Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in DVDs

Ann and Stan: Movies. In a sucking economy. That means for most people, you 'go to the movies' on the couch with a DVD rental or purchase. We use Redbox, Netflix, various independent rental stores and, in a pinch, Blockbuster -- though, on the last one, mainly to buy used DVDs cheap.

The two best DVD releases of 2009 are an action-adventure and a romantic comedy. We'll start with the action-adventure.

Terminator Salvation is a great film once you get past Christian Bale. His well reported tantrums on the set apparently left him too drained to work up emotions when the cameras were rolling. We actually can't think of a worse actor than Bale but McG's film is a pleasure ride.

terminatorsalvation
Sam Worthington is amazing as a machine with human tissues who doesn't know he's a machine. In fact, he's got more emotions than the mechanical Bale and you might wish they'd flipped the roles. It could have used more of Moon Bloodgood who plays Blair and is amazing throughout but probably owns the scene at the end involving the big sacrifice.

To really appreciate it, you should watch it a few times so you can grasp just how much Worthington delivers in every scene. McG delivers as well but could have used a Drew Barrymore in the lead role because Bale really misfires as John Connor. (McG directed Drew in the Charlie's Angeles films.)

Like the action-adventure film, the romantic comedy manages to rip at your heart.

theproposal1

That's Sandra Bullock and 2009 was her year. She gave amazing performances but don't think that The Proposal was a lesser performance than her big football drama just because it was comedy. The Proposal was an amazing comedy with an amazing performance from Bullock.


theproposal2
And we think Ryan Reynolds may be the first co-star she's had chemistry with since Keanu Reeves. (Hugh Grant is entertaining but always self-amused. If she had chemistry with Benjamin Bratt, who could tell? The shock from that body scarring, self-mutliation the actor apparently does in real life -- revealed when he's in a shirtless scene -- pretty much nullifies any chemistry.)

This is a movie that has you laughing, that has you rooting and that really touches you. It's the biggest film so far of Sandra's career and if you don't understand why, it's only because you haven't seen it. And credit to Anne Fletcher who directed this wonderful comedy.

Meanwhile Nine just opened and is already being pulled. We didn't even know Nicole Kidman was in Nine until after we heard it was being pulled. We might have seen it just for Nicole. We'll see it on DVD but that goes to the biggest problem of 2009, bad advertising. They don't seem to know how to hook you with trailers. We had no idea, until we saw it on DVD, that we'd like Terminator Salvation. The trailer was a bunch of nonsense.

But, like most, we see movies in the bad economy via DVD rentals and one of the best things about Netflix (we're plugging but we're not getting anything for it -- not even a free rental!!!!) is that if it's on DVD, Netflix tends to have it. So you're not limited to this month's releases. You're not limited at all. So you can delve into film past and see the classics and also see the audience pleasers because, sometimes, the films that are 'good for you' aren't the most entertaining.

To round out our ten, here are eight films we enjoyed seeing on DVD this year.

1) Mildred Pierce. Joan Crawford won the Oscar for this one and deserved it. Amazing performance and amazing film.

2) Boy Did I Get A Wrong Number. A Bob Hope caper film with strong support from a hilarious Phyllis Diller whose best scene may be her washing or 'washing' the dishes.

3) A Place In The Sun. Elizabeth Taylor is still a beautiful woman and we honestly assumed she was always the best looking person in any of her films. Then we saw this. She's still beautiful but Montgomery Clift manages to outshine her. (In looks. In acting, she holds her own and remains one of the most underrated actresses.)

4) These Old Broads. We love Elizabeth Taylor. And we go through Netflix to find films featuring her. Ann: "I called Stan and asked, 'What's These Old Broads? Cedric and I are thinking of renting it." Stan: "And I had no idea either." It's a TV movie co-written by Carrie Fisher that we both missed in 2001. Jonathan Silverman delivers his best performance we've ever seen. He plays Shirley MacLaine's son and she's just magnificent. She's an actress teaming up with two former co-stars: Debbie Reynolds and Joan Collins. Joan frequently steals the show. Debbie's given the thankless role of straight woman for most of the film (she and Joan do a great job singing "Get Happy" in a club) but she gets one really strong scene with a woman who stole her husband. Playing that part is Elizabeth Taylor. Carrie Fisher is the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. And Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor (who left Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton). So that scene has a huge subtext. As wonderful as all the women are (Debbie's best moment other than her scene with Elizabeth is the sequence where Joan Collins' lover dies and they have to deal with the corpse), Elizabeth Taylor is just delightful as the three actresses' long time agent. She's got this hilarious voice and she's just wonderful and you wonder why more character roles aren't given to her. This is a woman who won not one but two Oscars.

5) Thoroughly Modern Millie. This film stars Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. We love it. We love Millie (Andrews) and we love Miss Dorothy (Mary). We love the daring and the comedy and the way Judith pops up early in the film but we're not sure everyone catches that. It's a funny film. Is it a great one? If you measure great by pleasure provided, we'd say yes.

6) Ocean's 11. The original. Proving how much stronger the earlier version was. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine are among the stars in this film. And it's got a ton more tension than the remake. If you enjoyed Clooney's film, see the original. It's like watching a high school production of Grease (Clooney) and then seeing the actual film (the original).

7) Dark Victory. Betty recommended this Bette Davis film to us early in the year. We'd seen many Bette Davis films and always enjoyed them but we'd never seen this one. Bette plays a wealthy socialite who has everything you could ever want and learns she's dying. It's a tear jerker and they really don't make those anymore. This is an amazing film.

8) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Amazing comedic film starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as two best friends. Famous for Marilyn's performance of "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" (which Russell also performs when she pretends to be Marilyn). If there's anything more wonderful than watching the film, it's picturing a remake. We like to picture Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the roles of the gold digger and her best friend and would love to see Ben sing "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?"


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 31, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, questions are being raised in Iran and England about the release of a British hostage, questions in the US seemingly don't exist, can you be commander in chief while sending the message that you don't take seriously the loss of US troops, a new poll finds the bulk of Americans see no improvement in Iraq in the coming year, and more.

Peter Moore is alive. Alan McMenemy's status is unknown. The same as it was during
yesterday's snapshot. May 29, 2007, the two men were kidnapped at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad along with three other British citizens: Jason Crewswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan. The League of Righteous staged the kidnapping using official vehicles of the Baghdad security forces and using official uniforms of the Baghdad security forces. Moore was released yesterday, Alan McMenemy's status remains unknown and the other three men are dead.

July 29th, the families and loved ones of the five held a press conference. The bodies of the two Jasons had been turned over and there were rumors that Alan and Alec were dead as well.

Haley Williams: These reports are the worst possible news for us but we continue to hope that they cannot be true. But whatever Alec's condition, he no longer should remain in Iraq. We appeal to those holding him to please send him home to us. I speak to you as the mother of Alec's son. We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men, we would release them to you but we don't. Please send him home because as a family we can't cope with this anymore.

That is what Haley Williams stated. But, as noted in the
July 29th snapshot, American audiences didn't get to hear all of Haley's statement. Most outlets ignored it and CNN cesnored it, stripping out this section: "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men, we would release them to you but we don't." American audiences couldn't be told that the five British citizens were being used as barganining chips by the League of Righteousness. [See Deborah Haynes (Times of London link has text and also has video of the press conference) report for the families statements.]

Now that's really important. And it's important to what's happening right now and it's important to understanding how the whole thing played out. The British government never wanted publicity. They told the families -- they LIED to the families -- that going public would risk the lives of the five. They weren't trying to save the five. They never managed to, in fact. If Alan's alive and they save him, he'll be the first one they saved.

The British government was inept and it may have been criminally negligent. The kidnapping was high profile and the British government -- already being run out of parts of southern Iraq with their base destroyed and used as lumber by the Iraqi resistance -- had enough embarrassments on its hands. The government's request for a media blackout was never about the five men, never about saving them. It was always about saving Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from any further embarrassments. That's why Gordon Brown, current prime minister of England, could grand stand yesterday and speak of "Peter" yet only weeks before he refused to meet with Peter Moore's father.

They never wanted to talk about it to the media or to the families but when they think they have a photo op Brown and his administration are all over the press bragging and self-congratulating. For what? They didn't accomplish a damn thing and shouldn't be allowed to use Peter Moore as a shield to hide behind. Three British citizens are dead and on one knows Alan's state.

When the families held their press conference at the end of July, they did so over the objections of the British government. Why CNN elected to censor what was said is a question that everyone needs to be asking and part of the answer goes to the fact that few want to talk about how Peter Moore and three corpses were released. From the
June 9th snapshot:


This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "
U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
The League of Righteous conveyed to the British government (which should be asked about those 'channels' of communication) that as long as their leader, his brother and other members of the League of Righteous were held in US-run prisons in Iraq, the five British hostages would remain hostages. That was their demand, that was the kidnapper's ransom. It's awfully silly for CNN to leave that out when the families of the kidnapped are making an appeal to the kidnappers. It explains to CNN viewers what the kidnappers want. But it got censored right out of the story at the request of the White House. CNN needs to explain that. They need to explain, first of all, why they're allowing the White House or any government body to determine what they broadcast when the First Amendment exists to make sure that doesn't happen. Then they need to explain specifically why they were told they couldn't air any reference to release of prisoners?

In ten years, you'll probably read the whys to both in a New York Times column because that's how CNN works. The British government never wanted press coverage of the kidnappings (until the poll challenged Gordon Brown could hide behind Peter Moore like he did yesterday) and the US government didn't want coverage after Barack Obama became president. The Bush White House never gave 'notes' to CNN on this story. Not when the kidnapping took place, not any time after. But CNN took notes from the Obama White House including from Barack himself. Anyone going to get honest about that?

For the British, it was an embarrassment. Under Bush, the following was conveyed to the British government (through various channels including the State Dept and the White House itself): US forces will patrol and look, special forces can be deployed for search missions, but NO Iraqi prisoners will be traded for the British hostages. That was the policy under Bush. And the weak and inept British government couldn't do a thing to save their own citizens. With Barack, who fancies himself President of the World and not President of the United States, an appeal was made.

The appeals started before Barack was sworn in and there's confusion as to the dead. It's thought, in retrospect, that when the talks began that only one was known/assumed dead (although two on Barack transition team state it may have been known/assumed that two were dead) but before the June release of prisoners, it was known that three were dead and a fourth was assumed. Before the US released the prisoners in June, it was known that only Peter Moore might be alive.

Peter Moore is a British citizen. It was the responsibility of the British government to work to secure his release. That can include asking other governments for help. In Barack's case? The prisoners were responsible for a raid on a US base and the deaths of 5 US service members. The Iraq War had not ended nor had the Afghansitan War. Meaning, you still have boots on the ground, you're still sending people over there. As President of the United States, his first duty was to the American people. That includes the five US service members who died and it includes their families and their friends. It also includes all of the men and women he is deploying to war zones.

Barack Obama's actions spit on the military. There's no way to pretty that up. The scheme/scam never should have been entered into. George W. Bush was, by no means, the brightest bulb in the lamp, but even he grasped the issues on this.

Barack Obama is commander of chief of the US military. The military's commander made 2009 about saying that the lives of US troops do not matter. The actions he took state that 1 British citizen is more important than 5 dead Americans. He was elected to be president of the United States, it was a job he wanted and it was a job he said he was up for. He's clearly failed throughout 2009 at his job. But how do you, as commander in chief, now ask any other service member to deploy?

How do you do it? You've just 1 British life trumps five American soldiers. How do you do it? How you earn their trust now? How do you tell him the crap about fight with honor when everyone knows that the US military held the ringleader of the attack on the US base in prison and you ordered his release?

In the US, the media's largely avoided the story. Despite this, when we speak to the military or military families about the Iraq War, since July, this topic has regularly been raised by them. This under-reported issue of the US release is known and discussed.

Barack Obama has falsely accused the left of spitting on soldiers after Vietnam. Barack has a habit of accusing others of what he does. It's called projection and this habit became obvious during the 2008 primary campaign. While he was making that statement this year, he had already engaged in spitting on the troops.

Last night, Alice Fordham's "
Peter Moore freed after US hands over Iraqi insurgent" (Times of London) reported:The British hostage Peter Moore was dramatically set free yesterday after the United States handed over an Iraqi insurgent suspected of planning the deaths of five American servicemen. Mr Moore, an IT consultant, was freed by League of the Righteous, or Asaib al-Haq (AAH) -- an extremist Shia group allied to Iran -- after 31 months and spent his first night of freedom at the British Embassy in Baghdad. He is expected to fly home today. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that officials had worked tirelessly to secure his release but strongly denied that the British Government had given ground to his captors. He said: "There were no concessions in this case. There was no -- quote, unquote -- deal." Foreign and Commonwealth Office sources confirmed, however, that the transfer from US custody a few days ago of Qais al-Khazali, a cleric and commander of AAH, helped to pave the way for Mr Moore's release. They also admitted that British diplomats had been pressing the US to hand over al-Khazali to the Iraqi administration. Today Suadad al-Salhy, Mohammed Abbas, Khalid al-Ansary, Missy Ryan, Mohammed Abbas and David Stamp (Reuters) report, "Iraq said on Thursday its judges could soon free the leader of a Shi'ite group believed to be behind the 2007 kidnapping of Briton Peter Moore if they found no criminal evidence, only a day after the hostage was released." Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane and Guy Grandjean (Guardian) report:The men -- including Peter Moore, who was released yesterday after more than two years in captivity -- were taken to Iran within a day of their kidnapping from a government ministry building in Baghdad in 2007, several senior sources in Iraq and Iran have told the Guardian. They were held in prisons run by al-Quds Force, a Revolutionary Guard unit that specialises in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.
[. . .]
One of the kidnappers told the Guardian that three of the Britons – Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan – were killed after the British government refused to take ransom demands seriously.Part of the deal leading to the release of Moore involved
the handing over of the young Shia cleric Qais al-Khazali, a leading figure in the Righteous League.Let's zoom in on the Iranian issue. First, some question the Guardian story. BBC News' Fred Gardner (link has text and video) offers, "The findings in the Guardian's year-long investigation into alleged Iranian involvement in kidnapping Britons in Iraq are being disputed by both British and Iraqi government officials. A senior Foreign Office official said that while it was 'not impossible' that the British hostages had, at some stage, been taken across the border into Iran, that did not mean the Iranian authorities themselves were behind the kidnapping. The British government view remains that there is no firm evidence to suggest Iranian government involvement." Second, whether or not the Iranian government was involved, it shouldn't be used to push for war on Iran from the US. Though war on Iran is wanted by the White House, the reality is that the Obama administration was not forced into the deal. This deal has nothing to do with the United States until Barack made the call to release the prisoners. That decision was idiotic and stupid. But he wasn't forced into it and it's not a reflection on Iran or a reason for war with them. That's why we're stressing the White House deal right now and stressing it firmly. What was a few remarks in passing to many has now become a steady drip and as more and more talk about the deal, some in the press will report it and some factions will seize upon it saying, "We must go to war with Iran!" No, that's not what it says. Iran had nothing to blackmail the US with, had nothing to force the US. Barack made the decision to release the prisoners. Don't mistake his weak actions for an attack on the US by Iran. While the government of England and Iran are in denial about what took place, notice that in the US no one's even forcing the White House to go on record.

Meanwhile the world gets ready for a new year and that's true in Iraq as well.
Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) notes wishes of some Iraqs such as school teacher Ali Abbas, "I wish the new year will bring peace and security improvement to my people, and I wish that all Iraqis will take part in the vital parliamentary election which we hope it will draw better future. I wish my people will elect the right people for the coming parliament because we have suffered enough by the existing politicians. The ball is in my people's field, hopefully we will have for better future." That wish could be heard in any country. Ali Abbas isn't an enemy of anyone. The US government declared war on Iraq and it's the Iraqis who suffer. And the American citizens. The US government doesn't really suffer, now does it? Yesterday on KPFA's Flashpoints Radio Nora Barrows-Friedman spoke with the program's Iraq correspondent Ahmed Habib and we'll note a section of that (this broadcast is archived at KPFA and Flashpoints Radio).


Ahmed Habib: The bombings, the violence, that we witnessed today, of course, is another chapter in the destruction of Iraq for the last seven years. We've seen over one million people die. Five million people have become refugees in a record time. We see that the infrastructure of the country has not only not been rebuilt but in fact been destroyed. The systematic theft of Iraq by American military contractors, by a corrupt government, has really left the Iraqi people in a situation where survival is their upmost priority. And of course, in contrast to that, we see an Iraqi government that seems adament at trying to project itself as a democratic institution. We just now, of course in the last few months of the year the Iraqi Parliament was able to get itself together and pass an election law and really these elections, what they're going to translate in terms of reality and people's lives in Iraq is that there's going to be an increase in violence. The way that politics under -- sort of unfolds itself in Iraq -- as perhaps not what our listeners in the United States are used to, you know, in terms of expensive television commercials or boring debates. But in Iraq, unfortunately, these sort of differences are dealt with through violence, bombings, car bombings. And, you know, in the last few months of the year, we saw bombings that ripped through the heart of Baghdad and I think that's a real sign that the election campaign in Iraq is under way. And the Iraqi Parliament? Last week there was a session held in the Iraqi Parliament that was going to discuss the budget for Iraq in 2010 and a whopping number of 12 members of Parliament showed up so I think it's really indicative of how serious the Iraqi government is about governing Iraq. Again the most important indicators of success in Iraq unfortunately are ones perhaps that aren't found only in the number of people killed but acts of violence are also buried in the chronic failure of the Iraqi govenrment to provide for its people. In the city of Baghdad, the capitol city of Iraq, the city of five million people, there is still a shortage of electricity, some areas of the city get only up to five or six hours a day of power, there is a complete lack of health care in a country that has already been destroyed by over a decade of genocidal sanctions that killed over one million people. And the lack of basic services and education and of course we've seen that Iraqi youths wander the streets of Baghdad searching for bread crumbs, searching for dignity and employment. And those are the real indicators that we should be looking at -- not election dates, not how many members of Parliament are running for which party. That is the kind of language and discourse that the Iraqi government, in conjunction with their American occupiers, are very busy trying to push but the people of Iraq are very cognitive of what the reality on the ground is. It's corruption, it's killing, it's chaos. And although people that have been reporting from outside of Baghdad are sort of trying to portray, have been trying to portray, an image of relative calm and improvement in the situation with security -- and that might be the case compared to the horrifying conditions that Iraqis lived in at the peak of the so-called sectarin violence in 2007 but that is not a reason or an accurate descrition that should lead us into a state of complacency thinking things in Iraq are heading in the right direction. The Constitution, which is sectarian in its most fundamental ethos, is still at the heart of the decisions in the way that political power is being divided. We seethe sell off of Iraq resources in the absence of legal mechanism to measure the transparnacye of such decision is now really being highlighted with the dozens of oil contracts that have either been signed or about to be signed . And I think that it important for people in the west, particularly to our listeners in the United States to hold their government accountable for their war profiteering and the destruction of Iraqi society that we're seeing. And, of course,the way to look at Iraq is not to look at it in a vaccum but to look at it within the context of Israeli apartheid, within the context of the occupation of Afghanistan, within the contest of the war mongering -- the beating of the war drums with countries we're seeing like Iran, with countries like Yemen. And I think it's important to look at it as another tragic episode in this so-called war on terror which is really a war of terror itself.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That's the voice of our special correspondent Ahmed Habib speaking to us from Doha. Ahmed, let's talk more about the Obama administration's agendas over the past year. Obama inherited this occupation and has only sought to expand the war budget, continue the occupation, continue the policies of his predecessor, hire more private contractors. What are your biggest concerns and also what are your wildest dreams for your country, for Iraq, as 2009 draws to a close? Talk about the concept of revolution in a time of great suffering and deep despair in your country. Talk about that.

Ahmed Habib: There is no doubt that the Iraqi people have a great tradition and history of revolution. And the people of Iraq hold an immense ability to be resisting in the face of this violence and brutality that has gone hand-in-hand with the American occupation -- an extension, of course, of the kind of genocide Iraqis experienced under the sanctions and of course an extension of the genocide that they experienced under the American-sponsored dictorship of Saddam Huseein as well. So there is no doubt that the Iraqi people will be able to overcome these conditions and will talk later about some of the tremendous things that are happening in Iraqi communities and the diaspora. But I think it's important for our listeners to sort of dispell many of the myths that had been promoted by the Obama adminstration with regards to their attempts to "end the war in Iraq." The Obama administration has not only inherented many of the same policies that were adopted by the Bush administration and we saw early on in the year the Obama administration's refusal to publish images of people that had been tortured and de-humanized and bases that had become prisons throughout Iraq and of course in Afghanistan as well. But we also saw the emergence and sort of the truth unveiled about the Status Of Force Agreement -- known as SOFA in the American media. And this agreement was, of course, was supposed to be the agreement that would embody the withdraw of American troops from Iraq and subsequently lead to the end the occupation. What many people didn't know is that within this agreement there are clauses that will not only keep permanent military bases in Iraq but will give the America the ability to conduct military operations without the permission of the Iraqi government, that America will control air space above a certain altitude in Iraq, and, of course, America's political strangle-hold on the Iraqi government through, as you were mentioning, the ascent of thousands of military contractors in Iraq, through the privatization of the most fundamental sectors of Iraqi economy are the real elements of the American occupation here. We see, for example in Iraq, fundamental sectors such as agriculture and education -- ironically in a country that invented both agriculture and education -- now being sold off to American corporations under the guise of of American occupation. We also heard early on in 2003, Colin Powell speak about how NGOs are part of the American occupation and, in fact, on the front line. And this has become very true in Iraq as well. And the American occupation of Iraq is perhaps no longer constituted by American soldiers on the ground raping, killing and maiming Iraqi civilians but now has really taken on a much scarier and more longterm identity in terms of the strangle-hold it has on many of Iraq in terms of all the things I have mentioned but also in terms of how Iraqi politics and the day to day running of the government also unfolds.

Meanwhile a new Associated Press-GfK poll [PDF format warning,
click here] found that 65% of respondents rate the Iraq War as "extremely/ver important" -- the same number who stated they oppose the Iraq War. (5% said the illegal war was "not at all important"), only 49% approve of Barack's handling of the Iraq War (40% disapprove). Asked if they thought conditions in Iraq would improve in 2010, get worse or stay the same, 53% stated things would stay the same.

In other news, 5 Blackwater mercenaries received news today that there would be no prosecutions for the September 16, 2007 massacre in Baghdad.
BBC News reports that Judge Ricardo Urbina reviewed the evidence submitted by the prosecution and found it was built around statements the five made to US State Dept staffers -- despite the five being told that any statements to the State Dept would not be used against them. There will be a lot of disgust over Urbina's decision; however, Urbina's not the problem. If that was the agreement with the State Dept and that's what the prosecution relied upon, the charges had to be tossed aside (and, like it or not, it was fair). The problem has to do with the decision to grant immunity to begin with -- a decision that was called out in real time. So Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough walk. And the judge's decision was a fair and accurate one. After blaming Condi and others at the top of State in 2007, the blame should then go to the current Justice Dept which damn well should have known not to use those statements. Ball, Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough start the new year with this legally behind them.

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