Sunday, December 31, 2006
Calendar is an arbitrary number. It could start anywhere. 3,000 deaths is also an arbitrary number, interesting as a number only because it rolls over from 2,999 to 3,000 by merely adding 1. But some family in Spring, Texas will now have to deal with the grief of this death, as have 2,999 others. Each body bag is its own story. The number 1 that is added to the previous total ignores that full, human story.
Still, the "Decider" is procrastinating about what decision he will make that will allow him to take credit for winning the war.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Sat Dec 30, 11:19 AM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - December became the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq in two years after the U.S. military reported six more combat deaths, leaving the tally just two short of the emotive 3,000 mark.
Three U.S. marines died on Thursday from wounds suffered in combat in Iraq's western Anbar province. One soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in northwest Baghdad and another soldier was killed in Anbar on Friday, the military said on Saturday.
Another statement announced the death of a U.S. soldier killed by a roadside bomb in southwest Baghdad on Friday.
The latest deaths take the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq since the invasion of March 2003 to 2,998, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The number who died in December is now 109, three more than the previous high this year in October, and the highest since November 2004 when 137 U.S. servicemen and women died.
The Guardian 12-28-2006 posted an opinion piece from Dilip Hiro which predicts that things in 2007 will get worse.
Now we see how the Sunni Baathist insurgents will respond. This is what CNN has to say on the subject.
In my opinion the four years that Saddam has been in prison has allowed events in Iraq to thoroughly pass him by. The Bush administration will try to take advantage of it, but there is very little advantage to be taken.
Friday, December 29, 2006
The notion of cooperation among non-related individuals has fallen into disrepute. Economists like Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School tout "the rational agent" as the sine qua non of economic behavior. The rational agent thinks only of self-interest. Greed is good, according to the Chicago School. The Invisible Hand of the marketplace may inadvertently steer the self-interested actor in the general direction of the common good, though not through any conscious effort by the agent. Any efforts to coerce the rational agent into altruistic action will be fought off and rejected.This says that the simplistic ideas of the conservatives simply don't work as a way to order society. Greed is NOT good, and people are hardwired from birth to work for the success of the group. Their reward will be recognition, not necessarily money or another economic reward. That's why people will risk death for a scrap of ribbon (Napoleon) or work for recognition rather than wealth.
What Fehr and his group, along with the Neuro-economists, are showing through empirical study is that people are hard-wired to cooperate. Self-interest is not a determined impulse in human beings. What people really have hard wired into their brains is a sense of justice and fair play, a capacity for nuturance of others –even non-kin others, a keen eye for in-group norms, and, surprisingly, a self-organizing tendency to make hierarchies.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
If the book Hochschild wrote interests you (as it does me) and you have time to read it (I don't - I'm working on WW I prinarily) here is a link to the book at Barnes and Noble.
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
For a more complete description, go to the Daily Howler. Then look back at the earlier report of the same phenomenon.
It's a class thing with the reporters, and the reporters are NOT working class people.
Monday, December 25, 2006
It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.Personally I think the non-believers in global warming should all be relocated to islands that are no more than four feet above sea level and see if they remain unbelievers.
Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university's School of Oceanographic Studies, says "it is only a matter of some years" before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta. The area's 400 tigers are also in danger. [Snip]
As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
First, here are ten stories from Making Light. I think I'll microwave my next passport. But now I can understand why it jumped from $40 to $95. [Military-Industrial complex and obscene profits. This is a legal monopoly. You can't get a passport without paying what the government charges, and the company is going to make a sizeable profit. ]
Next are three more at Hullabaloo by Digby. (Digby's addendum sent me to the ten at Making Light.)
Then, from Media Matters we get the eleven most outrageous Comments of 2006.
Then for those of you who are interested in reading about the psychology of what makes people tick, I am going to strongly recommend "Bush on the Couch."
Bush On the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President
I clicked on the B&N used books, found one for $1.99 plus about $3.50 postage, and it has been more than worth it. I have studied mostly modern psychology (cognitive behavorial and such) and very little Psychotherapy outside of reading a bit of Freud and Jung. Dr. Frank does an excellent job of telling what his particular school of psychotherapy beleives and then applying it to the well published history of Bush. This is the kind of psychoanalysis that the CIA has used to determine the stability of foreign leaders.
I'd really love to see a similar analysis on Dick Cheney and Pat Robertson.
Anyway, I strongly recommend the book, and since you are here, Click on the book icon above, then go down to Used Books (or roll your mouse over to the right hand column of my blog to the "Find Books" link and click through to Barnes and Nobel.)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
For an idea of what reality is, go read Kevin Drum (and again, Kevin Drum update), Digby, Matthew Iglesias and Atrios.
For a fast summary, though, they all agree that the war in Iraq is lost already and the proposed increase in troops will not change that. The only good thing about it is that the civilian masters requiring the increase are being asked to look at what the increased troops are being sent to do. They need clear and achievable missions.
As an aside - What no one in the groups I refer to point out is that clear and achievable missions can be compared to what is needed to "win" (whatever than means) and the failure to achieve those goals will be clear.
Whatever, Iraq has already been lost. This is the conservative's last gasp. It will fail, since the conservatives have no clue regarding what they are fighting against, nor do they understand what armies can achieve. But they will not admit this.
Shortly after the U.S. pulls out of Iraq the cry will arise from the conservatives "We could have won, but the Liberals stabbed us in the back!!" That's because conservatism (like its very similarly emotionally held "'ism", Communism) is perfect and can never fail. Any failure must be because someone (Liberals and Democrats) sabotagued them or because the people who were in charge (in this case, Cheney and Bush) are not really conservatives.
Wait for it. The whining is not far off. The only question remaining is how many more lives will be destroyed between now and the final recognition by a controling majority of Americans that the Iraq adventure has failed.
* The administration has run America’s defenses down over the decade through inadequate resources, promiscuous commitments, and the absence of a forward-looking military strategy. [As opposed to breaking the Army and Marine Corp, sending troops to war without adequate body armor and equipment, and only deciding to increase force levels five years into a global conflict.]Ivo Dalder got these from the the 2000 GOP foreign policy platform.
* The arrogance, inconsistency, and unreliability of the administration’s diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends, and emboldened our adversaries. [My all-time favorite!]
* World trade talks in Seattle that the current administration had sponsored collapsed in spectacular failure. [Doha anyone?] An initiative to establish free trade throughout the Americas has stalled because of this lack of Presidential leadership. [Ah, yes. Bush’s leadership on this issue really has made a difference — 6 years later and we’re not a step closer to a deal.]
* The problems of Mexico have been ignored, as our indispensable neighbor to the south struggled with too little American help to deal with its formidable challenges. [Think the Mexicans feel they’ve gotten any help from Bush lately? After declaring the relationship with Mexico America’s most important on September 9, 2001, Bush has ignored our southern neighbors ever since.]
* The tide of democracy in Latin America has begun to ebb with a sharp rise in corruption and narco-trafficking. [And since then, only America’s friends in Latin America have won elections… Not!]
* With weak and wavering policies toward Russia, the administration has diverted its gaze from corruption at the top of the Russian government, the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in Chechnya, and the export of dangerous Russian technologies to Iran and elsewhere. [The biggest mistake wasn’t seeing Putin’s soul…]
* A generation of American efforts to slow proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has unraveled as first India and Pakistan set off their nuclear bombs, then Iraq defied the international community. Token air strikes against Iraq could not long mask the collapse of an inspection regime that had — until then — at least kept an ambitious, murderous tyrant from acquiring additional nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. [North Korea? Iran? Oh, and what do we do when inspectors in Iraq return?]
Actually those proposals were not a bad basis for building a decent foreign policy. What happened? As we learned from early on, the Bush White House does politics. It does not do policy.
What's the difference?
Politics is doing things that provide direct payoffs to those Bush supporters who can influence votes. The goal is to achieve reelection and retain power.
Policy is taking a set of priorities like those proposed in the 2000 GOP foreign policy platform and taking organized actions by government to achieve the goals in that platform.
Bush's (and Cheney's) goal has been their own reelection and retention of power, not making the world a better place for Americans and everyone else to live in. This short take, comparing the promises made in 2000 to the reality that the GOP has left us at the end of 2006 demonstrates that quite well.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
For some reason Bush does not want bin Laden caught or killed. We know that Gen Tommy Franks refused to send the necessary American troops to Tora Bora to catch bin Laden when his location was known. Now we have a documentary that claims that French-NATO troops had him located two times but were not given approval for an attack.
H/T to AmericaBlog.
His answer is Wes Clark and maybe John Edwards. It does NOT include Hillery Clinton or Barack Obams.
Dave's analysis matches my gut feel. Obama and Clinton are not willing to fight for what seems to me to be the most important values in America. Clark is willing, and Edwards could be but hasn't proven himself yet.
Go read the full article to see what Dave means.
I think that this is what is motivating the generals: there's no way that a 10% increase in forces, with no significant change in strategy, can change anything militarily. I don't know where the slogan "one last push" came from -- from the media or from the administration -- but the word "last" is a dead giveaway. It cues you to ask "And after that, what?" (To my knowledge, no one in the administration has disavowed the "one last push" meme).He's right. The proposed "increase" of 15,000 to 20,000 troops to be used in Baghdad will not change anything in our favor. They cannot pacify the city of 5 to 6 million people.
We do not have the additional troops to send in, so this means that the troops already in Iraq will be expected to stay longer than their one year tours and the new ones coming in will be expedited as much as possible. This, if attempted, is extremely likely to finally break the Army and Marine Corps. The first news of such an event will be reports of soldiers and Marines being court martialed for refusing to go to Iraq or even deserting. (Since this government does its best to prevent information from being given to the public, this will be hard to get.)
The reason that the increase of forces is so small -- and everyone knows this -- is that we've already committed everything we have. The proposed increases just amount to stretching existing troops farther and pushing them harder, with longer tours and shorter breaks. We have no reserve.
There are currently 6,000 troops working on Baghdad, and the 20,000 "more" makes it 26,000. Assuming only 5,000,000 inhabitants in Baghdad, that makes it 192 Iraqis to each American. Pacifying an area is usually expected to require a minimum of 20 to 1. So there is no pacification being planned.
A second possibility is that the Americans are intended to try to conquer the Shite Sadr brigade belonging to Moqtada al Sadr. It is not likely that the Shiites in government will accept a war against the main supporters of Maliki, the current President of Iraq. There is also the distinct possibility that for Americans to attack the Sadr Brigade will start a second war to go with the current war between Americans and the Sunni insurgents. So that is not a plan that has any real likelihood of success, while it has strong prospects of making the total Iraq situation a lot worse fast.
The war in Iraq is lost. Bush refuses to admit that, so he is proposing a lot more action and casualties so that he can push the date of acceptance of loss into the future as far as possible, hoping that he can pass it off to the next President - who will probably be a Democrat. (Congressional Republicans already hate that, but Bush has the power to decide on foreign policy and no Congressperson is going to vote to cut off funds to the troops in Iraq.)
In short, this "One last Push" or "Surge" proposal cannot lead to "Success" in Iraq. Nor is any military followup possible, because it will use up the last of the resources of the ground forces. Think of Germany's "Battle of the Bulge" effort at the end of WW II.
It is a political effort designed to shift the blame to someone other than George Bush and the Republican White House. For that effort, George Bush and Dick Cheney are perfectly willing to cause a large increase in casualties, both American and Iraqi. The Military Generals know that, and consider the cost too high. So there will be a lot of push-back from the military against this effort.
The really crucial question for 2007 is whether it is the year when there is a run on the dollar. There are plenty of people out there - me included - who think the US currency is going to take a beating over the next 12 months.My real concern is that as the dollar falls, foreign imports will become more expensive. That will put an inflationary pressure on the American economy.
Here's why. Over the past decade, the dollar has had two big strengths. Firstly, it has been the world's only reserve currency: secondly, its economy has grown far faster than its two big rivals in the developed world - Europe and Japan. Neither of these factors is now as powerful as it was even a couple of years ago, the last time the dollar had a real wobble on the foreign exchanges.
The advent of the euro has meant foreign investors now have a choice of currencies in which to hold their reserves. To be sure, they will still continue to stash away plenty of greenbacks, but the balance is likely to change over the year. Iran's announcement that it was diversifying its portfolio was clearly a political shot across Washington's bows, but it was significant nontheless. Central banks around the world no longer have to load up on dollars simply because there is no alternative; the euro is one, the Chinese yuan will soon become another.
As far as the economy is concerned, the strong dollar has allowed the US to live beyond its means for far longer than has been healthy either for America or the global economy as a whole. A high dollar meant exports into the US were cheap, and that kept both inflation and interest rates low. Easy credit terms meant that the US has had not one but two speculative booms over the past decade, the first in dot com shares, the second in the housing market. Growth has been artificially boosted and the trade deficit has exploded.
Now, though, things have started to change. The US economy has slowed down markedly during 2006 as the housing bubble has collapsed and the eurozone has put in a decent performance for a change. The move from dollars to euros is perfectly rational when looked at on economic grounds.
The Federal Reserve under Ben Bernake measures its success by how well the bond market is, and inflation hurts the bond market. That will cause the Fed to increase interest rates. But increased interest rates will reduce the economy, the first casuality of which will be creation of new jobs. So unemployment will increase.
Go read the full article. It gives an excellent view of what is abour to happen.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The writing he does takes TIME. I've tried and I don't have the skills or patience to do what he does. Get on line, get to his blog, look at the left hand side, and kick in some.
Then bookmark him and read his stuff if you haven't already. This is more important than NPR!
Go read it, then consider how many of its recommendations the U.S. military is NOT following.
H/T to Armchair Generalist.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Alexander, Lamar- (R - TN)
302 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
Web Form: alexander.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home
Allard, Wayne- (R - CO)
521 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
Web Form: allard.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home
Baucus, Max- (D - MT)
511 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Chambliss, Saxby- (R - GA)
416 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Coleman, Norm- (R - MN)
320 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Collins, Susan M.- (R - ME)
461 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Dole, Elizabeth- (R - NC)
555 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Enzi, Michael B.- (R - WY)
379A RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Hagel, Chuck- (R - NE)
248 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Roberts, Pat- (R - KS)
109 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
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Since I am from Texas, I think Cornyn is likely to be difficult to defeat, but he isn't very well liked generally anywhere. He does have the support of the Christian right here in Texas, and this is a severe Bible Belt state.
Beyond that, you tell me. I dunno.
Update Jan 09, 2007
Howie Klein over at FireDogLake provides a fast rundown on the prospects of the 33 Senators up for election in 2008.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Bush needs to see this slide show - if he can pay attention that long.
This slide show was put together by a Marine Captain, Travis Patriquin. Really good slide show. But if you want to extend your appreciation to him, you will have to find out where is he buried and leave it on his grave. He was killed by an IED in An-Bar province 12/13/2006.
From Seeing the Forest and ABC News.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I'm not ready to suggest that this is gospel, but it is a very interesting view of current religious affairs in America and Great Britain. Future events will certainly confirm, modify or contradict this essay. In the meantime, it is an interesting way to look at what is happening.
Monday, December 11, 2006
It's quite a list.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.The inequality the conservatives want is a social inequality, not a financial one. A financial inequality is merely the means for individuals in a commercial society to achieve the social inequality.
The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocrats are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats. More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them. Of course this notion sounds bizarre to modern ears, but it is perfectly overt in the writings of leading conservative theorists such as Burke. Democracy, for them, is not about the mechanisms of voting and holding office. In fact conservatives hold a wide variety of opinions about such secondary formal matters. For conservatives, rather, democracy is a psychological condition. People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.
It is this social inequality that conservatives work so hard to assert. Their belief in their innate superiority is the reason why they can dismiss their critics while expecting people to defer to their instructions and guidance without criticism. This attitude is the polar opposite of the democratic idea that all people are equal. Whenever you hear a person arguing that people are NOT equal, they all have their degrees of superiority and inferiority, that person is a conservative who considers himself better than most others.
Sen. Joe Lieberman considers that his three terms in the Senate and his position as Vice Presidential candidate with Al Gore in 2000 demonstrates his superiority to the rest of us. That was why he got so angry when the Connecticut Democrats did not renominate him for his fourth term, and why Joe abandoned the Democratic Party and ran as an independent. He went to Washington 18 years ago, and has ceased to believe in the equality of men. He is no longer a democrat.
Friday Digby continues his discussion of conservative aristocracy:
When Bush got all snippy with Jim Webb, George Will distorted the quote precisely to highlight Webb’s supposed lack of deference.This is why the Republican conservatives are so ready to denigrate or put down their opponents, but react so huffily when anyone criticizes them. The conservatives have trained the media to react this way for them by threatening to call the media "liberally biased."
All the Beltway 500 code words - Civil, Dignified, Ungracious - for trashing Democrats and preventing them from saying what needs to be said have to do with Republicans reinforcing this fundamental aristocratic value of deference.
It’s the same deal with Civil, Moderate, and Bipartisan, words which are also code words for reinforcing deference.
That’s why it’s important to mock, belittle, insult, degrade and make Republicans laughable at all times and in all conditions. These are all tools for eliminating deference from our political discourse.
Naturally, when we do this, the Beltway 500 clutches its pearls and calls us Shrill or Rude. That’s a good sign: It means we’re displaying the lack of deference appropriate a Democracy.
It's why the Washington pundits are calling critics of the Republicans "shrill" and "extremist" and now that the Democrats have defeated the Republicans in an election, they are demanding that the Democrats prove how "centrist" they are. "Centrist" means deferring to the conservatives, even when they are wrong.
The function of the conservatives is to train the American culture to practice the traditional ideas of deference to aristocracy. Bush worked this as hard as he could by working only with his base. That was how they do it when they are in the majority and run the government. Suddenly they have visibly screwed things up so badly that the voters have effectively provided a vote of No Confidence in the Republican Party. So now they will demand that the Democrats defer to the conservatives out of power by compromise - by becoming "Centrists."
This is just more of the retraining of society they have been working on since 1968. They are wrong to do it, the Democrats will be wrong to let them try, and the Democrats need to begin retraining society back to what the majority of Americans believe.
And what is that? It's that Americans are all equal. We will defer only to men who present their ideas to all of us, face the criticism, and we will empower only the the better ideas to be implemented by their presenters.
Democrats need to return to being Progressives.
Addendum Dec 12, 2006 11:32 PM CST
Here is another example of Republicans planting stories to trivialize Democratic leaders. Along with serious stories comes a characterization of the types of fashion each favors. Soon, if someone says "Pelosi" everyone thinks first of "Armani."
The implication is that fashion is what non-serious people like Paris Hilton are concerned with, not serious issues like grown-up Republicans. Or as Digby describes it:
These fashion "stories" are planted by snotty GOP operatives to trivialize (and feminize) Democrats. All these liberals are a bunch of flaming metrosexual fashionistas, don't you know, thinking about their looks all the time, staring in the mirror, spending tons of money on their appearances. (Remember "Christophe" and the 300 dollar haircut? John Kerry and the botox?)Exactly. As Digby says "This is not an accident or a coincidence, I guarantee it." This is a way of manipulating the voting public so that they will ignore what is said by Democrats and worse, ignore the evidence of corruption, stupidity and incompetence demonstrated repeatedly by the Republicans in government.
Democrats are nothing but a bunch of bitches and girlie-men, haven't you heard? This is not an accident or a coincidence, I guarantee it.
When someone suggests you move the curtain aside and observe the little man behind it, the curtain is made up of implications like this, that the person telling you to look behind the curtain is not a serious person to be listened to.
Reed Hundt over at TPM Cafe explains.
Real simple. If Bush decides to pull the U.S. military out of Iraq he has admitted that the Iraq War, the single signature policy of his Presidency, it an utter failure. Here is TPM's discussion of the matter.
Short answer - we all know that Bush is the President who committed the worst foreign policy decision ever done by a U.S. President. But as long as he doesn't admit it (meaning pull the troops out) he doesn't have to face his failure. He would rather have American troops and Iraqis die or be cruelly wounded and maimed rather than face his own failure.
This is the response Democrats who met with Bush to discuss his reaction to the ISG report. From the McClatchy Washington Bureau.
"I just didn't feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically," Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid, D-Nev., said following the Oval Office meeting. "He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes."Bush is severely in denial, and is resisting being pushed with every technique a life spent avoiding things that didn't fit what he wanted has taught him. My opinion? This situation could well lead to a Constitutional crisis and/or Bush's suicide. Or both.
Instead, Bush began his talk by comparing himself to President Harry S Truman, who launched the Truman Doctrine to fight communism, got bogged down in the Korean War and left office unpopular.
Bush said that "in years to come they realized he was right and then his doctrine became the standard for America," recalled Senate Majority Whip-elect Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "He's trying to position himself in history and to justify those who continue to stand by him, saying sometimes if you're right you're unpopular, and be prepared for criticism."
Durbin said he challenged Bush's analogy, reminding him that Truman had the NATO alliance behind him and negotiated with his enemies at the United Nations. Durbin said that's what the Iraq Study Group is recommending that Bush do now - work more with allies and negotiate with adversaries on Iraq.
Bush, Durbin said, "reacted very strongly. He got very animated in his response" and emphasized that he is "the commander in chief."
Bush had a friendlier afternoon meeting with leaders from the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 44 conservative House Democrats united primarily on fiscal conservatism. Bush apparently was feeling them out to see if their political agenda could dovetail with his. But even they stressed that they expect to see him revamp Iraq policy.
"Obviously, he was most passionate in defending his position on Iraq," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark. "But we made it clear to him that the American people are ready for a new direction in Iraq. I think he's open to that. Maybe not all 79, but I think you'll see some of the recommendations from the Iraq Study Group implemented in the coming months."
Bush has been cool to some of the report's main recommendations. He's said he won't deal with Iran until it verifiably suspends its nuclear enrichment program and won't sit down with Syria until it stays out of Lebanon's political affairs and prevents the flow of weapons and cash to insurgents in Iraq.
And Bush has stressed many times that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until they successfully complete their mission.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
But let me just put something out there that I learned this evening during a 90 minute discussion from one of the most prominent incumbent national security officials in the Middle East:Sounds a lot like the Bush administration handling disaster relief on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, doesn't it? America seems to need disaster relief from the expected supplier of disaster relief. Let's look at what this man said more closely.
This senior policy official stated that he had never seen a Secretary of State as weak, disorganized, and without a plan of any kind than Condoleezza Rice -- and this from someone who strenuously insists that he and many other regional foreign policy officials want to be supportive of her and the U.S.
He stated that American withdrawal from Iraq -- despite the growing clamor for that -- would yield a complete change in the profile and character of nearly every one of the Middle East's 22 countries. He said that several governments in the region -- outside of Iraq -- could very easily "and would probably fall."
He said that America would be facing a new roster of regimes that were loyal either to Tehran or to al Qaeda.
He said that there is only one non-military way to break Iran's current course, and that the military option was not credible and would not be supported in the region. This official said that the only way to stop Iran at this point was to make the price of oil plummet.
He said that America could engineer this with coordinated support from oil producers in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The price of a dramatic increase in oil production would be expeditious movement -- real movement -- on Israel-Palestine negotiations towards a viable state of Palestine and a clear, coordinated plan on Iran.
He said that though the GCC were close, many-decades-long allies of America that the U.S. regularly ignores its regional allies and has not communicated its basic policy course on Iran.
Without a clear and credible plan, there would be no confidence in America's effort to knock back Iran's growing pretensions and nothing would be done on the oil front.
But it seemed clear to me that this prominent person believed that it was well within the power of major oil suppliers to get the price of oil below $40/barrel -- and that this would stifle Iran's growing influence significantly.
He said that America needed only to get re-engaged, set a course, and build allies to move forward -- but that America continues to approach these matters in disconnected, reactive, and ultimately futile ways that show no fundamental understanding of regional realities and demonstrate a lack of strategic vision or common sense.
- Our Secretary of State is disorganized, weak and has no plan to guide America's Middle East actions.
- America has many long time allies in the Middle East who want to help, but the administration has not communicated with them, either to solicit views, to share a plan or to organize actions against Iran or the fundamentalists who threaten them as well as us.
- America's failure in and withdrawal from the Middle East will cause either the collapse of the governments of many of our allies, or their reorientation towards al Qaeda and Iran if they are to survive.
- Iran's ability to influence events in the Middle East would be sharply reduced if the price of oil could be reduced to below $40/barrel. This is within the power of major oil suppliers if they could be induced to work together within the framework of an overall plan.
- America could move effectively if it were to get re-engaged, set an organized course, and build allies to work towards a mutual goal. Instead the Bush administration (personified in the ME by the hapless Secretary of State) shows no fundamental understanding of ME realities and an absence of either common sense or strategic vision. This is shown by the disconnected and reactive approaches taken to the entire Middle East adventure in which there are three civil wars currently brewing, one in Iraq, one in Lebanon, and one between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
If America had a Parliamentary government, the government would have fallen November 8th, and it would have been replaced by one that was a broad-based coalition. As it is, all we have gotten is a new Secretary of Defense. Better than nothing, I guess, but we also need a new Secretary of State.
Certainly I would appoint a roving ambassador to the ME, with command authority over all diplomacy in that area. He would be co-located with the Centcom Commander (who already has the same kind of unified control of military forces in the ME), and the two directed to coordinate their activities. They would have to have mostly a free hand from the President and the two Secretaries. This would only work with a hands-on President to knock heads together when they disagreed, so with Bush in office, it would not happen.
In the absence of some strategic vision, further changes in personnel and coordination of activities between the U.S. and our ME allies, the next two to three years looks pretty damned bleak to me.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Since that time, Jose Padilla (a U.S. Citizen, though that is legally irrelevant since the same Constitution and law applies to noncitizens in the U.S.) has been held in solitary confinement conditions equivalent to those of the worst of the worst convicted criminals currently kept in the horrible conditions of SuperMax. Only Jose has never been charged with any crime at all. No charges, no trial, no conviction. Legally, Jose Padilla is as innocent of criminal intent as the best of us, yet he has spent the time since he was arrested time in extreme solitary confinement. Jerilyn Merrit and Digby have weighed in with their disgust and descriptions, and then Glenn Greenwald pulled all this together. Here is some of what Glenn wrote:
"Digby says everything that needs to be said about how depraved this specific behavior is. And any decent human being can see that for themselves. It is as self-evident as anything can be. So I want to make a few additional observations about this revelation:Greenwald, Digby and Merrit all have a lot more to say. Go read them.
(1) We are only learning about what was done to Padilla because, after 3 1/2 years of being held without any charges, he is now in the criminal judicial system and the Government's conduct and its allegations against Padilla are both now being subjected to scrutiny (just like the pre-9/11 Founders intended and explicitly required).
But if the Bush administration had its way, Padilla would still be languishing in solitary confinement -- prohibited from any contact with the outside world, including lawyers -- and detained without any charges at all. Bush officials did not voluntarily indict him and transfer him to the judicial system because they suddenly woke up one day and realized that American citizens shouldn't be imprisoned for years and years without due process. To the contrary, they still believe they have the power to detain U.S. citizens in that manner.
They only brought charges against Padilla in November, 2005 -- and transferred him from his military brig to a federal prison -- because the Supreme Court was set to rule on the legality of their treatment of Padilla, something they were desperate to avoid. By indicting him and finally allowing him to contest the accusations in court, the administration was able to argue -- successfully -- that the Supreme Court should dismiss Padilla's case because the relief he was seeking (i.e., either be charged or released) was now granted and his claims were therefore "moot."
But the administration continues to argue that it has the power to detain U.S. citizens -- including those, like Padilla, detained not on a "battlefield," but on U.S. soil -- indefinitely and without any charges being brought. Nothing has changed in that regard.
(2) The Bush administration "justified" its treatment of Padilla through rank fear-mongering -- having John Aschroft flamboyantly brand him "the Dirty Bomber" and then leak to the press over the next two years that he wanted to blow up apartment buildings. But the indictment contained none of those allegations (because the "evidence" on which they were based was flimsy from the start and, independently, was unusable because it was obtained via torture). Instead, the Indictment merely recites the vaguest possible terrorism-related conspiracy accusations against Padilla.
Now that they are forced to defend their accusations in court, the Bush administration's case against Padilla has been revealed to be incredibly weak, as Dan Eggen's typically excellent article in The Washington Post last month detailed:
But now, nearly a year after his abrupt transfer into a regular criminal court, the Justice Department's prosecution of the former Chicago gang member is running into trouble.
A Republican-appointed federal judge in Miami has already dumped the most serious conspiracy count against Padilla, removing for now the possibility of a life sentence. The same judge has also disparaged the government's case as "light on facts," while defense lawyers have made detailed allegations that Padilla was illegally tortured, threatened and perhaps even drugged during his detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. . . .
But some legal scholars and defense lawyers argue that the government's case is so fundamentally weak, and its legal options so limited, that Padilla could draw a relatively minor prison term or even be acquitted. The trial has already been postponed once, until January, and is almost certain to be delayed again.
It should go without saying (though I have no doubt that, for some, it does not) that whether Padilla is ultimately found guilty has absolutely no bearing on the disgraceful crime of detaining him with no charges for years and torturing him.
But the fact that the case against Padilla is so weak ought to cause any rational person to understand the dangers of vesting the power in the President to order people imprisoned forever without any real judicial process. Unfortunately for the U.S., the majority of the Military-Commissions-Act-approving 109th Congress was not composed of people who reason that way or who actually believe in the way America was designed to work.
(3) As Jeralyn Meritt said yesterday with profound understatement: "There should be a greater outcry over this." As I have said many times, the most astounding and disturbing fact over the last five years -- and there is a very stiff competition for that title -- is that we have collectively really just sat by while the U.S. Government arrests and detains people, including U.S. citizens, and then imprisons them for years without any charges of any kind. What does it say about our country that not only does our Government do that, but that we don't really seem to mind much?"
And if you aren't utterly disgusted at the behavior of the subhuman frightened children who populate our White House and Justice Department then you are not an American and have failed your civics course.
You could also find yourself subject to such criminal treatement.
Friday, December 01, 2006
The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.This is what is currently being called the "80% solution." That is, we stop attempting outreach to the 20% of the population that is Sunni, and support only the Kurds and Shiites.
But from the Washington Post, Nov 29, 2006 we get:
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, [who] said in a speech last month that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited." If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.If George Bush attempts the 80% Solution, the result will be a genocidal war between the Shiites (60% of the population) and the Sunnis (20% of the population) with the Kurds mostly sitting it out unless they make a grab for Kirkuk. In such a war the Iranians will be supporting the Shiites (they currently provide equipment and training to the militia of al-Sadr) and the Saudis will be doing likewise to the Sunnis.
We will under those circumstances find ourselves allied with Iran!? against the Sunnis and protecting the Kurds (maybe - we have a poor history with the Kurds.) But that will also be the result if we pull out of Iraq precipitately.
At the same time this is very likely to spill over into the already unstable Lebanon and into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Powell was right. Bush broke it, we own it. I'll make one promise. The situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
[h/t to Kevin Drum here and here. The comments with Kevin's articles are always excellent.]
NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts. [Snip]This clearly isn't a done deal, but it looks like the purely electronic machines with no paper trail are now fighting a defensive battle. Still, that doesn't solve all the problems. The system used in my county offers your choice of an electronic booth or optical scan during regular voting.
NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida.
If the commission agrees with NIST, the practical impact may not be felt until 2009 or 2010, the soonest that new standards would be implemented. The standards that the Election Assistance Commission will adopt are voluntary, but most states require election officials to deploy voting systems that meet national or federal criteria.[snip]
NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote "is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections." The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that "a single programmer could 'rig' a major election." [Snip]
Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of "software independence" in voting systems.
NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine's software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote -- and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine -- but such paper trails have had their own problems.[Snip]
Linda Schade, a founder of TrueVoteMD, which has pressed for a system that provides a verifiable paper record of each vote, said, "These strong statements from a credible institution such as NIST add yet another voice to the consensus that paper electronic voting as used in states like MD is not secure. We hope that the [Election Assistance Commission] formally adopts these improved standards."
Even critics of paperless electronic voting have grown disenchanted with the practical problems of adding printers to electronic "touch-screen" voting machines.
"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, a group critical of electronic voting systems. "We have a perfectly good system -- the paper-ballot optical-scan system."
The reason given for requiring electronic machines in the first place is so that visually handicapped voters can vote. Otherwise, the optical scan system is perfectly satisfactory. However, I have an assisted living center in the voting precinct for which I am the Election Judge, and the electronic voting booth makes the blind voters a lot happier than having two election workers read the ballot and mark it for them on the optical scan system.
But we still have to use the system of two precinct workers providing assistance for people who are blind and whose language is not English. We had two election workers help each of two elderly individuals, and our only available translator was their grandson. Needless to say, they used paper ballots.
Then there is early voting. Early voting goes on for two weeks, and with nearly one million voters in the county as well as having combined elections for federal, state, county, city, school district, water district, Community College District and a few others, the ballots for any given individual can get complicated. I held the Nov 7th election for two precincts, and one precinct has a single block that is in the county, not the city, and there was a city proposition on which county voters could not vote. So I had three ballots for two precincts. Since early voting uses a limited number of voting places (30 to 40 rather than the normal nearly 300 precincts) and anyone in the county can vote in any voting place, the stack of preprinted ballots stored at the early voting locations would be extremely difficult to keep up with. As a result, in our county only electronic voting machines are used for early voting. We normally have half of the voters use early voting.
Still, it looks like the Presidential election of 2008 may be the last chance for Diebold to steal an election without any record.