Sunday, April 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: Rebuilt Iraq Projects Found Crumbling

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

I have thought, from the beginning of this entire affair, that one of the keys to success in Iraq was going to be the ability of the US to come in and make life better for Iraqis in a post-Saddam world and that meant the ability to engage in fixing and improving the infrastructure.

However, the invasion plan did not plan for the adequate securing of the country with an eye towards what would happen after Saddam fell; we allowed Baghdad to be sacked; and then we did not take seriously reconstruction from the get-go.

And now many of the projects completed are falling apart.

The failures here are immense.

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Saturday, April 28, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: Bush and Congress Easing Tone of Debate on War Bill

While warning Congress not to test his will by sending him another bill that includes a withdrawal date, President Bush said: “I invite the leaders of the House and the Senate, both parties, to come down, you know, soon after my veto so we can discuss a way forward.” He later issued an official invitation for Congressional leaders to meet at the White House on Wednesday.

The boldness of Senate Democrats has only seemed to swell as the war debate has worn on. Yesterday, they said they remained committed to carrying out what they believed to be the will of the American people to change direction in Iraq. But, like Mr. Bush, they also indicated a readiness to negotiate.

“We are legislators,” said Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, speaking to reporters in New York where members of his party gathered yesterday for their annual policy retreat. “We understand legislation is the art of compromise, consensus building. We are willing to sit down and talk with the president, but we have certain things we believe to be important to the country. I’m sure he does too.”

In other words: both sides will have made their points (Congress by passing the legislation and the President by vetoing it) so now they can get down to business. This proves that all of the hang-wringing and/or fist pumping over this round by various politicos and commentators were just part of the drama rather than indicators of what the outcome of the process will be.

The real question remains as to what a compromise will look like–whatever it is it will allow both sides to claim a victory while leaving the hardcore true believers (the Get Out of Iraq Now caucus or the The President Has All the Foreign Policy Power No Matter What caucus) being frustrating by the the results.

However, that’s democracy.

h/t: Chris Lawrence.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: EU warns Turkish army over vote

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the controversy was a test case for the military to respect democracy.

In a statement after a disputed vote by MPs on Friday, the army said it would defend Turkey’s secular system.

In the first round of voting, the ruling AK party’s candidate, Abdullah Gul, narrowly failed to win.

Mr Gul, who is also foreign minister, secured 357 votes – just 10 short of the 367, or two thirds of all deputies needed to win in the first round.

The main secular opposition party boycotted the vote and said it would challenge the election in court.


The army said it was following the election process with concern and would not shy away from defending secularism.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul says the late-night army statement has caused a real stir in Turkey, as it is being seen as a direct warning to the government.

It is always problematic when the military starts asserting the need to protect the prevailing order against an abstract threat, especially when that threat is a domestic one. It is especially onerous and troubling when the threat in question emerges from the normal operations of the established political system.

This is a very serious situation in regards to Turkish democracy and could negatively affect Turkey’s entry into the EU. Given that a member of AK has served as Prime Minister (Erdogan), it is unclear to me why having a member of that party in the position of President would serve as a major challenge to secularism. Given that it is my understanding that the Prime Minister is more powerful than the President in the Turkish system, it is especially unclear as to what the “threat” is.

While there is little doubt that there are tensions between the secularist constitution and certain elements of the political spectrum in Turkey, the notion that the best solution is to rely on obstructionist tactics (boycotting the election in parliament and going to court) and ulimately the miltary is a dangerous road to follow. If the dominant powers shut out the more conservative religious elements in Turkish politics, then the possibilities of a serious religious-based backlash increase.

Here is some background on the military in Turkish politics:

The army has carried out three coups in the last 50 years – in 1960, 1971 and 1980 – and in 1997 it intervened to force Turkey’s first Islamist Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, from power.

The AK (Justice and Development Party) is an offshoot of Mr Erbakan’s Welfare Party, which was banned in 1998.

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) boycotted Friday’s vote because it was not consulted on Mr Gul’s selection as the AK candidate.

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Friday, April 27, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the Blotter: Senior Official Linked to Escort Service Resigns

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation. Tobias, 65, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the Ambassador for the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.


As the Bush administration’s so-called “AIDS czar,” Tobias was criticized for emphasizing faithfulness and abstinence over condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Well, then, no doubt he was well versed in the proper safe sex techniques at least…

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via ABC News: ATF Raids Alabama Militia, Finds Weapons, Drug Cache

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced a major weapons bust Thursday after executing search warrants at the Alabama homes of six members of the Alabama Free Militia.

Among the slew of weapons recovered by federal authorities — with the help of state and local law enforcement as well as area bomb squads — were 130 grenades, a grenade launcher, 70 improvised explosive devices and a pair of gun silencers.

In one of the homes, officers say, they uncovered booby traps during their search. Authorities also seized more than 120 marijuana plants and enough ammunition to fill a U-Haul trailer.


The Birmingham News has more details (Militia raid targets weapons):

Simultaneous raids carried out in four Alabama counties Thursday turned up truckloads of explosives and weapons, including 130 grenades, an improvised rocket launcher and 2,500 rounds of ammunition belonging to the small, but mightily armed, Alabama Free Militia.

Six alleged members of the Free Militia also were arrested by federal authorities and are being held without bond.

Investigators said the DeKalb County-based group had not made any specific threats or devised any plots, but was targeted for swift dismantling because of its heavy firepower. The militia, which called itself the Naval Militia at one point, had enough armament to outfit a small army.


The ATF investigation, launched about seven weeks ago, climaxed Thursday with more than 150 federal, state and local law enforcement officers carrying out raids in DeKalb, Marshall, Etowah and Jefferson counties beginning about 6 a.m.

The counties in question are marked on the map below:

(The larger image can be found here).

The arrested:

Arrested and detained in federal custody were Dillard, also known as Jeff Osborne, 46, of Collinsville; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41, of Collinsville; Bonnell Hughes, 57, of Crossville; Randall Garrett Cole, 22, of Gadsden; James Ray McElroy, 20, of Collinsville; and Michael Wayne Bobo, 30, of Trussville.

All but Bobo are charged with conspiracy to make a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Bobo is charged with being a drug user in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The six men appeared Thursday afternoon in Birmingham’s federal courthouse before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong Jr. The men were being held Thursday night in the Shelby County jail.

And I must confess, I was envisioning arrests at trailers in the woods, not in neighborhoods with $600,000 homes:

Bobo was living with his adoptive parents in the Lancshire Brentwood neighborhood in Trussville, a fairly new subdivision near the Cahaba Project with tree-lined streets and brick homes that cost upward of $600,000. He worked for his family’s pest control company.


His red pickup truck, usually parked at the house, displays bumper stickers such as “Welcome to the South, Now Go Home,” “The Second Amendment: `You do not know you need it until they come to take it away’ – Thomas Jefferson” and “Work Harder, Millions on Welfare Depend on You.”

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via ABC News: Top Al Qaeda Leader Captured

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi is described as al Qaeda’s top operational planner in Afghanistan. He was also reportedly planning an assassination attempt on Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf.


Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured by the CIA as he was attempting to travel back to his native country, Iraq. He was going to Iraq, officials say, to “manage” al Qaeda’s operations, including plots on Western interests outside of Iraq.

He was captured by the CIA in late 2024 and held at a secret CIA detention facility until this week, when he was transferred to Gitmo and Department of Defense custody.


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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Somalia is ‘worst refugee crisis’

More people have been displaced in Somalia in the past two months than anywhere else in the world, the United Nations has said.

Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for UN relief coordinator John Holmes, said at least 350,000 people had fled fighting in Mogadishu since February.

There is also concern for those trapped in the city, where more than 600 have died from acute diarrhoea and cholera.

A BBC correspondent says gunfire has stopped for the first time in 10 days.

The situation is easily describable as hellish.


The UNHCR has also been told that land-owners are charging refugees to sit under the shade of their trees on the road from Mogadishu.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Nationwide blackout hits Colombia

Colombia has been hit by a nationwide power cut, hitting commercial centres and causing chaos on the roads.

Ten people were trapped in lifts and the stock exchange was forced to suspend trading, officials said.

They said the blackout, at about 1015 local time (1515 GMT), was caused by an undetermined technical failure at a substation in the capital, Bogota.

More than 80% of Colombia was affected. Power returned to most parts of the country after several hours.

Only some rural regions were still being affected by the blackout, officials said.


Luis Alarcon, manager of state-controlled electricity company ISA, said the power outage began at Bogota’s substation and quickly spread over the country.

Mr Alarcon said the incident was not caused by a left-wing rebel attack.

It was my personal experience that Colombian utilities were not known for their redundancy, such as the long weekend when they had to do maintenance on the main aqueduct going into Bogota and so then we had no water in the most of the city for two-plus days. (Although since then I think an additional aqueduct has been built).

And there were the rolling blackouts in Bogota during the early 1990s when drought conditions hampered the hydroelectric power plants.

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Thursday, April 26, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Huckabee’s son arrested with handgun

Nugent said David Huckabee had a .40-caliber Glock pistol in his black carry-on bag. Eight live rounds were in the gun — none in the chamber — and a nine-round clip was also in the bag. The weapon and ammunition were detained by Little Rock police while David Huckabee’s gun permit was seized and given to the Arkansas State Police.

Mike Huckabee said his son grabbed the bag on the way to the airport and didn’t realize the gun was inside.

Not that I think he was up to anything, but how in the world does one forget that one has a loaded gun in one’s bag? Seems like someone else did this recently as well.

(For those that don’t remember, when he was the hard coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Switzer did the same thing–loaded gun in the bag taken to the airport and the ol’ “I forgot it was in there” excuse).

Quite frankly, if one is this forgetful about where one leaves one’s gun, then one ought to have one’s carry permit revoked and one should never be allowed to get it back.

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By Steven L. Taylor

We may all recall the brouhaha over Air Force trainer Michelle Manhart and her “modeling” debut in the pages of Playboy. That event led to her demotion. One wonders how much longer she is going to remain in the AF.

I just received a press release from PETA announcing that Manhart’s latest career move has been into the world of, um, activism by joining PETA’s anti-fur campaign: Air Force Drill Sergeant Michelle Manhart Strips for PETA:

Having proudly served our country since 1994, Manhart recently made headlines when the Air Force demoted her for posing in—as well as very much out of—her uniform in the February issue of Playboy. As feisty as she is fabulous, Manhart stood up for her right to express herself and eventually resigned. Just as passionate about protecting animals from abuse, this first-class fox now appears in the PETA campaign against fur, which also features ads with Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee, and Dennis Rodman.


Manhart posed for the patriotically themed ad because she believes in liberty and justice for all animals.

Or because she is trying to launch some sort of post-military career. (Just a guess, of course–just call me cynical).

The press release includes the pic in question (or one of several, for all I know). It is below the fold and is PG, although not necessarily safe for work. The JPG they sent was huge, so I shrank this one down for display.


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