Tuesday, August 31, 2010


At Salon, Joan Walsh is never quite able to put her finger on it as she demonstrates again today:

It's been written before: The Obama team seems to think 2012 will take care of itself, as long as they burnish that shining Obama "brand," which requires reaching out to Republicans and independents and ignoring the pesky left, with its old culture-war grudges and its subversive demand for greater economic fairness. I've heard some smart folks speculate that the White House may even welcome a Republican takeover, the better to "let Obama be Obama," and continue to play out his fantasy of being a Democratic Ronald Reagan, creating a generation of what he used to call "Obamacans" and realigning politics for his lifetime.

If anyone in the White House still believes that, they are delusional. If Republicans win back the House, they will tie up the president in subpoenas and bogus investigations faster than you can say Darrell Issa. The president hasn't created "Obamacans"; instead he's created a phenomenon best described as "Obamacan't." And still he cozies up to Republicans like Alan Simpson, who's determined to slash Social Security and its "310,000,000 tits" (in how many ways was Simpson's statement wrong? Probably close to 310 million). And the problem with Obama's milquetoast approach to the economy isn't just political: If Republicans get to reverse or obstruct the Democrats' inadequate but promising steps forward on healthcare and financial reform, while slashing government spending and extending the disastrous Bush tax cuts, we may yet see an economic collapse to rival the Great Depression -- the one that an earlier generation of brave and visionary Democrats vowed would never happen again.

If? Then they are delusional? Joan Walsh, they are delusional. What are you waiting on to make that call?

Americans are desperate about the economy, Americans need jobs and Barack Obama is focusing on foreign policy (first with the Iraq speech he gave tonight and then on to the Middle East). Does he really think the unemployment rate can continue and he can have a second term? Yes, he does. That is why he is delusional.

The reality is that all Mr. Obama ever had was confidence. It was the confidence of the insane. He still has the insanity, he still carries himself with that confidence but the confidence game does not play like it used to, the con game is not one he can pull off any longer.


Yes, Ms. Walsh and his team are.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Barack prepares to give a big speech (which won't end the war), Iraqis are less than impressed, the CIA had the biggest office where?, the War Hawks and War Whores crawl out of the woodworks, and more.
As Barack prepares to speak tonight about the Iraq War, the world learns that blood for oil worked out very good for Halliburton. Dick Cheney's cesspool has landed a contract. AP reports it is "from Italian firm Eni" for an Iraqi oil field. Reuters adds Eni wants Halliburton "to help squeeze more oil from 20 wells in the Zubair field in southern Iraq." Dick Cheney spent 8 years running and ruining the US government while Bully Boy Bush struggled with his addicition to games of dress up. John Dickerson (Slate via CBS News) weighs in on how Bully Boy Barack's helping out Bully Boy Bush, "As for Obama, he is not consciously trying to improve the public's view of the Bush years. Indeed, he is actively reminding people of the mess he inherited from his predecessor. It is a key theme of the entire Democratic campaign. At the same time, as Obama demonstrates the natural limits of presidential action, he unwittingly adds perspective to assessments of what President Bush could do. As he benefits from policies he once opposed--such as the surge in Iraq, which helped make tomorrow's speech possible -- Obama proves that even a smart politician with the best of intentions can be wrong. And as he champions making tough calls even in the face of popular opposition, he often sounds eerily like his predecessor." Maybe they discussed that in their phone call to one another today?
Simon Jenkins (Guardian) provides some truths that may go missing in tonight's speech by Barack.
As his troops return home, Iraqis are marginally freer than in 2003, and considerably less secure. Two million remain abroad as refugees from seven years of anarchy, with another 2 million internally displaced. Ironically, almost all Iraqi Christians have had to flee. Under western rule, production of oil -- Iraq's staple product -- is still below its pre-invasion level, and homes enjoy fewer hours of electricity. This is dreadful.
Some 100,000 civilians are estimated to have lost their lives from occupation-related violence. The country has no stable government, minimal reconstruction, and daily deaths and kidnappings. Endemic corruption is fuelled by unaudited aid. Increasing Islamist rule leaves most women less, not more, liberated. All this is the result of a mind-boggling $751bn of US expenditure, surely the worst value for money in the history of modern diplomacy.
The News Chief editorial board notes that this is the second time the US government has declared combat operations over and points out, "Now we are proclaiming the end of 'formal combat operations,' meaning that what the troops do will be either reactive or in support of Iraqi troops. It still will be combat." Anne E. Kornblut (Washington Post) reports on the advance swirl around the speech:

"Maybe he's entitled to the partial victory lap, but this is not the right moment for it," said analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, who has been critical of both Democratic and Republican approaches to the war. "If I were him, I'd wait until we have an Iraqi government, and do it with the Iraqis together."
O'Hanlon said he was "confused about the planned Oval Office speech." It could raise unrealistic expectations among the public about the chances for calm in Iraq, he said. And the timing of the pullout of combat troops may be seen as having more to do with the president's political needs than with real signs of progress on the ground.
Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observes, "Less than two weeks ago Americans were glued to their TVs for footage of the 'last brigade' of US soldiers withdrawing from Iraq. With embedded MSNBC journalists and in-studio officials trumpeting a military victory, an America exultant in having finally "won" the war, it was extremely successful, and that 50,000 US troops are still there and hundreds of Iraqis have died since the announcement was really only a minor hiccup. It was so successful, in fact, that the Obama Administration has decided to do it again, which is one of the advantages fake endings of wars have over actual endings."
In Iraq, desperate not to be John Howard at the War Dance -- the former Australian prime minister tried very hard to hop on Bush but Tony Blair was always in Bush's lap -- Nouri al-Maliki decided to hold his own little press conference and ensure he was not the wallflower of the news cycle. Reuters reports that Nouri crowed on Iraqi TV, "Iraq today is sovereign and independent." Was the would-be New Saddam announcing he was stepping down as prime minister -- something the people and the politicians want? No. He was ignoring that and ignoring the fact that his term of office expired sometime ago. He was, however, hiding behind the semantics that will allow US President Barack Obama to lie to the American people tonight and declare the Iraq War over. Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) points out, "Mr Maliki, the leader of the Shia State of Law party has refused to relinquish the prime ministership, six months after March elections which saw the Iraqiya coalition, a secular alliance led by Iyad Allawi, his rival, win the most seats." Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna observes, "Nouri al-Maliki is essentially a caretaker prime minister. There is no government in place." March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 24 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted. Yesterday, Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reported that the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is stating that the political stalemate could cause harm and "I worry about that a little bit." AFP quotes the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim stating, "We have started to reach the end of the tunnel. In the next few days, we are heading toward resolving the issue and accelerating the formation of a new government."
Jasim Al Azzawi (Gulf News) feels that Allawi has three reasons to refuse to take second place to Nouri including his age (could be his last chance to again become prime minister), Iraqiya (which won't want a second place role after winning the most votes) and
waiving Nouri through comes with "no guarantees that his [Allawi's] future decisions and actions will not be reversed and nullified by Al Maliki's powerful generals in charge of security and intelligence services. Given his limited options, Allawi's strategy is to stay firm, watch Al Maliki stew in his own juice and wait for him to commit a blunder." Meanwhile Zhang Xu (Xinhua) reports, "Arab and Islamic countries, basically Egypt and Turkey, should send peace-keeping troops to Iraq with the coordination of Arab League, Iraq's cross-sectarian Iraqia List bloc's media official Ahmad al-Dileimi told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Damascus on Sunday." If you're late to the party on Iraq's attempts at elections, Xiong Tong (Xinua) provides a comprehensive overview here. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that there are rumors that Al Iraiqya has internal disagreements "over the government formation" but that the spokesperson Haidar Al Mulla denies the rumors. Siobhan Gorman (Wall St. Journal) reports that unnamed "US spy officials" are concerned over Iraq's inability thus far to form a government and notes that "eyes and ears" have een provided in Iraq by "spy agencies like the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" and the unnamed "official . . . declined to say how many officers from the spy agencies will be moved out of Iraq. Until this year, Baghdad, for example, was the Central Intelligence Agency's largest station, and it's now been eclipsed this year by Afghanistant." Reuters notes that Ben Rhodes declared on Air Force One today that, "Iraq should move forward with a sense of urgency." Who is Rhodes? The White House Deputy National Security Adviser. Remember, pay attention to who's in charge of Iraq -- it's the US national security group. Reporting on the increase in murders in Iraq, Usama Redha and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) explain, "But like other killings and assassinations in a wave of violence that has crept up on Iraq during an unnerving political stalemate, no one really knows who the "bad men" are. Was Fakher killed by a Sunni Arab insurgent group like Al Qaeda in Iraq, or a Shiite Muslim militia like the one that once controlled the neighborhood, or did the attack stem from a personal feud? Iraqis are left muttering one word, vague yet ominous: Terrorists, the television announcer intoned about Fakher's killers. Terrorism, police recorded in their books. It was terrorists, his parents say."
Marie Colvin (Sunday Times via the Australian) examines Sahwa -- aka Sons of Iraq, Awakenings -- and explains they are both "angry and disillusioned" and, "Many have not been paid for two months. They believe their job prospects have diminished because they are not favoured by the Shi'ite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mudhir al-Mawla, the official responsible for integrating the 52,000 members of the Sons of Iraq, confirms that the process has been frozen for a year. Worse, the militia is being targeted by a resurgent al-Qa'ida, particularly in Anbar province, including Fallujah. Here al-Qa'ida is offering young men $US200 ($224) a time to take part in attacks, a huge sum in a city with few jobs." And this comes, as Nafia Abdul Jabbar (AFP) noted, at a time when "[d]ozens of fihters, who helped avert a civil war and were crucial to curbing Iraq's sectarian violence when it peaked in 2006 and 2007, have been killed in recent months in acts of retaliation." Barbara Surk and Rebecca Santana (AP) remind, "The Sunni militias, also known as the Sons of Iraq, were a key element in turning the tide against Sunni-led terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, and the American military began paying the militias to fight on their side. That responsibility now lies with the Iraqi government, which is also supposed to incorporate many of them into government ministries. But many Sons of Iraq complain the government is turning its back on the militias, failing to pay them on time or find them good jobs."
Yesterday on Uprising, Sonali Kolhatkar spoke with Hadani Ditmars about the so-called 'end' of the Iraq War. Excerpt:
Hadani Ditmars: Of course, there's still a huge US presence in Iraq. An embassy the size of Vatican City, several desert bases that are going to remain. I think we really shouldn't be focusing so much on the 'withdrawal.' What we should look at are the larger systemic issues. The huge humanitarian catostrophe that Iraq is-is experiencing at the moment where seven years after the invasion, as you can read about in the new issue of New Internationalist which I traveled back to Baghdad in February, March to write and photograph. Seven years later the legacy of this invasion is that 43% of Iraqis live in abject poverty, 70% don't have access to clean drinking water, huge unemployment rate, terrible security situation, drastic decline in the status of women and a secular society that has become Islamicized in a bad way -- I mean, I don't even want to call is Islamicized, just militia rule has become the norm. So I think we have to look at these larger underlying issues. I don't think that the so-called withdrawal is really going to effect those issues one way or another. It could have a shorterm, as it has in the past several weeks. upswing in violent attacks, further deterioration of the security situation. But the underlying issues and the underlying damage that has been done by this disastorous invasion and occupation are still there, still need to be addressed.
Sonali Kolhatkar: What is the so-called advisery role that the US troop will play to the Iraqi army. What dot that mean?
Hadani Ditmars: Well, you know, I don't work for the Pentagon so I can't tell you exactly, but I assume it's going to be a very hands-on approach rather than arms' length. At the same time there is a sense of abandonment. I mean, I'm sure you read the Tariq Aziz interview in the Guardian a few weeks ago where he said that Iraq is not ready and that the Americans by withdrawing are abandoning Iraq to the wolves. Well I would say that Iraq has already been abandoned to the wolves, sadly. So this could just make a bad situation worse. It's not really a full withdrawal. It's not really the end of ocupation. But in terms of an advisory role perhaps there will still be some sort of military advice going on. It's really just kind of window dressing, as I say, for the larger issues. There's still a political power, there's still a huge issue around sectarian violence and the sectarian strife. You know, it's a bit frustrating when you've been covering Iraq for as long as I have -- since 1997 -- that the media in the West is primarily interested in Iraq when there's some news that is really more about America than Iraq, you know? When there's been a bombing, or even the elections which were kind of pseudo democratic I would say, there was a flurry of media interest in Iraq. But it's very difficult to get people interested in the status of women and how it's declined drastically or in the larger issue of how this once secular society has become radicalized and fundamentalist, etc. So, yeah, you know, I think obviously the $53 billion that's been spent on "aid," a lot of that has gone to military hardware in the name of military advisory activity. A lot of that has gone into the pockets of American military contractors. And, of course, to this growing army of mercenaries.
Sonali Kolhatkar: And I want to ask you about that privatizing -- further privatizing of the occupation. But first, what do ordinary Iraqis -- what is the view of most Iraqis? Obviously, it's not going to be homogenius but if you can give us a sense of what most Iraqis think about the security situation in their county it would be helpful
Hadani Ditmars: Well I don't know if you read the issue that I wrote and photographed but there was a sixty-eight-year-old architect, Muwafaq al-Taei, a former Saddam-era town planner and he's quite an interesting fellow because as he was being forced to build these terrible villas for Saddam, he was also a Communist and a Shia so he was being spied on at the same time. So he was almost killed by US troops post-invasion when he was doing a project with the Marsh Arabs. So he's rather philosophical as are many Iraqis. And he says in the issue that Iraqis always sort of make do and anarchy is the mother of invention and we'll get through this. But, you know, there's this incredible sort of resilience that people have which I just find staggering really because the average Iraqi has been through so much. At the time of elections, they were -- they were quite cynical about what was going on -- and rightly so because there was nothing really in the way of campaign finance laws. There were incumbents like Ahmed Chalabi who were simultaneously running for office and at the same time nixing the bids of rival opponents under the auspices of the infamous de-Ba'athification Commission. Government forces were rounding up opponents and jailing them under trumped up terrorism charges. So, you know, some Iraqis -- a lot of Iraqis I met were not voting and they were quite cynical about it. At the same time, when the polling stations were being bombed, this sort of encouraged Iraqis to actually get out and vote -- almost in spite of what was going on. Lately when I've been speaking with Muwafaq in Baghdad, he just says, "Well we're just getting on with it, you know, the country isn't really being run by the politicians, it's being run by the Iraqi people and we're just trying our best to make do." It's almost like they've been set a drift. They have no real functioning state. And this is really a contrast from, of course, the Ba'athist when the state was the great provider, when Iraq had the best public health and education system in the Arab world. Having said that, the state still remains the main employer. So it's -- it's really sad to see what's happened to the country. Going back even for the first time in seven years, I was shocked to see how Baghdad had been so completely broken and colonized and walled off into sectarian neighborhoods. If you look at the fact spread, in the May issue of the New Internationalist, there's some quite damning statistics. But there's also a very telling map of Baghdad -- one from 2003, before the invasion, one from 2008. And I don't know if you had a chance to look at that but you'll see that in 2003 most of the neighborhoods were mixed -- meaning Sunni, Shia, Christian, Muslim, Arab, Kurd. After the invasion, in 2008, the majority of the -- in particular after the sectarian wars of 2006 and 2007, most of Baghdad neighborhoods were sectarian enclaves and the majority Shia. So the whole social fabric of -- not to mention the political landscape has shifted radically. And Iraqis are really, I think, just left reeling from it all and trying to struggle for daily survival.
Marco Werman: Jane Arraf is in Baghdad for the Christian Science Monitor. She says Iraqis have mixed feelings about this transition.
Jane Arraf: Now everybody here wants to see occupation forces gone. That's indisputable. They don't like seeing American soldiers in the street. They don't like seeing any foreign soldiers in the street. It's fairly natural. But having said that, there is a real sense here that this is still a broken country and it was the Americans, pretty much, who broke it. That's the feeling in the streets. And until they fix it, they shouldn't just leave. Now the US will say -- US officials who are here will say they're not just flipping a switch, they're not just leaving, they're going to remain engaged. That doesn't actually mean a lot to people in the street because really what matters to them is, "Are the car bombs going off? Are those rockets being fired?" Is there a sense that someone will protect them? Increasingly that's looking towards the borders.
Jane Arraf (CSM via McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "In Baghdad, all leave for Iraqi soldiers and police was canceled, and new checkpoints were set up across the city, adding another level of frustration to Iraqis struggling to get through 115-degree heat amid power cuts and water shortages - many of them fasting during the holy month of Ramadan." For The NewsHour (PBS -- link has transcript, audio and video), Margaret Warner reported from Iraq last night:
MARGARET WARNER: After nearly two years of steadily declining bloodshed, violence has been on the uptick for the past two months. The Iraqis are in charge of security in the cities and their main line of defense are checkpoints like these.
CAPT. MOHAMMED RADEWI, Iraqi Army (through translator): For the present moment, the situation is unstable, and the army is using these checkpoints to control the situation.
MARGARET WARNER: Iraqi checkpoints themselves are becoming targets, as they were last week in a string of attacks aimed at undermining Iraqis' confidence in their government and security forces. Baghdad resident Janan Jezma was gloomy when asked about the U.S. force drawdown.
JANAN JEZMA, resident of Baghdad: I think we need America here. We need America here. I think so.
MARGARET WARNER: One city that has had its fill of American troops is Fallujah, west of Baghdad, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle.
If you'd like to ask Margaret Warner a question about Iraq click here. The NewsHour's Rundown News Blog is collecting question. At the program's blog today, Larisa Epatko features the voices of five Iraqis on how they see the future of their country.
-- after
US House Rep Ron Paul delivered the following (and you can hear the audio at Antiwar.com):
Amid much fanfare last week, the last supposed "combat" troops left Iraq as the administration touted the beginning of the end of the Iraq War and a change in the role of the United States in that country. Considering the continued public frustration with the war effort and with the growing laundry list of broken promises, this was merely another one of the administration's operations in political maneuvering and semantics in order to convince an increasingly war-weary public that the Iraq War is at last ending. However, military officials confirm that we are committed to intervention in that country for years to come, and our operations have, in fact, changed minimally, if really at all.
After eight long, draining years, I have to wonder if our government even understands what it is to end a war anymore. The end of a war, to most people, means all the troops come home, out of harm's way. It means we stop killing people and getting killed. It means we stop sending troops and armed personnel over and draining our treasury for military operations in that foreign land. But much like the infamous "mission accomplished" moment of the last administration, this "end" of the war also means none of those things.
50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and they are still receiving combat pay. One soldier was killed in Basra just last Sunday, after the supposed end of combat operations, and the same day 5,000 men and women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood were deployed to Iraq. Their mission will be anything but desk duty. Among other things, they will accompany the Iraqi military on dangerous patrols, continue to be involved in the hunt for terrorists, and provide air support for the Iraqi military. They should be receiving combat pay, because they will be serving a combat role!
Of course, the number of private contractors -- who perform many of the same roles as troops, but for a lot more money -- is expected to double. So this is a funny way of ending combat operations in Iraq. We are still meddling in their affairs, we are still putting our men and women in danger, and we are still spending money we don't have. This looks more like an escalation than a drawdown to me!
The ongoing war in Iraq takes place against a backdrop of economic crisis at home, as fresh numbers indicate that our economic situation is as bad as ever, and getting worse! Our foreign policy is based on an illusion: that we are actually paying for it. What we are doing is borrowing and printing the money to maintain our presence overseas. Americans are seeing the cost of this irresponsible approach as our economic decline continues. Unemployed Americans have been questioning a policy that ships hundreds of billions of dollars overseas while their own communities crumble and their frustration is growing. An end to this type of foreign policy is way overdue.
A return to the traditional American foreign policy of active private engagement and non-interventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.
All the liars and whores try desperately to spin today. For example, BBC's Mark Mardell who today wants to scribble about the Iraq War being right. He whored yesterday, he whores today. He wants you to know the illegal war was right because, get this, Richie Armitage told him that. Read in vain for any reminder that Richie is the chatty gossip who helped out Valerie Plame. You won't find out about that. The War Hawk Richie gets to spin and, unlike when he was almost in trouble (and should have been), there's no effort to lie and claim he was ever against the Iraq War. (That was the cover story, if you've forgotten: Why would he intentionally out Plame, he was against the war!) Mark Mardell drools over Richie ("hardman," "massively built," "arms and shoulders muscled") and you just have to wonder what Richie did to get such fawning press.

All the whores are grabbing a street light apparently. For example it's hard to tell which is more disgraceful, Paul Woflowitz for attempting to lie yet again or the New York Times for printing his garabage? Then again, there's something symbolic about the two public menaces who helped sell the illegal war coming together today.

But it's not just the New York Times. US House Rep Howard P. McKeon, a War Hawk from the Republican side of the aisle, gets to whine in the Los Angeles Times that Congress better keep funding Iraq, it just better. Are you starting to notice how nothing has changed?

The Iraq War is not ending. And not a damn thing's been learned. The liars and pushers are invited back by the media and the closest to an 'expanded' point of view the media wants to provide is apparently NPR's Morning Edition bringing on White House plus-size spokesmodel Robert Gibbs to 'talk' Iraq with Steve Inskeep. (Inskeep did ask some needed questions but tubby Gibbs danced around them.) It's left to Peter Bergen (CNN) to point out:
It also bears recalling that almost none of the goals of the war as described by proponents of overthrowing Saddam were achieved:
-- An alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda wasn't interrupted because there wasn't one, according to any number of studies, including one by the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Pentagon's internal think tank. Indeed, it was only after the US-led invasion of Iraq that al Qaeda established itself in the country, rising by 2006 to become an insurgent organization that controlled most of Sunni Iraq.
-- There was no democratic domino effect around the Middle East. Quite the opposite; the authoritarian regimes became more firmly entrenched.
-- Peace did not come to Israel, as the well-known academic Fouad Ajami anticipated before the war in Foreign Affairs. Ajami predicted that the road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad.
-- Nor did the war pay for itself as posited by top Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, who told Congress in 2003 that oil revenues "could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." Quite the reverse: Iraq was a giant money sink for the American economy.
-- The supposed threat to the United States from Saddam wasn't ended because there wasn't one to begin with. And in his place arose a Shia-dominated Arab state, the first in modern history.
With few exceptions, all we're hearing from are the War Hawks and no one's supposed to notice that. No one's supposed to notice that the same whores who sold the illegal war are invited to weigh in again. Where are the voices of peace? Where are the voices of those who were right about the illegal war? Watch, listen and read in vain at most outlets. One who was right, Phyllis Bennis (Foreign Policy In Focus), issues the following statement:

The U.S. occupation of Iraq continues on a somewhat smaller scale, with 50,000 troops. These are combat troops, "re-missioned" by the Pentagon with new tasks, but even Secretary of Defense Gates admits they will have continuing combat capability and will continue counter-terrorism operations. The 4500 Special Forces among them will continue their "capture or kill" raids while building up the Iraqi Special Operations Forces as an El Salvador-style death squad.
The only transition underway is not from U.S. to Iraqi control, but from Pentagon to State Department deployment. Thousands of new military contractors, armored transport, planes, "rapid response" forces and other military resources will all be shifted from Pentagon to State Dept control, thus remaining within the terms of the U.S.-Iraqi Status of forces Agreement that calls for all U.S. troops and Pentagon-controlled mercenaries to leave by the end of 2011.
President Obama's speech will not use any terms remotely close to "mission accomplished" -- because with violence up, sectarianism rampant, the government paralyzed, corruption sky-high and rising, oil contracts creating more violence instead of national wealth, there is no victory to claim.
We'll close with this from David Swanson's "Peace Movement Pushes for End to War on Iraq" about a forum over the weekend focusing on Iraq (Phyllis Bennis was at the forum, use link for full report):

The second and last panel included:
Josh Stieber, Iraq Veterans Against the War
David Swanson, author
Bill Fletcher, labor leader, scholar
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK and Global Exchange

Stieber discussed, from the point of view of a soldier who believed the war lies and came to reject them, the incoherence of the bundle of excuses for this war that we've all been offered. On the one hand this is a war to kill evil Muslims. On the other hand it's a war to spread human rights. We help people out by bombing them, something Stieber said many U.S. soldiers end up joking about, most of them quickly losing any belief in the morality of their cause.

I argued for voting out of office those who fund the wars, and for holding the war makers criminally and constitutionally responsible, including through launching an effort to impeach Jay Bybee and open up a congressional review of war lies and the crime of aggression.

Bill Fletcher picked up where Head-Roc had left off, arguing for the need to make peace not just a preference people have when a pollster asks them, but something that resonates with them as central to the betterment of their daily lives. He pointed to the Chicano Moratorium exactly 40 years earlier as a movement to learn from.

Medea Benjamin inspired, as always, with tales of recent activism by CODE PINK to oppose the war funding, to build alliances, and to hold accountable war criminals including Karl Rove and Erik Prince. And she pushed for participation on a massive scale in the march on October 2nd:

Monday, August 30, 2010

The scroll

At this site, I have called out the aggression on the part of the Israeli government. I am an American and I am Jewish. I remind you that I have called out the Israeli government many times before because I am about to defend it.

This morning, C.I. had an entry ("Iraq and the things that make no sense") that noted the development and I called her late this evening to ask if she could include something on that in the snapshot. She told me she could just have it copied and pasted into the snapshot but did not have time to write any more and that was more than okay with me.

The issue is an ancient Hebrew scroll, a Torah. And Israel has it now. Iraq is insisting that they have claim to it. They do not where it came from but they just know it belongs to them. David E. Miller (Arab News) reports:

Israel's Arutz Sheva reported that the ancient scroll, written in the early twentieth century, was extracted from Iraq after the Gabbai family in the Iraqi city of Al-Hila bribed a local official. The family patriarch, Moshe Gabbai, worked in the town's synagogue.

The scroll was then donated by the family to the Center for the Heritage of Babylon Jewry in the Israeli city of Or-Yehuda.

The scroll does not belong to Iraq, the scroll is not about Iraq. It is the Jewish people's scroll. Israel has it and in Israel's hands it should remain. I am not saying that the Israeli government speaks for all Jews. I am saying that Jews around the world know Israel is supposed to be a Jewish homeland.

I do not support the scroll's return, I will not support it.

The Jewish population in Iraq is non-existent after non-stop targeting of Iraqi Jews throughout the illegal war. There is no Jewish population and the Iraqi government has no claim to a religious scroll. This is no different, to me, than a government claiming to have the rights to some artifact of the Comanches or another tribe. A tribe's belongings belong to the members of that tribe. In no shape or form do the Jewish artifacts belong to the government of Iraq.

I know it is very easy to bash Jewish people and I know it is even fashionable these days. I doubt many will stick up for the right of the Jews to possess their own culture artifacts. I am very glad that C.I. did stick up this morning and that she included it in the snapshot. I will join her in that public call for the scroll to remain in Israel. I hope others will as well; however, I doubt that will happen. (And I am not speaking of this community. I know this community will support the call. I am speaking outside our online community.)

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Monday, August 30, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Barack gets ready to spin illegal war and guess who he plans to telephone, Joe Biden does a layover in Iraq, the political stalemate continues, and more.
On the most recent broadcast of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday), guest host Teymoor Nabili spoke with Phyllis Bennis, Hoshyar Zebari and Bradley Blakeman about the Status Of Forces Agreement, the drawdown and other issues. Excerpt:
Teymoor Nabili: Well the Washington p.r. machine has been at pains to portray the remaining US troops as advisers to the soveign Iraqi government and security services. But is that an accurate representation of the situation? I'm joined on today's program by Hoshyar Zebari who is Iraq's Foreign Minister -- he's in Baghdad -- in Washington D.C. Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and, also in Washington, Bradley Blakeman a former senior advisor to the former US president George Bush and now a professor of politics and public affairs at Georgetown University. Welcome to the program all of you. Thank you for being with us. Phyllis Bennis, I'll begin with you if I might. The phrasing of this drawdown has been very cautious. The last combat brigade has left Iraq, we're told. What exactly does that mean?
Phyllis Bennis: Well it means that we're going to call them something different. These are conventional combat brigades. These are brigades that are being, what the Pentagon used to call, "remissioned" -- what the Washington Post is now calling "rebranded" as something other than what they are which is combat brigades. A new 3,000 brigade from Fort Hood left on Sunday night. This is the 3rd Armored Calvary Division. That is a combat brigade. That's what's left -- 50,000 combat troops with a mission that does not officially include combat but as Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates was careful to say, they are prepared for combat, they are capable of combat, they will be embedded with Iraqi military units that will be engaging in combat and within them are 4,500 Special Ops forces who will continue to be engaged in so-called "counter-terrorism" attacks -- meaning, go after those who we decide are the 'bad guys.' So this is combat --
Teymoor Nabili: Bradley Blakeman, is that how you see it?
Phyllis Bennis: -- on a smaller scale.
Bradley Blakeman: Yeah, I have to agree with Phyllis, this is semantics. Call it what you want, but it's 50,000 combat troops that remain there. Our president is very desperate for any kind of achievement. Foreign policy seems to be the area he's concentrating on now. He needs to focus away from his domestic woes and this is a good way for him to do that.
Teymoor Nabili: Foreign Minister Zebari, the Washington policy it seems is to whitewash the reality. How do you see it?
Hoshyar Zebari: Well I think this is President Obama's campaign pledge fulfillment actually -- pledge. He did pledge to the American public during the election campaign that he will withdraw all combat troops by August 31, 2010. [C.I. note: Zebari is wrong. The 'pledge' or 'promise' was first all combat troops out within 16 months of his being sworn in and then became all out within 10 months. With the exception of a lengthy New York Times article, he did not usually go into "combat troops" semantics and most voters heard his cry of "We want to end the war now!" and took "combat troops" to mean all troops out other than Marines guarding the US Embassy in Baghdad.] And according to the SOFA agreement or the Agreement of Withdrawal of American troops [the latter term is what Nouri sold the SOFA to Iraqis as being] all troops should leave the country by the end of 2011. So I think the process has gone smoothly. There would be forces still -- a sizeable force remaining in the country. 50,000 is not a small number. And in fact there mission and their mandate is to advise-and-assist Iraqi security forces --
Teymoor Nabili: But the point that the other two guests were making, Foreign Minister, pardon me for interrupting, is that however you want to describe this and however you want to interpret the words of the Status Of Forces Agreement, nothing much has changed in Iraq. These are still US combat troops and the situation and their activites will really not be much different, will they?
Hoshyar Zebari: No, it will be different, definitely. This number 50,000, has come down from 170,000 -- 140,000. So it's a a huge difference. Second, the mission has changed. All US troops have left the main cities. They are in their barracks outside the cities and they are embedded with the Iraqi security forces. So there is a major change in the mission, in the operation, in the mood of carrying out the operation and so on --
Teymoor Nabili: Alright.
Hoshyar Zebari: -- in the relations and their presence and Iraqi military authority.
Teymoor Nabili: And, Phyllis Bennis, surely that is the point. That, at the end of the day, you may be right. It may all be a slight semantic distinction but, at the end of the day, there are less troops and they are on the way out.
Phyllis Bennis: And having fewer troops and if they are on the way out, that's a good thing. I think there is a big question here, however. The agreement -- the SOFA agreement that the Foreign Minister speaks of -- was of course negotiated not by President Obama but by George Bush in the last months of his administration in 2008. In that agreement, it does say that all troops will be gone. But there is a huge loophole which is that if the Iraqi government which, in my view, is still dependent on the United States for its survival decides that it needs US troops, wants US troops to stay or if the US decides that it wants to keep troops in Iraq for all the same reasons they were sent there in the first place -- which has to do with oil, which has to do with bases, which has to do with the expansion of US power in the region -- none of those reasons have changed. If the US decides that they want to stay, they certainly are in the position to put pressure on the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government decides that they want to ask the US to stay, they could certainly take that initiative. So either side is really in a position to say, "We'd like to renegotiate this and talk about keeping troops further in." Even if that doesn't happen, what's already under way is a shift -- not, as we are being told, a transition from US troops to Iraqi troops but from Pentagon troops to State Dept security officials. Thousands of State Dept security people are being sent. There is the anticipation that there will be about 7,000 contractors being sent who will be doing all the things that the military does but they will not be controlled in the same way by the SOFA agreement which only speaks of contractors under the pay of the Defense Dept, of the Pentagon. Those who are under the administration of the State Dept -- which will include planes, drones, armored personnel carriers, all of these things which are all military but they will be officially part of the State Dept rather than the Pentagon, they will be continuing so there is a very severe danger, I think, that this will continue.
From reality to spin, Joe Biden, US Vice President, is doing another layover in Baghdad. Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) quotes Biden riffing on Michael Douglas' speech in Romancing the Stone: "We are going to be just fine. They are going to be just fine." Everything but, "Joan Wilder, inside you always were." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains he's schedule includes a photo-op on Wednesday when the illegal war is rechristened Operation New Dawn. Sly and Gordon both note that Biden's traveling with his "national security adviser" (pay attention to those national security types popping up in Iraq) who stated Biden would press on the issue of forming a government. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 23 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted. Yesterday, Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reported that the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is stating that the political stalemate could cause harm and "I worry about that a little bit." AFP quotes the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim stating, "We have started to reach the end of the tunnel. In the next few days, we are heading toward resolving the issue and accelerating the formation of a new government."
Biden's visit is part of the p.r. rollout -- a p.r. rollout which includes photo ops for Barack Obama as well. The New York Post reports Barack visited Watler Reed Army Medical Center today . . .and that it was only his second visit since being sworn in as President of the United States. 20 months two visits. If he didn't need to use the wounded as props today, it would probably still just be one visit because it's so hard to travel all the way from the White House in DC to Walter Reed . . . also in DC. However, White House plus-size spokesmodel Robert Gibbs informed the country today at the White House press briefing that Barack would be phoning (and texting?) Bully Boy Bush tomorrow before Barack gave his speech. War Hawks bonding. How totally non-surprising unless you're a member of the Cult of St. Barack. The only one more delusional today than Barack or Bush may be William McKenzie who self-decieves so much it's jaw dropping. But remember that the Dallas Morning News issued orders, prior to the invasion, that all opposed to the incoming war must be demonized. Which is how Sheryl Crow -- who can sing, play instruments and write songs -- got demonized as the 'music critics' pushed a pop tart and claimed Sherly stole the pop tart's Grammy nomination (reality, the pop-tart couldn't qualify for that year's nomination due to the release date of her output). From the sports pages to the art pages, from the editorial pages to the so-called 'news' pages, no paper disgraced itself more than the Dallas Morning News and it wasn't an accident which is why so few in the publishing industry bother to take the paper seriously today (and no one mourns their now faded DC desk). Whether attacking Steve Nash on the sports pages or allowing the loser ___ ____ columnist to rip apart peace activists as "treasonous" (and this was before the illegal war broke out), the Dallas Morning News proved that there was a reason the day JFK visited Dallas (and was assassinated) they printed their attack and call to violence on JFK. As an 'advertisement' you understand. (I didn't see it but I understand the loser is now doing 'rape jokes' at the paper's blog. That's the level of 'quality' that Belo and the Dallas Morning News provide. How proud they must all be. How fortunate the lucky ones -- including a personal friend of mine -- got away from those crazies long, long ago.) It certainly got results, didn't it? Ewen MacAskill and Martin Chulov (Guardian) report that while Barack prepares to spin in his big speech tomorrow, Hoshyer Zebari has termed the drawdown and "embarrssment" due to the fact that it happens as Iraq has still not formed a government and the reporters note that violence has again reached a new high in Iraq.
In an attempt to combat the p.r. spin and the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan issued a statement at Peace of the Action:
First of all-this was never a war, this always has been an illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign country and it was obviously for the monetary benefit of a few and millions of people, including my family, have suffered because of it.
The first MAJOR HOAX was that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had WMD and a connection to al Qaeda and if the US didn't invade immediately Iraq would send "mushroom clouds" or "drones with bio-weapons to the US East Coast -- the second MAJOR HOAX was that we ended the war on May 1, 2003 when then US president, George Bush, declared an "end" to "combat operations;' the third MAJOR HOAX is that the US ended a horrible dictatorship only to be replaced with a puppet US regime that almost makes execution a national sport.
Now, with a country in ruins and the US leaving many major construction projects unfinished -- we are again perpetrating a MAJOR HOAX, not just on the people of Iraq, but the people of the US.
With 50,000 troops (the 3rd Armored Calvary is deploying from Ft. Hood, Tx to Iraq as we speak), 18,000 mercenary killers and 82,000 support contractors (staffing an Imperial Embassy the size of 80 football fields), the illegal and immoral US occupation of Iraq is far from over.
As Ret. Lt. General James Dubik said recently: "It is in our (US) interest to have an Iraq that is friendly to the US." What he means is an Iraq that is friendly to US war profiteers.
I want to say this in the most simple and direct way that I can: "If you believe that the war in Iraq is over, and not merely carnage rebranded, then you are deluding yourself and I hope you wake up to the fact that for generations human beings have been used as pawns for the political elite and, don't forget, that this is an election year."
I urge all of you to put on your critical-thinking caps and reject this propaganda and reaffirm your commitment to peace above political party.
Anne Pekneth (The Hill) adds, "Let's face it, the Democrats are in an election cycle and the president will repeat that he has kept his election promise to end the combat mission in Iraq by the end of August 2010 and to pull out U.S. soldiers by the end of next year.

But as the respected Iraq analyst Anthony Cordesman has pointed out in a recent post for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 'The Iraq War is not over and it is not 'won'."

Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports that after US taxpayer monies of $53 billion were poured into Iraq (supposedly for reconstruction) "it has come to this -- an ice machine in a city on fire." In the 100 degree plus weather, there is no reliable electricity (outside the Green Zone) and, of course, a potable water crisis -- which, this time of year, usually means the annual (since the US invasion) outbreak of cholera. Nir Rosen (National Newspaper) quotes Sheikh Ahmad al Kinani stating, "Electricity is worse than ever. Children and elderly are dying from the heat. Human rights is a concept that doesn't exist in Iraq." Meanwhile Robert Siegel (NPR's All Things Considered) speaks with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen today and Bowen states, "I think the single largest failed program has been the health sector. The plan was to build a state of the art children's oncology hospital in Basra, to construct 151 public health care clinics taking a new level of aid out to the hinderlands in Iraq and to refurbish the many of the broken down hospitals in the country. None of those programs really succeeded." Reality is that Alsumaria TV reported over the weekend that Nouri declared Iraq was on high alert because of "information that Al Qaeda and Baathists were planning a series of attacks across the country." In addition, Arwa Damon (CNN) reports, "Although the security situation in Ramadi has improved dramatically, appearances can be deceiving. Our escort from the governor's compound to the market was nervous about spending more than a few minutes on the streets, and we weren't able to talk to any of the shoppers and business owners." The Governor of the province, Qasim Abid, states "he pleaded with the United States to wait before drawing down troop levels to 50,000. But it was an appeal that feel on deaf ears in Washington". And Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports:
A secure, stable and free Iraq, it's what the United States promised after its tanks and armored vehicles rumbled into the center of Baghdad and toppled former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Yet, as the U.S. troops are leaving "as promised and on schedule," for Maher Abbas, a Baghdad lawyer, the world is as broken and dangerous as these promises could be.
Abbas, 34, is a Sunni resident living in the capital's western neighborhood of Khadraa with his family. He said that the U.S. invasion and the following seven years were devastating to Iraqi society.
"It created deep cracks between the Iraqi factions who used to live together for hundreds and thousands of years," he said with an apparent anguish.
That's reality. Barack prepares to spin in the face of that reality and much more and he'd do well to remember what happened earlier this month when another tried to spin and how the spin's been rejected in today's news cycle. Earlier this month, then-US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill wanted to insist that he had done good, he had. Speaking to Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition) August 11th, he wanted to cite Iraqi oil deals as "progress." It was a claim he'd return to in his August 13th press briefing:

There have been numerous security challenges that continue to exist, and I'm sure you all saw the horrific news this morning, this suicide bombing in front of a military installation in which scores of people were killed. So Iraq, I think, as I've often said, offers no refuge for those in need of instant gratification. It requires you to stay at it. But I do believe that there's some real progress there. As we speak, major oil companies are beginning to actually put drill bits in the ground. Iraq will, I think, emerge as one of the major oil producers of the world. It will have significance for really the rest of the world. I think that part of the picture is really coming into focus and I think the Iraqis are really making some progress.
He went on to add later in the briefing:
Yeah, the oil law – I've got to tell you, I mean, I got there in April of '09 and everyone talked about the hydrocarbons law, the oil law. And I saw kind of a virtual stalemate in the Council of Representatives, and I supported the approach of just going ahead and doing contracts – that is, doing – not – these are not ownership contracts; these are oil service contracts. And the Iraqi Government, I think, has made a very credible effort on that. They've also reached over to the Kurds and they've addressed some of the issues there, where the Kurds had wanted to export some of the oil directly.
Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that the Ministry of Oil is declaring the contract between the KRG and RWE AG for natural gas to be "nil and void." They state the contract isn't legal and that the KRG didn't have the authority to make the deal. Michael Christie and Jane Baird (Reuters) report the KRG insists the deal is constitutional and quote the KRG's head of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir stating, "We will continue to successfully develop our oil and gas in line with the constitution which was accepted by a majority of the Iraqi people. We will not wait for the instructions of an unsuccessful ministry like the Iraqi ministry of oil. We express our commitment that all income will go to the federal purse and will be distributed to all Iraqi areas without favour." Chris Hill tried to ride a wave of Operation Happy Talk. The result was wipeout. The White House would do well to remember that.
Reality about the Iraq War has never been pretty. And things are getting worse, UPI notes that Asharq al-Awsat is reporting the return to Iraq of Abu Deraa who holds the 'title' of "Butcher of Baghdad" and who "could signal an escalation in an already ferocious sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis as U.S. forces withdraw." Reuters notes the DoD lists 4419 US military deaths in the Iraq War (as of August 18th). Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 engineer and left three people injured, a Baghdad, a Falluja bombing targeting a police squad car which left five police officers wounded, and a Mosul attack in which 2 brothers were shot dead.
Turning to DPA's "Iraq demands the return of a rare Jewish scroll from Israel," if the basic facts are correct (they may be, they may not be -- DPA is wrong as to the number of Jews in Iraq in 2003 -- they woefully undercount the Jewish population which I don't believe hit a dozen utnil some time in 2006), Israel is in possession of a Torah which the Tourism Ministry of Iraq is stating ought to be returned. It ought to be?

No. This has none of the complexities of the earlier call by the Iraqi government for Jewish documents. In the earlier case, the US, after the 2003 invasion, had discovered a large number of records that were kept by the Iraqi government on Jews in Iraq -- it was spying on them. They brought the records back to the US to preserve them -- they had been submerged in water when the US found them. Iraq demanded them back. The dispute was between Iraq and the US, between the occupied and the occupier. As I noted at Third, I was surprised the Israeli government did not step in on that. If they had and had made a claim on the documents, there would have been reasons to dispute claims. However, the US was the occupier and the documents were taken out of the country.

Iraq felt no need to protect the Jewish citizens from targeting by various thugs since the invasion began. The Jewish population was targeted and was wiped out either by violence or by fleeing. To now assert that they have some right to Hebrew artifacts? They have no right. Nor do they or did they ever belong to Iraq. Whose culture was it? And since when can a nation-state, developed centuries later, attempt to lay claim to the people's property?

These are not documents that the Iraqi government kept. Even now the Tourism Ministry can't state whether it was ever in the government's possession, whether it was privately owned by someone in Iraq or whether it belonged to a Jewish facility in Iraq (as many as 100,000 Jewish people were living in Iraq as late as the 1940s). These are religious artifacts and they belong to the people of that religion. The scroll is in Israel and in Israel is where it should remain. Iraq did not protect the Jewish population, it allowed it to be decimated. It has no claim or right to the scroll.

Iraq is created in 1932. The scroll predates the creation of the country by centuries. Having no Jewish population today, the fact that they would even assert a right to the scroll is rather offensive. And that's before you even wiegh into consideration the fact that Iraq's unable to keep their treasures, artifacts and museums open to the public.

Again, when the issue of the US having Iraqi government records on Jewish people arose, I did not weigh in with an opinion. That was an occupier/occupied issue and, with Israel making no claim to the records, it was a rather straight forward issue. This one's rather straight forward as well but not to Iraq's benefit.

Friday, August 27, 2010


The most important domestic story NPR covered this week, I think, was today on Morning Edition with Adam Davidson's "How Wall Street Made The Mortgage Crisis Worse." This is the opening of the report:

I'm going to cut to the chase and tell you our conclusion first.

We believe we can show that some Wall Street bankers had evidence, a year or two before the financial crisis hit, that there were serious problems with subprime mortgage investments.

Rather than wind down this business, they sped it up using financial trickery. These people earned huge bonuses for their actions. They also made the crisis considerably larger and more damaging.

The folks we're talking about work in the CDO department of big Wall Street banks — "the sexiest place to work on Wall Street," in the words of Jake Bernstein, one of the ProPublica reporters who worked on this story.

CDOs — collateralized debt obligations — were the primary way that big banks turned those subprime mortgages into what we now think of as toxic assets. But back in 2006, they were just the hot new part of the industry. The people working on CDOs could make millions of dollars a year, but their income depended on how many CDOs they sold.

I think of a CDO like a sausage. Take meat nobody wants, toss it in a grinder, and out comes something delicious.

With CDOs, you buy a bunch of unattractive bonds backed by subprime mortgages, put them all together, then sell off pieces of this new structure. And, like sausages in a diner on Sunday morning, CDOs were incredibly popular.

"CDOs, they are the heart of the American boom," says Jesse Eisinger, the other ProPublica reporter on the story. "Everyone wants them. Pension funds, insurance companies, small banks around the world."

It is a very appalling story and this great investigative reporting just, for me, goes to the fact that we have not had a real government investigation all this time later.

Glenn Thrush (Politico) reports that if Republicans regain control of the House they will launch various investigations. Possibly they will launch witch hunts. Fine by me. I do not feel like Democrats have done anything to get to the bottom of things. I feel that the Democrats have spent two years propping up Barack Obama instead of doing their damn job. So that is on them. If they lose it, they lose it.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Friday, August 27, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the American people continue to see the Iraq War as a mistake and worse, greater attention comes to prolonging the illegal war, who's trying to overthrow Iraq's labor unions, and more.
Last week, Gallup and AP polls were released offering the findings that most Americans are opposed to the Iraq War and feel it should never have been started. Gallup found 53% judge it as a failure, 55% judged it a failure. AP's poll with GfK Roper Public Affairs found that 65% opposed the Iraq War. Now Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports on CBS' poll (but doesn't explain why the New York Times took a pass) which finds "nearly six in ten say it was a mistake to start the battle in the first place, and most say their country did not accomplish its objectives in Iraq." The number saying it was a mistake is 59% which is in stark contrast to March 2003 when a majority, 69%, stated the US was correct to declare war on Iraq (the US-led invasion began in March 2003) and only 25% of respondents then (March 2003) said it was a mistake. The most telling response is to question eleven:
Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?
Only 20% of respondents say the war was worth the costs while 72% say it was not worth the costs. Looking at the costs to the US, 72% are, in fact, calling the illegal war a mistake.
57% of Americans believe the Iraq War is going well (don't blame them, blame a media that's forgotten Iraq) and who do they credit for that? Montopoli reports that "one in three say both the Obama and Bush administrations [deserve credit]. Twenty-six percent credit the Bush administration, 20 percent credit the Obama administration, and 19 percent say neither deserves credit." Cynthia English reviews Gallup's latest poll which sureveyed Iraqis and found a five-percent drop in approval of US leadership from 2008 (35%) to 2010 (30%) and an increase in approval of Iraqi leadership during the same time (2008: 28%; 2010: 41%).

Jim Michaels and Mimi Hall (USA Today) report on USA Today's poll which found 60% expressing the belief that the Iraq War was not worth it. The reporters then survey a variety of people about the war and we'll note this section which includes Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan:
"I don't think there's been any measurable thing that we could cite that this occupation of Iraq has made better. We achieved exactly nothing," says Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist. Sheehan says the war made things worse for Iraqis and others.
"My work has gone from trying to stop these wars to trying to alert people to the problems of being subjects of a military empire," she says.
Empire as a shell game? That would require the Orwellian use of language to misdirect the citizens and misidentify what is going on. In other words, that would be Barack Obama calling the military "non-combat" forces and calling bases "outposts" and calling the continuation of the Iraq War the 'end.' Today the Council on Foreign Relations' Bernard Gwertzman interviews the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf.
Bernard Gwertzman: President Obama is planning to give a speech on Iraq next week marking the pullout of U.S. combat troops from the country. Does their departure make a big difference in Iraq?
Jane Arraf: It really doesn't. A lot of that is because it isn't a development that has had much of an impact on the ground. Some have called it a "rebranding" of the conflict, and there is some truth to that. What we've got left are fifty thousand other troops, a substantial number, and a lot of those are actually combat troops. Any brigade here is erady, equipped, and trained for combat. It's just that the mission is changing. So with that many troops on the ground, the latest withdrawals really don't have that much of an impact, particularly since we haven't been seeing the United States in unilateral combat missions since June of last year. As part of the security agreement signed by the Bush administration, the U.S. forces are taking ab ackseat to the Iraqi forces. The bottom line is that nothing will change on September 1. What we're really looking at is what happens as next year's deadline of December 31, 2011, approaches for all the troops to leave.
[. . .]
Bernard Gwertzman: Will the United States be providing long-term air defense? Or is that supposed to end next year too?
Jane Arraf: Everything ends next year, so it really all has to be negotiated. The commanding general in charge of training Iraqi forces told me they are in the midst of negotiating an agreement to allow NATO to continue training. Such an agreement of course to replace the Iraq-U.S. security agreement will actually have to be negotiated by whatever new government is formed. The assumption is that it will be a pro-Western, pro-U.S. government, but that's not a certainty. What if, for instance, the Sadrists have a large role to play in the new government? What if it's a much more Iranian-friendly government than some people are suggesting? They could turn to Iraq for a security agreement.
On public radio today, the security agreement was briefly touched upon. On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane was joined by Courtney Kube (NBC News), Moises Naim (El Pais) and David Wood (PoliticsDaily).
Diane Rehm: Let's turn to Iraq. For the first time since the US invasion in 2003, US troop strength in Iraq has dropped below 50,000. Is Iraq prepared to defend itself, Courtney?
Courtney Kube: Well I think you have to remember -- I don't think you'll find many average Iraqis on the street in Baghdad or anywhere in the country that would say that just because Operation Iraqi Freedom is technically ending in a few days, Operation New Dawn begins, US combat forces are out, I don't think the average Iraqi believes that that means a light switch is going to flick off and violence is going to end. The Iraqi security forces are certainly going to be tested in the coming days, weeks, months probably. But the US force that exists there now -- it's still almost 50,000 troops, they're not going anywhere, they're not going any beyond this until next summer.
Diane Rehm: But you did have a wave of coordinated attacks in thirteen cities just --
David Wood: Yeah, just a horrific thing. Mounted apparently by al Qaeda in Iraq, the sort of home grown, foreign directed, Sunni terrorist organization. What was particularly striking, I thought, was that after these bombs went off in these thirteen cities in a two hour period, the Iraqi people rushed in to help and people stoned them and shouted at them and were very angry and yelled: "Why can't you protect us!" And it was, I thought, "Uh-oh." It was a real uh-oh moment because clearly the Iraqi security forces cannot keep this kind of thing from happening.
Diane Rehm: Moises?
Moises Naim: August was the deadliest month for Iraqi security forces in the past three years, at least 265 have been killed in June alone. And if you look at these places where the attacks took place. They bring back names that had gone out of the news. Falludi, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra. These were places where we used to talk about them all the time and then they disappeared. This is a way of telling the world and telling Iraqis, we are still here -- on the part of insurgents in Iraq. And explaining the fact that the US troops are leaving is creating -- plus -- the very important backdrop to this story is that Iraq doesn't have a government. They had an election several months ago. That election does not yield a clear result. And now they have been struggling to create a functioning government.
Diane Rehm: How are these 50,000 so-called non-combat troops going to be able to stand back and watch as this kind of desecration happens.
Courtney Kube: Well they won't be standing back at all. I mean 20,000 of those 50,000 are assigned to advise-and-assist brigades that -- Just today, there was an advise-and-assist, some US troops that went out with Iraqi security forces, arrested seven al Qaeda in Iraq suspected members. They won't be sitting back. Almost half of those forces are going to be involved in combat missions, frankly, it's just that they cannot do it alone.There really hasn't been a big change in posture of US forces since last summer, since the US forces were no longer allowed to operate on their own, no longer allowed to conduct missions within Iraqi cities. So the only real difference that we're seeing right now is the numbers are down a little bit, the combat troops that were assigned to, you know, so-called combat brigades are now out and they're now reassigned to advise-and-assist.
Diane Rehm: There is more than a little ambiguety here, David Wood.
David Wood: I think it's deliberate. I want to pick up on something Moises was saying and that was that there's no Iraqi government in power, of course. There's been a lot of political turbulence since March when there were presidential [C.I. note: Parlimentary elections] elections and nobody won a clear majority or enough to put together a government in Parliament. One of the -- one of the upshots of that is that the United States is supposed to be, by law, withdraw all of its military forces from Iraq by December 31st of next year. I think that agreement was made in the last months of the Bush administration with the understanding that it would be renegotiated because, if it were carried out, you wouldn't even be able to have Marine guards at the US Embassy. With no government, you can't regnegotiate it. And the clock is ticking. And al Qaeda in Iraq has noticed and the statement they issued after this bombing was: "The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis with God's permission." Pretty chilling stuff.
Diane Rehm: Moises.
Moises Naim: So the story here again is one of calendars versus conditions. There is a political -- a Washington based or a US politics-centered calendar that people are following and then there are realities on the ground. And these two are clashing. The realities on the ground in Iraq are not in synch with deadlines and with timelines and the calendar that has been decided by purely domestic US politics kind of consideration and calculations.
Diane Rehm: So next week President Obama is going to make an Oval Office speech, next Tuesday. What's he expected to say, Moises?
Moises Naim: He's going to confirm two things that may be a bit contradictory. I think. One is that the troops are going out and this was his campaign promise and that Iraq is in better shape than before and so on. But at the same time he's going to claim the continuing support and commitment of the United States to the building of a democratic Iraqi nation.
Staying on the 'end of war' 'treaty' 'requirement,' Gareth Porter (IPS via Dissident Voice) reports, "All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end." The editorial board for the Seattle Times notes the drawdown is phase one, "Remember, the operative description is Phase One. The departure of all U.S. military is supposed to come at the end of 2011. Do not confuse that goal with an end of U.S. presence or involvement in Iraq. Parsing out the future depends on definitions and interpretations. The exist of designated combat forces still leaves 50,000 American troops in Iraq, with another 79,000 U.S. contractors. Men and women in uniform are essentially replaced by taxpayer supported mercenaries who attract a lot less public attention." Elise Labot (CNN) reports:

For the people of Iraq, the withdrawal of U.S. forces will be largely symbolic. The average Iraqi has not seen U.S. forces since June 2009, when they redeployed to the outskirts of Iraqi cities under the terms of the 2008 security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Since then, Iraqi forces have been in charge of urban areas: manning most checkpoints, conducting operations against extremists and maintaining law and order.
But for the United States, the transfer from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is monumental. The handover will put the U.S. State Department in an expanded and indeed unprecedented role, one it is forced to scale back before it even starts due to budget constraints.
Besides, the United States is not actually leaving the country. As Chris Toensing, editor of the Middle East Report (a must-read for understanding the area), points out, there will still be 50,000 troops left behind in an "advisory" capacity.
"The essential realities of the Iraq War remain the same: Iraq is oil-rich and strategically located at the head of the Persian Gulf. Its ruling elites are fractious and weak," Toensing writes. "Our continued troop presence is an insurance policy against disaster for the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi politicians, who would otherwise fear violent overthrow, and the White House, which would otherwise fear Iraq's takeover by unfriendly elements."
A lot of people will be paying for George Bush's folly for a long time to come.
And Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report -- link has text and audio) points out, "In addition to the fantasy reporting, American military and civilian authorities are conducting fantasy arguments behind closed doors about whether the U.S. is going to withdraw all of its military forces, regardless of the nomenclature, by the end 0f 2011 - as required by solemn agreement with the Iraqis. One faction favors deploying a force of up to 10,000 mercenaries, complete with their own armored trucks, air force and missile-firing drones. But powerful figures in the Obama administration say they are confident they can talk the Iraqis into allowing 10,000 uniformed American troops to stay in the country after the deadline. Certainly, billions of dollars in bribes can sometimes work wonders - but U.S. plans for an eternity in Iraq have repeatedly been thwarted by the Iraqi people, themselves."
As Diane and her guests noted, a political stalemate exists currently in Iraq. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 20 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.
One of the biggest roadblocks for the process -- before, during and after -- has been Ahmad Chalabi. Babak Dehghanpisheh (Newsweek) notes:
Salih Mutlak can only wonder where in Iraq he might find justice. As one of the country's leading Sunni politicians, he was puzzled and angry to learn shortly before this spring's parliamentary elections that the Accountability and Justice Commission had barred him from running, along with roughly 500 other candidates. Prominent Sunni politicians like Mutlak were particularly targeted. So he picked up the phone and called the commission's head, Ahmad Chalabi, who was relaxing in Beirut. "I had nothing to do with it," Chalabi calmly asserted. "Come on, Ahmad," Mutlak persisted. "What does the committee have against me?" Chalabi told him there was a letter showing that Mutlak had cooperated with Saddam Hussein's notorious secret police, the Mukhabarat. "That's nonsense!" Mutlak snapped. Chalabi promised to look into the matter and try to resolve it.
But it was not resolved. With the March elections looming, Mutlak's brother Ibrahim took over the vacant slot -- and won. That didn't stop the commission from stepping in again with dubious authority and disqualifying the substitute candidate retroactively. Today, the fate of Ibrahim Mutlak and a dozen or so other similarly disqualified candidates remains an open question. "It's a disaster that Ahmad Chalabi would have such an influence in this country," says Salih Mutlak. "He wants to bring sectarianism back. He wants to damage the reputation of the Americans. He wants to spoil everything here!"
Michael Christie (Reuters) notes of the stalemate, "But the longer the political impasse continues, the longer it will take to address public anger about poor public services, such as a lack of electricity in the stifling summer heat. The perception may also grow that democracy in Iraq does not work, and Iraqi leaders are incapable of governing, raising the risks of public disturbances, coup attempts and increased meddling by often troublesome neighbours." But the stalemate hasn't prevented targeting of labor unions in Iraq. David Bacon (Truthout) reports:
Early in the morning of July 21 police stormed the offices of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union in Basra, the poverty-stricken capital of Iraq's oil-rich south. A shamefaced officer told Hashmeya Muhsin, the first woman to head a national union in Iraq, that they'd come to carry out the orders of Electricity Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to shut the union down. As more police arrived, they took the membership records, the files documenting often-atrocious working conditions, the leaflets for demonstrations protesting Basra's agonizing power outages, the computers and the phones. Finally, Muhsin and her coworkers were pushed out and the doors locked.
Shahristani's order prohibits all trade union activity in the plants operated by the ministry, closes union offices, and seizes control of union assets from bank accounts to furniture. The order says the ministry will determine what rights have been given to union officers, and take them all away. Anyone who protests, it says, will be arrested under Iraq's Anti-Terrorism Act of 2005.
So ended seven years in which workers in the region's power plants have fought for the right to organize a legal union, to bargain with the electrical ministry, and to stop the contracting-out and privatization schemes that have threatened their jobs.
The Iraqi government, while it seems paralyzed on many fronts, has unleashed a wave of actions against the country's unions that are intended to take Iraq back to the era when Saddam Hussein prohibited them for most workers, and arrested activists who protested. In just the last few months, the Maliki government has issued arrest warrants for oil union leaders and transferred that union's officers to worksites hundreds of miles from home, prohibited union activity in the oil fields, ports and refineries, forbade unions from collecting dues or opening bank accounts, and even kept leaders from leaving the country to seek support while the government cracks down.
At the U.S. Embassy, the largest in the world, an official says mildly, "We're looking into it. We hope that everybody resolves their differences in an amicable way." Meanwhile, however, while the U.S. command withdraws combat troops from many areas, it is beefing up the military and private-security apparatus it maintains to protect the wave of foreign oil companies coming into Basra to exploit the wealth of Iraq's oil fields.
David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award.
Overnight, violence continued in Iraq. Reuters notes a Baaj attack in which 2 Iraqi soldiers and 1 Iraqi military officer were shot dead, a Falluja roadside bombing apparently targeting police which wounded seven people and was followed by a second bombing when police arrived (wounding three) and a Shirqat attack on Sahwa which led to two Sahwa being killed and four more injured. AFP reminds, "When full control of the Sahwa passed from the US military to the Iraqi government in April last year, Baghdad promised to integrate 20 percent of its men into the police or army, and find civil service jobs for many others. But 52,000 are still waiting for new employment." Reuters notes today's violence included a Kirkuk home invasion in which 1 child was slaughtered and three members of the child's family were left injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and injured four more people, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left another person injured, a Mosul mortar attack injured one adult male and the corpse of a Christian male was discovered in Mosul (the man had been kidnapped earlier in the week).
Turning to England, Mark Stone (Sky News) observes of the British inquiry into the Iraq War, "At the top of that list, surely, is the civilian death toll. I wrote about it on this blog last month. There was an expectation then that the subject would be raised with ex-Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram. It was. For about a minute. Other than that, it's hardly been mentioned." Ian Dunt (Politics) reports that Iraq Body Count (IBC) -- infamous for undercounting the dead in Iraq -- has hurled insults at the Iraq Inquiry, labeling it both "flawed" and "derisory" and has released their correspondent with Committee Chair John Chilcot in which they advocate for the inquiry to (quoting from correspondence) "fully and properly investigate Iraq casualties" and Dunt closes by noting that the Inquiry will go to Iraq. Only they "won't." They may. That was always the point. Chilcott has made two public statements about that. They would like to, they hope to. Whether they go or not, nothing is concrete at this point. Jonathan Steele (Guardian) grasps that reality, "The five-person Chilcot inquiry team plans to visit Iraq briefly in the next few weeks but the IBS says this appears to be 'an afterthought'." Channel 4 News adds, "Iraq Body Count (IBC) co-founder John Sloboda told Channel 4 News: 'Some of the deaths and injuries caused must have been breaches of British and international law, so some sort of judicial inquiry would seem to be in order'."
Meanwhile, Professor Robert Jensen (at Dissident Voice) explores the ethical issues and implications:
The legal case is straightforward: Neither invasion had the necessary approval of the United Nations Security Council, and neither was a response to an imminent attack. In both cases, U.S. officials pretended to engage in diplomacy but demanded war. Under international law and the U.S. Constitution (Article 6 is clear that "all Treaties made," such as the UN Charter, are "the supreme Law of the Land"), both invasions were illegal.
The moral case is also clear: U.S. officials' claims that the invasions were necessary to protect us from terrorism or locate weapons of mass destruction were never plausible and have been exposed as lies. The world is a more dangerous place today than it was in 2001, when sensible changes in U.S. foreign policy and vigorous law enforcement in collaboration with other nations could have made us safer.
The people who bear the greatest legal and moral responsibility for these crimes are the politicians who send the military to war and the generals who plan the actions, and it may seem unfair to deny the front-line service personnel the label of "hero" when they did their duty as they understood it. But this talk of heroism is part of the way we avoid politics and deny the unpleasant fact that these are imperial wars. U.S. military forces are in the Middle East and Central Asia not to bring freedom but to extend and deepen U.S. power in a region home to the world's most important energy resources. The nation exercising control there increases its influence over the global economy, and despite all the U.S. propaganda, the world realizes we have tens of thousands of troops on the ground because of those oil and gas reserves.
While Jensen attempts to explore the complexities, Mr. Pretty Lies Barack Obama is already reducing it all to a simplistic bumper sticker -- one full of lies -- such as today's claim that Americans are "safer" as a result of the Iraq War. Notice that only a War Hawk or a War Whore can sell and spin an illegal war. The Cult of St. Barack damn well better decide which Barry is: a War Hawk or a War Whore. He certainly isn't a truth teller. We need to highlight two today who told the truth about the illegal war. First up, Justin Raimondo's "All Lies, All The Time" (Antiwar.com):
This farcical "withdrawal," which amounts to merely increasing the number of mercenaries in the region, is a complete fabrication, motivated by pure politics and an infinite faith in the cluelessness of the Average Joe, who is too busy looking for a job to care. As to what they'll do when the insurgency starts to rise again, not to worry: no one will notice but the soldiers in the field. Surely the American media won't be so rude as to point it out, unless the Green Zone goes up in flames and they have to evacuate stragglers by helicopter as they did in Vietnam. In that case, the visuals would be too good to pass up.
Everything that comes out of this administration, from its pronouncements on the overseas front to its own unemployment numbers, is a lie: it's all lies, all the time. Even in small matters, the default is a fib, such as in the case of the Pentagon's denial that it was ever in touch with WikiLeaks about minimizing the alleged damage done by the next Afghanistan document dump. After all, why would WikiLeaks make up such a story? The feds just want the documents "expunged," thank you. I doubt they really believe it's possible to "expunge" the Afghan war logs from the internet. If so, they are dumber than anyone has so far imagined. And so much for the myth that the Pentagon really cares about any danger to Afghan informants, who might be compromised by the release of more documents: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have given them their chance to safeguard the identities of US collaborators, and the Pentagon flat out rejected it. So be it.

It's true that Iraqis suffered under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein but his overthrow did not lead to a better life for Iraqis. "I am not a political person, but I know that under Saddam Hussein, we had electricity, clean drinking water, a healthcare system that was the envy of the Arab world and free education through college," Iraqi pharmacist Dr. Entisar Al-Arabi told me. "I have five children and every time I had a baby, I was entitled to a year of paid maternity leave. I owned a pharmacy and I could close up shop as late as I chose because the streets were safe. Today there is no security and Iraqis have terrible shortages of everything--electricity, food, water, medicines, even gasoline. Most of the educated people have fled the country, and those who remain look back longingly to the days of Saddam Hussein."

Dr. Al-Arabi has joined the ranks of the nearly four million Iraqi refugees, many of whom are now living in increasingly desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and around the world. Undocumented, most are not allowed to work and are forced to take extremely low paying, illegal jobs or rely on the UN and charities to survive. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported a disturbing spike in the sex trafficking of Iraqi women.

There were many truth tellers and that was a great thing. This week, we've attempted to highlight some each day but there wasn't room on Thursday.
TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Charles Babbington (AP), Eamon Javers (CNBC), Karen Tumulty (Washington Post) and Pete Williams (NBC News) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "Why We Love It When the President Goes Away." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Karen Czarnecki, Kim Gandy, Christina Hoff Sommers and Avis Jones-DeWeever on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is an exploration of whether or not there's any link between sex and schoolwork. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stations -- but check local listings -- and it explores hydraulic fracturing and the salmonella egg outbreak. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
Stealing America's Secrets
"60 Minutes" has obtained an FBI videotape showing a Defense Department employee selling secrets to a Chinese spy that offers a rare glimpse into the secretive world of espionage and illustrates how China's spying may pose the biggest espionage threat to the U.S. Scott Pelley reports. | Watch Video

The Bloom Box
Large corporations in California have been secretly testing a new device that can generate power on the spot, without being connected to the electric grid. They're saying it's efficient, clean, and saves them money. Will we have one in every home someday? Lesley Stahl reports. | Watch Video

In the latest craze that has killed several extreme sports enthusiasts, men don wing-suits, jump off mountaintops and glide down at speeds approaching 140 miles per hour. Steve Kroft reports. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, August 29, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.