Thursday, November 30, 2006

In 2006, Young Voters Turned to Democrats

In many ways, the campaign strategy for Republicans over the last six years has been designed to suppress the vote but it's a strategy that in the long run can't work unless the Republicans reform themselves. In the meantime, young people seem to be turning to the Democrats. Sidney Blumenthal in Salon has the story and more:
... Exit polls [for the 2006 midterm elections] showed that the Democrats won the popular vote by 52 to 46 percent. Given that Bush won the popular vote by 3 points in 2004, this was a reversal of not 6 but 9 points. An analysis of the actual popular vote for the Senate, however, reveals an even greater Democratic margin of 55 to 42.4 percent. That number also coincidentally corresponds to the margin by which Democrats won women, the greatest margin since 1988. Yet Democrats won independents by an even bigger margin, 18 points, the greatest spread in House races in 25 years. The profile of independents on issue after issue now mostly resembles the profile of Democrats.


While voters under 30 were the most favorable age group in 2004 for Kerry, casting 54 percent of their votes for him, Democratic House candidates in 2006 received 60 percent of their votes, compared with 38 percent for Republicans. Nationally, partisan identification breaks 38 percent Democratic to 35 percent Republican, but among those under age 30 the percentages are 43 to 31 in favor of Democrats. This pattern runs as strongly in the West as in the East, the Midwest and the Pacific states, a clear indication that the Western states are heading out of the Republican camp -- out of alliance with the deep South's Republican states and into coalition with the broad majority. In Wyoming and Arizona, where Republicans won elections for the House and Senate, the Democrats would have won by 16 and 15 points, respectively, if the elections had been conducted only among under-30s. In Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester won by 1 percentage point, fewer than 3,000 votes, his margin among under-30s, who were 17 percent of the electorate, was 12 points.

It's increasingly clear that Bush and his right wing allies represent the politics of the far past. It's going to be up to the Democrats to demonstrate that they are the party of the future. In the spirit of bipartisanship (and good politics, for that matter), the Democrats should hold out the olive branch to Bush from time to time, though he already shows signs that he will do nothing more than swat the branch aside (so far, Bush's talk of bipartisanship has been a charade). Otherwise, the real job of the Democrats is to lay out their agenda and to make that agenda part of the 2008 election whenever Bush decides to use his veto.

The Democrats should compromise when feasible but speak loudly and clearly about the failure of Bush to respect the bipartisan compromises of the last seventy-five years. Those compromises are law, not opinions that a president can dismiss. Iraq will require special handling. Technically, Congress can advise on foreign policy (and control the purse strings) but they cannot micromanage the president. The real key is oversight: we need hearings and accountability to investigate the biggest foreign policy fiasco in American history. Finally, the five issues Democrats need to keep working on and talking about are jobs, health care, general government accountability, an energy policy and the environment. These issues are the future, these are the issues people want to see progress on.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Senator Webb Stands His Ground

When most politicians work a room, they're just meeting people and getting themselves better known. I've never liked the way Bush works a room. He acts like he's learned all the tricks from a Dale Carnegie executive training course, particularly the chapter on assertiveness (to put it politely). One of his gimmicks, among several I've seen, is to grab someone by both arms in greeting and hold on to them until they make eye contact; the message is simple: I'm dominating the encounter here.

Senator Webb chose not to play the game. Here's the story from Michael D. Shear of The Washington Post (hat tip to Mahablog who has her own take):
At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation...

Note that Senator-elect Webb did not seek out Bush, but like others who had just been elected, he honored the occassion with his presence. President Bush may have simply wanted to greet Webb and he may have simply shown his thin skin when Webb replied to the question about his son and Bush became rude. But I have watched Bush work a room. It would not surprise me that Bush noticed that Webb was avoiding him and decided to 'assert' himself. Normally, I believe people should respect the office even when they strongly disagree with a president. But Bush does not respect any number of traditions associated with being president nor does he appear to have much respect for the US Constitution. I applaud Jim Webb. His answer was a civil one given the circumstances. The president is a man, not a king or a dictator. Even the president has to remember who he is.

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Powell Reportedly Says Iraq in Civil War

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said a number of things in recent months that are critical of the Bush Administration, but a word of caution: most of these criticisms have been out of the public eye and simply reported by others. Think Progress catches the latest criticism from Powell by way of Hala Garani of CNN:
GORANI: Well, within the context of the leaders conference in Dubai and also within the context of this debate, this semantics debate, over whether to call what is going on on in Iraq a civil war, the former Secretary of State Colin Powell says he thinks we can call it a civil war and added if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground.

The Bush Administration is in meltdown and considerable damage has been done to our foreign policy. We need to hear not just Democrats but also rational Republicans who can clarify what is going on. If everyone knows what the real story is, it limits the unhelpful and time-wasting games that Bush is still capable of playing and that are likely to damage the United States even further. I hope Colin Powell starts making his statements in the public eye where we can all hear it loud and clear rather than at these semi-private functions. He knows his reputation has been damaged by his service under Bush; to repair that reputation requires raising his profile.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bush Still Thinks the Right Spin Will Restore His Credibility

Persistence in spite of repeated blunders is not exactly a virtue. Recent moves by Bush suggest that he hasn't abandoned his 'stay the course' paralysis in the face of failure and deepening chaos. Unless the pressure on the president and vice president continues to build, we are likely to be subjected to another series of speeches in a few weeks where Bush once again tries to convince the American people of things we know are not so. Such speeches will be a waste of everyone's time.

In the polls, Bush's numbers continue sag after the election; here's the latest from the Wall Street Journal:
President Bush's approval ratings, as tracked by Harris Interactive, fell to the second-lowest of his presidency, according to a new poll.

According to the telephone poll, conducted between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21, 31% of U.S. adults called Mr. Bush's job performance "excellent" or "good" -- down from 34% who gave a positive assessment in a late-October poll; 67% said his performance is only "fair" or "poor," up from 63% in the previous survey. The president's lowest approval rating in a Harris poll was 29% in May 2006.

I suspect 31% is a message the president should heed. Before the numbers start drifting down into the middle and low 20s: in other words, before the numbers drift into guaranteed impeachment territory. Make no mistake: Bush deserves to be impeached. But he ought to do us all a favor, save us the wrenching experience, and get his act together in his final two years. The American people are not demanding greatness—Bush isn't capable of that—but they are demanding some level of minimal competence and some effort to relieve us of perpetual war and a greater effort to adhere to the US Constitution. Licking a domestic problem or two would be a bonus.

Bush ought to also notice that Americans have caught on to Karl Rove for some time now. Karl Rove's numbers are even lower than Bush's as Greg Sergeant of TPM Cafe reports:
In the aftermath of the midterm election, the approval rating of Karl Rove, the "architect" of the drubbing suffered by the GOP, has dipped below 20 percent. A new Gallup poll out today finds that Rove's approval rating has slipped to 19 percent, down three points from 22 percent in July... ...

Karl Rove specializes in wedge issues and divisiveness as a way of distracting attention from the inadequacies of President Bush and the Republican Party. Americans have had enough of it.

I don't have the latest poll numbers for Dick Cheney but he too shows signs of not having learned a thing. He still has the same self-important hubris; here's the story in The Huffington Post:
Vice President Dick Cheney flew into Tallahassee Monday afternoon. Though there are no details of his destination, Cheney is on a hunting trip.

Exchanges on Interstate 10 were blocked earlier this afternoon and a spokesperson for the Tallahassee Police Department said it was done as security for the vice president passing through.

I suppose the highway might have been closed as a safety precaution given the vice president's inabililty to shoot straight, but the hubris is still unmistakable.

One way of putting pressure on the president and vice president is for the media to stop pretending the two have any credibility. Iraq is in a civil war and the president has no solution—story on the six o'clock news.

Chaotic Times

I heard Bush on TV say that one of the things he wants to ask Maliki when he meets him in Jordan is (drum rolls please)...., "What's your strategy?"

One can imagine the conversation:

Bush: "So, what's your strategy?"

Maliki: "My strategy? What's your strategy?"

Bush: "Hey, it's your country."

Maliki: "Hey, you started the war. Didn't you have a plan?"

And on it goes. It is beyond belief.

A word of caution about the news. In the last few days, there has been a storm of contradictory things said in many quarters and no one has been more of a source of confusion that the Bush Administration. I try to be accurate but it isn't always easy to be sure I'm getting the right story. Only through sheer luck (and lack of time) have I managed to avoid posting a couple of inaccurate stories in the last few days. A lot of bamboozlement is going on and a few reporters and even a few blogs are sometimes rushing out stories that haven't been fully checked. Be cautious. And if there's a mistake on Donkey Path, speak loudly and I'll try to correct it.

US News on Who Lost Iraq

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley and even Congress all played critical roles in creating the Iraq quagmire. Although Rumsfeld's blunders have often been covered, Chitra Ragavan of US News has a long article that puts the spotlight on Bush's two national security advisers, Rice and Hadley, and their role in the fiasco:
President Bush's acceptance of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation was intended to signal a change in course on Iraq. But many national security experts say that Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser at the time of the invasion, and the National Security Council share much of the blame for the problems in Iraq. "She did not perceive, and the National Security Council did not assess, what is in the United States' interests and what is in the interests of our enemies," says retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, an outspoken critic of the war who served as military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "Once you make that basic mistake, there isn't any way to make the war come out good. It's all over."

With her ardent support for the invasion, Odom and others say, Rice was unable to play the traditional role of national security adviser-impartial broker in the rough-and-tumble of interagency government. That was further complicated by the fact that Rumsfeld all but ignored the input of other agencies, then never took responsibility for postwar reconstruction, leaving Rice to try to manage the Iraq rebuilding effort from the White House. "The people who took responsibility for the rebuilding of Iraq-that is, the office of the secretary of defense-expressed no interest in solving problems as problems appeared," says Franklin Miller, one of Rice's principal aides handling the reconstruction effort. "They never brought any issues to the table, and they never took any taskings away."
Although the article focuses more on Rice than Hadley, I don't think enough has been said about Hadley's role, particularly since Rice left for the State Department. I've noticed some mild inaccuracies in the story and those inaccuracies seem to be a function of relying on NSC staff members for the story. Even Cheney's role manages to be minimized in the debacle.

The only question I have about Rice's role in Iraq is whether she knew about Abu Ghraib since the beginning. I have no doubt that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld implemented the new interrogation regime and Rumsfeld specifically added Abu Ghraib to the interrogation centers that already existed but Rice's specific role in fostering democracy would have been ironic if she had known about Abu Ghraib. But it would not surprise me. In the US News article, the military comes in for a share of the blame but it should be remembered that generals who pointed out things that Rumsfeld did not want to hear were soon left out of the decision-making process.

The more one reads about all this stuff, the more amazing it is how little anyone seemed to know what they were doing (Bush is the poster boy in that department though Douglas Feith in the Pentagon is a close second) and how unwilling others were to protest if they understood the facts (Powell, for one, comes to mind). The fiasco in Iraq isn't just a function of incompetence, though; many blunders were made because of rigid ideological assumptions and just sheer hubris and cussedness on the part of the Bush inner circle. If the full story on Iraq ever comes out, Bush may well have destroyed the neoconservatives and the Republican radical right for the next generation or two. The neoconservatives and radical right will continue to make noise, but it's time for the media to stop taking them seriously.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq: It's a Civil War

All of us are getting tired of the word games being played at the White House. The violence in Iraq over the last few months have been getting worse. But then, the violence was bad before it got worse.

Here's a story from CBS News about NBC News (yeah, I know, it's ironic):
NBC News and MSNBC broke away from the pack of mainstream media and decided to use the term "civil war" to describe current fighting in Iraq.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times became one of the first newspapers to use the term "civil war" without a qualifier.

"Apparently the utter chaos and carnage of the past week has finally convinced some to use 'civil war' without apology," Editor & Publisher reported.

Early Monday morning, Matt Lauer on the "Today" show bluntly laid out NBC News' decision to freely use the term "civil war," although the White House has consistently rejected claims that Iraq's sectarian violence had deteriorated into a civil war.

"For the most part, news organizations like NBC hesitated to characterize it as such. After careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted and what is going on in Iraq can now be characterized as civil war," Lauer said.

There's nothing complicated about this. If lots of people on both sides are getting killed and everybody's upset, and thousands of people are fleeing the country or fleeing their region because of sectarian violence, it's called a civil war. Of course, it's difficult to inform the White House. For almost six years, the White House has been hermetically sealed off from the White House press room. Tony Snow's job isn't just to deny there's a civil war—his job is to deny everything. It would be worth sending a telegram to Bush but Western Union has closed it offices. It would be worth sending an e-mail but nobody at the White House reads them (is Bush even computer literate?). It would be worth sending a letter but the people who get them and toss them out don't even work at the White House. It would be worth making a phone call but you'll put on hold until the next election. Perhaps the first words of whatever report the Iraq Study Group writes is, "Accept reality: Iraq is a complete fiasco and civil war has been underway for almost a year." Just as it was with Hurricane Katrina, we have a president who insists on being the last to know.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has an excellent post today on all things Iraq (with a number of useful links):
Yesterday’s Times had a good piece on how the expectations for the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group have far outpaced what Baker and Hamilton may be able to achieve. There are several factors at play working against Baker here, the first being Bush’s unwillingness to be viewed as someone who needs to be rescued by “Jimmy”. The second problem is that unlike Baker’s earlier work on the international stage, the warring parties inside Iraq’s sectarian war may not be swayed by what James Baker says, unless he can personally deliver what they want. Since he can’t personally move al-Maliki or the “Office Boy” to take the steps necessary to move along towards a political solution, Baker’s report may not be the panacea many are expecting. It will be a waste of time if it doesn’t seriously consider a withdrawal option, which the Times says will not be in the report’s first draft, and the Pentagon is already undermining the report with its own plan to stay the course and add more troops. The Brits aren’t waiting around for us: they are going to significantly draw down their presence before the end of next year.

It's been almost three weeks since the American people sent a message to Bush that enough is enough. Part of that message is the belief by most Americans that it is time to disengage from Iraq in some kind of realistic manner. Firing Rumseld was a step in the right direction. But everything since then indicates that the president himself is not ready to change; and there is still the possibility he may start a third war. Bush has the option of salvaging some portion of his presidency in his last two years. So far, the signs are that Bush will simply hand off his fiasco to the next president. That's a foreign policy drift for two years that America cannot afford.

General Karpinski May Be Abu Ghraib Witness Against Rumsfeld

I read body language better than most people though, in reality. reading body language is more an art than a science. You can't use body language in a court of law and a reporter is better off not mentioning a hunch about facial expressions, though TV journalists will let you draw your own conclusions from a carefully selected videotape without saying a word.

But I'm just a writer, not a reporter. I allow myself some latitude. Now I know how easy it is to get things wrong, but I've learned that if you have a hunch, you just keep watching, and the person who's raised your curiousity may eventually confirm the hunch. Sometimes, repeatedly. In the spring of 2004, Rumsfeld repeatedly confirmed my hunch that he knew all about Abu Ghraib long before the photos surfaced. Rumsfeld never once acted like a man who was angry about the torture. But he was clearly angry that somebody in charge, in his view, was stupid enough to let pictures be taken. It was the pictures and therefore the leaks that bothered him, not what was going on inside the prison.

So I'm inclined to believe General Karpinski who was nominally in charge of the interrogation proceedings at Abu Ghraib and says that Rumsfeld authorized the interrogation methods; here's the story from Reuters:
Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the prison's former U.S. commander said in an interview on Saturday.

Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski told Spain's El Pais newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by Rumsfeld which allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation.

Karpinski, who ran the prison until early 2004, said she saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods.

"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished"," she told Saturday's El Pais.

I suspect there's more to the Karpinski side of the story. I have a theory and it's only a theory since there's much about the Bush Administration we don't know. Not even Bob Woodward, who has shown on a number of occassions that he can be easily misled. My theory is that Dick Cheney, who was put in charge of staffing most of the Bush Administration just after the 2000 election, designed the staffing in such a way that he would be more in charge that even the president would fully recognize, though Bush appears to have intended Cheney to have the largest role we have ever seen a vice president have (Bush's presidency has been a strange two-headed monster that the historians will be talking about for decades). It's clear that Cheney's own staff, at least in the beginning, was in some areas stronger than Bush's immediate staff—and nowhere was this more clear than in the selection of Condi Rice.

Rice, I believe, was picked by Bush but Cheney may have been thoroughly delighted by the choice and may never have pointed out that she was a poor choice for national security adviser; she was an intellectual, an expert on the Soviet Russia era, but had no management skills (and for that matter, she shared with other administration figures a poor understanding of foreign policy developments during the 1990s). Time and time again, we have seen the more experienced Cheney or Rumseld run roughshod over Rice, whether as national security adviser or secretary of state. Even when she is given more authority, Condi Rice isn't quite able to get the job done and this has suited Cheney and Rumsfeld.

It's not uncommon for presidents to have advisers who are largely bypassed. Nixon, in his first term, did not rely much on his secretary of state; he relied on Henry Kissinger. But it is unusual for a vice president to set up such a system (with or without Bush's consent) where it has been possible at times to bypass the president's own people or simply use them as a tool while the real policy was being pursued elsewhere (with or without Bush's involvement: Bush, too, likes to play games). Given this background, I suspect Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld may have seen to it that something of the same sort was done to General Karpinski who was nominally in charge of the interrogations but not really. She was supposed to be somebody they could easily ignore. In any case, once the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, she was a convenient scapegoat; she was relieved of duty, demoted and not expected to be heard from again. It's entirely possible, however, that General Karpinski will have the last word.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Are Republicans Smart Enough to Nominate Hagel?

I hope Republicans nominate John McCain because it won't be difficult to show voters that John McCain is no longer John McCain and hasn't been since the spring of 2004 when Karl Rove or somebody in the White House apparently got to him with promises to give him help for the 2008 presidential race. It doesn't help McCain that he has almost blindly rubber stamped the president's policies; even on the rare occassion when he seems to show some backbone, he immediately folds like Arlen Specter or any number of other Republicans. And McCain's pandering to the right will make him look odd when he tries to pass himself off as a 'media centrist,' an illusion Americans, and particularly independents, aren't buying anymore if all it means is that McCain's more polite and telegenic than other conservatives. His voting record, by the way, shows he is by far one of the most conservatives members of the Senate. McCain's conservatism is rapidly falling behind the times.

The man to watch, however, is Chuck Hagel. If Hagel runs for president and manages to win the Republican nomination, he might be difficult to beat. For one thing, the independents who swung for the Democrats in 2006 might swing back to the Republicans if Hagel heads the ticket. Here's Senator Hagel's own words in The Washington Post on Iraq:
There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.

That's about as close as any major Republican has come lately to telling it like it is. Hagel is doing what McCain once had the reputation of doing before discovering the Republican 'base.' If Hagel runs, there are going to be many comparisons between what Hagel says and what McCain says and for voters around the country McCain will be the loser. And yet, I suspect McCain will win the nomination. The Republican Party shows few signs of having learned the lessons of the last six years. But if Hagel runs, he may begin the process of rebuilding the Republican Party around sounder principles; that will be a good thing, even if this liberal Democrat is not likely to agree with some of those principles.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Conservative Criticizes Today's Conservatism

There's nothing like hearing it from the horse's mouth. Austin W. Bramwell, former trustee of the very conservative National Review has an article in The American Conservative lamenting the demise of conservativism as it was practiced some years ago. Although I'm a liberal Democrat, I come from a conservative background and have been dumbfounded in recent years by how far conservatism has drifted from its main philosophies, particularly a core belief in raitonality by its business and intellectual leaders and a broad belief in fiscal responsibility. All that was thrown out the window by what Bramwell calls 'movement conservatism.'

Here's some excerpts from Bramwell's long article, most of which is a critique of The National Review and its flawed support of the 'war on terror,' but I want to highlight the parts having to do with today's conservatism in general:
... Notwithstanding conservatives’ belief that they, in contrast to their partisan opponents, have thought deeply about the challenges facing the United States, it is they who have become unserious.


...the steps in the causal logic whereby Iraqi democracy defeats anti-American terrorism are so numerous and doubtful that it becomes impossible to believe that Bush’s supporters have ever actually thought them through. Those who wonder what error befell the conservative movement since Bush took office are asking the wrong question. Since 9/11, the conservative movement has not made unsound or fallacious arguments for supporting Bush’s policies. Rather, it has made no arguments at all. T.S. Eliot once asked, “Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?” The answer: “Nothing, again, nothing.”


First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell’s “Inner Party,” those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example. In the run-up to the invasion, leading conservatives announced that conservatism now meant spreading global democratic revolution. This forthright radicalism—this embrace of the sanative powers of violence—became quickly accepted as the ineluctable meaning of conservatism in foreign policy. Those who dissented risked ostracism and harsh rebuke. Had conservative leaders instead argued that global democratic revolution would not cure our woes but increase them, the rest of the movement would have accepted this position no less quickly. Millions of conservative epigones believe nothing less than what the movement’s established organs tell them to believe. Rarely does a man recognize, like Winston Smith, his own ideology as such.

Second, conservatism is concerned less with truth than with distinguishing insiders from outsiders. Conservatives identify themselves in part by repeating slogans (“we are at war!”) that, like “ignorance is strength,” are less important for what (if anything) they say than for what saying them says about the speaker. At the same time, to rise in the movement, one must develop a habitual obliviousness to truth, or what Orwell labeled “doublethinking.” Anyone who expresses too vociferously too many of the following opinions, for example, cannot expect to make a career in the movement: that the Soviet Union was not the threat that anti-communists made it out to be, that the current tax system discriminates in favor of the very wealthy, that the Bush administration was wrong about the Iraq invasion in nearly every respect, that the constitutional design itself prevents judges from deciding cases according to the original meaning of the Constitution, that global warming poses small but unacceptable risks, that everyone in the abortion debate—even the most ardent pro-lifers—inevitably engages in arbitrary line-drawing. Whether these opinions and others are correct or not matters little to the movement conservative, even if he knows next to nothing about the topic at hand. If you do not reject these opinions or at least keep quiet, you are not a movement conservative and will be treated accordingly.

Third, and closely related to doublethinking, the conservative movement engages in selective editing of history. When events have a tendency to disconfirm ideology, down the memory hole they go. Thus, conservatives do not recall their dire warnings about the Soviet Union during the Cold War or about the economy after the Bush I or Clinton tax increases. On the Iraq invasion, they will not remind you of their claims that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, that the world would soon be applauding the Iraq invasion, or that events in Lebanon and the Ukraine heralded global democratic revolution. Nor will conservatives remind you of their predictions that the insurgency’s demise was imminent, that Saddam Hussein and then Zarqawi were the Big Men of the insurgency, or that the insurgency consisted largely of foreign jihadis. As in 1984, the ability to forget that any of these events ever occurred signals one’s loyalty to the movement. (Hence, the rise of hawkishness against Iran, not four years after the last effort to sell a war to an otherwise balky public.) To prove his loyalty to the emperor, everyone must compliment him on his new clothes. The most loyal believe that the emperor is wearing clothes to begin with.


... The most distinguishing feature of [today's] conservatism is its misleading name. Lexically, “conservatism” denotes caution, prudence, and resistance to change. Conservatism the ideology, however, has if anything tended towards recklessness. “Nuke ‘em!” has always been a popular conservative sentiment, never more so than today with respect to the Muslim world. ...


... Worse, no reckoning will be made: they hope in vain who expect conservatives to take responsibility for the actual consequences of their actions. Conservatives have no use for the ethic of responsibility; they seek only to “see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched.” The movement remains a fine place to make a career, but for wisdom one must look elsewhere.

An unserious president is one who looks under his chair for the missing weapons of mass destruction. What's astonishing are the number of elected and appointed officials who have followed George W. Bush without question.

I strongly believe in the minimum of a two-party system. At the moment, one of our political parties, the more conservative one, has been AWOL for more than five years. Human beings are by nature flawed and no one is exempt no matter their philosophy or beliefs, but when too many of our flaws begin driving too many of our policies, we have a problem. It's going to take more than one election to repair the damage to our nation.

A Warning from an Energy Watchdog

One of the signs of 'progress' (if that word can still be used) in the last two hundred years has been a more stable agricultural economy throughout much of the world; irrigation and fertilizer have mitigated much of the agricultural problems that existed as recently as eighty years ago. There are still famines but they are largely the product of politics or geographic isolation (hunger is still an issue but that's less about agriculture than it is about econonmic policies that don't always serve nations well). In recent decades, agricultural production has somewhat smoothed out compared to what it was in the past.

For years, energy has had a somewhat smooth profile similar to agriculture but there are signs that energy may start taking on a feast and famine quality for a variety of reasons (with some nations having considerably more access to energy than others). For example, like agriculture, energy is now subject to the whims of weather as we saw last year as the result of Hurricane Katrina and the major shutdown of oil production in the gulf. Getting our oil from the ocean and the arctic is going to be subject to interruptions from time to time. Wars and politics are going to interrupt supplies. As oil fields decline, as they inevitably do, there is going to be more and more of a scramble to get energy. And the politics of Global Warming and pollution are becoming an increasing factor that has to be considered when developing oil as well as with the increasing return to mining coal; there are added expenses to developing oil and coal that have been put off for years but the bill is increasingly coming due.

Major organinzations that study the production of oil are increasingly concerned about what is happening: here's a story about a report from the International Energy Agency:
The world will lurch from one energy crisis to another unless governments switch from increased burning of fossil fuels to more nuclear, renewable and energy-saving sources, the Western world’s energy watchdog said.

In a landmark report published yesterday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast skyrocketing fuel prices, blackouts and supply disruptions as it pointed to a 50 per cent surge in energy demand by 2030.

Chinese and Indian economic growth will propel global oil demand from 84 million barrels per day to 116 million bpd by 2030 with most of the increased supply coming from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Non-Opec oil supplies will peak in the beginning of the next decade, reckons the IEA, raising the risk of supply disruptions which could push the crude price as high as $130 per barrel.

Actually, the above is simply one scenario predicted by the IEA and it seems to be the course the world is currently pursuing. Predicting supply and demand in a complex world is not easy. The one country that might have made a difference thirty years ago chose the politics of convenience; that would be our country, the United States. We can still turn things around but it needs to happen soon.

Predicting the future may be difficult, particularly if we choose to do nothing and decide to ride the winds of fate and let the winds take us where they will. Or we can start thinking about what we're doing. Here's more from the article on the IEA:
In its report, World Energy Outlook 2006, the IEA offered a choice of two scenarios. In its reference case, the agency paints a picture of soaring demand and increasing risk of supply disruptions as dependence rises on a diminishing number of gas and oil suppliers.

“This energy scenario is not only unsustainable but doomed to failure,” said Claude Mandil, head of the IEA.

The IEA describes an alternative scenario in which global energy demand is reduced by 10 per cent by 2030, oil demand reaches 103 million bpd and OECD carbon emissions peak around 2015.

Now here's the kicker. Both scenarios by the IEA are considered overly optimistic by some experts who are arguing that we need a major conservation program and a major commitment into alternative energy research because, as things now stand, it's not clear we can maintain our current level of energy use while cutting down on CO2 emissions and other forms of pollution. I don't know who has the answers to all this, but doing nothing doesn't seem a good choice anymore. I hope the new Congress has major hearings on where we stand on energy and on the powerfully related issue of Global Warming.

Bush Refuses to Rein in Cheney

What has Cheney done for America lately? Not much that I can tell. Bush claims that he wants a bipartisan relationship with the new Congress. If so, shouldn't he rein in Dick Cheney who has been the source of so many blunders and reckless acts? Cheney gave us no-bid contracts for Halliburton. Cheney gave us a strange government within a government. And Cheney has still not accepted responsibility for outing a CIA agent. To this date, Bush has not asked for accountability from his vice president; that amounts to an endorsement.

A sign that we're going to see more of the same from Bush and Cheney can be seen in several places, including this story from MSNBC:
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday for a meeting with King Abdullah to discuss issues of "mutual interest" in the Middle East, Cheney's office said.

Their talks come as the White House weighs a shift in strategy on Iraq amid raging violence there and after huge losses for President George W. Bush's Republican Party in U.S. elections dominated by voter frustration over his war policy.

I see no sign of a shift from Cheney and no sign of admitting his own blunders in the last six years. If Bush wants to salvage something from his last two years in the White House, it is time to rein in the very secretive and very incompetent vice president.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ummm, Pass That Gravy!

A very happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Reconnect with familly and drive safe.

On the lighter side, Think Progress offers 21 things to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 22; In Memory of a Fine President

John F. Kennedy
Born: May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachussets
Died: November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

All presidents are human beings, not gods or kings; therefore they are flawed. But the current president is a far lesser man than the one who was inaugurated in January of 1961 and offered authentic hope and authentic courage to our nation and the world.

The Senior Bush Defends Son

Here's an article from Yahoo on what the senior Bush had to say about his son after a 'leadership' speech he recently gave in the Middle East (hat tip to The Huffington Post):
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Former President George H.W. Bush took on Arab critics of his son Tuesday during a testy exchange at a leadership conference in the capital of this U.S. ally.

"My son is an honest man," Bush told members of the audience harshly criticized the current U.S. leader's foreign policy.


The hostile comments came during a quesion-and-answer session after Bush finished a folksy address on leadership by telling the audience how deeply hurt he feels when his presidential son is criticized.

"This son is not going to back away," Bush said, his voice quivering. "He's not going to change his view because some poll says this or some poll says that, or some heartfelt comments from the lady who feels deeply in her heart about something. You can't be president of the United States and conduct yourself if you're going to cut and run. This is going to work out in Iraq. I understand the anxiety. It's not easy."

I'm not going to read too much into this. Maybe it's just a lame sympathy note to his son while members of the Bush I presidency clean up junior's mess. Maybe the senior Bush is showing the less than 'realist' side of his nature. Maybe he's just a pained and confused father. Maybe he's setting things up for more nonsense to come. Maybe he's just getting tired of the whole thing. The senior Bush would be better off sticking to a 'no comment' format when questions are asked about his son. The issues are too big at this point.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The American Dream and the Economic Divide

In a time of record corporate profits, one of the first things Democrats will be addressing is the minimum wage. In a free, democratic country, a livable wage is just plain fundamental. Jordan Barab of Firedoglake has a post on the janitors strike in Houston:
You've heard it all before. Unions can't organize in the South — maybe Florida, but never in Texas. Immigrant workers are too intimidated to organize. Blah, blah, blah.

5,300 janitors in Houston just proved everyone wrong yesterday with an amazing contract victory in Houston, Texas. After months of negotiations and failure to reach a contract, the janitors went on strike last month for higher pay, more guaranteed work hours and health insurance. The janitors, who currently earn $5.30 per hour, were organized by the Service Employees International Union last year in what was the largest union organizing campaign in the South in years.

The victory came only two days after mounted police on horseback violently broke up a peaceful demonstration by strikers and their supporters, throwing dozens into jail.

The janitors have been cleaning buildings owned by some of the biggest corporations and wealthiest Americans and they have been getting paid some of the lowest wages in the nation. There's something that's broken in this country and it's time to get out some tools and get some repairs done. For those who think unions are left wing nonsense, consider this recent Wall Street Journal article by newly elected Senator Webb, a former Republican who worked for Reagan:
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.


As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

I hope the Democrats hold hearings on what has happened to American wages and jobs in the last twenty-five years. There are still many good things about America but we slowly have been losing our way for a long time. When we hear of Fox TV pandering to the almighty dollar by offering O.J. Simpson $3.5 million to inflict pain and suffering on his children, something is very wrong in America. We need to restore the balance. We are a nation of energy and ideas but we are also a nation of all the people and not just the special few.

I hope the voters, and especially the Democrats and working Americans, think carefully about the choice for president in 2008; for one thing, we need a president who cares about workers and who isn't anti-union and who isn't quick to look the other way when jobs flee overseas. We need a president who remembers that it's often small companies, farming areas and shops that generate jobs. We need a president who's smart about trade but who doesn't lose sight of the fact that we're not just a nation of wealthy corporations but we are also a nation of workers, farm workers, textile workers, auto workers, electricians, carpenters, store clerks, teachers, nurses, programmers, police officers, fire fighters and yes, janitors.

We're in Iraq to Liberate the Iraqis. Or Are We?

There may have been a time in the beginning when average Iraqis saw us as liberators. It's a given that most Iraqis were glad to see Saddam Hussein go. But it's a fact that to this day we still don't know what the war was about. All the reasons Bush offered fell apart eventually, though a handful of conservatives will argue it indeed was about oil and American dominance, with perhaps democracy thrown in as a bone. Even the Iraqis were never really sure why we were there, and events like the revelations about Abu Ghraib created enormous ill will (and it should be noted that stories of Abu Ghraib were reaching Iraqis long before Americans learned about the photos).

Most of the major blunders of the last four years are easily traceable at this point to the inner circle of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld; Republicans in Congress played their part for four years by rubber stamping everything the president and his inner circle wanted. Rumsfeld is now gone and there'll be a new party in control of Congress this January. But we still don't know whether Bush will finally confront the fiasco he has created or give us more of the same.

But this is no longer 2003 when we first arrived; it is almost 2007 and the hour is late. We know Bush does not have a mandate at home. Here's a poll that suggests that George W. Bush does not have a mandate in Iraq (via Editor & Publisher):
Past surveys have hinted at this result, but a new poll in Iraq makes it more stark than ever: the Iraqi people want the U.S. to exit their country. And most Iraqis now approve of attacks on U.S. forces, even though 94% express disapproval of al-Qaeda.

At one time, this was primarily a call by the Sunni minority, but now the Shiites have also come around to this view. The survey by much-respected World Public Opinion (WPO), taken in September, found that 74% of Shiites and 91% of Sunnis in Iraq want us to leave within a year. The number of Shiites making this call in Baghdad, where the U.S. may send more troops to bring order, is even higher (80%). In contrast, earlier this year, 57% of this same group backed an "open-ended" U.S. stay.

By a wide margin, both groups believe U.S. forces are provoking more violence than they're preventing -- and that day-to-day security would improve if we left.

We've known for some time that the Sunnis would like us to leave, but now 74% of Shiites, who make up about 60% of Iraq, also want us to leave. The poll goes on to note that increasing number of Iraqis approve of attacks on Americans. The question stands: are we still seen as liberators or have we become occupiers in a foreign land with a president deluding himself about what he's trying to accomplish, if anything, at this point?

There are options if we begin to wind down. We're still seen favorably in the northern areas of Iraq where the Kurdish live. If we stay away from their urban areas, we can leave a sizable garrison to keep things from getting completely out of control; we can then perhaps leave more troops in Kuwait as a protective force, if needed for the south. But it's time to draw down.

If Bush plays double or nothing with Iraq and Iran in his final two years, he will do enormous damage to the United States. Let's hope his Republicans friends and others can prevail on him to begin repairing his failing presidency and begin undoing the damage he has done. But the signs of a turnaround are not particularly good and the American people are going to have to be patient until the checks and balances of our government can slow the damage and begin holding Bush and his reckless administration accountable. I don't favor impeachment because of the wrenching divisiveness it can cause and the essential fact that the votes don't exist in the Senate for conviction. But even the normal means of turning our government around may take two years; if that's the case, the American voters will have to finish the job in 2008—that's the reality we face.

Comment on Hersh's Nov 2006 New Yorker Article

Here's how Sy Hersh's excellent article in The New Yorker begins:
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting “shorteners” on the wire—that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.

If true, this story illustrates a number of things about Cheney. First, there's a level of pettiness to Cheney that ought to go down in the history books when comparing famous Americans from the past to people like our vice president. Second, although there's nothing unusual about Cheney's dishonesty, it's the weird pride in his pettiness, his mental smirk, and his vain belief in his ability to win no matter the stakes (or the damage) that comes through. Third, we learn that Cheney likes to play games, particularly when power is involved. Fourth, he equates foreign and military policy to petty rule breaking (since Cheney and his associates are always complaining about foreign countries breaking rules, it put things in perspective). Fifth, no doubt his lawyers would play words games with what Cheney said but Americans who pay attention know that Cheney is admitting he's not shy about breaking the law when it comes to Congress, a co-equal branch of the government, and he's not shy about ignoring the US Constitution; after all, he equates those things with the juvenile act of snipping wires or lying about how many cookies he stole. In other words, he's amoral. That's not too broad a generalization to make.

Here's more from the Hersh article:
In interviews, current and former Administration officials returned to one question: whether Cheney would be as influential in the last two years of George W. Bush’s Presidency as he was in its first six. Cheney is emphatic about Iraq. In late October, he told Time, “I know what the President thinks,” about Iraq. “I know what I think. And we’re not looking for an exit strategy. We’re looking for victory.” He is equally clear that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran.

Like Bush, Cheney lives in a bubble. He can smirk as much as he likes or surround himself with right wing admirers at carefully controlled events. But Cheney is delusional. Delusional people generally continue to make bad mistakes. Cheney has repeatedly demonstrated his incompetence and poor judgment and is no different than Donald Rumsfeld. It's true that Cheney knows how to push and pull levers and that makes him dangerous, but he seems unaware that people at all levels of our society and our government are finally catching on to the fiasco that exists not just in Iraq but in the White House and in the Bush inner circle of which Cheney is a star member.

Even before the midterm elections, it was becoming obvious that 'stay the course' is not an option the United States can afford. The elections, however, make it loud and clear that there's a call for change. Every American knows it and everyone in the world knows it.

Let's get to some specifics in Hersh's useful article:
A retired four-star general who worked closely with the first Bush Administration told me that the Gates nomination means that Scowcroft, Baker, the elder Bush, and his son “are saying that winning the election in 2008 is more important than the individual. The issue for them is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice”—the Secretary of State—“a chance to perform.”


...Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said ... “Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there”—in the White House—“and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it.”


...on the question of whether Gates would actively stand up to Cheney, the former official said, after a pause, “I don’t know.”


... In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as “part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran. (The Pentagon has established cover relationships with Kurdish, Azeri, and Baluchi tribesmen, and has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and southeastern Iran.) The government consultant said that Israel is giving the Kurdish group “equipment and training. ...

It's the last paragraph about supporting Kurds and other resistance groups in Iran that is perhaps the most worrisome since it has the potential to be the 'excuse' used to start a war against Iran; this is the kind of activity that needs to be reined in (with Rumsfeld leaving, it's essential to make sure there is someone identified in the Bush Adminisration who is in charge of this stuff and not some vague trailing off of deniability). As for dealing with Cheney, it's important to remember that he has a number of loyalists working for him throughout the administration. This is very strange behavior for a vice president; no vice president has ever had such personal power. It's long past time for the media to take a much closer look at Cheney. Congress should consider whether it might be worth examining limiting the budget for the office of the vice president and examining the role of Cheney loyalists in other departments, including, and particularly, our unconfirmed UN Ambassador, John Bolton.

As for Gates and the future, I don't have a read on him yet though it should be noted that some of the right wing media are already trying to shred him into small pieces and most of them are disdainful of a report that Gates coauthored with Zbigniew Brzezinski; then again, where's the credibility of the right wing media these days? Nevertheless, I haven't seen any comment yet from Brzezinski and some in the right wing media are supportive of Gates. As for Condi Rice, and giving her a "chance to perform," I have seen no sign that she knows what she's doing beyond her public relations duties (though, for once, she's been more active in the last two weeks since the elections); the same goes for National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. If Bush is prodded by the 'old guard' and Congress and the media and other quarters to pursue a new direction, Cheney has to be isolated and Dr. Rice, if she is to have a chance of being effective, needs to be supplemented with one or two big-name experienced hands to act as some kind of special assignment ambassadors and/or troubleshooters.

The neoconservatives and the right wing media have hardly learned a thing from the last four years and are currently making all kinds of calls for all kinds of nonsense. If we are to repair our foreign policy, we need to negotiate with several nations in the region, including Iran. Backing off one or two steps from our aggressive posture toward Iran while leaving military force on the table as an unspoken pressure point is probably necessary. But the threat of an attack on Iran has to be sufficiently minimized through some kind of action to reassure the Democratic leadership and the world that we're not going to be dragged into a war through White House deception or accidentally led there by gross negligience (this may mean pulling away some of our ships). As for Iraq, no last extra push will be meaningful there; it is time to clean up the fiasco. And time to begin focusing on urgent issues that would be piling on Bush's desk if his advisers were not so busy making sure they were ignored and filed away in the dark corners of the White House. Come to think of it, ignored reports is exactly how the Bush Administration began.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Time to Call the Neoconservative Bluff

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of listening to Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, David Frum, Ken Adelman and the host of other neoconservatives talk like they still know what they're talking about. They're not even all on the same page anymore and some of the neoconservatives seem to be working hard to save their careers after advocating one of the most bone-headed strategic failures in the history of American foreign policy. Some of the neoconservatives still advocate increasing troop levels in Iraq though there are no troops to be had. Some are still talking about a military strike (possibly a nuclear strike) against Iran and/or a regime change. I find it pointless to keep up with the latest rationalizations of the neocons. But let's try something different. Let's call their bluff.

The more you learn about the neocons, the more you learn how half-assed they are. If they really wanted to go forward with their madness, if they really believe in their 'program', here's what would have happen to 'stabilize' Iraq and change the regime in Iran. We'll put in the form of a neoconservative memo just to show how ridiculous it would get:

1. First, accept the reality in November 2006 that Iraq is broken and that the United States must become fully self-sufficient and isolationist in order to pursue this program that has largely been reduced to 'stabilizing' Iraq and making Iran nuclear-free even if that means a regime change. As long as the 'program' continues, the credibility of the United States with the rest of the world is shot for the next few years. Forget it. There is nothing left but uber-unilateralism.

2. Demand that George W. Bush resign. He's just an opportunist and has no real belief in the 'program.' Install Dick Cheney as president. At least he's a believer.

3. Institute a draft. There's no way to deal with Iran and to stabilize Iraq without a large number of additional troops. Increase the military budget by 50%.

4. Hang on in Iraq until the draftees are trained. In the meantime, hire some mercernaries from around the world to fill in here and there.

5. In the meantime, go on a major campaign to cut the use of oil in the United States. Heavily tax SUVs, boats, etc. Heavily tax home heating. Develop a patriotic do-your-part campaign. At the same time, spend billions on building up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Engage in a massive campaign to build pipelines on the Arabian peninsula that bypass the Hormuz Straits. You might as well come up with ideas to crash the Chinese economy so their demand for oil isn't a problem. Pay off American oil companies with promises, tax breaks, whatever. You want to completely destroy the price of oil. This will get the attention of the Iranians and a whole lot of other people in the world.

6. During all this time, you need to build the National Guard back up. You'll need them for a year from now when you attack Iran and gasoline prices and the cost of heating homes goes sky high, way above anything we've seen so far. There'll be riots of course.

7. A year from now, warlords will control most of Iraq. Buy a warlord, or maybe three warlords for each of the main Iraqi groups. Take your pick. Join forces with the warlord(s) and reconquer Iraq. Stop pretending you can keep warlords bought and be grateful you've stabilized Iraq after killing a few hundred thousand more Iraqis. Pray at your local place of worship and redeem your soul.

8. You don't nuke Iran. Are you crazy? Even by neoconservative standards, this is lame macho blathering. Instead, you spend billions on building up a stockpile of really heavy conventional weaponry. You tax the rich because there won't be any more money to borrow. (By now, other countries will be catching on and you need some way to pay for those weapons.)

9. At this point, stop talking about democracy. You haven't really been practicing it very well at home. You haven't been practicing it overseas. Nobody will believe you anyway. So forget it. It ain't gonna to happen. You'll have recreated the Cold War but on new terms, except instead of three or four enemies (like the old Soviet Union), you'll have about fifty enemies, at least, who can make your life difficult. Deal with it.

10. If the problem gets difficult, hand it over to the next administration. Let them deal with the mess. Buff up the resume, get a job at a think tank and figure out what to do next. Make sure you point the finger at everybody but yourself. Oh, and don't forget to whine and dine and cajole the right wing fats cats to keep the money rolling in. Life's a bitch.

Okay, this is me speaking again. Let's hope no one, and I mean no one, takes the above 'memo' seriously. It's time for Washington to close the curtain on the neoconservative follies.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Strange Dr. Kissinger Clarifies Position on Iraq (I think)

If we discount the people who have worked for George W. Bush in the last five years, most of the major foreign policy experts who are still around generally agree that Iraq is a fiasco. A number of these experts, Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski for example, will tell you that Iraq represents a strategic failure and that it is time to wind it down. The one strange holdout has been Henry Kissinger who apparently has been advising President Bush in private. If we are to believe the latest, Kissinger is no longer quite on the same page as junior (hat tip to The Washington Note (and my alert wife who heard it first on TV)); here's the story from the AP:
Military victory is no longer possible in Iraq, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a television interview broadcast Sunday.

Kissinger presented a bleak vision of Iraq, saying the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors —including Iran—if progress is to be made in the region.

"If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

In the Reagan and Bush I years, James Baker could be... persuasive. Maybe Kissinger has had another hard look. Or perhaps someone from the Iraq Study Group has suggested that it's time for him to be on the same page. It's interesting to note that the interview took place on the BBC. That's several times now that prominent foreign policy figures who at last disagree with Bush have first made their views known to news organizations based outside our country. I remember when Colin Powell did it. We'll know in the next few weeks what all this means, if anything. At this point, it appears only discredited neoconservatives buy into the Bush/Cheney Iraq agenda and some of their face-saving posturing. Keep in mind that Bush and Cheney are still dangerous. With these two, nothing is completely off the table.

Longtime foreign policy and terrorist expert, Richard A. Clarke has an article out in The New Republic that discusses ways to disengage from Iraq and points out some flaws in the counterarguments made by Bush's advisers and media supporters. He ends with a straightforward summary of the real problem that exists at the moment:
Are there problems with this plan? Of course. But our current approach—maintaining that we can fix Iraq if we just try a bit harder—is likely more seriously flawed and more costly than the alternative. Still, President Bush insists on staying in Iraq, and it is easy to understand why. In "The March of Folly," Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deux ex machina or to eventually shift the blame.

There is no need to do that now. Everyone already knows who is to blame. It is time to stop the adventure, lower our sights, and focus on America's core interests. And that means withdrawal of major combat units.

Although the United States is the most powerful country in the world, we cannot afford to indulge the face saving vanity of the president and vice president. It's time to bring the games to a close and end a chapter in our nation's history.

P.S. I'll comment on Sy Hersh's article in The New Yorker tomorrow; he discusses the possibility of an attack on Iran.

Need for Congressional Hearings on US Casualties

The Bush Administration has spent so much time sweeping inconvenients facts into dark corners where the American public isn't likely to notice them that one of the first things that should be considered by the new Congress are informational hearings on the human consequences of Bush's war in Iraq, a war that we now know was optional. We need hearings on an essential question: what have been the full consequences to our troops and the consequences to American civilians who have served in Iraq?

Here's an article by Moni Basu of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the considerable number of brains injuries our troops are suffering:
In previous wars, 14 to 20 percent of wounded soldiers suffered traumatic brain injury, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The center, funded by the Department of Defense, estimates the numbers are much higher in Iraq. In a study conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which serves more critically injured soldiers than most VA hospitals, doctors found that 62 percent of patients had sustained a brain injury.


Brain-injured men and women can experience cognitive and emotional problems that keep them from fully participating in society. They can have a hard time concentrating and holding jobs and maintaining relationships.

Many have memory loss, impaired judgment, slowed ability to process information and communication difficulties. In some cases, post-combat stress symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, can be compounded by the physical damage inside their heads.

The physical ordeal includes constant pain, seizures, double vision and headaches.

Veterans for America, a Washington-based nonpartisan advocacy group, estimates 10 percent of all soldiers who have served in Iraq have suffered from some form of brain injury. It says the nation is unprepared to take care of a whole new generation of soldiers coming home with an anguish that cannot be readily seen.

"Brain injury is unlike other injury in that it is lifelong," said Dr. George Zitnay, who helped found the brain injury center. "You don't just put a Band-Aid on it or give a person a pill and send them home."

If Veterans for America are correct, then at least 100,000 Americans have suffered from brain injury since over a million of our troops have cycled through Iraq in the last three and a half years.

Congressional hearings should also consider what has been happening to civilians who have served in Iraq. Here's an article by Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle:
The war haunts [Steven Thompson] the way it haunts thousands of U.S. troops returning from their tours of duty in Iraq.

But Thompson is not an Iraq war veteran. He is a civilian truck driver, one of tens of thousands of private contractors hired to go to Iraq for fundamental support missions.

Their jobs are often as dangerous as those of combat troops. But because they are civilians, contractors are not eligible for the network of support that the Pentagon has designed to assist U.S. troops suffering from psychological trauma.


No one knows how many of them have been injured and killed. No one keeps track of how many contractors there are in Iraq. And when they come back, many find themselves abandoned.


Although no U.S. agency keeps track of how many civilians are employed by U.S. contractor companies in Iraq, some reports estimate the number to be in the tens of thousands of Americans, Iraqis and citizens of other countries. Mann said KBR has 50,000 workers in the Middle East.

Between March 1, 2003, and Nov. 16, 2006, at least 673 civilian contractors -- Americans and foreigners -- were killed in Iraq, according to Labor Department spokesman David James. The number is based on the amount of death claims filed by relatives and may not represent all contractor fatalities.

Think of it. There are no records of how many Americans contractors (or apparently American government employees) have served in Iraq. In fact, there is suspicion that we don't know much about the contractor system in Iraq because that involves a lot of the money that has disappeared for privatization. In addition, the Bush Administration has not been eager to reveal too much about the deaths and injuries of contract workers. Nor has it been willing to acknowledge that contractors sometimes have the same kind of psychological trauma that many of our troops do. The more we read, the more Iraq seems to have hidden costs that Americans are only now fully appreciating.

It is long past time to get some answers. Americans need to know the real cost of Bush's fiasco.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Third World Countries and the Politics of Oil

I live in Northern California but grew up in Southern California in a suburb on the east side of Los Angeles. My parents still live down there though they moved to the northern part of San Diego county some twenty years ago. Every time I go down to visit them, I am in awe of the development. Many farms, ranches and orchards in Southern California are long gone, buried under urban sprawl, and I've been used to that for some decades. What has astonished me in the last fifteen years is the enormous development in areas that were once sparse desert with very little water. Years ago, on roundabout back roads from Los Angeles to San Diego you could travel ten to twenty miles and see two or three homes now and then surrounded by shrubs and sand and sometimes barren hills (though now and then, you might climb over a hill and find something like a small oasis of a few dozen acres). Today there are areas that were once desert less than thirty years ago that are home now to 200,000 people.

I am in awe of what we as human beings can accomplish, but I admit I have mixed feelings about it all. In one area, many years ago, I used to go camping out in the middle of nowhere, or so I thought, and now there are houses and schools and shopping centers where I used to listen to frogs and watch the stars at night by a campfire.

It's good to know we can accomplish things but it's important to understand that the world has gone from 2.5 billion people when I was born to some 6.5 billion in 2006. There are a lot of people in the world and it's getting harder to develop the resources they need. And it's getting harder to accomplish things without polluting rivers and oceans and the air; it's harder partly because of politics and partly because we haven't been thinking much about the future for some years. Maybe it was because we were all astonished that the Soviet Union collapsed and there was never a nuclear war. Maybe it was because life has become complicated, busy, and there's the mortgage and there's a lot of important things that are done are out of sight or faraway and we just assume somebody is out there thinking about these things. But the truth is not enough people are thinking about the future. It's even gotten to the point where people aren't thinking too much about the here and now.

Nobody likes to talk about it but a number of things in the world are getting ticklish and some of these things are as close as the back door; and we see some of these things when we look at our monthly bills. Energy, for example, is not as plentiful and secure as we were hoping for by now. There's nuclear energy which has a number of unsolved issues—though nuclear plants are still being built in different places around the world. There's technology that never came about that we thought would provide abundant energy by now, such as nuclear fusion. Part of the problem is that research in any number of areas has not been that extensive in recent years. At least not as a percentage, let's say, of the federal budget. And part of the problem goes back to what I said a minute ago: not enough people have been thinking about these things for the past twenty-five years. And frankly, there have been politicians and business executives who have been content to let things be.

Gasoline prices have gone down recently but the fundamental problems are still there. I recently came across an interesting table on the Oil CEO (a larger view of the table can also be found here). The table is not a complete list of every country in the world but it's a sobering view. For example, the table shows that at least 115 countries consume more oil than they produce; these countries have to import oil from a slowly shrinking list of exporting countries. The United States, of course, is one of those countries. In fact, in terms of population, the three largest nations in the world, China, India and the United States are net oil importers along with big consumers like Germany and Japan who are also net importers. The overwhelming majority of oil that's available for export now comes from only two regions: the Middle East and Russia.

Conditons in the world are such that a growing number of nations have no chance of becoming a significant part of the industrialized world. Some poorer countries simply find that they cannot continue their rate of oil consumption and they're cutting back. And we're finding some strange situations where countries are net exporters because they cannot afford to consume their own fuel. The reason can vary. Here's a story by Jane Perlez of The New York Times about Myanmar:
In the balmy waters of the Bay of Bengal, just off the coast, an Asian energy rush is on. Huge pockets of natural gas have been found. China and India are jostling to sign deals. Plans are afoot to spend billions on new ports and pipelines.

Off the coast near Sittwe, new ports and pipelines are planned.

Yet onshore, in towns like this one, not a light is to be seen — not a street lamp, not a glow in a window — as women crouch by the roadside at dawn, sorting by candlelight the vegetables they will sell for two cents a bunch at the morning market.

Paraffin and wood are major sources of light and heat. People receive two hours of electricity a day from a military government that is among the world’s most repressive.

But attempts at outside pressure to prod the government to address its people’s needs and curb abuses have faltered, in large part because China’s thirst for resources has undermined nearly a decade of American economic sanctions.


The Asian energy rush is the latest demonstration of how the hunt for oil and gas, and China’s economic leverage, are reshaping international politics, often in ways that run counter to American preferences.

I suppose we've been seeing things like this all along for the past two hundred years by various nations concerning oil as well as other resources, but the intensity and pressures are growing. I suspect in the next five to ten years we're going to see stories even stranger than the one above by other countries in the hunt for oil. It is truly time to pay attention. And to start seriously looking for alternatives.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Uh, It's the Republicans Who Are in Disarray

Who can figure out the media? If it's the Democrats, they're contentious folks. If it's Republicans, oh my, what bipartisan gentlemen they are. *Sigh* The cynical media can't seem to tell the difference between rubber stampers who think Bush is doing a fine job and a Congress that's supposed to be a coequal branch of government.

What about the American people? Have they figured it out? Perhaps. Bush's post-election numbers continue to sit in the low thirties according to the Pew Research Center:
Bush's own job approval ratings have hit a new low in the aftermath of the elections. Just 32% of Americans approve of Bush's job performance compared with 58% who disapprove. Bush's job rating stands at just 24% among political independents, who proved crucial to the Democrats' victory on Nov. 7. By 57%-39%, independent voters cast ballots for Democratic candidates, according to national exit polls. Two years ago, independent voters were more divided (50% Democrat/46% Republican). See "Centrists Deliver for Democrats," November 8, 2006).

The broad opposition to President Bush among independents is reflected in their strong preference that Democratic leaders, rather than the president, take the lead in solving the nation's problems. By more than two-to-one (53%-25%), independents believe that Democratic leaders should take the lead on issues. ...

The media has failed to note that centrists came through for Democrats. That's one reason why Pelosi supported John Murtha, to make it clear that moderates and liberals are working together. Murtha didn't win the majority leader position but he has received an important chairmanship. In the meantime, the GOP turned to disgraced former leader Trent Lott. Wow, is that the best Republicans can do these days? Is this what they call rebuilding?

Think Progress has more on possible Republican fallout after the midterm elections:
The White House Bulletin, a service of Bulletin News, reports that White House senior political adviser Karl Rove — aka “Bush’s Brain” — may soon be on his way out:
The rumors that chief White House political architect Karl Rove will leave sometime next year are being bolstered with new insider reports that his partisan style is a hurdle to President Bush’s new push for bipartisanship. “Karl represents the old style and he’s got to go if the Democrats are going to believe Bush’s talk of getting along,” said a key Bush advisor., is that they can do? Is this what they consider rebuilding the Republican Party?

Now the truth is, I'll believe it when I see it. First, I don't see Bush's actions matching his rhetoric about bipartisanship just yet. The reality is that all of us have learned the hard way to pay more attention to what the president does, rather than what he says. Second, Bush and Karl Rove are practically tied together at the umbilical cord. If Rove leaves, it's because Bush has no more campaigns to win and there are new candidates out there to support; that doesn't mean much. On the other hand, given Rove's divisive hardball political style, it would be a good thing to see Rove cut down a notch or two. This is not a guy who will rebuild the Republican Party on a sounder basis.

Maybe not all the traditional media is failing to see what's happening in Washington and the country these days. Here's a guy who's been a little slow to catch on—Dick Meyer of CBS:
This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do.


Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn't fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn't deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus.

Now he tells us. And he even puts it more bluntly than bloggers like myself. *Sigh* These are indeed strange times.

Senator Kennedy Gets the Message

We need a government that works for average Americans again. Truthout has an Associated Press story on Senator Kennedy and his efforts to push back against Bushism:
Democrats are readying a maximum effort to raise the minimum wage.

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said Thursday that increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 would be his top priority as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

On the House side, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., already has listed an increase in the minimum wage as one of the issues that would be taken up during the first 100 hours of the next Congress.

"Americans are working harder than ever, but millions of hardworking men and women across the country aren't getting their fair share," Kennedy said during a speech outlining his legislative agenda for next year. "We're not rewarding work fairly anymore, and working families are falling behind."


Critics of boosting the minimum wage say it kills job creation as employers hire fewer entry-level workers to compensate for the higher wage expenses. Kennedy said the minimum wage has remained at $5.15 an hour for nearly 10 years. Under Kennedy's proposal, the increase would occur over about a two-year period.

If the critics had their way 70 years ago, the lowest paid workers would now be earning about a dollar an hour. It was Franklin Roosevelt's policies that created the great American middle class. Fairness is an important American principle and we need to get back to it.

Maybe in two or three years we can consider a tax on companies that send jobs overseas and a credit for companies that create jobs at home. I'm not against free trade, but the price of free trade should not be the undermining of decent jobs for Americans.

I noticed recently that China is thinking of allowing its workers to unionize so that they can demand higher wages. Many American companies are already objecting. But one of the arguments for Globalization is that free trade would lead to workers earning enough to buy American goods; but how can workers do that if their real wages don't rise? We've got some fundamental problems to deal with in the next ten years.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Reactions to the CERA Report

Even some members of Congress are noticing the rather optimistic though constrained CERA report on the future of oil production and have some comments; despite the attempt by CERA to paint a rosy near-term picture, there is acknowledgement that we have a long-term energy problem. Roscoe Barlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM) give us their interpretation in the Energy Bulletin:
Congressmen Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM), cofounders and cochairmen of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus, said that a new report released today by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), Why the Peak Oil Theory Falls Down: Myths, Legends, and the Future of Oil Resources, confirms the urgency for the United States government to adopt a crash program to mitigate the devastating consequences of peak oil.

Congressman Bartlett said, "The CERA report agrees that world oil production will peak and projects it will occur within 20-25 years. However, world demand is growing exponentially - faster than production so the CERA report confirms the likelihood of future shortages of liquid fuel and much higher and volatile prices. ..."


Congressman Udall said, "CERA's report is one of the most optimistic predictions for the peak in global oil production to date, and it still underscores the need to address this problem immediately. Whether it is Peak Oil, global warming, or the fact that some of the money we send overseas to support our oil addiction comes back to us in the form of terrorism, the U.S. cannot wait any longer to develop sensible and sustainable alternatives to oil."

Keep in mind that much of the press so far has chosen to emphasize the overly optimistic interpretation of the CERA report on oil. The Oil Drum, which has been doing regular analysis of the world oil situation, has a response to the CERA report by Dave Cohen; it's one of the best essays I've seen on the subject and should be read in its entirety but here's one of the key paragraphs:
No one, including CERA, doubts that a peak in world conventional oil production will eventually occur; it is only a matter of when it will occur. ...CERA believes that the apex of production will happen circa 2040. Those putting forth the peak oil hypothesis simply disagree about the timing. Although estimates vary, most of us agree that the peak will occur sometime before 2015, a scant 9 years from now. Within that range, some think the current plateau in oil production signals that the peak is now while others put the peak elsewhere in the coming decade. If this hypothesis is correct, the world will have little time to mitigate the problem, as outlined in Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management by Robert L. Hirsch (SAIC), Roger Bezdek, (MISI) Robert Wendling, (MISI) published in February, 2005. [Note: The Hirsch report is a 90 pg. pdf file; it's clickable in Cohen's post.]

Dave Cohen's response deals only with oil production, the failure of new discoveries to keep up with production, and the Peak Oil theory itself. But it's an excellent response to the CERA report and makes clear that the time to deal with energy issues is now rather than 30 years from now.

There is actually a great deal more involved then the specifics of Peak Oil and others will be writing more on some of these issues in coming months and if Congress starts holding hearings on some of these matters, we may learn a great deal more. There are many twists and turns here. For example, a potential solution to the oil/energy problem is turning to coal, but coal is the dirtiest fuel out there and would add heavily to Global Warming. We have grown used to thirty years of a media minimizing the energy problem and minimizing the effects of pollution but fossil fuel use has been growing in recent decades, populations have been growing, and more economies, like India and China, are becoming part of the industrialized world and they need energy. The future has arrived.

The Iraq Study Group

I'm not sure what to make of the Iraq Study Group and all the noise in the media that surrounds it. James Baker's group started considering what to do about Iraq last April and is not expected to make its recommendations until the end of the year. An irony is that the Iraq Study Group is spending far more time on how to end the war than the Bush Administration spent before the war on figuring out what to do after the fall of Baghdad. There have been many strategic blunders in Iraq, the biggest being the decision to go to war in the first place. But the biggest blunder after that was the lack of so-called 'postwar planning'. We'll know soon if the blunders will simply continue.

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor has a useful summary of where we're at with the Iraq Study Group:
For the bipartisan panel of luminaries known as the Iraq Study Group, the most important thing now may be hammering out a framework for peace in Washington, not drawing up new lists of options for US policy toward Iraq.

After all, despite all the Washington talk about cooperation since last week's elections, profound differences about the way forward remain between many Democrats and Republicans, as well as among them. ...

Enter the Iraq panel, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Democratic congressmen Lee Hamilton. Timing - plus the nature of its members - may have thrust the group into a central role in perhaps the most important policy debate now facing the nation.

"Maybe an outside group can craft a policy that both sides can accept, though they don't want to have responsibility for drafting it," says William Martel, an associate professor of security studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The 10-member Iraq Study Group was created by Congress last spring. At the time the move generated little notice... ...

The article includes a list of the panel members, most of whom seem reasonably good choices. I have to admit, though, I have no idea why Sandra Day O'Conner is on the panel. Wouldn't somebody like former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft have been a better choice?

I think it's important to listen to what the Iraq Study Group has to say but I'm not putting too much faith into it. As far back as the summer of 2003, Tony Cordesman, a Middle East military analyst, made his first visit to Iraq and has periodically put together some useful reports in the space of weeks only to have Bush and the Pentagon ignore his analysis and recommendations.

Bush is already showing signs that he'll simply ignore the Iraq Study Group despite the fact that there's a real potential that the panel could provide Bush with the political cover he needs to extricate his ego from his own fiasco. However, if Republicans continue to play political games with Iraq, it is likely more harm will be done to our foreign policy and to our nation. And the deaths will go on.

A great nation ought to know when to fold a bad hand. Let's hope Bush chooses the bipartisan route but if he doesn't, there are Democrats who are skilled at checking a president's power but they will need help from different quarters. If Bush remains stubborn, let's hope that essential help is coming. Iraq is a major strategic failure. We are in danger of compounding the error. It will represent an even greater moral failure if the war in Iraq goes on for another two years.