Bush Planning More Troops To Iraq

On the heals of a Democratic victory in the Elections, mostly fueled by American displeasure with the course of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration is planning to increase troop levels by 20,000.

Bush's stubborn pursuit of the war appears to be having an impact on the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker (past Secretary of State to Bush senior.)

Although the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point "victory strategy" developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr Baker and the vice-president Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.

In summary, the four point plan consists of:

  • Increase troops and use those troops to secure Baghdad allowing the remaining coalition and Iraqi forces to cover more of the country.
  • Seek regional cooperation in the "rehabilitation" of Iraq. Partners could include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Iran. There is some concern that the administration may be unwilling to engage the last two however.
  • Pursue a working political framework that incorporates Shi'ites, Sunnis and other parties into the governing body.
  • As previously mentioned, seek more resources from congress to grow the Iraqi military and police force.

Congress Moving To Restore Iraq Oversight Office

During an earlier report I mentioned that a provision was slipped into a defense appropriations bill to close the office of the people responsible for auditing the way the money is being spent in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Well, news comes today that a measure has passed the Senate to restore the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. A similar measure is on its way toward consideration in the House.

Keeping the office around can only be a good thing when you consider tidbits like this:

Recent reports by the inspector general's office have found that major contractors billed U.S. taxpayers more than twice as much for administrative costs as they spent on reconstruction work.

Poverty and the Minimum Wage

One of the big issues for Democrats when they take over in January will be an increase in the minimum wage. The current Federal Minimum Wage is $5.15/hour, but that rate has been eclipsed in 18 states that have a higher minimum wage than the the federal governments requires.

The chart below compares the poverty line (blue) for a single person of working age with the minimum wage (pink).

Indefinite Detention Possible For Immigrants In U.S.

The Bush Administration, citing a new anti-terrorism bill, claims that they can detain foreigners arrested on U.S. soil indefinitely "on suspicion of terrorism."

Detainees would have no right to have a U.S. court hear an appeal for their release.

Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was arrested in 2001 while studying in the United States. He has been labeled an "enemy combatant," a designation that, under a law signed last month, strips foreigners of the right to challenge their detention in federal courts.

Anyone who thinks last Tuesday's election marked a return to democracy should keep stories like this in mind.

Despite Squeaker In VA, Democrats Could Claim Mandate In Senate

With George Allen's concession today, the Democrats now have a 51-49 majority in the Senate (thanks to both Independents caucusing with them.)

The story behind the story, however, is the popular vote. If you combine the votes from all Senate races, here's how the votes break by party:

Democrat: 32,485,800 (55.14%)
Republican: 24,999,263 (42.43%)
Other: 1,430,727 (2.43%)

55% to 42% is a substantial margin. Despite the narrowest of margins in the seat count, I believe the Democrats could claim a mandate based on these numbers.

In regards to the house, I think the swing of 25+ seats is more than enough to claim a mandate as well. I would give combined vote totals for the house, but that is 435 races (compared with a modest 33 totaled above for the senate. If anyone wants to add them up, feel free to post them in the comments below.

I would expect the house numbers to be somewhat close to the breakdown of the house itself as each district should represent about the same number of people. If I find an aggregate, or break down and enter it into excel myself, I will update this story accordingly.

Israel Shells Residential Neighborhood in Gaza

More than 18 members of one extended family are killed in the attack in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. In response, Hamas has declared and end to their truce with Israel and both Hamas and the Palestinian authority have declared three days of mourning.

The Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Secretary have expressed their regret at the incident and have ordered a halt to the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza while the attack is being investigated.

Leaders from Russia and Europe have condemned the attack.

Ostensibly, the purpose for Israel's latest incursion is to deal with rocket attacks coming from Gaza.

While I can sympathize with Israel in their desire to see the shelling stop, it is becoming harder and harder to sympathize with the motives of a military who uses weapons to shell civilian targets from a distance.

It should also be noted that when protests flare-up in response to such incidents, the protesters condemn the U.S. right along with the Israelis. You may think that this is just fundamentalist influences, but keep in mind that America annually gives Israel billions in aid. Money that they turn around and give to American defense contractors to buy the weapons they use in these attacks. In essence, the United States gives Israel the munitions it uses to conduct these attacks.

As Goes Virginia, So Goes The Senate

Today's news bring us Rumsfeld's long overdue resignation, Hastert's decision not to seek a leadership role in the next congress, and Tester's victory in Montana.

The Senate comes down to Virginia. As of this moment, Webb, the democrat, is ahead by 7,262 votes. It is unclear how many are left to be counted and from where. Hopefully, Allen will do the country a favor and concede the election rather than risk ruining his political career being a sore loser (at least that's the advice republicans kept giving Gore in 2000).

Using CNNs stats, here's how the race currently stands:

Senate: D-50, R-49, 1 undecided
House: D-229, R-196, 10 undecided
Govs: D-28, R-21, 1 undecided

If we take the current leader in undecided races it breaks down as follows:

Senate: D-51, R-49
House: D-232, R-203
Govs: D-28, R-22

A number of those house races are down to a few hundred votes out of hundreds of thousands, so it will be a while before there's a final number there.

Recounts And Accusations

The Republicans need either Montana or Virginia to hold onto the Senate while the Democrats will need to take both. With that in mind, here's where we stand in those states at this moment:

D-Webb: 1,170,564
R-Allen: 1,162,717

That is a margin of 7,847 or .3%. Anything within .5% qualifies for a recount. To avoid a recount, Webb needs about 3,800 more. Allen would need to pick up about 19,500 to avoid a recount. There are still a few precincts in democratic areas as well as provisional ballots to count.

More on the counting from ABC News.

D-Tester: 194,914
R-Burns: 193,179

That is a margin of 1,735 or .4%. Anything within .25% qualifies for a recount. Between .25% and .5% and either candidate can pay for a recount. To get outside the .5% margin, Tester needs to pickup 206 votes. Burns would need 3676 to get outside the .5% margin on his side.

More on the counting from ABC News.

Latest Polling Is Bad News For Bush/Republicans

A NY Times/CBS poll conducted 10/27 - 10/31, while pre-verdict, shows president Bush with a meager 34% approval rating. Past presidents with such low ratings have seen as 25+ seats move to the opposition party (e.g., Harry Truman & Ronald Reagan) Here are some other highlights:

  • In a basically useless gauge of sentiment, the generic republican v democrat candidate in your district poll looks good for democrats with a 52 to 34 rating.
  • 54% of the voters view this as a referendum on president Bush with 15% voting for him while 39% are voting against him.
  • On the right track/wrong track meter, we're now at 29% - 64%. This is actually the best it has been all year, but worse than the 43/55 just before the 2004 election.
  • Approval of president's handling of foreign policy: 31%
  • We still have the "not my guy" confusion with only 29% approval for congress but 58% approval for their rep. Note that congress' approval rating before the 1994 election was only 20% on the same poll.
  • Favorability of republican party 36% (compared to 47% before 04 election and 59% in 94)
  • Favorability of democratic party 49% (compared to 52% before 04 election and 40% on 94)
  • When asked about a democratic congress' priorities, only 2% think investigating Bush will be a top priority. I'm not saying that is wrong, but far more than 2% of the people I know believe that democrats will move to impeach as soon as their in office (which is not going to happen.)
  • Regarding troop strength in Iraq, 70% believe the republicans, if left in charge, will keep it the same or increase it. 81% believe the democrats will decrease troop strength or remove all troops. Which is more supportive of troops? Leaving them there or bringing them home.
  • 56% believe the democrats will raise the minimum wage, this compares to 16% who believe the republicans will.
  • Astoundingly, the margin between democrats or republicans raising taxes is 45% to 36%, and more people (8%) believe democrats will lower taxes compared to only 5% for republicans.
  • 27% believe that if the republicans stay in power the threat of terrorism will increase. This compares to a 21% increase if the democrats take over. 18% believe the risk will decrease with a change on power versus 14% for staying the course. These figures are probably statistical ties suggesting that people really don't believe the "terrorist will win" if the democrats win.
  • 80% of respondents believe that Bush's departure from "stay the course" is just a change in language and signifies nothing in regards to a change in policy.

Election 2006: The Saddam Factor and Reminders of What's At Stake

First, as always, an update on the forecasted numbers:

House: D-228, R-207
Senate: R-50, D-50

These numbers update past numbers given on 10/4, 10/18, 10/25, and 10/31. In each update, we've seen a slow, but steady swing toward the Democrats.

Today, Bush delivers on his "October Surprise." Despite, a recent prediction that the Iraqi government would hold off on convicting Saddam until after the U.S. midterm elections, they did announce today a guilty verdict. This happened just in time to make the verdict the last headline voters see on their newspapers before going to the polls. The Republicans swear it is a coincidence, but can anyone take such fortuitous timing as mere chance. It is no coincidence that we won't have an outcome to the "ethics" committee investigation into the Foley scandal until after the election.

This level of manipulation is all the more reason to keep in mind what's at stake as people go to the polls this Tuesday:

I will not even get into issues that people are familiar with, like the Patriot Act.

There are many things wrong with the direction this country has taken. Even if the Saddam issue partially vindicated some tertiary afterthought motive for invading Iraq, there's plenty enough wrong with the direction of this country. Remember that on Tuesday.

Congress Ends Investigations Into Iraq Reconstruction Malfeasance

Buried in the latest defense bill, just signed by president Bush, are orders to close down the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. This auditing group has been responsible for the jailing of officials in the American Occupation on various charges including bribery and conspiracy in their mishandling of billions of dollars in funds for reconstruction.

The obscure clause in the bill that ends the offices came as a surprise to many lawmakers as they had not been aware that it was slipped into the final bill:

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.

“It’s truly a mystery to me,” Ms. Collins said. “I looked at what I thought was the final version of the conference report and that provision was not in at that time.”

Federally Funded Anti-Abortion Efforts

It seems the crusade against abortion goes beyond the courts for the Bush Administration. It has been alleged that the "Compassion Capital Fund", which is managed by the White House as part of their Faith-Based Initiatives program is responsible for some $30 million in funding so called "pregnancy resource centers."

These centers are alleged to be providing false and misleading information to women about abortion, particularly the risks:

Some center personnel suggested, contrary to scientific evidence, that abortion would lead to increased risk of suicide, cancer and psychological trauma.

That's not all this administration does to tie money to abortion. While they give money in the U.S. to the aforementioned centers, they withhold foreign aid to any international family planning group unless they agree to not offer abortions or abortion counseling.

Oil Prices Tied To Election?

Two years ago, Bob Woodward, a Washington Post reporter, made an ominous statement regarding gas prices that we are seeing played out now:

"They could go down very quickly. That's the Saudis' pledge." According to Woodward, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, "told President Bush that the Saudis would cut oil prices to ensure a strong economy for Election Day."

And it's not only the Saudi's:

U.S. oil company executives also possess the power to allow price drops for the election. They have enough room to play -- including last year's collective $100 billion in record profits and Exxon Mobil's own near record $10.6 billion profits this past quarter. Oil executives are full of fear over new leadership in a Congress that would investigate them.

eVote And Vote Often

Apparently, the Sequoia Touch Screen Voting Machines have a little yellow button which, if pressed, allows you to vote more than once.

"Just push the yellow button and you can vote as many times as you want," Tom Courbat, an Election Integrity advocate from Riverside County, California informed The BRAD BLOG tonight. Not that we're in any mood to report more such stories, but this seems to be a big one. A very big one.

It seems there's a little yellow button on the back of every touch-screen computer made by Sequoia Voting Systems, that allows any voter, or poll worker, or precinct inspector to set the system into "Manual Mode" allowing them to cast as many votes as they want.

More Money For Iraq

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, are seeking "at least $1 Billion" to expand the size of Iraqi forces and to "accelerate the training and equipping" of those forces.

This additional amount is only part of an unspecified sum the Bush Administration will seek to add to the 2007 Budget.

If I am not mistaken, we have already spent north of $300 Billion on the Iraq war -- which was supposed to cost nearly an order of magnitude less. How is it that the Iraqi government, with all its oil, cannot afford this themselves?

We are throwing more money behind a government that is growing increasingly hostile and is actively thwarting U.S. security efforts. Yesterday, Prime Minister al-Maliki ordered the removal of checkpoints around the Baghdad suburb know as Sadr City, home to a significant Shi'ite militant population.

Sadr City is the base of the country's most feared militia, the Mahdi Army, which answers to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's strongly anti-American bloc is the largest in the Shi'ite governing coalition and was instrumental in making Maliki prime minister five months ago.