Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Der Kommissar's in town, uh-oh

Don't turn around, uh-oh
Der Kommissar's in town, uh-oh
"Der Kommissar" - AFTER THE FIRE

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

New York Times 30 Jan 07

Has it come to this? Every government agency to have a political commissar to enforce W's will? Didn't he already fire everyone who disagreed with him?

Stalin was gripped by paranoia, and he was merciless to his enemies real and imagined.
In 1937, Stalin’s attention turned to the Red Army. Within a few months, most of the Officers from major on up were executed or sent to Siberia. Stalin had cut off the head of his own dragon just as he needed it most. Some 20,000 officers were killed, and fear gripped the survivors. A third of the Red Army command was dead by the own country’s hand. The consequence was that no officer moved was made without explicit instructions. Stalin even moved to remove rank and insignia. Every unit had a political officer who would monitor the soldiers for loyalty to Stalin.
Paralyzed by fear and conflicting political directives, they would simply sit and wait for direction.

World War II Database

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom to Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Huh. Guess no one could have predicted this one either.

via AntiWar

Strategic Errors of Monumental Proportions
What Can Be Done in Iraq?
by Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

Text of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 18 January 2007

Good afternoon, Senator Biden, and members of the committee. It is a grave responsibility to testify before you today because the issue, the war in Iraq, is of such monumental importance.

You have asked me to address primarily the military aspects of the war. Although I shall comply, I must emphasize that it makes no sense to separate them from the political aspects. Military actions are merely the most extreme form of politics. If politics is the business of deciding "who gets what, when, how," as Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in New York City once said, then the military aspects of war are the most extreme form of politics. The war in Iraq will answer that question there.

Strategic Overview

The role that US military forces can play in that conflict is seriously limited by all the political decisions the US government has already taken. The most fundamental decision was setting as its larger strategic purpose the stabilization of the region by building a democracy in Iraq and encouraging its spread. This, of course, was to risk destabilizing the region by starting a war.

Military operations must be judged by whether and how they contribute to accomplishing war aims. No clear view is possible of where we are today and where we are headed without constant focus on war aims and how they affect US interests. The interaction of interests, war aims, and military operations defines the strategic context in which we find ourselves. We cannot have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of proposed changes in our war policy without relating them to the strategic context. Here are the four major realities that define that context:

1. Confusion about war aims and US interests. The president stated three war aims clearly and repeatedly:

* the destruction of Iraqi WMD;
* the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; and
* the creation of a liberal democratic Iraq.

The first war aim is moot because Iraq had no WMD. The second was achieved by late Spring 2003. Today, people are waking up to what was obvious before the war -- the third aim has no real prospects of being achieved even in ten or twenty years, much less in the short time anticipated by the war planners. Implicit in that aim was the belief that a pro-American, post-Saddam regime could be established. This too, it should now be clear, is most unlikely. Finally, is it in the US interest to have launched a war in pursuit of any of these aims? And is it in the US interest to continue pursuing the third? Or is it time to redefine our aims? And, concomitantly, to redefine what constitutes victory?

2. The war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests.

We cannot reverse this outcome by more use of military force in Iraq. To try to do so would require siding with Sunni leaders and the Ba'athist insurgents against pro-Iranian Shi'ite groups. The Ba'athist insurgents constitute the forces most strongly opposed to Iraqi cooperation with Iran. At the same time, our democratization policy has installed Shi'ite majorities and pro-Iranian groups in power in Baghdad, especially in the ministries of interior and defense. Moreover, our counterinsurgency operations are, as unintended (but easily foreseeable) consequences, first, greater Shi'ite openness to Iranian influence and second, al-Qaeda's entry into Iraq and rooting itself in some elements of Iraqi society.

3. On the international level, the war has effectively paralyzed the United States militarily and strategically, denying it any prospect of revising its strategy toward an attainable goal.

As long as US forces remained engaged in Iraq, not only will the military costs go up, but also the incentives will decline for other states to cooperate with Washington to find a constructive outcome. This includes not only countries contiguous to Iraq but also Russia and key American allies in Europe. In their view, we deserve the pain we are suffering for our arrogance and unilateralism.

4. Overthrowing the Iraqi regime in 2003 insured that the country would fragment into at least three groups; Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds. In other words, the invasion made it inevitable that a civil war would be required to create a new central government able to control all of Iraq. Yet a civil war does not insure it. No faction may win the struggle. A lengthy stalemate, or a permanent breakup of the country is possible. The invasion also insured that outside countries and groups would become involved. Al-Qaeda and Iran are the most conspicuous participants so far, Turkey and Syria less so. If some of the wealthy oil-producing countries on the Arabian Peninsula are not already involved, they are most likely to support with resources any force in Iraq that opposes Iranian influence.

Many critics argue that, had the invasion been done "right," such as sending in much larger forces for reestablishing security and government services, the war would have been a success. This argument is not convincing. Such actions might have delayed a civil war but could not have prevented it. Therefore, any military programs or operations having the aim of trying to reverse this reality, insisting that we can now "do it right," need to be treated with the deepest of suspicion. That includes the proposal to sponsor the breakup by creating three successor states. To do so would be to preside over the massive ethnic cleansing operations required for the successor states to be reasonably stable. Ethnic cleansing is happening in spite of the US military in Iraq, but I see no political or moral advantage for the United States to become its advocate. We are already being blamed as its facilitator.

Let me now turn to key aspects of the president's revised approach to the war, as well as several other proposals.

In addition to the president, a number of people and groups have supported increased US force levels. As General Colin Powell has said, before we consider sending additional US troops, we must examine what missions they will have. I would add that we ask precisely what those troops must do to reverse any of these four present realities created by the invasion. I cannot conceive of any achievable missions they could be given to cause a reversal.

Just for purposes of analysis, let us suppose we had unlimited numbers of US troops to deploy in Iraq. Would that change my assessment? In principle, if two or three million troops were deployed there with the latitude to annihilate all resistance without much attention to collateral civilian casualties and human rights, order might well be temporarily reestablished under a reign of US terror. The problem we would then face is that we would be opposed not only by 26 million Iraqis but also by millions of Arabs and Iranians surrounding Iraq, peoples angered by our treatment of Muslims and Arabs. These outsiders are already involved to some degree in the internal war in Iraq, and any increase of US forces is likely to be exceeded by additional outside support for insurgents.

I never cease to be amazed at our military commanders' apparent belief that the "order of battle" of the opposition forces they face are limited to Iraq. I say "apparent" because those commanders may be constrained by the administration's policies from correcting this mistaken view. Once the invasion began, Muslims in general and Arabs in particular could be expected to take sides against the United States. In other words, we went to war not just against the Iraqi forces and insurgent groups but also against a large part of the Arab world, scores and scores of millions. Most Arab governments, of course, are neutral or somewhat supportive, but their publics in growing numbers are against us.

It is a strategic error of monumental proportions to view the war as confined to Iraq. Yet this is the implicit assumption on which the president's new strategy is based. We have turned it into two wars that vastly exceed the borders of Iraq. First, there is the war against the US occupation that draws both sympathy and material support from other Arab countries. Second, there is the Shi'ite-Sunni war, a sectarian conflict heretofore sublimated within the Arab world but that now has opened the door to Iranian influence in Iraq. In turn, it foreordains an expanding Iranian-Arab regional conflict.

Any military proposals today that do not account for both larger wars, as well as the Iranian threat to the Arab states on the Persian Gulf, must be judged wholly inadequate if not counterproductive. Let me now turn to some specific proposals, those advocated by independent voices and the Iraq Study Group as well as the administration.

Specific Proposals

Standing up Iraqi security forces to replace US forces. Training the Iraqi military and police force has been proposed repeatedly as a way to bring stability to Iraq and allow US forces to withdraw. Recently, new variants, such as embedding US troops within Iraqi units, have been offered. The Iraq Study Group made much of this technique.

I know of no historical precedent to suggest that any of them will succeed. The problem is not the competency of Iraqi forces. It is political consolidation and gaining the troops' loyalties to the government and their commanders as opposed to their loyalties to sectarian leaders, clans, families, and relatives. For what political authority are Iraqi soldiers and police willing to risk their lives? To the American command? What if American forces depart? Won't they be called traitors for supporting the invaders and occupiers? Will they trust in a Shi'ite-dominated government and ministry of interior, which is engaged in assassinations of Sunnis? Sunni Arabs and Kurds would be foolish to do so, although financial desperation has driven many to risk it. What about to the leaders of independent militias? Here soldiers can find strong reasons for loyal service: to defend their fellow sectarians, families, and relatives. And that is why the government cannot disband them. It has insufficient loyal troops to do so.

As a military planner working on the pacification programs in 1970-71 in Vietnam, I had the chance to judge the results of training both regular South Vietnamese forces and so-called "regional" and "popular" forces. Some were technically proficient, but that did not ensure that they would always fight for the government in Saigon. Nor were they always loyal to their commanders. And they occasionally fought each other when bribed by Viet Cong agents to do so. The "popular forces" at the village level often failed to protect their villages. The reasons varied, but in several cases it was the result of how their salaries were funded. Local tax money was not the source of their pay; rather it was US-supplied funds. Thus these troops, as well as "regional forces," had little sense of obligation to protect villagers in their areas of responsibility. For anyone who doubts that the Vietnam case is instructive for understanding the Iraqi case, I recommend Ahmed S. Hashim's recent book, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. A fluent Arab linguist and a reserve US Army colonel, who has served a year in Iraq and visited it several other times, Hashim offers a textured study that struck me again and again as a rerun of an old movie, especially where it concerned US training of Iraqi forces.

US military assistance training in El Salvador is often cited as a successful case. In fact, this effort amounted to letting the old elites, who used death squads to impose order, come back to power in different guises. And death squads are again active there. The real cause of the defeat of the Salvadoran insurgency was Gorbachev's decision to cut off supplies to it, as he promised President George H. Bush at the Malta summit meeting. Thus denied their resource base, and having failed to create a self-supporting tax regime in the countryside as the Viet Cong did in Vietnam, they could not survive for long. Does the administration's new plan for Iraq promise to eliminate all outside support to the warring factions? Is it even remotely possible? Hardly.

The oft-cited British success in Malaysia is only superficially relevant to the Iraq case. British officials actually ruled the country. Thus they had decades of firsthand knowledge of the local politics. They made such a mess of it, however, that an insurgency emerged in opposition. A new military commander and a cleanup of the colonial administration provided political consolidation and the isolation of the communist insurgents, mostly members of an ethnic minority group. This pattern would be impossible to duplicate in Iraq.

An infusion of new funds for reconstruction. A shortage of funds has not been the cause of failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Administrative capacity to use funds effectively was and remains the primary obstacle. Even support programs carried out by American contractors for US forces have yielded mixed results. Insurgent attacks on the projects have provoked transfers of construction funds to security measures, which have also failed.

A weak or nonexistent government administrative capacity allows most of the money to be squandered. Putting another billion or so dollars into public works in Iraq today – before a government is in place with an effective administrative capacity to penetrate to the neighborhood and village level – is like trying to build a roof on a house before its walls have been erected. Moreover, a large part of that money will find its way into the hands of insurgents and sectarian militias. That is exactly what happened in Vietnam, and it has been happening in Iraq.

New and innovative counterinsurgency tactics. The cottage industry of counterinsurgency tactics is old and deceptive. When the US military has been periodically tasked to reinvent them – the last great surge in that industry was at the JFK School in Fort Bragg in the 1960's – it has no choice but to pretend that counterinsurgency tactics can succeed where no political consolidation in the government has yet been achieved. New counterinsurgency tactics cannot save Iraq today because they are designed without account for the essence of any "internal war," whether an insurgency or a civil war.

Such wars are about "who will rule," and who will rule depends on "who can tax" and build an effective state apparatus down to the village level.

The taxation issue is not even on the agenda of US programs for Iraq. Nor was it a central focus in Vietnam, El Salvador, the Philippines, and most other cases of US-backed governments embroiled in internal wars. Where US funding has been amply provided to those governments, the recipient regime has treated those monies as its tax base while failing to create an indigenous tax base. In my own study of three counterinsurgency cases, and from my experience in Vietnam, I discovered that the regimes that received the least US direct fiscal support had the most success against the insurgents. Providing funding and forces to give an embattled regime more "time" to gain adequate strength is like asking a drunk to drink more whiskey in order to sober up.

Saddam's regime lived mostly on revenues from oil exports. Thus it never had to create an effective apparatus to collect direct taxes. Were US forces and counterinsurgency efforts to succeed in imposing order for a time, the issue of who will control the oil in Iraq would become the focus of conflict for competing factions. The time would not be spent creating the administrative capacity to keep order and to collect sufficient taxes to administer the country. At best, the war over who will eventually rule country would only be postponed.

This is the crux of the dilemma facing all such internal wars. I make this assertion not only based on my own study, but also in light of considerable literature that demonstrates that the single best index of the strength of any state is its ability to collect direct taxes, not export-import tax or indirect taxes. The latter two are relatively easy to collect by comparison, requiring much weaker state institutions.

The Iraq Study Group. The report of this group should not be taken as offering a new or promising strategy for dealing with Iraq. Its virtue lies in its candid assessment of the realities in Iraq. Its great service has been to undercut the misleading assessments, claims, and judgment by the administration. It allows the several skeptical Republican members of the Congress to speak out more candidly on the war, and it makes it less easy for those Democrats who were heretofore supporters of the administration's war to refuse to reconsider.

If one reads the ISG report in light of the four points in the strategic overview above, one sees the key weakness of its proposals. It does not concede that the war, as it was conceived and continues to be fought, is not "winnable." It rejects the rapid withdrawal of US forces as unacceptable. No doubt a withdrawal will leave a terrible aftermath in Iraq, but we cannot avoid that. We can only make it worse by waiting until we are forced to withdraw. In the meantime, we prevent ourselves from escaping the paralysis imposed on us by the war, unable to redefine our war aims, which have served Iranian and al-Qaeda interests instead of our own.

I do not criticize the report for this failure. As constructed, the group could not advance a fundamental revision of our strategy. Its Republican and Democrat members could not be said to represent all members of their own parties. Thus the most it could do was to make it politically easier for the administration to begin a fundamental revision of its strategy instead of offering a list of tactical changes for the same old war aim of creating a liberal democracy with a pro-American orientation in Iraq.

What Would a Revised Strategy Look Like?

How can the United States recover from this strategic blunder?

It cannot as long as fails to revise its war aims. Wise leaders in war have many times admitted that their war aims are misguided and then revised them to deal with realities beyond their control. Such leaders make tactical withdrawals, regroup, and revise their aims, and design new strategies to pursue them. Those who cannot make such adjustments eventually face defeat.

What war aim today is genuinely in the US interest and offers realistic prospects of success? And not just in Iraq but in the larger region?

Since the 1950's, the US aim in this region has been "regional stability" above all others. The strategy for achieving this aim of every administration until the present one has been maintaining a regional balance of power among three regional forces – Arabs, Israelis, and Iranians. The Arab-Persian conflict is older than the Arab-Israeli conflict. The United States kept a diplomatic foothold in all three camps until the fall of the shah's regime in Iran. Losing its footing in Tehran, it began under President Carter's leadership to compensate by building what he called the Persian Gulf Security Framework. The US Central Command with enhanced military power was born as one of the main means for this purpose, but the long-term goal was a rapprochement. Until that time, the military costs for maintaining the regional power balance would be much higher.

The Reagan Administration, although it condemned Carter's Persian Gulf Security Framework, the so-called "Carter Doctrine," continued Carter's policies, even to the point of supporting Iraq when Iran was close to overrunning it. Some of its efforts to improve relations with Iran were feckless and counterproductive, but it maintained the proper strategic aim – regional stability.

The Bush Administration has broken with this strategy by invading Iraq and also by threatening the existence of the regime in Iran. It presumed that establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq would lead to regional stability. In fact, the policy of spreading democracy by force of arms has become the main source of regional instability.

This not only postponed any near-term chance of better relations with Iran, but also has moved the United States closer to losing its footing in the Arab camp as well. That, of course, increases greatly the threats to Israel's security, the very thing it was supposed to improve, not to mention that it makes the military costs rise dramatically, exceeding what we can prudently bear, especially without the support of our European allies and others.

Several critics of the administration show an appreciation of the requirement to regain our allies and others' support, but they do not recognize that withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is the sine qua non for achieving their cooperation. It will be forthcoming once that withdrawal begins and looks irreversible. They will then realize that they can no longer sit on the sidelines. The aftermath will be worse for them than for the United States, and they know that without US participation and leadership, they alone cannot restore regional stability. Until we understand this critical point, we cannot design a strategy that can achieve what we can legitimately call a victory.

Any new strategy that does realistically promise to achieve regional stability at a cost we can prudently bear, and does not regain the confidence and support of our allies, is doomed to failure. To date, I have seen no awareness that any political leader in this country has gone beyond tactical proposals to offer a different strategic approach to limiting the damage in a war that is turning out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history.

Is this what they mean by "Damning with faint praise"?
No, guess not.

Credit Card Theft Not Worth Prosecuting?

So says Massachuset's Attorney General Martha Coakley.

"An open secret?" asks The Register

Monty Python does Baghdad Reality Show

HT Andrew Sullivan

Iraqi: "We've just received a death threat. I'm Sunni, my wife, Shia. This letter stuck to our gate says, 'We will cut your tongues out, behead you and exterminate your entire family... in the name of Allah the merciful.'"

American "peacekeeper": "Um, ok. Here, take my card. In case you have any trouble, call this number."

This all sounds too like a Monty Python skit.

American soldier: "Um, sir... won't he have a hard time calling for help if they've cut his tongue out?"

American officer: "You're right Johnson. Let's make sure to pray for them when we get back to camp."

Good thing we have religion to teach people morals and to show the way to peace. And since that isn't working, let's send a bunch of armed-to-the-teeth Christians to show them how to do the peace thing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sherman Yellen: George W. Bush - The Salesman of Death

Sherman Yellen at Huffington Post
When I was young, my first major theatre experience was watching Lee J. Cobb in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway. It was a powerful melodrama about a man whose worship of success and whose false values lead to his ruin; a man who believed that all he needed was a ready smile, a dirty joke, and another chance to make that big sale that would keep him from failure. The chances ran out for Willy Lohman as his dreams of glory proved to be dead-end fantasies, he ultimately lost his insecure hold on reality which lead to his suicide. "Attention must be paid," his wife Linda cries out, lamenting the ruin of her foolish, faithless, dreamer of a husband, when the world turns against him, but we all know that Willy has brought on his own ruin, step by step descending into failure and death. Willy had nothing to sell except a belief in the power of his own personality, a selfish egotism, and that was hardly enough to hold off his personal tragedy, the loss of his job and the loss of his son's respect, leading to the loss of his sanity. Personality - the great overrated American virtue - divorced from substance equals tragedy. We should keep this in mind as we examine our candidates for '08. Willy was not merely the spoiler of his own life, but that of his sons' lives, sons whom he had infected with his worship of success at any price. If I recall that play properly, Willy never has a moment when he comes to an understanding of where he has gone wrong. I thought of Willy Loman as I watched
George Bush deliver his State of the Union address. Here was a man like Willy who was absolutely confident of his own charm, a personality man who had nothing of substance to sell; a man who brings ruin to all around him as he clings to his fantasies of success. Only unlike Willy, George Bush is our Salesman of Death. He stood there delivering his tired spiel, unpacking his tawdry goods; the misbegotten war, while peddling terror and no taxes as if they were shiny new stock. He dragged out all the initiatives that he should have considered six years ago, which now seemed shopworn, threadbare, and counterfeit in his hands, new sources of energy, health care, and his disastrous No Child Left Behind and its destruction of our educational system. Never has America had a leader who is so incorruptible, because there is nothing in George Bush that could be corrupted. To corrupt someone implies that they begin with some virtue, and it was difficult to think of any virtue known to man possessed by this President. George W. Bush had death to sell to the Congress and the American people, the death of our young soldiers to be sacrificed to his desperate need for another chance, another big score, all part of his fantasy of success, and his dread of failure. As even the Democrats in Congress bobbed up and down in response to his lies and banalities, I was a bit confused, and annoyed; then I realized that nobody was paying close attention to his words, this sign of deference may have been an effort to stay awake, like the snoozing John McCain (news, bio, voting record), or the jumping up and down of Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) to keep her foot from falling asleep. I expected Laura, like the loyal Linda Loman, to shout out from the balcony, "Attention must be paid," but instead she was playing a game of three card Monte, undoubtedly taught to her by Rove himself, exploiting the heroism of an African American working man, one who never enjoyed any of the benefits of Bush's America, to distract from her husband's failures and lend George some of this hero's aura. Perhaps the real Linda Loman was Condi Rice whose face was a mask of tragedy. Medea or Medusa, take your pick, it was awful to behold in its desperation for Condi like Laura and the Cheneys the tragedy wasn't what they had done to America, but what they had lost for themselves, power, respect, and honor. Perhaps the material profits of war are not enough for some people. Sadly, one knows that George W. will never have a moment when he understands how he went wrong, and what a disaster he has brought down on the American family. The big difference between that great play and this President is that you could weep for Willy Loman but never for this salesman of death.

Friday, January 19, 2007

W: Terrorists Fear our Freedom

In the first days after the 9/11 attacks I promised to use every element of national power to fight the terrorists, wherever we find them. One of the strongest weapons in our arsenal is the power of freedom. The terrorists fear freedom as much as they do our firepower.

W 11 Sept 2006

If terrorists fear our freedom as much as our firepower, why aren't we putting them in voting booths rather than beating the hell out of them and waterboarding?

Guard: "Run! Be free!"
"Detainee": "Arrghhhh! Nooooo! I'll tell you were bin Ladin is. Please! Not freedom!
Guard: I wasn't talking to you. I was giving this American guy freedom.
Detainee: Oh, sorry. May I have another beating, please?

Why Do I Fail to be Religious?

I've got the condenscention and intolerance... I just can't conjure the sanctimoniousness.

Prohibited by Constitution; Ok by George

W has made this presidency nothing but but a string of corruption of laws and power. To wit:

(H/T Andrew Sullivan)

Miami Herald

As required by law, the manual prohibits statements obtained by torture and ''cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment'' as prohibited by the Constitution.

However, the law does allow statements obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush by George McGovern

Via The Nation

I'm glad to be back at the National Press Club. Indeed, at the age of eighty-four, I'm glad to be anywhere. In my younger years when the subject of aging came up, trying to sound worldly wise, I would say, "It doesn't matter so much the number of years you have, but what you do with those years." I don't say that anymore. I now want to reach a hundred. Why? Because I thoroughly enjoy life and there are so many things I must still do before entering the mystery beyond. The most urgent of these is to get American soldiers out of the Iraqi hellhole Bush-Cheney and their neoconservative theorists have created in what was once called the cradle of civilization. It is believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden. I mention the neoconservative theorists to recall Walter Lippman's observance, "There is nothing so dangerous as a belligerent professor."

One of the things I miss about my eighteen years in the US Senate are the stories of the old Southern Democrats. I didn't always vote with them, but I loved their technique of responding to an opponent's questions with a humorous story. Once when Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina had to handle a tough question from Mike Mansfield, he said, "You know, Mr. Leader, that question reminds me of the old Baptist preacher who was telling a class of Sunday school boys the creation story. 'God created Adam and Eve and from this union came two sons, Cain and Abel and thus the human race developed.' A boy in the class then asked, 'Reverend, where did Cain and Abel get their wives?' After frowning for a moment, the preacher replied, 'Young man--it's impertinent questions like that that's hurtin' religion.'"

Well, Mr. Bush, Jr. I have some impertinent questions for you.

Mr. President, Sir, when reporter Bob Woodward asked you if you had consulted with your father before ordering our army into Iraq you said, "No, he's not the father you call on a decision like this. I talked to my heavenly Father above." My question, Mr. President: If God asked you to bombard, invade and occupy Iraq for four years, why did he send an opposite message to the Pope? Did you not know that your father, George Bush, Sr., his Secretary of State James Baker and his National Security Advisor General Scowcroft were all opposed to your invasion? Wouldn't you, our troops, the American people and the Iraqis all be much better off if you had listened to your more experienced elders including your earthly father? Instead of blaming God for the awful catastrophe you have unleashed in Iraq, wouldn't it have been less self-righteous if you had fallen back on the oft-quoted explanation of wrongdoing, "The devil made me do it?"

And Mr. President, after the 9/11 hit against the Twin Towers in New York, which gained us the sympathy and support of the entire world, why did you then order the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11? Are you aware that your actions destroyed the international reservoir of good will towards the United States? What is the cost to America of shattering the standing and influence of our country in the eyes of the world?

Why, Mr. President did you pressure the CIA to report falsely that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons? And when you ordered your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to go to New York and present to the UN the Administration's "evidence" that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat to the United States, were you aware that after reading this deceitful statement to the UN, Mr. Powell told an aid that the so-called evidence was "bullshit"?

Is it reasonable to you, President Bush, that Colin Powell told you near the end of your first term that he would not be in your Administration if you were to receive a second term? What decent person could survive two full terms of forced lying and deceit?

And Mr. President, how do you enjoy your leisure time, and how can you sleep at night knowing that 3,014 young Americans have died in a war you mistakenly ordered? What do you say to the 48,000 young Americans who have been crippled for life in mind or body? What is your reaction to the conclusion of the leading British medical journal (Lancet) that since you ordered the bombardment and occupation of Iraq four years ago, 600,000 Iraqi men, women and children have been killed? What do you think of the destruction of the Iraqi's homes, their electrical and water systems, their public buildings?

And Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, while neither of you has ever been in combat (Mr. Cheney asking and receiving five deferments from the Vietnam War), have you not at least read or been briefed on the terrible costs of that ill-advised and seemingly endless American war in tiny Vietnam? Do you realize that another Texas President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, declined to seek a second term in part because he had lost his credibility over the disastrous war in Vietnam? Are you aware that one of the chief architects of that war, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, resigned his office and years later published a book declaring that the war was all a tragic mistake? Do you know this recent history in which 58,000 young Americans died in the process of killing 2 million Vietnamese men, women and children? If you do not know about this terrible blunder in Vietnam, are you not ignoring the conclusion of one of our great philosophers: "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it." And, Mr. President, in your ignorance of the lessons of Vietnam, are you not condemning our troops and our people to repeat the same tragedy in Iraq?

During the long years between 1963 and 1975 when I fought to end the American war in Vietnam, first as a US Senator from South Dakota and then as my party's nominee for President, my four daughters ganged up on my one night. "Dad, why don't you give up this battle? You've been speaking out against this crazy war since we were little kids. When you won the Democratic presidential nomination, you got snowed under by President Nixon." In reply I said, "Just remember that sometimes in history even a tragic mistake produces something good. The good about Vietnam is that it is such a terrible blunder, we'll never go down that road again." Mr. President, we're going down that road again. So, what do I tell my daughters? And what do you tell your daughters?

Mr. President, I do not speak either as a pacifist or a draft dodger. I speak as one who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, volunteered at the age of nineteen for the Army Air Corps and flew thirty-five missions as a B-24 bomber. I believed in that war then and I still do sixty-five years later. And so did the rest of America. Mr. President, are you missing the intellectual and moral capacity to know the difference between a justified war and a war of folly in Vietnam or Iraq?

Public opinion polls indicate that two-thirds of the American people think that the war in Iraq has been a mistake on your part. It is widely believed that this war was the central reason Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress. Polls among the people of Iraq indicate that nearly all Iraqis want our military presence in their country for the last four years to end now. Why do you persist in defying public opinion in both the United States and Iraq and throughout the other countries around the globe? Do you see yourself as omniscient? What is your view of the doctrine of self-determination, which we Americans hold dear?

And wonder of wonders, Mr. President, after such needless death and destruction, first in the Vietnamese jungle and now in the Arabian desert, how can you order 21,500 more American troops to Iraq? Are you aware that as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse, our leaders sent in more troops and wasted more billions of dollars until we had 550,000 US troops in that little country? It makes me shudder as an aging bomber pilot to remember that we dropped more bombs on the Vietnamese and their country than the total of all the bombs dropped by all the air forces around the world in World War II. Do you, Mr. President, honestly believe that we need tens of thousands of additional troops plus a supplemental military appropriation of $200 billion before we can bring our troops home from this nightmare in ancient Baghdad?

In your initial campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Bush, you described yourself as a "compassionate conservative". What is compassionate about consigning America's youth to a needless and seemingly endless war that has now lasted longer than World War II? And what is conservative about reducing the taxes needed to finance this war and instead running our national debt to nine trillion dollars with money borrowed from China, Japan, Germany and Britain? Is this wild deficit financing your idea of conservatism? Mr. President, how can a true conservative be indifferent to the steadily rising cost of a war that claims over $7 billion a month, $237 million every day? Are you troubled to know as a conservative that just the interest on our skyrocketing national debt is $760,000 every day. Mr. President, our Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that if the war were to continue until 2010 as you have indicated it might, the cost would be over a trillion dollars.

Perhaps, Mr. President, you should ponder the words of a genuine conservative - England's nineteenth-century member of Parliament, Edmund Burke: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood".

And, Mr. President at a time when your most respected generals have concluded that the chaos and conflict in Iraq cannot be resolved by more American dollars and more American young bodies, do you ever consider the needs here at home of our own anxious and troubled society? What about the words of another true conservative, General and President Dwight Eisenhower who said that, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

And, Mr. President, would not you and all the rest of us do well to ponder the farewell words of President Eisenhower: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Finally, Mr. President, I ask have you kept your oath of office to uphold the Constitution when you use what you call the war on terrorism to undermine the Bill of Rights? On what constitutional theory do you seize and imprison suspects without charge, sometimes torturing them in foreign jails? On what constitutional or legal basis have you tapped the phones of Americans without approval of the courts as required by law? Are you above the Constitution, above the law, and above the Geneva accords? If we are fighting for freedom in Iraq as you say, why are you so indifferent to protecting liberty here in America?

more at The Nation

Iraqi Prime Minister: Agree to Arm Us and You Can Leave

Just give us armor, guns and ammunition and we'll kill all the Sunnis for you, er.... terrorists, er.... insurgents. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket!

The Times Online

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Oscar Wilde on Marriage

While a first marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How Many Wars to Sustain a Presidency?

How many licks to the Tootsie-Roll(tm) center?

Talk has been rampant for some time hypothesizing that Bush's next goal is to excalate the Iraq quagmire by attacking Iran.

The recent attack of an Iranian embassy in Iraq certainly does nothing to qualm such rumors.

Until now, I saw the Iraq rumors as just that: wanton rumor-mongoring.

But with Bush's US approval numbers sagging faster than those in Iraq and the rest of the world, Bush is beginning to look desperate.

How hard would it be to incite Iran to make an attack? Say, launch a missile at one of our ships in the Gulf? Probably very little.

What would it take to turn such an incident -- Iran's launching a counter-punch -- into a Bay of Tonkin-esque call to war on Iran?

You have to admit, Bush's administration handles and profits from wartime hysteria better than any other administration in recent memory. Re-stirring the nationalistic rhetoric than has only recently begun to die down after Katrina would be easy to do for the Bush team.
Bloodlust would quickly overcome most resistance to Bush and his presidency and neocon thugs would quickly finish off the rest.

What would become of an anti-draft movement if the neocons portrayed Iran as striking first?

Daniel Gross: What Jobs do Americans Not Want to Do?

Inline with quoting whatever patriotic slogan seems applicable at the time (with the intention only of personal gain) corporations love to say, "Let the (Capitalist) market decide."

But whenever an opportunity to bypass that market for profit is found, it is heartily lept upon.

Such is the current labor market. It's not that Americans don't want to do jobs, it's that they don't want to do them for the lousy wages being offered.

As Daniel Gross points out below, Americans apparently no longer want to do manual labor, but apparently they don't want to be doctors, nurses, engineers or accountants either:

Dirty Work: What are the jobs Americans won't do?
By Daniel Gross at Slate
Posted Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, at 6:36 AM ET
Illustration by Jason Raish.

The United States is a nation of hard workers. Compared with many other developed countries, the U.S. boasts high rates of labor-force participation and productivity and has a very low unemployment rate. Americans work longer hours than Europeans—1,804 hours per worker for the United States in 2005, compared to 1,434 in Germany and 1,535 in France, according to the OECD.

Yet it's increasingly common to hear politicians, CEOs, and immigration activists impugn American workers as a bunch of shiftless layabouts who regard many good jobs as beneath their dignity. That, they say, is why employers have to turn to immigrants—some of them legal, many of them illegal. To hear CEOs tell it, they'd much rather hire English-speaking, tax-paying U.S. citizens, people who won't disrupt operations by getting rounded up in Homeland Security sweeps. But they just can't find any Americans willing to do their jobs. As President Bush himself said last March, the United States needs a temporary guest-worker program that would "match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do."

What are these jobs that Americans will not do? Do they exist? Or are they a figment of the business community's imagination? It turns out that their claims are largely true—there are plenty of jobs Americans avoid. Let's take a tour of them. Americans shun pretty much any unskilled labor that requires them to get their hands dirty: landscaping, entry-level construction, picking fruits and vegetables (Reuters reports that "up to 70 percent of U.S. farm workers are estimated to be undocumented, totaling about 500,000 people"), cleaning hotel rooms, busing tables, and prep cooking in urban restaurants.

But the refusal to do jobs is moving up the value chain. American workers appear to be less interested in some kinds of factory jobs. The Washington Post, for example, recently reported that Georgia's carpet factories are increasingly dominated by Mexican immigrant workers.

Americans, it seems, are also less willing to take stressful jobs that require lots of training and long hours, and that require them to work in unpleasant environments. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is warning of a nursing shortage. This survey from the American Hospital Association says there are 118,000 nursing vacancies in the United States. Meanwhile, a 2003 report by the Council on Graduate Medical Education suggested there could be a shortage of anywhere from 65,000 to 150,000 doctors in 2020. (Given the time it takes to educate and train a physician, it's not too soon to worry.)

Spending your days tethered to a computer is also work that many Americans avoid. The Information Technology Association of America notes that 77 percent of companies it polled said there was a shortage of qualified IT talent in the United States. The solution: Import more geeks. The ITAA (and pretty much every technology company) supports boosting the number of H-1B visas above the current limit of 65,000 per fiscal year.

The more one looks, the more shortages of willing workers appear. Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe last month reported that the Pentagon is "considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks—including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and putting more immigrants on a faster track to U.S. citizenship if they volunteer." Today, about 2 percent of the soldiers protecting America—about 30,000—aren't technically Americans. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a dire shortage of professors of accounting, finance, and management that may cause some schools to curtail course offerings. "AACSB International, the accrediting organization for business schools, estimates a shortage of 1,000 Ph.D.s in the U.S. this year that will grow to 2,400 by 2012." (Apparently, American citizens with Ph.D.s in accounting, finance, and management can get high-paying, satisfying jobs in the private sector. Who knew?)

For the industries involved, and for their customers—everyone from meat-eaters to hospital patients—these shortages are a real challenge. But when employers have difficulty filling jobs at the wages they wish to pay, and as a result seek foreign-born workers, they shouldn't blame it on a fundamental unwillingness of Americans to work in those industries or professions. After all, in many of these fields—construction, nursing, the military, teaching, accounting—Americans still fill most positions. Immigrants tend to predominate only in the least attractive work imaginable—manual, back-breaking, seasonal, benefitless, farm labor.

Americans haven't grown too wealthy and snooty for the kind of work that gets your hands dirty, or for nursing, or for computer programming. Rather, the people who have the skills to enter those fields also have opportunities and skills to enter other fields. And so they have to decide whether the rewards—monetary and psychological—of the opportunity before them are worth it. It's not so much that Americans aren't willing to pick fruit and become computer programmers. Rather, they aren't willing to do those jobs for the prevailing wages and benefits. The Army may need foreign nationals to help fill its ranks, but the private security firms that pay six-figure salaries to ex-military types for security work don't. People without much in the way of skills or education probably prefer to take entry-level jobs at Wal-Mart rather than work at a meat-packing plant, even though it might pay a little less—it's less dangerous and disgusting.

The failure here isn't in the work ethic of Americans. Rather, it lies with the CEOs, business owners, university and hospital administrators, and government officials—and ultimately, with all of us who benefit from cheap labor—to offer the wages and benefits necessary to attract sufficient numbers of legal workers. There's a reason they call the labor market a market.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Olbermann On Bush's Credibility

Can't win for losing?


President Bush makes no secret of his distaste for looking backward, for assessing past results.

But in our third story on the Countdown tonight… too bad.

Any meaningful assessment of the president's next step in Iraq must consider his steps and missteps so far.

So, let's look at the record:

Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said he was no nation-builder; nation-building was wrong for America.

Now, he says it is vital for America.

He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control. Today, U.S. troops observe Iraqi restrictions.

He told us about WMDs. Mobile labs. Secret sources. Aluminum tubing. Yellow-cake.

He has told us the war is necessary…Because Saddam was a threat; Because of 9/11; Osama bin Laden; al Qaeda; Because of terrorism in general; To liberate Iraq; To spread freedom; To spread democracy; To keep the oil out of the hands of terrorist-controlled states; Because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad.

In pushing for and prosecuting this war, he passed on chances to get Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Muqtada al-Sadr, Osama bin Laden.

He sent in fewer troops than recommended. He disbanded the Iraqi Army, and "de-Baathified" the government. He short-changed Iraqi training.

He did not plan for widespread looting, nor the explosion of sectarian violence.

He sent in troops without life-saving equipment.

Gave jobs to foreign contractors, not the Iraqis.

Staffed U-S positions there, based on partisanship, not professionalism.

We learned that "America had prevailed", "Mission Accomplished", the resistance was in its "last throes".

He has said more troops were not necessary, and more troops are necessary, and that it's up to the generals, and removed some of the generals who said more troops would be necessary.

He told us of turning points: The fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, a provisional government,the trial of Saddam, a charter, a constitution, an Iraqi government, ¤elections, purple fingers, a new government, the death of Saddam.

We would be greeted as liberators, with flowers.

As they stood up–we would stand down, we would stay the course, we were never 'stay the course',

The enemy was al Qaeda, was foreigners, terrorists, Baathists.

The war would pay for itself, it would cost 1-point-7 billion dollars, 100 billion, 400 billion, half a trillion dollars.

And after all of that, today it is his credibility versus that of generals, diplomats, allies, Republicans, Democrats, the Iraq Study Group, past presidents, voters last November, and the majority of the American people.

One More Chance for Maliki

John Marshall at TPM

But the logic of the 'surge' is that we're also cracking down on Maliki. We're giving him one more chance to get it right. And if they won't do their part, we're outta there. Or in other words, we pull up stakes without acheiving victory.

Just *who* are we giving the second chance to, after all the failures? Maliki? Please. This has been a constant rhetorical technique with the administration. Describe yourself, but replace your enemy's name with yours. This is Bush's last chance to punt his catastrophe into the next presidency.

Of course, we might also mention the point that the incomparable John Burns made on Anderson Cooper's show last night: that it's silly to really believe that Maliki is going to try to crush the Mahdi Army when they a) give him the votes to remain Prime Minister and b), more importantly, those are the fighters Maliki is planning on using the Civil War really gets cracking. As Burns put it, they're Maliki's Plan B.
Maliki is not failing. He knows who's gonna be left after the US eventually pulls out: the militias. The militias don't have the option to pull out any more than he does. They're in this for the long term, unlike some meddling, ineffectual superpower. Maliki's gonna placate Bush, who's only a bloviator at best and pay attention to the guys who've got the gun to his head: the militias.

Would anyone do any different in his (impossible) position?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jesus Mending the Flag

Gotta love how we're blending Christianism with militarism. (Who would Jesus shoot?)

"If My People" by Jack E. Dawson

The guy pulls out all the stops. In a show of utmost professionalism, he even manages to include references to abortion.

Did he just forget to mention tax cuts, eliminating Social Security and abolishing gay marriage.

There's always next time.

Social Security and Ejection Seats

Many conservatives are highly in favor of eliminating (privitizing, same thing) Social Security.

I wonder if they also advocate the elimination of ejection seats in fighter jets?

The two share many characteristics, among them:

  • Both Social Security (SS) and Ejection Seats (ES) are very expensive to build, install and maintain.
  • In both cases, neither may actually be helpful in every emergency. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

So if both are big, bulky and difficult to maintain, why have them?

I think that they share one more thing in common: they provide a psychological safety net that encourages people/pilots to take on more risks that they might otherwise.

Sure, ok, SS may encourage some non-so-bright individuals to gamble all their money in keno and rely on SS to provide for their retirement. Likewise, we have many documented cases of not-so-bright military pilots relying on their safety equipment as a way out while showing off hazardous stunts to their buddies. In both cases we have many examples of the hazards of relying on safety equipment to overpower stupidity.

For the vast majority, however, SS provides a psychological safety net that encourages people to invest and spent money now instead of socking it away in a mattress. Our banking system serves a similar purpose. Money stuffed in a mattress is money "lost" from a macro-economic view. Money stored in a bank account can be "borrowed" by the bank and lent to others to put the money "to work" instead.

In both cases, time and energy that people would otherwise be put to trying to store their hard-earned money in the safest manner possible ( or stitching together home-made parachutes in the fighter pilot case) can instead be put to spending, investing and starting new businesses.

Social Security and the banking system both rely on a precept of trust. People's trust that our stable government will ward over their banking accounts and retirement funds allows people to relax money that would otherwise be buried in pickle jars in their back yards. (The fanatical savings rate of Japan is a prime example of an economy stalled by excess personal stashing for retirement.)

Likewise, the fighter pilot knows that he is being sent on dangerous, even deadly assignments, but his government shows good faith in protecting his well-being by providing a means of escape as well as a promise to make every effort to retrieve him.

It might be cheaper in the short run to leave pilots to die. After all, a pilot may be expensive, but wouldn't a lack of promised rescue make him more likely to better shepherd an even more expensive fighter jet?

Yes it would. But he would also not exhibit the aggresiveness that might lose a battle. Battles are almost always more costly to lose than are airplanes.

How to Lie with Numbers: The Housing Rebound

From The Sunday Times via The Big Picture

If a contract to buy a home, signed in November, is canceled in December, the Census Bureau does not subtract the failed transaction from the number of sales, or add the house back to its inventory total.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Even God Uses Sub-Machine Guns

God may be omnipotent, but he still likes to arm his homies.
Courtesy NeatORama

The Vatican City is guarded by the smallest and oldest regular army in the world, the Swiss Guard [wiki]. It was originally made up of Swiss mercenaries in 1506, now the army (also personal bodyguards of the Pope) number 100, all of which are Catholic unmarried male Swiss citizens. The Swiss Guard’s Renaissance-style uniform was commonly attributed as to have been designed by Michelangelo - this was actually incorrect: the large "skirt" pants were a common style during the Renaissance. Only their uniforms seem antiquated: most of the Swiss Guards carry pistols and submachine-guns.

$40 per day orgasms

Any time we turn on the TV, there are two programs that are always available: Law & Odor (or any of its hundreds of variants, CSI, etc.) and Rachel Ray.

Neither of us can quite figure out how Ray is able to generate more than 24 hours of footage per day (perhaps she's computer generated?) but somehow she manages to always get one eye-roll/MMMmmmmm out of her piehole before either of us can dive onto the remote control to change to another channel... any channel. Home Shopping network at least changes hosts every 16 hours or so.

So I guess it shouldn't be suprising that we're not the only ones to notice Ray's perpetual eye-rolls. They just did it better than I thought to.

$40 per day orgasms

Faith vs Hope

Faith is Hope in a nicer outfit.
-- me

The Right-Wing Ethic of Personal Responsibility

Everyone on the political pundit circuit is ringing their hands on the "best way" to "solve" the Iraq quagmire.

"Send more troops", "surge", "don't send more troops", "make the Iraqui's take responsibility for their country... they're too dependent and it's their fault anyway."

The question that few people seem to be asking (at this point, anyway) is who exactly is responsible for this mess? What happened to the trumpeted Neocon ethic of Personal Resonsibility? You know, the Personal Responsiblity that was to wrest control of American's retirement funds from the Social Security Administration and allow American's to invest their savings in the stock market in the name of increased gains, bigger wealth, etc.

Curiously, Personal Responsibility doesn't get much air time these days. Mainly because responsibility for this mess can be quickly (and accurately, I might add) be resolved down to a small group of people, with one guy notably "in charge", i.e. Responsible: George W. Bush.

Why is no one asking Mr. Bush why the Iraq excusion has failed so miserably? Why is no one asking him to close down this epic adventure? Oh, wait. Guess the 2006 mid-term "thumping" did exactly that.

But before we get too excited about bringing justice to those responsible, perhaps we should investigate just who put this yo-yo in power to begin with... twice. You know who you are.

Maybe *that's* why no one likes to ask who is responsible.

Privitize Iraq

Right-wingers are quick to suggest "privitization" as a solve-all to every government shortcoming.

Why not apply that "solution" to our quagmire in Iraq?

We could privitize the reconstruction by giving the job to US contractors. To solve the problem of ever-increasing US military dead and wounded, we could privitize by hiring mercenaries (just call them "private security" to avoid the "mercenary" stigma). Then the only thing left would be to hire American oil companies to pump the oil out the the ground and sell it for incredible profits.

Oh, wait...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Liberal/Conservative Media

Stop it!

Throw this red herring back into the sea. "The Media" (I'm putting "The Media" in quotes as there is no single Media any more than there is an Average person. It just doesn't exist.) is neither conservatively biased or liberally biased. It *tries* to be monetarily biased. That's all.

Memorize this: "The Media" publishes what it believes will sell the most. Full stop.

Why did "The Media" cower to Bush during the years immediately following 9/11? Because the media thought that's what their customers wanted. For the most part they were right. Why is the media slowly (understatement alert) beginning to challenge/question Bush? Because his party lost by large margins in the '06 mid-terms, which served to put The Numbers (tm) on Bush's popularity with The Media's customers.

Note that I did not say that The Media publishes what will sell the most. That would credit them with an ability to sample demographics that they simply do not (currently) have. The publish what they believe will sell the most.

Now go forth and hammer some other demagogue hotbutton for a change.