Sunday, December 31, 2006

John Edwards, regular guy.

Since John Edwards announced his candidacy I've been following the various discussions around the internets.

Today, over at The Moderate Voice, Dutch conservative Michael van der Galien wonders whether Edwards can appeal to moderates without vowing to eliminate the budget deficit.

If I were American, I would object to Edwards’s view on the deficit: I would argue that it should not just be ‘contained’, a future President should be dedicated to exterminate the deficit alltogether, or at least to dramatically reduce the deficit.

Certainly Edwards is up front about the fact that deficit reduction is not his first priority.

Edwards also refuses to let his domestic ambitions be held hostage to the words "fiscal discipline." Though he acknowledges that the deficit has become a problem under Bush, he said the bigger priority is investing in health care, alternative energy sources, and programs designed to strengthen the middle class and attack poverty.

I suppose this is a question any candidate will face, to what degree will they seek to ameliorate the fiscal damage caused by BushCorp™'s grandiose borrow and spend policies?

But deficit reduction is not an end in itself, it is only a good insofar as it contributes to the welfare of the American people. And while the US' deficits are troubling, the next president will have a whole range of troubling issues to face. And finding a balance among these various challenges would seem to me the essence of a moderate approach.

And how else can Edwards appeal to moderate/centrist voters, on the assumption that, Rovian wedge politics notwithstanding, a successful presidential candidate needs to have votes from the center? (An assumption with which, by the way, I agree.)

I'm now going to make the astonishing suggestion that the best recent example of how to do this has been provided by none other than your CaliBlogger's favorite punching-bag, George W. Bush.

As Jon Stewart would say: Wha'?

But think about it. Bush's widest appeal had nothing to do with his stands on gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research or any of the other issues he used to solidify his wingnut base.

Indeed his main appeal to the non-insane center was that they liked him despite his stands on those issues.

They liked him because that, agree with him or not, you both knew where he stood and knew that his beliefs were honestly held.

Whether you actually believe in Bush's actual sincerity (and I, for one, do not) his ability to at least appear sincere has been his most attractive feature. The guy Americans would, famously, most like to have a beer with.

And that seems to me to be Edwards biggest potental plus with moderates.

I can argue that his positions on energy, health and the economic insecurity being increasingly felt by the US middle-class are not so far from the center as some might think. But we can have that argument another time.

But specific policy positions aside, it seems to me that Edwards has learned the critical lesson, sincerity sells.

And he also seems to have tweaked his campaign style to reflect that fact. Just look at his announcement.

Gone is the finely tuned stump speech, nuanced and honed as a lawyer's closing argument. No bunting. No marching bands. And frankly, no triangulation.

Just a YouTube video.

Just a guy you'd like to have a beer with.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein is dead

To be clear, the only death penalty I do not oppose is the one imposed by the universe, the one to which we all are subject.

But neither do I mourn Hussein's death, though frankly neither did I mourn Gerald Ford's.

In fact I mourned James Brown and Peter Boyle's deaths rather more.

Mainly my feelings at the moment are curiosity, tinged with trepidation. What will be the effect of Hussein's death on Iraq?

The answer could well be: not much. From the CS Monitor:

Still, the demise of the man who led bloody wars against Iran and the United States, and whose police state was famously called the "republic of fear" by one dissident, may now be oddly irrelevant to Iraq's future, as the country's broad sectarian violence has moved far beyond camps of Hussein supporters and opponents.

And kids, that's the best news we can hope for, that the violence won't be the worse for his death.

It will be worse, certainly, as the tit for tat sectarian violence continues and the Shia militias seek to achieve, what George Will might term, the tranquility of genocide.

It just won't be worse BECAUSE of Hussein's death.

I suppose this is what passes for good news these days: our actions haven't actively made the situation worse.

UPDATE: Actually, it seems, the timing of Hussein's execution may have been purposely designed to further insight Iraq's civil war. From Salon via Steve Benen:

The tribunal...had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday -- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a "sacrifice" for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.


Friday, December 29, 2006

The little robot that could

I've never made the mistake of giving Mrs. CaliBlogger a household appliance as a gift, birthday, anniversary, Christmas or otherwise, no wise husband would.

Or at least no wise husband would more than once.


But this year may have changed that rule forever.

The hot ticket gift for Christmas 2006 was....the Roomba.

This week, women all over America -- and not a few men -- are cooing and doting over their surprise hit Christmas present. They swoon when it hides under the couch and plays peekaboo. When it gets tired and finds its way back to its nest, sings a little song and then settles into a nap, its little power button pulsing like a beating heart, on, off, on, off, they swear they can hear it breathe.

It's as cute as E.T., as devoted as R2D2, more practical than a robotic dog and cheaper than some iPods.

It's a Roomba, an artificially intelligent floor-vacuuming 'bot, and this is the year mountains of them rumbled off the shelves not just of nerdistans like the Sharper Image and Brookstone, but of mainstream players like Costco, Sears and Target. They landed on the floors not just of innovators and early adopters, as in the previous four years, but the hip majority targeted by "Saturday Night Live."

And while I can outgeek anyone with my enthusiasm for cool new techno-toys, I find some of the reactions to this AI powered Kirby a little disturbing.

"We could have made the Roomba cuter," says Colin Angle, the chief executive officer of iRobot, the Massachusetts firm that makes the Roomba and Scooba as well as a host of military robots. "But we wanted to make sure this product was taken seriously. Rather than put a little bunny on top, we hit the efficacy message over and over again, because it appeals to the busy homemaker who has the job that needs to get done.

"And then she decides it's cute. The epiphany is when adults start talking about it as a helpful member of the family. You get them saying 'I do this and Rosie does that' or 'We can't imagine Rosie not helping us.' "

Indeed, the vast majority of Roombas get named, according to Angle. Kids name 40 percent of them when they're barely out of the box. The naming decision leads to questions of whether a Roomba is male or female. Rosie is the most common name, says Angle, after the robotic maid of "The Jetsons."

But the Roomba does seem kind of male, in an eager-to-please fifth-grader way. Adding to its Y-chromosome cred is that you wish it had a little more memory, and that its meanderings weren't so random. There's even a group on Amazon discussing why so many people view Roombas as male, although one contributor says, "Our Roomba is named Rhonda" and accordingly now sports "ponytail stickers and googly eyes on it to give it more personality." You see, the robot used to freak out the owner's toddler daughter. But after they converted it "into Rhonda -- she fell in love with 'her.' "

Now truly, people (mostly men now that I think about it) have been anthropomorphizing bits of technology for eons.

Cars, WWII fighters, boats have all sported monikers given with either love or chagrin, but this is truly a first for a household item.

And the Roomba could be a fad, but it could also be the first step towards I Robot.

To you, a robot is just a robot. But you haven't worked with them. You don't know them. They're a cleaner, better breed than we are.

Still, I can't help but believe that this little metallic frisbee would have Isaac Azimov smiling like a proud papa.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

John Edwards announces 2008 presidential candidacy

We've been expecting this since, oh, about December 2004, but today he makes it official.

Former North Carolina senator John Edwards this morning declared his candidacy for president in 2008, sounding a populist call for citizen action to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, combat poverty and global warming and help restore America's moral leadership in the world.

Using a neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina as his backdrop, Edwards said New Orleans symbolizes not only the theme of two Americas -- haves and have-nots -- that was the underpinning of his 2004 presidential campaign but also the power of ordinary citizens to take responsibility for their own futures.

Edwards said restoration of America's leadership in the world must begin with Iraq. He said he favors withdrawing 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq as the first step toward turning responsibility for the conflict over to the Iraqi government.

I'm not sure who I'll be supporting for the Democratic nomination, but I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't point out that Obama/Edwards (in either order) would be much prettier than virtually any conceivable Republican ticket.

I'm just saying.

Sanity in Somalia?

To be truthful I haven't been following the Ethiopian incursion into Somalia terribly closely, but a quote from today's LA Times story caught my eye.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the country's troops would remain in Somalia for only a matter of days or weeks, not months. He insisted that the international community would need to finish the job of putting Somalia's weak transitional government back on its feet and the (sic) Ethiopia would not allow itself to become bogged down in an Iraq-style occupation.

"We don't believe is it our mission to reconstruct Somalia, militarily, politically or otherwise," Meles said. "What Somalia needs is beyond our capacity now. What Somalia needs now is massive humanitarian assistance. We cannot provide that." [Emphasis mine-CK]

It remains to be seen whether Ethiopia's determination to be strictly short termers remains intact given future events as yet unknown, especially given the last two paragraphs of the story:

Though Meles stressed that the future security of Somalia will be left to the transitional government, he vowed to restore stability in the capital.

"We will not let Mogadishu burn," he said.

It strikes me, though, that Ethiopia's recognition that it can't rebuild Somalia by itself strikes me as a rather sane bit of humility, a realistic estimation of the limits of its own power.

Your Caliblogger then wonders whether such humility is even possible for the US.

Does our insane amount of military spending and expertise blind us to the limits of what one nation, however powerful, can do alone?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Top 10 Iraqi myths

Incredibly, given that everything they've advocated so far has failed, neo-conservative wankers like William Kristol and Frederick Kagan continue to advocate troop increases of 10,000 to 30,000 in order to somehow "win" the war in Iraq.

In an effort to clarify what the hell's going on with Iraq, middle-east expert and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor history professor Juan Cole has published his list of the top ten myths about the Iraq war.

His arguments are both incisive and compelling and should be read in full by anyone seeking a clear understanding of what's going on in Iraq, and why people like Kristol and Kagan are so full of shit.

But here, in brief, are the myths:

1. Myth number one is that the United States "can still win" in Iraq.
Cole's supporting reasoning is more thorough than mine, but let me ask: How can an outside power EVER win someone else's civli war?
2. "US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out."
The most ambitious escalation being considered is Kagan's 30,000 and 20,000 seems the most likely number. But as professor Cole points out, when we recently surged 15,000 troops into Baghdad the effect was actually an INCREASE in violence.

Cole estimates that would take a serious invasion force of half a million (a number, curiously, which corresponds to an estimate I gave a golf partner recently while discussing this very question) in order to completely pacify Iraq.

Ten, twenty, even thirty thousand additional troops only provide more American targets. And further piss off the locals.
3. The United States is best off throwing all its support behind the Iraqi Shiites.
4. "Iraq is not in a civil war," as Jurassic conservative Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly insists.
As I've long suspected, academic historians actually do have a formula for defining civil war. And Iraq has qualified since its first elections were held.
5. "The second Lancet study showing 600,000 excess deaths from political and criminal violence since the US invasion is somehow flawed."
BushCorp™'s ability to get this devastating study buried in the press has been one of its great spin success stories.
6. "Most deaths in Iraq are from bombings."
7. "Baghdad and environs are especially violent but the death rate is lower in the rest of the country."
8. "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror."
It boggles the mind that anyone even needs to point this out.
9. "The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq."
10. "Setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea."
As I've been saying for over a year and a half, a timetable would be very helpful for all concerned.

Professor Cole's arguments are vastly superior to my paltry observations and should be read in full by anyone interested in informed debate (i.e. any wingnuts who accidently stumble by can skip them in favor of Fox "News" lastest set of talking points).

Every one else: Go. Read. Now.

A president's legacy

Gerald R. Ford, 1913-2006

I find I've little to say about president Ford's death.

Though I would like to make one point.

In an earlier post I compared him to Bush, which, in retrospect, was not entirely fair to Mr. Ford.

Ford himself was, by all accounts, a likeable guy, totally out of his depth, and totally ineffectual as president.

He was much more comfortable on a golf course than in the oval office.

Substitute the ranch for the links and he was, essentially, George W. Bush.

At least as Bush might have been had 9/11 not happened.

But Ford was, at least, an adult. And, as the CS Monitor points out:

He was his own man, and not Richard Nixon. For the United States, at a crucial point in its history, that was enough.

Bush's legacy will not be so kind.

For a far more extensive examination of Ford's legacy as well as links to a variety of perspectives I recommend Joe Gandelman's outstanding post at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why we fight

Emily Miller, whose brother serves in the Army National Guard, and is about to be posted to Iraq, writes about their thoughts in the Washington Post.

I strongly encourage you to read this thoughtful article in full, but an excerpt that particularly caught my eye:

What I find offensive is the idea that we have to "follow through" in order to give their deaths meaning post hoc. It is dreadfully apparent from the Iraq Study Group report that Iraq isn't going to have a democracy in any meaningful time frame. Even if this administration does everything perfectly, the best-case scenario is that we might maintain the barest outlines of order.

Victory being out of the question at this point, the only democracy my brother is fighting for in Iraq is our democracy. The only constitution he is in Iraq fighting to defend is our Constitution>. If my brother dies, it will not be for a mistake but rather because of his deeply held belief that the time it takes us as a people to figure out through democratic processes that we are wrong is more important than his own life.

This places upon us an obligation. My brother and other service members living and dead have given us the sacred responsibility to use the democratic means we have at hand to bring judgment to bear on whether any given war is worth our soldiers' lives. [Emphasis mine-CK]

How much wiser is this soldier than those (cf. Gingrich, Newt and Goode, Virgil) who would abandon the constitution in search of political gain.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Have a revolutionary Christmas!

So, what should a leftist agnostic write about on Christmas?

First stipulation: I love the holiday, all the usual stuff, family, Christmas carols, Turkey, lights, presents, all that stuff.

Mostly though, I believe we should consider, the "reason for the season", as we're Oh so piously reminded on bumperstickers and on billboards.

Jesus, Yehoshua, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ.

I'm neither inclined, nor particularly qualified to argue strict questions of faith. But even an old skeptic like myself can appreciate the significance of Jesus' words.

EJ Dionne takes up the question of the revolutionary nature of Jesus teachings in a review of Allen Dwight Callahan's book, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible.

I strongly suggest you take two minutes and read the entire essay, but a sample:

Poor little Jesus boy

Made him to be born in a manger.

World treated him so mean

Treat me mean, too.
-Negro spiritual.

The poor, the outcasts, the slaves: If Jesus spoke to anyone, it was to them, and they have responded to him through the centuries. The African-American religious tradition is a blessing to all because it requires us to remember that Jesus of Nazareth really did revolutionize the world.

Have a happy revolution!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nukes, navies and national pride

The recent adoption by the UN of sanctions against Iran for pursuing its nuclear ambitions (whatever those are) got me thinking about the whys of nuclear power.

I suppose that I should stipulate that, not withstanding its protestations to the contrary, it seems to me that Iran would very much like to have nuclear weapons.

They live, after all, in a very dangerous neighborhood, with Israel's nukes the worst kept secret in the region.

But other reasons exist for Iran's desires to pursue nuclear capabilities, chief among them, and the reason Iran's leaders continue to have popular support on the issue, is simple national pride.

Modern day nukes are, in several ways, the equivalent of 17th-20th century navies.

The development of naval power was both a cause for the development of nation states like England, France and Spain, as well as an instrument for their further expansion.

Why? Because navies cost a lot of money. And since ancient Athens, were affordable by only those conglomerations of individuals we call states.

By the 17th century, using England as an example, a navy sufficient to protect its growing commercial interests could not be funded by royal revenues alone, but required national taxes granted by parliament.

And so it went, the need to protect commerce required bigger navies. The bigger navies encouraged the further development of commerce, both because the seas were safer and because the taxes required to pay for the navy needed more commerce.

And so on.

But regardless of strict economics, a nation's navy became the source of its national pride:

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

Britain's empire was a direct result of the dominance of its navy, the destruction of which, in WWs I and II, a major reason for the dissolution of that empire.

And while navies continue to provide a major way for a nation to extend its power, the real action in the 21st is, and apparently will continue to be, nuclear weapons.

If it has nuclear capabilities (e.g. Israel, North Korea), even the smallest nation can become a significant world actor. Even if it does nothing with them, just possessing nuclear weapons makes the rest of the world, even a superpower, take notice.

And Iran, through its long history, oil reserves (and the west's continued need for that oil) is already far from a minor player.

Since the overthrow of the Shah, a US puppet, and the fall of the Soviet Empire, Iran has increasingly taken on the role of the US' great enemy, fighting proxy wars of sorts in Israel/Lebanon/Palestine, and now in Iraq.

The Ayatollahs have, of course, always seen it that way.

But only recently, through the ongoing series of foreign policy failures that characterize BushCorp™, has the US needed to see it so as well.

No wonder then that Iran will not give up its nuclear ambitions.

Would Queen Victoria have given up her navy?

[Naval history courtesy of Love to Know]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Silence of the wingnuts

I remarked yesterday on the deafening silence with which the anti-American letter from congressman Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Dark Ages) was greeted.

So before I go about the rest of the day, a round of golf, a little shopping, a little tree trimming, I thought I'd spend some time poking around the blogosphere checking out how the major conservative blogs were reacting to this outrage against the American way of life.

Here goes.

(All times PST)

9:39AM-First let's peek in to the Captain's Quarters. Let's see...UN Corruption...North Korea...A blog about a NYTop-ed about an older NYT op-ed (how meta is that?)...Iraqi extremists. OK, so nothing from the Captain, but then he's all involved in The Big Picture. Obviously he wouldn't waste his time on anything so petty. Ah, but what's this post on Sandy Berger?

p9:44AM-Hugh Hewitt. Christmas and war! Hooray a winger's wet dream...A little link pandering (not that there's amuthing wrong with that)...Iran IN Afghanistan?!...2008 elections...Terror Alert! Terror Alert! Nevermind, that was thursday, in London. Guess Hugh's got better things to do as well.

9:50AM-Surely the boys at Powerline have something...Duke Lacrosse? Are you f***ing kidding?...Columbia Minutemen? (what month is this?)...WWII. Battle of the Bulge, gosh it looked bad for us then too...Finally a mention. Although the article's about Ellison...and CNN...and contradicts itself...Money quote:

I personally don't think that the issue of Ellison taking his oath of office on the Koran is a good one for conservatives to emphasize.
Ya think?

Moving on.

10:00AM-Red totally blank?

10:01AM-Professor Bainbridge..all right even I'm getting bored...Wine is good for you, great, but why am I craving vodka?...Donald v. Rosie, talk about lose/lose...Peanuts vid!...Harry Potter...Martha Stewart (yawn)...Yay good news for smaller mega-corps!...Surge, Prof's take: We don't need no stinking generals...

OK kids. I'd love to do more, but a half-hour of my life is about all I can stand nosing through the wingnutosphere.

I'll leave you with a question, if a wingnut congressman blatently espouses religious bigotry and other wingnuts ignore it, does it still make a sound?

Have a happy.

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Real Americans

In a timely example of what America is really about (as opposed to the bigoted, nativist examples shown by wingnuts like Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Dark Ages)), US muslims and jews join together to commemorate the holocaust. From the Washington Post:

Local Muslim leaders lit candles yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to commemorate Jewish suffering under the Nazis, in a ceremony held just days after Iran had a conference denying the genocide.

American Muslims "believe we have to learn the lessons of history and commit ourselves: Never again," said Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, standing before the eternal flame flickering from a black marble base that holds dirt from Nazi concentration camps.

It strikes me that what hope we have of surviving in this dangerous world comes the actions of people like those in the story.

It strikes me as ironic that those who most espouse American exceptionalism so often forget exactly what makes America so exceptional.

My prescription for getting that oily feel you get from rantings of the wingnut right?

Just read the whole story. Especially the last paragraph.

There is yet hope for us after all.

[H/t to Pete Abel.]

Intolerable intolerance

Providing further evidence that Republicans have no minimum intelligence requirements, previously unknown and soon to be forgotten congressman Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Dark Ages) appeals to the lowest common denominator.

In a letter to the knuckle-draggers among his Virginia constituents Mr. No Goode warns of the terrors inherent in letting a muslim congressman swear his oath of office on the holy book of his choosing, which, unsurprisingly, in his case happens to be the Koran:

In his letter, which was dated Dec. 5, Mr. Goode said that Americans needed to “wake up” or else there would “likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”

“I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped,” said Mr. Goode, who vowed to use the Bible when taking his own oath of office.

It never ceases to amaze me how the party which claims to be interested in protecting the "traditional values" of the constitution seems to breed members which rail against even the plainest interpretation of that document.

And while Democrats and rational people around the country are loudly complaining, the silence from the brahmins of the GOP is deafening.

Then again, I suppose I should be accustomed to massive hypocrisy from the Degenerate Old Party.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Conservative dog slapped on nose

I caught this quote the other day but didn't comment on it, though it truly deserves some.

This is conservative columnist John Derbyshire whining on his blog ay the conservative National Review:

"My health insurer has just notified me, in a brief form letter, that my monthly premiums are to rise from $472.33 to $857.00 on January 1st. That's an increase of 81 percent. ***E*I*G*H*T*Y*-*O*N*E* *P*E*R*C*E*N*T*** Can they do that? I called them. They sound pretty confident they can. Ye gods!"

He seems to have the hurt expression a dog gets when its master slaps its nose with a newspaper for (to the dog) no good reason.

Dontcha just love it when the vaunted free market's "invisible hand" slaps one of its own?

Blogging at Obsidian Wings, hilzoy has a nice rundown of some of the reaction and a few trenchant remarks herself.

Go read them here.

More military spending?

Take a look at this chart (click to expand).

Now read this paragraph (from wikipedia):

The current (2005) United States military budget is larger than the military budgets of the next fourteen biggest spenders combined, and nearly seven times larger than China's, which places second. The United States and its close allies are responsible for approximately two-thirds of all military spending on Earth (of which, in turn, the US is responsible for the majority), and spend 57 times more than the six rogue nations combined (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria). Military spending accounts for more than half of the United States' federal discretionary spending, which is all of the U.S. government's money not spoken for by pre-existing obligations.

In fact the US military budget is just a few billion short of that of the rest of the world combined.

Now keep this in mind and consider this news, the president wants to expand the military even further (from the CS Monitor):
Ground forces may not be as glamorous as high-tech weaponry, but they are expensive nonetheless. Each increment of 10,000 soldiers added to the Army costs just a tick over $1 billion, according to a service estimate.

Thus, adding 30,000 troops a year for two years, as proposed by a recent American Enterprise Institute study co-written by military expert Robert Kagan, would add more than $6 billion to the military budget at a time when the cost of the Iraq conflict is exceeding $6 billion per month.

In addition, more troops mean more long-term spending on equipment, training, and future benefits, says Gordon Adams, senior White House official for national security budgeting under President Bill Clinton.

Now, no military expert I, I am not willing to say whether additional troop strength is wise militarily or not, though given BushCorp™'s penchant for doing exactly the wrong thing at the exact wrong time, I have my doubts.


This is an excellent opportunity for congress to excersize pay as you go rules.

If more troops are critical to national defense then they should be approved, but only if the costs are offset my cuts in other military spending, or with additional taxes from the wealthy and the corporate masters whose interests our soldiers are protecting.

Any other move will be a tax (in the form of borrowing) on our children, or a tax (in the form of reduced social services) on the poor.

Neither is acceptable.

Image source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 18, 2006

The futility of the surge

Over at The Moderate Voice (always a valuable place to check out), Brij Khindaria has a nice rundown on why the much ballyhooed "surge" into Baghdad is a bogus hope at best.

Washington is giving serious thought to sending more than 20,000 troops to Baghdad mainly to militarily defeat the [60,000 man]Mahdi militia of the nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This could be America’s greatest blunder so far and also cause the world to see it as an act of desperation.

Supporters of this option hope it would strengthen Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s hands by removing a main obstacle to political deals among Iraqis. That would help to stabilize the country within two years, allowing the US to depart gracefully.

These supporters should take a slow breath and think through the issues. There is a real risk that the US troops will be held to a draw like the Israelis were by Hizbullah. The political effects would be the opposite of the supporters’ hopes. [Emphasis mine - CK]

Brij gives an excellent, plain English rundown on why the "surge" is folly. You should read the whole post.

And as I pointed out in my comment:

I see no hope of eliminating the Mahdi army threat without eliminating their base of support in Sadr city and elsewhere.

And I see little hope of that.

The Mahdi army is estimated at about 60,000, and as mentioned enjoys the support of the local community.

We're considering a 20,000 to 30,000 man force to combat them? (Although I suppose that would be in addition to whatever combat troops we have already stationed in and araound Baghdad: Does anyone know that number?)

It ssems to me that any US military options that might accomplish the goal of eliminating the Mahdi army are either unpalatable or impossible.

The type of house to house fighting essentially eliminates US technical superiority, I agree that airstrikes into Sadr City are entirely unacceptable.

The only option that it seems to me would work would be a massive and truly overwhelming clear and hold operation which would also disarm the entire non-military population of Baghdad as well as clear the entire country of hidden weapons caches and secure its borders.

No military expert I, but I suspect that would take rather more than 20-30 thousand additional troops.

And since NO-ONE (with the possible exception of Bill Kristol) could conceivably countenance a mission requiring, what, half a million troops?

It'll never happen.

As I've written elswhere, the "surge" is pure politics. Devoid of any strategic or tactical value beyond extending Bush's chimeric hope for "victory".

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Military Intelligence...

...really is an oxymoron.*

The DoD posted its counterinsurgency manual on the internets.


In fragging credible.

Do you get the feeling sometimes that we deserve to lose the GWoT?

Do you sometimes get the feeling we're too stupid to win?

The terrorists apparently believe so.

Then again, perhaps the manual is just a clever bit of disinformation, like we would ever actually use counter-insurgency tactics against them.

That'll show 'em.

*Thank you George Carlin

Worst. President. Ever.

And dangerous to boot.

James Wolcott has a nice round-up of opinions as to why we're totally f**ked under the current administration.

And unless Cheney goes too, impeachment gets us nowhere.

More's the pity.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bayh out, Edwards in

I've mostly shied away from talking too extensively about 2008, but I wanted to take note of Sen. Evan Bayh's announcement that he would not be seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination, as well as John Edward's spokesman's intimation that he will.

Clearly this is an example of the Obama effect of clearing out second tier candidates, at least those who haven't already been infected by the presidential campaign virus.

I call this the Obama effect rather than the Clinton/Obama effect because Hillary's been running since she cleared out the first lady's suite in 2000.

That 600 lb. gorilla's been in the room for 6 years, and didn't deter feelers from potential Bayh, Feingold or Warner campaigns.

But while a plausible case can be made for running against one gorilla, as the anti-gorilla candidate, who in their right mind would want to run against two?

And while Obama may not be up to 600 lbs. yet, I hear he's on one of those all-carb diets so loved by growing sumo wrestlers.

Though it doesn't show in his face.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Presidential parallels

The news that our OPEC masters are planning to lower oil production took me back to my youth in the early 70's, to bad haircuts, mediocre rock and roll, and gas lines around the corner.

Ahh, the good old days.

It also brought to mind the political situation back then and its present-day parallels.

President Bush is, apparently, fond of comparing himself to another president, Harry S Truman, which, given Bush's penchant for wishful thinking (e.g. his entire foreign and domestic policy), is hardly surprising.

From the Washington Post:

He led the United States into war and saw his popularity plummet, yet some 60 years later his reputation has never been higher: It's small wonder Harry S. Truman seems to hold a special fascination for President Bush these days.

I'll leave it to others to discuss why that comparison is a load of horses**t, but I would like to put forward my own, and I believe original presidential comparison.

The modern presidency which most closely parallels that of George W. Bush is that of


wait for it...

Gerald R. Ford.


Let me explain.

Gerald Ford took over the presidency after Nixon resigned in disgrace.

At that point in time Viet Nam was lost, Democrats controlled congress, and US and Republican credibility was at an all time low.

Ford himself was, by all accounts, a likeable guy, totally out of his depth, and totally ineffectual as president.

He was much more comfortable on a golf course than in the oval office.

Substitute the ranch for the links and he was, essentially, George W. Bush.

At least as Bush might have been had 9/11 not happened.

But 9/11 did happen. And Bush mislead us into war in LB Johnsonian fashion, and gathered the reigns of the imperial presidency in a manner that no doubt had Nixon smiling even as he burns in hell.

As I view it George W (though he might question the possibility) has evolved, albeit involuntarily, and has now become, after the last election, Gerald R. Ford: a (to some even still) likeable, ineffectual non-entity, marking time until he has to vacate the whitehouse in a few years.

How's that for a legacy?

The cost of war on the cheap

As I've mentioned, I don't know, about a gazillion times, the US spends almost as much on its military as THE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED.

But, in a clear example of the hoary Republican axiom that throwing money at a problem doesn't solve it, the US Army is near breaking.

From the Washington Post:

Warning that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations, the nation's top Army general yesterday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation's main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee-room table, saying the continuation of today's Pentagon policies is "not right."

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war "flat-footed" with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the "hollow Army," Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war. [Emphases mine-CK]

So much for the all-volunteer army.

So much for war on the credit-card cheap.

And in fact, as the redoubtable EJ Dionne points out (also in today's WaPo), the two are not unrelated:

Now we know that the decision to put the war on a credit card is not simply a moral question. The administration's failure to acknowledge the real costs of the war -- and to pay them -- has put it in a corner.

The president's options in Iraq are severely constrained because our military is too small for the foreign policy he is pursuing. Sending more troops would place even more excruciating burdens on members of our armed forces and their families. And the brass fears that an extended new commitment could, quite simply, break the Army.

Yet, instead of building up our military for a long engagement and levying the taxes to pay for such an enterprise, the administration kept issuing merry reports of progress in Iraq. Right through Election Day this year, the president continued to condemn anyone who dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should raise taxes to pay for this war.

But Bush will never raise taxes, or re-institue a draft for that matter.

To do so he would have to truly convince, not just the American public, but his backers among the US' financial elites, that the war in Iraq is worth the cost.

That he will never do.

Because even his staunchest supporters are beginning to realize (at last) that the war in Iraq really isn't worth the cost.

And never has been.

[UPDATE: And, as Kevin Drum points out, Schoomaker's request for a bigger army would make sense if the Army had a credible plan for using them to turn things around in Iraq. Which to his knowledge and mine, and anyone else's, it does not.]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

BushCorp™'s cynical Iraq scheme

A few recent news items have finally congealed in my brain to the point where (God help me) I think I understand what Bush is doing.

Item 1: Democrats take over congress in January.

Item 2: BushCorp™ is floating trial balloons hinting of an actual escalation in Iraq, with troop increases ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 being bandied about.

Item 3: Bush postpones his post-ISG report response until the new year.

Item 4: Bush is continuing to mouth his brilliant reasoning to the effect that he wants to justify the deaths and maimings that have already crippled and killed 10s of thousands of American troops, by sending in more troops to be killed and maimed.

So, what does this all mean?

Bush (or Rove) realizes that Iraq is lost and that all those deaths will inevitably weigh on the legacy he seems so concerned about.

How to salvage the situation?

Ask the new Democratic congress for massive levels of funding to support an enormous escalation in Iraq.

Democrats will then have the choice: either capitulate to Bush's demand for fear of being accused of not supporting the troops and despite the public's opposition to just such an escalation, or refuse and take the blame when Iraq decends, as surely it must, into further chaos.

I can already hear the Bushies (i.e. John McCain) 2 years hence whining that we could've won if only that cowardly Democratic congress had OKed one last big push.

So there you have it folks, that's my prediction for Bush's new grand strategy, which, you'll not be surprised, has nothing to do with dealing with Iraq, and everything to do with domestic politics.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grown-ups back in charge in congress?

Once upon a time Republicans liked to characterize themselves as the daddy party, the stern, clear-sighted paterfamilias who could defend our borders and balance our budgets and keep the nasty little kid nations in line.

Democrats where, of course, as belonging to the mommy party, sympathetic and well intentioned, but not hard-nosed enought to DO WHAT MUST BE DONE in this cold, cruel world.

Now I'm not EVEN going to get into a discussion of the sexism underlying those perceptions, except to point out, that like all such dunderheaded mis-characterizations, they are simply not true.

Regardless, the Republicans have clearly abandoned any claim to fiscal responsibility, and so I was very happy to read that Democrats are taking up the slack.

From the Washington Post:

Democratic leaders declared a temporary moratorium on special-interest provisions known as earmarks as they attempt to cope with a budget crisis left by the outgoing Republican-led 109th Congress.

What an incredible move. Seriously.

Not only are the Dems showing that they're serious about addressing the GOP-created budget crisis, they are also curtailing one of the most corruption-prone practices in government.

And, as Kevin Drum points out:
Since most of the earmarks are probably slated for Republican districts, this is both good policy and good politics.


And since the budget crisis was caused by GOPers in a snit about losing the last election, I find it quite appropriate that their pork projects are now off the table.

Ah schadenfreude, sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A dictator bites the dust

Bush's place in history is still (allegedly) up for grabs: bad president or Worst. President. Ever.

But Pinochet's is, I believe, quite solid.

And not in a good way.

The best thing I can say about Pinochet is that, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, he is still dead.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

LA-2nd Re-elects Corruption Plagued Representative

Striking a blow for corrupt politics as usual, Loisiana voters re-elected one of the nations most (non-Republican) congressmen, William Jefferson.

From the invaluable New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Guilty pleas by aides and associates who admitted to bribing the New Orleans Democrat, and the revelation in court documents that FBI agents had found $90,000 in marked bills in Jefferson's freezer, had prompted pundits to begin inking his political obituary.

Instead, Jefferson, 59, scored a decisive win largely by routing Carter in Jefferson Parish. That may have attested less to his appeal than to the power of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, whose bitter attacks on the challenger appeared to have been a factor in sharply suppressing turnout that Carter needed, especially among white voters.

I guess this is one for the, "sure, but he's OUR crook" file.

But then, I suppose, in Louisiana, a scandal just involving money isn't hardly any scandal at all.

(And by the way, be sure to follow the link to the NPR article on Harry Lee who's a true piece of work and no kidding.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Doomed from the start

I was sipping my first cup of coffee, the calming sound of a neighbor's leaf-blower wafting through my windows and clicking through when I came upon an article analyzing Iraqi reaction to the Baker Report.

The Iraq Study Group's prescriptions hinge on a fragile Iraqi government's ability to achieve national reconciliation and security at a time when the country is fractured along sectarian lines, its security forces are ineffective and competing visions threaten to collapse the state, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Wednesday.

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Which last sentence engendered this reaction.

No duh. We're acting in our perceived national self-interest?




Correct me if I'm wrong, but nations ALWAYS act in their own perceived best interest, even when that perception or the perceiver (let's call him the decider for example) is dead wrong.

Which is why the US expedition in Iraq was doomed from the beginning.

In a nation where public opinion really does matter, (and despite valid questions about corporate control of the media and voting irregularities US public opinion does still matter) public opinion must be reflected, however imperfectly, in national policy.

So, in the US, especially in an undertaking as costly as war, public opinion is vital to successfully conducting said war.

And the only way the US public could have supported THIS war is if the leadership is both honest about why it perceives a need to go to war, is willing to make an honest case to the American people about that need, and is willing to accept the public's judgment should they fail to make that case.

BushCorp™, of course, did none of these things.

WMD claims aside, the real, overwhelming need this administration perceived for invading Iraq was the belief that regime change was necessary to effect a democratic, pro-western transformation in the middle-east. The neo-con wet dream.

The WMD threat, it's since been shown, was just the excuse they could agree on with which to sell the war.

That being the case, the American public never had an opportunity to decide whether it had the stomach to support the real goals of this war, or an opportunity to recognize the potential real costs inherent in this war.

Now it can, I believe, truly be said, that the highest levels of this administration never truly understood those costs themselves. But it is also apparent that many elements of the government did.

But by falsely positing the reasons for war BushCorp™ avoided that debate.

And if you say that BushCorp™ had to mislead us, that the US would never have backed this war if it knew the real reasons for its inception or the terrible losses of blood and treasure it would entail, I would say that's exactly my point.

We'd never have started this mess in the first place.

And wouldn't that have been a good thing?

All the finger-pointing being done now that the Iraqi adventure has devolved into chaos worse than civil war, all the earnest analysts pointing out how we could have won if we'd dont this thing or that thing are missing the most important point.

By failing to be honest about the goals and reasons for this war, by failing to enlist public support for those goals and reasons,BushCorp™'s Iraqi expedition was doomed from the start.

And failure to recognize that truth would be the worst mistake of all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Man on the Moon

I can't seem to help myself. If there's one thing that still kicks my imagination and optimism for mankind into high gear it's the thought of space exploration.

Perhaps it was all that sci-fi I've read and watched over the years.

Or perhaps it's that as a child of the '60's my early childhood was bathed in the grainy glow and staticky radio of TV shots from space, and in 1969 those pictures from the moon.

And that first stunning picture of the big blue marble earth.

It may well be no undersatement that much of my perspective on life has been since informed by the spectacle of the stunning swirl of cloud and sea that is our home planet.

Its beauty.

Its fragility.

Its solitude.

So you can perhaps forgive, or at least comprehend my almost irrational enthusiasm when I heard that NASA plans to go back to the moon.

NASA unveiled plans yesterday to set up a small and ultimately self-sustaining settlement of astronauts at the south pole of the moon sometime around 2020 -- the first step in an ambitious plan to resume manned exploration of the solar system.

The long-awaited proposal envisions initial stays of a week by four-person crews, followed by gradually longer visits until power and other supplies are in place to make a permanent presence possible by 2024.

But while I am convinced such operations are more than worthwhile, I find myself doubting whether we can truly accomplish such goals any longer.

The space development of the 1960's was fueled largely by our competition with the Soviet Union for the dominance of space. Without the support of the DoD I wonder whether any US administration will really be interested in the enormous expenses involved, and counting on international support can be tricky indeed.

I'm also concerned that this project will come at the expense of other worthwhile, but more pure science projects.

And, frankly, this first step in Bush's proposed moon-Mars project, is endangered because of the president's current and past policies.

The massive debt he has accumulated over his term of office amounts to an enormous tax burden on future generations. The same generations which would also have to fund NASA's undertaking.

The press and the president are increasingly worried about the historical view of this presidency.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, seen by future generations, BushCorp™'s greatest failure was not the debacle in Iraq, but the debt burden that doomed mankind's exploration of space?

Monday, December 04, 2006

In other news, dog bites man...

I'm with Arianna on the shocking, shocking revelation in the NYT that, you'd better take a seat, that HILLARY CLINTON IS CONSIDERING RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!

OK, take a few deep breaths before we continue.



Actually the NYT article is a case in point on one (though not all) of the problems with Hill.

Hillary strikes me as Kerry redux, without his warm fuzzy charm.

My worry is that the Hill machine will suck all the air out of the nominating process, limiting the Democratic choices and chances.

I may or may not support Bayh, Vilsack, Obama, Richardson et al., but I'd damn well like to hear what they have to say and see how they respond to the pressures of a national campaign.

If she wins the nomination I'll vote for her (given the character of the potential Republican field to date I don't foresee any options there), but I'll do so with a weary sigh at best.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

An Intelligent Choice for Intelligence

Nancy Pelosi's choice of Sylvestre Reyes to head up the House Intelligence Committee strikes me as the right move for several reasons.

First and foremost is that Mr. Reyes, a former Border Patrol agent and Vietnam combat veteran, is also a stunch opponent of the Iraq war and can be expected to provide the one thing so sorely lacking in the current congress, rigorous oversight of BushCorp™.

Whatever else the 110th congress does, and given the very slim Democratic majority in the Senate chances for significant legislation seem slim, one thing the majority party can do, by virtue of its majority, is provide oversight for an administration that, for the last 6 years, has gone without.

And while Ms. Harmon, a backer of the Iraq debacle, may have expertise in intelligence, she has never demonstrated an ability or inclination to use that expertise to question BushCorp™'s most egregious behavior.

Further, by rejecting Alcee Hasting's bid for the chairmanship, Mrs. Pelosi has defined the one litmus test anyone should care about in a leader, personal integrity.

And several additional personal factors also recommend Mr. Reyes. As a combat veteran, Mr. Reyes represents the sort of personal acquantance with the military so successfully groomed in the various "fighting Democrats" the party has cultivated over the last election cycle. While as a former border patrol agent Mr. Reyes also has first hand experience dealing with this nation's problematic borders.

And finally, to be bluntly political, as an hispanic, Mr. Reyes represents an increasingly important growing voting bloc which is both desparately needed by Democrats and desparately coveted by Republicans, especially in the growing battleground states of the mountain west.

When BushCorp™ begins its inevitable pushback over the questions and criticism it will no doubt face from Mr. Reyes' committee, it can revert to the sort of personal attacks which have been heretofore its modus operandi.

But only at the Republican party's electoral peril.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Maybe Kim Jung Il is a Supporter?

Another item for the you knew this already file.

A university researcher has found a correlation between insanity and support for Bush.

From the New Haven Advocate:

The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’” [Emphasis mine - CK]

I can't wait to see the wedge issues the GOPers will drum up to cater to their new special interest group.

A constitutional amendment to put the "straight" back into straight jackets?