"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What FOX and CNN Won't Report

In War-Wrecked Ramadi, Marines Keep Moving

Weapons locked, loaded and ready, a U.S. Marine platoon runs through this troubled Iraqi city's war-wrecked streets, hurling yellow, gray and violet smoke grenades to shroud their path.
Pausing only to train gunbarrels around corners or scan rooftops for insurgents, they bound across desolate roads lined with broken glass and charred cars — and start running again.

Standing still is rarely an option in this insurgent-plagued metropolis beset by roadside bombs, rocket fire and, Marines here say, the worst sniper threat on the planet.

"Every time we go out, we run," said 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson, a 24-year-old platoon commander from Columbia, S.C. "If you stand still, you WILL get shot at."

And most of the time, Marines shoot back.

Buildings around Government Center, the Marine-defended headquarters of provincial government, offer stark evidence of fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces in downtown Ramadi, a city 70 miles west of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.

Some buildings have been blown away by air strikes, their walls ripped open, their twisted floors collapsed. Others, including a small mosque and its tank-blasted minaret, are riddled with rocket and bullet impacts. Plastic awnings over shopfronts are shredded. Power lines hang down along sidewalks.

Marines patrolling this city on foot don't like to stay exposed too long, preferring instead to blow front gate locks off private homes with special shotgun shells to take temporary cover in walled courtyards before moving on. They don't knock first — there is no time.

On one recent sweep, U.S. and Iraqi infantrymen climbed over walls between houses instead of risking the streets outside.

"We try to stay mobile so snipers can't aim in on us," said 1st Lt. Carlos Goetz, a 29-year-old Miami native. "If we walk, then it gives them more time to aim in on your head."

Running around with 60 to 80 pounds of gear, the Marines' pace is more of a quick jog.

The urban environment of walled villa rooftops and four- to five-story windowed buildings keeps Marines edgy.

"You try to take cover wherever you can, but it just feels like someone's always watching you. It really messes with your head," said Cpl. Jason Hunt of Wellsville, N.Y.

"You look for dark windows, tiny holes anywhere," the 24-year-old said. "They could be sitting back on a bench with a scope and a barrel — they see you, but you can't see them."

Troops from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment aggressively patrol the blown-out district around Government Center at all hours — during the hazy, gritty heat of the day, and in the quiet of night when moonlight casts buildings and villas in blue hues.

Marines say the patrols have disrupted insurgent operations. But the guerrillas operating in small teams are relentless, firing rockets, mortars and machine guns daily at Government Center, U.S. bases and fortified observation posts. Sometimes they attack the same targets several times a day.

Goetz said Marines patrol hoping to bring insurgents out into the open, where they are little match for the overwhelming U.S. firepower.

It usually doesn't take long.

"It takes about eight minutes from us stepping outside of the wire and getting across the street to the time that we start receiving contact from the enemy," Goetz said.

The safety-in-motion logic also applies to U.S. vehicles. Drivers roll back and forth in danger zones, rather than park, to make their vehicles harder targets, particularly for rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs.

One young Marine manning a machine gun in a Humvee turret outside Government Center was hit by an RPG and killed instantly just before the vehicle rolled inside. In recent weeks, another Marine was killed by a sniper's bullet that tore through his shoulder toward his heart.

Two Iraqi soldiers were fatally shot manning a guard post — one as he walked out of it and one who went to save him, said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M.

Out on the streets, troops are wary of all the spots that insurgents have used to hide bombs: heaps of garbage and rubble, mangles of wires, scrap metal, the occasional dead animal or body part.

"This is the kind of stuff that makes you cringe," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of Mount Laurel, N.J., gesturing at a large pile of dirt near a light pole as he ran along ahead of a raid with a platoon from his Kilo Company.

Sprinting into the entrance of an abandoned building and seeing a bag on the ground with wires sticking out, the Marines quickly retreated as one shouted, "Get out! Go! Go! Go!"

One Iraqi soldier bounding between two roads this month stepped on a bomb that blew off his leg. It's easier to spot bombs when moving slowly, but speed is the rule for Marines in Ramadi.

Cpl. Scott R. Gibson, 22, of Carlisle, Pa., said his platoon had started off walking during their first patrol in the city last month, worrying about pressure-plate bombs that explode when stepped on.

They soon came under a hail of gunfire.

"After that, we started running," Gibson said. "We can't stand still here too long."

Sunday, April 23, 2006 3:22 PM EDT
The Associated Press



Great Wall of Fluff

It's hard to imagine how a meeting between the leaders of the world's two most powerful nations could seem insignificant. But that's what happened by the time the White House finished downgrading the protocol, lowering the expectations and erasing the substance for President Hu Jintao's visit.

It's not as if presidents of China came to the White House very often. (The last time was nine years ago.) And it's not as if there were no issues of immense importance. (Just take the world's dwindling fossil fuels and growing nuclear arsenals, then move on to trade and human rights.)

Surely Presidents Bush and Hu could have given the impression that they were talking over important matters. Instead all they appeared to do was agree to disagree and offer up a series of smiling photo ops in which there was no substance behind the smiles. Mr. Bush could not even manage to give Mr. Hu the state dinner he wanted, so the Chinese leader made his first stop in the other Washington and met with the head of Microsoft before the leader of the free world.

Any progress, no matter how small, on the really big issues like energy and nonproliferation would have required the two presidents to spend major political capital. But no capital spending plans were announced — perhaps because Mr. Bush does not have a lot to spend and Mr. Hu is not willing to dip into his own account. Or perhaps that might have gotten in the way of the choreography, which a Falun Gong protester managed to disrupt anyway.

The United States, the world's top energy guzzler, and China, with the world's fastest-growing energy thirst, both need to make adjustments so that their combined demand does not send oil prices through the roof. Already China's scramble to lock up energy supplies is cutting across American foreign policy goals, like putting pressure on Iran and Sudan. But China is not prepared to discuss changing its ways unless America is prepared to finally become serious about conservation and efficiency.

It is the same when it comes to putting serious pressure on those countries whose nuclear weapons programs most concern Washington. China is reluctant to tighten the screws on Iran, from which it buys oil, and North Korea, whose collapse would create major problems along their shared border.

To overcome that reluctance, Mr. Bush would have to be willing to talk about things like offering those countries economic incentives, security guarantees and access to civilian nuclear fuel if they verifiably renounce their nuclear ambitions.

On trade, the two countries have a common interest in resisting growing protectionist pressures in Congress, where China is wrongly being blamed for economic and fiscal problems the United States has largely brought on itself. This is another discussion Mr. Bush is not very eager to get into.

The visit's least excusable failure was on human rights, where the pre-existing script would have done fine. When Mr. Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, came to the White House in 1997, he and President Bill Clinton held a joint news conference where Mr. Clinton publicly urged his guest to expand political freedoms in China. It's an honored ritual of American democracy. But this time Mr. Bush agreed to downgrade the news conference to a few questions from the White House pool. He may have thought he was doing Mr. Hu a favor, but it is a favor China's repressed people will not appreciate.

Published: April 23, 2006

Trampling The Constitutional Rights of Christians

Legal Group Files Second Religious Freedom Suit Against Plano Schools

A Texas-based legal organization has filed its second federal lawsuit against a public school district accused of trampling the constitutional rights of Christian students.

Earlier this year, members of the Christian Bible study group known as Students Witnessing Absolute Truth (SWAT) asked officials with Dallas-area Plano Independent School District (PISD) for permission to post an organizational description on the "Campus Programs" section of the district website. Administrators refused to allow the Christian club to post its information, citing the religious nature of the student-led organization as the reason.

Hiram Sasser is director of litigation for Liberty Legal Institute, which sued the district on the students' behalf. He feels it is essential that groups like SWAT stand up for their religious freedom and equal access rights, which are guaranteed under federal law and the Constitution of the United States.

"These rights are very precious -- the right to be treated the same as everybody else even though you come from a religious viewpoint," Sasser says. "What we can't have in our schools is them not only driving prayer out of the schools, but now they're going to try to drive out the students bringing in any kind of religious clubs or Bible clubs and things of that nature."

If opponents of religious freedom and expressions of faith in the public square are allowed to drive God completely out of the schools, the Liberty Legal Institute spokesman asserts, "then we're going to have a lot of serious problems." He says PISD's actions have put the district on the wrong side of the law.

The district website page in question "is specifically designated as a listing of all student groups offered within the school," the attorney points out. "By banning only the religious group, Plano is in direct violation of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act."

"Student clubs that form, they can be Bible clubs or not," Sasser explains, "but if they are Bible clubs, then they still have to be treated the same. They have to be given official recognition status, access to the P.A. system, bulletin boards, announcements, websites -- all that stuff that all the other clubs enjoy."

The filing on behalf of SWAT is the second lawsuit Liberty Legal Institute has filed against PISD. The first lawsuit stems from a case in which a student was prohibited from handing out religious-themed gifts, including candy canes.

Sasser says the Plano Independent School District could have avoided litigation by not denying the Christian club equal access in the first place. Unfortunately, he contends, the district has a pattern of violating students' religious freedom and then repeatedly attempting to "cover its tracks" by changing its policies after the fact.

Liberty Legal Institute is urging the district to sign an Agreed Judgment so the school officials cannot go back and change its policies again to avoid respecting Christian students' rights to freedom of religious expression and equal access to school facilities.

Allie Martin, a regular contributor to AgapePress,