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What’s in the background?

Keeping up with the latest – means finding out what is behind the scenes of our big stories. The blogosphere is the perfect vehicle for us “news junkies” to do this. We want to know what it is that we have been missing since foing online. The issues I am currently following are Justice, the War in Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Justice and domestic surveillance, more background – The uproar over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ truthfulness as he testified before the Senate brought unexpected dividends for civil libertarians. Revelations about the breadth of the current administration’s domestic surveillance program(?s) began to appear. My recent S/SW post, “Invasions of privacy – how should we react?” explored what I knew at the time. Others were also blogging about it. For instance,

  • “emptywheel” at The Next Hurrah posted this excellent resource for further background on the history and evolution of the Bush administration’s spying on Americans: TIA and TSP timing” (7/30/07). To quote,

    Commenter joejoejoe sent me a superb timeline to show the chronology of Congress’ building opposition to the Total Information Awareness program as it relates to the NSA’s domestic wiretap program

  • Firedoglake: Dear Mr. Vice-President” is about Senator Rockefeller’s deep reservations about what was going on with domestic surveillance during earlier years (dated 7/30/07). Quote,

    Rockefeller came back from his second briefing on the NSA’s domestic spying program and recorded his concerns about the program in a letter addressed to Vice President Cheney.

    The briefing took place just as the Senate was about to vote to defund any data-mining of American citizens. The Senate had tried, earlier that year, to defund the data-mining program, Total Information Awareness, yet Bush had just changed its name and carried on. So in July 2003, the Senate was trying to write legislation explicit enough so the Administration couldn’t pull off such a head-fake again.

Iraq war casualties, more background – There is nothing more central to the war in Iraq than the loss of American lives. My recent post, “By the numbers,” looked at Iraq deaths and casualties of all types. Antiwar activists ask how long this is going to go on. Not long ago Senator Clinton asked the Defense Department if they had a plan for getting out of Iraq. More current info on the situation comes from a couple of reliable sources:

  • “Faiz” at Think Progress explored the most important aspect of the Iraq war with his latest post, “REPORT: Putting U.S. Troop Casualties in Perspective.”

    The AP notes that “the daily average for U.S. troop deaths in July was at least 2.35 — higher than the daily average of 2.25 last year, and remarkably consistent with average daily casualties in 2005, at 2.32, and 2004, at 2.33.”

    While U.S. troop casualties have fallen, reports indicate Iraqi deaths are rising again in Baghdad to pre-surge levels.

  • Hat tip to Juan Cole for the Michael Gordon (7/24/07) NYT story on the Iraq plan for 2009.

    The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

    The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq. That signaled a shift from the previous strategy, which emphasized transferring to Iraqis the responsibility for safeguarding their security.

    . . . The plan envisions two phases. The “near-term” goal is to achieve “localized security” in Baghdad and other areas no later than June 2008. It envisions encouraging political accommodations at the local level, including with former insurgents, while pressing Iraq’s leaders to make headway on their program of national reconciliation. The “intermediate” goal is to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis no later than June 2009.

Current Middle East levels of support for terrorism – It would be very good news if people in the region would move away from supporting terrorists and their horrendous tactics. Background information, from Pew Research public opinion data, comes out of an excellent article by Edward Luce, writing for the Financial Times (on 7/24/07). It was headlined, “Terror support falls in Muslim countries.” To quote extensively from the piece,

There has been a striking decline in support for terrorism in Muslim countries over the past five years, according to the annual take on world opinion by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Of the 16 majority Muslim countries included in the survey, 15 have shown waning enthusiasm for terrorism in general and suicide terrorism in particular, it says.

The most striking declines are in Lebanon, where in 2007 34 per cent of people say suicide bombings are justified compared with 74 per cent in 2002. There has been a similar decline in Pakistan from 33 per cent to 9 per cent and in Jordan from 43 to 23 per cent. Only among Palestinians, where 70 per cent say suicide attacks are sometimes or often justified, do a majority continue to support it.“What is striking about these numbers is that support for terrorism has fallen by most in those countries that have experienced significant levels of domestic terrorism in the last few years – Pakistan and Lebanon being obvious examples,” says Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Global Attitudes.

. . . This interpretation is consistent with the fear of the US – and implicit hostility towards the US as well – remaining high across much of the Muslim world. Clear majorities in all Muslim countries remain “very or somewhat worried” about the US as a potential military threat to their countries. These include 93 per cent of Bangladeshis, 92 per cent of Moroccans and 81 per cent of Malaysians.

The survey found a rise in optimism and contentment across much of the developing world, driven in part by the improvements in economic growth rates in China and India since 2002. Large majorities in both countries expected their children to be better off than they were. These findings were a near mirror image of attitudes in the west, where large majorities were pessimistic and believed their children would be worse off.

The cold light of day reveals that the Middle East is of such high priority that we must keep up with what is going on there. Public policy in the region must be driven by what an informed public conveys to their elected officials.

Cross posted at The Reaction.

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