Iraqi Army's Rise enabling U.S. Withdrawal
The Bush administration's preliminary security pact with Iraq calls for withdrawing most American combat troops by 2011, a development that seemed almost unthinkable even a few months ago. One reason they're thinking about it now: the new assertiveness of Iraqi soldiers such as Brig. Gen. Sabah Fadhil Motar al-Azawi. His brigade helped chase militants from Ramadi and wrest control of Basra from the once-feared Mahdi Army. Now, it's helping to push the U.S. out of Iraq.
Several factors have helped bring a withdrawal deal closer. Tribal leaders from the Sunni Muslim sect turned against the terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq; the Mahdi Army called a cease-fire; and the U.S. began a new counterinsurgency strategy, deploying units to small outposts in Iraqi towns and neighborhoods.
But above all, the Iraqi army has needed to reverse a track record of high-profile failures. In earlier years, Iraqi forces often fled and left heavy fighting to the U.S. Now the Iraqis are mounting large-scale operations in restive areas like Diyala Province, a longtime stronghold of Sunni insurgents, and holding large swaths of territory -- 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces -- largely on their own.
"History is replete with armed forces having to get bloodied a little bit before they get better," says Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who commands U.S. forces in central and southern Iraq. He says the Iraqi forces have improved from five years of fighting and from mentoring by U.S. military advisers. The recent surge in U.S. troop levels allowed senior commanders to deploy larger numbers of American trainers, accelerating the Iraqis' improvements, U.S. officials believe.
The U.S. gives Iraqi troops access to American air power and helps them resupply their forces, but many of the Iraqi units plan and conduct their operations independently. In many of the Iraq army's 10 provinces there are no U.S. troops at all, and where there are, U.S. troops coordinate their operations with the Iraqis. When the former Soviet country of Georgia unexpectedly recalled its 2,000-soldier contingent to fight the Russians, Iraqis, not Americans, were sent to replace them.
The Iraqi army's growing capabilities bolstered Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's insistence on setting at least a rough timetable for U.S. withdrawal. The preliminary security pact calls for the Iraqi army to take responsibility for all major cities next summer, with most U.S. combat forces withdrawing to the outskirts and then leaving the country altogether by 2011. The pact still has to be formally approved by the Bush administration and several layers of Iraqi government. Some of its provisions -- including the target dates -- could still change before it's final, and the draft also allows for U.S. and Iraqi officials to jointly change the withdrawal goals later based on security conditions.
Much more here
California County Weighs Push for Offshore Drilling
There's oil on their beaches all the time from natural leakage anyway!
Almost 40 years ago, a major oil spill off the coast here helped launch the environmental movement. Now, some in this wealthy seaside community are trying to sway the energy debate again -- this time in favor of offshore drilling. On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors will decide whether to urge California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to "consider a change in policy that would allow expanded oil exploration and extraction in our county." Supporters and opponents expect the board to approve the measure on a 3-2 vote.
The county board doesn't have jurisdiction over offshore drilling, which is banned by the state and federal governments. But the vote could have a symbolic impact at a time when offshore drilling is gaining favor because of high gasoline prices. "It's a sea-change," said Brooks Firestone, the county supervisor who is expected to cast the deciding vote. Last year, he voted to oppose drilling, but has since changed his mind.
Tucked in a valley and surrounded by hills that swoop to the ocean, Santa Barbara looks like a Mediterranean village, with red-tiled roofs and white stucco walls lining the tourist-clogged downtown streets. Along the coast, waterfront mansions attract the wealthy and famous. But some of the county supervisors represent inland areas to the north that tend to be more conservative and pro-oil than the picture-postcard south coast.
The national debate on energy production is playing out in smaller battles across the country. Authorities in Pennsylvania are concerned about the millions of gallons of water needed for natural-gas production there. Residents in Fort Worth, Texas, are clashing over pipelines being built in neighborhoods. Western states have seen fights over drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. But there are few places where the debate is felt as keenly as in Santa Barbara. Tourists on Stearns Wharf can still see the oil platform that caused the 1969 oil spill -- and is still operating under a grandfather provision of the federal drilling ban....
The group was founded several years ago as Bring Oil Back, a direct challenge to Get Oil Out, a prominent local environmental group. Its members, many of them self-described environmentalists, argue a range of issues to support their view: the improved safety record of the oil industry, the dangers of dependence on foreign oil and the impact of revenue from increased oil production.
Publicly, the group focuses on a particularly local issue: oil seeps, natural emissions that leave a sheen on the ocean surface and balls of tar on the sandy beaches. Now named Stop Oil Seeps California, the group touts a 1999 University of California at Santa Barbara study suggesting that oil production could reduce the emissions by relieving pressure in undersea oil fields. One of the study's authors, Bruce Luyendyk, says the group is "extrapolating these results in ways that are not justified." But the seeps issue has given drilling supporters an argument they hope will win over locals.
The group's most important convert is Supervisor Firestone, whose district straddles the county's north-south divide. A hybrid-driving former Republican state assemblyman, Mr. Firestone said the county's strained budget is a key argument. "With potential reserves out there, we might be able to solve our deficit problem," he said.
Buffett: "Game is over" for Freddie and Fannie: "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest mortgage finance companies, 'don't have any net worth,' the billionaire investor Warren Buffett said. 'The game is over' as independent companies said Buffett, the 77-year-old chairman of Berkshire Hathaway .... Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae touched 20-year lows yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange on speculation a government bailout will leave the stocks worthless. ... Fannie and Freddie mispriced their products and 'kept existing because they had the federal government behind them,' Buffett said."
This will drive the Left conspiracy theorists nuts: "A major voting machine maker has notified its customers in 34 states that a programming error discovered during testing may cause votes to be dropped when they are uploaded to a computer server from the machines' vote-holding memory cards. Premier Election Solutions Inc. supplies touch-screen voting systems as well as scanners for paper ballots to large and small customers throughout the nation. The error communicated in a Tuesday product advisory occurs when multiple memory cards are uploaded at the same time, and it is more likely to occur in jurisdictions that have several voters and use touch-screen voting systems, said Premier spokesman Chris Riggall. The Allen, Texas-based Premier is a unit of North Canton-based Diebold Inc. In Ohio, where the glitch was discovered, it caused at least 1,000 total votes to be dropped in 9 of the 44 counties that used Premier's equipment during the March presidential primary and previous elections. The dropped votes were discovered within several hours by election officials who noticed the memory cards weren't being read properly. Workers re-fed the cards into the server until they worked, and the votes were added to the overall vote totals."
The British Labour party has finally killed the Thatcher boom: "The longest period of uninterrupted economic growth in British history has ended, leaving the country on the brink of recession. Almost two decades of increasing employment, disposable income and house prices ground to a halt in June, official figures showed yesterday. After 16 years, or 63 consecutive quarters, of continuous growth it is likely that Britain is already in recession, City analysts say. Another downgrade in a month's time could confirm that the economy has shrunk. The latest data, from the Office for National Statistics, showed a slump in every part of the economy as the credit crunch and the rising cost of living took their toll."
Misleading Obama ad: "An Obama ad in Georgia ties McCain to former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed and the Abramoff lobbying scandal. It doesn't give a full picture. The ad says that Reed "is now raising money for McCain's campaign." But McCain has said, "I neither seek nor want his support." It says McCain, as a committee chairman, "never even called Reed to testify" about Abramoff, which is true. But McCain's public report embarrassed Reed and damaged him politically nonetheless."
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)