Friday, September 14, 2007

Still Playing Politics with FEMA!?

Sweet Jeebus, they just never quit, do they?

Brock Bierman, a former Cranston legislator and Republican Party operative, is now a Federal Emergency Management Agency official charged with helping small states — from Wyoming to Rhode Island — cope with Katrina-size disasters.

For the last several years, Bierman has been busy parachuting into close election campaigns to turn out votes for President Bush and other Republicans, including then-U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s unsuccessful 2006 reelection bid.

While Bierman has been a loyal Republican, he has no background as a police or fire professional, or in emergency management or homeland security. That has raised concerns for Rhode Island U.S. Rep. James Langevin, a Warwick Democrat who sits on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

“I do know Brock Bierman. I appreciate his service to Rhode Island. He’s a nice guy,” Langevin said yesterday. “But I am concerned that FEMA hasn’t learned the lessons of the Mike Brown situation.”

Langevin said he wasn’t judging whether Bierman should have been hired. However, “when I see appointments being made with strong political ties, that concerns me,” Langevin said. “If they’re going to work for FEMA, I would expect to see individuals in those positions with emergency responder, emergency management experience.”


The Kurds Are Under the Gun

Again. Or perhaps the word is "still":
They have made camp below the mountainsides that smolder and smoke in the thin alpine air. They live in caves now, or old tents, or under goat-hair tarps, and sleep on woven rugs over a bed of stones. Their villages are empty of all but ducks and chickens, because the villagers will not hike back until they can no longer hear the sounds.

"Do you hear that?" asked Taban Koha Rasheed, over a deep, distant rumbling, as she knelt under her tarp in a creek bed sheltered by the walls of a steep ravine. "It's started again."

For four weeks now, Kurdish villagers in this far northeastern corner of Iraq have endured a punishing barrage of rockets and artillery shells from what they say are Iranian troops across the border. The seemingly indiscriminate shelling has burned acres of orchards and grassland, damaged homes, killed livestock and driven about 2,500 people to abandon about two dozen villages.

The attacks are an ominous reminder that the emergence of an increasingly self-sufficient Kurdish region in northern Iraq could provoke reprisals or even invasions by Iran and Turkey.

"This is the worst bombing that this area has ever seen," said Ibrahim Muhammed Amin Muhammed Sor, a 37-year-old Kurdish chicken farmer.


All-American Weirdness

People get strange in the backwoods:

Two members of a loosely organized north Alabama militia group are headed to federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to make hand grenades that were to be used in case of a terrorist attack.

U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon sentenced James Ray McElroy, 20, to serve 41 months in prison. In a separate hearing, Clemon handed down a 37-month sentence to Randall Garrett Cole, 22.

The two pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to make explosive devices.

"I realize what I've done," Cole said. `I'm sorry for it."

Their attorneys argued the two were unsophisticated young men who had minimal involvement and were lulled into participating in the militia by the charismatic Raymond K. Dillard, who was the self-described major of the group.

"I think both of these boys were kind of led into it," said James Harris, Cole's attorney.

McElroy and Cole were arrested in April with three other men after raids in DeKalb, Etowah, Marshall and Jefferson counties turned up numerous weapons, including 130 grenades, a grenade launcher, 2,500 rounds of ammunition and 70 improvised explosive devices.

Officers also sidestepped booby traps at one location. Dillard, Adam Cunningham and Bonnell Hughes will be sentenced at a later time.

A confidential informant who infiltrated the group told the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that the militia planned an attack on "Mexicans" in the Blount County city of Remlap and went on a reconnaissance trip there before their arrests.

But the members said they were a loosely organized group that stockpiled weapons in anticipation of another terrorist attack.


With Friends Like These...

Well, I suppose one could argue that this is a sign of the Iraqi military standing up (against us, that is).

Does that mean we can stand down now?
U.S. troops have taken into custody an Iraqi army battalion commander suspected of ordering militia attacks on American forces, the military said Thursday.

The commander - whose name and rank were not released - was picked up last week by elements of the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade combat team, the military said in a statement. Battalions are usually commanded by colonels.

The Iraqi army and police forces are widely known to be infiltrated by people whose loyalties lie with Shiite militias, and Sunnis often complain that many sectarian crimes carried out against them are by men in uniform.

The battalion commander allegedly selected criminal militia members for the Bahaa al-Araji militia - closely allied with the better-known Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The commander is suspected of ordering an attack on U.S. forces in April, and suspected in the removal of Sunni families from neighborhoods in western Baghdad, the military said.


A Million and Counting

A new survey says that over a million Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered as a result of our invasion:
A car bomb blew up in the capital's Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City on Thursday, killing at least four people, as a new survey suggested that the civilian death toll from the war could be more than 1 million.

The figure from ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, followed statements this week from the U.S. military defending itself against accusations it was trying to play down Iraqi deaths to make its strategy appear successful.


NJ Rebels

Good for Corzine, opting to work in favor of the children of his state:

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine informed President Bush this week that New Jersey will not obey federal rules that would make it harder to enroll middle-income kids for a popular government-subsidized health insurance program.

His move escalated the growing confrontation between a number of states and the administration over the new rules imposed on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). They have been criticized as unfair and overreaching by children's advocates and politicians of both parties, but Corzine's declaration marks the first time a governor has openly vowed to defy them.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Now That's Pro-Life!

The governor of a central Russian province urged couples to skip work Wednesday and make love instead to help boost Russia's low birth-rate.

And if a woman gives birth in exactly nine months time -- on Russia's national day on June 12 -- she will qualify for a prize, perhaps even winning a new home.

"It's normally something for the home -- a fridge or a television set," Yelena Yakovleva at the Ulyanovsk regional administration press office, said.


Cost. Benefit?

Just drop it already, Repubs:
It would cost at least $94 billion to find, detain and remove all 12 million people believed to be staying illegally in the United States, the federal government estimated Wednesday.

Julie Myers, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave the figure during a hearing before a Senate committee Wednesday.

She acknowledged it was based on "very rough calculations."

An ICE spokesman later said the $94 billion did not include the cost of finding illegal immigrants, nor court costs -- dollar amounts that are largely unknowable.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Victory for Choice in NJ

The very idea of forcing certain phrases into the mouths of doctors is just fundamentally insane anyway:

A doctor has no duty to tell a woman considering an abortion that her embryo is an "existing human being," a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, averting a trial over when human life begins.

The decision, citing past rulings, said the court "will not place a duty on doctors when there is no consensus in the medical community or among the public" on when life begins.

The 5-0 Supreme Court ruling reversed a unanimous ruling by a three-judge appeals panel and dismissed the lawsuit of a woman who had an abortion. Abortion cases pending in Illinois and South Dakota have raised the same issue.


Two Skeptical Soldiers Silenced

On Aug. 19, seven active duty soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division wrote an op-ed in The New York Times called “The War As We Saw It.” The piece expressed skepticism about “recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable”:

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. […]

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal. […]

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

On Monday, two of these soldiers — Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance Gray — died in a vehicle accident in Western Baghdad. The news of their deaths came as Gen. David Petraeus wrapped up his testimony to Congress about the Bush administration’s progress in Iraq.


Evil in the Hills

Simply repulsive, the evil that some can do (and delight in):
Inside a shed on a remote hillside of this coalfield community, authorities say a young black woman was tortured for days, sexually assaulted, beaten and forced to eat rat droppings.

Her captors, all of them white, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, poured hot water over her and made her drink from a toilet, according to criminal complaints.

It wasn't until an anonymous tip led Logan County Sheriff's deputies to the property on Saturday that her ordeal ended and she was able to limp to safety, arms outstretched as she cried, "Help me!"


Monday, September 10, 2007

Still Here

Got those hectic start-of-the-semester blues, so posting will be light.

Tomorrow, I don't have to teach, and I have some grading that will lead to many breaks, so check in then...