Russ' Filtered News 1/2/07

The New Year in

As the ball dropped, Amanda Bermudez, 19, kissed her new husband, Angel Bermudez, 21, an Army soldier who recently returned from Iraq. They were married Dec. 2 at their home in Fort Hood, Texas, and came to New York for their honeymoon.

"My New Year's resolution is to work on my marriage and be a good mother," said Amanda Bermudez, who just found out she's pregnant.

She hoped for peace in the Middle East in 2007.

"So he doesn't have to go back," she said, glancing lovingly at her husband.

“The January junket to warmer climates — a postholiday tradition of sorts for some members of Congress — could be headed to the wayside. An accelerated work schedule set up by the new Democratic leadership has .”

Someone needs a reality check He says . Roberts earns $212,000 per year. Judges on federal appeals courts earn $175,100.

Corruption watch “The Justice Department is investigating whether hoping for contracts. The director of the program and three subordinates, all based in Denver, have been transferred to different jobs and have been ordered to cease all contacts with the oil industry until the investigation is completed some time next spring, according to officials involved.”

What liberal media?

I expect this type of thing from . The right wingers have been attacking name for a few weeks now. I'm going to ask CNN to make a correction on the air. Here's the ….

Nixon's pardon : Behold this great litany of misdeeds, and then ask yourself: What exactly is healing about letting who does such things escape justice? To me, the pardon will remain forever unforgiven. Covering up crime and letting criminals walk away is not the definition of "healing."

I'm not a fan of Ford, but... I gotta give him props for this: The first is a column written by Deb Price for the Detroit News :

Former President Gerald Ford believes the federal government should treat gay couples the same as married couples, including providing equal Social Security and tax benefits. Ford's views, expressed in an exclusive telephone interview, make him the highest-ranking Republican ever to endorse equal treatment for gay couples.

"I think they ought to be treated equally. Period," Ford declared. Asked specifically whether gay couples should get the same Social Security, tax and other federal benefits as married couples, he replied, "I don't see why they shouldn't. I think that's a proper goal."

The strangest public health problem: Number of people "counterfeit vodka" kills in Russia every year: 42,000
(Source: AP via The Week)

Big fat jerk. Some guy in Texas doesn’t want a mosque built next to his property, so to protest he's . I hear he took the grand prize.

25% say Jesus is coming back this year In a new AP/AOL poll, Americans were asked for their . Since this is the Land of Hope and Optimism, the results are predictable:

Percent who think we'll be attacked by terrorists: 60%

Percent who expect another major natural disaster: 70%

But what really caught my eye was this: Percent who think Jesus Christ will return this year: 25%

Think about that next time you're walking down the street. One out of every four people you bump into actually believes that 2007 will be the year Jesus Christ returns to Earth.

This raises a number of questions for me.

How do they know that? What kind of tea leaves are they reading? Who told them? What month should we expect him? Will he need a place to stay or will he just kind of float around above our heads? Will he need to go through customs?...

What if he looks less like the bearded guy from the annual pandering-to-the-fundies issues of TIME and Newsweek, and more like, say, Howie Mandel or Woody Allen? How will we know it's him? What kind of proof will we demand? Should we start small ("Here's a bottle of Poland Spring water...let's see you turn it into a box of 2005 Paso Robles Cabernet.")? Or do we make him go for the Big Miracle ("Let's see you glue the blindfolded.")? Once he proves he is who he says he is, what then? Do we just hand him the keys to the planet? Who has the keys?

Surely someone among the 75 million people who think Jesus is coming in 2007 would have these details locked down, right? Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell? Ted Haggard? James Dobson? They all claim to have a personal hotline to Jesus but they missed this buzz on their Blackberry? Isn't that odd?...

Who gets custody of Jesus? The Evangelicals will obviously call "dibs" first and the battle would soon be joined by the Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Episcopalians, Methodists, Unitarians and all the rest---but won't the Jews trump them all? And what about the Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and all the other non-Christian religious and non-religious people? Won't that cause feelings of bitterness and accusations of Savioritism?

I'm not sure we're ready for this, are you? Shouldn't we get the brightest minds together right away to form a Second Coming Study Group? And could Ed Meese maybe add a little more meat to the discussion this time than the color of the coffee cups?

And perhaps most disturbing...what if he's gone all gay?

After they're gone, do we get their stuff? Is the Democratic victory the catalyst for the second coming and/or the rapture? Did anyone know that would be the result? Was this discussed or planned at a meeting that I was not invited to?
Have you guys known this all along?

Sacrifice Last night the BBC was that when George Bush unveils his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, its central theme will be sacrifice. So let's talk about . There is:

...John Adams, a Florida National Guardsman, was severely disabled in August 2003 by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Sunni insurgent stronghold of Anbar province. He is one of more than 22,000 service members who have been wounded in Iraq. ...and had to ask for help from the Red Cross to pay the mortgage and water bill. Army administrative problems left the family without pay and health insurance for the children for months at a time.... John, 40, said he feels frustrated, too, but recognizes that many other wounded troops are even worse off. "There are so many people like me," he said, his words slurred. "People need to know."

Or Sgt. Doug Szczepanski Jr, who was wounded in a car bomb attack in Baghdad:

The blast blew his face open down to the collarbone, blinding him in the left eye and nearly severing his right ear. Shrapnel pierced his head and his upper body was covered with second- and third-degree burns. [...]

Said his father:

You first see your child like that and you're so confused. You don't know if you should cry, sit down, throw up.

And as bad as that it, this is worse:

A survey this year by the nonprofit Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which has helped the Szczepanskis and the Adamses, showed that more than half of families of the seriously wounded experience a drop in their standard of living.

Thank God someone is making sacrifices in this war. And then there was Pfc. Ross McGinnis, who:

...could see the insurgent on a rooftop fling a hand grenade at his vehicle. He shouted and tried to deflect it, but it fell inside. Four of his buddies were down there.

What followed was a stunning act of self-sacrifice. McGinnis, a 19-year-old from rural Pennsylvania and the youngest soldier in his unit, threw himself backward onto the grenade, absorbing the blast with his body. He was killed instantly. The others escaped serious injury.

McGinnis' father:

At that moment, I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto; just a second beyond safety, falling into hell. If only my life could have ended just a moment before this so that I would not have to hear the words they were about to say. If only I could blink myself awake from this horrible dream. But it wasn't a dream....One moment he was responsible for defending the rear of the convoy from enemy fire; the next moment he held the lives of four of his friends in his hands.

The choice for Ross was simple, but simple does not mean easy. His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.

And now Bush has a choice to make. And since the right choice requires honor, we know that he will instead choose to sacrifice even more young men and women in Iraq.

Juan Cole on Saddam's death (Juan is the best there is on the Middle East) The body of Saddam, as it swung from the gallows at 6 a.m. Saturday Baghdad time, cast an ominous shadow over Iraq. The execution provoked intense questions about whether his trial was fair and about what the fallout will be. One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.

Saddam Hussein was tried under the shadow of a foreign military occupation, by a government full of his personal enemies. The first judge, an ethnic Kurd, resigned because of government interference in the trial; the judge who took his place was also Kurdish and had grievances against the accused. Three of Saddam's defense lawyers were shot down in cold blood. The surviving members of his defense team went on strike to protest the lack of protection afforded them. The court then appointed new lawyers who had no expertise in international law. Most of the witnesses against Saddam gave hearsay evidence. The trial ground slowly but certainly toward the inevitable death verdict.

Like everything else in Iraq since 2003, Saddam's trial became entangled in sectarian politics. Iraq is roughly 60 percent Shiite, 18 percent Sunni Arab and 18 percent Kurdish. Elements of the Sunni minority were favored under fellow Sunni Saddam, and during his long, brutal reign this community tended to have high rates of membership in the Baath Party. Although many members of Saddam's own ethnic group deeply disliked him, since the U.S. invasion he has gradually emerged as a symbol of the humiliation that the once-dominant Sunni minority has suffered under a new government dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Saddam was a symbol of Sunni-Shiite rivalry long before the U.S. occupation. In 1991, while he was in power, he had ferociously suppressed the post-Gulf War Shiite uprising in the south, using helicopter gunships and tanks to kill an estimated 60,000. After the invasion, many Shiites wanted him to be captured, while many Sunnis helped him elude capture. When Saddam was finally in late 2003, Shiites in the Baghdad district of Kadhimiya crossed the bridge over the Tigris to dance and gloat in the neighboring Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya, provoking some clashes. After his capture, students at Mosul University, in Iraq's second-largest and mostly Sunni Arab city, chanted, "Bush, Bush, hear our refrain: We all love Saddam Hussein!" and "We'll die, we'll die, but the nation will live! And America will fall!"

As the U.S. consolidated control over Iraq, meanwhile, Sunni alienation increased. The American occupiers adopted punitive measures against members of the Baath Party, who were disproportionately though by no means universally Sunni Arab. The army was dissolved, sidelining 400,000 troops and the predominantly Sunni officer corps. Thousands of Sunni Arab civil servants and even schoolteachers were fired.

A "de-Baathification" committee, dominated by hard-line Shiites like (now prime minister) and denied large numbers of Sunni Arabs the right to participate in political society or hold government positions on grounds of links to the Baath Party. Sometimes politicians were blackballed simply because a relative had been high in the party.

As Iraq spiraled down into a brutal civil war with massive killing and ethnic cleansing, many Iraqis began to yearn for the oppressive security of the Saddam period. After the destruction of the golden dome of the Shiite Askariya mosque in Samarra last February, Iraqis fell into an orgy of sectarian reprisal killings.

By the time of Saddam's trial, sectarian strife was widespread, and the trial simply made it worse. It was not just the inherent bias of a judicial system dominated by his political enemies. Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy. Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982. This Shiite town had been a hotbed of activism by the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, which was founded in the late 1950s and modeled on the Communist Party. In the wake of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, Saddam conceived a profound fear of Dawa and similar parties, banning them and making membership a capital crime. Young Dawa leaders such as al-Maliki fled to Tehran, Iran, or Damascus, Syria.

When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

Passions did not subside with time. When the death verdict was announced against Saddam in November, Sunni Arabs in Baquba, to the northeast of the capital, staged a big pro-Saddam demonstration. They were attacked by the Shiite police that dominate that mixed city, who killed 20 demonstrators and wounded a similar number. There were also pro-Saddam demonstrations in Fallujah and Mosul. Baghdad had to be put under curfew.

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.

The political ineptitude of the tribunal, from start to finish, was astonishing. The United States and its Iraqi allies basically gave Saddam a platform on which to make himself a martyr to Iraqi unity and independence -- even if by unity and independence Saddam was really appealing to Sunnis' nostalgia for their days of hegemony.

In his farewell address, however, Saddam could not help departing from his national-unity script to take a few last shots at his ethnic rivals. Despite some smarmy language urging Iraqis not to hate the Americans, Saddam denounced the "invaders" and "Persians" who had come into Iraq. The invaders are the American army, and the Persians are code not just for Iranian agents but for Iraqi Shiites, whom many Sunni Arabs view as having Iranian antecedents and as not really Iraqi or Arab. It was such attitudes that led to slaughters like that at Dujail.

In his death, as in his life, Saddam Hussein is managing to divide Iraqis and condemn them to further violence and brutality. But the Americans and the Shiite- and Kurd-dominated government bear some blame for the way they botched his trial and gave him this last opportunity to play the spoiler.

Iraq is on high alert, in expectation of protests and guerrilla reprisals. Leaves have been canceled for Iraqi soldiers, though in the past they have seldom paid much attention to such orders. But perhaps the death of Saddam, who once haunted the nightmares of a nation, will soon come to seem insignificant. In Iraq, guerrilla and criminal violence executes as many as 500 persons a day. Saddam's hanging is just one more occasion for a blood feud in a country that now has thousands of them.

The ugliness in Iraq If you watch the video of the moments leading up to Saddam Hussein's execution, am I wrong that it bears a certain resemblance to the terrorist snuff films we've watched out of Iraq over the last three years? A dark, dank room. The executioners wear not uniforms of any sort, either civilian or military, but street clothes and ski masks. We now that the executioners were apparently taken from the population of southern Iraq, the country's Shi'a heartland, where Saddam's repression was most severe. And in an apt symbolic statement on what the Iraq War is about, two of the executioners who saw Saddam off started hailing Moktada al Sadr in Saddam's face as they prepared to hang him. Remember, al Sadr's Mahdi Army is the force the 'surge' of new US troops is next year. That's where we are.

The ugliness in Iraq, Part II A clearer picture is of the impotent Americans, vengeful Shiites and seething Sunnis who comprised the cast of characters surrounding Saddam's rushed execution:

[J]ust about everything in the 24 hours that began with Mr. Hussein’s being taken to his execution from his cell in an American military detention center in the postmidnight chill of Saturday had a surreal and even cinematic quality.

Part of it was that the Americans, who turned him into a pariah and drove him from power, proved to be his unlikely benefactors in the face of Iraq’s new Shiite rulers who seemed bent on turning the execution and its aftermath into a new nightmare for the Sunni minority privileged under Mr. Hussein.. . .

Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom — and justice — of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans’ concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of “The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!” as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.. . .

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq’s to decide.

It gets worse actually, including the part where Iraqi TV shows Saddam's tribesmen "collecting the coffin from the courtyard in front of Mr. Maliki’s office, where it sat unceremoniously in a police pickup." Go read the entire by John Burns and Marc Santora.

A reminder for the hate-mongering religious reich "For whoever is not against us is for us." Mark 9:38

Published

January 2, 2007 - 8:52pm

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