Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Tale of Two Men

One died peacefully of old age this week, surrounded by family and friends.
One died cursing as he was hanged this week, surrounded by enemies.

One came to the Presidency by accident.
One scraped and clawed his way to the Presidency.

One struggled against the inflationary shockwaves of the 1970s.
One rode them to riches.

One was content to be seen as an ordinary man.
One fostered a powerful cult of personality.

One was an ineffectual bumbler who tried to heal his nation.
One terrorized his people and divided them against each other.

The tyrant was killed in a nation sliding toward anarchy.
The moderate died in a nation sliding toward autocracy.

Both were proud nationalists who believed god was on their side.
Both have America to thank for their rise to power... and for how they met their end.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

The 52nd State

Here is something that is completely hypothetical and not entirely thought out on my part. It is an random idea that is floating around in my head based mostly on observation. But since it is the new year, perhaps we can brain tease this for a bit.

I am catching up on my Economist reading and I just hit an article on US-UK cooperation on the development of fighter jets. For those who aren't familiar, we are working with the Brits to develop a joint strike fighter (JSF). The program is much bigger than just the US and the UK, involving 8 other countries. However, the main focus at the moment is the JSF. The Brits are developing the jet, but they need US secret computer codes for plane operations and firing capabilities. Up until now, the US has been unwilling to hand over those types of codes. But that has changed since Dec 12, when the Pentagon agreed to the request technology transfers.

This may well set a precedent for the future with much more cooperation with the UK on military hardware as well as war fighting like we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have long had deep cooperation in terms of intelligence; we are the "cousins" you know. There is speculation that the British diaspora is probably the third largest in the world, with the US being one of the top destinations for wayward Brits. More of our media is coming for the UK (BBC America is fast growing in the US, especially on PBS stations). With our linguistic and well as historic ties, you start to paint an interesting picture of the "special relationship" that goes beyond what most of us realize.

Since the US has the upper hand most of the time and since the UK is knocking itself out to maintain its "special relationship", I wonder, if in some twisted irony, are we slowing integrating to the point where the UK is like a 52nd state (after Israel of course)? Maybe one day, we'll be able to live and work freely in each other's countries, travel across the pond without a passport, vote in each other's elections, fly each other's flags???? Or, perhaps we will have a specially commonwealth relationship or, has the French call them, our own "Territoire d'autre mer".


Thursday, December 28, 2006

John Edwards

(photo originally viewed at this site, and is meant in no way to implicate Dr. S. . . . or maybe . . . )

John Edwards is taking advantage of the slow news cycle to announce his candidacy. He is headed to Iowa next. So I hope Roving Citizen will give us some insight on that visit.

He is still talking about 2 Americas. He is saying that he wants to being 40-50K troops home now. He is talking about universal health care, a fight against global warming, and, get this, morality. Of course, there are no details at this point.

When he ran as a VP, I felt he was overly emotive and I didn't care for him. However, looking at the current field of candidates, I am willing to give him a second look. He is actually refreshing at the moment. He is young, has little history, has openly admitted he made a mistake in voting for the war, has not been in elected office since 2004, and campaign experience behind him. These things may be assets. He is the type of long shot candidate that may surprise us. And America may be ready for a young, idealistic, charmer with big ideas. Maybe it is what we need after 8 years of corruption and rampant egotism.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Polar Bears Unite

The Bush Administration has finally had to admit that Global Warming is a fact. And it took a bit white bear and a lawsuit to do it.

The Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne (sorry th name cracks me up. Very appropriate for a Sec of the Interior), is exploring putting polar bears on the endangered species list. Why? Their habitat is melting away due to global warming. Without the proper frozen habitat, polar bears will not have access to their main foodstuff, ice seals. Reports of increased cannibalism among polar bears and decreases in reproduction have triggered concern among scientists.

If polar bears are added to the endangered species list, could trigger some huge changes to environmental law. For starters, companies that pollute could find themselves facing severe fines for violation of the endangered species act. In addition, auto manufacturers may find it much harder to challenge CAFE standards when faced with a de facto expansion of the endangered species act.

The Bush Administration , in a typical show of double speak, said that if the polar bear is placed on the endangered list, this will not mean an easing in oil drilling in Alaska nor a reduction in green house gas emissions. I am not sure how the Administration can comply with the Act without forcing a reduction in emissions.

But no worries, the Bush Administration won't be in office by the time the bears are added to the list. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will be studying the issue for the next 12 months. Talk about buying time.


Ethiopia and Somalia

OK, the American news is mostly full of beatifying eulogies of Gerald Ford (and he wasn't a bad guy). But there is this small matter of a complicated civil war in Somalia.

The cliff notes version of what's going on there is that Somalia (a mostly Muslim country) has been plagued by clan warfare for years. Al Qaida has been active in Somalia for a long time too (remember Blackhawk Down?). The latest development in the clan warfare was a recent victory by a new group call itself the Islamic Courts. This group first co-opted/defeated the clan based war lords then drove the government itself out of the capital. Speculation has been strong that the Islamic Courts are affiliated with Al Qaida.

That's when it got interesting. Kenya was nervous about a group with links to Al Qaida (remember the embassy bombings?) controlling neighboring Somalia. Ethiopia was concerned when it became clear that the Islamic Courts were getting plane loads of military equipment from Eritrea (the former Red Sea coastal province of Ethiopia which has had continuing military conflicts with that country). Ethiopia has now intervened and it's armed forces appear poised to take over the capital and the major port city.

The regional IGO (IGAD pronounced "EGAD!"), is split on the issue. The Arab League is predictably supporting the Islamic Courts. The African Union first made a statement that sounded like support for Ethiopia and then appeared to side with the Arab League.

If that wasn't complicated enough, the US is rumored to be backing the Ethiopian military.

The Horn of Africa region is rife with problems. Long a cluster of failed and failing states, this part of Africa is now a haven for Al Qaida and their allies and pirates. That's right, cruise ships sail past Somalia at their own risk. Just google search pirates and Somalia and you'll see what I mean.

This war is one of proxies within proxies. The Eritreans are using the Islamic courts to open a second front against Ethiopia. The Ethiopians are countering by supporting the Somali government. The US, Kenya and Uganda are rumored to be backing the Ethiopians. The Sudanese are rumored to be backing the Eritreans. The Arab League is...well...harumphing loudly and just as impotently trying to cover their collective asses.

The result is some of the fiercest fighting in Somalia in country that's seen more than it's share of fighting.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

President Ford

It is reported this evening that President Ford has died at the age of 93, the cause of death has not been reported. I am just reading this after being away for several days. I haven't had much time to digest it or to consider Ford's presidency.

However this article refers to Ford as "the only one never elected to nationwide office" and the "accidental president". (Of course, these words might be said about our current president. However, the sentiment behind them would be completely different.)

Ford was, in some ways, the epitome of "accidental" in that he was a true public servant. He didn't seek office, but was asked to serve and he did. He and his wife were, in many ways, a very average Americans who had average problems, such as alcoholism. But they were called to duty, and they rose to the occasion. That should be honored and respected.

Nixon didn't think much of Ford. Yet, it was Ford who redeemed him by choosing to pardon Nixon, a decision that demonstrated his courage and integrity. This isn't to say that I agree with his decision. Nor do I judge it harshly because I understand his reasoning, and I have read about how he agonized over it.

It was under Ford that we pulled out of Vietnam, a war that two other presidents created and fostered. Ford took some of the rap for that, loosing his bid for the presidency in 1976. And he was longed criticized for pardoning Nixon. He put his personal political career to the side to do what he thought best for the country and its healing. I find it somewhat unjust that the year of our bicentennial he lost his own attempt for the presidency as a result.

What do the Citizen's think?


Let him hang

The NY Times reports that the Iraqi appeals court has cleared the way for Saddam Hussein's execution within 30 days. I hope it can be even sooner.

Let us not fool ourselves into thinking this execution is a triumph of justice, however: it is a political act. In a nation where soldiers celebrate by eating the heart out of a living rabbit (see below) no government will be credible if they cannot even kill the man they overthrew to take power. May the execution be swift, certain, and with no American flags in sight.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Stay the Course

With the installment of Robert Gates as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, there is now growing discussion of a possible increase in the overall size of the U.S. military and a "surge" in the number of troops in Iraq. And it's not just the conservatives. Many liberals, perhaps fearing the stain of being "soft" on defense, are joining this sanctimonious chorus. Even the LA Times has called for a "repudiation" of the "'leaner, meaner' posture identified with Rumsfeld."

But this is madness. It opposite to what America voted for in 2006, opposite to what the Iraq Study Group recommended, and opposite to common sense. Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose that tired old path. And the greatest danger may be that the Bush Administration seems on the verge of abandoning the Army's path to "transformation" and returning to the heavily armored, bloated military of the Cold War. We certainly need a new plan for Iraq. But when it comes to transformation we should stay the course.

The following remarks would have been a fitting tribute by George W. Bush to commemorate the installment of Robert Gates as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense...

[W]e're going to need all of your accumulated wisdom and experience to carry us through the turbulence of the present to secure our future... You're going to build a more agile Total Army that harnesses the full potential of all of its members--Active, Guard and Reserve. And you will complete their transformation into information-age warriors ready to dominate a digitized battlefield and ensure that all stay well-trained and well-equipped and well-prepared for any mission that fortune or fate might demand of them.

...but they were not spoken by Bush. Instead, these were spoken by over seven (7) years ago on June 22, 1999 by then-Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at the ceremony welcoming General Eric "Ric" Shinseki as the new U.S. Army Chief of Staff. (This is the man whom Bush's first Secretary of Defense effectively fired.) The quote illustrates that the "transformation" of the Army was underway at the highest levels--that it was already dogma--long before Rumsfeld or even Shinseki took the stage. (This has been discussed before on this blog in some detail.)

Rumsfeld always claimed to be the a champion of "transformation" but in practice he has come close to wrecking it. He had the arrogance to conduct the war Iraq as though it were a showcase for his personal vision of transformation, and purged the Pentagon of those who counseled against it. Rumsfeld's attempts to hijack the transformation effort and claim it as his own are about to backfire: as a result of Rumsfeld's failure in Iraq (and his subsquent sacking), many now seem to think that the transformative effort itself is a proven failure as well.

It is not. The failures in Iraq are political, not military; the Stryker Brigades (and other networked forces) and our soldiers have performed admirably over there. The trouble is that Bush and Rumsfeld thought "full spectrum operations" meant that the Army could do anything... and we are now reminded once again that this is not so. Armies are good at destroying other armies, not destroying insurgents or terrorists. They are good at holding ground, not occupying nations. They are good at rebuilding infrastructure, not rebuilding an economy. They are good at setting up polling stations, not establishing a democracy. They are good at enforcing order and subduing rioters, not fostering peace and justice. They can patrol streets, but are a poor substitute for local police. They can protect key locations, but they cannot be everywhere.

We should transform the Army so it can do its job better. We should not just throw men and money at the military in hopes that somehow it will be able to do what it is just not designed for. We will not achieve security and peace in Iraq by doing more of the same--by sending more troops or enforcing stricter curfews on an already-weary population. We need instead a comprehensive political, diplomatic, and economic approach to Iraq. (For example, we might consider giving reconstruction funds to the Iraqis rather than handing out plum no-bid contracts to our own corporations.) The knee-jerk hard-line response of the Bush administration has failed. Let's not let this same reaction kill transformation too.

Former Secretary of Defense Cohen understood the danger of the hard-line approach better than his successor. I will leave you with the eloquent conclusion of his address.
...[General Shinseki] was born in a small town in Hawaii in 1942. Due to the hysteria of the time, the law stated that all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether citizen or not, be designated as enemy aliens. Ric's grandfather was a laborer in Hiroshima who arrived in Hawaii in the late 1800's, and he raised his children and grandchildren to love America. Yet on the day that he was born, Ric Shinseki was considered an enemy of the state. Today, we have the privilege to present Ric as the 34th Army Chief of Staff.
-Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen welcoming new U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric "Ric" Shinseki, at Fort Myer, Virginia on June 22, 1999


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The More Things Change...

Today, U.S. soldiers handed control of Najaf over to the new Iraqi security forces. According to the LA Times, 1,500 Iraqi police and soldiers paraded around a soccer field to commemorate the occasion. The mood was jubilant, including musical performances, martial arts demonstrations, and this festive act:

At one point, a small group of soldiers stepped forward with a live rabbit and tore it to pieces. The leader bit out the heart with a yell, then passed around the blood-soaked remains to his comrades, each of whom took a bite. The group also bit the heads off frogs, as some of those in the crowd held their noses from the stench... Police then steered shiny new cruisers and motorcycles with ribbons and flowers stuck to their windshields around a track ringing the soccer field, which was still littered with fur and discarded frog legs.

The LA Times notes that chewing on live animals was a traditional display of "ferocity" for elite Iraqi units under Saddam Hussein and previous regimes. In a similar vein, you may recall that the U.N. reported back in September that torture in Iraqi prisons and detention facilities is "out of control" and is now even worse than it was under Saddam's rule.

When the U.S. invaded in March 2003, I recall a certain Citizen remarked cynically that when the U.S. attempted to occupy Iraq afterwards, we would learn why Saddam had to gas his population to maintain order. From the American use of incendiary white phosphorus in Fallujah, to widespread torture at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and under the aegis of coalition and government forces in Iraq... a frightening pattern has emerged. The celebration of the "new" special forces underscores the truth: as that Citizen predicted, the old ways have returned.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Try the Past Tense

"We simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East," said new Secretary of Defense Gates today. "Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."

There's only one thing wrong with Gates' assessment of Iraq: his choice of tense. Already, tens of thousands lie dead and hundreds of thousands are wounded. Iraq has fallen into a civil war and the situation is "grave and deteriorating." We lost our international good will over the invasion; we lost our credibility over the WMDs fiasco; we lost our reputation over Abu Ghraib. Electricity, water, oil production, and infrastructure in Iraq are worse than before. Our enemies--Al Qaeda, Iran, and Syria--now call the shots in most of the countryside and the Baathists are returning to what remains of the Iraqi government in the Green Zone. Colin Powell warns that the U.S. Army is now "about broken."

We have poured over $300 Billion into Iraq already, yet Republicans seem to think they can keep extending the game into overtime. The reality is that Bush has already lost--he just refuses to take the players off the field. Even if peace and happiness were to break out tomorrow, the Iraq war would remain a disaster. Winning is no longer a possible policy goal. The question now is how best to deal with Bush's colossal failure.


Saturday, December 16, 2006


News reports now confirm that the "re-baathification" of Iraq is officially underway. Al-Maliki has invited old Baathists back into the Army and the government, in hopes of quelling the violence. Bush's failure in Iraq continues to plumb new depths. As the old guard comes back into the government, the sole "success" of Bush's war in Iraq, regime change, no longer looks 100% clear anymore.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tim Johnson

Yesterday, it as reported that Tim Johnson, the Democratic Senator from South Dakota, had a stroke and was hospitalized. Now he is in 'critical but stable' condition, and it appears there is no stroke, but some other ailment with blood in the brain. It is obviously very sad for his family. But the nation as a whole looks on because if he should leave his Senate seat, the replacement will be a Republican, and the control of the Senate will shift back to the Republicans.

A friend emailed me to ask how long it would be before Pat Robertson claimed that God struck down Tim Johnson. My response: was it possibly Polonium 210? I hope Evangelicals go off believing that God is striking down Democrats for them. Why? It makes them less likely to support centrist Republicans, which is the only thing that could save the GOP, which suffered far worse than a stroke in the 2006 elections.

I hope that all good people, of whatever religion, pray for Tim Johnson to recover. Of course, this should be done regardless of party: Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming) is suffering from leukemia and may not last out this term either, and his replacement would be a Democrat. Keep them in your prayers. And if you do not choose to pray, let's all try at least hold them in our thoughts, and express our sympathy and concern for their respective families rather than their respective political parties. That's a good first step to national healing as well.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I called it (sadly)

Bush will likely increase troop levels, it now seems. The LA Times is appropriately calling it a "double down" strategy. As I said earlier on this blog, this is the last card Bush has to play, and the only policy Dems will have a hard time criticizing until its 'failure' is evident, which will not be immediate. Numbers from 10,000 to 40,000 are being talked about. Indeed, a much higher number of troops may give a period of relative calm in early 2007 to boost Bush's popularity, before things fall apart again in the runup to the 2008 election, by which time he can chant cut-and-run again. I suspect, however, that an increase as small as 10 or 20,000 will do nothing to change the situation even in the short term.

This is so reminiscent of Vietnam. Have we learend nothing? It is also a massive rebuke of Rumsfeld, who would never have agreed to increase troop levels.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Now THAT hurts...

On Sunday, Louisiana re-elected the likely corrupt Jefferson (the man with cash in his freezer) just because that's what they do down there. It shows there's no anti-incumbent boom, just an anti-Republican boom.

But the kicker is tonight. In the Texas 23rd district, incumbent Republican Bonilla was booted out in a special election. See here for the latest results. This was the only district that the Supreme Court said had to be re-drawn after the Tom Delay redistricting effort. In the open primary election held on 11/7, Bonilla got 48% of the vote. The Dems split the vote six ways. The two frontrunners (Bonilla and Rodriguez) ran in the runoff. It now appears that his Democratic challenger will get 53% of the vote and win, bringing the Democratic total to 233 in the House (a pickup of exactly 30). It may be one more if Florida 13 gets revoted. Stay tuned.

This means that, in the month since the election, Republicans have become totally demoralized.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Diplomatic to the End

Outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan spoke today at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri. Here is the text. Read it and I think you will be both enlightened and amused, for Mr. Annan has delivered a masterpiece of diplomacy. (For example, I love how he thanks Senator Hagel, saying, "It is a great honor to be introduced by such a distinguished legislator." You can just hear him saying it.)

Mr. Annan's tone remains calm and thoughtful throughout. He plods carefully through his simple argument. He pauses frequently to thank his hosts and to praise the far-sightedness of the late President Truman. Yet like all great diplomatic addresses, Mr. Annan's prose falls gently on the ears and only then do you feel the serrated edge. Observe, for example, how innocently he backs into a repudiation of Bush's notion that the current "war on terror" is a fight for Western Civilization.

Standing here, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's last visit to the White House, just before Truman left office in 1953. Churchill recalled their only previous meeting, at the Potsdam conference in 1945. "I must confess, sir," he said boldly, "I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt." Then he paused for a moment, and continued: "I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilisation."

My friends, our challenge today is not to save Western civilisation--or Eastern, for that matter. All civilisation is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task. You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago? Surely not.

At another point, in the context of Security Council reform, he notes the "special responsibility" of the permanent membership (which he says should be enlarged) and muses that,
The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.

As President Truman said, "The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world." He showed what can be achieved when the US assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky is the limit.

Finally, at the conclusion of his address, Mr. Annan takes a swipe at Bush himself. It is not hard to read.
More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world's peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition. I hope and pray that the American leaders of today, and tomorrow, will provide it. Thank you very much.

Ah, I will miss him. If nothing else, Ban Ki-moon's accent is not half so lovely.


Random Monday thoughts

  • You must read this excellent speech given by Bill Moyers to West Point. Go now.
  • Does Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) ever get tired of being wrong? Here's a handy timeline to the most egregious things he's said on that subject. I especially like him pushing the Timothy McVeigh - Iraq connection (seriously).
  • So now Tom Delay has a blog. Go over there and read the comments -- sickeningly sycophantic. They have a system in place now that prevents Democrats from commenting. And it's a good thing they do, because the system wasn't working yesterday, and he got a whole lot of negative feedback. It's all documented at this blog. Tee-hee.
  • Glenn Greenwald compares Hugh Hewitt to Colbert and makes the point that it gets harder and harder to satirize the right wing. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers makes the same point.
  • Bill Hicks quote for the day:
    People ask me where I stand politically: it's not that I disagree with Bush's economic policy or his foreign policy, it's that I believe he was a child of satan here to destroy the planet earth.
    Remember, he's talking about the first President Bush. Listen to an extended rant at this site. Unbelievably timely.
  • YouTube for the day: Stephen Colbert explains to us how the right wing feels about the recent election results.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Iraq Study Group: Reflections

I have a number of reflections on the ISG report that I thought might help prompt more discussion here.
1. In 1991, Baker was involved in the first Gulf War, counseled against its extension to Baghdad, and, in its immediate aftermath, convened the Madrid Conference, exactly the sort of broad regional meeting he is proposing now. In many ways, the ISG report is a condemnation of GWBush's foreign policy team of neocons who failed to follow up on the Madrid Process.
2. The subtle conclusion is also that if Clinton had followed Madrid to reach a general regional settlement, rather than being sidetracked by starry-eyed Oslo process, 9/11 might not have happened. Baker's Madrid process was upstaged by the secret Oslo deal that stunned everybody. Baker has some sense of Schadenfreude that he can again publicly advocate a return to his ideas from 15 years ago. What followed Oslo, peace with Jordan, was nonetheless consonant with that process. The failure to make a deal with Syria thereafter, and the failure, indeed, of the Oslo process, has much to do with the assassination of Rabin and Netanyahu's unfortunate election. Netanyahu is sort of the GWBush of Israel. Of course, Arafat deserves much of the blame also, but he was much more of a known quantity. When the fox eats the chickens, you can blame the fox, but you should also blame the farmer for not anticipating the fox. As I say to RBR, what do you expect from a pig but a grunt? As for whether 9/11 could have been prevented, it is impossible to say. But the elimination of the two main irritants in the middle east - the Arab/Israeli conflict and the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia, might hav helped.
3. This report is a body blow to the Bush administration. The inescapable conclusion is the whole Iraq project was wrongly conceived from day one, then bungled with shocking incompetence thereafter. Bush said just last month that we were definitely winning in Iraq. The ISG said that is totally false. It leaves Bush marginalized and isolated. Beforehand, his stance: ("we are fighting a war on Islamic Fascism and terrorism, the soul of the Western civilization, WWII all over again blah blah blah") not the only game in town. Lots of moderates in Washington who thought that to be pure BS nonetheless supported the White House and the war believing that we were winning, or going to win, or could win if we just stayed the course. After ISG, that is gone. You can only support the Bush administration if you are prepared to adopt its bizarre ahistorical messianism.
4. It shows just how impossible Iraq has become that the ISG suggests that part of solving the Iraq problem is to solve the Arab/Palestinian problem. Next up: cold fusion and the perfect souffle.
5. "Mission Accomplished" never sounded more stupid.
6. The real message of the ISG is that the whole situation in the Middle East is far, far worse than it was the day before the Iraq war. This has been a blunder of epic proportions, on the order of the Intolerable Acts of or Napoleon invading Russia.
7. Bush has one card left to play: increase troop levels. It's the only thing he can do that the Congress will not dare oppose. More war will make it harder to criticize the war. It's the only thing he can do that he has not yet tried. Once again put scenes on our TV screens like we had in the initial days of both Iraq and Afghanistan, when the whole public supported our war efforts and cheered for our troops. Make it look and feel like a great national crusade. Then start the Baker international conference, once everyone is scared shitless.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Axis of Incompetence

The Iraq Study Group today echoed the Democrats' call for a political and diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis. But can the Bush Administration actually do it? Consider the available team (expand to the full post to see bios):

Secretary of State As Bush's National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice was one of the chief agitators for the Iraq war; as Secretary of State she has been one of the chief advocates of the Bush administration's disastrous and discredited "stay the course" approach. Dr. Rice had no diplomatic credentials prior to her current position as America's top diplomat.

Deputy Secretary of State (vacant)

*Undersecretary for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns is the senior career diplomat in the Bush Administration and third-ranking diplomat (after the Secretary and Deputy Secretary listed above). In the 1980s he served as Vice Consul in Cairo and later served in Jerusalem; under Clinton he served as Department of State Spokesman and Asst. Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs; in the 2000s he was our Ambassador to NATO. He speaks Arabic fluently and holds eight honorary doctorates. He is currently in Paris negotiating progress on a resolution to sanction Iran for its nuclear program. Ambassador Burns may be our best hope.

Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes is a Republican operative who was a campaign manager and speechwriter for Bush. She was later rewarded with this post. Ms. Hughes had no diplomatic credentials prior to her current position.

*Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. C. David Welch heads the branch of the State Department that handles all the Middle Eastern nations. In the 1980s he served in Pakistan, Syria, and Jordan; from 2001-05 he was U.S. Ambassador to Egypt. He has been involved in the Arab-Israeli peace process for many years.

Permanent Representative to the U.N. The famously undiplomatic John Bolton has resigned effective early January, leaving the post vacant.

Deputy Representative to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff joined the U.S. mission to the U.N. last year after a stint as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Paris. He does not speak Arabic and has no expertise in Middle Eastern affairs. His biography reads as the ultimate in civil service survivors--not an accomplished or respected diplomat.

Alternate Representative in the U.N. for Special Political Affairs Jackie W. Sanders has the primary duty of representing the U.S. on issues in the U.N. security council. Her work has focused on disarmament and non-proliferation. She does not speak Arabic and has no expertise in Middle Eastern affairs.

Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad is a defense analyst, not a diplomat. From 1991-92 he was Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning; from 1993-99 he was the Director of Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure for the Air Force at the RAND corporation; in 2001 he headed the transition team for the Defense Department and later was a counselor to Rumsfeld. His appointment to be the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (as well as his previous appointment to Afghanistan) is likely due to his unique status as the Bush administration's only ranking Muslim.

Ambassador to Syria (recalled) Margaret Scobey was recalled on February 15, 2005 to protest the assassination of Hariri; no date for her return has been set. In fact, she is now listed as a diplomat in Baghdad. Since 2001 she has served in Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jersualem. Her record is fair.

Ambassador to Iran (none)

The two marked with asterisks (*) are the only two possible players.

It is a shockingly bleak list.


Voices in the Wilderness

Here is a smattering of some of the voices the Bush administration ignored (or worse) in the lead-up to the Iraq war. I'm sure more web surfing could turn up more like these. It gives one a sense of what an "Iraq Study Group" might have concluded in 2002-03 before we rushed to war.

My guess is that the first American tanks will be across [the Tigris] within one week of war--but what lies beyond? assured, civil war will follow any American invasion of Iraq.
-Robert Fisk, November 10, 2002
The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? The risks of an invasion setting off reactions from a hideous civil war in Iraq to toppling regimes all over the Middle East is very real.
-Molly Ivins, November 19, 2002
I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, "Horrible three-way civil war?"
-Molly Ivins, January 16, 2003
While the Iraqi people may initially respond to the deposing of Saddam Hussein and his clique with euphoria, many [U.S.] officers do not expect a quick or easy transition to anything resembling stability or democracy; indeed, some who have made a close study of the region anticipate "spheres of simultaneous civil conflict all over Iraq," as one put it, that will tax resources as well as US public opinion... According to former OSCE Bosnia chief Barry, while the right sees post-Saddam Iraq under US military governorship as akin to post-World War II Japan or Germany, it's more likely to resemble the former Yugoslavia...
-Jason Vest, February 13, 2003
Another document indicates that the UN is anticipating what it calls a "medium impact" scenario: "The military campaign encounters significant resistance, but ends after a more protracted period of two to three months. As a result of a large-scale ground offensive supported by aerial bombardments, there would be considerable destruction of critical infrastructure and sizable internal and external population movements." The report says there is a "major risk" of civil unrest in areas around Iraq that is "likely to result in high levels of casualties."
-Jason Scahill, February 13, 2003
Throwing Saddam Hussein and his Baath party out of power leads to a danger many of Iraq's neighbors have long warned about; a civil war. Iraq has always been an unstable country... Iraq's cast of potentially warring factions is a long one, and they are all waiting to present their grievances and demands to the occupation government and, following that, the next Iraqi government. No one has a solution for this coming conflict, but it's useful to know who is going to be fighting who, and why.
-James F. Dunnigan, April 4, 2003

(OK, so the last one is after the initial invasion, but still very early.) The price of Bush's arrogance and incompetence so far: 3,000 Americans killed; 45,000 American wounded; 50,000 Iraqis killed; 100,000+ Iraqis wounded...


Monday, December 04, 2006

At least we won't have to pay for it.

Tomorrow the bipartisan Iraq Study Group will deliver their, "forward-looking, independent assessment," of the Iraq situation. Gee... doesn't this sound like the kind of study the Bush administration should have conducted before they rushed us into war? Shouldn't the Bush administration have been making such assessments all along? Any competent administration would have sought expert advice from across the political spectrum before sending our soldiers off to die... but not the Bush administration.

The Bush administration listened only to those who already shared their views: they disparaged the patriotism of any who questioned them. When things began to fall apart, the Bush administration became more aggressive, lashing out at the "media" for their reporting and dismissing as "nonsense" outside studies by the U.N. and others. Against all evidence the Bush administration continued to insist there were links between Al Qaeda and Iraq, continued to insist Saddam was on the verge of developing WMDs or had cleverly hid them away, and continued to pretend everything was fine. Then on November 8th Bush woke up to find he had lost the support of the American people, lost control of the House and Senate, lost his pretense of an exit strategy, and lost all credibility.

Now let's make one thing perfectly clear: the Iraq Study Group cannot change the facts on the ground and cannot generate new options. (Hey, for pro bono work, what do you expect?) All they can do is try to make Bush listen to reason. We'll have to wait and see, but if the leaked hints are correct, the emerging strategy seems to be a sort of "graceless exit," a recommendation to "cut and walk." In other words, the Iraq Study Group will issue a Report that is exactly what one would expect from a committee of old men: an artless compromise. After witnessing six years of bungling, I think we've all given up hoping for any real leadership from this administration. At this point, I am just praying those old men hit George W. Bush over the head with their hundred-page monument to the obvious until it sinks in.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Says it all

Considering our posts from last week, this picture from Robert Doisneau says it all.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Continuing the (R)evolution?

I have been turning over a theory in my mind for the last several months. And it has been somewhat uninformed, just a hunch. Latin American nations have been electing an interesting bunch of leftist leaders, leaders that had they ran for office in the 1980s, would have been quickly disposed of by the U.S. The “Colossus of the North” has a pretty nasty reputation of staging covert CIA backed coups and instigating civil wars in Latin America. These actions, needless to say, disrupted the region’s natural political evolution in the name of Cold War politics.

So I am starting to wonder if Latin Americans are taking advantage the U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East to finally run their countries as they see fit, and if the U.S. is trying to do in the Middle East what it did in Latin America, but this time in the name of energy politics. While I am not a fan of people like Chavez, I am a fan of national sovereignty, and I believe that nations have to evolve at their own pace. I think it is an interesting and important transitional time for Latin America.

Here is a list that you might all find interesting. You will see some wacky leftists, like Chavez, but also some more pragmatic left-leaning leaders who seem to follow the mold of Lula da Silva in Brazil. Then there are suspicious election winners like Garcia of Peru. I think it makes for some provocative thought.

Hugo Chavez- Venezuela: Elected in twice, once in 1999 and then again in 2002. He is the father of the “Bolivarian Revolution”. He is a democratic socialist (rather than a social democrat like Lula da Silva in Brazil). He launched a failed coup attempt in 1992. Then ran for office and was elected in 1998. He survived an attempted coup against him in 2002 (blamed that on the CIA) and a recall referendum in 2004 (blamed that on the CIA). He has changed the constitution so that he can remain in power and has said he’ll retire from power in 2021. He is now famous to calling G.W. Bush the devil. He has turned away from economic liberalization by renationalizing the oil industry, is “fidel” to Fidel, and may be positioning himself to become the next thorn in the side of the U.S. when Fidel dies.

Evo Morales- Bolivia-A.K.A “The Sweater": Elected in Jan 2006 over an American-educated businessman. Morales is a socialist and the leader of a loose federation of coca leaf-growers who are resisting the efforts of the United States government to eradicate coca in southeastern Bolivia. He is said to be the first Indian president of Bolivia. He believes that he owes his victory in part to inflammatory remarks made by the U.S. Ambassador, Manuel Rocha. He claims that the worst enemy of humanity is U.S. capitalism. He also claims that “If the entire world doesn't acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated." I have to admit, he has a point here. He hsupports complete nationalization of the nation's oil and gas industries and claims to be part of the “Axis of good” with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

Rafael Correa- Ecuador: Elected in Nov 2006. Came from obscurity to win as a self titled. “Christian Leftist”. A western trained economist, he has rejected a free-trade treaty with the U.S. and promised to shut down an American base at Manta used for anti-drug flights. He threatened to default (the euphemistic term is “place a moratorium”) on Ecuador's foreign debt, cut ties with the IMF and World Bank, and bring more state control to bear on banks. He has promised to spend more of the nation's oil revenue (Bolivia is the region’s 5th largest producer) on the poor. He has said that he will also call for a new constitutional assembly when he takes office in Jan.

He has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and wrote in his dissertation about the “Washington Consensus" defined correctly as a set of U.S.-backed, free-market policies intended to address the region's economic ills and analyzes the potential of a common regional currency as a partial solution. That said, he has agreed to keep the dollar as the country’s official currency. In the wake of his election, Ecuador’s bonds were hammered. His response to concerns about jittery investors was somewhat royal, "If they're nervous, let them take a Valium. What more can I do?" So the jury is still out.

Daniel Uribe-Columbia: Elected in 2002 and again in 2006. He is hard to place on the political spectrum but can perhaps be defined as center left. His situation is different from that of other Latin American countries in that his presides over near anarchy. His first term was successful in that he managed to get a grip on the violence for which Colombia is famous. It helps that he gets some $600 mil a year from the U.S. So I imagine he has a lot of help and makes a lot of trade offs for it. His concern is less the economy and more the FARC. There are well-founded rumors that he has ties to the Medellin Drug Cartel. However, as a president he has not done anything outside the bounds of the constitution. The Economist says that he is the first president to be re-elected in Columbia in modern history. After his re-election, the FARC declared war, ambushing government troops in a bloody attack. Safe to say, he, unlike the rabble rousers in Venezuela and Bolivia is far from a maverick, but he may not be able to repeat the successes of his frist term.

Daniel Ortega- Nicaragua: Elected Nov. 2006. Remember this guy? He was the Sandinista rebel leader whose group toppled the American-backed Samoza regime that threw the country into Civil War. We funded the Contras (famous Iran Contra deal) in the hopes that they would destroy him and his leftist counterparts. Well, it looks like he has succeeded again over U.S. wishes having beat U.S. backed Eduardo Montealegre, an investment banker (we really know how to pick the right horse in Latin America, don’t we?). Ortega claims to be a new man. In the twist of ironies (or some odd version of “That 70’s Show”), Jimmy Carter monitored the election. So we will have to wait and see what he does.

Alan Garcia- Peru: Elected in 2001 and again in 2006. Peru is perhaps the most interesting story of Latin American Presidential politics. If you recall, Fujimouri fled to Japan in 2001 and Peru held its first elections in 10 years. It was a dirty deal. Garcia ran against Hugoesque Alejandro Toledo, a former shoe-shine boy turned economist. At one point Toledo claimed that he was drugged and kidnapped by Fijimouri’s agents and then filmed in sexually compromising poses. This was meant to explain his positive test for cocaine and his appearance in a threesome at a hotel. Toledo fired back with allegations of corruption against Garcia, who prior to his candidacy had been in exile for 9 years after having been accused of accepting bribes. Videos of money changing hands turned up.

Toledo won but the election was very close and there were suspicions of election tampering. Toledo had some excessive habits, such as a rather large budget for expensive whiskey.

Garcia won round two is now seen to be moving toward the center left, adopting some of the policies promoted by Toledo. At the same time, he is lobbying hard for a trade deal with the U.S. and has exercised tough fiscal restraint. But he has also lashed out at environmentalists and human rights activists.

Tabare Vazquez Uruguay: Elected 2005. His wearing of the sash ended 150 years of government by Colorados and the National party. He is moderate, more in line with Lula da Silva. He has satiated the far left of his party by giving them toothless but significant posts. He has resisted adding leftists to his economic team. That said, his first act as president? To restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. This may have less to do with any love for Fidel and more to do with economic common sense.

Michelle Bachelet-Chile: Elected in 2006- She is a socialist, but more in the European strain of the word. She promised to maintain Chile’s economic track while spending more on social programs. She recently took a hit for refusing to throw more money at schools until there were better control mechanisms for dispersing it. Chile is prosperous. It is up to her to keep that up.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Police Brutality at UCLA

OK, a number of the Citizens live or have lived in Los Angeles and most of us have connections either directly or indirectly to UCLA and all of us have been there several times.

That's why I was appalled when I found out that a couple of weeks ago a UCLA student was repeated shocked with a taser gun at the UCLA library because he did not have a student ID and he had not left a computer lab quickly enough. Several of the shocks came AFTER he was handcuffed.

Here is the video (of course it was videoed! You'd think cops in LA would realize their being watched now). If you have not watched this video, I strongly encourage you to. Even if you have read about this story in other media. This is about a 7 minute video of a college student being repeatedly shocked by campus police while other students alternately beg them to stop and demand their badge numbers.

Oh, and here is the cherry on top. The student in question was one of many LA residents and UCLA students who is of Persian decent. His middle eastern appearance almost certainly played a role in the violent reaction to a missing student ID. The victim can heard to scream as he's being tased, "Here is your f*ing Patriot Act!" How true. While the abuse of force by cops is not legal in the Patriot Act, there is a spurious relationship between support for the Patriot Act and apathy about the violent abuse of Middle Eastern decent Americans.

In the video you can see (towards the end as they are dragging the now limp tazing victim out of the library) a student demand the badge number of one of the cops. The cop responds (taser in hand) that the student better back off or "you'll get tased too." LTG, what are the rules for cops to threaten force when requested to give their badge number?

The cops involved never did identify themselves to the witnesses. And one of the cops has also been involved in several other cases of extreme use of force. The man with the taser gun has choked students with his night stick and shot a homeless man in a university building restroom. Here is a link to the LA Times story about the rogue cop's past.

Now, since this incident I've been pretty busy but I still check out a lot and I watch cable news and listen to NPR news. And I did not hear about this until two weeks later! Are we so numb to the abuse of force by the police that we simply shrug our shoulders and move on?

Can some of the Citizens with closer current ties to LA fill the rest of us in on what the situation at UCLA is? Have there been protests? Is there going to be an investigation? What is the reaction in the city at large?


Petty Despots and Freedom to Pursue Happiness

This posting runs the risk of sounding like a rant. But I see a trend in this country that is disturbing. I know I have addressed it before, however having recently traversed the country 4 times in the last month, I find that the number of “rules” we all passively live under has grown to the point that I am starting to feel like a lion in a cage.

There are the now “normal” irritations of having to take my shoes off in airport lines or standing there with my zippy all full of hand cream. But what is worse is that they now have screens flashing all the rules along with TSA employees all along the line blaring, “Have your lap tops out”, "Get your ID's ready." "Don’t put your shoes in the same bin as your coat.” You grumble to yourself or your fellow travelers hoping to ease, just a little, the irritation you are now feeling. That is the only form of protest you get to make. Then your bra clasp sets off the machine and you get to do the spread and grope. It is reminiscent of East German guards or those former Soviet party officials who would eyeball you from across the street. Only in both of these cases, you expected that treatment. You don’t except it in this country, or at least you didn’t just 6 years ago. If they ever catch Osama, before they do anything else to him, I hope they make him travel on U.S. airliners at least 20 times so that he can experience the fun and games he has made for all of us. And now that we have radio active aircraft floating over Europe, just wait for what comes next.

Once you clear the security hurdle, and you are in the plane, you get, “make sure your seat belt is visible at all times.” “Don’t stow your laptop in the seat pocket.” “Don’t form lines at the lavatory.” “Madam, you aren’t allowed to wear noise canceling headphones during take off and landing.” Whaaa? And then the Nurse Ratchets, mother superiors walk up and down the aisles during the entire flight staring at your lap each time. And get this, if your are lucky, your wardens on some flights are a little more "liberal" than on others. And the words "please" and "thank you" are dispensed with compeletly in all of this.

You get back to your office where they have just changed the garbage collecting contract. Now the hired help won’t pick up recycling. So, you organize a division wide recycling program where you place boxes for bottles and such in a community area and offer to take them to a private recycler and use the money for an office party later. Then your are told by the facilities manager you aren’t allowed to do that. If you want to do it, it you have collect the recycling from each office. No community bin. When you ask who you can petition to request a re-negotiation of the contract, you get no response. I thought French functionaries were bad! Thank goodness I don't live in a condo association! That would be a whole other thing. My friend does, and the her rule book is 800 pages long!

So you see the pattern developing. The whole thing from airports to offices to public parks, (where cracking a beer at a barbeque will get you fined if not arrested) is frought with "rules" that lack adequate justification. It is more than irritating, it is the arbitrariness and lack of reasonableness that lies under all of these rules.

In airports, line workers suddenly have the authority of princes, or think they do. The same can be said for anyone who wears any type of tin badge. When you question the logic or reason behind any of these things, if you get an answer at all (usually your are deemed to be a problem which only ratchets up their suspicion of you and brings on more troubles), you find that it is for “insurance reasons”, “security reasons”, or some other non-answer that is meant to remove responsibility and balme from the person you are confronting. And when you try to fight these rules or find a way around them, you are asked, "Why do you waste your energy on such things. It isn't worth it." My answer, "Because it is one being eaten alive by guppies and quite another to be eatn alive by guppies and TO KNOW IT IS HAPPENING while trying to maintain some sense of autonomy and self."

I find that rather than the once confident American citizen, I am now darting glances around places, looking for written signs permitting me to be there, allowing me to do my business in the way I would like. Or the signs that instruct me to do what should have been taught me at home long ago, such as turning off cell phones in theaters or washing my hands before leaving the restroom. What is more depressing than the constant feeling of big brother is that we don’t protest it enough. Like sheep we put up to get by. We adopt the subtle psychology of tyranny. This makes it all too easy for "officials" to use fear to control and to stop people from thinking independantly. And we all know where that road leads. So I say QUESTION AUTHORITY!


And off they go to the right...

The GOP seems to be reacting to the 2006 loss pretty much as most of us here at "The Citizens" expected. They are going further out on the right wing fringe on social issues. More red meat to the Christian Conservative base on issues only they give a damn about.

Why is this expected? Because one of the things the 2006 election did was weed out a lot of Republicans from suburban districts and other swing areas. The result is that the Republicans that are left are even more Southern, more rural, more Christian Conservative than before. Immediately after the election, they were saying that the reason relative moderates lost was because they weren't far right enough. They completely miss the real point (typical). The reason the far right survived intact was because they come from the safest Republican districts: rural, white, Protestant dominated districts in the deep South. So for 2008, they're going to go spiraling off to the right most reaches of outer space.

What does this say about who will win the GOP nomination in 2008? My guess is that this is good news for Brownback. It's bad news for Gingrich who probably wants the GOP to focus on economic and fiscal conservatism. I think it's also good news for the Democrats.

What do you all think?