel'

<New Times (Phoenix): 'Senator Shocks Press: "%$#@ Like A Beast!"'

New Times (Phoenix): 'Leapin' Lizards'

Vos Iz Neias?: 'Assemblyman Hikind: More Victims Coming Forward In Former Russian Principal Case'

On his weekly radio show this just-past Motzoei Shabbos, Assemblyman Dov Hikind revealed that according to his information, [confirmed by VIN News] another victim has come forward with allegations that he was abused by the disgraced former principal of Elite High School of Brooklyn.

On the show, Mr. Hikind also discussed the accused principal's admission of guilt.

Most significantly, Hikind announced a major yom tefilah to be held on March 1, 2009 in front of the Borough Park "Y" on 48th Street to demonstrate a communal request for forgiveness from Hashem for not doing enough to protect our children from, and inform our community of, heinous crimes that have been occurring over the past decades in which we turned a blind eye to abuse victims.

Mr. Hikind said that he would continue his crusade, and said "those who are upset with what I do, I ask them: 'Take over what I do.' I even offered one of the biggest Chasidic institutions many months ago, when they were upset at my work, to take over--and I never heard back from them."

'The Madoff Scandal and the Future of American Jewry'

MADOFF WATCHFrom the conservative, Jewish-establishment magazine Commentary:

...Perhaps this will set off a war of scarcity between Jewish groups fighting over the money of those who are still giving, but the initial indications are that cooperation may prevail over chaos.

Representatives of thirty-five of the largest Jewish foundations in the country met in New York on December 23, 2008, to coordinate their responses to the crisis and agreed to offer millions of dollars in loans to not-for-profits victimized by Madoff--a heartening display of a community banding together in a time of crisis.

But the real problem facing specifically Jewish charitable organizations is not a scarcity of dollars to be spread among rival Jewish causes, but rather competition from secular groups that have also been injured by the economic crisis.

An assimilated Jewish donor who feels the charitable impulse but has fewer dollars to contribute might feel a greater sense of affinity and cause with an environmentalist group or an arts organization, and focus his reduced power on them instead. Just as the openness of American society has made it less likely for Jews to marry other Jews, so, too, it is less likely that Jews will give primarily to Jewish causes....

The long-term threat for Jewish philanthropy, then, isn't Bernard Madoff but rather the overall threat facing the larger Jewish community in the United States--what came to be known, nearly two decades ago, as the "continuity crisis."

When the 1990 National Jewish Population Study reported alarming rates of intermarriage, numbers that offered the terrifying prospect of the eventual withering away of the Jewish population in the United States, a debate began in the organized Jewish world about how to address the approaching demographic disaster.

Art Observed: 'Brandeis University considers closing Rose Museum due to losses from Madoff investments'

CBS: 'Double Trouble for Madoffs?: Brother Of Bernard Made Florida Real Estate Moves That Raise Questions About How Much Family Knew'

Peter Madoff's role in the scam, if any, remains unclear. But timing of the homestead exemption requests raises questions as to who knew what and when....

CBS News has learned that [Bernard] Madoff and his brother, along with their wives, took steps two years ago -- around the time that federal regulators started probing Madoff's business activities -- that could help prevent their Florida homes from being taken away from them, something possible under Florida state law.

"Florida has very unique laws and has been described by some as a debtor's haven," said John Pankauski, a Florida estate attorney. "People who may want to protect their property will seek the protection of Florida laws."

Florida's "homestead" laws, which are unlike what any other state has, in part allow homeowners facing legal judgments (or other financial issues) to protect their primary residence fully -- keeping it out of the hands of potential creditors. One of the key steps in qualifying for the home-protection is seeking "homestead exemption," which provides homeowners with a tax break.

On May 10, 2001, Peter Madoff bought the home at 200 Algoma Road in Palm Beach, Fla., along with his wife Marion. Both were listed as owners at the time.

Five years later, on Nov. 8, 2006, Peter transferred the title to Marion making her the sole legal owner of the home....

ABC: 'The Imp in a Bottle: Ponzi/Madoff in a Broader Perspective: Ponzificating on Madoff, Pyramid Schemes and the Financial Crisis'

N.Y. Daily News: 'New York Post writer busted in bid to interview Bernard Madoff'

A bumbling New York Post reporter was busted Saturday after he tried to sweet-talk his way into Bernie Madoff's upper East Side penthouse, police said.

Josh Saul, 25, claimed to be a real-estate broker when he entered the Ponzi scheme swindler's building at 133 E. 64th St. around 1 p.m., police said. "He misrepresented himself," a police source said.

Saul was escorted upstairs by a doorman and was near the front door of the $50 billion scam artist's $7 million duplex when he was unmasked, cops said.

The hapless hack's weekend at Bernie's did not end with the exclusive interview he was angling for. Instead, he was arrested, charged with trespassing and issued a summons.

Saul, 25, of Greenwich Village, has been working at the Post for about a year. He is also the dubious star of a Web site that includes photos of him dancing in his underwear, chugging beer from a keg, wearing a woman's wig and balancing objects on his head.

Reached Saturday night, he referred all questions to his newspaper.

Post spokesman Howard Rubinstein declined to comment.

The fact-challenged tabloid quoted an anonymous source on Friday as saying that brokers have been invited by the trustee of Madoff's firm to assess the disgraced investor's apartment.

Z Magazine: 'Wall Street swindler inadvertently strikes powerful blows for social justice?'

N.Y. Times: 'Art at Brandeis'

Hard times force hard choices on everyone. But that does not require bad decisions too. At Brandeis University, President Jehuda Reinharz has made hard times worse by deciding to close the university's Rose Art Museum and sell off more than 6,000 works in its collection....

The Madoff scandal and its effects on some of Brandeis's major donors have made new fund-raising possibilities especially bleak.

Selling the university's art collection would help plug its financial gap, but it would create a gaping hole in Brandeis's mission and its reputation. It would default on one of the great collections of contemporary art in New England, one built early on with extraordinary artistic acumen. The core works were acquired by the museum's founding director from such young artists (at young artist prices) as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Fellow Arabs honor journalist's feat

PRESS CLIPS Shoe-throwing journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi must feel as if he'd died and gone to suicide-bomber heaven. At least one of his fellow Arabs is offering him a woman who may or may not be a virgin.

Sure, it's only woman, not the 72 promised to martyrs, but he's alive and she's alive and, well, you know. And she's thrilled about it, as Reuters reports from Cairo:

An Egyptian man said on Wednesday he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday,

The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. "This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero," she told Reuters by telephone.

Start unlacing, baby. But until marriage, no tongues.


N.Y. Times: 'Mukasey Recuses Himself From Madoff Investigation'


Agence France Presse: 'Chrysler halts manufacturing as clock ticks on gov't bailout'

Guardian (U.K.): 'Scientists debunk the myth that you lose most heat through your head'

Register (U.K.): 'New York "iPod tax" incites media bleating: Four-cent proposal twists knickers'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Just like humans! Yes, a squirrel can waterski, just like us! And we have video of the versatile squirrel in action.'

Reuters: 'Father offers daughter to shoe-thrower'

N.Y. Times: 'Obama Selects Evangelist for Invocation'

The inauguration role positions the Rev. Rick Warren to succeed Billy Graham as America's pre-eminent minister.

Wall Street Journal: 'Regulator Schapiro to Run SEC for Obama'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Lillo's smirks spur fury as jury deliberates'

Register (U.K.): 'Censored scenes from the Congress WMD report: Last minute bioterror rewrites?'


Guardian (U.K.): 'Antisemites feast on Madoff misery'

It has been a fertile financial week for bigots. The astonishing scale of corruption allegedly unmasked at the offices of Wall Street fund manager Bernie Madoff has caused disproportionate pain in the Jewish community, prompting unedifying sneers on the blogosphere. ...

Register (U.K.): 'Wikipedia self-flagellates over vanishing "farmsex": The missing Zoophilia edits'


A Queens cop shot to death by his wife earlier this year was a member of the "Hottie Police" — as a cross-dresser, her lawyer said yesterday.

Reuters: 'HIV infects women through healthy tissue: U.S. study'

Instead of infiltrating breaks in the skin, HIV appears to attack normal, healthy genital tissue, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday in a study that offers new insight into how the AIDS virus spreads.

They said researchers had assumed the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, sought out beaks in the skin, such as a herpes sore, in order to gain access to immune system cells deeper in the tissue.

Some had even thought the normal lining of the vaginal tract offered a barrier to invasion by the virus during sexual intercourse.

Register (U.K.): 'Yahoo! to! kill! most! search! engine! data! records! after! three! months!'

Register (U.K.): 'Don't delay: Delete your DNA today'

McClatchy: 'Kabul residents have more fear of gangs than of Taliban'

Washington Post: 'End of the Hedge Fund?' (Sebastian Mallaby)

... Because it is possible to commit undetected fraud, the industry will attract fraudsters; eventually, investors will realize that they can't tell the good guys from the bad and yank their money out. If this is going to happen, the Madoff scandal could be the catalyst, especially because it has hit at a time when hedge funds are in trouble for other reasons.

Hedge fund strategies depend on borrowing, or "leverage," which is hard to come by now. They often depend on "shorting" stocks -- that is, betting that they'll fall in value -- but regulators have restricted that practice. Even before the Madoff scandal, there were estimates that hedge fund assets might shrink from just under $2 trillion a few months ago to perhaps $1.4 trillion.

Guardian (U.K.): 'Iraqi officials arrested over coup plot against prime minister'

McClatchy: 'Salazar pick indicates big change at Interior Department'

Guardian (U.K.): 'UN tribunal jails Rwanda genocide mastermind for life'

Register (U.K.): 'Economists say European ancestors are what make you rich: No shit, Sherlock'

Daily Flog: Remembering the 9/11, Bush disasters; waiting for Lehman's final collapse

Running down the press:

You'll be deluged all day with stories about Ground Zero, where Barack Obama and John McCain will duke it out in the tragic death cage.

As the BBC notes with a straight face:

In a joint statement from the campaigns announcing their decision to visit Ground Zero together, the two men vowed to come together "as Americans" and suspend their political campaigns for 24 hours.

Yes, no politicking going on there.

Google News: 'Lipstick politics: The big diversion'

In a hopeful sign for fans of artificial intelligence, the algorithms show a glimmer of irony this morning.

At one point, the above headline (from the Chicago Tribune's Swamp blog in D.C.) zoomed to the top of the page, the lede item of 2,233 lipstick/pig/Palin/Obama related items.

The irony? News orgs and everyone else hunger so much for a spot on the Google News page that they will think this story continues to be important and thus will stay diverted.

Meanwhile, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the Bush regime is now diverting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan — troops it never should have diverted in 2003 from Afghanistan to Iraq.

As for the Tribune story itself? Mark Silva's item is lame:

Like "lipstick on a pig," the hot new debate of the presidential campaign has sparked one stunning distraction. And, as anyone knows, lipstick smears.

Me and everyone else used that pun yesterday.

CBS: 'Poll: Most Say U.S. Prepared For Attacks'

The rest of this meaningless poll (which gets weight because news orgs give it weight) notes, in part:

Americans give some credit to the Bush administration for making the country safer. Fifty percent say the administration's policies have improved the country’s safety, about the same rating as they have given the White House for the last two years. Twenty-one percent say the administration's policies have made the country less safe, and 23 percent say they have had no effect.

President Bush's approval rating is now at 29 percent, slightly above the low of 25 percent reached this past summer. His approval has not climbed above 30 percent since April 2007.

I guess this means that there won't be a sudden push to abolish term limits (like the trend the Times spotted) for presidents. Talk about worries lessening: Bush is unlikely to ever again win the presidency.

McClatchy: '9/11 seven years later: U.S. 'safe,' South Asia in turmoil'

In one of the better 9/11 stories this morning, Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah remind us that there's a big ol' planet outside the U.S. borders:

Taking their cue from Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen's assessment yesterday — "I am not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan" — they run with it:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Seven years after 9/11, al Qaida and its allies are gaining ground across the region where the plot was hatched, staging their most lethal attacks yet against NATO forces and posing a growing threat to the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan.

While there have been no new strikes on the U.S. homeland, the Islamic insurrection inspired by Osama bin Laden has claimed thousands of casualties and displaced tens of thousands of people and shows no sign of slackening in the face of history's most powerful military alliance.

The insurgency now stretches from Afghanistan's border with Iran through the southern half of the country. The Taliban now are able to interdict three of the four major highways that connect Kabul, the capital, to the rest of the country.

Daily News: 'Remember towering spirit in 9/11 aftermath'

Tendentious and predictable, courtesy of super-self-serious columnist Michael Daly:

The obligation to honor the murdered innocents neither begins nor ends with a quick visit to Ground Zero, whether you are Barack Obama, John McCain or anybody else.

The obligation has been with us from the day of the attack and for a brief time we lived up to it: remembering we were all in it together, no matter where we were born, no matter who we voted for, no matter what we did for a living or how much we earned.

Emma Lazarus he ain't.

New York Review of Books: 'The Battle for a Country's Soul'

Forget about today's coverage. On this 9/11, the best reflection — one with real meat — remains Jane Mayer's think piece in the NYRB's previous issue:

Seven years after al-Qaeda's attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul.

In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America's interests in the world.

These warnings came not just from political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and, perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself.

The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America's ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.

One more passage from Mayer's look back, which is every bit as patriotic and stirring as the feeble attempts by Daly and others — and without the schmaltz and jingoism:

Instead of heeding this well-intentioned dissent, however, the Bush administration invoked the fear flowing from the attacks on September 11 to institute a policy of deliberate cruelty that would have been unthinkable on September 10.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and a small handful of trusted advisers sought and obtained dubious legal opinions enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions.

In the name of protecting national security, the executive branch sanctioned coerced confessions, extrajudicial detention, and other violations of individuals' liberties that had been prohibited since the country's founding. They turned the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel into a political instrument, which they used to expand their own executive power at the expense of long-standing checks and balances.

Times: 'Pressure Builds as Lehman Faces Mounting Losses'

As it usually does, the paper of record takes the angle of the pressure on the suffering bank instead of the broader, more logical angle of the pressure of the bank's looming collapse on the rest of the world's economy. The Times lede:

The trouble at Lehman Brothers is rapidly becoming a race against time for the struggling Wall Street bank.

Lehman’s fortunes dwindled further on Wednesday as the firm, staggered by the biggest loss in its 158-year history, fought to regain confidence among investors.

You have to go overseas to get to the real news: what impact this collapse is having on the rest of the planet outside Lehman's Seventh Avenue HQ. Try this one from the Financial Times in London: "Lehman survival strategy fails to lift markets."

Daily News: 'Biden blunder: Joe says maybe Hillary Clinton would make better VP'

Joe Biden is already giving us an example of how he just can't keep his big yap shut — even when he's responding to praise.

No one wants a veep who's not confident in himself or herself, but Biden just couldn't let a compliment pass.

"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America - let's get that straight," Biden said testily after a voter said he was "very pleased" that Democratic nominee Barack Obama had chosen him instead of Clinton.

"She is qualified to be President of the United States of America, she's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America and, quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me," the Delaware senator added forcefully. "I mean that sincerely, she is first- rate."

OK, OK, we get the point: You're trying to pander to women to counter the presence of a woman on the GOP ticket.

Shut the fuck up already with the "I'm not worthy" bit. How will you try to show, in this popularity contest, that Sarah Palin's not worthy if you say that about yourself? Suitors — successful ones — don't act that way.

And notice that Biden even said it "testily" instead of graciously. The guy is more competent than he sounds, but you wouldn't know it. Trouble is brewing for the Demo ticket, because it's sound, not substance, that bites.


Good one from Fred Dicker and his colleagues:

In an unprecedented sting that brought an undercover FBI agent onto the state Capitol floor, a veteran Democratic assemblyman from Queens was busted yesterday for allegedly taking $500,000 in bribes, prosecutors announced.

Anthony Seminerio, 73, who has represented South Ozone Park since 1978 and often boasted he was "John Gotti's assemblyman," was charged with running a secret consulting firm through which he pocketed the cash in return for peddling influence in Albany.

An FBI agent going undercover on the Capitol floor. Send that man to Congress!

Daily Flog 8/5/08: Death of a smart Alek, crime by kids, mad scientists, veep intrigue, close shaves, kosher giraffes

Running down the press:

Daily News: 'Crime by kids soars - blame the iPhone'

Don't ever trust crime stats touted at NYPD press conferences, especially by a pinch-faced commissioner hungering to be mayor someday, but . . .:

Muggers are getting younger — and the iPhone is to blame.

Kids ages 11 to 19 make up a growing proportion of the crooks arrested this year for theft, fueled in part by a lust for the snazzy new phones, police said.

"The explosive popularity of these devices has also made them inviting targets for thefts. Teens are commonly the culprits as well as the victims," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Juveniles accounted for 29% of the 7,340 robbery arrests and 27% of the 4,566 grand larceny busts this year, an 8% jump in each category compared to this time last year, police said.

Electronics - mostly iPhones, iPods and Sidekicks - were the stolen booty in 20% of the robbery arrests and 12% of the grand larceny arrests.


Love the angle, and the Post and everyone else has posthumously convicted him, so what the hell:

The mad scientist suspected of orchestrating the deadly 2001 anthrax-letter spree was obsessed with a prestigious sorority that keeps an office just 300 feet from a Princeton, NJ, mailbox where the poisonous missives were dropped. Bruce Ivins' creepy fixation on Kappa Kappa Gamma may explain why he chose that spot - some 200 miles from his Frederick, Md., home and workplace - to mail the seven anthrax- laced letters that killed five people, sickened 17 and petrified a nation still reeling from the 9/11 terror attacks.

Ivins was obsessed with KKG going back to his college days at the University of Cincinnati, when he apparently was spurned by a woman in the Columbus-based sorority, US officials told The Associated Press - and the fixation never waned in the decades after he left with a Ph.D. in microbiology.

If you can't go Greek, go geek.

Daily News: 'Goats penetrate fence at heavily guarded base of Verrazano Bridge'

Obvious but fun:

Watch out for these weapons of grass destruction.

New Yorker: 'Deep In the Woods'

The best seven-year-old story today — and the best high ground amid the flood of lame stories about Russia "saying farewell" to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — is this reprise of editor David Remnick's August 2001 Letter from Moscow. This isn't from the lede, because the New Yorker doesn't deal in traditional nut grafs, but it does indicate that many people said their farewells to the gulag-bred polemicist years ago:

When [Boris] Yeltsin left office, on the eve of 2000, Solzhenitsyn was furious that the new President, Vladimir Putin, had granted his predecessor immunity from prosecution. Solzhenitsyn declared that Yeltsin "along with another one or two hundred people must be brought to book."

By now, Solzhenitsyn had managed to alienate almost everyone. The Communists despised him, of course, and the hard-line Russian nationalists, who had once hoped he would be their standard-bearer, found him too liberal. The liberals, who looked west for their models, could not take seriously Solzhenitsyn's derisory view of the West as a trove of useless materialism and a wasteland of spiritual emptiness. Nor could they abide conservative positions such as his support for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

When Solzhenitsyn first arrived in Moscow, his name was invoked as a possible successor to Yeltsin. This was always a fantasy, but it did indicate his enormous prestige. And yet with time, and with Solzhenitsyn's weekly exposure on television, the majority of the public soured on him or grew indifferent. His television appearances were cancelled. He fell in the political ratings and then disappeared from them. He began to appear less and less in public. But still he continued to write. I was able to obtain, through his sons Ignat, a concert pianist and conductor in Philadelphia, and Stephan, an urban-planning and environmental consultant in Boston, an advance copy of the first volume of "Two Hundred Years Together" and made plans to pay him a visit on the outer edge of the capital.

As it happened, I arrived in Moscow just after George W. Bush had met with Putin in Slovenia. . . .

You probably can't tell from the above excerpt, but nobody (including Hunter Thompson) wrote better first-person journalism since A.J. Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana (1961) than Remnick's Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (1993). Even if that turns out to be Remnick's high-water mark (and it probably will, because now he's an editor), what a high. Just about anything Remnick has written about Russia — not boxing, but Russia — is worth reading today. Even if, like this piece, it's seven years old.

New York Observer: 'VP Speculation Is Much Ado About Something'

A wonkish and pretty thorough history lesson from Steve Kornacki, including this:

A VP candidate whose selection captures the country's interest (in a positive way) and who performs skillfully in the fall debate can dramatically improve the public's instinctive, knee-jerk impression of the presidential candidate with whom he or she is running – making it much more likely that voters will view that presidential candidate favorably when they consider "the issues."

A terrific example of this is 2000. On the Republican side, [Dick] Cheney brought Bush a week's worth of favorable press about the wisdom he, an inexperienced and untested governor, had displayed in tapping such a wise and seasoned foreign policy master and his "gravitas." Cheney followed that up with a surprisingly strong and humorous showing in his VP debate with [Joe] Lieberman. It's impossible to quantify the effect Cheney had, and you certainly can't pinpoint it to one state or region. But his presence, and the press he received, almost certainly made many voters more receptive to Bush and his message.

Times: 'An Olympic Stadium Worth Remembering'

The Times promo'ed this review of Beijing's National Stadium with classic Gray-Lady-with-pince-nez phrasing:

The National Stadium reaffirms architecture's civilizing role in a nation that is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.

Would you click to read more? Too bad, because Nicolai Ouroussoff's piece is considerably less pretentious (what isn't?) and starts out pretty damned well:

Given the astounding expectations piled upon the National Stadium, I'm surprised it hasn't collapsed under the strain.

More than 90,000 spectators will stream through its gates on Friday for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games; billions are expected to watch the fireworks on television. At the center of it all is this dazzling stadium, which is said to embody everything from China's muscle-flexing nationalism to a newfound cultural sophistication.

Times: 'Aux Barricades! France and the Jews'

Roger Cohen's op-ed piece adds a schmear of smut — the phrase "shaved Jewess" — to the Times. For the full flavor of a story practically ignored by the isolationist U.S. press, here are the first several grafs:

It's not quite the Dreyfus Affair, at least not yet. But France is divided again over power and the Jews.

While the United States has been debating the New Yorker's caricature of Barack Obama as a Muslim, France has gone off the deep end over a brief item in the country's leading satirical magazine portraying the relationship between President Nicolas Sarkozy's fast-rising son, Jean, and his Jewish fiancée.

The offending piece in Charlie Hebdo, a pillar of the left-libertarian media establishment, was penned last month by a 79-year-old columnist-cartoonist who goes by the name of Bob Siné. He described the plans — since denied — of Jean Sarkozy, 21, to convert to Judaism before marrying Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, an heiress to the fortune of the Darty electrical goods retailing chain.

"He'll go far in life, this little fellow!" Siné wrote of Sarkozy Jr.

He added, in a separate item on whether Muslims should abandon their traditions, that: "Honestly, between a Muslim in a chador and a shaved Jewess, my choice is made!"

Nobody paid attention for a week: Siné is a notorious provocateur whose strong pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist views have in the past crossed the line into anti-Semitism. I'd say he's far from alone in that among a certain French left.

But this is the summer, news is slow, and since a journalist at the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur denounced the article as "anti-Semitic" on July 8, France has worked itself into a fit of high intellectual dudgeon.

Forward: 'Ad Hoc Outreach Effort May Hinder McCain's Bid for Communal Vote'

From just about the only paper that covers establishment Jews' financial and political clout, some fascinating nuggets about not only McCain's campaign strategies but also Obama's and Bush Jr.'s. And unlike the blather from the mainstream press, these nuggets aren't first mined from the eager mouths of each campaign's flacks and "advisers." Anthony Weiss's July 31 lede:

In a year when polls suggest that Senator John McCain is positioned to garner more Jewish votes than any Republican candidate in the past two decades, his campaign is attempting to woo Jewish voters with a small, decentralized operation that critics are charging has no single address.

In contrast to the corporate discipline of George W. Bush in 2004 and the well-staffed ground operation of Democratic opponent Senator Barack Obama, McCain is counting on an ad hoc, almost informal approach to reaching Jewish voters. To date, the McCain campaign's Jewish outreach has been conducted through a combination of political donors and campaign surrogates that campaign insiders defend as reflecting sensitivity to needs on the ground.

And here's the context:

Some Republican Jewish insiders have criticized this approach, arguing that it has led to competing centers of influence and no clear lines of authority or communication. These critics point out that at this point in the 2004 campaign, the Bush campaign had dispatched Jewish outreach teams to several states, organized multiple fundraisers and was well into the planning stage for a Jewish leadership event at the Republican convention.

McCain's defenders respond that the senator is simply running a different campaign, reflecting both the aftermath of a chaotic primary season and McCain's own management style.

The debate comes in a year when a number of observers have suggested that McCain is uniquely well positioned to reach Jewish voters. Recent polls released by Gallup and by the left-leaning lobbying organization J Street both showed McCain running well for a Republican candidate, polling 29% and 32%, respectively. Supporters cite McCain's long record on Israel-related issues and national security, and McCain faces, in Barack Obama, a candidate who has struggled to define a positive image for himself in the Jewish community, particularly on issues related to Israel. Jewish voters could be especially significant in a number of potential swing states, particularly Pennsylvania and Florida.

But McCain's Jewish outreach also must go up against a formidable Obama operation that has had a staff member serving as a Jewish liaison for more than a year and began building a national grass-roots operation during the primary season.

Forward: 'Giraffe Milk Is Kosher'

Stanley Siegelman's Siegelmania column milchs this item for all it's worth. An Israeli rabbi declared that a giraffe "has all signs of a ritually pure animal, and the milk that forms curds strengthened that." Siegelman's resulting doggerel starts: "Imagine milking a giraffe! ..." Or, put another way:

Oysmelkn ken men a zhiraf?
Der moyekh zogt tsu unz: S'iz tough!
Di hoykhenish iz a problem,
Der nopl iz vayt avek (ahem!)

Di milkh iz yetst derklert nit treyf,
Der rebbe zogt der sheid iz safe.
A curd farmogt es — gantz O.K.!
Shray nit "gevald," shray nit "oy whey"!


Stefanie Cohen's hot-blooded take on a typically cold-blooded legal maneuver:

In a heartless legal maneuver, city lawyers say they shouldn't have to shell out too much cash to a man who was paralyzed from the neck down in the Staten Island Ferry crash because he's not going to live that long anyway, according to court papers.

James McMillan Jr., 44, has only 16 more years to live, according to a doctor hired by the city, and the lawyers hope a jury uses that number to determine what his payout should be, the papers show.

McMillan's lawyer, Evan Torgan, says his client, if properly cared for, could live much longer than that.

"The city paralyzed him, and now they're saying that he is going to die young because of the damage they caused," Torgan said. "They're turning a personal-injury case into a wrongful-death case."

An epidemiologist hired by the city, Michael DeVivo, wrote in court filings, "The injury has reduced Mr. McMillan's current life expectancy by 13.8 years or 46 percent."


Apparently it's open season on cult leaders. That's really too bad. It's also too bad that the story interjects predictable reaction quotes too high. Skip from the first graf . . .:

In a stunning verdict, a jury cleared ex-hippie Rebekah Johnson of all charges in the attempted murder of a Staten Island cult leader who was ambushed outside his home and shot six times as he begged for his life.
. . . to these grafs:

The jury rejected prosecutors' claims that an obsessed Johnson targeted Jeff Gross in May 2006 after he repeatedly booted her from the Ganas commune and rebuffed her demands for millions of dollars.

It was unclear whether the jurors cleared Johnson because they didn't think she fired the shots or because they believed she was the victim of cult brainwashing.

They made a hurried departure from the courthouse, declining to speak to reporters.


Good, all-purpose hed for a story on a lamster wannabe:

He thought his port-a-potty scam would leave him flush with cash. Instead, it got him thrown in the can.

An accountant for Tishman Construction will be indisposed in prison for the next seven years after pleading guilty yesterday to embezzling $2.8 million.

He altered checks payable to Mr. John, a company that deals in portable bathrooms, and made them payable to himself - Mr. John Hoeffner. . . .

Prosecutors said the suddenly-wealthy Hoeffner then blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on a girlfriend in Cali, Colombia.

America's Suicide Bomber

Ralph Nader, the newest entrant in the presidential race, is sure to implode, but not before he wreaks some panic among Democrats. He's our own homegrown suicide bomber of politics.

Suicide bombers elsewhere are exploding, not imploding. Yesterday, on the road from Baghdad to Karbala, one of the schmucks killed a couple of dozen of pilgrims at a rest stop:

A suicide bomber on Sunday attacked a crowd of Shiite pilgrims heading toward the city of Karbala to visit the Shrine of Imam Hussein, killing at least 40 people and wounding at least 100, Iraqi officials said. The American military said that at least 60 people had been wounded.

And in Pakistan, one of Nader's kissing-of-death cousins targeted a cop:

A suicide bomber struck Pakistan's military headquarters in Rawalpindi Monday, killing at least eight people, including the army's top ranking medical officer, military officials said.

Nader, however, is the only suicide bomber who publicly announces his intentions:

Nader announced his candidacy on NBC's Meet the Press, as he did four years ago. He said he is running to draw attention to issues ignored by the major candidates in both parties, citing corporate crime, workers' rights, military spending and foreign policy.

"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," he said. "You go from Iraq to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bumbling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts."

Sounds as if Nader's the one who's feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized, and disrespected.

The latest episode of HBO's The Wire, the best piece of investigative entertainment ever seen on TV, is once again instructive. Detective Jimmy McNulty's "serial killer" — a fake murderer springing only from McNulty's imaginative scam to get more money for police work — warranted an FBI profile. And McNulty himself fits the profile — especially the part about the "killer" feeling superior to everyone else. Back to reality: For once, the New York Times put perspective in a political story — probably because Adam Nagourney didn't write it:

On Sunday, Mr. Nader officially announced that he would seek the presidency as a third-party candidate one more time — driven in part by his frustration over the efforts to thwart his last run.

“If there was no other reason to run — other than the civil liberties, civil rights issue of ballot access — it’d be worth it,” Mr. Nader said in a telephone interview after announcing his candidacy on “Meet the Press.”

Worth it for whom? Nader's quixotic quests for the presidency are reminiscent of Harold Stassen's. Only no one's laughing, except for the Republicans. If McCain's people are smart, they'll start siphoning campaign funds to Nader. So far, the only campaign contributor to Nader in the past six months appears to be one Patricia Gilmartin of Homewood, Illinois, according to federal campaign records. And, schizophrenically, she also has given money to Barry Obama.

Nader came to fame with his auto exposé, Unsafe at Any Speed. But he just can't seem to take his pedal off the metal. Take it out of first gear, Ralph. Your whining is annoying.

Off With Our Heads


Tête-à-tête offensive: Bush and Maliki circle the burning station wagons, while our soldiers go nuts from the war.

George W. Bush wasn't crazy Wednesday when he compared the Iraq Debacle to the Vietnam War to the cheers of a VFW crowd in Kansas City.

Thousands of shell-shocked U.S. soldiers wound up untreated, drifting the streets of America after the Vietnam War. The same thing is happening now with Iraq veterans — at least with those who haven't already committed suicide. From an August 17 AP story:

Ninety-nine soldiers killed themselves last year, the highest suicide rate in the Army in 26 years of record-keeping, a new report says.

Nearly a third of the soldiers committed suicide while in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a report released Thursday, which said 27 deaths were in Iraq and 3 in Afghanistan.

The report said that the 99 confirmed suicides by active-duty soldiers compared with 87 in 2005 and that it was the highest raw number since 102 suicides were reported in 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf War.

My colleague Michael Feingold, a theater critic who knows a tragedy when he sees one, tipped me off to that wire story. Unfortunately, we'll never know the exact number of crazed veterans — and they'll probably go untreated — because the military is diagnosing many Iraq vets as suffering from a "personality disorder" instead of post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by the war. That way the government can discharge them, claiming that these soldiers were flawed to begin with, and wash its hands of the problem.

This disgraceful action on the home front will only cause more problems in the long run because the insanity in Iraq in the short term is increasing. Yesterday, gunmen attacked villages in Diyala province where Sunni militiamen who recently joined — supposedly — the U.S. "surge" lived. As Carol J. Williams of the L.A. Times reports this morning:

About 200 gunmen stormed two villages in Diyala province Thursday, killing at least 22 members of a Sunni Arab tribe and taking 15 women and children hostage in an attack thought to be retaliation for their renunciation of Al Qaeda-linked militants.

Sounds like Vietnam, just as the crumbling regime of Nouri al-Maliki sounds like the South Vietnamese government of 40 years ago. The updated National Intelligence Estimate is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy because it will add even more pressure to Maliki's shaky rule. From Reuters, via SwissInfo:

With just weeks to go before U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and military commander General David Petraeus are to report to the U.S. Congress on progress in Iraq, intelligence agencies released a grim forecast of violence and stalemate.

Wait, wait, wait. Once again the press fails to note that the White House will actually write the report. That's nuts, too. Anyway, back to the Reuters story:

"Levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance," declassified findings of the National Intelligence Estimate said.

The report said there had been "measurable but uneven improvements" in Iraqi security since January under the troop increase, but that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government would become more precarious over the next 6 to 12 months."

At least the cabinet members' boycott of Maliki's government appears to be ending. Well, maybe that's not such good news:

In a sign of the political deadlock, the secularist bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced that its ministers, who had been boycotting cabinet meetings, would quit the government altogether.

Crazy, huh? Not as crazy as the treatment of our own soldiers returning home shell-shocked. The Christian Science Monitor recently noted:

In relabeling cases of PTSD as 'personality disorder,' the US military avoids paying for treatment.

But this scandal emerged months ago; here's a story published last Christmas Eve that must have driven some soldiers' families crazy:

Soldiers suffering from the stress of combat in Iraq are being misdiagnosed by military doctors as having a personality disorder, lawyers and psychologists say, which allows them to be quickly and honorably discharged but stigmatizes them with a label that is hard to dislodge and can hurt them financially.

Though accurate for some, experts say, the personality disorder label has been used as a catch-all diagnosis to discharge personnel who may no longer meet military standards, are engaging in problematic behavior or suffer from more serious mental disorders. For returning veterans, the diagnosis can make it harder to obtain adequate mental health treatment if they must first show they have another problem, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's an absolute disgrace to military medicine," said Bridgette Wilson, a former Army medic who is now an attorney in San Diego serving mainly military clients. "I see it over and over again, the dramatic misuse of personality disorder diagnosis. It's a fairly slick and efficient way to move some bodies through."

Military records show that since 2003, 4,092 Army soldiers and another 11,296 men and women in other branches of the armed services have been discharged after being diagnosed with the disorder.

A government worker at Fort Carson in Colorado who has access to personnel records and who spoke on condition on anonymity for fear of losing his job said Army psychologists there have diagnosed some soldiers with a personality disorder after a single evaluation lasting 10 minutes to 20 minutes.

By the way, Steven D. Green, the GI accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdering her and her family (with the help of others in his rape crew), was diagnosed with "anti-social personality disorder" and shipped home shortly after that March 2006 massacre — before the story of the murders fully came out, charges were brought, and he was arrested as a civilian.

That, too, is crazy.

Was Green so screwed-up before he went to Iraq? His tour in that nightmare desert couldn't have helped. As the AP reported last summer:

[Green] was sent to patrol the so-called "Triangle of Death," an area southwest of Baghdad known for its frequent roadside bombings. Military officials say more than 40 percent of the nearly 1,000 soldiers in the region have been treated for mental or emotional anxiety.

Iraq and Petraeus Spin Out of Control

In what the GOP hopes will be a boost for next year's elections, General David Petraeus has broadly hinted in the wake of the worst massacre of the war that the U.S. will be able to start withdrawing troops from Iraq next summer.

harris%2Cpetraeus240.jpgWhat spin. Petraeus has always been used for such purposes. Early in the war, he took a spin over Iraq (right) with Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state who ensured George W. Bush's 2000 election. Years later, he can spin by himself. Yes, the guy is trying to bring good news, but is that what he should be doing? No, we need information that may be hard to hear, instead of information that he thinks his bosses want to hear.

Like Colin Powell at the U.N. in early 2003, Petraeus is being a good and loyal soldier. After the war, Petraeus will no doubt tell it like it was. Who can wait that long?

Unfortunately, the story in today's Times (U.K.), a morsel of good news for the White House and the frantic legacy-building of Bush's handlers, hints that master builder Karl Rove hasn't left the building yet.

But hundreds of Iraqis have left this mortal coil, as the Times (U.S.) reports:

The toll in a horrific quadruple bombing in an area of mud and stone houses in the remote northern desert on Tuesday evening reached at least 250 dead and 350 wounded, several local officials said Wednesday, making it the deadliest coordinated attack since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The New York Times story simply included a statement from Petraeus condemning the bombings. The Times (U.K.) story went deeper, putting Petraeus's broad hint in the context of Tuesday evening's horror:

The US general overseeing President Bush's surge strategy in Iraq said last night that he would recommend troop reductions by next summer, but cautioned against a significant withdrawal.

General David Petraeus, in comments that appeared to lay the ground for his pivotal report to the US Congress next month, said that the US footprint in Iraq would have to be "a good bit smaller by next summer". But he also signalled that the surge would continue into next year, and gave warning against a quick or hefty withdrawal that could surrender "the gains we have fought so hard to achieve".

General Petraeus said that the "horrific and indiscriminate attacks" on the Yazidi community in northwestern Iraq on Tuesday night were the work of al-Qaeda fighters. The bombings occurred near the Syrian border, and US officials charge the Damascus regime has not done enough to police the frontier against infiltration by foreign fighters who dominate al-Qaeda. Those bomb attacks would bolster his argument, General Petraeus said, against drawing down the 30,000 additional US troops that have made up the surge too quickly. "We know that the surge has to come to an end, there's no question about that. I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now".

Petraeus praises the involvement of Sunnis in the battle against terrorists. But for a more objective appraisal — and details beyond Petraeus's pap — read the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's package on "Security in Iraq," which I mentioned in an earlier post. Those stories make clear that this is a Sunni vs. Shia civil war. Throw in the Kurds, assorted holy wars, mix with oil from southern Iraq, and you've got an explosive mixture—and fires that won't go out.

The question is when we're going to get out. Petraeus's latest hint of pullouts is nothing more than al-yada-yada-yada to placate the American public.

Iraq: The News You Haven't Read


The most devastating appraisal yet of the war of terror in Iraq passed unnoticed last week in the U.S. press.

The dedicated journalists of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) — some of whom have been killed or imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals for simply doing their jobs in hots spots around the globe — published "Special Report: Security in Iraq," an explosive cluster of stories.

You might want to read it if you can get past the big news here that Tommy Thompson has dropped out of the presidential race. A headline from the introduction to IWPR's August 7 package sums drives home the point that Iraq is in even worse shape than we thought:

A series of reports by IWPR journalists in six key regions show the rule of law ranges from being woefully inadequate to effectively non-existent.

That would be bloody funny if it weren't so bloody true.

London-based IWPR is a serious operation, despite the fact that Sean Penn is apparently flashing an IWPR business card as he traipses through Venezuela with Hugo Chávez.

More relevant is the devastating summary of mad Iraq by IWPR's real reporters Christoph Reuter and Susanne Fischer. Because you haven't seen it, I'll quote it at length:

Despite the recent substantial reinforcement of British and American forces in Basra and central Iraq respectively, security in the country only temporarily improved, and the gruesome daily litany of suicide bombings, mortar attacks, targeted killings and ethnic cleansing continues.

In July, at least 1,759 Iraqis were reported killed, a more than seven per cent increase over the 1,640 who are said to have died in June, according to estimates by the Associated Press.

Among the dead were civilians, government officials and members of the Iraqi security forces. The figures are considered only a minimum, and the actual number is thought to be higher with many killings going unreported.

Coalition forces are barely able to prevent the emergence of autonomous zones openly controlled by militias. The ongoing sectarian violence has created an extremely threatening climate. People feel they may be kidnapped or killed at any moment.

The security disaster is having a devastating effect on civilians, reconstruction efforts and economic activity. One out of three Iraqis is in need of emergency aid, according to a recent report by Oxfam.

A full-scale civil war looms. For the time being, United States forces are too strong to let this happen, yet they are too weak to prevent the daily killings. Or as a former member of the US administration in Baghdad put it, "We can only slow down the escalation. But we cannot prevent it, nor can we bring peace."

The Iraqi security forces, seen by the US government and many external observers as the key to pacifying the country and guaranteeing order, are seen by large parts of the population as part of the problem. A number of army units appear to be controlled by Shia parties and are believed to be deeply involved in the sectarian violence.

The details are even worse. See the stories in the package:


Mosul Christian Community Dwindles

Battling for Power in Basra

Kirkuk Tensions Rise as Fateful Ballot Nears

Unholy War in Karbala

Iraqi Kurdistan Faces Trouble on Two Fronts

Checkpoints: Baghdad's Russian Roulette

Did I say this package passed unnoticed in the U.S. press? Actually, a segment of the introduction ran on the website of one American paper: the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York.

Burning Down a Congressman


Already under attack by religious conservatives and censors in the United States, Muslim congressman Keith Ellison apparently survived a trip this weekend to Iraq without his own faith's religious conservatives and censors issuing a death fatwa against him.

The Minneapolis progressive Democrat got into trouble with conservatives and religious extremists over here on July 8 when he threw in a Nazi reference as he ripped the Bush regime for using 9/11 as an excuse for war.

Where were they when it was revealed three years ago that fellow black man Secretary of State Colin Powell — in the same context, thinking the same thing — had branded dual-disloyalist Doug Feith's Pentagon pre-war agitprop operation a "Gestapo office"?

Ellison is the first U.S. congressman known to be a Muslim, but he's no terrorist in thrall to the conservative mullahs of his own religion. They're more likely to condemn him to death for his support of gay rights and other progressive issues than embrace him.

Religious conservatives and censors in the U.S. claimed that Ellison compared George W. Bush with Hitler — he didn't. All it shows is how much religious conservatives have in common with one another, no matter which religion they claim to speak for. All of them regularly condemn one another and kill in the name of their faiths.

The latest of several ridiculous freakouts by conservatives over Ellison stemmed from something else that conservative Muslim mullahs would stone him for: his speech to a bunch of humanistic atheists. Reporter Mike Kaszuba of the StarTribune wrote it like this:

On comparing Sept. 11 to the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany: "It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted."

Ellison, a lawyer who landed a spot on the House Judiciary Committee even though he's only a freshman, also had this to say:

[On impeaching Dick Cheney]: "[It is] beneath his dignity in order for him to answer any questions from the citizens of the United States. That is the very definition of totalitarianism, authoritarianism and dictatorship."

On calling the war in Iraq an "occupation": "It's not controversial to call it an occupation — it is an occupation."

On commuting the prison sentence of Cheney aide Lewis Libby: "If Libby gets pardoned, then he should not have the cover of the Fifth Amendment. He's going to have to come clean and tell the truth. Now, he could get Gonzales-itis [referring to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales], you know, with 71 lapses of memory within a two-hour period."

The ADL's Abe Foxman came unglued over the Reichstag reference, blasting Ellison for using a reference to Hitler and the Nazis.

Well, let's go to page 292 of Bob Woodward's 2004 book, Plan of Attack, in which he described meetings just before Powell's February 2003 U.N. speech:

Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and [Paul] Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11. It was a separate little government that was out there — Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith and Feith's "Gestapo office," as Powell privately called it.

He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation. Nearly every conversation or reference came back to al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq.

Powell had used a Nazi reference to Feith, a fanatical Jewish conservative who desperately wanted a war with Israel enemy Iraq. But Powell didn't catch hell for it. Earlier this year, Michigan senator Carl Levin (who's Jewish) blasted Feith for having spread disinformation in the run-up to the war:

Levin, who has long questioned Feith's prewar intelligence operation, was harshly critical. "Senior administration officials used the twisted intelligence produced by the Feith office in making the case for the Iraq war," Levin said.

In other words, the Cheney-Bush regime used 9/11 to justify the invasion of Iraq, just as Hitler had used the Reichstag fire 70 years earlier (February 27, 1933) as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, a key moment in the Nazification of Germany. If you doubt that the Reichstag fire could be compared with the 9/11 attacks, just imagine an arsonist's burning down Congress and the political power that a regime like Cheney's would seize as a result.

For now, extremists are just trying to burn down a congressman.



Jubilant Iraqis broke the monotony of suicide bombings Wednesday evening by killing and wounding one another with celebratory gunfire after Iraq's 4-3 soccer victory in a shootout over South Korea in the Asian Cup.

The suicide bombers couldn't resist joining in, but they waited until happy Iraqis poured into the streets of Baghdead, waving flags. Two bomb blasts ripped through the crowds, killing more than 50 people and wounding 135.

But back to the match in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

After a physical encounter which finished goalless, the Middle Eastern side prevailed in the spot kick lottery as goalkeeper Noor Sabri tipped aside Yeom Ki-hun’s spot kick and Kim Jung-woo hit the post with his side’s final attempt.

The Iraqis will face either Japan or Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta on Sunday.

Prediction: The Iraqis are hot, but it'll still be their funeral.

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