Friday, March 31, 2006

More on Rumsfeld

I've said more than my share on Rumsfeld lately but I noticed an article by Joe Galloway of Knight Ridder that mentions two studies ordered by the Pentagon that suggest Rumsfeld's assumptions and ideas are so flawed they can no longer be dismissed with such flippant phrases as, "Stuff happens." Galloway sums up Rumsfeld's term as Secretary of Defense rather well near the end of the article:
From the beginning of his current tour as defense secretary, Rumsfeld has shown an amazing ability to hear only advice that agrees with him. Contrary advice, especially from a uniformed expert in the subject of combat power, is met with swift retribution. Telling the truth in Rumsfeld's Pentagon will get you in trouble quicker than a tour of duty in Iraq's Triangle of Death.

It's of interest that when budget time came around this year, Rumsfeld told the service chiefs that they could have manpower increases or money for weapons systems. One or the other, but not both. The service chiefs, to a man, opted for money to throw at defense contractors for weapons systems that were designed 20 or 30 years ago for the Cold War, or that haven't been designed at all.

Then the chiefs were informed that they'd also have to swallow decreases in manpower over the next five years.

Rumsfeld's arrogance and incompetence have done unprecedented damage to the military in a time of peril that won't end when he leaves town.
It's hard to say why Rumsfeld still has a job. He's clearly out of any useful ideas and is too stubborn to admit it. At age 73, he's wealthy and doesn't need the work though he can probably soothe his eqo by joining the board of directors of a half dozen major corporations.

Condi Rice glibly said yesterday that we have made thousands of tactical errors in Iraq. I don't know if that's a clumsy barb being thrown at Rumsfeld but Bush should run with that line of thinking. Now if Dr. Rice can admit that Iraq has been a major strategic error, perhaps some corrections can be made. Unfortunately, Bush has reached a point where he's the one who has to say such things and the signs are not good that he can look at himself honestly in the mirror.

Keep in mind, there are concrete steps that can be taken to reverse the fiasco that Bush's foreign policy has become. Even Congress can help Bush to take those first steps towards restoring credibility. The first step is being honest with the American people, and Congress can help Bush by laying out the facts even if that means investigations, though honest hearings that aren't exercises in administration window-dressing might be adequate to do the job; when Bush and his advisers can get past flippant and glib remarks and talk seriously about our situation in the world, then perhaps Bush can take the next step which means a major overhaul of his administration. If people are not getting the job done, a president has an obligation to find rational, non-ideological people who will and stop making excuses.

Oil Prices Returning to the News

Now that winter is over, the price of oil is starting to climb again. We were lucky that the Northeast and the upper Midwest had a relatively mild winter so that plenty of natural gas and heating oil was available. Actually, we've been lucky for most of the last twenty-five years that the price of oil has been relatively low. Or unlucky, since we didn't properly use that time to develop alternative energy on a large scale.

Keep in mind that the US government and the voters are not the only ones at fault. The big oil corporations have seen the writing on the wall for more than a generation (longer if you count some early oil company geologists) and have done little in that time to come up with solutions other than more clever ways to pump oil. I give credit to the engineers who figure out ways to keep the oil flowing but I don't credit managers for failing their responsibilities to the future.

Here's the first part of an article on the oil situation by Kevin G. Hall of the Knight Ridder Newspapers:
Oil prices inched Thursday toward last summer's record high amid concerns of supply disruptions, and energy forecasters think that volatile geopolitics and declining oil production will keep prices up for years.

Oil reached $67.15 a barrel Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 70 cents to a two-month high, amid concerns over disruptions in Nigerian oil production and a possible political showdown over the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the second-biggest exporter in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil cartel.

Oil prices are approaching last year's all-time high of $70.85 a barrel, which came the day after Hurricane Katrina's landfall on the Gulf Coast, and U.S. consumers again are feeling the shock at the gas pump. AAA said Thursday that the nationwide average for a gallon of unleaded gas stood at $2.51, which is 36 cents higher than a year ago and 27 cents higher than a month ago, but well below last year's inflation-adjusted all-time high of $3.05 a gallon.

Global oil production is straining to keep pace with demand, which makes oil traders fear supply disruptions and bid up prices for assured future delivery. The balance between supply and demand will remain tight for several years, which is expected to keep fuel prices high, experts at the Energy Information Administration's annual outlook meeting predicted Monday.

Kevin Hall's article is as good a summary of the oil situation as I've seen outside places like The Oil Drum. In the United States, we have a growing number of problems, including the energy sector, that require an engaged Congress and an engaged President Bush, neither of whom are doing much for the average American nor much for our future. It does not help matters that Bush has so many friends in the oil business.

We need a national evaluation of the energy sector and where it is going; only Congress, which at the moment is dominated by complacent Republicans, might have a chance of pursuing such a study. If the Democrats win back some seats this fall, a major priority should be to pursue such a study. Among a host of questions, I would like to see one simple question pursued in such a study: what is the state of light sweet crude oil production throughout the world and what is its future over the next twenty years? Light sweet crude oil is generally the easiest oil to produce and gives the most energy back for the energy invested by the oil business. As oil companies begin to switch to heavier oil, it appears production of light sweet crude is no longer increasing like it once was. That could have major near-term implications for the future.

Oil demand is real but if the oil companies don't do something useful with their profits by way of developing alternative energy sources, a windfall tax would be in order so the money can be shifted to those who will develop alternative energy. As things now stand, the oil companies seem to be gearing more and more to developing expensive new oil technologies that will be big on pollution. A major return to the use of coal, as an example, (by using coal to make oil) is not a solution but simply a way to put off a huge set of growing problems.

I suspect the reality is that time is growing short. America needs solutions.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Choices Bush Must Face

The failures of the Bush Administration simply grow day by day and nowhere is it more obvious than in Iraq. These are failures that have little to do with bad luck or forces completely beyond a president's control. These are failures that result from incompetence, arrogance and ideological willfulness (and that willfulness is directly tied to Bush's apparent belief that he can lie his way into war without consequence and lie his way out of his mess without consequence).

All along there have been things Bush could have done to salvage his mess in Iraq. Even before the war, there were signs of trouble. But once his decision to go to war was made and once the blunders started becoming obvious by May of 2003, Bush had numerous opportunities to save his position in Iraq. The most obvious thing he should have done early on was fire Rumsfeld; clearly, after Abu Ghraib became public nearly a year later, Rumsfeld should have been history. That Rumsfeld survives is like a flashing red light stuck on the outside of the White House that keeps reminding the world that Bush doesn't know what he's doing, or has strange ideas about what he's doing, or both; whatever it is, the Bush presidency is broken and his foreign policy is adrift. Most Americans know it. And a growing number of Republicans know it.

Laura Rozen of War and Piece posts a passage from the Nelson Report (paid subscription only, I believe, so she can't give us a link) and here's a key paragraph:
Specifically, note who has been run out for TV recently defending and explaining Iraq...Bush, not Rumsfeld. The President has been forced to put himself irrevocably on the line, both in public, and with the press, because Rumsfeld has lost all credibility...that’s what our Republican friends say is the “inside word”.
If Rumsfeld has no credibililty, Bush isn't far behind. The Nelson Report goes on to suggest there might be changes soon though nobody seems to be holding their breath. If, however, Bush decides to replace Rumsfeld, he faces two choices: to make a cosmetic change or to make a change that will begin to restore his own credibility and the credibililty of the US government.

Already, the Bush Administration has demonstrated that when it makes changes, the choices are cosmetic and the new person is likely to be more of a loyalist to Bush than the last person. A president should be able to hire the people he wants, but if Bush hires people whose primary asset is loyalty rather than ideas, competence and a healthy respect for our democracy and our future (rather than winning the political battles of the moment), his presidency will continue to drift and Iraq could easily become a bigger problem rather than being transitioned towards a reasonable though ugly winding down phase which is about the most we can hope for at this point.

Bush has to do some hard work to restore the credibility of his presidency but it's not hard to predict that if he starts making major personnel changes, he is likely to gamble that implementing cosmetic changes will be enough; such a gamble, of course, will be a tragedy. The United States is larger than anything that Bush can do. Our nation has already been damaged by his presidency but our nation is strong and we will come back, but the longer Bush's right wing ideology continues and the longer the Republican Party supports that ideology, the more damage Bush and perhaps his successors will do. The reality is that if Bush ran a major corporation the way he runs our country, that corporation would already be in bankruptcy. Already, there can be no doubt that Bushism is an experiment that failed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Republicans, Facts and Iraq

I just had a good laugh at the expense of Republican Howard Kaloogian who's running to replace the disgraced Duke Cunningham (down in my parent's area, I might add; how well I know some of the political nonsense of that part of San Diego County). To follow the story, go to Talking Points Memo and scroll down to the March 28, 2006 entry at 11:10 P.M. that begins, "Okay, this is good for a laugh on a slow night...." Then work your way up through Josh Marshall's posts as poor Kaloogian is chased down the halls of the internet until he finally admits the photo has nothing to do with Baghdad!

Republicans ought to remember Joe Friday's words from the old TV series Dragnet: "Just the facts, ma'am."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bush and His Iraq Revisionism

I've been groping for the right language the past few days as the violence in Iraq worsens and our president continues to wrap himself in his bubble. I can't say that I'm satisfied with what I've written but I feel compelled to keep pushing on these issues.

We've known for some time that the war in Iraq never had much to do with the war on terror; all along, for more than three years, there has been growing evidence that Bush and his team were intent on going to war against Iraq from the first day Bush took office. The decision to go to war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein was accepted as policy within the administration by spring of 2002. Iraq was first and foremost a war of choice. In recent weeks, the more Bush insists on revising the history of our involvement in Iraq, sometimes with a subtext that he had no choice, the more evidence resurfaces of what actually did happen. In some cases, if I'm not mistaken, even new evidence has been coming forth, though there has been plenty of evidence for some time of a chain of blunders and false statements on the part of Bush and his his top advisers.

David Swanson, one of the cofounders of, has an article in Truthout about the growing calls for accountability over Iraq:
...when it rains it pours. Within days of the LA Times mentioning permanent military bases in Iraq, Bush admitting he intends never to pull out of Iraq, and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post covering the growing movement for impeachment, the New York Times has chosen at long last to acknowledge the White House Memo, and to acknowledge that Bush was intent on finding a way to go to war, that he was not - as he claimed at the time and still claims - trying to avoid war.

Now the networks are phoning around, asking how they can see the memo, hoping to assure their owners that they won't get Dan Rathered if they run with this story. Olbermann is back on the job, with Andrea Mitchell even bringing up the Downing Street Memo on the air tonight. Chris Matthews interviewed Philippe Sands this evening.

The media has a long, long way to go, still. A single day's attention could mean nothing if it's not sustained. The Times article avoids obvious conclusions, obscures actions with the passive voice, and fails to tie in pieces of evidence other than this single memo. Bush and Blair continue to claim that each piece of evidence is taken out of context. And they're right: each one should be put in the context of all the others we now have.
Swanson is talking about actual documents, most of them from the British, that show first of all the intent by spring of 2002 to go to war in Iraq apparently for the purpose of regime change and the decision thereafter to fix the evidence to justify the need to go to war in Iraq. Whether regime change was a valid policy decision or not, it was not the case made to the American people and it's still not certain how regime change figured in the actual foreign policy being developed in the White House. Perhaps Bush never had a foreign policy in Iraq worthy of the name. But his policy was certainly not about weapons of mass destruction; it was clear weeks before the invasion that no weapons were being found by the UN inspectors but the spinning continued up to the war, during the heaviest part of the fighting and for the last three years. I love the last second to last sentence in the quoted paragraph above: Bush and Blair continue to claim that each piece of evidence is taken out of context. The context of the documents has become overwhelmingly clear and there is no satisfactory explanation that Blair or Bush can offer. Both are like two boys who have taken cookies from the cookie jar but who claim that what they took weren't really cookies. They lied and the world knows it. But the revisionism will continue. It's important for Americans to keep the facts in mind.

Here's a link to the list of documents associated with the British: Complete Set of Downing Street Documents.

And here's a link concerning one of the lastest finds called: The American Memo.

Growing Violence in Iraq

In recent days, the news from Iraq has grown more grim while President Bush insists on the delusion that there is no civil war and therefore he can continue to stay the course. In today's post, Juan Cole of Informed Comment says there have been 90 more deaths in Iraq from sectarian violence.

If Cole's figure is accurate and if it's the number for one day's violence, and that level of violence continues, there could be over 32,000 killings in Iraq by the end of a year. These are grim figures but it's important to have a sense of perspective and to understand that a low-level civil war, which is what we have now, may be on the way to becoming a full-scale civil war. The population of the United States is roughly 12 times that of Iraq; if we multiply the rate of death in Iraq by 12, we would have over 380,000 killings a year if we were similarly afflicted by such violence. These are dangerous numbers and require a president less engaged in criticizing the media for not telling him what a great job he is doing and more engaged in finding new members for his administration who can get a handle on Iraq, protect our troops and restore credibility to our foreign policy and yes, hand over security to the Iraqis in a real sense while we begin to draw down our numbers.

Note for a few new readers: Juan Cole of Informed Comment does a good job covering the news on Iraq as well as supplying his own superb analysis. Another site that gathers the news in Iraq extensively is Today in Iraq. The next few weeks could be critical. Bush's clumsiness may lead to a wider conflict if new faces and a less ideological approach are not brought to the White House. One can only repeat the call that has been heard repeatedly in the last three years: President Bush needs to be straight with the American people; but to restore his credibility at this point requires major personnel changes, less pointless confrontationalism and more realistic ideas .

Rumsfeld's Failed Iraq Analysis

Thanks to Think Progress, I looked up the CBS story on Rumsfeld. The third paragraph is the key:
The United States is faring poorly in its effort to counter ideological support for terrorism, in part because the government does not communicate effectively, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

Rumsfeld made the remark in response to a question from a member of his audience at the Army War College, where he delivered a speech on the challenges facing the country in fighting a global war on terrorism.

"If I were grading I would say we probably deserve a 'D' or a 'D-plus' as a country as to how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place in the world today," he told his questioner. "I'm not going to suggest that it's easy, but we have not found the formula as a country" for countering the extremists' message.
First, Rumsfeld errs when he speaks of our country deserving low grades; rather, it's the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld included, that deserves the low grades. Second, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have spent four years ignoring advice from others including some of the finest officials, analysts and generals that a country can expect to have; we as a nation are paying the price for Bush's arrogance, incompetence and a reckless belief that ideological willfulness can somehow substitute for honest analysis. Third, and this is huge, the biggest failure of the administration, and Rumsfeld is near the top of that list, is the failure to make the connection between message and action. The biggest blunders have not been poorly phrased verbal messages but actions that speak far louder than the words: threatening seasoned American officals who were asked for their professional advice by Congress, insufficient troops, troops told to ignore looting, no postwar planning, stashes of conventional arms left unattended, firing the Iraqi army, firing most of the Baath party, privatization games, the failure to keep the power on and services going, the failure to secure borders, the fantasies about Ahmed Chalabi, the profound moral lapses at the White House and Pentagon that led to Abu Ghraib, the Fallujah fiasco and a failure to prove by any number of actions, and, yes, statements, that we were in Iraq only temporarily and that Iraq truly belonged to the Iraqis. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld all suffer the extraordinary delusion that a message put out by people skilled in public relations is somehow sufficient to make real problems go away, problems that too often were the doing of the three men and no one else. And this says nothing of the long string of lies that were told to get us into the war in the first place.

Even if somehow we can manage to clean up George W. Bush's mess, Iraq represents a failure of historic proportions; Rumsfeld flatters himself if he thinks in terms of a D or D-plus. In one sense, Americans have indeed been at fault for letting a long string of blunders and failures go on without holding the Bush Administration accountable. Many of the problems with the Bush Administration have been obvious well before the last two election cycles; we can only hope that an overwhelming majority of Americans finally recognize that we need serious changes in Washington. This is not about conservatives or liberals; this is about a government that has run so far off the track, it defies explanation.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Confusion in Iraq

The growing civil war in Iraq is bound to lead to increasing confusion. The reports coming out of Iraq are themselves confused. Most reports say that Iraqis, particularly Shiites, are claiming the Americans attacked a mosque in Baghdad. The Americans deny they attacked the Mustafa mosque which apparently is several blocks to the north of the attack. It's a complicated story that needs time to be sorted out and time is something Iraq is finding in short supply as the unrest continues. Forbes has an Associated Press story that seems to focus on a number of key elements:
The firestorm of recrimination over Sunday's raid in northeast Baghdad will likely make it harder for Shiite politicians to keep a lid on their more angry followers as sectarian violence boils over, with at least 151 dead over the two-day period. A unity government involving Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds is a benchmark for American hopes of starting to withdraw troops this summer.

There were numerous conflicting statements from Iraqis and the Americans about the raid. Iraqi police, Shiite militia officials and major politicians have all said the structure attacked was the al-Mustafa mosque. But the U.S. military disputed this, saying no mosques were entered and that the raid targeted a building used by "insurgents responsible for kidnapping and execution activities."

In a conference call with reporters early Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, deputy commander in Iraq, and Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is in control of Baghdad, said 25 U.S. forces were in a backup role to 50 Iraqi Special Operations troops.

The mission, the generals said, was developed by the Iraqis on their intelligence that an Iraqi dental technician, kidnapped 12 hours earlier because he could not come up with $20,000, was being held in what they called an office complex.

"It's important to remember we had an Iraqi unit with us, an Iraqi unit of 50 folks and they told us point blank that this was not a mosque," Chiarelli said. "It's not Mustafa mosque. Mustafa mosque is located six blocks north on our maps of this location."

Associated Press reporters who visited the scene of the raid identified it as a neighborhood Shiite mosque complex. Television footage taken Monday showed crumbling walls and disarray in a compound used as a gathering place for prayer. It was filled with religious posters and strung with banners denouncing the attack.
Juan Cole of Informed Comment offers his observations on what took place:
...the US and Iraqi forces say they raided a terror cell in Adhamiyah. Adhamiyah is a Sunni district of Baghdad and is still Baath territory.

But somehow the joint US-Iraqi force ended up north, at the Shiite Shaab district. They say that they took fire from Mahdi Army militiamen. But there aren't any such Mahdi Army men in Adhamiyah. I have a sinking feeling that instead of raiding a Sunni Arab building in Adhamiyah, they got disoriented and attacked a Shiite religious center in nearby Shaab instead. Iraqi television angrily showed twenty unarmed corpses on the floor of the religious center, denouncing the US for killing innocent worshippers. The US military is now saying it did not enter any mosques and that anyone killed was killed by Iraqi special ops.

The Mustafa Husayniyah, however, is not a mosque and may not have been distinguishable as a religious edifice to non-Shiites. Shiites mourn their martyred Imams, the descendants of the Prophet, in centers called Husayniyahs after the Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. As for the killing being done by Iraqi troops, if it was a joint mission, then the US forces are going to take some of the blame.
So we may have something that looked more like an office complex that may have not been a mosque but that was clearly a religious center. American denials about attacking a mosque are not going to make much difference in this case if we were involved in any way in the attacks on what Juan Cole calls the Mustafa Husayniyah.

If this turns out to be the blunder it seems to be, this is exactly one of the reasons we may need to stand down during the growing crisis in Iraq. If there's any chance of getting the crisis to cool down in Iraq, our troops can't be in the middle of controversial operations. I favor staged withdrawals over the next year but at the very least we need to keep out of the sectarian conflict because of the growing distrust of the US and the volatility of the different factions in a climate where facts become victim and blunders by all sides come too easily.

If, however, we continue to conduct different missions in Iraq, it's more critical than ever, given the explosive volatility of Iraq, to go back to a situation where we check and double-check the facts and what we are trying to accomplish and what the likely outcome will be beforehand, not after a blunder that makes the situation worse. What we have been watching for three years is the unraveling of Rumsfeld's shoot-from-the-hip and ask-questions-later tactical philosophy and we may be witnessing yet another example of his failures.

One last note about Rumsfeld. He recently took credit for the battle plan in Afghanistan. As I understand it, the battle plan was developed late in the Clinton Administration and only minor modifications were made in the fall of 2001. Rumsfeld has very little to brag about in terms of his own contributions to our defense in the last five years and a great deal to atone for; it's a mystery why he has remained Secretary of Defense and why the Republican-controlled Congress has not held him accountable for his many failures.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pew Says Bush Approval at 33%

I was on vacation when the latest Pew Poll came out (Mar. 15) but that's one poll that sometimes take a while to reach everyone who's interested; I'm glad to have found it (thanks to War and Piece).

Several parts of the poll are worth noticing. One part involves one word descriptions of Bush. Those making definitely positive comments about Bush (good, Christian, honest) are now down to 28% of Americans. This, I believe, is close to Bush's true core numbers; I remember years ago conservative Christian fundamentalists meeting in different places around the country to discuss how they could create a majority at the polls with 20-25% of the population (keep in mind that different political factions have similar discussions; though, I was struck by an article on the discussions that suggested some Christian fundamentalists at these meetings were quite willing to bend the rules and their principles to achieve their purpose). It's been my thought for some time that the core of Bush's right wing support is 25% or so.

In the Pew Poll, it was also worth noticing how far Bush's support has fallen among his supposed base. In 14 months, Bush's support in rural areas has plunged by 22%; in the South, his support has plunged by 20%. What's amazing is that among voters who voted for him in 2004, his support has plunged by 24%.

Yes, all these numbers are soft, but it's important to watch and learn from them. And to unlearn some of the useless stereotypes many of us have about red states. There are blue areas and red areas and they shift more than Bush and his right wing friends would like.

Iraq and News Reporters

I'm still amazed at how I can roam the blogs and find news that's important to know. At the same time I'm also fascinated at how the important news can filter from place to place. Although sometimes you hear some information on the blogs from A who heard it from B who heard it from C, the difference from the way news traveled in the past are the links which take you back to the original source, maintaining, for the most part, the accuracy of the original story. The MSM should hardly complain about blogs since very often it's their own news that's spreading around the country.

The blog, Low Rent Rat (okay, a few blogs could work a little on their names), has a transcript from CNN with some useful comments by CBS reporter Lara Logan who answers complaints from Republicans and explains why there hasn't been more coverage of good news from Iraq:
...what I would point out is that you can't travel around this country anymore without military protection. You can't travel without armed guards. You're not free to go every time there's a school opening or there's some reconstruction project that's being done.

We don't have the ability to go out and cover those. If they want to see a fair picture of what's happening in Iraq, then you have to first start with the security issue.

When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage.
Of course, Bush and Cheney fail to mention how few of the reconstruction dollars actually found their way into reconstruction projects. In the beginning of the Iraq war, it was much easier for journalists to move around but things have gotten worse and quite a few journalists have died or have been badly injured; someone ought to tell Cheney and Bush.

(Thanks to SpannerJaxs of Low Rent Rat for his good post; he also give thanks to the blog, Crooks and Liars.)

More on Dubai Worker Conditions

I want to make it clear that I favor better internatonal relations. I wish Bush were in favor of better international relations too. Urging the United Arab Emirates to pay honest wages to foreign workers in Dubai would be a step in the right direction. It is wrong for Bush and his Republican friends to define better relations with other countries as something restricted to holding hands with the powerful and conservative elite of other countries if the policies of the elite brings everybody's labor standards down and fair wages are thrown out the window.

The United Arab Emirates is a wealthy region in the middle of a building boom because of profits from high oil prices. They are building a number of projects to improve their prestige in the world. Paying rock bottom wages sends a dangerous signal about what is valued these days. Bush talks about values but he doesn't live up to them or urge others to do so in a way that is meaningful.

By way of the Seattle Times, here's part of a New York Times story on the lives of Dubai workers brought in from other nations:
Far from the high-rise towers and luxury hotels of Dubai, the workers turning this swath of desert into a modern metropolis live in a Dickensian world of cramped labor camps, low pay and increasing desperation.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Winter Contraption

snow tandem by Bob Tyson

Quote of the Day

In 2002, Ben Domenech made a comparison between Bush and Calvin Coolidge that I thought was interesting (I'll pass on giving his site a free plug). I'm puzzled that Republicans would admire the three do-nothing presidents of the 1920s. But I've heard that Bush admires Calvin Coolidge as well (and apparently Reagan did too); Bush and his admirers seem unaware of the job and farming crisis during the 1920s along with various bouts of corruption that were simply ignored until the Stock Market crashed and the Great Depression was on us. Like then, there are many problems now that are being ignored.

Now Bush is sometimes praised for being a strong leader which puzzles me since he has spent a good portion of his presidency sitting on his hands once he makes a decision hoping for the best. The most obvious example was his failure to provide leadership during Hurricane Katrina and in the critical days afterward. The August 6, 2001 memo on Osama bin Laden was another example of Bush sitting on his hands; of course, in that case, he went fishing that afternoon but otherwise did nothing. With Iraq, Bush has spent three years hoping for the best; that's not leadership, that's a failed presidency.

Here's a quote from a few years back from someone who had a chance to watch Calvin Coolidge closely:
Mr. Coolidge's genuis for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is far from being an indolent activity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity which keeps Mr Coolidge occupied constantly. Nobody has ever worked harder at inactivity, with such force of character, with such unremitting attention to detail, with such conscientious devotion to the task. Inactivity is a political philosophy and party program with Mr Coolidge.

—Walter Lippman (Men of Destiny - 1927)

Bush is quite good at confusing a good many conservative Republicans. They mistake all that arm flapping and talking his does for action.

Iraq: Good News, Bad News

If trends hold, the good news is that American deaths in Iraq are likely to be the lowest for a one month period in over two years. The reasons for the low casualties are not entirely obvious but with the growing sectarian strife, the American military appears to be staying closer to barracks to avoid further stimulating the strife while engaging in specific and limited operations, including the well-publicized troop airlift operation the week before.

In the meantime, the bad news is that the sectarian strife may be growing; see this post by Juan Cole of Informed Comment:
AP reports that guerrilla violence in Iraq killed 51 on Friday. In addition to bombings and drive-by shootings, police discovered 25 bodies, killed execution-style, in Kadhimiyah and Binok districts. (Kadhimiyah is largely Shiite). AP adds, "The rising death toll among Iraqis on Friday included five worshippers killed in a bombing outside a Sunni Muslim mosque after Friday prayers. At least 15 were wounded in the blast in Khalis, northeast of Baghdad."

The bomb blast outside a Sunni mosque is especially disturbing, since it fits a patter of recent escalation in Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence. This week, over a dozen Shiite pilgrims were killed in Sunni areas of the capital, on their way to and from the holy city of Karbala.
In case those 51 deaths sound low, here's some brutal math. If the Iraqis start averaging 51 deaths a day during their sectarian strife, that comes to 18,615 deaths a year. If that still sounds low, consider that Iraq is one-twelfth the size of the United States; if Americans were dying at the rate of 51 deaths a day per 25 million, we would have over 200,000 deaths by the end of the year. The grim news is that such a rate would be roughly equivalent to the American Civil War.

There have been repeated attempts by the Bush Administration to say that the problems in Iraq are exaggerated and one recent statement points out that the heavy fighting is only in three of the eighteen provinces. This is a shallow argument typical of the Bush Administration. In World War I, one could have made the ridiculous argument that 90% of France was at peace since the heavy fighting was mostly in the far north on the border with Belgium. Actually this is true of most wars; at any given time, the fighting is limited to certain areas. Even guerilla wars are not happening at all places all the time. At this time, Iraq is not engaged in an all-out civil war but it is a civil war. And we need to deal with that fact.

Friday, March 24, 2006

John Dean on Bush and FISA

John Dean has an excellent article in FindLaw concerning Bush's continued defiance of the FISA law. Here's the first paragraph:
President George Bush continues to openly and defiantly ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- the 1978 statute prohibiting electronic inspection of Americans' telephone and email communications with people outside the United States without a court-authorized warrant. (According to U.S. News & World Report, the President may also have authorized warrantless break-ins and other physical surveillance, such as opening regular mail, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.)
Dean points out that no other president except Nixon has ever defied Congress to the extent that Bush has. The only disagreement I have with Dean's article is this passage:
No one can question President Bush's goal: Protecting Americans from further terror attacks.
That would be a worthy goal if it were the only goal Bush has in regard to using the NSA to spy on Americans. Given the political nature of Bush, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (two of whom were politically weaned in the Nixon era), it's impossible for me to believe that if they could get away with it, Bush and his advisers wouldn't use information gained from spying for political purposes (and there have been news articles suggesting they have already done so). The terror issue itself has already been abused for political purposes on several occassions including for the purpose of justifying a war we did not need. Perhaps Dean is playing it safe in order to make the larger point about the need to have Bush respect Constitutional law but discussions about potential abuses are needed to remind us of why we have laws concerning the conduct of government in the first place and why putting so much power into the hands of one man is such a profound blunder.

It's bad enough to have one branch of government committing blunders and violating the law to cover up those blunders or for reasons that have little to to with the national interest; to have a second branch of government commit a series of blunders, in this case, Congress, is to risk bringing our democracy to its knees.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bush, Dubai and American Labor

It's hard to read this article in the Los Angeles Times about labor unrest in Dubai and not think of Bush's many anti-labor positions:
Asian construction workers in Dubai angered by low wages and alleged mistreatment smashed cars and offices in a riot that caused an estimated $1 million in damage and interrupted work around what is meant to be the world's tallest skyscraper.

About 2,500 workers on developments surrounding the Burj Dubai tower beat security officers Tuesday, then smashed computers and files, witnesses said. They said about two dozen cars and construction machines were wrecked.

The laborers, mostly from South Asia and China, demanded better pay and employment conditions and refused to return to work. Skilled carpenters earn $7.60 a day, and laborers get about $4
The United Arab Emirates is one of the richest per capita areas in the world but it seems Dubai offers somewhat low wages for such a major prestige project (I freely confess I thought the wages were a bit low until I realized it was $7.60 a day, not $7.60 an hour; ouch!). Is there prestige these days in paying such low wages? I suspect there may be more to the story and it would be interesting, as just one example, to find out how much of their income workers are able to keep after their expenses.

If there are multinational corporations, it seems there should be multinational labor movements; if globalization is only about corporations, then it's a myth to say that consumers win from globalization since consumers are also workers. Americans workers and their stagnant wages are the proof that globalization needs to be modified. Allowing Republicans and their corporate campaign donors to define what globalization means has been a mistake.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Brzezinski Speech

Think Progress has the Zbigniew Brzezinski speech that he gave last week; here's some excerpts:
Three years ago, almost to a day, just as the war was beginning, I appeared on the Jim Lehrer show, and at the end of the show, Lehrer, as his last question asked me, “What do you think is riding on this war?” And my response was as follows: Ultimately, American global leadership is at stake in this war. It’s not Saddam who is the issue, it’s whether America can lead, lead constructively, and in a way that others respect. Three years later, I think it’s appropriate to ask: Where are we? Where are we headed? And what should we do?

First, where are we? The answers to this are easy, and on this I can be quick. The war has proven to be prohibitively costly. American leadership, in all of its dimensions, has been damaged. American morality has been stained – in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. American legitimacy has been undermined – by unilateral decisions. American credibility – particularly the case for the war, has been shattered. Leadership depends on morality, legitimacy, credibility. The economic costs of the war are escalating into hundreds of billions of dollars. More importantly, American casualties are in the thousands, with more than tens of thousands maimed. We are not even counting Iraqi casualties; we prefer not to know what they are.

Former National Security Adviser under Carter, Brzezinski is a tough foreign policy analyst, sometimes a hawk but never careless in his thinking. He's no liberal but he's also no neoconservative. His analysis has a nasty habit of being right. He's saying things that the Republican establishment needs to come to terms with. Hearing former Senator Alan Simpson try to defend Bush's Iraq policies, as just one example, is embarrassing. Simpson has nothing at stake anymore and has the freedom to be honest and unfortunately it's apparent that Simpson is unable to be honest with himself. Bush's Iraq policy is failing. His entire presidency is failing and it's not in the interest of the American people to pretend otherwise.

Here's another excerpt from Brzezinski's speech:
It is a failed occupation as a consequence of a decision-making process that compounds errors, that involves a very narrow group of true believers, and that evades responsibility and accountability – for errors and even crimes. No one responsible for wrong judgments has been fired. No one responsible for setting in motion a chain of events that produced extraordinarily embarrassing crimes has been put on trial.


The commander in chief appears largely as a cheerleader, and tough issues are hardly discussed.
Tough issues are hardly discussed. We are supposedly a superpower. We are supposedly the leader of the free world. But tough issues are hardly discussed. Even in a Congress led by Republicans, tough issues are hardly discussed. The Republican leadership does everything it can to avoid investigations or real debate. And the blunders pile on. Here's more from Brzezinski:
We could, I think, probably put an end to it – to both wars if we were to put in enough troops. Theoretically, if we were prepared to put in – and I’m pulling these figures literally out of a hat not as a result of any serious study – if we could put in 500,000 troops, we probably could crush the insurgency; we probably could stifle some of the sectarian conflict. But we can’t put in 500,000 troops. We’ve recently made a difficult decision to increase our force presence in Iraq. We are putting in 700 more troops, and that is not an accident.

We are not in a position to really increase the occupation force, unless we declare some state of national emergency and engage in actions which are simply politically not being seriously considered. So we are not able to crush these two conflicts, but our presence is perpetuating them and probably unintentionally actually intensifying them.
Brzezinski's statement about increasing troop level is tentative and I'm not sure he's right at this point. Putting in 500,00o troops by April of 2003 might have made a difference, particularly if Bush had truly sought international help on a large scale. In the late summer of 2003, analysts talked of the window of opportunity closing in a matter of months and urged more troops. I suspect the reality is that the so-called 'window of opportunity' closed some time ago, probably months before the 2004 election. I thought the decision to go to war in Iraq was the wrong one but Bush had an obligation to do everything in his power to get it right.

Here's one last excerpt from Brzezinski's speech:
And yet if the president is serious in saying that our choices have become more difficult, I think it behooves him to widen the circle of decision-makers. It is in his own interest as well as in the country’s interest. This does not necessarily mean reaching out to the opposition, but even reaching out even to members of his own party who have, in different ways, some subtly, some more directly, expressed an uneasiness about the course on which we have embarked.

I think it is clear to you by now, I hope, that I favor a decision by the United States to leave Iraq. And the way I would go about it would be that I would ask the Iraqi leaders to ask us to leave.

I would not announce it arbitrarily, but I would talk to the Iraqi leaders about our decision, our inclination, and I would encourage them to ask us to leave. And I think there would be Iraqi leaders who would ask us to leave. Some of them are openly opposed to the occupation. And others may be more ambivalent now that their own political positions would be strengthened if they identified themselves with the hostility of the Iraqi people to the occupation. And some of course would not wish to ask us to leave. And they would be the ones who would leave when we leave, which tells us something about the depth of their capacity for leadership. I think we should ask them to ask us to leave and to treat them as adults, and not as colonial wards, which is what we are doing.
Brzezinski is a pragmatist speaking to a broad audience and his words are not designed to win bonus points from many of Bush's critics. His fundamental point is that there are no good solutions from this point on. But some solutions are not as bad as others and that's a lousy place to be. Brzezinski doesn't say it and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but his analysis points to an important conclusion: the war in Iraq is becoming less important than the leadership problems that exist in Washington. That is the American crisis we presently face.

There have been times in the past when Republicans and Democrats in leadership roles could look at the same cold hard facts and pretty much come to the same conclusions. But times have changed. The times started changing long before 9/11 which is used as an excuse for a lot of nonsense. Most of the leadership of the Republican party is failing to act in the best interests of the nation as a whole. In place of rational decision-making and analysis based on hard facts and a developing history of democratic values, we currently have a government based on delusions, arrogance, appeals to political bases, lies, rationalizations, fear-mongering, old grudges, gut feelings, resentment and wishful thinking, none of which is restricted to the White House. I'm not going to waste time giving examples after a steady diet over the last five years (fifty years, I suppose, if we go back to Joe McCarthy and the John Birchers who certainly laid the seeds of the current era).

We became a great nation in spite of our politics, not because of them; leaders ranging from local communities to the oval office rose above the times. That is the lesson that Bush and so many of his colleagues on the Republican side have forgotten. I don't know how long the crisis in American leadership will last, but it is here.

Bush's Credibility Gap

Yesterday, Bush said, "...if I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there." Well, at least Bush isn't talking about himself in the third person even if he overuses the personal pronoun.

But here's the problem. What Bush believes is becoming irrelevant as it becomes more and more clear that he's not competent and that he surrounds himself with loyalists who aren't particularly competent themselves and who are reluctant to speak the truth to him.

What is more important is that most Americans believe our nation is on the wrong track and that many of our problems can be traced to a failed presidency.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bob Woodward and the Plame Investigation

Just a quick post. Jason Leopold has an artice in Truthout concerning Woodward's role in the outing of Valerie Plame:
He is referred to as "official one" and he is the mysterious senior Bush administration official who unmasked the identity of an undercover CIA operative to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003 and conservative columnist Robert Novak a month later.

The identity of this official is shrouded in secrecy. In fact, his name, government status, and the substance of his conversation with Woodward about the undercover officer are under a protective seal in US District Court for the District of Columbia.

But Woodward tape-recorded the interview he had with "official one." Woodward gave a copy of the tape and a transcript to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
It's important for commentators not to lose sight of the almost certainty that the Bush Administration did a great deal of stonewalling and manipulating to avoid cooperating with an investigation of the outing of Valerie Plame. That in itself is against the law; Bush and his advisers seem to believe that they are accountable to no one. We are witnessing not only an historically reckless and incompetent administration that resists accountability but also a Congress that has failed to exercise its obligation to deal responsibly and seriously with a failed presidency.

One of the strategies of the Bush Admistration when it comes to avoiding accountability is to keep changing the subject. It's important for people in Congress and some of the more thoughtful bloggers and journalists to focus on three or four of the most serious failings of the Bush Administration and to stay not only focused on those issues but on what those issue are about at their core; I appreciate, for example, what Feingold is doing, but the issue is not his censure proposal but the abuse of the Constitution by the Bush Administration and the continued failure of Congress to fully investigate what happened and what is probably continuing to happen.

Note: I've been gone for ten days. The two stories I would like to know more about are 1) the outing of Valerie Plame and 2) the NSA spying scandal. If anyone knows of some good articles along these lines, please feel free to let me know.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back from Vacation

I have some chores to do in the next day or two before I gear up again on Donkey Path. The vacation was good though my wife and I had to dodge some spring time rains. We saw some beautiful sunsets though. And we saw two sea otters playing in the surf completely oblivious to all the troubles in the world; I was jealous.

I finally got around to reading George Packer's, The Assassin's Gate; an excellent book I highly recommend because he doesn't settle into easy lines of discussions. I found plenty to disagree with and plenty of new material I was glad to read and I kept muttering to my wife, "I knew it was bad over there, but it was bad, really bad." Bush reduces all of us to incoherence!

While I was gone, Bush seems to have launched a public relations campaign to deal with the three year anniversary of his disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Bush truly is the MBA president. He's like a guy who's still making personal pagers or even slide rules who thinks if he can just wave the flag hard enough and spend enough money on public relations, he can get people to buy his product ("Support the troops. Buy my slide rule!").

In the meantime, Rumsfeld is blaming the media for pointing out that slide rules are out of fashion. Rumsfeld is quick to point out that he has the most modern equipment available for making slide rules but he can't admit that slide rules will never do the job.

Cheney, at the same time, is claiming that slide rules work for him and they ought to work for everyone else. This is from the guy who can't shoot straight.

Condi Rice, of course, claims she's an expert on slide rules, knows their history and knows everything there is to know about slide rules but she fails to admit that she doesn't actually know how to use one.

In the meantime, conservative members of the media are trying to tell us that working a slide rule is just as good as computer calculations; if it's good enough for Bush, we ought to salute the president and stuff our pockets with slide rules.

Every few months, Bush's poll numbers fall further. It is admittedly a slow process but Americans are catching on.

Note: If you don't know what a slide rule is, visit your local museum or just Google.

Wall at the Foundry

photo by Bob Tyson

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Life's Labor

baskets and rocks by Bob Tyson

Friday, March 10, 2006

An Archaeology of the Present

photo by Bob Tyson

On Vacation

My wife and I leave tomorrow for a leisurely trip down and back to Southern California to see my parents. We'll be stopping at a couple of beaches along the way.

See you all next week. Coming up is another photo by Bob Tyson. I need to get him to say more about his work and process. I've seen the prints in their full format and they're amazing.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bridge Symmetries

photo (129202bklyn) by Bob Tyson

Blogging Issues

I happen to be interested in blogging issues and what blogs are good for, particularly political blogs. Over the last two years, it's been interesting to watch the opinions of the mainstream media swing back and forth on its opinions of blogs in general. One of the better blogs is The Huffington Post but it was very funny in its first weeks as celebrated writers, journalists and personalities tried to figure out what they were supposed to do with this new thing (those who figured it out stayed around). John Aravois of Americablog has a few words on the subject:
If the NYT is going to do a look at blogs, then it needs to go beyond the obvious. The obvious is that there is a perception out there that bloggers are all young inexperienced angry children who work in their pajamas, and they're dangerous dangerous DANGEROUS people to be around. You could write about that perception, but then you'd be writing about a preconception that's incorrect and about something we already know.

In fact, the more interesting story, is that many of the most well-known bloggers on the left and right are lawyers (not that that's a good thing, but you know, does put you a step above some crazy kid) and have other advanced degrees and experience. Markos is a lawyer and former military. Atrios has a PhD in Economics. As for my blog, I've got a law degree and a masters in foreign service from Georgetown, worked in the Senate, the Children's Defense Fund, and the World Bank. Joe in DC has a law degree and was the political director at Handgun Control. Chris in Paris is an international high tech consultant in Europe. We're people with real world experience that kind of kicks ass. And suffice it to say, all of us have far left our 20s behind us.

John has more to say so check it out. Some of the media coverage of blogs is getting better but I'm amazed at the generalities I hear on TV. Do some of these reporters know how to find the better blogs? If you were writing about American newspapers, would you only write about the worst ones?

Once or twice, I've had the feeling that people are judging blogs based on their comments section; but we've had messsage boards for at least twenty years and those could be just as wild as what we see now in the comments on blogs. I like the comments section simply because this is where democracy can be found these days. How many Americans really feel their voice is being heard? And it isn't always the wild west on the threads. A number of comments sections are civil and carry on productive discussions. An example of a discussion at its best can often be found on some of the long threads of The Oil Drum.

A good, highly readable discussion of some aspects of blogs (though mildly academic) can be found at Bark at the Hole. I've been following Kelly's thoughts on the issue for the past six weeks. Here's a couple of paragraphs:

Journalists and academics share a prepublication peer review process for their articles. For journalists, this role falls upon the hierarchy of editors and often the publisher-owner. For academics, this role falls to colleagues, anonymous reviewers of article submissions, and editors of journals. Ideally, reviewers and editors perform a modicum of fact-checking and critique the logic of the analyses. Editors refuse to publish articles that fail to meet certain standards of fact and analysis quality. Journalists whose articles are rejected have little recourse unless they are independent contractors; academics, in contrast, may resubmit to less selective journals or settle for just a conference presentation.

Bloggers, as well as authors of books in the “Non-Fiction” aisle, have a minimal to non-existent prepublication peer review. Most blogs are single-author or collaborative affairs, deferring to no specialist whose role it is to check facts and ponder analyses prior to publication. Nonfiction book publishers, as recent events evince, similarly do not do so.

Kelly makes some good points and while I don't agree with everything, it's good material for discussion. There is definitely something to be said for editors and peer review but that system broke down during the first three years of the Bush Administration in the mainstream media. That's partly why the blogs took off in the first place. It's true that blogs can be vehicles for all kinds of false assertions, including unfounded rumors, but mass, unsourced e-mailings perfected that some time ago. But arguments and facts do matter in the blogosphere, particularly on the moderate to liberal side, and those arguments and facts are checkable; they can be confirmed which is a requirement of any rational discussion. Eriposte of The Left Coaster is a great example of someone who chases down facts; and there are many others. And already, editors are indeed appearing on blogs; Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has become a blog editor just as much as he is an experienced journalist.

I suppose blogging as a subject is a little exotic, but blogs could help resuscitate our democracy, which is not running on all cylinders at the moment. Here's some more posts at Bark at the Hole on many legitimate issues that bloggers should be concerned about. I hope the series continues.

I think the credibility of bloggers is very important but I believe the first priority of bloggers continues to be democracy and the need for many voices to be heard. I am a little worried about groupthink and there's plenty of it on the right and left but I hope some patient voices hang around who truly do have things to say that can lead to even more useful discussions and I'm glad to say that the survey I did of blogs continues to yield pleasant surprises.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Retail Politics

When I worked as a volunteer at my local Democratic headquarters in 2004, one of my jobs was rounding up new volunteers, mostly from a list that people had signed during registration or while calling in to get information. I spent most of my time leaving messages but occassionally, I would get through to someone and after talking a minute or so they were willing to volunteer. But I started catching myself when I called people who said no; instead of immediately moving on to the next name on the list, I realized they were just as important in some ways. Usually someone who said no discovered their schedule was tighter than they thought it was going to be or maybe they had just changed their minds. But several just wanted to talk for a minute or so and I let them and they had some strong things to say about Washington. And then I started realizing that they really appreciated that someone was listening, even if I was only a volunteer.

William Rivers Pitt has a post over at Truthout about Rudy Perkins of New Hampshire Swing the Vote that talks about this very thing but by way of door to door:
Perkins, along with Swing the Vote steering committee members Bonnie and Leah, cobbled together a group of volunteers as the 2004 election season began to loom. They mapped out Cheshire County and parceled out areas for volunteers to work. The volunteers went out in pairs, clipboards in hand, and knocked on as many Cheshire County doors as they could manage.

This was not, however, your standard canvassing project. First of all, the volunteers were sternly instructed not to stand there and proselytize to the people they spoke to. They had a series of questions to ask, beginning with "Are you registered to vote?" before moving on to "Do you vote?" and concluding with "What issues are of most concern to you?" The basic idea was to get people talking.

"It was pretty amazing," recalls Perkins. "At first, the person who answered the door would be incredulous, like they were dealing with a salesman. But the questions we asked drew them out, and allowed them to express their opinions without interruption. These days, with the television news convincing people that what they are being told is what they already believe, there isn't a lot of political conversation happening. I got the sense that, for a lot of the people I spoke to, this was the first time they were asked what their opinions were in a long time. For some of them, I really think it was the first time."
If you ask a political consultant about this kind of retail politics, they'll sometimes claim that they already do it. But it frequently turns out not to be the case. Or they'll think they do it but their staff is so focused on raising money or counting bodies that it simply doesn't happen. It needs to happen. We have a president who repeatedly demonstrates that he's unable to listen to the concerns of average Americans. Democrats can win, but they need to demonstrate they can listen. Many are learning to do so. But people like Perkins show that these things need to be organized and they need to be running months before the election.

Scandals of the Bush Era

I can't keep track. Valerie Plame. Abu Ghraib. Special Rendition. Torture. The Social Security bamboozlement. Katrina. Abramoff. Cunningham. Halliburton. The California energy scam. Another five or six corporate scandals. Mission Accomplished! Bring it 'on! Mushroom Clouds!

I need a bullentin board! I have one out in the storage room that I'll probably spend an hour trying to dig out tomorrow but it'll be worth it. My computer screen is simply too small for the Bush era. I've got the perfect place for the bullentin board; my office is sort of L shaped because part of the L is made by bookcases; I've got this nice big blank space to my left on the back of a bookcase where I can hang the bullentin board. I can keep track of the Bush era out of the corner of my left eye.

I'm not exactly sure how I'll do this. "Bush blunders of the week?" "Republican scandals of the month?" "Ten fiascos that will take at least ten years to fix?" I'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, I just looked up Valerie Plame; now that's a story that's far from finished. Jason Leopold has two recent posts; here's the first about e-mails:
The White House confirmed Tuesday that it recently turned over to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald 250 pages of emails from the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney related to covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the Bush administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence. The emails were not submitted three years ago when then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered White House staffers to turn over all documents that contained any reference to Valerie and Joseph Wilson.
Three years to submit e-mails? Talk about stonewalling. Here's the other post by Jason Leopold and this one mentions Bob Woodward:
In mid-June 2003, when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's criticism against the White House's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence started to make national headlines, Vice President Dick Cheney told his former chief of staff and close confidant I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to leak classified intelligence data on Iraq's nuclear ambitions to a legendary Washington journalist in order to undercut the charges made against the Bush administration by the former ambassador.
On June 27, 2003, Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, became the first journalist to whom Libby leaked a portion of the classified National Intelligence Estimate that purportedly showed how Iraq tried to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger.
I suppose 'mentions' isn't quite the right word but the word came to mind probably because Woodward failed to 'mention' for some two years his involvement in the case while commenting on others and minimizing the whole CIA affair in the first place.

But what part of the National Intelligence Estimate did Libby show Woodward? Did Cheney, through Libby, try to pass off the forged Niger/Iraq documents to poor unsuspecting Mr. Woodward? If he did, then be sure to read Eriposte of The Left Coaster who has analyzed and written extensively of the Niger/Iraq documents. This story still has long legs. The president of the United States, with his ideological blinders rigidly locked in place, and his ears stuffed with cotton, lied his way into a war we didn't need and slowly, bit by bit, the facts are coming out.

My wife and I are going on vacation next week. I hope before we leave that I can get one of those lists going about some of the goings-on in an era that's going to take a long time to understand. No promises though. One thing I'm learning about blogging is that there's just not enough time for all of my good intentions. All one can do is mutter to oneself and say: onward!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

George Will on John Edwards

Two and half years before the next presidential election, George Will is worried enough about John Edward's chances to write a column about him. Or perhaps he's tired of all the scandals surrounding Bush and Congressional Republicans and wants something else to talk about. In any case, Will takes a few mild potshots at Edwards while reminding the country of his own conservative philosophy.

Will is skeptical of Edward's interest in poverty issues and tells us, "Most Americans seem to regard as the only searing economic injustice the violation of their constitutional right—surely it is in the Bill of rights somewhere—to cheap gasoline." Actually, most Americans are becoming increasingly aware of economic injustices being perpetrated in the halls of Congress by well-connected members—but, let's move on. Mr. Will, whose income clearly puts him in the .1% upper income group that Paul Krugman recently talked about, belongs to that economic elite in Washington power circles who have no clue about the lives of Americans across the nation. Edwards has said in other places that Americans who work hard and play by the rules are finding it much harder these days to make ends meet. The number of people in poverty is growing and the number of people in the middle class under economic stress and vulnerable to one major medical bill or loss of income by one family member runs in the scores of millions. Edwards understands this even if George Will does not.

Later, Will pontificates that poverty "results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores—punctuality, hygiene [!], industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc.—that are not developed in disorganized homes." My wife read the same quote and it took her back almost forty years when she was teaching in Milwaukee during a time of integration; she was at the door counting students entering the classroom after recess by touching them on the head while the principal was watching from down the hall and he later asked her if she was washing her hands afterwards. But the language Will uses is a throwback to the broad generalities of early 20th century racial, class and ethnic views (and even then there were people like my grandfather who said, "Judge the man, not the background"). I do not think it's unfair to point out that George W. Bush lacked some of those habits in his youth but unlike children who are not born to privilege, our president could always count on his parents and their friends to bail him out when he was young. And this is true of many other Americans from middle and upper middle class backgrounds who have received second and third and even fourth chances in their youth. But there are a growing number of children in America who are not receiving even a first chance.

Later in the column, Will goes on to say, "Edwards says one lesson of 2004 is that presidential elections 'are not issue-driven'; rather, they are character-driven and voters see issues as reflections of character. The issues 'show people who you are.' Perhaps."

Raising the character issue seems an odd thing for Will to do since Bush and other Republicans are failing on that issue at the moment. Clearly, Bush's Katrina moment and the efforts of his aides to hide all pictures of their boss and Abramoff together do not show Bush in a good light; in fact, the character issue seems a bit strange since Abu Ghraib and torture are now forever tied to Bush. For a brief moment, until the word 'perhaps' showed up, I thought just maybe Will was sending a message to other Republicans: yes, character is important.

Unfortunately, Will writes: "But the idea that the candidate's persona is primary and that issues are secondary is a mistake made by some Democrats who yearn for another John Kennedy." There's so much wrong with that sentence I hardly know where to begin. Persona? Like the pretense that Bush's image makers have pushed that he's a compassionate conservative (think Abu Ghraib and Katrina again, just to name two)? Edwards has already made clear his background in a mill town in North Carolina; he was not born to wealth nor has he embraced the all too frequent conservative habit of endless self-justification when wealth arrives. No, John Edwards has a memory. Actually, FDR, who was born to wealth, also had a memory; up until the 1920s, FDR was a good sort who was mildly progressive in the Teddey Roosevelt vein (but a Democrat). But when FDR contracted polio and lost use of his legs, he got a good look at the world as it really is, particularly in Warm Springs, Georgia; he knew his class all too well and began to understand what life was really like for many Americans. John Kennedy had a different learning curve and I'm not sure if we understand it yet but the Bay of Pigs taught him that he had to take charge and no one grew more than Kennedy in his first months as president; that growth was not about 'persona,' that was about character in the real sense.

John Edwards is a good man but I haven't made up my mind about him only because it's still too early for 2008 and there are other candidates I want to look at. But all day I've been thinking about Will's column. Back in the 1980s, George Will was the conservative liberals liked to read because he would give a readable interpretation of conservatism that was like a window into the other half of the country. But in the 1990s, things changed. If you'll pardon my sarcasm, Will started following in the intellectual footsteps of Rush Limbaugh and many of his columns were factually challenged. In recent years, Will's columns have become more of a mixed bag. He still rallies to the Republican cause but he seems more concerned that perhaps the conservative revolution is not only faltering from a long series of mistakes but possibly going too far; he'll write a column that makes a brave statement and then scuttles back to Republican games in the next column to reassert his mantle. In the end, George Will has the same problem as Bush: he cannot reconcile all his contradictions. And that may be the epitaph of the current Republican Party.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

In the American Southwest

Rocks at Three Rivers by Bob Tyson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Bush, India and Iran

I'm all for better relations with India; I'm just not sure a deal that may let India develop more nuclear weapons is the best way to develop better relations if that is indeed the consequences of Bush's diplomatic efforts. Certainly we're entering a new era on many different levels and the president, for once, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News (Knight Ridder) may be right: "Bush said Americans would benefit because increased use of nuclear power in India would reduce global demand for oil."

The jury is still out on nuclear energy; some improvements have been made since Chernobyl and Three Mile Island but, more important, promises in new technology have been made for years but not fully brought to fruition. But nuclear energy may be making a comeback for the simple reason that the worldwide supply of oil is getting tighter and oil production may well be plateauing sometime between now and the next twenty years, and eventually falling off after that; and although Bush would probably be the last politician to admit it, nuclear energy, despite its problems, is clearly an effective way to lower CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

As the oil age begins to wind down in the next few decades, that means new energy sources will be needed and sustainable, alternative energy sources may not be enough, particularly in the beginning, since a lot of infrastructure for alternative energy needs to be put in place. Alternative energy (solar, wind, bio, etc.) should be the goal, not nuclear energy, but nuclear energy, simply as an important stopgap, may be making a comeback (and I can see major political battles making sure that nuclear energy is a stopgap unless various issues are fully addressed).

So Bush may be right that nuclear energy in India may reduce global demand for oil. However, this logic in recent weeks has not been applied to Iran. One of the Republican talking points is the question of Iran's nuclear program; the Bush Administration and other Republicans are asking why Iran needs a nuclear program if it already has all that oil? Now clearly there is genuine concern that Iran may be on the way to developing nuclear weapons sometime in the next ten years and the United States is not the only country concerned. But as we have seen in the past, the Bush Administration is not above making a false argument to build their case on an issue.

So the question is this: if there was a way to monitor Iran's nuclear program so that we can be assured that they are not developing nuclear weapons, can a legitimate case be made for nuclear facilities? If we apply the logic that Bush used with India, the same logic applies to Iran. More nuclear power plants in Iran means a drop in oil demand.

Now what do we know of Iran's oil production? The Oil Drum has posted several articles on Iran in recent months. Here's an item relevant to what we're discussing about Iran: "According to the EIA, Iran ... with a population of 68,017,860 exports 63% of its oil production, using the rest for internal consumption."

Iran is using more than a third of its own oil production for dometic use. Iran's population is continuing to grow. And oil production in coming years is expected to begin dropping because that is what happens to all oil fields. A legitimate case could be made that Iran needs to think about the future; building new nuclear power plants would be a way of maintaining Iran's energy supplies. And it would make more oil available for export to the world's hungry energy markets.

So we need to watch Bush as he uses one argument in a place like India and uses nearly the opposite argument in a place like Iran. Our current president invites this observation: the Bush circle seems to have a habit of having one set of rules for one group of people and another set of rules for other groups of people. Americans deserve some explanation.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What Is Wrong with George W. Bush?

I'm at a loss at what to make of President Bush. How do we explain his strange behavior over Hurricane Katrina? He was warned and did nothing. There it was on tape. We already pretty much knew that he ignored the warnings that the levees might break and that Hurricane Katrina was going to be a big one; but the media and Republicans were quick to make excuses for the guy and many of the rest of us figured that part of the problem might have been that his staff didn't try hard enough to get his attention. But that turns out not to be the case. We're faced with the fact that the president was told and did nothing. No, let me take that back; he was told and went off in the other direction to go play a guitar. All the jokes that were made about the guitar were closer to the truth than people realized.

These are the strangest of times. There are many elephants in the room and I don't mean Republicans. I mean those big animals in the middle of the living room that everybody pretends aren't there. Some of those elephants that are in the room are sitting right there on the floors of the House and Senate while almost all the Republicans and even a fair number of Democrats walk around them. The biggest elephant in the room is simply this: something is wrong with George W. Bush and some of us are not sure that incompetence and arrogance cover it any more. You know the Republicans suspect the same thing but won't say it. An article in the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau alludes to it but doesn't quite confront it fully but it does suggest some reporters are close to raising issues that need to be raised about Bush:
GOP growing increasingly angry,
frightened by Bush's missteps

By Steven Thomma and James Kuhnhenn
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - President Bush, once the seemingly invincible vanguard of a new Republican majority, could be endangering his party's hold on power as the GOP heads into this year's midterm congressional elections.

A series of political missteps has raised questions about the Bush administration's candor, competence and credibility and left the White House off-balance, off-message and unable to command either the nation's policy agenda or its politics the way the president did during his first term.

This week, newly released video of Bush listening passively to warnings about the dire threat posed by Hurricane Katrina and a report that intelligence analysts warned for more than two years that the insurgency in Iraq could swell into a civil war provided fresh fodder for charges that the president ignores unwelcome alarms.


Growing doubts about the administration's case for and conduct of the war in Iraq have kept the president from reversing his slide, and now his administration's missteps are making it even harder for him to regain his footing.

When conservatives challenged the ports deal, for example, Bush threatened to veto any legislation blocking it, then all but accused his critics of racism for opposing an Arab company.
The word used in the headline is 'frightened.' Now that's a good word because it tests the gestalt of the moment. The reporter can always say he was referring to the chances of Republicans in November. But it's a loaded word. Republicans should be frightened. For once, they might have to do something responsible. And they have spent many years doing their best to avoid responsibililties as they fulfill promises made to campaign contributors with deep pockets.

Let me point to one other thing in the Knight Ridder article. Bush has raised the racism issue in relation to the Dubai deal. I have no doubt that a certain amount of racism towards Arabs and, to a lesser extent, Muslims, is indeed involved in the distrust of the Dubai deal; racism, I might add, that George W. Bush himself has contributed to for political reasons over the last four and a half years. One of the reasons Bush is in trouble is that he cannot resolve all his contradictions.

Bush can hardly talk about democracy in the Middle East and play semantics games about torture in places like Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. He can hardly talk about elections and freedom around the world when in our own country he does nothing to protect voter rights; at the barest minimum, it is a travesty that there are places in our country where people in poor areas have to wait as long as three hours to vote while people in middle class areas wait less than twenty minutes. And it leaves millions of Americans bewildered that Bush can talk about a prosperous economy while ignoring the problems of New Orleans and its hundreds of thousands of scattered residents month after month. The list of contradictions is long but let me add one more; Bush can hardly talk about supporting our troops at the same time he cuts benefits for veterans and shovels barrels of money into the pockets of the wealthy.

Even Bush's style is increasingly harder to reconcile. He makes promises to the nation one day and a few days later he shows indifference to the same issue. We know Bush is rather incompetent. We know he mangles the language. We know he surrounds himself with yes men and yes women and cronies. We know from his own father's words that George W. is thin-skinned. We know that he is arrogant. We know that at critical moments in the last five years he has not told us the truth when he clearly had an obligation to do so. But all of that doesn't explain his behavior during Hurricane Katrina. Nor his behavior on August 6, 2001, when he received a warning about Osama bin Laden. Is it callousness? Boredom? Indifference? Too many years of alcohol? A political philosophy darker than he lets on?

We have a problem and Congress needs to deal with it. And we have to deal with the fact that Cheney and Rumsfeld have fueled many of the failures of this administration; and Bush has never done anything beyond pr masssage to address the many blunders of those two Nixonian figures.

I know that it doesn't feel like it at times but there is still much that is right about our country. But a number of things are wrong and they begin with the president and most people know it. And it's time to recover who we are as a nation, a nation of laws, a nation slow sometimes to recognize problems, but one that eventually does the right thing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Josh Marshall and the Uses of Blogging

I've been reading Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo since Paul Krugman put his url in a column in The New York Times. That's been two years ago now. Talking Points Memo gets high marks from me primarily because of Marshall's special attention to credibility and getting his facts straight. But what has been truly fascinating is the chance to watch a new kind of journalism slowly take form.

Talking Points Memo, along with its various offshoots, is one of the most successful enterprises in the blogosphere and doesn't need more publicity but here's a post today that explains some issues about blogging and some developments at Talking Points Memo concerning Marshall's latest rollout, The Daily Muck:

So, that's our team. Justin and Paul. I'll be general editor in the background, with Kate Cambor as Managing Editor.

We plan to get underway next week. The Daily Muck and these Advance Copy posts we're doing here will all be rolled into the new site, along with our Document Collection, a collection of bios of all the major scandals players and a bunch else. We won't be launching with any fanfare or announcement or glitz. If all goes according to plan, we'll just start rounding up the corruption news of the day and breaking stories.

Now, one other point I'd like to make. I had the idea to start this new site for a few different reasons. One was that I'd like to have a site like this that I could read. Another was that I've been increasingly interested in blogs as a hybrid form of journalism.

But the most immediate reason is this: Most of the stuff I come up with on TPM starts with readers -- tips, insights that shed new light on already reported stories, pointers to articles, scuttlebutt that a little reporting can turn into hard news. I've discussed this before on the site. But the stream of emails we get into the site everyday is a resource of simply inestimable value -- something journalists with conventional publications just don't have access to. But as the site has grown, the volume of tips and leads has grown. But my ability to run them down has remained pretty static. So lots of good leads and stories just go unpursued.

But I figured that with a couple hungry reporters who could devote themselves to doing this full-time and a few interns to help them, we could bust open a lot more stories, make more trouble and just have a lot more fun. So that's what we're going to try to do.

From you, here's what we need. Keep the tips coming.
There's one phrase by Marshall I'd like to talk about for a moment. He says, "I had the idea to start this new site for a few different reasons. One was that I'd like to have a site like this that I could read." That's actually good advice for any blogger. What is it you're hungry to read? A lot of us got involved on message boards long before we started commenting on blogs and then starting our own blogs; one of the primary motives is that tens of thousands of us felt the Bush Administration wasn't being straight with us and the press didn't seem to be doing its job. So people were scouring the Internet for news sources in the United States as well as all over the world. I can't remember how many times others told me to check the BBC, The Guardian and the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau and I turned around, did my own checking and passed on what I saw.

I value very much some of the specialty sites like Today in Iraq, Democracy Arsenal, and The Oil Drum. And I value those whose background helps bring high quality blogging like international issues reporter Laura Rozen of War and Piece and lawyers like those at Firedoglake, Unclaimed Territory and The Anonymous Liberal. I hope more blogs like these come along.

I admit I'm too much of a generalist to settle down on one issue. But maybe my specialty is following my nose and seeing where it leads. If there's one thing I learned from the survey I did of the blogs listed on Technorati, it's that there's plenty of room to do more. Actually, there's a second thing, too; people who notice useful things need to get that information out more and they need to help each other do so.