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KN4M 01-03-08

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2008
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist


      2007 deadliest for US troops in Iraq
      By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writer

      The second half of 2007 saw violence drop dramatically in Iraq, but
      the progress came at a high price: The year was the deadliest for
      the U.S. military since the 2003 invasion, with 899 troops killed.

      American commanders and diplomats, however, say the battlefield
      gains against insurgents such as al-Qaida in Iraq offer only a
      partial picture of where the country stands as the war moves toward
      its five-year mark in March.

      Two critical shifts that boosted U.S.-led forces in 2007 — a self-
      imposed cease-fire by a main Shiite militia and a grassroots Sunni
      revolt against extremists — could still unravel unless serious unity
      efforts are made by the Iraqi government.

      Iran also remains a major wild card. U.S. officials believe the
      neighboring country has helped quiet Iraq by reducing its flow of
      suspected aid to Shiite fighters, including materials needed for
      deadly roadside bombs.

      But Iran's apparent hands-off policies could come under strain as
      Shiite factions — some favoring Iran, others not — battle for
      control of Iraq's oil-rich south.

      The Pentagon, meanwhile, will increasingly look to the uneven Iraqi
      security forces to carry the load in 2008 as demands for an American
      exit strategy grow sharper during the U.S. election year.

      Britain, the main U.S. coalition partner in Iraq, is gradually
      drawing down its forces and other allies, including Poland and
      Australia, are contemplating full-scale withdrawals in the coming

      "We're focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi
      troopers have accomplished in 2007," Gen. David Petraeus told a
      group of Western journalists on Saturday. "Success will not,
      however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge
      slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating
      fewer bad days and gradually more good days."

      That arc of progress played out in the raw statistics of U.S. and
      Iraqi casualties.

      American military deaths peaked in May with 126 troops killed. It
      was then that the U.S. began ramping up its attacks against
      insurgent strongholds, leading to increased clashes in Baghdad and
      other key areas across central Iraq.

      Seven months on, commanders and analysts say America's aggressive
      strategy of targeting al-Qaida in Iraq strongholds is paying off:
      U.S. casualties have dropped sharply. As of Sunday night in Baghdad,
      21 deaths were reported in December, one more than in February 2004,
      which was the lowest monthly total of the war.

      The 899 deaths in 2007 surpassed the previously highest death toll
      in 2004, when 850 U.S. soldiers were killed. The total for 2007
      could rise slightly; occasionally the military reports new
      casualties a few days after they occur. The military reported the
      non-combat related death of a soldier on Sunday.

      At least 3,902 members of the U.S. military have died since the
      beginning of the war. Of those, at least 3,175 died as a result of
      hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

      Iraqi civilian deaths have tracked that decline and overall violence
      across the country is down roughly 60 percent, American commanders

      Since the influx of some 30,000 U.S. troops that began in June, the
      lessening violence has meant that new problems have emerged.

      "There certainly are ample challenges out there in the new year. In
      some respects, the positive developments in the latter half of 2007
      also represent the challenges of 2008," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker
      said during a recent briefing.

      An example, Crocker said, is how the improving security situation is
      in part luring back Iraqis who took refugee in neighboring Syria,
      Jordan and elsewhere.

      "The return of refugees — a good thing obviously, but a process is
      going to have to be carefully managed so that it doesn't sow the
      seeds of new tension and instability," he said.

      Along with the increase in American troops, Iraq's lessening
      violence has been attributed to a self-imposed freeze on activities
      by the Mahdi Army — the militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-

      Another important change was the quick growth of mostly Sunni anti-
      al-Qaida in Iraq groups, or "awakening councils," who once fought
      against U.S. and Iraqi forces but now point their guns toward the

      Of the more than 70,000 fighters in the awakening councils, only 20
      percent are expected to be absorbed into the Iraqi security forces.
      The rest are to receive job training through a joint $300 million
      program Iraqi and American officials are creating.

      That program is in its beginning stages and there are few details
      about how it will be carried out, but analysts say it must succeed
      or the Sunni fighters who do not join Iraq's military may sell their
      services to the insurgents.

      On Saturday, a new audiotape by Osama bin Laden warned Iraqi Sunnis
      against fighting al-Qaida, saying "the most evil of the traitors are
      those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal

      Keeping the militia of al-Sadr and other powerful Shiite leaders on
      the sidelines also means keeping Iran to its promise to halt the
      flow of weapons and training to them, officials say.

      "How lasting a phenomenon that will be and how Iran will define and
      play its role in Iraq in 2008 I think is going to be very important
      to the long-term future of the country," Crocker said.

      Iraqi civilian deaths also peaked in May with 2,155 killed. That
      fell to 718 in November and 710 in December. For the year, 18,610
      Iraqis were killed. In 2006, the only other full year an AP count
      has been tallied, 13,813 civilians were killed.

      Civilian deaths are compiled by the AP from hospital, police and
      military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and
      photographers. Insurgent deaths were not included. Other counts
      differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

      Those numbers paint an increasingly optimistic picture, but James
      Carafano, a security expert with the Heritage Foundation think-tank
      in Washington, D.C., warned dangers lurk.

      "The number of people who have the power to turns things around
      appears to be dwindling," he said regarding extremists. "But there
      are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really
      bad days."

      While that might not mean a return to the bloodiest moments of the
      Iraq war, Carafano said it could seriously rattle the Iraqi
      government as it tries to bring about some form of political
      reconciliation in 2008, a key to long-term security.

      "People have to be really careful about over-promising that this is
      an irreversible trend — I think it is a soft trend," he said of the
      declining violence.

      Carafano pointed to the problem of integrating the Sunni awakening
      councils into Iraqi society and keeping the Shiite militias out of
      the fight. If either of those situations changes, he said, increased
      bloodshed in the country is likely.

      Those warnings in mind, Carafano said he thought the "surge" in U.S.
      troops had to a large extent met one of its important goals: to
      allow the Iraqi government to focus on questions of governance
      instead of dealing only with security.

      He likened the increase in troops to the Marshall Plan that largely
      rebuilt Europe after World War II and demonstrated U.S. commitment
      to that continent.

      "I think the surge made that statement to Iraqis," Carafano
      said. "Here's America, fighting an unpopular war and things aren't
      going so well and we turn around and send more troops in. To the
      good guys and the bad guys is was a reaffirmation that Americans
      aren't going to walk away from this."
      The Associated Press News Research Center in New York contributed to
      this report.



      Book of the year: 'Harry Potter' prevails, wands down

      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
      This year's choice had to be the final Harry Potter book. The
      reasons are as varied as the different wizards' wands found in
      Diagon Alley. There were the numbers: Hallows sold a record-breaking
      11.5 million copies in the USA during its first 10 days on sale in
      July. Then there was the pre-publication hysteria: Would Harry die?
      Could the world's children — and a lot of adults — handle it? Was an
      early version posted on the Web the real thing? (Yes.) Months after
      the book's publication, Rowling triggered controversy by revealing
      that Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay. The blogosphere
      went wild. But none of that matters. Hallows is the book of the year
      because Rowling gave her story an ending that was as graceful,
      unpredictable and satisfying as the series itself. She reaffirmed
      that magic can exist when someone opens a great book and enters a
      world created from words on paper. She made us believe that the
      imagination — like her own little wizard, now all grown up — still



      Rowling Hints at Eighth Harry Potter Book
      By Lewis Wallace
      December 30, 2007

      We already know J.K. Rowling can craft a franchise. Now the writer
      who turned the seven-book Harry Potter series into a money-minting
      machine reminds us that she's a master at generating publicity. Just
      two months after cranking up the PR machine with the revelation that
      Potter wizard Dumbledore was gay, she tells the Daily Mail she's
      considered revisiting the supposedly finished franchise.

      "There have been times since finishing, weak moments, when I've
      said, 'Yeah, all right' to the eighth novel," she told the British
      publication. "If -- and it's a big if -- I ever write an eighth
      book, I doubt that Harry would be the central character. I feel I've
      already told his story. But these are big ifs. Let's give it 10

      Oh, and in the meantime, she's working on a "political fairy tale"
      and a novel for adults (in between superproductive brainstorming
      sessions with her publicity team).



      Legal Fictions
      The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year.
      By Dahlia Lithwick
      Posted Friday, Dec. 28, 2007

      This time last year, I offered up a top 10 list of the most
      appalling civil-liberties violations by the Bush administration in
      2006. The grim truth is, not much has changed. The Bush
      administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its
      own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to
      make us more free. In that spirit, it seemed an opportune moment to
      commemorate the administration's worst legal justifications and
      arguments of the year. And so I humbly offer this new year's
      roundup: The Bush Administration's Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments
      of 2007.

      10. The NSA's eavesdropping was limited in scope.

      Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched
      earlier than we'd been led to believe, scooped up more information
      than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored,
      as we'd been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.

      9. Scooter Libby's sentence was commuted because it was excessive.

      Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty
      of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of
      Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his
      prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the
      30-month prison sentence was "excessive." In fact, under the federal
      sentencing guidelines, Libby's sentence was perfectly appropriate
      and consistent with positions advocated by Bush's own Justice
      Department earlier this year.

      8. The vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch.

      We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the
      National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office
      from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified
      national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004,
      Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of
      the Vice President is not an "entity within the executive branch"
      and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in
      January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked
      Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney
      recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the
      Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview
      with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that
      his fight with Cheney's office was a "contributing" factor in his
      decision to quit after 34 years.

      7. The Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy more legal rights than any
      prisoners of war in history.

      This has been one of the catchiest refrains of the war on terror,
      right up there with the claim that the prisoners there are well-fed
      and cared for. The government brief in the December Supreme Court
      appeal on the rights of these detainees to contest their detentions
      proudly proclaimed that the "detainees now enjoy greater procedural
      protections and statutory rights to challenge their wartime
      detentions than any other captured enemy combatants in the history
      of war." That certainly sounds plausible. But as my colleague Emily
      Bazelon detailed here in Slate, a vast gaggle of historians,
      constitutional scholars, and retired military officers vehemently
      dispute that characterization of the legal processes afforded the
      detainees. The argument that Guantanamo prisoners have greater
      rights than they would otherwise be afforded relies on deep
      distortions of both fact and law.

      6. Water-boarding may not be torture.

      Water-boarding is torture. It's torture under the Geneva Conventions
      and has been treated as a war crime in the United States for
      decades. The answer to the question of its legality should be as
      simple as the answer to whether boiling prisoners in oil is legal.
      But in his confirmation hearings to become U.S. attorney general,
      Michael Mukasey could not bring himself to agree. He claimed not to
      have been "read into" the interrogation program and to be incapable
      of speculating about hypothetical techniques. He added that he did
      not want to place U.S. officials "in personal legal jeopardy" and
      that such remarks might "provide our enemies with a window into the
      limits or contours of any interrogation program." Even Sen. Lindsey
      Graham, R-S.C., seems to be catching on to what it means when senior
      legal advisers find themselves incapable of calling water-boarding

      5. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is
      barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege.

      This little gem of an argument was cooked up by the White House last
      July when the Senate judiciary committee sought the testimony of
      former White House political director Sara Taylor, as well as that
      of former White House counsel Harriet Miers, in connection with the
      firing of nine U.S. attorneys for partisan ideological reasons.
      Taylor was subpoenaed in June and, according to her lawyers, she
      wanted to testify but was barred by White House counsel Fred
      Fielding's judgment that the president could compel her to assert
      executive privilege and forbid her testimony. As Bruce Fein argued
      in Slate, that dramatic over-reading of the privilege would both
      preclude congressional oversight of any sort and muzzle anyone who'd
      ever communicated with the president, regardless of their wish to

      4. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason.

      Of course, the great legal story of 2007 was the unprecedented
      firing of nine U.S. attorneys who either declined to prosecute
      Democrats or were too successful in prosecuting Republicans. After
      months of congressional hearings, subpoenas, and investigations, the
      mastermind behind the plan to replace these prosecutors with "loyal
      Bushies" has yet to be determined. The decision is instead blamed on
      a "process" wherein unnamed senior department officials came to
      a "consensus" decision. No one is willing to name names, even though
      the firings were ostensibly legal, because, in the words of the
      president himself, these prosecutors all "serve at the pleasure of
      the president" and can be fired for any reason. Nevertheless, the
      firing of the nine U.S. attorneys—many of whom had stellar records
      and job reviews—remains shrouded in secrecy, although at least
      according to everyone who's testified, they were all fired for good
      reasons (which also cannot be articulated).

      3. Alberto Gonzales.

      I am forced to put the former attorney general into his own category
      only because were I to attempt to round up his best legal whoppers
      of the calendar year, it would overwhelm the rest of the list. As
      Paul Kiel over at Talking Points Memo so aptly put it earlier this
      year, Gonzales was and is clearly "the lying-est attorney general in
      recent history." Kiel went on to catalog Gonzales' six most
      egregious legal lies of the year, but I'll focus here on just two.
      First, his claim at a March press conference that he "was not
      involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions
      about what was going on" with respect to the U.S. attorney firings.
      This was debunked shortly thereafter when Kyle Sampson testified
      that Gonzales was frequently updated throughout the process. Second,
      his April testimony that he had not "talked to witnesses because of
      the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation
      and department investigations," which was promptly contradicted by
      Monica Goodling's testimony about his efforts to coordinate his
      version of the story with hers.

      2. State secrets.

      Again, it's virtually impossible to cite the single most egregious
      assertion by the Bush administration of the state-secrets privilege,
      because there are so many to choose from. This doctrine once barred
      the introduction into court of specific evidence that might
      compromise national security, but in the hands of the Bush
      administration, it has ballooned into a doctrine of blanket immunity
      for any conduct the administration wishes to hide. The privilege was
      invoked in 2007 to block testimony about its torture and
      extraordinary rendition program, its warrantless surveillance
      program, and to defend the notion of telecom immunity for colluding
      in government eavesdropping, among other things. No longer an
      evidentiary rule, the state-secrets privilege has become one of the
      administration's surest mechanisms for shielding its most egregious

      1. The United States does not torture.

      First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then
      there was the December 2004 statement that declared
      torture "abhorrent." But then there was the new secret 2005 torture
      memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except
      that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed
      CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except
      for when it does.

      Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.



      December 31, 2007

      Top economist says America could plunge into recession
      Suzy Jagger in New York

      Losses arising from America's housing recession could triple over
      the next few years and they represent the greatest threat to growth
      in the United States, one of the world's leading economists has told
      The Times.

      Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, predicted
      that there was a very real possibility that the US would be plunged
      into a Japan-style slump, with house prices declining for years.

      Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller
      house-price index, said: "American real estate values have already
      lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase
      threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than
      sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars' worth of losses."

      He said that US futures markets had priced in further declines in
      house prices in the short term, with contracts on the S&P Shiller
      index pointing to decreases of up to 14 per cent.

      "Over the next five years, the futures contracts are pointing to
      losses of around 35 per cent in some areas, such as Florida,
      California and Las Vegas. There is a good chance that this housing
      recession will go on for years," he said.

      Professor Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance, a phrase later
      used by Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman,
      said: "This is a classic bubble scenario. A few years ago house
      prices got very high, pushed up because of investor expectations.
      Americans have fuelled the myth that prices would never fall, that
      values could only go up. People believed the story. Now there is a
      very real chance of a big recession."

      He pointed out that signs at the beginning of 2007 that had
      indicated that some states were beginning to experience a recovery
      in house prices had proved to be false: "States such as
      Massachusetts had seen some increases at the beginning of the year.
      Denver also looked like it had a different path. Now all states are

      Until two years ago, each of America's 50 states had experienced a
      prolonged housing boom, with properties in some – such as Florida,
      California, Arizona and Nevada – doubling in price, fuelled by cheap
      credit and lax lending practices to borrowers who ordinarily would
      not have been able to secure a mortgage. Two years ago, the
      northeastern states of America became the first to slide into a
      recession after 17 successive interest-rate rises between June 2004
      and August 2006 hit the property market.

      Last week, new numbers from the S&P/Case Shiller index showed that
      house prices had declined in October at their fastest rate for more
      than six years, with homes in Miami losing 12 per cent of their
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