Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year to All!

Humor is in order. My wife got the following from a friend who got it from another friend who probably found one of the versions already being posted on the Internet:


A major physics institute has just announced the discovery of the densest element yet known to science. The new element has been named "Bushcronium." "Bushcronium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 311. These particles are held together by dark forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. The symbol for Bushcronium is "W."

Bushcronium's mass actually increases over time, as morons randomly interact with various elements in the atmosphere and become assistant deputy neutrons in a Bushcronium molecule, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Bushcronium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass." When catalyzed with rovium and murdochium, Bushcronium also activates Foxnewsium, an element that radiates orders of magnitude more energy, albeit as incoherent noise.


December a Bad Month for Troops in Iraq

More than a year and a half ago, Dick Cheney said the insurgents were in their last throes. He repeated his remark last June. The fighting has only gotten worse and it's clear Bush has stumbled his way into the middle of a civil war where it's impossible most of the time to know what side to take and it's clear, in fact, that our presence does not help. In December, 111 Amercans died—that's the highest total in two years.

Although the total number of Americans killed in Iraq, if contractors are included, exceeded 3,000 several weeks ago, the number of our military killed in Iraq also now exceeds 3,000 and Bush shows no signs of accepting responsibility for getting us out of Iraq before the end of his presidency. Congress, the media and the American people will have to continue putting pressure on Bush to deal with his fiasco in a way that repairs our foreign policy, gets us out of Iraq and stops the drain on our treasury and the the lives of our soldiers. Congress, in particular, is going to have to assert its authority under the constitution and its responsibility in the difficult months ahead.

UPDATE (1/1/07 at 1 PM): Iraq Coalition Casualties has raised the number of American fatalities for December from 111 to 113; we need a more rational policy in Iraq.

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Richard Clarke on Problems Bush Is Neglecting

There are any number of people out there, both experts and ordinary people observing the world, who increasingly talk about the number of problems Bush is neglecting, particularly in foreign affairs. In The Washington Post, Richard Clarke, who worked for several presidents, points out some of the problems being overlooked because of Bush's obsession with Iraq (hat tip to Talking Points Memo):
In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant... ... ...with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.


...beyond al-Qaeda and the broader struggle for peaceful coexistence with (and within) Islam, seven key "fires in the in-box" national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening...

Global warming: When the possibility of invading Iraq surfaced in 2001, senior Bush administration officials hadn't thought much about global warming, except to wonder whether it was caused by human activity or by sunspots. Today, the world's scientists and many national leaders worry that the world has passed the point of no return on global warming. If it has, then human damage to the ecosphere will cause more major cities to flood and make the planet significantly less conducive to human habitation -- all over the lifetime of a child now in kindergarten. British Prime Minister Tony Blair keeps trying to convince President Bush of the magnitude of the problem, but in every session between the two leaders Iraq squeezes out the time to discuss the pending planetary disaster.

Clarke goes on to discuss other neglected areas, including "Russian revanchism," "Latin America's leftist lurch," "Africa at War," the "Arms Control freeze," "transnational crime," and the "Pakistani-Afghan border." America is paying a heavy price for Bush's obsession with Iraq. We need to cut our losses and rebuild our foreign policy before more damage is done.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dealing with Bush's Failed Presidency

Near the end of January, President Bush will trot out his latest State of the Union and it is likely to be another charade that has little to do with how things really are and it will call for things that will do little to solve the problems that Bush has given us or has simply neglected. But as the problems become increasingly clear, the question that hangs in the air is whether the American people fully understand what we are facing as things now stand and if things continue without correction. There are tough choices ahead and there is evidence Bush and his right wing friends are not unpleased that the choices are difficult thanks to their recklessness. The phrase Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee uses to describe Bush's last six years is 'vast carelessness':
The year-end debate about the Iraq Study Group's unequivocal diagnosis of failure and its grim list of uncertain remedies is the real measure of the hopelessness of the mess America made. The ISG's 79 recommendations -- some wise, some impolitic, some impossible -- is itself a confession that all the choices are bad.

That's not the commission's fault: No one else has a persuasive idea either, least of all the president -- the self-proclaimed decider -- who started and ran this misbegotten war.

As Nick Carraway says about the privileged and insouciant Tom and Daisy at the end of "The Great Gatsby" (1925): "They were careless people ... they smashed up things and creatures and then they retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made ... ."

It's a strong column, though Schrag makes the careful point that the American people themselves are ultimately not excused either; I recommend reading the rest. Bush and his Republican friends are exactly like rich and spoiled children who are rapidly going through their parents' fortune; they are indifferent to the effect their reckless actions have on hundreds of millions of people here at home and around the world.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Bush's Obscure Iran Policy

It's bad enough that Bush's foreign policy as far as Iraq is concerned is in tatters. We should not forget that Bush's Iran policy is largely a muddled mess though there's the usual pretense coming from the White House that they know what they're doing. Here's a story from a week ago that I missed by Laura Rozen in American Prospect:
News reports based on military sources indicating that the United States plans to move a second aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to the Persian Gulf next month, where it will overlap for several months with the USS Eisenhower, have piqued attention (and anxiety) on the Potomac this week: is the Bush administration laying the groundwork for a spring air war against Tehran, even as it comes under growing domestic pressures to consider talking with Iran and Syria?


Are the amassing air power in the region and sanctions signs of looming war? Not yet.

Interviews with U.S. officials and knowledgeable Iran watchers indicate the stepped up measures are meant for now as a message to Iran to step back from an alleged up-tick in its recent efforts to destabilize Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, and to prevent Iran from taking retaliatory actions against the anticipated sanctions like, for instance, closing off the Straits of Hormuz.


While U.S. officials and Iran watchers interviewed suggested the recently announced U.S. actions are intended mainly as intimidation to forestall Iranian retaliation, many interviewed acknowledged that U.S.-Iranian tensions have significantly ratcheted up in recent weeks. Examples include the U.S. intelligence revealing an alleged Iranian role in Shiite terrorism against coalition forces in Iraq, recent efforts by Iranian backed Hezbollah to bring down the Siniora government in Lebanon, and alleged Iranian support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The New York Times reported last month that Iranian security forces and Iranian-backed Hezbollah have been training and supplying explosives and other sophisticated munitions to Iraqi Shiite militants directly involved in killing coalition forces in Iraq. ...


A U.S. official indicated that one reason for the perceived need to demonstrate a show of force towards Iran now is to counter the perception in the region, generated in part from coverage of the Iraq Study Group report, that the Bush administration was coming under increased domestic pressure to offer concessions to Iran and Syria. “People in the region read the ISG report and thought the Americans are surrendering,” this official said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Laura Rozen also has a blog, War and Piece, and is an excellent journalist.

One of the proofs that we have a broken foreign policy is that we have a White House that insists on a ideological view of the world that leads to garbage in and garbage out. The new interpretation that we have to 'get tough' with Iran because of the Iraq Study Group is a complete sham. Bush continues to pretend that he knows what he's doing though the chaos in Iraq and the domestic disaster after Hurricane Katrina paint a different story.

One of the more bizarre events of the last few weeks is that we have been increasingly turning against Sadr and his militia (one of many militias in Iraq I should add) who supports Maliki and opposes Iran; Sadr is a difficult person and deeply involved in the sectarian fighting (despite a brief one-time alliance with the Sunnis when our troops destroyed his newspaper) but he's also the proof that we had no idea of what our invasion would unleash. Meanwhile, we are in the strange position of increasingly turning towards Shiites who have close Iranian ties. One should remember that the Bush Administration came close early on to turning the Iraqi government over to neoconservative darling Ahmed Chalabi who also happened to have close ties with Iran. The situation in Iraq is so confused that Bush and his neoconservative friends can concoct whatever story they want out of the chaos. On the contrary, the growing chaos itself is the proof that we need to get out of there. Bush's simplistic black and white vision of the world and his tendency to rationalize his blunders have not been assets in a place like Iraq with its three-dimensional chessboard of ethnic groups, religious factions, local tribes and multiple alliances.

There is also the Bush Administration pretense that the only outside country interfering with Iraq is Iran (though sometimes Syria is included); most countries in the region, however, are involved in one way or another (and one shouldn't forget the hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing borders) and some are physically helping the Sunnis. Finally, there is the pretense that we have been negotiating with Iran since May; but those negotiations have been closer to a public relations sham similar to Bush's mindless photo ops. Of course, the Iranians have not handled themselves well during this period but the lack of real dialogue usually can only lead to more distrust; and it is Americans who have repeatedly turned down opportunities for dialogue.

As for Lebanon, the greatest threat to the Lebanese government was the nearly random bombing by Israel during the summer fighting that often targeted Lebanese not in any way involved with Hezbollah. Israel blew the opportunity to isolate Hezbollah and instead used a clumsy strategy that resembles the kind of thing our own neoconservatives manage to contrive.

There have been signs for a year that Bush is itching for a war with Iran despite the fiasco in Iraq. He may still get one if he can manuever his way into it despite the strategic blunder it would involve. Like the lead up to Bush's war in Iraq in 2002, there have been lies, damn lies and, in the right wing media, a third category of lies that I can't think of a word for other than outright warmongering (go to Google Blog Search and type in World War Three).

I have no doubt the Bush Administration is trying to keep its options open, including the option of a much broader war that it half wants and is half likely to stumble into. We are potentially getting very deep into impeachment territory because we cannot rule out that some of Bush's actions and even some of his interpretations of events in the last year can be considered deliberate provocations in an effort to start a war with Iran without Congressional approval. It is time for some cooler heads on all sides.

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Saddam Hussein Has Been Executed

On Saturday, Iraq time, Saddam Hussein was hanged.

In Iraq, the violence, the tortures, the murders, the sectarian strife, the stream of refugees, the insurgency, the death of Americans, the incompetence of the Bush Administration and the chaos will go on.

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Reporter's Account of Life in Baghdad

George W. Bush continues to insist that he knows best. The evidence over the last four years is not reassuring. Reporters who have been away from Iraq for a while are often the best witnesses of the chaos that now dominates Iraq, and particularly Baghdad. Here's a story from Hannah Allam of the McClatchy Washington Bureau (formerly the famous Knight Ridder Washington Bureau so many of us depended on in the early months of the war (note that it's still the same url)):
When I was last here in 2005, it took guts and guards, but you could still travel to most anywhere in the capital. Now, there are few true neighborhoods left. They're mostly just cordoned-off enclaves in various stages of deadly sectarian cleansing. Moving trucks piled high with furniture weave through traffic, evidence of an unfolding humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Iraqis.


On one of my first days back, I took a little tour with my Iraqi colleagues to get reacquainted with the capital. We decided to stay on the eastern Shiite side of the Tigris River rather than play Russian roulette in the Sunni west.

Even on the relatively "safe" side of the river, a dizzying assortment of armed men roamed freely. In the space of an hour, we encountered the Badr Organization militia, the Mahdi Army militia, the Kurdish peshmerga militia, the Iraqi police, interior ministry commandos, the Iraqi military, American troops, the Oil Protection Force, the motorcade of a Communist Party official and Central Bank guards escorting an armored van.

We drove through one of my favorite districts in hopes of visiting shopkeepers I knew. But they had fled, leaving behind padlocked doors and faded signs for shops whose names now seem ironic rather than catchy: "Nuts," "Ghost Music," "Once Upon a Time."

I asked my colleagues to arrange meetings with old Iraqi sources - politicians, professors, activists and clerics - only to be told they'd been assassinated, abducted or exiled.

Even Mr. Milk is dead. The grocer we called by the name of his landmark shop in the upscale Mansour district was kidnapped and killed, along with his son, my colleagues said. The owner of a DVD shop where I once purchased a copy of "Napoleon Dynamite" also had been executed.

It's a long article. She goes on to explain that the Iraqis don't have abstract conversations about whether there's a civil war or not—it just is. Read the first three paragraphs which tell an anecdote about how arbitrary the times have become.

"Surge forward" in the middle of this chaos? John McCain, for one, doesn't have any idea of what he's talking about if he thinks 20,000 to 30,000 can help or make any sense of all the divisions and factions and points of contention within Iraq. If his friend, George W. Bush, is leaning towards a "surge" in forces and adopts that option instead of confronting his failures, it will just prolong the fiasco.

A long time ago George Washington said we needed to avoid foreign entanglements. The world has changed much since his time and it's not always possible to stay on the sidelines. There are times when a country must act, particularly when asked. But surely we can modify what Washington said: at the very least, we should avoid cultural entanglements when the way is not clear. George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers went off to change Iraq without knowing much about the country or the people, without even being curious and realistic about how the Iraqis would respond to our presence and ideas. We should stop pretending we know what we're doing when we impose ourselves on others. And when the motives are not clear.

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Good News: Senator Johnson Is Improving

Senator Johnson is improving after his recent operation to repair bleeding and a congenital blood vessel problem in his brain. Here's the story from Kate Zernike of The New York Times:

Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota marked his 60th birthday Thursday in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital, where he remains in critical but stable condition two weeks after surgery to stop bleeding in his brain.

“Senator Johnson’s overall general medical condition has improved, and he is gradually being weaned from the sedation,” Vivek Deshmukh, the neurosurgeon who performed the operation, said in a statement released by Mr. Johnson’s office. “He is opening his eyes and is responsive to his wife.”

Let's hope the senator's progress continues.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Criticism of Condoleezza Rice Growing

The policy blunders of the Bush Administration are many and the consequences of those blunders continue to compound the failures, making Bush's last two years difficult unless he makes serious changes. To turn things around will not only require making policies changes, it will require a good foreign policy team fully capable of negotiations and implementing a real foreign policy. Bush does not have such a team.

The president's national security adviser Stephen Hadley is more a right wing policy wonk than a serious implementer of rational national security policy; in other words, he's largely ineffectual. Condoleezza Rice was not an effective national security adviser and has been disappointing as secretary of state. And John Bolton's abrasive style as our UN ambassador did not gain us much. If Bush does not beef up his foreign policy team and if he continues to believe that our problems can largely be solved with military force and more photo ops, we are in for a long two years. Diplomacy and political solutions are the best route to mitigate his strategic errors in Iraq.

Of course, some argue that we've been seeing Cheney's foreign policy and that he's still in charge (along with his mysterious foreign policy/national security team), but, however great his influence happens to be, his dark vision and empire nonsense over the last six years are a disaster and if he really is in charge, it is unlikely that he will change. Bush, however, is the president. Bush has the ultimate responsibility, not Cheney. Changes can take place if Bush so chooses to make them. Being president is not exclusively a public relations job though Bush has often behaved as such during the last six years. I wouldn't mind Congress finding a way to remind President Bush of that fact.

Here's an article on Yahoo by David Millikin who reviews Condi Rice's first two years (hat tip to The Huffington Post):
The violence in Iraq, and the Bush administration's refusal to bring rivals Syria and Iran into efforts to stabilize the country, are widely blamed for the broader failure of US policy in the Middle East -- where Lebanon teeters on the brink of civil war and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts languish.

Elsewhere, Rice's globe-trotting -- 37 overseas trips totalling nearly 500,000 miles (800,000 kilometers) -- has yielded little concrete success, with her few diplomatic victories clouded by poor or no follow-up.


US foreign policy experts said Rice must shoulder much of the blame for the lackluster diplomacy.

"Great secretaries of state have compelling views of the world and/or are effective negotiators -- Secretary Rice has so far demonstrated neither," said Aaron Miller, who advised six secretaries of state before joining the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

Even staunch supporters acknowledge that Rice, weighed down by the failed policy in Iraq, has little that is positive to show for her work so far.

"I don't know that there have been concrete advances" under Rice's diplomacy, said Joshua Muravchik of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, though he nevertheless went on to give her "high grades" for faithfully implementing Bush's policy agenda.

Hmmm. Muravchick can't think of any accomplishments but gives Rice high grades for implementing Bush's strategic blunders? Of course, the American Enterprise Institute have fired people for talking rationally about the shortcomings of the Bush Administration.

In the real universe, here's where we're at: if Bush begins to understand that his public relations games aren't working anymore and that his talk of 'surge' is wasting everyone's time, and if he decides that he cannot continue on the same disastrous course he's been pursuing for over three years, and if, in the process of evaluating how to get back to a real foreign policy, he decides to keep Condi Rice, he at the very least needs to bring in some big name help for her foreign policy team. Yeah, I know, that's a lot of ifs. So here's the question: can our nation afford two more years of incompetence and foreign policy drift? We may soon know the answer.

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Ford Was Critical of Bush's Iraq Policy

According to Bob Woodward, Gerald Ford was critical of Bush's Iraq policy. Unfortunately, Ford chose not to make his objections public at a time when they might have been useful. Here's Woodward's article in The Washington Post along with other details:
In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.


"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."


[Speaking of his own presidency...] Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

I had to add that last paragraph. Kissinger's support of Bush has been a puzzle, though the former secretary of state has recently backed away somewhat; but they both have in common an inability to admit mistakes. Must be a mutual admiration society I suppose.

The one recent occassion that the increasingly frail Ford was seen with Bush, he didn't say much but he allowed the impression to be given that he supported Bush's policies. I notice that Woodward says he has recordings of his interview with Ford. Sometimes, Woodward may not be the most alert journalist to the problems in Washington but he does remind us that he can get the story like no one else can, eventually.

It's been a tradition among former presidents not to comment on a current president but Bush's extraordinary policy blunders have presented an unusual situation. Ford was probably honoring the tradition though others have been speaking up. Woodward's interviews with Ford may help enhance Ford's reputation and clear up some historical questions.

But here's an important point: if what Woodward says is accurate, then Ford joined Presidents Carter, Bush senior and Bill Clinton in being critical of Bush's Iraq policy. Four presidents. And no disssenters. We have a problem.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

America: A Vision Stretched Beyond Reason

I remember the 1950s and 1960s being a period of economic prosperity that reached most Americans. The very talented or lucky got rich and those already rich pretty much stayed that way but most everybody else was doing much better than thirty years earlier. I can remember a bricklayer and his wife—a secretary—pooling their money to buy a 36-foot boat. In those years, blue collar workers moved easily into the middle class. For twenty-five years now, with a break during Clinton's presidency, things have been getting more difficult for most Americans. Good paying jobs are becoming less plentiful. And there are Americans being left far behind.

But the upper 1% is doing quite well, particularly the upper .1%, and the contrasts are becoming sharp in an economic system that is increasingly indifferent to those who don't reach the economic elite.

On Christmas day, Jenny Anderson of The New York Times had a front-page article that essentially describes the economic system the Republican Party increasingly favors:
Dressed in a purple flight attendant outfit, Ms. Clark, a 26-year-old model, is trying to entice recent bonus recipients at Goldman Sachs into using a charter plane service, handing out $1,000 discount coupons to people in front of the investment bank’s Broad Street headquarters.

“Where am I going?” asks one man, heading toward the Goldman building. “It’s your own private jet,” says Ms. Clark with a smile. “You can go wherever you like.”


In recent weeks, immense riches have been rained upon the top bankers and traders. After a year of record profits, investment houses like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley are awarding bonuses as high as $60 million. And a select group of hedge fund managers and private equity executives may be taking home even more.

That is serious money. And the serious luxury goods markets are feeling the impact.

Miller Motorcars, in Greenwich, Conn., is fielding more requests for the $250,000 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano than it can possibly fill. One real estate broker laments a dearth of listings for two clients trying to spend $20 million on Manhattan properties. Financiers already comfortably settled in multimillion-dollar apartments and town houses are buying $5 million apartments for their children.

'Trickle-down economics' has become a joke for the rest of America. Thanks partly to Republican tax cuts, business favors and rule changes over the last twenty-five years, the wealthy are returning to a Gilded Age we have not seen in several generations. Huge homes for the wealthy are being built and not just in New York. This is happening everywhere in the United States, on hilltops in California, on the oceanfront in southern states, in exclusive communities in Colorado, and on and on it goes. I have never had a problem with talented people being paid well but we have even seen mediocre CEOs get eight or even nine figure bonuses for poor performance. We have slowly acquired a strange economic system.

There is a down side of course. We saw the worst of it during Hurricane Katrina and it continues. Bob Herbert has written before of the disaster in New Orleans and had a column on Christmas day back in the editorial pages of The New York Times that talked about a film Spike Lee has made on New Orleans; here's part of what Herbert wrote:
[Spike Lee's] words echoed the comments of a woman I had met on a recent trip to New Orleans. She remembered standing in the Ninth Ward after the waters had receded." Everything was covered in brown crud," she said. "There was nothing living. No birds. No dogs. There was no sound. And none of the fragrance that's usually associated with New Orleans, like jasmine and gardenias and sweet olives. It was just a ruin, all death and destruction."


What boggles the mind now is the way the nation seems to be taking the loss in stride. Much of New Orleans is still a ruin. More than half of its population is gone and an enormous percentage of the people who are still in town are suffering.


Vast acreages of ruined homes and staggering amounts of garbage and filth still burden the city. Scores of thousands of people remain jobless and homeless. The public schools that are open, for the most part, are a scandal. And the mental-health situation, for the people in New Orleans and the evacuees scatterered across the rest of the U.S., is yet another burgeoning tragedy.

Something is wrong in America. I don't believe Americans are as indifferent as Herbert suggests though too many Americans seem to forget that everyone born in America is part of America and that Americans help their neighbors no matter how far away they are. With the right leadership, I believe most Americans would respond. But there is a clear lack of leadership in Congress and the White House. And the media, as Herbert points out, has moved on to other stories, too busy making a buck rather than holding accountable an indifferent government.

Bush's personal crusade in Iraq is sometimes compared in the media, or by White House flunkies, to World War Two and of course the comparison is ridiculous as is Bush's comparisons of himself to great Americans of the past; the more comparisons Bush makes, the smaller he seems and the smaller our current vision of ourselves is revealed to be. In World War Two, 70 million died as the result of all-out war. The world can no longer afford all-out war.

Even World War Two was very expensive, far too expensive for most of the world. And yet... And yet, within five years, America was doing a great deal to help rebuild the world. The Europeans and the Japanese and others did most of the work but we provided the seed money and the initial help that got things going again. It was a very successful effort that helped the world and helped ourselves. And we have a president who can't be bothered to help a single American city get back on its feet. We have a president who isn't even aware that there are millions of Americans who can do a great deal more if given the chance. There is no such thing as perfection on this earth, but we are currently racing to the bottom and that is no way for us. There's no future in that. We need to recover the American vision of what we once were and, however best we can, move forward again.

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The Forgotten War in Afghanistan

The unfinished war in Afghanistan continues. The name of Osama bin Laden is sometimes trotted out by the Bush Administration for political purposes but the hunt for him has largely languished. If he's across the border in Pakistan, and that seems likely, there is little interest in the Pakistani government in pursuing him. The perpetrator of 9/11 remains at large. In a twist of fate, though he had nothing to do with 9/11, Saddam Hussein will be executed within 30 days for other crimes, and the civil war and insurgency in Iraq will continue, if not worsen. But Iraq is the strange war we did not need. In a real sense, the death of more than 600,000 Iraqis and more than 3,000 American soldiers and contractors is a steep price to pay for the execution of Saddam Hussein.

But I was talking about Afghanistan. You don't hear much about Afghanistan on the nightly news. It is the forgotten war. Here's a story by Nick Allen in the Daily India, of all places:
As winter grips Afghanistan's mountainous border with Pakistan, US troops and Taliban and other insurgents are winding down after a year of fierce but inconclusive fighting in a barren swathe of Central Asia where everything has still to be won.

The first December snow brought a lull in the constant skirmishes, roadside bomb and suicide attacks and rocket strikes against the Bermel base by the border with Pakistan, where soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division will ship out next month after a gruelling 12-month tour.


While Pakistan's leadership stresses its commitment to the war on terror, US officers feel not enough is being done there to suppress the Taliban, and claim the insurgents sometimes even receive help from Pakistani units along the porous 2,500 km border.

'We don't really trust the Pakistani military too much,' said Captain Jason Dye, the commander at Bermel.

Frustration is evident in the ranks.

In early late 2001, Afghanistan was clearly a winnable war. Most Afghans seemed tired of the Taliban, or at least tired of twenty years of war, a period that began with the invasion by the Soviet Union in its last throes of power. When the Americans first arrived, things looked promising. But the war continues largely due to neglect by the Bush Administration as their interest turned to an unneeded war in Iraq. I have sympathy for the Afghans and for Americans halfway around the world.

David Ignatius of The Washington Post has written an article about Bush that seems designed to evoke sympathy for the president. Given how much of our policies in the last six years have been steeped in arrogance and deception, I find it hard to feel that sympathy. The sympathy that Ignatius seems to feel should be directed elsewhere.

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Economy May Slow in 2007 While Oil Rises

The problems that have led to high energy prices for the last two years have not gone away. Even if the price of oil falls because of high production or a sluggish economy, we're just not finding the oil that's needed to sustain the level of oil consumption the world has come to expect. Ron Scherer of The Christian Science Monitor has a story on the energy outlook (hat tip to Think Progress):
Remember this? Motorists complaining at the pump as the price of gasoline rises. Airlines bumping up airfares to cover expensive jet fuel. And delivery services tacking on surcharges, reflecting a record price for a barrel of oil.

But it's not just a description of this past spring. It's also the forecast for next year, probably just when school lets out for the summer and motorists are starting to put more miles on the odometer.

"We could see close to $85 a barrel on crude next year," says Phil Flynn of Alaron Trading in Chicago.

Maybe we'll luck out this year and the price of oil will only rise to $70/barrel by summer. If Bush's incompetence leads to a deeper quagmire in the Middle East, however, anything can happen. Weather or other factors can lead to higher prices as well. But trusting to luck the way farmers used to trust to luck three hundred years ago is not a smart policy. Even major corporations don't last long if they fly by the seat of their pants year after year.

For six years, Bush has had no energy policy and his optional war in Iraq has only made things worse. The Democrats in Congress will do what they can to develop an energy policy but much will depend on how much Bush is willing to deal with reality. We'll soon know.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gerald Ford Dies at 93

Former President Gerald Ford is gone at 93; he's been in frail health for some years. MSNBC has the story.

Ford did a reasonably good job during a difficult time in the aftermath of Watergate, following the flawed presidency of Richard M. Nixon. In his last year in office, however, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pulled something of a palace coup in the Ford Administration: Cheney became chief of staff and Rumsfeld became secretary of defense. It's ironic that Cheney and Rumsfeld worked for one president who resigned in disgrace, another president who was not elected and yet another president whose legitimacy was in doubt in the 2000 election. With the election of Jimmy Carter, we never found out how much Cheney and Rumsfeld really represented Ford's views. Maybe it's just as well we didn't find out. Congress passed many important reforms during Ford's short term but those reforms continued during the Carter Administration. Those reforms may be the slender thread by which our democracy currently survives.

It was an awkward moment some months back when President Bush trotted out the frail Ford in support of his policies in Iraq.

President Ford, nevertheless, will be fondly remembered.

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Analysis of Iran's Falling Oil Exports

Iran's oil exports are falling. Falling exports means falling profits and a growing inability over the next ten years for Iran to finance mischief. The issue is complicated for a number reasons, but it once more provides Bush with a diplomatic opportunity. But Bush tends to be blind when diplomatic opportunities stare him in the face. Here's an analysis as reported in The Plain Dealer by Barry Scweid of AP:
Iran is suffering a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports, and if the trend continues, the income could virtually disappear by 2015, according to an analysis published Monday in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University, said in the report and in an interview that Iran's economic woes could make the country unstable and vulnerable, with its oil industry crippled.


Stern's analysis supports U.S. and European suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of international understandings. But, Stern says, there could be merit to Iran's assertion that it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes "as badly as it claims."

He said oil production is declining and gas and oil are being sold domestically at highly subsidized rates.

At the same time, Iran is neglecting to reinvest in its oil production.

"With an explosive demand at home and poor management, the appeal of nuclear power, financed by Russia, could fill a real need for production of more electricity," the report said.

It's ironic that Bush's foreign policy and energy policy have strengthened Iran and weakened the United States. If we had never gone to war in Iraq, Iran's oil problems would be more serious than they are and a real energy policy would have us on the way to being relatively free of the oil politics of the Middle East. Five years ago, Iran helped us in Afghanistan but Bush failed to take advantage of the opportunity to improve relations. Clearly, Bush's way doesn't work.

The more one reads, the more it becomes obvious that James Baker and the Iraq Study Group make far more sense than the president. The Baker report is not without flaws but it urges the president to begin talks for a regional settlement and that is something that would improve our situation far more than a repackaged agenda of 'stay the course' or a disastrous bombing campaign against Iran.

Richard Nixon was the ultimate Cold War hawk but he managed to improve relations with Russia and China. Bush only has to deal with Syria and Iran, though it would help if he would bring in some serious foreign policy heavy-weights. But more of the same just isn't acceptable.

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Even Bush PR Machine Now Stumbling

You cannot repair a series of blunders by following them with more blunders but there are signs that's exactly what Bush plans to do in Iraq. 'Surge' is just the latest of Bush's jargon words that will not win the war. If we add another twenty to thirty thousand troops, that will still not reach the maximum number of troops we have had in Iraq earlier in the war, particularly if we include all the contractors and all the coalition forces. This is about public relations and a desperate president trying to save face. It is not about sound policy. The consequence is that our nation and our foreign policy will only be further damaged, and that does not include the loss of more lives and the growing cost of the war, a cost, by the way that the president refuses to acknowledge.

But this is not December of 2005; it's December of 2006 and there's been a change of late. The media isn't jumping every time Bush waves his arms or every time his handlers bark at the media these days. And that too is a sign of another problem that is further damaging our nation, a problem that Bush barely seems to acknowledge: the president has no credibililty.

Slowly coming to terms with the incompetence of the Bush Administration should not have taken the media four years. MissLaura of Daily Kos has some thoughts on the situation that now exists as Bush 'decides' on his next move:
It seems like there's always a three-step process to George W. Bush being seen as weak: After it's well-established on blogs and the like that he's screwing up on a particular topic and things are going to go badly, his poll numbers drop, showing unpopularity nationally. Then, at some later point, if we're lucky, the big media narrative catches up to the reality that he's screwing up and is unpopular. That particular narrative does appear to be emerging on the question of how Bush will interpret what Democratic victories in November mean about the voters' will for Iraq.

I would add one step before the blogs in the process mentioned above and that's the experts and rational career people who couldn't quite get their message across to the media, even if their stories sometimes appeared in the back pages of major newspapers; these are the people who know that what the president says doesn't always match the reality, and that the president's tough talk is too often not matched by the competence necessary to understand and implement various policies. Without the experts and career people, the blogs might not have gotten far (sometimes, in the past, the experts and career people have been wrong, but Bush and his neocon enablers didn't even come close to demonstrating that they themselves knew the answers).

After two presidential elections, Americans are learning the hard way that tough talk is worthless if the individual talking tough doesn't know what he's doing or what he's talking about. This doesn't just apply to President Bush; it applies to the Republican Party which has allowed itself to be overwhelmed by right wingers who understand a great deal less than their spokespersons and media coverage would lead us to believe.

Thoughtful conservatives still have a place in American politics but we are witnessing the end of right wing ideology as a political force in our nation; nevertheless, it's going to take a few years yet to play out. A lot will depend on how soon and how quickly a new Republican Party replaces the frauds and the incompetents who have dominated the GOP of late. When the Democrats take their seats in January, there is much they can do. However, at the end of the day the Democrats can only do so much because that is how our constitution is designed.

I expect nothing from hardcore right wing Republicans in Congress except obstruction. But there are enough Republicans in the House and Senate who know better, who know perfectly well that Bush doesn't know what he's doing and that there is a major need for repairs to our government and our foreign policy. The sooner a significant number of Republicans recognize that we have a problem and that they need to join with Democrats, even if just on selected issues, the sooner the crisis in Washington can begin to be resolved and the sooner, I might add, that the Republican can find themselves again.

Bush has the veto. It is very likely that he will use that veto when Democrats try to check his abuse of power. He may even try to use that veto to slowly drag us into a broader war. In critical situations, for the sake of the nation, Republicans are going to have to cross the aisle and vote for a return to sanity. Otherwise, Republican obstructionism may extend the crisis in Washington for another two to four to six years. Those are years as a nation that we cannot afford to waste.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

The many events of the world don't stop for Christmas but the news has been slow. On the other hand, my wife is one of the lucky ones who has to work on Christmas day (she's cooking for 85 people!).

I sometimes have wondered what it's like to shake one of those bells for The Salvation Army and while wandering through a number of blogs, there was Benjamin Dueholm of The Private Intellectual:
I'm in Madison again for the end of Advent, and as I did last year I signed up to ring bells for the Salvation Army. I have plenty of theological disagreements with the Sal Army, but they do critical work that no one else does. I was ringing this morning at a supermarket on the west side and the response was very good. Probably half or more of the patrons dropped at least something into the bucket, even while I was sitting there doing the Isthmus crossword. I'm not one for the hard sell, even when it comes to charity. ...

Dueholm goes on to mention what does work and he's right. I suppose there's been too much hard sell in the last six years. On Saturday, I was buying a printer for $89 and I couldn't believe they tried to sell me an extended warranty. Enough already.

Many of us who write political blogs are passionate about the issues and most of us who consider ourselves part of the reality-based community try to get the facts right (even if our opinions sometimes race ahead of the available facts) but it's not always easy to remember that part of what is useful about blogging is creating dialogue, not just hammering some point home.

For me, blogging is still an experiment. I wish I understood a great deal more than I do. I started writing many years ago and one of the reasons I became a writer was that there were things I wasn't reading and I discovered that sometimes you have write those things yourself, even if it isn't easy, even if you struggle with it and have to learn what it is that you don't know, even if it takes years, even if all you do is scratch the surface. Life is an adventure and we sometimes forget that too easily.

A lot of politics is actually easy to write about once you get your hands on some of the details and use a little common sense. The hard part is staying focused on what's important and finding ways to talk about those things and stopping long enough to hear what other people have to say—creating a dialogue in other words. That's hard in any kind of writing, though Donkey Path has some excellent commenters and I've been lucky to find a range of very good blogs, all of whom I learn from (and we sometimes hear something of the same from other bloggers).

I have a strong respect for passion but I sometimes catch myself writing too much out of anger; now anger is sometimes necessary but it can feel too much at times like a hard sell; sometimes we need to talk simply because it is important to do so. When the stakes are high, finding the human level isn't always easy to do. Sometimes it's important to take a deep breath and just try again. That's all any of us can do. For me, after a year of blogging, it remains a challenge and an adventure.

Let's hope the holidays a year from now see a little more peace in the world. And a little more thoughtfulness.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

America Needs Its Own Foreign Policy

Ronald Reagan didn't know much about foreign policy when he became president and beyond his interest in a bigger military and another point or two that he raised during his time in office, it's clear that he often deferred to others in his administration—but, after all, he had some competent people (okay, there was Iran/Contra and some other nonsense but comparatively speaking.....).

George W. Bush knows less about foreign policy since a guy in the 1920s named Calvin Coolidge occupied the White White—one could argue that it didn't matter since we were isolationist and, besides, everyone was making a fortune in the stock market of the Roaring Twenties (never mind that the markets crashed less than a year after Coolidge left office and Hitler was on the rise a year after that).

But if foreign policy is not Bush's strong suit, then who's the smart, competent one in the current administration who handles that stuff? Answer: virtually no one, at least no one who shows signs that they're competent. Colin Powell was competent but he had to fight Cheney and Rumsfeld to get any foreign policy work done and he lost out anyway on the big issues.

Condi Rice doesn't know what she's doing and although she's smart and knowledgeable, she just doesn't have her hands on the machinery of foreign policy in the way others in her position have demonstrated; and she's way too anxious to keep Bush's ear and therefore quickly defers to Bush when the Decider-in-Chief is out riding his mountain bike and gets a brainstorm.

So that leaves Cheney who can't shoot straight and whose record of guessing right in foreign policy is nil. And of course Bush is there to handle public relations which seems about all that junior is capable of handling. Sure, Bush is in charge, but he's the blind baseball manager who depends on Cheney to tell him what's going on.

In the meantime, there's growing evidence of other nations not merely advising but meddling in our foreign policy. Israeli right wingers seems to have a strong influence in the Bush Administration. But so does the royal Saudi family. Tony Blair is not shy about ignoring Congressional Democrats and the American public while giving Bush help when it comes to rattling sabers or cranking up the fear of terrorism. And there is still the role the Italians—and perhaps Berlusconi—played in the Iraq/Niger scam. America had its own foreign policy once and it worked for many decades. Bush and his friends have clearly failed to create a foreign policy that makes any sense.

In the three weeks ending December 19th, 480 Americans have been injured, more than 200 for more than three days. The number killed for Bush's war is nearing 3,000 of our military but it's over 3,000 if one includes American contractors.

Bush could have handed America a magnificient Christmas gift this year: an exit strategy in Iraq. But it's not to be. The hour has come and gone. Instead, after months of indecision, the president continues to dither while Iraq descends into chaos. Cheney remains on the job despite a few dozen reasons for him to leave. There is a real danger that there will be no significant course change in Iraq. Given Bush's history, one cannot discount the possibility of broader war. But, no matter what is decided, we can expect in January a new and full-throated public relations campaign from the president justifying his failures. Bush has no more elections to win and instead of doing what's best for the country, there is real potential that he will continue to do more harm to our nation. It's doesn't have to be that way.

It is a difficult world but the idea of Peace on Earth is a good one this Christmas season. We need to find a way to bring meaning back to that idea. And that necessity.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

When Reality Ignores Republicans....

For six years, we have noticed a disconnect between what right wing Republicans claim and what the facts are. For example, it took a bipartisan report led by James Baker to make it clear that conditions in Iraq are, unfortuantely, not quite the way our president would like to paint them (Bush would like nothing more than to paint a rosy picture before handing his failed policies in Iraq off to the next president). To be honest, it's not always clear when right wingers believe what they're saying and when they're just playing politics; either approach, however, is detrimental to our nation.

Chris of Americablog notes that right wing Republicans in Congress like to say there's nothing real to Global Warming, but the insurance companies are betting that there probably is and are increasingly refusing insurance to homeowners in low-lying land close to the ocean:
With the seas warming, it's no wonder they want nothing to do with insuring properties in the danger zone. The storms are getting worse and moving up the coast, but the GOP doesn't believe global warming is an issue. When a Fortune 500 company makes a move like this, you would think some might take notice.

Laura Smitherman of The Baltimore Sun has the story on the growing problems of insuring coastal property:
Allstate Corp., one of Maryland's largest insurers, will stop writing homeowners' policies in coastal areas of the state, citing warnings by scientists that a warmer Atlantic Ocean will lead to more strong hurricanes hitting the Northeast.

The company will no longer offer new property insurance beginning in February in all or part of 11 counties mostly along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Existing customers won't be affected


This has been happening for years in states such as Florida, where homeowners saw rates multiply or lost insurance altogether after Andrew flattened much of South Florida in 1992. Now the trend is edging north.

There are still plenty of Republicans and even conservative Republicans who reasonably have both feet in the real world. After all, in the business world, those who operate like the late Kenneth Lay of Enron don't usually last long. But where in the world are these right wingers coming from and why are they still in Washington peddling their foolishness on issue after issue? It's important to remember that while the Democrats won in November, most of the Republican politicians in Washington are still very right wing and very out of touch.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Before You Give Your Spouse a New Windmill...

In recent years, the major leap forward in windmill technology has to do with the huge windmills found on windmill farms. But there's been a market for smaller windmills for homeowners. It's not clear, though, whether the bugs are out of these things yet or not. And if you get one, your neighbors may petition City Hall to get rid of it. But things may be changing. Adam Vaughan of the British Guardian Unlimited has a long article on wind power, large and small:
So, if all's finally going right for large-scale wind, what's wrong with its domestic counterpart? One problem is turbulence: in urban areas, buildings, trees and other urban furniture obstruct the wind.

The result is erratic wind speeds, and most home turbines simply aren't designed for that. "Home turbines are definitely not ready for the mainstream," says Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity. "The current crop suffers from the same fundamental problem of design. They are horizontal-axis machines which work well in open areas but are unsuited to urban areas due to the way they need to rotate to track changing wind directions - called hunting."

Some suggest the problem is the quality of the turbines being sold through utility companies and B&Q. Keith Hall, editor of the Green Building Press, describes them as "not a first generation, but the cheapo generation". He stresses that he has a turbine installed at home and thinks wind is a viable way of generating power, provided companies "don't sell crappy machines".

Vaughan's article briefly mentions a stadium that plans to install a large commercial windmill. I'm not sure I understand what they have in mind and wish I knew more. Candlestick Park in San Francisco (under whatever name the latest corporation is paying for) is famous for its winds. But how would it work? Would they put the windmill in the parking lot? With plenty of room underneath for cars? Those things can be noisy. Would they turn it off during games? I don't know whether to take it seriously, laugh or just scratch my head. But it's an idea.

In the meantime, let's hope some thoughtful entrepreneur thinks of a way for consumers to get useful power out of a windmill designed for a smaller scale. I don't know about using these things in cities, but I know a few semi-rural areas with plenty of wind.

Of course, there are plenty of things consumers can buy to save on their energy bills. Solar panels, passive water heaters and insulation are very effective and easier for now on the neighbors. And it would be good if any number of political entities would get rid of the rules against that classic energy-efficient clothes dryer: the clothesline.

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The Haditha Incident Back in the News

The Haditha incident has disappeared from news for some months. The North County Times, a newspaper not far from Camp Pendleton in San Diego County has the story:
The Marine Corps is charging the squad leader for a group of Camp Pendleton troops tied to the shooting deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha last year with multiple counts of unpremeditated murder.

At least two other Marines are also facing charges, but it is unclear at this hour if others will be charged. Neal Puckett, the attorney for Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, said at about 11 a.m. this morning that his client is being charged with 12 counts of murder plus one count of murdering six others by ordering his troops to shoot and ask questions later.

In a war without clear battlefront lines and often without clear enemies, Iraqi noncombatants are going to be killed. It is important to remember that we imposed ourselves in Iraq and although our troops are usually doing the best they can, we are responsible for noncombatant deaths and it appears there have been a considerable number over three and a half years. And incidents like Haditha are going to happen. The lawyers for the defendents have argued that the deaths at Haditha were combat related but charges are being pressed. You don't press charges unless clear lines have been crossed. The defendants will have their day in court.

The longer soldiers remain in the field, the greater the chance that discipline will break down. That is partly what is meant when generals talk about the wheels coming off the military. Increasing the number of our soldiers in Iraq simply by requiring that rotations be extended within Iraq is not a good idea, particularly if the White House continues to be vague about what we are trying to accomplish at this late date, after earlier justifications for the war have crumbled.

After four years of being obsessed with Iraq, George W. Bush still does not have a rational plan for an exit.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bush 'Stays the Course': More Talk, No Plan

President George W. Bush held another press conference on Wednesday and left little doubt he's in need of adult supervision. Not only has he been less than truthful about the cookies he's taken from the cookie jar, he's at risk of burning the house down.

The voters have voted and Bush still thinks he has some sort of mandate. After the election, Bush talked briefly about bipartisanship but has spent most of the time being petulant and combative and well, somewhat delusional. James Baker's report has everiscerated Bush's rosy picture of Iraq and Bush still thinks if he can have one more deal of the cards he can get it right this time. While refusing to even consider major diplomatic efforts which are usually required in situations like this, Bush wants to increase the troops in Iraq by playing musical chairs one more time with our over-stretched military.

While most rubber stampers of the famous 109th do-nothing Republican Congress squirm uncomfortably about what to do in Iraq, an increasing number of Republicans are looking the facts square in the eye along with the Democrats and saying it's time to wind down our affairs in Iraq before too much more damage is done. We need to take care of our military more than we need to nurse the Iraqis to do want they need to do themselves; there's no use pretending that Bush knows how to cure a civil war he caused in the first place with more military intervention. At this point, we need diplomacy, redeployment and a political solution.

Senator Harry Reid is growing impatient with Bush's games as we read in The Raw Story:
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement after the president's last press confence of the year, which blasted Bush for not understanding the need for "urgent change" in Iraq.

"It is heartening to see that President Bush has reversed his position, rejected the failed Rumsfeld doctrine, and heeded Democratic calls to increase the size of the military," Reid stated. "Unfortunately, it is troubling to see that he still does not understand the need for urgent change in Iraq."

"The President seems lost within his own rhetoric," Reid's statement continued. ...

Lost within his own rhetoric. That describes the Decider-in-Chief quite well. It's time for Bush to get a grip on reality.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has more to say:
I had previously argued that the Democratic leadership should work to create a bipartisan congressional foreign policy agenda as a counterpoint to the White House. As Bush publicly blows off the generals on whether he will escalate Iraq by another 20,000-40,000 troops, does this issue have the potential to be the Democrats’ blunt instrument against the Bush Administration at the start of the new Congress? I think it does.

We hear that the generals and the Joint Chiefs are against the escalation. We are seeing signs that Republicans up for reelection in 2008 are at best hesitant and at worst opposed to the escalation. Just today, Minnesota GOP Senator Norm Coleman has come out against the escalation, and supposedly Maine’s Susan Collins is questioning it as well. How many GOP senators and House members who are up for reelection in 2008 will support an escalation? ...

Read the rest of Steve Soto's post and his suggestions on how Congress should handle Bush; it makes sense to me, particularly if, in the next two weeks, Bush doesn't do a great deal more to acknowledge the need for significant changes. He's dithered enough. Think back to Hurricane Katrina and think of how out of touch Bush was and how slow to react. Multiply that by ten. That's where we are. We have a president who thinks he can blow off the voters, the Democrats, the generals and reality.

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Bush Megalomania Continues

Earlier this month, I wrote the following on Donkey Path:
Bush's tirades and rambling rhetoric are getting tiresome; his arrogance has simply become a pathetic shield to avoid change as well as responsibility for his failures. Bush has compared himself to Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and now Truman. His strange megalomania is not a pretty sight to behold.

The Huffington Post catches another absurd comparison of Bush to an earlier president:
[Bush:] I'm going to work hard. I'm going to sprint to the finish. And we can get a lot done.

And you're talking about legacy. Here, I - I know - look, everybody's trying to write the history of this administration even before it's over. I'm reading about George Washington still.

My attitude is if they're still analyzing number one, 43 ought not to worry about it, and just do what he think is right, and make the tough choices necessary.

Bush is running out of people to compare himself to. Note also the strange way he talks about himself in the third person. For the record, Washington's legacy hasn't changed in 200 years and was largely recognized in his own time. The legacy of Bush's first six years won't change either. Bush has a chance to repair some of his self-inflicted damage to his reputation in his last two years but only by changing course, by working with the Democrats and actually repairing some of the damage he has done to our nation. One other thing: Bush could help himself by genuinely embracing a dose of humility.

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Bush Almost Admits Failure

Sometimes politicians say things without really understanding what they're saying. Here's what President Bush told Peter Baker of The Washington Post:
President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.


In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point. "We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer.


A substantial military expansion will take years and would not immediately affect the war in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among commanders about the state of the armed forces. Although the president offered no specifics, other U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to bolster the nation's permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 additional troops.

In late 2001, the United States had enough troops to finish the job in Afghanistan and enough forces in reserve to handle any situation in the world if needed. We also had enormous foreign policy leverage with a number of difficult nations because we were initially quite successful in Afghanistan and it was not certain if or when the rest of our military might be used elsewhere. A number of nations were being very cooperative in that period; even democratization had more potential in that situation. Instead of understanding the enormous advantage he had, which included several diplomatic opportunities, Bush started pulling troops out of Afghanistan in preparation for an unneeded, optional war in Iraq. Not only was Afghanistan put on the back burner, so to speak, but Bush and his administration spent more time on politics and their ideological agenda than they did on planning for the war in Iraq. The consequence is that there is now a real danger of accomplishing almost nothing in Iraq or Afghanistan after five years of war.

The issue of expanding our military forces is different than the issue of sending more troops to Iraq. At this point, it is a waste of time to send more troops to Iraq; it would simply endanger the quality of our armed forces and would frankly put a weakened military into the hands of the next president at a time when Bush's foreign policies fiascoes may in addition be creating problems for the next two or three administrations; it's time to limit the damage Bush has caused.

Let me rephrase it differently: in a sense, Bush is admitting the failure of his own foreign policy and yet he would risk creating a deeper problem and further passing on his failures to the next president by dragging out the war in Iraq. Our broken foreign policy and our strained military, not Iraq, must now be the top priorities Bush should be addressing. Although Bush probably will not admit it, it is directly because of his blunders that we may have to increase the troop levels of our military for some unknown period. I suspect, that without understanding fully what he is saying, George W. Bush is making the case for drawing down our forces in Iraq.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Barack Obama and the 1960s

Barack Obama, for the most part, has a wonderful gift for cutting the Gordian knot of the political rhetoric that has dominated our nation for some 35 years. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek did an interview with Barack Obama and here's a section that caught my interest:
[Barack Obama:]Our politics has very much been grounded in debates over the '60s. There's the '60s, the backlash against the '60s, the counter-backlash within the Democratic Party against the '60s. We've been effectively talking about Vietnam, the sexual revolution, the civil-rights movement for a generation now, and it doesn't adequately describe the challenges we face today. My peer group, I think, finds many of those divisions unproductive. We see many of these problems differently, on race, faith, the economy, foreign policy and the role of the military.

Part of the reason the next generation can see things differently is because of the battles that the previous generation fought. But the next generation is to some degree liberated from what I call the either/or arguments around these issues. So on race, the classic '60s formulation was, "Is it society and institutional racism that's causing black poverty or is it black pathology and a culture of poverty?" And you couldn't choose "All of the above." It looks to me like both. [The younger generation] is much less caught up in these neatly packaged orthodoxies.

To some extent, these are wise words and yet I worry that Barack Obama is chasing something of a chimera. First of all, much of the 1960s over the last thirty-five years have been defined by an increasingly conservative media; and ultraconservatives have quite literally spent millions on creating a black and white image of the 1960s. There is no easy way to define the 60s and I'm not going to do so here except to say the range of ideas and politics and efforts extended over a very wide range of issues across the political spectrum and consequently no group from that era—or this one, for that matter—should ever be used as a broad brushstroke to define another group. We still see this with major protest demonstrations: fifty thousand people can peacefully show up for a protest but the media will define them by a few dozen violent people with their own agenda and the broad audience at home is often none the wiser.

Obama also yields to a myth that those who were part of the 60s are stuck in that era. Some are, though I would argue most of them are on the right. Most people who were concerned about the issues of the 60s moved on and many developed a much more nuanced view of the world (Bush doesn't like the word 'nuanced' which is equivalent to saying he's not a pragmatist and has no interest in the broad issues of the real world and prefers the rigid ideological black/white framing that gets everyone into trouble whether on the far right or the far left). One thing that evolved out of the 60s over the years was a style of politics summarized by the phrase, 'politics is local.' Barack Obama, as a community activist for church groups early in his career, exemplified that very thing.

Again, I appreciate Barack Obama reframing how we look at things and I appreciate his attempt to get people more focused on what we have in common and focused on a whole new range of problems that need to be dealt with in the terms of this era. But in an attempt to define a new agenda, one can get caught up in a fuzzy breeziness and forget to focus accurately on the lessons of the past; George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are proof of that—none of the three learned a damn thing from Vietnam or the 1960s and the fiasco in Iraq is the result.

All I would say to Barack Obama is keep up the good work, but keep it real.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

An American Icon Passes On

In these troubled times, we can use more humor, even if that humor is sometimes aimed at children. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna kept two or three generations of Americans laughing with their Hanna-Barbera cartoon productions.

CNN has the AP story on the passing of Joe Barbera at 95:
Joe Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team that produced such beloved cartoon characters as Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and the Flintstones, died Monday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said. He was 95.

Barbera died of natural causes at his home with his wife Sheila at his side, Warner Bros. spokesman Gary Miereanu said.


The partners, who had first teamed up while working at MGM in the 1930s, then went on to a whole new realm of success in the 1960s with a witty series of animated TV comedies, including "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "Yogi Bear," "Scooby-Doo" and "Huckleberry Hound and Friends."

Fred Flintstone's version of Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners was my favorite even if it was a little decadent to have a cartoon character selling Winston cigarettes (did the tobacco companies ever give up trying to sell cigarettes to children?). In its day, The Flintstone was considered a show for the entire family in prime time, the only cartoon I'm aware of in that era that made it to the big leagues, so to speak. Ralph Kamden seemed to live in the late 1930s when the economy was still tight for most Americans but The Flintstones was proof that anyone could make the middle class in the 1960s. Cartoons are ridiculous of course but they were great fun. Hanna-Barbera's Fred Flintstone, loud and noisy as he was, seemed more in tune with America's optimism than Archie Bunker who appeared in the more circumspect 1970s.

Because we lived in the Los Angeles area and had a knack for getting around, my middle brother and I once ran into one of the main cartoonists for Hanna-Barbera. We were down in a marina and he was on a very large boat; we quickly got permission from our parents and later we sat around a table with him as he first did a caricature of my brother on a surf board with Huckleberry Hound just behind him. It took him less than two minutes. He turned to me and very quickly decided to put me on a skateboard whizzing by Yogi Bear ducking out of the way and yelling, "Whoa, that was close!"

Silly, I know. But you remember these things and it can't get any more American.

Humor is still alive and well but increasingly we find it in places like Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. But I still have a soft spot for those long ago Hanna-Barbera productions.


Iraq 'Success Story' Unraveling

The Bush Administration is good at hyping its minor successes while the world falls apart in other areas. The schools in Iraq were always part of that hype. There were definite successes rebuilding schools and replenishing their supplies in the first year of Bush's war, particularly through the volunteer efforts of our troops. But the many blunders of the Bush Administration have largely undone any of the minor good that was done in Iraq. Think of a reservoir that has a dam that is cracking. It does no good to fix the potholes of the town downstream from that reservoir if the dam itself isn't fixed. You can hype the public relations on fixing the potholes all you want, and it doesn't change the failure to repair the dam.

Here's a story by Solomon Moore from the Los Angeles Times about the schools in Iraq (hat tip to Think Progress):
President Bush has routinely talked about the refurbishment and construction of schools as a neglected story of progress in Iraq. The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent about $100 million on Iraq's education system and cites the rehabilitation of 2,962 school buildings as a signal accomplishment.

But today, across the country, campuses are being shuttered, students and teachers driven from their classrooms and parents left to worry that a generation of traumatized children will go without education.

Teachers tell of students kidnapped on their way to school, mortar rounds landing on or near campuses and educators shot in front of children.

Sending more soldiers to Iraq (or simply asking them to stay longer, which is the only way to increase troop levels) and asking them to do the same thing over and over while Bush and his advisers make the same arrogant mistakes over and over is not the route our nation should be pursuing.

In the late fall of 2006, in the fourth year of the war, it is at last becoming increasingly clear why we're still in Iraq: so Bush can save face instead of confronting his failures. That's a disgraceful reason for a war to continue.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Is Colin Powell Finally Speaking Up?

One appearance on Face the Nation contradicting some of Bush's assertions does not represent a major effort to get Bush to accept reality but it may be a step in the right direction for former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Think Progress caught two interesting points in Colin Powell's interview; here's the first:
Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he agreed with the Iraq Study Group that the situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating.” He disagreed with incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ assessment that the U.S. is neither winning nor losing in Iraq. “We are losing,” Powell said.

And here's the second catch by Think Progress:
Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he did not support surging tens of thousands more troops in Iraq, a plan that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports and that President Bush is expected to carry out. “I have not seen a case that persuades me that [Iraqi security] would be better” with more forces, he said.

Powell also pointed out that the military has no more troops to send. ...

So, according to Powell, we're losing and more troops won't make much difference. Unlike the right wingers who are trying to trash the Baker report that came out of the Iraq Study Group, Powell says the report is largely an accurate analysis of the situation. Besides finding people they can bully into telling them what they want to hear, Bush and Cheney, who are very fond of cherry picking, can still find a general or two to defend their policies and a few out-of-it politicians from the past to trot out for public relations. But the heavy weights of the last thirty years are nearly unanimous that Bush's Iraq policy is a disaster and that it's time to talk and time to find an exit.

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Bill Richardson Disagrees with John McCain

The idea of John McCain as a reasonable, straight-talking maverick is over and has been for over two years. Only the illusion remains. Former Clinton official and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson calls for some reality in Washington; here's the story from The Hotline (via Firedoglake):
Here's what Richardson says:
“The leading advocate for escalating the war is Senator John McCain. I have served with John in Congress and I respect him. But John McCain is wrong, dead wrong to think that we can solve Iraq’s political crisis through military escalation.”

“There are no quick or easy answers to the crisis in Iraq. Our choices are between bad options and worse ones. Some prefer military escalation. Some choose staying the course. These options are illusions. The only realistic choice we have is to stand down militarily and let the Iraqis stand up and face the political crisis which only they can resolve.”

“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I worked in this region...we should harbor no illusions. This withdrawal will not be pretty. People will die. But fewer will die than if we stay. There are no guarantees that our departure will end the civil war, but it is sure to continue so long as we stay. The Iraqis might, or might not, resolve their political crisis. It is up to them. They distrust and fear one another, and this makes it very tough. But they share one goal – they don’t want to destroy their own country. To save it, they need to stop killing each other and start compromising. And we need to get out of the way.”

When the time comes to withdraw, we will still have a military presence in the vicinity to keep Iraq's neighbors at bay. But it's time for Bush to give up his empire project and to restore a functioning foreign policy. Restoring a functioning federal government and a functioning foreign policy is the number one priority for our country, not saving Bush's failed schemes in Iraq. The roughly 25% of Americans who still support Bush's foreign policy are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Secretary of State: Competence, Incompetence and a Dose of Hypocrisy

It's interesting to watch the various figures of the Bush Administration continue to talk as if anyone still talks their nonsense seriously. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group (5 Republicans, 5 Democrats) led by Republican James Baker has shattered any remaining illusions that we're winning in Iraq or that 'staying the course' is somehow going to work. 'Staying the course' has been repackaged so many times by the Bush team that everyone now recognizes it as the clunker it so obviously is. And every time Bush comes up with a new reason why we're in Iraq, after the latest reason has fallen apart, it just makes everybody's eyes roll.

It was ludicrous to hear Dick Cheney describe Donald Rumsfeld as the greatest Secretary of Defense ever and I intended to write about that until I came across a few things Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to say. Here's the story by Reuters on Yahoo News:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the Bush administration engage Syria and Iran in efforts to stabilize Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The "compensation" required for any such deal might be too high, Rice told the paper in an interview.

Rice said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq, the Post reported.

She also argued that neither Syria nor Iran should need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq, the Post reported.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group included talks with Iran and Syria among its key recommendations it presented to the White House last week for dealing with the worsening chaos in Iraq.

Oh, where to begin! When Rice talks about the notions that Syria and Iran 'should not need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq,' she omits that both countries sought to improve relations early in the Bush's first term and were actually helpful in dealing with al Qaida. But they were rebuffed by President Bush on more than one occassion early on.

In addition, Bush has vaguely threatened military action against Syria and Iran and Bush's friends on the far right have been even more vocal, even going so far as to call for the use of nuclear weapons against Iran; much of Bush's attitude seems based on an idea of Syria and Iran that goes back ten to thirty years instead of dealing in the terms of this era.

If Bush or Condi Rice are serious about real negotiations, they have to back off one or two steps from a threat posture and then knock off the phony preconditions for talks. In addition, Bush has yet to declare to the Iraqis that we do intend to leave, and sooner than later.

By sending more troops, Bush is likely to increase the tensions in the Middle East; he has sent more troops in the past without result and there is nothing to suggest that this time he has some answers to his fiasco. Just to be clear, let me be blunt for a moment: our military could kill 2 million Iraqis in the next year and it would not change the outcome; if anything, it would potentially lead to a broad regional war. Too many blunders have been made. At this point, we don't need a military solution so much as we need a political solution. Political solutions require talks. Political talks require the full use of all our foreign policy tools. Those tools have been neglected or poorly used in the past six years. There are dozens of qualified people, even qualified Republicans, who are waiting for their talents to be used. It's time for Bush and Condi Rice to utilize them.

The main problem I have with Condi Rice is her arrogant incompetence. As the national security adviser to Bush, she missed the terrorist threat from al Qaida and the broader stateless terrorism problem. And even before she became Secretary of State, she was personally doing a poor job of improving relations with Russia, an area she's supposed to be an expert on. Then, this last summer, instead of working hard and long to defuse the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, she went to the Middle East to give, of all things, a piano recital! Her blather about not giving away some of Lebanon's sovereignty is a ridiculous straw man as an objection to serious negotiations with Syria, and it's unhelpful that she even talks like that; but it's important to note that Bush's unwilling to defuse this summer's mini-war did far more serious damage to Lebanon than any concession regarding Lebanon that might conceivably be given to Syria, and the Lebanese are not happy about it.

I'm a Democrat with certain principles and I won't pretend that James Baker was perfect but he was a successful Secretary of State and was far more competent than Dr. Rice; for her to dismiss the analysis and advice of the Iraq Study Group suggests she's just as delusional as the president. When you're in trouble, when you have almost no accomplishments to your name, it's time to lose the arrogance. Rumsfeld may be gone but Republicans in Congress should think long and hard about continuing to support Bush, Cheney and Rice. The members of the Bush inner circle are in danger of going from reckless incompetence to a sullen ideological stubbornness that will continue to do enormous damage to our nation in the continued pursuit of a war that we all know was optional. The excuses, the posturing and the blame need to come to an end.

The voters sent a powerful message to Bush in November and it's not clear that he's gotten the message. As long as Bush has the veto, there is a limit to what Democrats can do in the next two years. Two years is a long time. Not many Americans fully understand it yet, but our nation is in crisis. Unless Bush changes course in a serious way instead of pursuing the same failed foreign policy, we're heading for a deeper crisis; instead of admitting their blunders, some neocons and right wingers are insisting on a broader war despite the fact they haven't been right about very much.

If you're up to your waist in quicksand, it's time to stop digging. Bush's foreign policy experiment is a failure. It's time to return to the more successful policies of the last sixty years, the policies in fact that made us the leader of the free world and therefore strong.

Condi Rice's loyalty to the president would be admirable if Bush were running a small company somewhere, but her loyalty is hurting the nation. If she can't face Bush's failures, she needs to resign. Or she needs to face the facts and talk to the president. Simply put, it's time for Bush to pull back from the abyss. If he won't do it, Congress must exert its constitutional responsibilities.

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Rumsfeld Ignores History, Continues Spin

Eight years have passed since Donald Rumsfeld first began advocating a war against Iraq; our optional war in Iraq has become the biggest strategic blunder in American history. And yet, it appears the rehabilitation of Donald Rumsfeld is well under way. I expect he'll receive his Medal of Freedom the next time Bush wishes to distract attention from his failures. MSNBC has an AP story on the outgoing Secretary of Defense:
With an eye on his legacy, Rumsfeld asked to be judged by the extraordinary nature of today's threat, like none that has come before.

"There's no road map, no guidebook," he said. "The hope has to be - not perfection - but that most decisions, with the perspective of time, will turn out to be the right ones and that the perspective of history will judge the overwhelming majority of those decisions favorably."

This is a ridiculous self-serving statement that ignores 90 years of American diplomacy as well as the specific lessons of Vietnam. It ignores the enormity of World War Two and it ignores the the difficult but informative debates about bipartisan foreign policy that existed during the Cold War. It also ignores many identifiable blunders that Rumsfeld made. On many occassions during Bush's first term, Donald Rumsfeld sat across from Colin Powell who had useful advice for the defense secretary: send enough troops, define your mission, and have an exit strategy. The arrogant incompetence of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld may indeed lead to the war of civilizations that neoconservatives and their right wing enablers blather about. We can only hope Democrats can find ways to limit the damage and that American voters remember cause and effect in the next election.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some Thoughts on a Free and Responsible Press

One of the first journalists to talk specifically about the Nixonian qualities of George W. Bush was Jules Witcover, formerly of The Baltimore Sun. I started reading Witcover because he had a knack for noticing things other journalists kept missing. So it was something of a shock one day when his column simply disappeared. I checked around on the internet and found out that he apparently had been 'fired,' 'let go' or was unable to 'get his contract renewed.' As far I can tell, and it's not always easy to tell in this odd era, Witcover was apparently the victim of a cost-saving move largely because, as a senior journalist, he was earning more than the other journalists on the paper.

I bring up the story of Witcover simply to point out that there are multiple reasons the media has not being doing a good job of covering and analyzing the news in recent years. Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory has a post on the need for journalists and newspapers to be more than stenographers for government officials:
The Iranian President convened a convention this week to "debate" whether the Holocaust occurred, whether it is exaggerated, etc. In reporting on this event, The New York Times did not simply convey the views of both sides, but instead, declares definitively that one side of the "debate" -- the side of the Holocaust deniers -- ignores evidence, uses discredited sources, and relies upon false claims...


By pointing out the reality that the Holocaust denialists are making false and unsupportable claims, the Times is not reporting this incident in a "biased" or subjective way. It is not being unfair to the holocaust deniers by siding against them. To the contrary, even though it is clearly siding with one side over the other in terms of whose statements are truthful, the article is reporting on this issue objectively, because it reports the objectively verifiable fact that the arguments advanced by holocaust denialists are simply false.

That is what objective and meaningful reporting requires -- not merely uncritically conveying what statement a person makes, but scrutinizing that statement for accuracy and clearly reporting if it is false. That is what the Times did here by labelling the denialists' claims "fantasy" and pointing out the fact that their claims are contradicted by abundant documentation. ...

If anyone thinks this is an abstract or even obscure argument, I saw a cartoon this morning which reminds us of the problem with Holocaust deniers: if one ignores history and the obvious moral lessons one can learn from it, one is free to repeat the mistake. Nor, by the way, is the problem currently only restricted to Iran's leaders or a few Muslims. In his book, Ethics During and After the Holocaust, the philosopher John K. Roth criticizes Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, for ignoring the distorted history and conditions that led to the Holocaust in the first place: "The problem is that Gibson's film has much more in common with pre-Holocaust Christian animosity toward Jews than it does with post-Holocaust reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism. (p. 49)." Christianity did not cause the Holocaust (Nazism had little to do with Christianity), but the point is that it was the distortion of facts and history through the centuries that clearly led to an environment that facilitated the Holocaust.

Journalism can never be simply a recording of what other people say, even if those people represent our government. Even a president can be wrong (yes, we need to say that). Without a press that challenges his assumptions and challenges his facts, a president can make major blunders.

Among others, we have seen two kinds of errors in journalism in the last six years. One type of error is to record the predictions of government officials or 'experts' who support them without noticing how often they get it wrong. If a government offical says a missile will intercept another missile and destroy it in a test, he can be forgiven if he is wrong the first time; it's a no-brainer that a journalist needs to inform the reader that the official has been wrong three times when three tests fail and the official is now making a prediction of a successful fourth test. In the last five years, the neoconservatives have frequently been wrong about terrorism, Iraq and a number of other issues and journalists have frequently failed to point it out; the same neoconservatives continue to be appear on TV as if their advice should still be taken seriously.

The second error has to do with accepting the word of government officials when it comes to the accuracy of information that is given to reporters; during the Bush years, the failure to test the accuracy of information, to investigate reports that contradict the government, and, in some cases, simply recording major, outright lies of the government went on until well after the 2004 election and continues in some quarters.

Recent history should have put more journalists on guard during the last six years. Some of the players in the Bush Administration were players in the Reagan Administration during the 1980s when isolated reports of death squads in El Salvador were reaching The New York Times; some of those tips were from doctors who worked for Doctors without Borders and ought to have been considered reliable (certainly worth more than a phone call or two). The story I hear is that one or two reporters from The New York Times decided to check out the stories by calling... our State Department. It took another year or two before the story of the death squads was confirmed.

When a president and his advisers lie to the American people and it takes years for mainstream journalists to 'uncover' the story despite abundant evidence early on, we need to think long and hard about where journalism stands these days and exactly what kind of creature American journalism has become. I strongly suspect that without the blogs and the internet message boards, a great deal might have fallen through the cracks that appeared in obscure places like the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau or the British paper, The Guardian— or even the back pages of The Washington Post or The New York Times, particularly on Saturday mornings, the black hole of mainstream journalism.

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