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Archive for April 14th, 2008

Italy’s Count Berlusconi Returns from the Grave!

GEF @ 6:38 PM MST

US Friend Returns to Power in Italy

ROME — Media billionaire Silvio Berlusconi won a decisive victory Monday in Italy’s parliamentary election, setting the colorful conservative and staunch U.S. ally on course to his third stint as premier.

The victory in voting Sunday and Monday by parties supporting the 71-year-old Berlusconi avenged his loss two years ago to a center-left coalition.

“I’m moved. I feel a great responsibility,” he said in a phone call to RAI public television while monitoring election results at his villa outside Milan. Italian news agencies said he had a private dinner with key aides.

Berlusconi capitalized on discontent over Italy’s stagnating economy and the unpopularity of Romano Prodi’s government.

“I think it was a vote against the performance of the Prodi government in the last two years,” said Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor at Rome’s John Cabot University. “Berlusconi won because he has a strong coalition and because people feel that on the other side, the government is going to take them nowhere.”

This was Berlusconi’s fifth consecutive national election campaign since 1994, when he stepped into politics from his media empire, currently estimated to be worth $9.4 billion. He has fended off challenges to his leadership by conservative allies, withstood accusations of conflict of interest and survived criminal trials linked to his business dealings.

During his last time as premier, Berlusconi served a record-setting five years until his 2006 defeat. He made notable international gaffes as well as unpopular decisions at home, such as sending 3,000 soldiers to Iraq despite widespread opposition among Italians.

The Iraq contingent was withdrawn after his 2006 ballot loss, and he has ruled out sending any more troops there. But his friendship with the United States is not in doubt.

Berlusconi once said he agreed with the United States regardless of Washington’s position. He calls President Bush a friend, and his return to power is likely to make relations with Washington warmer, no matter who becomes the next American president.

The outgoing government had colder relations with Washington. Prodi never went to the White House, although he did talk with Bush in Rome and at international summits.

Berlusconi has also affirmed himself as one of Israel’s closest friends in Europe.

On Monday, he said he would make his first foreign trip as the new premier by visiting Israel to mark the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary. He said it would be a show of support for “the only real democracy in the Middle East.”

Berlusconi’s party and its allies won strong victories in both houses of parliament despite a strong final sprint by his main rival, Walter Veltroni, who ran a campaign that could have come out of Barack Obama‘s playbook, with calls to “Vote for change” and supporters armed with “We can!” banners.

In the 315-member Senate, Berlusconi was projected to control 167 seats to Veltroni’s 137. In the lower house, his conservative bloc led with 46 percent of the votes to 39 percent.

A movement led by comedian-turned-moralizer Beppe Grillo tried to get Italians to boycott the vote. But turnout in the politically polarized nation reached 80 percent, nearly as much as the 84 percent in the last national ballot in 2006, according to data from the Interior Ministry.

Berlusconi got a big boost from the strong showing by the Northern League, a key ally that won about 6 percent of the vote, according to projections. The party has strong regional identification and people in Italy’s wealthy north also were angered by Prodi’s tax increases and the downgrading of Milan’s Malpensa airport from its role as a hub.

A laundry list of problems await Berlusconi, from cleaning piles of trash off the streets of Naples, which he indicated is his top priority, to improving an economy that has underperformed fellow EU nations for years.

The International Monetary Fund predicts the Italian economy, the world’s seven largest, will grow 0.3 percent this year, compared with a 1.4 percent average for the whole group of 15 EU nations that use the euro currency.

Economists say Italy needs to make structural reforms, such as streamlining government decision-making and cutting costs.

There is also criticism of the election law, which is widely blamed for political instability by giving disproportionate power to small parties _ a problem that brought down Romano Prodi’s government and forced elections three years ahead of schedule.

In his postelection comments, Berlusconi said he was open to working with the opposition, and pledged to fight tax evasion, reform the justice system and reduce government debt.

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GEF @ 3:48 PM MST

Sunday, April 13, 2008; Page B07

The most intense arguments over U.S. involvement in Iraq do not flare at this point on Capitol Hill or on the campaign trail. Those rhetorical battles pale in comparison to the high-stakes struggle being waged behind closed doors at the Pentagon.

On one side are the “fight-win guys,” as some describe themselves. They are led by Gen. David Petraeus and other commanders who argue that the counterinsurgency struggle in Iraq must be pursued as the military’s top priority and ultimately resolved on U.S. terms.

In this view, the Middle East is the most likely arena for future conflicts, and Iraq is the prototype of the war that U.S. forces must be trained and equipped to win.

Arrayed against them are the uniformed chiefs of the military services who foresee a “broken army” emerging from an all-out commitment to Iraq that neglects other needs and potential conflicts. It is time to rebuild Army tank battalions, Marine amphibious forces and other traditional instruments of big-nation warfare — while muddling through in Iraq.

(more…)

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War Without End

Sudhan @19:10 CET

Helen Thomas | The Seatle Post-Intelligence, April 12, 2008

WASHINGTON – Surprise, surprise. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wants to put a halt to any more troop withdrawals for the foreseeable future.

The highly politicized Petraeus seemed to be dutifully following his White House marching orders when he testified before congressional committees earlier this week.

Under his scenario, there will be no drawdown of U.S. forces in that strife-ridden country until President Bush leaves office.

That’s fine with Bush, who obviously has no intention of ending this futile war on his watch. Apparently feeling no responsibility for starting the war, Bush is planning to pass the Iraqi debacle on to his successor.

You can forget accountability for the yet-to-be defined U.S. military mission which has taken more than 4,000 American lives, possibly a million Iraqi lives and destroyed a country.

Think of President Harry Truman and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who both understood that war was too important to be left to the generals in the field.

Truman fired the popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur because he disobeyed orders in the Korean War. Johnson knew that he had reached the endgame in Vietnam when Gen. William Westmoreland, the top commander in Vietnam, requested 240,000 more troops in 1968 for the prolonged war that also could not be won.

Continued . . .

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Robert Fisk: Semantics can’t mask Bush’s chicanery

Sudhan @19:05 CET

This goes beyond hollow laughter. Since when did armies go around ‘re-liberating’

Robert Fisk | The Independent, UK, April 12, 2008

After his latest shenanigans, I’ve come to the conclusion that George Bush is the first US president to march backwards. First we had weapons of mass destruction. Then, when they proved to be a myth, Bush told us we had stopped Saddam’s “programmes” for weapons of mass destruction (which happened to be another lie).

Now he’s gone a stage further. After announcing victory in Iraq in 2003 and “mission accomplished” and telling us how this enormous achievement would lead the 21st century into a “shining age of human liberty”, George Bush told us this week that “thanks to the surge, we’ve renewed and revived the prospect of success”.

Now let’s take a look at this piece of chicanery and subject it to a little linguistic analysis. Five years ago, it was victory – ie success – but this has now been transmogrified into a mere “prospect” of success. And not a “prospect”, mark you, that has even been glimpsed. No, we have “renewed” and “revived” this prospect. “Revived”, as in “brought back from the dead”. Am I the only one to be sickened by this obscene semantics? How on earth can you “renew” a “prospect”, let alone a prospect that continues to be bathed in Iraqi blood, a subject Bush wisely chose to avoid?

Continued . . .

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Bush: “I Was Aware” of Harsh Tactics

Sudhan @18:55 CET

President Says He Knew His Senior Advisers Discussed Tough Interrogation Methods

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President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

Bush / Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

(ABC News Photo Illustration)

“Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people.” Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. “And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.”

As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.

The high-level discussions about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

Continued . . .

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U.S. offensives on Falluja have disabled 500 children

Sudhan @18:45 CET

Omer al-Mansouri, Azzaman | Uruknet, April 12, 2008

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The number of children who have been handicapped or disabled due to massive U.S. offensives to subdue the restive city of Falluja has reached 500, according to a private aid group.

Alaa Hamed of the Society for the Welfare of Children said the U.S-led military operations in the city have left behind “massive destruction and at least 500 mentally or physically handicapped children.”

Falluja was once the main stronghold of groups opposing U.S. occupation among them al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The city of nearly 200,000 people exchanged hands several times with the U.S. forces deploying disproportionate fire power from warplanes, heavy artillery and helicopter gun ships.

Hamed said all the 500 children were between one to five years of age.

U.S. troops invaded Iraq five years ago.

He said neither the U.S. nor the Iraqi government was paying any attention to their plight.

Hamed said his society was working with international aid organizations to transfer some of the most acute cases to hospitals in Jordan for treatment.

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US lawmaker: Recession result of war

Sudhan @18:40 CET

Press TV, Sat, 12 Apr 2008 22:16:45

Representative John Yarmuth


Democratic Congressman, John Yarmuth has linked the costly occupation of Iraq with growing economic troubles in the United States.

The growing cost to the United States of fighting the war in Iraq “is not only linked to our economic skid, but is a leading cause of it,” Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky said in the Democrats’ weekly radio address.

“General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker failed to offer a plan to change direction in Iraq and redeploy our troops,” Yarmuth said. “Instead, they offered more of the same, with U.S. troops and taxpayers paying the price.”

He slammed the Bush Administration for spending “more than half-a-trillion dollars” in support of the war effort, while that money could be spent on pressing needs in this country.

This is while US president George W. Bush has denied that there’s any link between the faltering US economy and $12 billion a month being spent on the ongoing occupation in Iraq.

“I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs…because we’re buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy’s adjusting,” he said in the NBC’s Today Show on Feb 18th.

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