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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 31 May 2006
System Failure
Topic: Announcements

Offline: System Failure

Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, May 31, 2006, the computer used to create the weekly, Just Above Sunset, and this daily web log, and the daily photography site, failed. The system is now in the shop of the people who built the whole thing, over in Westwood. If all goes well they should have everything all straightened out by June 5 or so, and the more than three years of archives and the massive collection of web photographs and master photos will still be there.

While the system is being repaired, operations have been moved from Hollywood to Carlsbad, California, on the Pacific just north of San Diego. Postings to the web logs will resume soon, but the weekly site may not publish this Sunday. It's a matter of installing some special software and that sort of thing.

Visit again in twelve hours. Some new material should be here by then.

Posted by Alan at 21:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day
Topic: In these times...

Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day

A note on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - the day after Memorial Day.

The day before brought us the usual carnage in Baghdad, forty killed, one more soldier, and with a twist, two CBS journalists and a key CBS reporter near death. The next day she the was off to Germany for treatment there, the shrapnel in her head carefully removed but major problems with her lower extremities - critical condition, but stable. Tuesday brought much more death in Baghdad, but this time just the locals, with fifty-seven blown up dead, not Monday's forty. Curiously, it was the one year anniversary of the Vice President saying the insurgency was in its "last throes" (short discussion here, if it matters). There were the Monday riots in Kabul too, as the latent anti-American resentment finally burst open. The capital city of our key regional ally, Afghanistan, was still locked down Tuesday. The new details Monday about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, were still in the news Tuesday, but there was no new news - the evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation. Maybe the new news was that now the brand new president of Iraq isn't too pleased - "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki broke his public silence Tuesday on the alleged killing of about 24 civilians by U.S. Marines, saying such deaths were never justified, even in the fight against terrorists." They want to investigate? Not good.

What happened Monday was Tuesday's news. But then Tuesday we did get a new Treasury Secretary, the former CEO of Goldman-Sachs, an environmentalist who likes the Kyoto Treaty. What? Daniel Gross covers that well here - either it's big news, or the cabinet officers have been so neutered that it's kind of an honorary thing with no real power of any sort - you get a nice office and great stationary. The latter seems likely - quick, name the current Secretary of Commerce and what dynamic thing he (or she) has done or said Yawn.

But the war stories grind on. And no one was happy.

In the Financial Times of London (UK), there was Neo-Cons Question Bush's Democratization Strategy, where we get this -
President George W. Bush has likened the "war on terrorism" to the cold war against communism.

Addressing military cadets graduating from West Point, Mr Bush reaffirmed at the weekend that the US "will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people in every nation".

But as the US struggles to assert itself on the international stage, the president's most radical supporters now dismiss this as mere rhetoric, and traditional conservatives are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation [sic] strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East.

Administration officials speak privately of a sense of fatigue over the worsening crisis in Iraq that has drained energy from other important policy issues. Senior officials are leaving - not so unusual in a second term, but still giving the sense of a sinking ship run in some quarters by relatively inexperienced crew.

Neo-conservative commentators at the American Enterprise Institute wrote last week what amounted to an obituary of the Bush freedom doctrine.
And it goes on to explain. This is not working. And it was their idea.

Christy Hardin Smith is not so kind here -
Only George Bush could take a country run by a violent dictator, where the people were oppressed and murdered and terrorized by secret police and tortured for disagreeing with the government... and turn it into an even less stable country where people are murdered and tortured and kidnapped and killed in cold blood and worse, inflaming sectarian and tribal rivalries and raising the bar on the fight to control Iraq's valuable oil reserves, as armed militias for each faction fight amongst themselves and US troops for control.

It's the Katrina piss poor response writ large in the Middle East, and we are spiraling toward a civil war of our own making in Iraq with no end in sight for our troops if we keep going the way things are.

All because this President chose to fight a preemptive war of his own making, based on ginned up false reasons that were sold to the public with the threat of a looming mushroom cloud hanging in the air - a threat that the President either knew or should have known was altogether false, had he bothered to listen to someone outside his circle of crony yes men.
Smith then links to the New York Times item here, just a little note that General Casey is taking the troops currently staged in Kuwait, one brigade, and moving them into Iraq's Anbar province in the west - it's just gotten too hot and hostile there. As Smith says - "You know, because the Iraqi government is so stable and the Iraqi troops are standing up so much so that we can stand down and... oh, hell...."

The Times -
One senior American commander said recently that military officials still remain hopeful that they can reduce the troop presence in Iraq by 25 percent by the end of the year, but he admitted that there was no timetable and much of that hope rests on the performance of the fledgling Iraqi government in coming months.

How much the decision to deploy the entire reserve brigade from Kuwait will increase the total number of American troops in Iraq and for how long was unclear. Nor is it clear how the additional troops will be employed as commanders seek to quell the violence in Anbar in coming months.

One official said the additional troops would be deployed to "fill in the gaps" that now exist and that will get worse when the Pennsylvania Guard unit pulls out.

The top commander in the province, Gen. Richard Zilmer of the Marines, said in an interview last month that a large-scale assault on insurgents in Ramadi, similar to block-by-block fighting by the Marines in nearby Falluja in 2004, was not under consideration. Instead, he said, the Marines expect more targeted actions against insurgents in the city.
No one is coming home soon. The Washington Post covers it is slightly different detail here. What did Cheney say a year ago?

Smith adds this -
The US launched a previous offensive in March of 2006 to clear out the insurgents in the region - but clearly we were only playing whack-a-mole with too few troops to ever do much more than chase them out of one town and into another. We don't have the force levels to hold any area once we've cleared it of insurgents, let alone be able to cover the borders, and our troops end up fighting the same battles over and over like some nightmare version of Groundhog Day where they risk life and limb in a failed policy of war on the cheap.

And the Iraqis themselves are staring into a long abyss of civil war at the moment, with a government which still has not filled some essential positions, where factional infighting has been the norm even in the "halls of power," and has been greeted with skepticism among the rest of the Arab world.
Groundhog Day? That's this movie, but this isn't Punxsutawney.

Congressman Murtha is from just southwest of Punxsutawney, and last November he said this -
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk.
We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing, 'the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.' General Abizaid said on the same date, "Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is part of our counterinsurgency strategy."

For two and a half years, I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait - the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction - but the US forces said they were prepared. They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

We spend more money on Intelligence that all the countries in the world together, and more on Intelligence than most countries GDP. But the intelligence concerning Iraq was wrong. It is not a world intelligence failure. It is a U.S. intelligence failure and the way that intelligence was misused.

I have been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals almost every week since the beginning of the War. And what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat posed by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must be prepared to face all threats. The future of our military is at risk. Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down, even as our military has lowered its standards. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care, to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared. The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls at our bases in the U.S.

Much of our ground transportation is worn out and in need of either serous overhaul or replacement. George Washington said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being "terrified" about the budget deficit in the coming decades. This is the first prolonged war we have fought with three years of tax cuts, without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft. The burden of this war has not been shared equally; the military and their families are shouldering this burden.

Our military has been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.

I just recently visited Anbar Province Iraq in order to assess the condition on the ground. Last May 2005, as part of the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill, the House included to Moran Amendment, which was accepted in Conference, and which required the Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports to Congress in order to more accurately measure stability and security in Iraq. We have not received two reports. I am disturbed by the findings in key indicator areas. Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects have been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American causalities have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won 'militarily.' I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are untied against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United Stated occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a "free" Iraq.
Anbar. Same thing. Groundhog Day. But that woman from Cincinnati said Murtha was a coward.

Ah well. Another Memorial Day. We fight on. There's the global war on terror, of course. GWOT.

How about some logic on that from Digby at Hullabaloo, who offers this -
But then it isn't really fair to deride it as a "war on terror," is it? That's just the shortcut phrase. The real term is "war on terrorism" which makes just as little sense but in a different way. Terrorism is a method of warfare - a specific type of cheap and dirty violence which is not eradicatable, certainly not eradicatable by force. It is special only in the sense that it makes no distinctions between civilians and warriors. (And if you could eliminate a particularly harsh and inhumane method of warfare, it would certainly make no sense at all to try to do it by throwing aside all civilized norms and engaging in even more odious taboos like torture.)

When you think about it, a "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on warfare" which kind of brings the whole damned thing home, doesn't it? All warfare is terrifying. Metaphorically, a war on warfare is a nice concept. I can picture some lovely bumper stickers and t-shirts along the lines of "War is not healthy for children and other living things." "Let's declare war on warfare" expresses a rather basic premise that war is a bad thing. (Somehow, I don't think that's what the architects of the GWOT had in mind.)

A war on warfare is entirely absurd, however, in a literal sense. Using war to eradicate terror or terrorism is an oxymoron. And yet the nation has been drunkenly behaving as if it is a real war, spending the money, deploying the troops, inflicting the violence.

Setting Iraq aside, which was a simple imperialist invasion with no ties to this threat of terrorism, we are dealing with a "war" against certain stateless people who are loosely affiliated with Muslim extremism but could just as easily be nationalists or Christian fanatics or even environmentalists, as our justice department has recently decreed. Make no mistake: the GWOT is not a simple shorthand for fighting the "islamofascists." Islamic extremism is an ideology centered in a religion and it has no "place" - it is not a nation or even a people. Warfare as it has been understood for millennia will not "beat" it. The GWOT masterminds knew this which is why the phrase War on Terrorism was coined: it represents a permanent state of war, which is something else entirely.

This is the problem. This elastic war, this war against warfare, this war with no specific enemy against no specific country is never going to end. It cannot end because there is no end. If the threat of "islamofascim" disappears tomorrow there will be someone else who hates us and who is willing to use individual acts of violence to get what they want. There always have been and there always will be. Which means that we will always be at war with Oceania.

I am not sanguine that we can put this genie back in the bottle. The right will go crazy at the prospect that someone might question whether we are really "at war." They are so emotionally invested in the idea that they cannot give it up. Indeed, the right is defined by its relationship to the boogeyman, whether communism or terrorism or some other kind of ism (negroism? immigrantism?) they will fight very, very hard to keep this construct going in the most literal sense. And they will probably win in the short term.

But it is long past time for people to start the public counter argument, which has the benefit of appealing to common sense. Many Americans are emerging from the relentless hail of propaganda that overtook the nation after the traumatic events of 9/11. Iraq confused people for a while, but that confusion is leaving in its wake a rather startling clarity: the "war" as the government defines it is bullshit. It will take a while for this common sense to become conventional wisdom, but it certainly won't happen if nobody is willing to say it out loud.

... But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.
The logic is clear. And it hurts. Drat that common sense.

And as for Memorial Day and all it's about, and if you've actually been to Punxsutawney (some of us have) see Garrison Keillor here -
Memorial Day is a fading holiday, destined to go the way of the Glorious Fourth and Labor Day, which once had ceremonial functions and now are simply bonus Saturdays. It was a small-town institution and a matter of community pride to honor our dead. The citizenry hiked up to the cemetery on Monday morning behind the VFW honor guard and listened to a speech and sang "America the Beautiful" and stood for a rifle salute and "Taps," and then walked quietly home. It's easier to organize this sort of thing in a town of 2,000 than in a city of a million, so it has faded, a victim of urbanization. And also because the speeches were not so good. And because we are young restless people, not old weepy people.

Americans aren't good at memorials. In the wake of President Kennedy's death, his name was attached to many things, including Idlewild Airport in New York and Cape Canaveral in Florida, but naming things isn't the same as remembering. The memorial airport - Kennedy, LaGuardia, Reagan, George Bush, John Wayne, Gen. Edward Logan, Gen. Billy Mitchell - is an odd notion. Airports are beehives. You get your ticket, go through security, get coffee, go to the gate, wait, board, and at what point do you stop to consider the World War II heroism of Navy flier Butch O'Hare?

Likewise, the memorial freeway. A freeway is a strip of pockmarked concrete on which the uglier aspects of human nature are played out every day. You would not want the name of anyone you care for put on such a place.

A memorial is where the memory of a person is made manifest, such as Emily Dickinson's quiet house and garden in Amherst, or the restored Lincoln neighborhood in Springfield, or Hyde Park. Or the Civil War battlefields, which are faithfully maintained and staffed with knowledgeable guides. A three-hour visit can transport you back to 1863. The National Bohemian Historic Sites of Greenwich Village and San Francisco are there to be seen, the ghosts of e. e. cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Garcia. William Faulkner's house in Oxford, Miss. The list goes on.

But why the enormous lump that is Grant's Tomb? And Mount Rushmore? After you've driven the length of South Dakota, four faces carved from rock is not the thrill it ought to be. Add Ronald Reagan's face to it, grinning and winking, and liven up the place.
We've lost perspective, and common sense. We are young restless people, not old weepy people, but we're not dumb, or at least no so dumb now. Time to fix things, not rename them, and not call each other names.

Posted by Alan at 22:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006 08:05 PDT home

Monday, 29 May 2006
Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten
Topic: In these times...

Perspective: A Memorial Day Best Forgotten

Memorial Day 2006 was Monday, May 29, the official holiday, but all the big events had been the day before - the Indianapolis 500 was won by someone or other by a margin of 0.0068 seconds with a tricky slipstream pass in the last few feet, and the Spaniard in the French car (Alonso driving for Renault) won easily at the Monaco Grand Prix after the German driving the Italian car (Schumacher driving for Ferrari) just couldn't overcome having to start dead last after he cheated in the last qualifying run, stopping after a fine run and blocking his competitors from doing better (one thinks of George Bush playing rugby at Yale). Barry Bonds hit one more homerun, and so that day had finally hit one more than Babe Ruth ever did, but given the steroid business, no one celebrated. There was all sorts of completion to watch on television, even golf and poker, and competition to see live at the baseball parks coast to coast - and for those more active, the family stuff and picnics. Some visited the veterans cemeteries, some homes flew flags, but the holiday Sunday was full of the other stuff. What whatever you call "the other stuff," it wasn't exactly solemn. Much of it was about winning, somehow or other, and crowing about being the best. We are a competitive people.

Monday was different. As usual, the president laid a wreath at the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Arlington, and said the right words - or words close enough. Honor the dead. They died for our freedom, or, to be stupidly precise, were killed by others for our freedom. They did the right thing, either way. There were words about the current war - the nation can best honor the dead by "defeating the terrorists ... and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace."

It may be becoming clear to many that "defeating the terrorists" is probably not a job best suited to the military, but, rather, something that's best done by a mixture of soft-power and example (be the "fix things" good guys not the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil), and the tactics used by law enforcement organizations (which can be pretty sneaky and disruptive), and by messing up the flow of funds to the bad guys using the international financial system to starve them, and so on. But we have the military, our hammer, so all we see is nails everywhere that need to be hammered down. That's what the day was about.

And at the end of the day, Nedra Pickler, the Associated Press's White House reporter, famous for slanting things in the president's favor, has to admit the hammering is not going that well, opening with this - "Just when President Bush was trying to accentuate the positive in Iraq and declare a new beginning in the war on terror, a rash of bad news comes from multiple fronts in the global struggle."

Yep - new details about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha. The evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation.

And the same day brought major riots in Kabul, Afghanistan. A convoy of at least three our Humvees drove into the city at high speed (a tactic to prevent attacks on them) and rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting all sorts of civilian cars. Oops. People died. Angry crowd gathered. Shots were fired. We say we only fired above the crowd, to make them go way. Afghani police did fire on the crowd, and city-wide you had your stone-throwing Afghans shouting "Down with America" and burning cars, and a UN building, and marching on our embassy, the presidential palace and ransacking buildings. The capital was shut down, and Karzai was on television trying to tamp things down. An account here says Kabul's worst riots since the fall of the Taliban. This is our ally - so we have fourteen dead one hundred forty two injured "in an outburst of rage against the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and at President Hamid Karzai, their ally." Great.

An Army spokesman later said that a large cargo truck in a coalition convoy had suffered a mechanical failure, bad brakes, hitting twelve civilian cars. No one cared much -
Mr Karzai, who postponed a three-day visit to Qatar, is a staunch friend of the West and has in the past been mocked as the "mayor of Kabul" for his tenuous grip on the country outside the capital.

Yesterday's violence exposed how tenuous this authority is even on his own doorstep.

... "Today's demonstration is because Americans killed innocent people," said Gulam Ghaus, a protester in his 20s, as he stood near a burnt-out police post.

"We will not stop until foreigners leave the city. We are looking for foreigners to kill."
This is not going well.

And there was Guantánamo again, as Memorial Day brought this -
About 75 detainees were engaged in a new wave of hunger strikes over Memorial Day weekend at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military announced Monday.

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand theorized that the al Qaeda and Taliban suspects were staging a "short term, sympathy" protest to gain attention from the outside world in advance of the June 12 resumption of war-crimes trial proceedings there.

"The hunger strike technique is consistent with al Qaeda practice," said Durand.

He added that the protest "reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention to bring international pressure on the United States to release them back to the battlefield."

... New York attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan said defense lawyers would only be able to learn who were the hunger strikers by meeting their clients at Guantanamo.

"Considering that many detainees gave up their hunger strikes earlier this year only because of abusive forced feeding techniques rather than through volitional choice, it's not surprising that a new, large-scale hunger strike has begun," said Colangelo-Bryan, who represents some Bahraini captives, including one who has repeatedly attempted suicide.

"After all, engaging in a hunger strike is one of the few means of protest available to detainees."

... Monday's announcement was extraordinary, issued early on a federal holiday. Guantanamo commanders have been more frank in recent weeks about disclosing detention challenges at the remote base, where no detainee has yet died in U.S. custody; the admiral in charge answered a question in detail recently about plans in the event a detainee does die.
Okay, is it a PR stunt, or could they be a tad upset about perpetual imprisonment without charges? Either way, it messed up the president's holiday, unless he's laughing his ass off, hoping someone does die.

But then the Independent (UK) notes a British legal rights group has just figured out that sixty of those we are holding at Guantánamo seem to be children, or were. That's here -
They include at least 10 detainees still held at the US base in Cuba who were 14 or 15 when they were seized - including child soldiers who were held in solitary confinement, repeatedly interrogated and allegedly tortured.

The disclosures threaten to plunge the Bush administration into a fresh row with Britain, its closest ally in the war on terror, only days after the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, repeated his demands for the closure of the detention facility. It was, he said, a "symbol of injustice."
Well, it's been four years, and they're adults now. And no one can prove anyone was tortured. And Lord Goldsmith is not Tony Blair. Tony says it's just fine, or will. And the Brits don't matter. They're not a world power, and haven't been for much more than a hundred years. Lord Goldsmith can rant. Blair will continue to sniff George Bush's jockstrap in ecstasy.

Still it's not a nice item to report on Memorial Day. Too many folks spent the day with their own kids. And too, only ten of these "detainees" have been charged anything at all, and these trials, the first held since WWII, are set to begin within a month or two, unless the Supreme Court rules in June that Bush overstepped his authority by ordering war-crimes trials for the Guantánamo crowd. A mess.

Meanwhile, as AP's Nedra Pickler puts it - "Add the trouble to the continuing daily violence in Iraq - at least 40 were killed in a series of bombings Monday, including two from a CBS News crew - and Bush could be in danger of losing even more support for his mission."

Maybe so, and "some in the White House have been arguing that he needs to do more to push back." Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again?

Somehow that may not work. People want specifics.

And this is pretty specific -
Two CBS News crew members and an American soldier were killed Monday during a wave of car bombings and shootings in Iraq that also killed at least three dozen other people. Network correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded and underwent emergency surgery.

... At least eight bombings rocked the capital in the worst wave of violence in days. A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy patrolled in central Baghdad, killing veteran CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48; soundman James Brolan, 42; and an American soldier, U.S. officials said.

Dozier, a 39-year-old American, was in critical condition at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad and underwent two surgeries for injuries from the bombing, said Kelli Edwards, a CBS News spokeswoman. By early Tuesday, doctors had removed shrapnel from Dozier's head but said she had more serious injuries to her lower body, CBS News reported on its Web site.

Dozier's relatives were planning to head to Germany, a man who answered the phone at her mother's home in Maryland said Monday night. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany is the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital.

The CBS crew was on patrol with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, when the bomb exploded. The U.S. military said an Iraqi interpreter also was killed and six American soldiers were injured.
That's pretty specific.

So is this -
At least 37 other people were killed nationwide, most of them in Baghdad.

The attacks began just after dawn, with one roadside bomb killing 10 people and injuring another 12 who worked for an Iranian organization opposed to the Tehran regime, police said.

That bombing targeted a public bus near Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province, an area notorious for such attacks, provincial police said.

All the dead were workers at the Ashraf base of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK. The group, made up of Iranian dissidents living in Iraq, said the dead were Iraqi workers heading to their camp.

A car bomb parked near Baghdad's main Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque killed at least nine Iraqi civilians and wounded 25, said Saif al-Janabi, director of Noaman hospital. It exploded at noon in north Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood and disintegrated the vehicle.

Rescue crews and Iraqi army soldiers helped carry stretchers toward waiting ambulances, AP Television News footage showed.

A bomb planted in a parked minivan killed at least seven people and wounded at least 20 at the entrance to an open-air market selling secondhand clothes in the northern Baghdad suburb of Kazimiyah.

Another parked car bomb exploded near Ibn al-Haitham college in Azamiyah, also in northern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding at least five - including four Iraqi soldiers, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.

In other attacks, a roadside bomb killed two police officers and wounded three others in Baghdad's Karradah district, while one man was killed and six were wounded when a bomb hidden in a minivan exploded.

A mortar shell exploded at a Shiite mosque in southern Baghdad's Zafraniyah district. Shiite militiamen sealed off the area and prevented police from approaching, said police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

Also, gunmen in separate incidents killed two police officers in western Baghdad; two police officers, identified as former Baathists, in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad; and police Brig. Gen. Sadiq Jaafar Salih, director of the national ID card office in Diyala, authorities said.
Sure, say we're winning, really, and we really do have a plan, to win. Rinse. Repeat. You used to get a quick bump in the polls, so why not try again? The same day the new Iraqi parliament was still working on the appointment of someone, anyone, for defense and interior ministers - so they can stand up and we can stand down. That's not going well.

And that business last November in Haditha just keeps bubbling along in the background -

Here - "Military officials are close to bringing grave charges, including murder, against U.S. Marines in the deaths of two-dozen Iraqi civilians in November. Congress needs to pursue indications the military tried to cover up the apparently wrongful killings."

Here - "As military officials investigate the Haditha killings in Iraq, one of the Marines involved has spoken out about what he saw last year. Only hours after Iraqi civilians were killed, a second team of Marines was sent in to take the victims' bodies to a local morgue. Lance Corp. Ryan Briones was among the Marines sent in to recover the bodies, and he told the Los Angeles Times he is still haunted by what he saw, including a young girl who was shot in the head. '[The victims] ranged from little babies to adult males and females,' Briones told the newspaper. 'I can still smell the blood.'"

Here - "One of America's highest-ranking officers yesterday promised to "get to the bottom" of what is rapidly unfolding as one of the biggest scandals to hit the country's armed forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."

Here - "No good can come of speculation surrounding a Nov. 19 incident in Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed in the aftermath of a roadside bomb attack, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today."

Here - The killing of Iraqi civilians by US Marines has done more damage to America's aims in Iraq than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, a Democratic congressman and vocal war critic said on Sunday. Rep John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated retired Marine, told ABC News there was "no question" that the US military tried to cover up the killing of as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians last year in the town of Haditha. 'I will not excuse murder,' Murtha said. 'And this is what happened. There's no question in my mind about it.'"

This needs to be settled.

Or it doesn't, as Reuters reports here -
Word that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as an every day fact of life under occupation.

... As U.S. commentators talk of "Iraq's My Lai" and wonder if Haditha could have a similar effect as the 1968 massacre in Vietnam on public attitudes to the military and the war, few Iraqi leaders have mentioned the incident in a town 220 km (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad where Sunni rebels were very active.

... In Baghdad's bustling Karrada commercial district, Mohammed Jawdaat, 47, offered a typical view at his store, where business selling firefighting gear is booming amid the chaos of Baghdad: "It really doesn't surprise me," he said.

Like many in the city, he can recount an incident in which he says he saw U.S. forces open fire on civilians: "Six months ago a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire," Jawdaat said.

"The driver was shot in the head and the person behind was killed too. They were innocents. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop. The police took the wounded."
And that's what they expect of us. We are not the "fix things" good guys, nor even the avenging, stern, merciless punishers of all that is evil. We are seen as a simple elemental danger, and like lightning from the sky that an stick you dead, what are you going to do?

And all that made for a strange Memorial Day.

__

Other thoughts?

There's this -
There is no "War on Terror."

There is, however, a "war" on the U. S. Constitution.

After September 11, 2001, we've learned that we can take a punch and move on. We've faced far worse threats to our national survival in our history - the Civil War, the War of 1812, World War II to name a few - but we never abandoned our Constitution. Until now.

Terror is an emotion. Emotions are part of human nature and cannot be eradicated. A "War on Terror" is therefore a war on humanity. The Bush administration has exploited the fear and shock of a nation in the wake of a surprising and dramatic act of violence to whip national fear and paranoia into a constant boil. Why?

The evidence suggests the whole point has been to seize power and steal money. We are witnessing a creeping coup in the United States, the overthrow of the idea, promulgated by our founders and by writers like Tom Paine, that the "Law is King"

... Today is Memorial Day. Today we remember countless patriots who died and fought for those freedoms our president tells us we must abandon... in the name of "freedom."

If there were really a "War on Terror," an emotion, Wes Craven would be hiring a lawyer: he scares people. The "War on Terror" is a sham. You know what changed after September 11th? We, the people of the United States, forgot how strong we are. We gave in to fear, when the only thing we should have feared was fear itself. Osama bin Laden wants you to be afraid. So does George Bush.

I know I'm not alone when I say, I'm an American and I'm not afraid. I know I'm going to die. I accept that I'm going to die, no problem. What I do not accept and will not accept is the notion that I must live as a slave to fear for the purposes of craven, cowardly men who, in their time, pissed the bed rather than fight an actual war, later to become powerful and use that power to line their pockets with my tax dollars. Give me liberty or give me death. Take your "terror" and shove it.

We went after the criminals who attacked us when we invaded Afghanistan, then quickly abandoned any pretense of being concerned with actual terrorists by fighting a ginned-up war of aggression against a tin-pot dictator for whom our chickenshit president and his buddies have always had a hard-on. If the U. S. were serious about thwarting terrorism or about minimizing our exposure to acts of violence designed to make us afraid, we would have rigorous port security and massive international goodwill and cooperation in the lawful identification of anarchic, violent networks. But we don't have that. We have our sons and daughters fighting to maintain bases in the sand near oil fields, sacrificing their lives, bodies and minds for a pack of lies.

Ann Coulter and other right wing totalitarian cheerleaders like to talk about traitors to America. George Bush and the Republicans have betrayed America, the actual laws of America and the very idea of America. On Memorial Day, as we remember our sons and daughters who have sacrificed their lives in the blistering sands of Iraq, it does their memory due honor to point this out. Noble men and women fallen, their blood cries out for lawful justice.

In each of our minds lies the beginning of our return to freedom, so please, say it after me: "There is no 'War on Terror.'"

It's high time for America and Americans to remember our strength. We need not be afraid. When we surrender to fear, we lose our country, we lose our faith in each other, we lose our future and we lose our freedom. The best way to honor the sacrifices of our nation's men and women killed in battle is to embrace, once again, that precious liberty.

It's time to be America again.
Over the top?

Try the mild-mannered Bob Herbert at the New York Times with this (very expensive subscription required) -
The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.

Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq - or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war - is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq - we just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.

Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.

How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are enough?
And this -
Even those who share Bush's post 9/11 vision are puzzled by the bloody muddle of it that's been made. In the London Spectator of May 20 (online for subscribers only, alas), Philip Bobbitt, the author of The Shield of Achilles, articulated his exasperation at how the war on terror has been mangled.

"What [the Bush] administration has done - and I support the war in Iraq - what they have done is heartbreaking, because they have steadily removed the greatest source of their power, which was the rule of the law. You may think of Abu Ghraib as a battle, and we lost. Guantanamo is a battle that we have lost. It will cost us lives, it will cost us political influence, and above all it may cost us our strategic objectives. Not simply by ignoring it, but having a studied contempt for the law, and not just international law, and which needs desperately to be reformed, but for even our domestic laws. The administration has kicked away what should have been its strongest prop. It baffles me. And it angers me."
It seems a lot of folks were angry on Memorial Day.

Posted by Alan at 21:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 22:12 PDT home

Sunday, 28 May 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, begins its fourth year with a new issue, now online. This is Volume 4, Number 22 for the week of May 28, 2006. Click here to go there...The rather tacky Volume 1, Number 1, was posted on May 26, 2003, and the contents, such as they are, can be accessed by drilling down through the archives options. Since then the site has evolved, becoming a current events "week in review" - and also a photographic record of life here in Southern California, and too, almost every week, a place to find a photo essay from Paris (the London and Tel Aviv items have been irregular at best).

As for this week's issue, this was the week that was? A hidden key player at the White House behind all the power moves, and he hates wimps? And then, you thought as a voter and citizen you had some say in things? What were you thinking? And for those into political theory, if there are such people, there's a long item on what might really be going on with the executive staging raids on the legislative and all that. The big news? The Enron convictions, or maybe it's that the president finally admits one or two mistakes, or something, but he might have been kidding. And all this silliness about "connecting dots" is thrashed out - you have to attend to the right dots. And, for a change of pace, there's some political photography.

To balance the political, four Hollywood items - the classic theaters on the boulevard (where Richard Nixon meets Dumbo, oddly enough), and Kermit the Frog at Charlie Chaplin's place (really), and really specific architecture, and a tribute to Miles Davis on his birthday with a visit to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Additionally there are the usual Los Angeles views, two very strange businesses out here, an anti-Ferrari study, and this week's botanicals, extra-fancy this week.

Our friend from Texas brings us more of the weird of course, and the quotes this week will get you thinking in new ways about the whole Memorial Day thing,

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Key Players: Who's Your Daddy?
Participatory Democracy: Start With a False Premise
Wonk Stuff: Authority as an End in Itself Regardless of Outcome
Big News, Small News
Connecting Dots: The Whole Idea is to See the Pattern
Visual Commentary

Hollywood Matters ______________________

Classic Hollywood
Fame: Kermit the Frog at Charlie Chaplin's Place
Places: Hollywood Lived Here, Hollywood Worked Here
A Birthday: An Odd Hollywood Star

Southern California Photography ______________________

Oddities: Things That Aren't What They Seem, or Are
Grit: Not a Ferrari
Botanicals: Starburst Patterns

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of May 14, 2006 - America, Memorial Day

Posted by Alan at 16:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 27 May 2006
Connecting Dots: The Whole Idea is to See the Pattern
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Connecting Dots: The Whole Idea is to See the Pattern

Sometimes in trying to get some perspective on events it helps to just build an array, or in the simple-minded metaphor used so often since the first days of all the questions after the two towers at the World Trade Center fell and that 757 slammed into the Pentagon, it helps to "connect the dots." Yes, dots. The FBI had its files on the bad guys, the CIA had its information, the president had his daily briefing document at the right time, "Osama bin Laden Plans to Attack the United States," and the "airplane attack" idea had been floating around for years. No one connected the dots, and the National Security Advisor at the time, Condoleezza Rice, famously testified to congress that "no one imagined" that terrorists would use airplanes as weapons, even though it was on record that various intelligence organizations of the government had, and put it on paper. Obviously dots can be tricky.

So things had to change. What to do? A commission suggested reorganizing things to create a dot-connecting organizational structure, and along with a new Department of Homeland Security, which the administration initially strongly opposed, we got a new office - we got a National Security Director, a position layered above all the intelligence gathering agencies in all the various parts of the government. What the CIA found out, or the NSA, or the FBI, or the State Department services, or the Pentagon (eighty percent of all funds for gathering intelligence goes to them) would go to the Director, the Lord of the Dots. The job went to John Negroponte, once our ambassador to Honduras and perhaps involved in supporting the secret death squads down that way when we seem to have funded the murder of certain left-leaning folks and some nuns here and priests there, our ambassador to the United Nations at the time most nations thought our preemptive war with Iraq was a rather dumb idea, and our first ambassador to the new Iraq, back in the days when we said the new Iraq had sovereignty even if they didn't have any sort of government. Is Negroponte the right man to be the top dot-connecter? Who knows? That's his job now. He's got his new man at the CIA, Michael Hayden, the man who ran the secret NSA program to scan all the phone records of all Americans without any warrants or any oversight, and the temp, Porter Goss is gone, having done his job of purging the CIA of those who were disloyal to the White House with all their pesky reports of facts that didn't support the policy agenda down on Pennsylvania Avenue. Negroponte also seems to get along fine with the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The FBI is getting in line. Condoleezza Rice is now at State, and not like her predecessor Colin Powell at all - she's removing or marginalizing anyone there who reports the wrong things up the chain.

Of course all this consolidation and obligatory policy discipline seems to indicate not so much an effort to "connect the dots" in a startling, new and effective way. It's more an effort to limit the number of dots you have to consider. Some dots you just don't want to see. And if something happens with one of the ignored dots - say someone sneaks a dirty bomb into Houston in a freight container and the city is rendered radioactive for a few decades - well, you can say it's not your fault - the agency in question failed and didn't tell you about that particular dot, or the Department of Homeland Security messed up, or something. Cool. You're covered.

So we have new national ability, a professional connect-the-dots-we-choose-to-acknowledge organization overseeing all. We all feel safer.

But anyone can connect dots. You don't have to be a professional.

Of course non-professional dot-connecters, the amateurs, are usually called tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists and considered quite deluded. They're just mad, and angry too. Such things are to be expected when you're not actually paid to look at dots in a mildly paranoid way and report on the connections and show the pattern that emerges. Who would do such things for free? Crackpots.

And high on the crackpot list of alarming connections is what seems like evidence of a slow-motion coup as the executive branch, and the focused and angry simple-minded president in particular, work on rendering his office all-powerful and making the constitution as we have known it for the last two-hundred nineteen years just an historical curiosity. The crackpot theorists toss around terms like "dictator" and "king" and "fascist" and all the rest. That's not terribly useful. In fact, it's counterproductive. Americans don't like those terms. That's not us. That's not how anyone, even the angry, dry-drunk, born-again, idea-hating, detail-scorning man now in the Oval Office, would operate. We're a nation of laws and all that - and he's our public servant reporting to us, not some tin-pot third-world tyrant drunk on his own power from a Woody Allen movie. This is not Bananas (the movie, that is). The crackpot theorists are bananas, of course.

But drop the name-calling. You can add a label later, if you'd like. Some find that necessary, of course, but it doesn't matter much. Just look at the pattern. Connect the dots. Then, if it makes you happy, call it what you will.

The diplomatic "term of art" here will be a slow-motion coup, but that's just a marker. The supporters of the president would call it "doing what's necessary in a time of national danger unlike anything we've ever faced before" - what must be done due to the unprecedented crisis we now face. This is not the Soviets with thousands of missiles aimed at us and tens of thousands of nuclear warheads this is a few thousand guys who blow up trains and have flow airlines into large buildings. The neoconservatives, political theorists and attorneys in the executive branch would argue it's something else entirely - the White House just correcting a long-standing misunderstanding about the constitution, as it clearly says in Article II that the president need not obey laws that he finds limit him in implementing whatever he decides must be done, and that the congress that passes laws about what can be done and how, and the courts that rule on such laws, are somewhere between totally irrelevant and, being nice about it, merely advisory.

Much has been said of the record-setting seven hundred fifty presidential signing statements and all the rest, and these pages this week are full of discussion of this "radical redistribution of power within Washington." Something is up. The week gave us the executive branch purposely intimating congress with criminal threats for the first time in our history - the FBI raiding the offices of a congressman and the Justice Department announcing the opening of a probe into who said what to the press about the NSA warrantless spying on citizens and other matters that somehow made it into the news - our secret chain of prisons in the former Soviet prisons in eastern Europe, how we kidnap some people off the street and make them disappear forever (extraordinary rendition), and so on. Like torturing prisoners, all this may have been illegal and immoral and generally crappy - but it was secret, after all. Congress is on notice. Get with the program. Know your place.

At the end of the week there were just a few more dots. The usual Friday afternoon dump of what you really don't want in the news cycle, what you hold until the reporters and commentators have gone off for the long weekend in this case, gave us this -
The Bush administration asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigation would jeopardize state secrets.

In legal papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte invoked the state secrets privilege on behalf of the administration, writing that disclosure of such information would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security.

The administration laid out some of its supporting arguments in classified memoranda that were filed under seal.
Oh. That sort of fits with previous dots.

Dot: As mentioned previously, the Justice Department is charged with investigating the NSA "domestic eavesdropping program." The National Security Agency, with, it seems, the approval of the Attorney General, decides not to grant the Justice Department investigators security clearances. The Justice Department investigators cannot be trusted with the classified data. The investigation is cancelled. The news item is here.

Dot: As mentioned previously, the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, refuses to investigate whether the phone companies illegally turned over data to the NSA. We should know, but they just can't see that they have the authority to ask to see classified data The news item is here.

Dot: Little noticed, but by our high-powered Wall Street attorney friend, the president grants John Negroponte the authority to waive the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) accounting and reporting rules for any company involved in any of this, so they can hide whatever they wish on their financial statements - and this completely eliminates any possible "follow the money" trail for any investigators. The news item is here.

The late Friday item and the three dots. Call it what you will.

Want another dot? See the first amendment attorney, Glenn Greenwald, on Saturday, May 27, here -
The United States Congress openly debated yesterday whether the federal government should begin imprisoning journalists who publish stories containing information which the Bush administration wants to conceal. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, several Republicans expressly urged that our country start throwing reporters in jail:

The criticism focused on articles in The New York Times concerning a National Security Agency surveillance program and, to a lesser extent, on disclosures in The Washington Post about secret C.I.A. prisons overseas.

Some Republicans on the committee advocated the criminal prosecution of The Times. Their comments partly echoed and partly amplified recent statements by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that the Justice Department had the authority to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information...

"I believe the attorney general and the president should use all of the power of existing law to bring criminal charges," said Representative Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona
.
He notes that some members of the committee pointed out that this is not a country which imprisons journalists for stories which they publish about controversial government actions, and our congresswoman from out here Jane Harman, said "If anyone here wants to imprison journalists, I invite them to spend some time in China, Cuba or North Korea and see whether they feel safer." Harman had said in Febraury that the jouralists should be jailed. She calmed down. She changed her mind.

Greenwald reviews all the argument, each way. It's depressing.

His conclusion? That's easy -
As one can say for so many core American political principles, the U.S. Government under forty-two different Presidents has thrived and defended the nation for two hundred twenty years without the need to imprison journalists for the stories they publish, but the Bush administration is the first to claim that it has to dismantle these liberties because it is too weak - and America is too weak - to maintain national security unless we radically change the kind of country we are.

... That's how this group of Bush followers thinks America is supposed to work. If you are a U.S. citizen, the President can unilaterally order you abducted and imprisoned; does not have to charge you with any crime; can block you from speaking with anyone, including a lawyer; can keep you incarcerated indefinitely (meaning forever); and can deny you the right to any judicial review of your imprisonment or any mechanism for challenging the accuracy of the accusations. And oh - while it would be nice if we could preserve all of that abstract lawyer nonsense about the right to a jury trial and all that, we're really scared that Al Qaeda is going to kill us, so we can't.

... What do you do with people who never learned that American citizens can't be imprisoned by executive decree and without a trial, or that American journalists aren't imprisoned for stories they write about the Government's conduct? People like this plainly do not embrace, or comprehend, even the most basic principles of what America is.
What do you do? Don't know. Connect the dots. See the slow-motion coup. Note it. Publish it. The people will decide.

Posted by Alan at 15:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 27 May 2006 16:14 PDT home

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