Thursday, May 31, 2007

National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


During his Tuesday interview with Al Gore, Keith Olbermann referred to America's continued state of fear as "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder".

And while that might be somewhat overstating the thing, certainly the government and the MSM still seems, earnest in its attempts to keep the public looking over its collective shoulders (c.f. today's hysteria over the great TB scare).

Certainly though it does sometimes seem that, in addition to non-Texan hot sauce, the biggest import from NEW YORK CITY?! is the paranoid spirit behind its "See Something, Say Something" campaign.

For the latest expression of American PTSD (APTSD) we go to an innocent looking fax machine in Ashland, Mass. From the AP:

ASHLAND, Mass. --A faulty bank fax printed a message that was misinterpreted as a bomb threat Wednesday, leading authorities to evacuate more than a dozen neighboring businesses and a day care center.

The branch manager of the Bank of America called police about 10 a.m. after receiving a fax containing images of a lit match and a bomb with a fuse, bank spokesman Ernesto Anguilla said.



I have no idea how to break the media of its love affair with scary stories, but it would help if individuals at least recognized them for what they are, sensational attempts to garner ratings being promoted out of all proportion to their real importance in our daily lives.

Dying for nothing

In his op-ed in the WaPo Harold Meyerson succinctly sums up the futility of our occupation of Iraq:

We are fighting for a national government that is not national but sectarian, and has shown no capacity to govern. We are training Iraq's security forces to combat sectarian violence though those forces are thoroughly sectarian and have themselves engaged in large-scale sectarian violence. We are fighting for a nonsectarian, pluralistic Iraq, though whatever nonsectarian and pluralistic institutions existed before our invasion have long since been blasted out of existence. In the December 2005 parliamentary elections, the one nonsectarian party, which ran both Shiite and Sunni candidates, won just 8 percent of the vote.


In other news, Sisyphus, noting that he's half-way up the mountain, claims that his struggle with that damn rock is "in it's last throes".

Good economic news!

With first quarter economic news dour at best, it's good to know that some American industries are thriving.

TB scare: typical balanced media response

With my internet connection temporarily down, I had the distinct, um, pleasure, of getting my morning news fix from cable.

Apparently the nation is about to be hit by a devastating outbreak of untreatable tuberculosis, causing, judging from the wall to wall coverage, deaths in the millions.

Or not.

Amid all the breathless coverage bewailing how someone so infected could slip through the security dragnet that envelops the US (or, at least it seems, should), one quote seems to be missing:

"We believe that his degree of infectiousness is quite low," Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told a news conference.

Whew, I feel better already. Be a shame if the country got distracted all worked up about a non-threat, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Pasadena favorite son

Your CaliBlogger's lived in Pasadena for going on four years now, which, by California standards, makes him a "native".

That being the case I feel obligated to engage in a wee bit of local boosterism.

Pasadena is well known for the parade and the bowl game, and is as well home to Caltech and JPL (sidenote: because of this latter, don't be surprised if you confront a loudmouth standing next to you in line at the Laemmle when he responds that yes, he is a rocket scientist thank you).

And for such a relatively small city (approximately 140,000) Pasadena has been birthplace or home to some remarkable individuals. Actress Sally (yes we really do like you) Field, cooking show grande dame Julia Child, and renowned director Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz) were born here.

Jackie Robinson moved here when he was 1 and graduated from Pasadena's John Muir High School before going on to break Major League Baseball's color barrier. And General George S. Patton was born in neighboring San Gabriel, his father serving as Pasadena's first City Attorney.

To this illustrious group we can now add a, perhaps, future president, Bill Richardson.

As it turns out Richardson, who formally announced his candidacy yesterday, was born at Pasadena's venerable Huntington Hospital. Not that he hung out for long. Joel Achenbach writes in the Washington Post:

The Constitution limits the presidency to people born in the United States. Richardson meets that provision only because his father sent his mother by train to California just before she went into labor. He was born in Pasadena, Calif. Then his mother took him promptly back to Mexico City.

"My father had a complex about not having been born in the United States," Richardson said. His father, son of a biologist who collected museum specimens, had been born on a boat heading to Nicaragua. "If my father didn't have this complex, I wouldn't be able to run for president. I wish I'd thanked him. One of the regrets I always have is that I never thanked him."


But despite the self-acknowledged paucity of his SoCal roots ("My roots are about three hours"), it's no surprise that Governor Richardson decided to make his announcement in LA. As Dan Schnur notes in the LA Times:

But Richardson's problem is that Latino voters don't know he's Latino. And although there's no guarantee that they will vote for him simply because of his ethnicity, his trailblazing endeavor would certainly bring him a much greater share of attention from the nation's fastest-growing minority community once they do find out.

So rather than an Iowa cornfield or a New Hampshire gymnasium, or even his home state, which has the largest percentage of Latino residents — 43% — he came to Los Angeles. California's earlier Feb. 5 primary has inflated the importance of the state's role in the nomination process, but the driving force behind Richardson's unusual announcement location is the growing role of Latino voters in American politics.


And despite his short tenure hear in the Rose City, should bill Richardson manage to win the uphill battle he faces for the Democratic presidential nomination, I have no doubt Pasadena will happily claim him as a favorite son.

[P.s. If you haven't yet seen Richardson's terrific (and funny) campaign ads be sure to check them out here.]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Good news in Iraq?

Unsurprisingly for a foreign policy whose main point of consistency is its subservience to the law of unintended consequences, the Iraq escalation surge may actually be working, sort of.

Ostensibly intended to give the Iraqi government breathing room (or at least vacation time) in which to seek the political compromises EVERYBODY recognizes to be necessary to a reasonably peaceful Iraq, the surge may be assisting one of the militias we are ostensibly battling.

But while the ineffectual government appears no closer to resolving the differences between the various factions in Iraq, another group is, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

From the Washington Post:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr's image and position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.

"We want to aim the guns against the occupation and al-Qaeda, not between Iraqis," Ahmed Shaibani, 37, a cleric who leads Sadr's newly formed reconciliation committee, said as he sat inside Sadr's heavily guarded compound here.


Whether Sadr can be successful in his attempts to reach out to Sunnis is far from a settled question. But given that his Mahdi Army, now lying low during the American surge in order to let the US do his dirty work for him, represents the largest indigenous Iraqi military force and holds sway over a far larger portion of Iraq than does the Iraqi government which can barely govern the heavily barricaded Green Zone, little less the rest of the country, Sadr's initiative needs to be taken seriously.

But should Sadr be successful one wonders how the US will react. Would we continue to support the beleaguered Iraqi government against a combined Sadrist-Sunni force?

Would we want to?

Or, will BushCorp™, desperate to extricate itself from this quagmire of its own making, accept a new strongman to replace Saddam?

Should it?

Friday, May 18, 2007

An endgame for the American empire

For the past few days I've been meaning to mention a must-read article by author and UC San Diego professor emeritus Chalmers Johnson, but with scandals and revelations about the Bush administration coming at an hour to hour clip it's been hard to find the time.

None the less, professor Johnson's analysis of the state of the nation and its place in the world is a must read for those who hold hope that the dream of America can yet be salvaged, though his prescription isn't easy:

I believe that there is only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.


Professor Johnson's article at TomDispatch should be READ IN FULL, as should Tom Engelhardt's introduction.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thanks for playing and we hope you enjoy these lovely parting gifts.

Much like when Al Capone got sent up the river, not for murder or racketeering, but for tax evasion, key Iraq war designer and cheerleader Paul Wolfowitz gets the boot from the World Bank.

Too bad Wolfy won't have the opportunity to be further pilloried for his crimes in the run-up to the war in Iraq, but oh well, gone is gone.

Would you torture?

By the way, as a public service to Democratic presidential candidates (and Republicans too, if they would only listen), a good response to the Jack Bauer terrorism question does exist:

  1. As president I would use every and all means available to the the most powerful nation on the planet to prevent and respond to any attack on the United States.
  2. That being said, I would never seek short-term political benefit from using means that denigrate the memory and sacrifice of all those American patriots who have died in the name of liberty.
Further points can follow about the unlikelihood of the "24" scenario, the ineffectiveness of torture as a means to elicit truthful information, and the corrosive effect torture has not only on its victims, but on those that practice it, both the torturers and the nation they represent.

But the most powerful points must be made first, let me repeat:

  1. As president I would use every and all means available to the the most powerful nation on the planet to prevent and respond to any attack on the United States.
  2. That being said, I would never seek short-term political benefit from using means that denigrate the memory and sacrifice of all those American patriots who have died in the name of liberty.
Your CaliBlogger will never vote for or support any candidate who would say less.

UPDATE: I posted the above in the comments section over at Kevin Drumm's site in a discussion of the ethics of torture and asked for better suggestions, here's a response I received from lampwick:

What's wrong with your hypothetical response is that it's not emotionally satisfying at all; it's cliched and cerebral, like Dukakis' reaction when asked about how he would respond to news that his wife had been raped.

An emotionally satisfying answer would be 'No one under my command will torture enemy prisoners. Period. End of discussion' or 'Many Americans believe in the existence of the devil. Torture is pure evil, it is the devil's work, and I abhor and reject it.'


Cliched and cerebral? Moi?

But seriously, while I don't believe l's first suggestion to be sufficient for a hypothetical debate setting (as opposed to orders to one's generals, where it would be entirely appropriate) I think the second suggestion has some merit, especially when trying to appeal to that apparently large majority of Americans who believe in Evil with a capital E.

GOP debate: Big win for ignorance and torture

Two points on the GOP debate.

First, I find it incredible that the Fox audience, and the vast majority of MSM commentators, applauded Giuliani's take-down of Ron Paul for suggesting that al Qaeda's attacks were in some way a reaction to US policy in the mid-east.

The distance from reality that suggests is truly scary.

Further, I'm stunned at just how many people seem to be OK with torture. Not surprised mind you, I've always suspected that the lip service pay to freedom and the rule of law was about as deep as a yellow ribbon.

But for those of you who think American values has meaning beyond militarism, corporatism and gay-bashing, I recommend a couple of articles, yet again, exposing the damage torture does to both the tortured and the torturers.

Though I'm not a big believer in Evil since I think that minimizes the extent to which average people can commit acts that are themselves evil, Andrew Sullivan makes the case that torture is not only evil, but represents a threat to America which no terrorist could possibly match.

The evil of torture is therefore not just a moral one. It is a political one. A constitutional republic dedicated before everything to the protection of liberty cannot legalize torture and remain a constitutional republic. It imports into itself a tumor of pure tyranny. That tumor, we know from history, always always spreads, as it has spread in the US military these past shameful years. The fact that hefty proportions of US soldiers now support its use as a routine matter reveals how deep the rot has already gone. The fact that now a majority of Republican candidates proudly support such torture has rendered the GOP the party most inimical to liberty in America. When you combine torture's evil with the claims of the hard right that a president can ignore all laws and all treaties in wartime, and that "wartime" is now permanent, you have laid the ground for the abolition of the American experiment in self-government. Imagine another terror attack, with Rudy Giuliani as president, and a mandate to arrest and torture at will, with no need to follow or even address the rule of law. We would no longer be a republic. We would be in a protectorate of one man.


And in the Washington Post, no lesser personages than former Marine Commandant Charles C. Krulak and former Central Command commander-in-chief Joseph P. Hoar provide an analysis of how the use of torture both degrades our military and succors the terrorists.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the "recuperative power" of the terrorist enemy.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its "recuperative power."

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.


Both pieces should be read in full, and frankly memorized if possible. As the GOP debate showed, significant portions of our country are still ruled by fear and misinformation from those who seek to use that fear for their own political benefit.

But fear can be combated, not with bravado and volume, but with reason and knowledge. And for those of us in the reality-based world, reason and knowledge serve as our best armor against the forces within America which would betray its promise for an illusory promise of safety.

[And kudos to John McCain, for standing against torture. How has the GOP fallen that such a stand would be controversial?]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gonzales-gate: I can hardly wait for the sequel

Interrogator: Sign ze papers old man.
Prisoner: I can not sign ze papers.
Interrogator: You must sign ze papers! Why will you not sign ze papers?!
Prisoner: Because you have broken both my hands!

[Stolen Adapted from Cheech and Chong]


In a tale fit for a Tom Clancy novel, or perhaps a dope-inspired comedy, routine your current Attorney General and former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez (I'm thinking Benicio del Toro for the movie), along with his co-conspirator White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (I see James Woods in the role) wend their way to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft (sure the black thing might be a problem, but I'm rooting for James Earl Jones). Meanwhile, racing from his office at the DoJ, Deputy Attorney General (and acting AG) Jim Comey (in the Harrison Ford role) fights the clock in a desperate attempt to intercept the evil-doers before they can reach his boss' bed.

I can see it now, the quick cuts from Comey's speeding car to the random beeps of hospital monitors, to the steady incessant footsteps of the villains. Indeed, very cinematic.

And I suspect that's what presents the crux of the problem for Gonzales. The recent investigations into the corrupt politicization of the Department of Justice are, I suspect, a little too arcane to capture and hold the public's attention.

But how's this for a narrative that'll hold your attention. Mr. Comey, against all odds (while still obeying all traffic laws - he's that kind of guy) beats Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft's bed in the ICU. Dana Milbank takes up the narrative in the Washington Post:

"The door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card," Comey told the spellbound senators. "They came over and stood by the bed." They wanted Ashcroft to sign off on an eavesdropping plan that Comey and others at the Justice Department had already called legally indefensible.

Ashcroft "lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter" -- that Comey was right. "And as he laid back down, he said, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general. There is the attorney general.' And he pointed to me."

Gonzales and Card "did not acknowledge me," Comey testified. "They turned and walked from the room."


Fade/dissolve to congressional hearings where Comey testifies to a stunned panel of Senators"

"I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man," Comey told the quiet chamber. His voice grew thick and he cleared his throat as he explained how he prepared to resign. "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis."


Pretty gripping stuff you'll agree.

I can hardly wait for the movie.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell is dead

You know it's odd, but when someone like Rev. Falwell dies, and even though I don't believe in them, I can't help but sometimes wish that heaven and hell truly did exist.

Just so that people like Mr. Falwell can reap the eternal reward they so richly deserve.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dying for the status quo

Why we fight?

In an article that encapsulates stuff you already knew about Iraq but never expressed in so many words McClatchy lays it out: Our soldiers are dying to maintain the current positions of Iraqi politicians who are incapable of compromise because they are too jealous of their own current status and the narrow interests of their own power base.

And be clear this is not just a Sunni vs. Shia thing, but is caused by the divisions within those groups as well as with the Kurdish Iraqis.

U.S. officials warn that the longer the impasse persists over laws on provincial elections and the distribution of Iraq’s oil wealth among Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Sunnis, the greater the risk that the surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops into Baghdad, which is intended to provide a security umbrella for political reforms, will be for naught.

Until the political feuding ends, “we are just maintaining the status quo,” said a U.S. military official who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.


The whole sad article should be read in full to appreciate the futility of our current engagement in Iraq.

But can I, once again, point out the glaringly obvious?

The only way to change a stalemate is to change the facts on the ground. That being said I see no reason to revise my earlier analysis of "the surge": it's too little, too late.

Insanity, it is said, may be defined as the expectation that repeating the same behavior will somehow yield different results.

How then can a sane person defend allowing the current Iraqi ruling class the continuing luxury of using American soldiers as shields from their own unwillingness to compromise with one another?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

More Kurt Vonnegut

As I mentioned when I first heard of his death, I was, and remain, incapable of properly eulogizing one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut.

I am, happily, quite capable of linking to interesting articles about him.

Case in point, this article from the Onion AV Club: 15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will


Enjoy.

Bill Richardson's job interview

Ever have a tune float around in your head for no apparent reason? Happens to me all the time. Sometimes for long periods of time.

In fact for most of this winter I've been walking around with the strains of California Dreamin' whisping about my brain.

Well, like all those brown leaves and gray skies, another thought keeps echoing in my mind, gosh its too bad Bill Richardson is stuck in the second tier of candidates 'cos, whatever his deficiencies as a campaigner, he'd sure make a good president.

I find it heartening that the governor has, at the very least, some very smart media people working for him.

And, as I've mentioned before, after 8 years of a know-nothing presidency, the country could really use a president who has a clue. Couldn't it?

So with no further ado, but with help from this new-fangled YouTube thingy, a couple more looks at Bill Richardson. (H/t Andrew Sullivan).



I find it heartening that the governor has, at the very least, some very smart media people working for him.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Katrina revisited

I just wanted to note an article in the Post by John M. Barry about the nation's still inadequate response to hurricane Katrina. His article should be read in full, but his main point is that much of the continued devastation still being faced by the gulf coast is the result of infrastructure changes (levees, canals) to the Mississippi river made for the benefit of the nation as a whole rather than to Louisiana in particular. That being the case, not only is it the nation's responsibility to amend these effects, but also it is the nation as a whole that will suffer if changes are not made (though certainly Louisiana will suffer most directly.

Like I said, read the article.

Also, in other Louisiana news, outgoing governor Kathleen Blanco expresses her outrage at the Federal government's continued foot-dragging response to the needs of Katarina's victims.

"It's all political," she began. "You know, this country's run on politics. But when a disaster comes that is not what you expect, you expect a human reaction, not a political reaction. And I will tell you, there's a void," Blanco drawled, "a total void of human response. And it's extremely discouraging as an American citizen. It makes me angry and extremely disappointed."

[snip]

The experience of securing that funding and trying to get access to it has not been pleasant. "I absolutely hated the idea of having to go to Washington, D.C., to deal with the last Congress, because their attitude was brutal," she said. "The old Congress made us feel like we were pretty stupid for standing in the way of the hurricane and that we were asking for far too much assistance.

"They ignored the fact that it wasn't the hurricane, per se, that caused our damage," Blanco explained in a forceful, yet measured, tone. "It was the failure, an engineering failure, of the federal levees that caused our enormous grief. If we had not had levee failures, people would have walked home, and today we would not even be sitting here talking about it." She did say the new Congress was "definitely more interested in trying to help us."


No doubt the Iraq war will remain BushCorp™'s signature disaster, but the politicization of government agencies whose missions should make them apolitical (FEMA, Justice, etc.) are the starkest domestic evidence of the failures of Bushite Republicanism.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Condi's weapons of mass distraction


One of my new favoritist websites is Watching America which features translated articles from the foreign press.

The views the world press hold of the US can be eye-opening, alarming, refreshing, and, on occasion, amusing. From Al Anbat, Jordan:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fled before sitting down next to American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The reason given for his departure was the red see-through dress worn by a violinist who performed at dinner. The dress apparently offended the dignity of Mottaki, who is said to be a deeply religious politician. According to the media at Sharm al-Sheikh, this was the reason that there was no rapprochement or meeting between Mottaki and Rice.

We are not necessarily convinced by this explanation. We have followed carefully the mutually destructive war that has been raging between Washington and Tehran, and it must be said that if we were to accept this theory, one would have to conclude that mutual understanding between the United States and Iran will be impossible so long as there is an American Secretary of State who wears miniskirts … and who shows her legs and her bust to those sitting near her. Naturally, this would result in unequal negotiations between Rice and Mottaki because the Minister would be at a loss as his eyes wandered from her mind to her legs!!


The tone of the article is firmly tongue in cheek, but it does illustrate one of the problems facing the west in its contacts with fundamentalist Islam, its rather peculiar, some would say barbaric (to western minds anyway) view of a woman's place in society.

What I find most heartening though is that this article appeared in a newspaper based in Jordan which, though gingerly allied with the US, is none-the-less still a state with a dominantly Islamic population. I feel a strange bit of the kinship with an author mocking the most extreme of his coreligionists.

It somehow gives me hope.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Permanent Vacation

So, Darth Cheney visited Iraq to urge lawmakers there to forgo their usual 2 month summer vacation.

"I'll be blunt: I told some of the Iraqis with whom I met that we are buying them [time] for political reconciliation, and that every day we buy it with American blood," [Defense Secretary Robert M.]Gates said at a Senate hearing Wednesday. "For this group to go out for two months, it would, in my opinion, be unacceptable."


Unacceptable to say the least.

But what really sticks in your CaliBlogger's craw is the fact that this is the first time since the invasion they have been asked to do so.

Which means that since the general election of 2005 the Iraqi legislature has enjoyed 2 two-month vacations.

During its July and August vacation in 2005 139 American soldiers died, during the same period in 2006 the number of American deaths was 108.

247 Americans died in Iraq while its government was out of town.

And despite the much vaunted surge, expectations are that the level of violence will hold steady, if not escalate in the coming months.

But whether or not the Iraqi's heed dead-eye Dick's admonition to not play hooky this year, as William Arkin points out, the Iraqi National Congress is so ineffectual even when it is nominally in session that their presence or absence makes little real difference.

Which, in a nutshell, is why Bush's hopes for "victory" continue to prove so elusive.

No-one, not the military, certainly not the majority of Americans, not even the Republicans in congress, no-one but believes that the chaos in Iraq demands a political solution. Military activity can only buy an ever shrinking amount of time. And BushCorp™, in its wisdom, has thrown in its lot with a group of politicians who have made the GOP do-nothing congress of the last six years look like a beehive of activity.

Meanwhile 3,384 American men and women, soldiers and Marines, have been sent on a permanent, one might say eternal vacation.

[Mortality statistics thanks to icasualties.org]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fighting them over there

As you may or may not know, MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann has, over the last year or so, has become a go to news show for left wing moonbats across this great land of ours.

One of your CaliBlogger's favorite segments is the "Worst Person in the World" bit wherein Keith lists the most egregiously offensive words and actions from the day's news. Done with tongue firmly in cheek, as is much of Keith's show, "Worst Person in the World" frequently quotes noted wingnut figures such as Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and others of that ilk, using their own words against them.

The May 8th segment (link to video here) culminated in a quote from Fox "News" commentator Dick Morris. For those who might not be aware of Morris' history he provides ample evidence that, gender aside, hell hath no fury to match a political hack scorned.

(Morris, a former Clinton operative, resigned in disgrace after revelations that he let the prostitute with whom he was having an extra-marital affair, listen in on conversations between himself and president Clinton. Since which time he has become a vehement critic of the Clintons, and a go to guy when rightwing outfits like Fox need a Democrat to criticize Democrats or provide BushCorp with bi-partisan cover (for other examples of the type see Lieberman, Joe and Miller, Zell).)

If you watch the video, Keith is quoting from statements Morris made on the May 7th edition of Hannity & Colmes in a discussion of Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri's recently released video about the war in Iraq, in which Zawahiri claims that Democratic efforts to withdraw US troops from Iraq would "deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces which we have caught in a historic trap".

Morris' reaction? From News Hounds:

Staying in Iraq, Morris continued, "gives (Al Qaeda) the opportunity to kill more Americans which they really like." Morris made the dubious assertion that it's better to have Americans stay in Iraq because it's easier for terrorists to kill them there. "They don't have to come to Wall Street to kill Americans… And convenience is a big factor when you're a terrorist." [Emphasis mine-CK]


And while both Olbermann and News Hounds mock Morris for his idiotic statements, I would suggest we ponder the truth behind these words: that, al Qaeda strategy notwithstanding, BushCorp certainly seems intent on making it easier to kill the innocent.

From an article in today's Washington Post discussing the results of the recent escalation surge:

Commanders said that even with the ongoing increase in Iraq of tens of thousands of American troops, violence could increase in coming months, and some indicators in Baghdad suggest that is already happening.

Partial data on attacks gathered from five U.S. brigades operating in Baghdad showed that total attacks since the new strategy began in February were either steady or increasing. In some cases, certain kinds of attacks dipped as the U.S. troop increase began, only to begin rising again in recent weeks. Overall, "the number of attacks has stayed relatively constant" in Baghdad, said one U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted by name.

The U.S. military commands that oversee Baghdad and Iraq as a whole have so far failed to meet requests to release current statistics on attack trends, with some U.S. officers voicing concern that the information would be skewed by critics to argue that the strategy is not working


So, the surge will, by the military's own admission, have the net effect of increasing the carnage in Iraq.

In fact it seems increasingly obvious the only thing really being accomplished by current policy (aside from giving war apologists an excuse to call for yet another Friedman Unit's worth of patience) is to increase the number of American targets in Iraq.

See, Morris is right, we're making it more convenient for terrorists to kill us over there. Gosh, with all those targets walking around withing sniper range, we're keeping al Qaeda just too darn busy to attack us here.

And just think, if we stopped providing them targets, all those darn terrorists would just be sitting around idly with nothing to do.

One can only wonder what sort of mischief they'd get up to then.

So you see, it's important we fight them over there, just like Dick Morris says.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The costs of war

One of the most intriguing aspects of the war in Iraq, aside from the misinformation which served as its raison d'etre and the incompetence with which its been run, has been its impact on the average citizen: zero.

Fought by an "all-volunteer" army (stop-loss aside) and financed by the national credit card of foreign debt, BushCorp™'s war of choice has had strikingly little impact on most US citizens.

But hidden though they have been, the costs of war are beginning to dawn on the American people, at least some of them.

And I don't mean that I believe my fellow Americans have come to a belated understanding of this geo-political disaster's ramifications for America's standing on the world stage.

What I mean is this (from McClatchy):


With much of their equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, state National Guards face profound shortages in responding to natural disasters, particularly as they get ready for the hurricane season, which begins June 1.

The Guard has been shipping gear to hurricane-prone states in an effort to ease concerns, but a large disaster affecting several states would tax the Guard's ability to respond, according to National Guard officials and government reports. Some deficiencies aren't correctable. The Texas National Guard's helicopters, for example, are in Iraq and can't be replaced easily.

The potential impact of the equipment shortages became apparent over the weekend when a tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the state's National Guard couldn't respond as quickly as it should have because much of its equipment is overseas. About 300 Kansas National Guardsmen have been sent to Greensburg.

"Fifty percent of our trucks are gone. Our front loaders are gone. We are missing Humvees that move people," Sebelius told NBC's "Today" show. "We can't borrow them from other states because their equipment is gone. It's a huge issue for states across the country to respond to disasters like this."

That problem is likely to worsen in the event of a major hurricane, which generally affects a much larger area than a tornado does. Guard officials in hurricane-prone states say they're ready, but only if they can get help from other states. That will slow critical response times, emergency managers say.


We got a taste of things to come with Katrina, but the top to bottom incompetence of the emergency response served to mask the effect the depletion of national guard personnel and equipment had on the disastrous disaster relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. "Heckofa job" Brownie's incompetence is a gift that just keeps on giving.

Your Caliblogger finds it especially ironic that shortages of Guardsmen and equipment are most acute in the states of the deep south most supportive of the president's warmongering:

In interviews with McClatchy Newspapers, National Guard representatives in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas said they had at least 50 percent of the equipment they needed. Only North Carolina officials said they expected to have all the equipment they needed by June 1.

Those hurricane-prone states also benefit because most of their Guard units aren't currently in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Alabama is in the weakest position, with 4,000 of its 11,400 Air and Army National Guard deployed, or about to be, overseas. Total deployments for the other states total only about 2,000, state National Guard officers said.


And as global warming (now generally accepted as fact, Bush's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) increases the intensity of any hurricanes that might impact these states, one wonders just how bad the suffering will have to get after the next national disaster before Bush loses the support of the die-hard 28% who still support him.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cool covers

Jesus' General has a very manly post up featuring a player and a great list of cover songs.

No it's not political, though, as always with the general with the songs all rate an 11 on the scale of absolute gender.

Check 'em out here.

And while you're at it drop a dime in the General's tip jar. Bandwidth ain't cheap.

How to deal with a giant talking head

How could I possibly pass up an article titled: Sweet Jesus I love Bill O'Reilly!?

I couldn't.

The LA times op-ed is Rosa Brooks' account of how her appearances on BillO's show landed her a job as a columnist at the Times.

You see, I am probably the only member of the Left-Wing Media who can truly say that I owe my career in punditry in part to O'Reilly.

Here's how it happened. Two years ago, I was not a member of the Left-Wing Media. I was just a lowly member of a somewhat different left-wing conspiracy, otherwise known as academia, from whence I wrote the occasional radical Op-Ed article, supported various far-left causes and strove ceaselessly to poison the minds of young Americans.

It was hard but rewarding work. Then one day, I got a call inviting me on to "The O'Reilly Factor" as live bait — excuse me, as a "guest." Because I was perhaps the only person in North America who had never actually seen the show, I foolishly agreed.


After a couple of appearances where she served as Bill's liberal punching bag, Ms. Brooks came to the realization that no-one talking with O'Reilly will ever win the shouting matches he initiates and which serve as "debate" on his show.

Michael Kinsley, who was then Times' editorial page editor was so impressed by her calm performance in the face of the huge gusting windbag that he invited her to write a column for the paper.

How was Ms. Brooks able to counter Bill's bombastic bullying?

I emerged from the [first] experience bloody but still unbowed (we radical leftists are a scrappy lot, when we're not advocating surrender to terrorists). And I was invited back.

This time, I practiced beforehand with my overtired toddler. She'd shriek out meaningless invective, and I'd just keep talking calmly. It must have helped, because by my third O'Reilly appearance, I made it through with hardly a scratch. Bill, though, was spluttering madly.

The "topic" that third time was members of the "left-leaning press," such as Michael Kinsley, then-editorial page editor of The Times who — unlike Bill — failed to fully appreciate the terrorist threat (as evidenced by an unpatriotic desire to provide Guantanamo detainees with due process). Bill suggested that Kinsley might find pedagogical value in having his head chopped off by terrorists. I upbraided Bill for going soft and explained that I'd figured him more as a boiling-in-oil kind of guy. Bill appeared disconcerted and abashed and assured me that he, personally, would "never do that to Mr. Kinsley."


Mr. Kinsley's invitation came the next day.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Army ethics

The Washington Post today reports on an Army study showing a lack of ethics as well as an increase in mental health problems among the soldiers fighting the futile war in Iraq.

More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.

In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey -- conducted in Iraq last fall -- reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.


Incredibly, in a statement that would be hilarious if it wasn't so blindingly stupid, the Army's Surgeon General tries to spin this as good news:

"What it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they're not acting on those thoughts," she said. "They're not torturing the people."


Except, of course, when they are.

As reported in the Post, the Army survey apparently cites the over-extension of US forces as a factor in the increase of mental health problems also cited in the report, but doesn't offer insights into the "why" of the ethical lapses mentioned above.

I have two theories.

The first is that soldier's attitudes reflect those of the American public generally, let's call it the 24 effect, the belief that, as we see weekly with Jack Bauer, torture can be necessary and effective in some circumstances. That every non-armchair interrogator disagrees with this belief is beside the point. Torture is ingrained as acceptable, sometimes.

My second theory is that the soldiers are reflecting the feelings of their leadership. Regardless of what the Army manual says, soldiers are people, and as such are adept at reading between the lines of their superiors' instructions. When every superior up to and including the president treats torture with the mealy-mouthed wink-wink, nudge-nudge of administration weasel words about "enhanced interrogation techniques" do we expect soldiers to ignore that reality?

A fish, as they say, rots from the head down.

With the Bush administration and, as is increasingly obvious from recent investigations of the DoD, GAO, (and even Fish and Wildlife for Chrissake!), we're dealing with some very stinky fish.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Republicans vie to choose 2008 presidential loser

A confession, I didn't watch the Republican debate last night.

I tried to, but I just couldn't, clicking off half way through Giuliani's first remark. I don't recall either the question or his answer, but I knew that moment that the next 90 minutes was going to be hell.

So, unlike all those rightwing parents out there who seem unable to do so, I clicked off the objectionable programming, opting instead for watching Anthony Bourdain snark his way through Malaysia (though truth be told, Mr. Bourdain was uncharacteristically unsnarky for this particular episode).

Now I realize that it's terribly intellectually dishonest of me not to give the opposition a chance to explain their positions on the myriad challenges facing our nation: how they would extricate us from the mess in Mesopotamia, how they would address our failing health care system, how they'd address the burgeoning potential disaster of global warming.

It turns out I needn't have bothered.

Apparently what I really missed was a 90-minute paean to Ronald Reagan, the last Republican anyone really liked.

From the Carpetbagger Report:

After any debate, the first and most natural question is “who won?” Last night, the winner was obvious: Ronald Reagan.

Look, I know Reagan is the only president of the 20th century that Republicans really like. And I know that the debate was being held at the Reagan Library in California. But over the course of 90 minutes, the candidates specifically referenced the 40th president 20 times. If you count more oblique references (Gilmore thanked “the president in whose name this library is named”), the number climbs to 25. If you include references to Reagan by debate moderator Chris Matthews, well, we get pretty close to triple digits.


And who was the loser? By the same reasoning it was George W. Bush. The leader of today's GOP garnered exactly zero mentions by his aspiring successors. (Seriously, I opened the transcript and did a ctrl+f search. The only references to W were my moderators, though one candidate mentioned HW and another mentioned Jeb).

What this tells me is that the GOP presidential candidates have no clue as to how to deal with the current state of the Republican party as it stands under Bush's decidership.

During today's WashingtonPost.com online chat I put that very question to Chris Cillizza:

Pasadena, Calif.[that's me]: Love your coverage Chris, love these chats. Six-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: Playing up Reagan seemed the obvious thing to do, but do you think any of these people have any clue as to how to deal with the, um, legacy being bequeathed to them by George W?

Chris Cillizza: It's a VERY fine line that all of these candidates have to walk.

On the one hand, expressing support for President Bush's surge in Iraq makes sense because most conservative Republicans -- those most likely to vote in primaries and caucuses -- still support the policy.

On the other, none of these candidates wants to be seen as the Bush heir in the race if they wind up becoming the nominee.

The challenge for every Republican candidate is to offer enough praise for Bush that it doesn't turn off those voters still supportive of the president while offering enough criticism of his policies that people know that they would follow a different course in the White House.

A VERY tough proposition.


Indeed.

The Republican party is still very much Bush's party: authoritarian, Christianist, interventionist, corporate. No Republican can win the nomination without appealing to the very groups and ideas that independents (and needless to say Democrats) find abhorrent. And as the chasm between the heart of the GOP and the rest of us grows wider it is becoming increasingly clear that it may be a well nigh impossible gap to bridge.

So while I'll always believe it's possible for Democratic leadership to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, none-the-less, barring an unforeseen major reformation of the GOP, the race for the Republican nomination seems increasingly more like a face-saving measure rather than a presidential campaign.

It's a race Republicans have to contest, regardless that a win seems far from remotely possible.

(By the way, while writing this I remembered why I changed the channel. Virtually the first words out of Rudy's mouth were about America having the greatest health care system in the world. Seriously. If this is an example of the grasp the moderate branch of the GOP has on reality...)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Today in BushCorp hackery

Well, actually it was yesterday.

But regardless.

One of the many Bush appointees whose "qualifications" seem limited to either their corporate or Christian cred, and whose behavior is now subject to congressional supervision has just resigned.

An Interior Department official accused of pressuring government scientists to make their research fit her policy goals has resigned.

Julie MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, submitted her resignation letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, a department spokesman said Tuesday.

MacDonald resigned a week before a House congressional oversight committee was to hold a hearing on accusations that she violated the Endangered Species Act, censored science and mistreated staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Your ever vigilant CaliBlogger has noted Ms. MacDonald's pro-corporate leanings in an earlier post, Fox, henhouse. Henhouse, fox:

One of the really cool things about government is that, although Congress passes laws, it's up to the executive branch (read BushCorp™) to implement those laws.

The various agencies do this by implementing regulations which are not subject to Congressional approval, unless Congress is paying attention, which, you may have noticed, hasn't happened for the last six years.

So it is with the Interior Department which is revamping its rules regarding endangered species. You'll not be hugely surprised that the proposed regulations now being floated are cleverly designed to make it harder to classify new species as endangered, and to be generally more friendly to a variety of business interests.


Blogging over at The Moderate Voice, Shaun Mullen notes that Ms. MacDonald is the 33rd Bushie to to be "convicted, copped pleas, indicted or otherwise brought down by scandal".

A remarkable number for a president who promised to "restore honor and dignity to the White House".

On the other hand, at least none of these scandals involved a blow job, at least as far as we know, though I must ask re: Randall Tobias, do hand jobs count as "sex"?

GOP's fear of sex

This topic deserves more thought than I'm willing to give at the moment, but the recent admission by Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias to having taken advantages of services from a DC escort service highlights the puritanical streak that lies at the heart of so-called social conservatives.

As McClatchy reporter Matt Stearns points out, any sort of public vice is perfectly acceptable to BushCorp, but anything hinting of sex results in an immediate Apprentice moment.

Apparently, a penchant for massages is the one thing that President Bush cannot abide in an underling.

Arranging a massive pay raise and promotion for a girlfriend? World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz "ought to stay," Bush said. "He ought to be given a fair hearing."

Admittedly muffing management of the Justice Department, then forgetting key details when a miffed Congress demands answers? Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job," the president said.

The planning and execution of the Iraq war and its aftermath? Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer and former CIA Director George Tenet kept their jobs long after their foul-ups became apparent. Bush awarded all three the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

But Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, who quit the day he admitted to getting massages - and only massages - from an escort service?

"He resigned, and it was the proper thing to do," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday.

Thus is revealed the management philosophy of the CEO presidency. Favoritism, ineffectiveness and misleading Congress: OK. Massages: Not OK.


Republicans abhor abortion, ostensibly out of concern for zygotic life. But one has the distinct suspicion that what really irks GOPers is that women, having done the dirty deed, refuse to accept the consequences of their lack of chastity.

The evidence for this is quite simple, the same people who oppose abortion also oppose education on the best means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies in the first place: birth control.

Instead they call for abstinence education which anyone whose ever been a teenager can tell you was always doomed to failure, recent studies only bearing out the obvious.

Of course what drives Republicans truly crazy is the tension between their view of morality and their own personal human instincts.

From Newt Gingrich to Ted Haggard, from Mark Foley to Randall Tobias, Republicans, straight or gay, suffer the neuroses inherent to their closeted lives.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Yet another al Qaeda leader bites the dust: well, maybe

Let's see, what's leading today's news?

4th anniversary of Mission Accomplished? Nope.

US military death toll in Iraq in April tops 100 marking the deadliest Friedman Unit of this war? Nu-huh.

Figures for Iraqi civilian casualties? Are you kidding?

Terror attacks up by 29%? Nah, that's so two days ago.

In a piece of news from Iraq ideally timed, it would seem, to bolster BushCorp's claims of success in Iraq as he sets himself to veto a funding resolution which sets benchmarks for withdrawal from Iraq, the Iraqi "government" claims that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been killed.

Clearly the big news of the day. So that means we can start bringing our troops home even sooner now this devilish character has been laid to dust?

Not so much.

First of all he may not be actually dead. As the AP story points out such claims in the past have been, as they so delicately inform us, "inaccurate".

Secondly, al Qaeda has found such fertile ground in an Iraq seething in the chaos of the US invasion that the death of any individual is irrelevant sez


Peter R. Neumann, head of the Defence Studies Department at King's College London.

``Al-Qaeda in Iraq has established itself to such a degree it doesn't need one person alone,'' Neumann said in a telephone interview. ``Someone else will take over. They have semiautonomous factions and it will not make a big difference to them.''

And finally al-Masri's death, even if it did happen, was not the result of US or Iraqi government activity, but the result of internecine squabbling between the various Sunni militias, and perhaps even a struggle within al Qaeda itself which, apparently adopts the Klingon model for advancement: if you can kill your superior you can take his place.

Which last makes me wonder if it's only the US' presence that keeps these people from killing each other as they focus on their greater enemy: us. Note that this was a fight between Sunni factions, not the typical Sunni/Shia fighting more typical of this civil war.

Wouldn't it then be best for us then to get out of the way and let them get on with it?

Without the US as a common enemy doesn't it make sense that the Iraqi Sunnis would then go after the other foreigners in their midst, al Qaeda?

Why yes, I think it does.

Mission Accomplished: 4 years later

Every night as part of his sign-off, Keith Olbermann gives a count of the number of days since Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech.

Today he can give a rounder number: 4 years.

And while the president vetoes the funding bill which would set benchmarks for withdrawal from this ghastly mess, and interestingly timed reports of the death of yet another al Qaeda muckety-muck, Juan Cole gives a thorough Fisking (in links) of Bush's speech and how it compares to the present grim reality.

A quick survey of the topics gives a feel for just how well we're doing:

  • -Riots, Looting? Stuff Happens
  • -7 of 8 major reconstruction projects in danger of failing.
  • -US has failed to reconstruct Iraq.
  • -Trudy Rubin: ”Wolfowitz told me he believed that the London-based Iraqi opposition (headed by Ahmed Chalabi) would return to Baghdad and assume the reins of power . . ."
  • -Al-Maliki Government uses Saddam-era law to block corruption probes.
  • -The Iraq Effect: War has Increased Terrorism Seven Fold.
  • -"Iraq civilian attacks send worldwide terror deaths soaring: US".
  • -Toppling of Saddam statue faked.
  • -Study: War Blamed for 655,000 Iraqi Deaths.
  • -Bloody Iraq Uprising Rocks US.
  • -One thing is certain: the Death of Saddam was About Revenge, not Justice.
  • -David Kay: No Evidence Iraq Stockpiled WMD.


Prof. Cole's post must be read in full to appreciate the tragic irony of that speech, and to follow the links if you want to read further.

Happy anniversary y'all.