blogenlust
12.31.2004

Friday Fake Smile Blogging


Happy New Year 2005! Things can only get better, right? emiliafakesmile

"We don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now."


Apparently Susan Rice thinks we need an Iran Policy. Feeling a bit shrill lately, Susan? Don't you realize we already have one? They're evil. Very evil. What more do we need to know?
Has President Bush quietly concluded that the United States can live with a nuclear-armed Iran? If this seems preposterous, recall the president's words at his year-end news conference. Asked about U.S. policy toward Iran, he said: "We're relying upon others, because we've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran . . . in other words, we don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now." [...] Consider what's at stake. Oil-rich Iran is arguably the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism. Iran was behind the 1996 bombing of the U.S. military barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It is funding anti-Israeli terrorist groups, harboring al Qaeda operatives and meddling in Iraq. Iran clandestinely built a sophisticated uranium enrichment program that the United States and European nations agree is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has missiles capable of delivering such weapons to Iraq, Israel and even parts of Europe. President Bush says the greatest threat to U.S. national security is a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists. A nuclear Iran, not Saddam Hussein's Iraq, is a truly dangerous manifestation of that threat. So how has the Bush administration acted to protect us? Overstretched with 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and paralyzed by internal policy disputes, the administration's response has been to posture, threatening to take Iran to the U.N. Security Council, while effectively having no Iran policy at all. In response to one of the most urgent threats to the United States, Bush has subcontracted American security to the Europeans. Last week the president confirmed this as his approach, arguing that the United States has no choice. "We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence," the president said, almost echoing Vice President Cheney, who as chief executive of Halliburton pressed for lifting U.S. sanctions against Iran.
"We don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now." Translation: I shit the bed with Iraq, and we don't even have enough troops to threaten a few thousand Iraqis much less the entire military of Iran. As much as it would have been more relevant to attack Iran instead of Iraq, could you imagine how badly we would have screwed that up? Iran is nearly twice the size of Iraq and even more populated (with mountains). There is a reason why we went to Iraq--we thought it would be easier. Of course we need an Iran policy, it should have been one of our top priorities from the get go, and especially after 9/11. Unfortunately, our current Iran policy is procrastination. The President is actually right to say that we don't have any leverage with Iran. As a result, our policy is to wait until we do. At the rate we're going this could take years, and who knows what type of condition our military will be in by then. In the meantime, Iran will continue to discreetly develop nuclear capabilities and will continue to strengthen its ties with terrorist organizations. Mark Kleiman asks a damn good question, "Is there really no Democrat left willing to make the criticisms that are dying to be made?" This could be a great point upon which to develop a Democratic policy towards the war on terrorism. Just saying.
12.30.2004

Blogs and Resumes


Is a blog the type of thing you put on a resume? More specifically, should I put Blogenlust on my resume? In the past I wasn't sure it was the type of thing I wanted to share with prospective employers, but recently I've been thinking it might be an interesting addition. Thoughts? Bueller?

Unspeakable


Over 125,000 feared dead. And the number seems to be increasing by tens of thousands every few hours. I don't know what to say other than don't take anything for granted... This destruction will take years and billions of dollars to rebuild. The damage to the tourism industry in these countries (their biggest economic sector) is immeasurable and who knows how long until they will recover. Yet, why does it seem that the First World is in a philanthropic pissing contest about how much money they are giving in comparison to other countries? I'll admit, I think the US should have given more upfront, and in a perfect world, Bush should have declared that we'll promise to spend however much money it will take to rebuild and recover from the destruction. Instead, the original declaration of $15 million brought forth silly arguments between countries over who was giving what and why weren't they giving more. This has lead US officials like Powell and Bush to offer petty defenses of how much money the US gives in charity each year. This completely misses the point. We shouldn't be feeling good about ourselves just because we donate the most money each year (we also have the most money to give). We should have been pledging to provide as much as it would take from the very beginning. In other words, it's not necessarily the amount of money we first pledged that gets me upset. It's the fact that we didn't say from the get go that we were going to do whatever it takes. Maybe it is a meaningless point, but it bothers me how even the most unavoidable disasters can be so quickly politicized. One last thing...The State Department is reporting that thousands of Americans are still missing. I don't want to assume the worst just yet, but we're talking about 9/11 type numbers here. It got me to thinking of the differences in our reaction to both events. Of course, there is a huge difference in that we were attacked on 9/11, but to me at least, death and destruction is still death and destruction. It is interesting to think about even if you compare our response to the tsunami to the response of other countries to 9/11. I'll never forget the Le Monde headline: "Today We're All Americans." How come it took the President of the United States three or four days to make public statements to the effected countries? Just thinking aloud here (and through a heavily congested head...so please forgive the disconnected thinking and writing :))
12.29.2004

Buyer's Remorse


A nice Wednesday morning punch in the face:
Washington -- Despite a clear-cut re-election and the prospect of lasting GOP dominance in Congress, President Bush prepares for his second term with the lowest approval rating of any just-elected sitting president in more than half a century, according to a series of new surveys. [...] A new Gallup survey conducted for CNN and USA Today puts Bush's approval rating at 49 percent -- close to his pre-election numbers. That's 10 to 20 percentage points lower than every elected sitting president at this stage since World War II, according to Gallup. Bush's Gallup rating echoed a survey published last week by ABC News and the Washington Post, which put his approval rating at 48 percent. That poll also found that 56 percent of Americans said the Iraq war was not worth fighting. Time magazine put Bush's overall approval at 49 percent.
And I thought the Gallup Poll was supposed to be a Bush-friendly poll! When I see things like this, I realize how badly the Democrats, and I mostly mean John Kerry, dropped the ball this past election. Now that my post-election traumatic depression is pretty much behind me, I think I can clearly say that I agree with John at AMERICAblog: Kerry sucked. Of course, that doesn't mean I think he would have been a bad President, and it isn't to say that he lacked the right background or temperament for the job. This is strictly in the way that he ran his campaign. In my opinion, there were too many things that Kerry could have used in his favor to undermine Bush's strongpoints on Iraq and the war on terrorism. A coordinated counterattack on many of the false and misleading claims put out daily by the Bush campaign was too little too late. I can't forgive the Kerry campaign for this because anyone who has followed previous Bush campaigns knows this is a major part of their M.O. Despite all the talk of mandates and a decisive victory, Bush remains a widely unpopular President. He should have been a sitting duck, but Kerry enabled him to become a lame duck. The issue now is to figure out how to turn this from an irrelevant bitching point to something that can be learned from. Personally, I'd like to see a better Party definition and an improved articulation of Party policies and ideas (I think blogs can serve an important purpose in this regard). That way, Democrats from our nominee to local candidates are on the same wavelength when it comes to what we stand for and how we'll benefit people when elected. I think Kerry's flip-flop image was highlighted by a lack of a defined Democratic stance on many issues, but most especially Iraq and the war on terrorism. A clear position on these two issues must be the starting point for 2006 and 2008. I'm afraid that if we don't do this now, I'll be writing the same post 4 years from now. The good news from these poll numbers is that a lot of people in this country still aren't happy with the politics of George W. Bush. That is something that should give Democrats a lot of hope for the future. They just need to do a much better job of selling themselves.
12.28.2004

New Bin Laden Recording


Juan Cole has a very interesting analysis of Osama bin Laden's latest recording, in which he calls on Iraqis to boycott the January 30 elections.
Bin Laden's intervention in Iraq was hamfisted and clumsy, and will benefit the United States and the Shiites enormously. Most Iraqi Muslims, Sunni or Shiite, dislike the Wahhabi branch of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and with which Bin Laden is associated. Nationalistic Iraqis will object to a foreigner interfering in their national affairs. Zarqawi is widely hated in Iraq because the operations of his group often kill innocent Iraqis as opposed to American troops. The Shiites in particular despise Zarqawi, and are aware of his hopes of provoking a Sunni-Shiite bloodbath in Iraq. (The muted Shiite response to the US assault on Fallujah in November and December derived in large part from a conviction that the city had become a base for Zarqawi and like-minded Salafi terrorists). Zarqawi websites have claimed credit for the assassination in 2003 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, a respected Shiite leader, which involved descrating the Shiite holy city of Najaf. The mainstream of the Kurds hates Zarqawi, because of his earlier association with the small Kurdish radical Muslim terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, which targeted the two major Kurdish parties. Bin Laden as much as declared Grand Ayatollah Sistani an infidel. But Sistani is almost universally loved by the 65% of Iraqis who are Shiites, and is widely respected among many Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well. Bin Laden, the Saudi engineer, makes himself look ridiculous trying to give a fatwa against the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf. If anything, to have al-Qaeda menacing the Shiites in this way would tend to strengthen the American-Shiite alliance. If Bin Laden had been politically clever, he would have phrased his message in the terms of Iraqi nationalism. By siding with the narrowest sliver of Sunni extremists, he denied himself any real impact. By adopting Zarqawi, who has killed many more Iraqis (especially Shiites) than he has Americans, he simply tarnishes his own image inside Iraq. It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.
I'm really in no position to effectively argue against Cole, especially when it comes to the political situation in Iraq and the greater Middle East. He is probably correct to suggest that there is a potential for this to blowback into bin Laden's face, and it very well could be a sign that bin Laden is increasingly desperate. However, from an American political perspective, one consequence of bin Laden's comments is a further confusion about who it is we are actually fighting in Iraq. In my opinion, this is great political news for Bush. It comes at a time when the situation in Iraq is rapidly deteriorating, and any connection the Bush Administration can make between the Iraqi insurgency and 9/11 is good for them, because it makes the increasingly steep sacrifices more worthwhile for the American public. Perhaps this is why General Richard Myers made the astoundingly incorrect statement that "This attack [in Mosul], of course, is the responsibility of insurgents, the same insurgents who attacked on 9/11." Now why would bin Laden want to help Bush out? I can think of at least one good reason. Since the US is bogged down in Iraq, enabling the Bush Administration to continue to link Iraq and Al Qaeda gives them more justification for staying put, which would further deteriorate American morale and military resources. Of course, it also may be the case that bin Laden had other intentions (like those Cole suggests), and that the positive political implications for Bush are an unintended consequence. So what are the consequences of this good news for the Bush Administration? I'd say any added confusion to who or what or why we're fighting in Iraq is always helpful because when people don't know exactly what is going on, they can't get outraged and they can be easily misled. And where would the Bush Administration be without an apathetic and gullible American electorate? Another potential consequence is that they can use this to widen the war. If AQ and the insurgency are interchangeable, than it is easier to justify an excursion into Syria or Iran. It will be interesting to see how this gets played out. The other night the local news led with the new bin Laden tape, and claimed it was definitive evidence of a link between the insurgency and AQ. Who needs OBL when you have the local news!?

Tsunami Relief


update: US aid has increased to $35 million... You might have already seen this at Eschaton, but if you haven't, let me reiterate how disgusting this is:
Link: The Bush administration yesterday pledged $15 million to Asian nations hit by a tsunami that has killed more than 22,500 people, although the United Nations' humanitarian-aid chief called the donation "stingy." Context, context... The war on terror will take center stage at next month’s second inauguration for President Bush in Washington, D.C. ... The estimated budget for the event is $30-40 million, but that will not cover security costs.
The deathtoll has risen to over 50,000 people and officials are concerned this number could double once disease sets in. Yet, the United States of America, the richest country in the world, is sending pocket change. Rob at AMERICAblog asks a good question:
How Christian is George W. Bush? Evidently not very. In one of the largest natural disasters in recent years, the Bush administration response of $15 million is the equivalent of what George Bush spends in Iraq in TWO HOURS. That's right, at $177 million a day in Iraq, $15 million is a pittance. Those are great Red State Values. What would Jesus do? I expect that he would have spent more time and money trying to help people in a natural disaster than the pathetic response the Bush administration has provided. Democrats should be on television right now calling on the Bush administration to do right in this human disaster. That's what I call Blue State Values.
Qubit has a list of relief organizations where you can donate to the relief efforts.
12.27.2004

Fa-La-La-La-Fel


One of the more exciting gifts I received this weekend was Bill O'Reilly's Who's Looking Out For You?. At first I thought it was a joke. Since most of my family knows where I stand on issues of politics (but apparently doesn't read this blog), I assumed that people would know that you don't give people like me books by people like O'Reilly (especially for Christmas!). Afterall, you'd never consider giving your Jewish friend the Koran with the implication that he should read it because he might be so surprised at what he reads that he would consider converting. This, I believe, was the subversive message of my brand new O'Reilly book. (BTW, You try smiling as you talk about how you can't wait to read it in front of 20 people!!) Anyway, because I have a soapbox from which to ridicule it, I've decided to actually read the book. Shouldn't take more than the 4 hour plane ride I'm about to embark on since its dimensions are 14 font, 1/2 inch spacing between lines, and 2 inch margins. And if I skim through the self-indulging, I can probably finish it before we take off. I've actually started reading it (last night, over a dish of falafel), and was surprised at O'Reilly's witty sense of humor, like this from page 3:
If you are going to drink a quart of bourbon a day or smoke crack, this book is not going to help you. In fact, if you are in the above category, you've probably stolen this book. Give it back. Now.
LOL!! ROTFLMAO!!

Or this, from page 8:
There is no question that our society has now embraced the casual approach when it comes to having children. Columnist Kathleen Parker nailed it. "Today having a baby is like swinging through McDonald's for a burger. One baby all the way, hold the dad."
HSIJPMP!!

And please, spare me the jokes about Bill "You Have Really Spectacular Boobs" O'Reilly's Middle Eastern food fetish and infidelity. O'Reilly is pure class, as illustrated on page 29:
Years ago I was friends with a fellow broadcaster. Because we were both single and liked the ladies, we had some great times.
See, "had some great times." Nothing to worry about, that is, unless you look like Halle Berry (page 59):
Now, I rarely go to parties, primarily because I am not often invited. I think we all know why. Also, I'm not much of a schmoozer unless you look like Halle Berry.
Inbetween these humorous gems, O'Reilly does a good job of talking about himself. A lot. And when he isn't talking about himself, he does a very shrewd job of painting himself as a politically independant Everyman, that (you guessed it) is looking out for you! One thing that I've noticed about O'Reilly's writing is that he does seem to criticize both Republicans and Democrats, but he does so in a way that the criticisms of Republicans are petty (e.g. Bush works too hard at what he does, so don't expect him to change much), whereas the criticisms of Democrats are more damaging. (e.g. Clintons caused 9/11). I don't think it is particularly honest, especially for such a "fair and balanced" guy like O'Reilly, but I didn't really expect a whole lot more. Finally, O'Reilly is incredibly gifted at constructing strawmen and easily knocking them down. He valiantly argues for things like better families, as though anybody would honestly argue against that (in O'Reilly's world, it is the Clinton's and liberals who argue against these things). As for myself, I can't wait to read the chapter on how cheating on your wife and kids with a co-worker leads to a closer family. If I can stand to, I'll write more about the second half of the book later. I'd also like to point out that I extended an invitation to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 or borrow another book of my choosing to the person who gave me the O'Reilly book. Of course, as you might imagine, that was an excercise in futility.
12.26.2004

Moral Values


Ah yes, those upstanding citizens, otherwise known as the College Republicans, are at it again:
The College Republican National Committee is under fire for using front organizations to collect millions of dollars in contributions, including money from elderly people with dementia. During the 2004 campaign, the group sent out direct-mail solicitations under such letterheads as "Republican Headquarters 2004" and "Republican Election Committee." One four-page letter asked prospects to send $1,000 together with an American flag pin for President Bush to wear to "Republican Headquarters" to ensure that Bush knows "there are millions who are giving him the shield of God to protect him in the difficult days ahead." In small print at the bottom of one page, the letter notes: "A project of and paid for by College Republican National Committee." Many donors complained that they thought the money was going directly to the Republican Party, and not to the college group, which is no longer affiliated with the GOP. The controversy over the letters has produced angry responses from leaders of state College Republican chapters, including those in Washington state, North Carolina and New York.
Back in the day, when I was the Treasurer of the campus College Republicans, I never would have dreamed of something like this. Then again, I was never CR material in the first place. (via Political Wire)

Syria? Why not.


Now that Christmas is over, we can forget all that peace on earth and goodwill towards men shit. Syria, bitches!!
The US is contemplating incursions into Syrian territory in an attempt to kill or capture Iraqi Ba'athists who, it believes, are directing at least part of the attacks against US targets in Iraq, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post. The official said that fresh sanctions are likely to be implemented, but added that the US needs to be more "aggressive" after Tuesday's deadly attack on a US base in Mosul. The comment suggested that the US believes the attack on the mess tent, in which 22 people were killed, may have been coordinated from inside Syrian territory. "I think the sanctions are one thing. But I think the other thing [the Syrians] have got to start worrying about is whether we would take cross-border military action in hot pursuit or something like that. In other words, nothing like full-scale military hostilities. But when you're being attacked from safe havens across the border – we've been through this a lot of times before – we're just not going to sit there. "You get a tragedy [like the attack in Mosul] and it reminds people that it is still a very serious problem. If I were Syria, I'd be worried," the senior administration official said.
It's funny they should mention this. Just yesterday I caught myself thinking, "WTF? 2001, 2003, 2005? Isn't it about time we invade another country?" In all seriousness, even if the insurgency is being directed out of Syria, the simple fact is that if the conditions in Iraq were better, the insurgency wouldn't be so popular. Invading or attacking Syria will do nothing to improve those conditions, and if the past is prologue in anyway, it will make the situation even worse. Not like that will stop us or anything. Hopefully, an article like this is nothing more than a way this Administration thinks it can pressure Syria into stopping whatever it may be doing. Even I don't think this Administration is stupid enough to widen the war at this point. But, then again, stranger things have happened.
12.24.2004

A Word From Our Sponsors


Dear Readers, Just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone who visits Blogenlust a safe and happy Holidays! I'll be celebrating Christmas with my family over the next two days, and will (probably) not be posting until after Christmas. Peace Out, John UPDATE: Gmail invites make nice stocking stuffers. I have about 6 or 7 to give away, so contact me if you'd like one. DOUBLE UPDATE:: Don't forget that The Christmas Story is on for 24 straight hours (until Christmas night at about 8p EST) on TBS!!
12.23.2004

Connect The Dots, La La La


CONNECTION: "Iraq Base Was Hit By A Suicide Attack, U.S. General Says," Washington Post, December 23rd, 2004:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 22 -- Investigators believe a suicide bomber penetrated security at a U.S. military base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and detonated an explosive Tuesday that killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. service members, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday. The attack, which also wounded 69, was the deadliest on an American installation since the beginning of the war in March 2003.
"Iraq's Unsecured Ammo Dumps Providing Explosives For Insurgency," The Dallas Morning Star, December 22nd, 2004:
"We simply did not have enough troops - I would argue we still do not - in Iraq to secure the country after the victory over Iraq's military," said David Kay, who led the CIA's initial efforts to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "The result is an insurgency that did not have to worry about how to arm itself."

Since the war began on March 19, 2003, military and civilian weapons teams have found more than 10,000 ammo dumps. They have secured or destroyed more than 414,000 tons of artillery shells, bombs, bullets, rockets and other munitions.

But the CIA survey team scouring the country for weapons of mass destruction told Congress last fall that the "lower limit" of munitions scattered across Iraq was 600,000 tons.

NO CONNECTION:
General Richard Myers, December 22nd, 2004:
Gen. Richard Myers at today's Pentagon briefing: "This attack [in Mosul], of course, is the responsibility of insurgents, the same insurgents who attacked on 9/11, the same type of insurgents who attacked in Beirut, the same insurgents who -- type of insurgents who attacked the Cole, Khobar Towers, and the list goes on."
LaLaLa LaLaLa


"Oh, you have a blog?"


If you're not a closet blogger, you might have to deal this holiday season with probing questions from people who have no clue what a blog actually is. In situations like these, it is important to know what wannabe hipsters think blogs are all about. Thankfully, there is Time Magazine, always having one finger on America's pulse, and another up George Bush's ass. In the latest issue, Time notes 10 things they learned about blogs this year. This includes:
Bloggers Make Money Earn a living in your pajamas! Online ads (along with Google's automated ad server) allow popular bloggers to go pro. Joshua Micah Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com, a political blog, says he makes $5,000 a month from banner ads—enough to hire a research assistant.
This is especially helpful for those bloggers (like myself) who have enough questions to answer about why they can't find permanent employment. "Oh, you write a blog?" says Uncle Mind Your Own Damn Business, "How much money do you make a month? How many research assistants have you hired?" Perhaps the best way to answer questions like this is to defer to your pet:
Pets Have Blogs Too It started as an in-joke among feline-friendly bloggers: why not post pictures of their cats every Friday afternoon? Friday catblogging became a hit, and soon even NASA was playing along by posting pictures of the Cat's Eye nebula.
And if your relatives and friends are still taking you seriously by this point, they'll probably stop after reading this:
Blogging Can Get You Fired When Delta flight attendant Ellen Simonetti, 30—a leggy blond and self-styled "queen of the sky"—began her blog, she thought it would be fun to post pinup snapshots of herself in uniform. Delta wasn't amused and promptly fired her. Undaunted, Simonetti retitled the blog Diary of a Fired Flight Attendant and detailed her legal battle to get her job back.
As for me, I'll be winging it this year. Last year, I told everyone I wrote Eschaton, and people were really impressed. Unfortunately, I can't use that this year, so I think I'll say that I was on the front-lines of Rathergate, which in my extended family will probably be considered a badge of honor.
12.22.2004

SNOW IN DECEMBER!!!!!!! OH SHIT!!


Must be a slow news day for Drudge... Picture 1 Picture 2 Amazing that it would snow throughout the Midwest and Central Plains at the end of December. And there must be another Ice Age coming if Chicago is bracing for sub-zero temperatures...three days before Christmas. I guess we can be thankful that there isn't anything really serious to report on.

Occupation Is Messy


People continue to needlessly die because of Donald Rumsfeld, yet he still has a job, and the President's Chief of Staff thinks he's doing a "spectacular job." Here is what Rumsfeld had to say today, in response to the attack at the dining hall in Mosul:
"Someone who's attacking can attack at any place at any time using any technique, and it is an enormous challenge to provide force protection, something that our forces worry about, work on constantly. They have to be right 100 percent of the time. An attacker only has to be right occasionally," Rumsfeld said.
Besides being a great counterargument to his missile defense proposal, it also ignores the fact that people had been worried about an attack at this dining hall for months. This wasn't a freak accident, these people were sitting ducks!
CNN personnel who have visited the base said the dining area is a tent-like facility with no hardened protection -- and that soldiers had specifically raised concerns that they could be targeted by insurgents at meal time. One had told CNN it was only a matter of time before there was an attack on the mess hall. "There is a level of vulnerability when you go in there, and you don't feel like there's a hard roof over your head," said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, an officer at Camp Marez.
I think Kos is right, this was borderline criminal negligence. Look, this situation fucking sucks. We're left with a huge mess that is getting worse by the day and there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel. Some people back in Washington are hesistant about getting of rid of Rumsfeld because they think we're at such a crucial stage that his dismissal might screw things up. Clearly, these people aren't paying attention. Things can't get much worse, so why not try and find a Secretary of Defense that isn't an incompetent arrogant war criminal? What's the worst that could happen? Iraq goes to shit? It's too late!!


Contractors Start Pulling Out


It just occurred to me that the biggest problem facing our occupation in Iraq is not necessarily the fact that our troops are spread too thin, but that we're relying so heavily on private military contractors to provide essential services for us and Iraq. As a result, it is distressing that a major U.S. contractor had decided to call it quits.
WASHINGTON — For the first time, a major U.S. contractor has dropped out of the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Iraq, raising new worries about the country's growing violence and its effect on reconstruction. Contrack International Inc., the leader of a partnership that won one of 12 major reconstruction contracts awarded this year, cited skyrocketing security costs in reaching a decision with the U.S. government last month to terminate work in Iraq. "We reached a point where our costs were getting to be prohibitive," said Karim Camel-Toueg, president of Arlington, Va.-based Contrack, which had won a $325-million award to rebuild Iraq's shattered transportation system. "We felt we were not serving the government, and that the dollars were not being spent smartly." [...] "It's not a terrible loss," said Amy Burns, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Iraq Project and Contracting Office, which oversees the bulk of the reconstruction work in the country. "It actually may be good that we're both moving on." But reconstruction experts say Contrack's withdrawal might foretell trouble with other contractors. ""It's a very bad sign," said Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington who has closely followed the reconstruction process. "If this is how other private companies are thinking, it's a very bad potential warning." Coming as U.S. reconstruction officials have been touting signs of progress, Contrack's withdrawal underscores the challenges in the $18.4-billion effort to rebuild Iraq. The effort to revamp the country is considered vital to providing Iraqis with jobs and services and to weakening the insurgency. So far, however, it has been beset with delays, violence, allegations of graft and waste, and frustration among ordinary Iraqis and top U.S. military commanders at the lack of progress.
It's not a good sign when costly no-bid contracts (i.e. bribery) won't keep companies from sticking it out. The big problem with all of this is that we're contracting the job of reconstructing Iraq to private military contractors who can pick up and leave whenever they want. Frankly, I think this is a big mistake, because reconstruction is so crucial to our efforts. If we can quickly and sufficiently reconstruct the infrastructure of Iraq, we can undermine the rhetoric and motivations of the insurgency. As it stands now, the US military doesn't have control of reconstruction because we don't have enough troops. And if more contractors start pulling out, we won't even have enough of them to finish the job. If that happens, shit we didn't even know existed will start hitting the fan. Reconstruction should be the absolute top priority because it is the answer to basically all of our problems. It provides an answer to the insurgency, it provides a ticket home for all of our troops, and it provides the quickest route to political and economic reforms. I wonder how many Americans realize that the US military is not in control of reconstructing Iraq? I wonder if they'd care?
12.21.2004

Travel Day


Today is a travel day for blogenlust, as I'm on my way from balmy Oakland to freezing Wisconsin. Can't complain, though, because if there is one time of year I don't mind the snow or cold it is Christmas Winter Solstice. Right now I'm at LAX, which looks more like a Juicy Couture fashion show than an airport. On the flight here I had the chance to read America's Other Finest News Source, USA Today. In a guest editorial defending...I think I just saw Ashton Kutcher...President Bush's dream of bankrupting the US with a national missile defense shield (presumably one that works), Baker Spring writes:
If President Bush, in the wake of 9/11, announced that the United States had been deliberately leaving the country vulnerable to attack by airplanes, most Americans would be incredulous — and angry. Yet this is exactly our situation when it comes to ballistic missile attack. We're completely vulnerable to any state or terrorist group armed with a ballistic missile. Fortunately, Bush is moving to eliminate this vulnerability by constructing a limited ballistic-missile-defense system and declaring it operational as soon as possible. [...] Yes, the missile-defense system we're pursuing right now is limited. Future tests may reveal problems. But this is an argument for moving quickly to make the defense better, not giving up. Even with its initial limitations, the system we're building now will keep our enemies guessing. That's exactly what we need. So let's take what we've learned from this scrubbed test and use it to improve, not end, this vital program
Here's the problem with Spring's thesis: Even if you construct an extremely expensive invisible shield around the United States, terrorists can still use airplanes as missiles! In other words, if you eliminate one option, it makes other options that much more appealing, and in this case, the other options are that much harder to prevent (i.e. floating a bomb into a harbor or igniting a tanker of liquid natural gas). In addition, it should be noted that our missile defense system is a huge black hole into which billions of dollars of our tax money gets thrown year in and year out, and the best part is that it doesn't even work.
12.20.2004

A Swell Proposal


Make September 11 Election Day? Damn. You really can't make this stuff up anymore.

Deuling Storylines


White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, yesterday on ABC's This Week:
"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job."..."The President has provided good direction for our military, and Secretary Rumsfeld is transforming our military to meet the threats of the 21st Century."..."There are no guarantees, but we'll work hard to provide security. It'll be a wonderful success story."
The CIA, the DIA, and the State Department (make sure to read the whole article), to President Bush:
WASHINGTON - The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department have warned President Bush that the United States and its Iraqi allies aren't winning the battle against Iraqi insurgents who are trying to derail the country's Jan. 30 elections, according to administration officials. The officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence estimates are classified, said the battle in Iraq wasn't lost and that successful elections might yet be held next month. But they said the warnings -including one delivered this week to Bush by CIA Director Porter Goss - indicated that U.S. forces hadn't been able to stop the insurgents' intimidation of Iraqi voters, candidates and others who want to participate in the elections. "We don't have an answer to the intimidation," one senior official said. Nor have the United States and interim Iraqi government been able to find any divisions they can exploit to divide and conquer the Sunni Muslim insurgency, the intelligence reports say.
The reason we don't have an answer to the intimidation is that we don't have enough boots on the ground to secure order. As a result, we've created an increasingly confident and brazen insurgency that knows we're spread too thin to effectively stop them. Hopefully, I don't have to remind anyone that it was Secretary "I'm too busy to give a shit" Rumsfeld's "spectacular work" that created this situation.

Invasion v. Persuasion


Just read an interesting article by George Packer in The New Yorker entitled "Invasion vs. Persuasion." It's subject is how (not if) the United States should go about spreading freedom in the non-democratic world:
The best role for critics in the President’s second term will be not to scoff at the idea of spreading freedom but to take it seriously—to hold him to his own talk. The hard question isn’t whether America should try to enlarge the democratic order but how. It’s a question that the Administration seems to have thought about very little, yet it makes a big difference.
As examples, Packer contrasts the recent events in Ukraine with those in Iraq. Packer argues that events in Ukraine have been heavily influenced by the work of Western governments and NGOs over the last ten years. As a result, the political opposition was adequately funded and organized enough to successfully take on the corrupt government.
The popular uprising in Ukraine has now secured a new Presidential election, the previous vote having been discredited by huge fraud. There’s a quiet American story behind that achievement. For years, beginning in the nineteen-nineties, governmental and non-governmental organizations poured millions of dollars into Ukraine’s politics, building up the parties, training civil-society groups and journalists, establishing election monitors. These efforts helped strengthen the opposition against a corrupt government, but they were nonpartisan: technical support was given to all parties. [...] But in Ukraine the meddlers have done nothing worse than help guarantee a people’s right to choose a government freely. The effort succeeded for two reasons: there was a democratic movement already in place; and outside support did not come with a “Made in America” label, because the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also played an important part. “The thrust of the campaign is to oblige Ukraine to have a free and fair election,” Thomas Carothers, a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says. “This is a human right. It’s not American. It’s not unilateralist.”
If our attempts to spread democratic reform to Ukraine can be characterized as subtle, then our excursion in Iraq is more like a bull in a china shop:
In Iraq, the United States has tried to stage-manage the political transition alone, and has seen every plan overtaken and nullified by events. Lacking legitimacy in the eyes of both Iraq and the rest of the world, defying international standards and declaring its own, the Administration has had to base its claim on good intentions. But in the war of perception between that claim and the daily stories of tortured prisoners and civilian deaths America is losing. According to Carothers, who has just co-edited the first technical book on democracy promotion in the Middle East, the Iraq model has set back the cause of Arab reformers. At this point, the Administration seems ready to hold an election and declare victory. Meanwhile, the insurgency looks increasingly like a civil war. An election, though politically necessary, might only worsen the conflict. Shiite politicians and clerics are organizing a unified ballot that will guarantee the majority Shiites a vast share of next month’s election spoils at the expense of the country’s alienated Sunnis. The elected parliament, which will write a constitution, isn’t likely to be truly representative, or to create a political consensus out of this violent polarization. More probably, the losers will opt out and the civil war will intensify.
At first I was reluctant to buy into Packer's thesis that we need to actively promote democracy in places where it is non-existant. Afterall, we've been so fucking successful in Iraq and Afghanistan it hurts. However, after thinking about it a bit, and learning about the NGO and Western governmental influences in Ukraine, I think he might be on to something. The Bush Administration has created this paradigm that dictates that things can only get done by flexing our military muscle. As a result, diplomacy and soft-power have been marginalized at a time when both are vital to our foreign policy. The problem, highlighted by recent events in Ukraine, is that reality doesn't fit into the Bush Administration's paradigm. That is to say, military force is rarely the best way to create democratic institutions in a country (and a region) that has few democratic experiences. Instead, history has shown that it is often efforts similar to those in Ukraine that are the most successful in creating long term democratic reforms. I think this is an important point for Democrats to take into consideration when it comes to articulating their own foreign policy, and also demonstrating why the Bush foreign policy has been unsuccessful and counterproductive. And speaking of a Democratic foreign policy... The current foreign policy debate in this country is dominated by Bush's "foreward strategy of freedom," and even Democrats would be hard-pressed to articulate their foreign policy (answer: ABB: Anything but Bush's...and we all know how well that worked last time). Even if our foreign policy doesn't change, this country would be much better off with a larger discussion on the topic. If the Democrats have any hopes of retaining a Congressional or national majority within the next generation, they'd better start speaking up and standing up for policies they believe in. It doesn't have to be exactly like Packer's thesis (although that would be a good start), it just has to be something.
12.19.2004

Things I've Seen


This weekend (I had babysitting duty so there was some extra time for movies!): * Friday night I saw The House Of Flying Daggers, an awesome Chinese film in the same mold as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. The cinematography is beautiful, the plot is very interesting, and the fight scenes are awesome. I highly recommend this one, even if you aren't into these types of movies. * Rented Collateral and Born Rich last night. Collateral was good--lots of action, intensity, and good acting. I hadn't realized how good of an actor Jamie Foxx was until I saw him in Ray, and he is just as good in a supporting role here (he received a Golden Globe nomination for this role). Tom Cruise plays a decent bad-ass hitman, too. Born Rich is a documentary by Jamie Johnson, the 21 year old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. The film is his attempt to understand the effects of inheriting so much money, and in the process he interviews various other "rich kids" about how they are dealing with their own wealth. Included in this group are Ivanka Trump, Josiah Hornblower (Vanderbilt/Whitney heir), S.I. Newhouse IV (media heir), Luke Weil (gaming heir), and Cody Franchetti (textile heir). Some of these people are more grounded than others, but many of them have this strange complex about not wanting to talk about their money and worry about the social perception of having so much money. I think a lot of them were concerned that they would be widely recognizable because of their money, but the fact is, you probably wouldn't recognize any of these people on the street unless you were also a part of the top .001% of the richest class. I mean, it's one thing to be rich and recognizable like Paris Hilton, and it's a totally different thing to be rich and Jaime Johnson. They are not mutually exclusive, but that is how these people see themselves. Overall, if you like documentaries, you'll probably like this film. Has anyone seen A Day Without Mexicans ? I rented this also, but haven't had a chance to see it yet. I've heard it's really good. Briefly, it's about what would happen if all the Mexicans suddenly disappeared from California. I'd imagine all hell would break loose, and the same would happen in any other place!
12.17.2004

Spare Pre-Paid Phone Cards?


I've become a big fan of the Imus Morning Show, listening to it everyday on my way to work. Lately, Imus has been very critical of the Administration and Congress for not providing more assistance to soldiers and their families. For instance, Rick Santorum was a guest on yesterday's program, and Imus drilled him on why death benefits for the families of soldiers killed in Iraq were only $12,000. Santorum, the literal panty waste that he is, was proud to announce that Congress has actually doubled that amount from $6,000. As if that is something to be proud of. Imus' concern stems from a recent trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where he realized that the conditions and equipment injured soldiers received were not on par with the level of sacrifice they had given to end up in the hospital. He rightfully blames the Congress and Administration for not doing more for the troops they've sent off to be killed and injured in a war of choice. On the same note, a caller on today's program explained that pre-paid calling cards were the number one request from soldiers at Walter Reed. Apparently the government isn't covering phone charges, which has led to a rationing of phone minutes among the hospitalized. Needless to say, Imus wasn't very happy about this news:
"The number one request at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center was phone cards. The government doesn't pay long distance phone charges, you can't even make that up, and wounded soldiers are rationing their calls home and a lot of them will be their at Walter Reed for the holidays. Well I'll buy ten thousand dollars worth of phone cards and send it to them. Here is where you can send your phone cards..." Walter Reed Medical Family Assistance Center, 6900 Georgia Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20307-5001
If you've got any spare change lying around, or even some spare phone cards, give a thought to sending them to the above address. I couldn't imagine being there and not having the means to talk to my friends and family because I couldn't afford a long distance phone call. This makes me even more upset when I think about how much money certain corporations tied to this Administration are making from this war. Not to mention the fact that that asshole Rumsfeld still has a job. I could go on, but won't. Just try and send a phone card if you have the means.

Ban Adultery


UPDATE: Sonofabitch. Thanks to mrgumby2u, it turns out that, like Bill O'Reilly, I was punk'd. Although, I must confess that I saw this first at the Agonist, so I'm not the only one. The King is on the story. I should have known when I couldn't find anything about "Defend Our Marriages" on Google. Anyway, I think Ottawarotic (in comments) brings up a good point...the Democrats (or someone) should be advocating this, since it will drive home the point how hypocritical it is to talk about only gay marriage being a threat to the institution o' marriage. A group called Defend Our Marriages is pushing to bundle anti-adultery legislation with an anti-gay marriage bill. Shockingly, even the most ardent anti-gay marriage lawmakers are wary to support such an addition. I wonder why?
When members of a pro-family lobby group called Defend Our Marriages were looking to add anti-adultery language to the proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage, the office of Representative Dan Burton was one of their first stops. After all, the 11-term Indiana Republican has a long history of fighting for family values, and was a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment introduced last May. But Burton balked when it came to backing the adultery provision. "We couldn't even get a meeting with him," said DOM member Sandy Slokum, noting that her group had chosen to approach Burton because of the 100% rating he'd received from the Christian Coalition. "His office basically slammed the door in our faces. Doesn't he believe in the seventh commandment?" said Slokum. Perhaps not. In 1998, Burton was forced to admit to having had an adulterous affair in the 1980s, during which he fathered a son. Were the amendment banning both homosexual marriage and adultery to take effect, Burton would lose many of the privileges of marriage, including tax benefits, inheritance rights, even the ability to visit loved ones in the hospital. Burton might even have to run for his congressional seat as a single man, not an easy task in era in which "single" is short-hand for homosexual, and single candidates are often derided as "limp wrists" and "switch hitters."
While I couldn't disagree more with the motives of groups like Defend Our Marriages, I admire their consistency. In fact, I'd like to see them take it a step further. We should ban divorce. If marriage is such a sacred institution, it should never be broken. After, all isn't this where the slippery sloap of denying gay marriage, and even adultery, is eventually heading? Of course, this will never happen because people don't like government getting involved in their personal lives, unless it is another person's gay marriage or it's a woman's reproductive rights. The other major roadblock to such legislation, illustrated by Dan Burton, is the high rate of adultery in the group of people voting on it. Self-interest will always squash principle, especially in the Congress.
12.16.2004

blogger meetup recap


Last night I met up with some other Bay Area Bloggers and Reader (thanks Ryan!). It was a good time, and I had the chance to meet a few new people (drew at Scamboogah, J at suckful, shystee, and the king). Discussion ranged from who was the laziest person in the Bay Area, to Heraldblog's legendary banter with Debbie "Kill! Torture! Kill! ARGH!" Daniel. And speaking of Debbie (link goes to her collected "works"), she thoughtfully weighs in on the Christmas debate. You really can't make this stuff up! We also discussed The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, which I promised to share with a few people. Also, on the way home I realized I might have given the impression that all I do is blog while I'm at work (not that there is anything wrong with that). While there is a (small) element of truth to this, I also get up damn early and write a lot before I go into work. Just for the record.
12.15.2004

Jesus Christ


Jesus is the reason for the season. And don't you ever fucking forget it. Or you'll go to hell. Especially if you're gay. Or Jewish. And Lord help you if you're a Jewish gay Democrat:
Dec. 14, 2004 - Emboldened by their Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season. In Terrebonne Parish, La., an organization is petitioning to add "Merry Christmas" to the red-lighted "Season's Greetings" sign on the main government building and is selling yard signs that read, "We believe in God. Merry Christmas." And a Raleigh, N.C., church recently paid $7,600 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Christians to spend their money only with merchants who include the greeting "Merry Christmas" in ads and displays. "There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, `Wait a minute. We've gone too far,'" says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church. "We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left." In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy's and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing "Merry Christmas" signs with ones wishing shoppers "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." The organization cites "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans."
Get used to this. I'm beginning to think these people won't stop until we all live in the Church of the United States of Jesus Christ. I don't quite understand why it is so hard for them to understand that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and not an American holiday. It might be a surprise, but not all Americans are Christian, and in fact, many people celebrate other religious holidays during the month of December. Yes, it's true. The month of December belongs to everyone, and it isn't exclusively owned by American Christians. I don't even know why they care so much, Jesus wasn't even born in December. And speaking of facists Kooky Kristians, make sure to check out this post (via BlondeSense) at Jesus Politics.
12.14.2004

Bingo


Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Moises Naim examines the ideological casualties of war "that lie buried in the sands of Iraq." He notes that a large problem has been the disconnect between the worldview this Administration creates with its rhetoric and the worldview that drives its policy:
More fundamental, disappointments in Iraq also dealt a blow to a worldview that, for all its references to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as an epochal event, still hearkens back to the Cold War. Consider the two primary responses to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: Instead of concentrating all energies and resources to fight the strange, stealthy, and stateless network that perpetrated the attacks, the United States launched military assaults against two nation-states. First, it rightly attacked Afghanistan, a country whose government had been the subject of a friendly takeover by such networks. The second was Iraq, a country with a standing army and a dictator evocative of the Cold War era. Iraq offered a target more suited to the mindset of U.S. leaders and military capabilities than the more complicated terrorist networks operating inside powerful states, including the United States itself. In other words, facing the prospect of waging a new kind of war against a new kind of opponent, the Bush administration chose instead to fight a familiar enemy whose face and address it knew. Yet U.S. troops quickly found themselves fighting not enemy soldiers but what Pentagon lawyers now call “unlawful combatants”—fighters with nationalities as fuzzy as they are irrelevant to determining their leaders, their chains of command, their loyalty, and their lethal willingness to die for their cause.
One of the major consequences of September 11 is the emergence of non-state entities as major international players. The Bush Administration is correct to treat these non-state entities as significant threats, but they have incorrectly approached the situation In order to truly understand the problem you first need to understand how the problem began. In the case of these non-state entities (in militarese- "assymetrical threats"; in Bushese--"terrorists") you have to look at military globabilization. By this I mean the extension of the war system, or global arms trade, from nation-states to non-state entities. This extension creates a number of serious problems. First, terrorist organizations have become as plugged into the global arms trade as nation-states, enabling them to be similarly armed. As a result, these entities are now in equal competition for weapons of mass destruction, but don't face the same types of consequences if they choose to use them (i.e. MAD, etc). This brings up a second problem. Since terrorist organizations are not sovereign entities, it is extremely difficult (almost impossible) to destroy their operational source. In contrast, when a nation-state attacks another nation-state, there are clear targets and a (relatively) limited battlefield, and victory is more definable. Of course there are other problems, like compliance with international rules of war, but I think the two mentioned sufficiently serve Naim's point. As Naim points out, the Bush Administration talks like they understand the problem, but their actions don't. This failure arises out of a tendency to apply a realist worldview to the effects of liberal interconnectedness. Or, in other words, by attacking nation-states while aiming at non-state entities, they not only fail to accurately respond to the threat, but they actually make things worse. Exhibit A: the war in Iraq. There has been a lot of discussion over the past few weeks about how the Democrats need to come up with a strategy for the war on terrorism. I think that Naim's point is one for Democrats to ponder because it provides a simple and effective alternative to the Republican's percieved strong points--security and foreign policy. The Democrats must be able to show how and why the Republicans are wrong on security and they need to show how they will do things better. This is certainly easier said than done, but I think Naim is pointing in the right direction for where Democrats can find an answer to their foreign policy problems.
12.13.2004

Update: Renewal of Iraq


According to the White House, we haven't made any progress in Renewing Iraq since October 21st, 2004. I'm sure there is a good explanation for the lack of updates, so I'd be glad to give the White House a helping hand: * The Washington Times reports that preparations for the January 30th Iraqi National Elections are going swimmingly. With 6 weeks to go we've registered .25% of eligible voters! As Major Ben Wild notes, "[The Iraqis] are very excited about democracy!" Whoa! Don't all register at once, Iraq! * Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar is optimistic about his country's future: "This could in the long term create an environment in which an Iraqi Hitler could emerge like the one created by the defeat of Germany and the humiliation of Germans in World War I," Yawar told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper." At least he didn't say another Saddam Hussein! * Today, December 13th 2004, is the 1st Anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture!! The day was marked by violence across Iraq, including a suicide car bombing that killed 13 people in Baghdad and a report that seven U.S. Marines died in combat in western Iraq. So you see, there is clearly no reason to read anything into the lack of updates coming from the White House on our renewal efforts in Iraq.

Neocon Stupidity


Some people just don't get it. Bill Kristol is now arguing that we need to off the Syrian regime as a way of stopping the Iraqi insurgency.
U.S. military intelligence officials agree: They have recently concluded, according to the Washington Post, "that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria, where they said former Saddam Hussein loyalists have found sanctuary and are channeling money and other support to those fighting the established government."

What to do? We have tried sweet talk (on Secretary Powell's trip to Damascus in May 2003) and tough talk (on the visit three months ago by Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt). Talk has failed. Syria is a weak country with a weak regime. We now need to take action to punish and deter Assad's regime.

It would be good, of course, if Secretary Rumsfeld had increased the size and strength of our army so that we now had more options. He didn't, and we must use the assets we have. Still, real options exist. We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities in Iraq; we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition (pro-human rights demonstrators recently tried to take to the streets of Damascus to protest the regime's abuses). This hardly exhausts all the possible forms of pressure and coercion. But it's time to get serious about dealing with Syria as part of winning in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East.

Even if Syria is helping out the insurgency, invading another Middle Eastern country (not to mention with who's army?) isn't going to do anything constructive for our efforts in Iraq, or for that matter, the war on terrorism. This is such a classic case of neocon stupidity. Instead of dealing with the fact that the insurgency exists because we screwed up, they pass the buck to Syria and then argue we need to invade it. It would almost be funny if it weren't so scary.

(via War and Piece)
12.12.2004

Bay Area Blogger Meet-Up


The second meeting of the Bay Area Resident Bloggers and Readers will be at 6pm this coming Wednesday at Ben & Nick's Bar & Grille in Oakland. If you live in the area, read or publish a blog, and enjoy beer and good conversation, please feel free to join us. Especially if you're into buying rounds. I had a great time at the first event, and hope that even more people show up this time. If you have any questions, or need the secret password, you can drop me a line via the email link on the left.
12.11.2004

Things I've Seen


Movies I've seen in the past three weeks: * Ocean's Twelve: Saw it last night, and didn't think it was very good. Great cast, but the story was a little hard to follow because it seemed as though they were writing the script as the movie unfolded. The problem with this is that there was absolutely no explanation for various plot twists and new character introductions, which makes things less believable. Even though it was so-so, I'd say it was entertaining, and probably best suited for a rental/flight. * Closer: Great story. Great cast. Great movie. I heard a lot of people (girls) mumbling on the way out of the theater that the movie was disturbing, but I think they were just having a difficult time dealing with one of the major themes of the movie: the truth hurts. Of course, another major theme is that Natalie Portman is beautiful (and a good actress). * Kinsey: Another excellent movie. It's all about sex--boring sex, kinky sex, all kinds of sex. And it's all about how prudish people deny their sexuality and try to deny others' sexuality because they aren't comfortable with their own. In this sense, it's a great movie for a country that has a collective hernia if a boob comes out on television for a split second or when sex is used to sell football. Liam Neeson is really good, and should get a nomination for his role as Alfred Kinsey. Tonight I'm going to see The Blind Boys of Alabama at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco (work perk!). These guys are pretty amazing--they met at a blind school in Alabama many years ago, and are now one of the best gospel groups around. They recently put out an album with Ben Harper, which I strongly recommend. If anyone has any other movie suggestions or reviews, let me know.
12.10.2004

The Ironic War


Sometimes you read something and it just makes you shake your head and wonder WTF is going on. This article via Reuters is one example. Iraq, keeper of the world's second largest oil reserves, and invaded by the United States for control over that very same oil, is in a fuel crisis:
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. officials in Baghdad fear that a fuel crisis, which has left Iraqi homes cold and dark and drivers waiting days for petrol, may inflame unrest before the election. "If the current situation does not improve quickly, public confidence in the government may deteriorate significantly," a diplomat wrote this week in a note circulated among the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq and obtained by Reuters. Blaming sabotage, banditry and guerrilla attacks on convoys, the note urged "extraordinary efforts" to ease shortages in Baghdad and elsewhere that have sent fuel prices soaring. [...] For Iraqis, who are to vote for a national assembly on Jan. 30, shortages of electricity and fuel are, aside from insecurity in much of the country, prime complaints since the war. With Iraq in the grip of winter, when temperatures drop close to freezing during 12 hours of darkness, electricity seems in shorter supply even than a few months ago, despite constant U.S. efforts to repair war and sabotage damage. Typically many households have two hours of power before a four-hour blackout. [...] On Friday, the North Oil Company said it was halting output at its refinery in Baiji, 180 km (110 miles) north of the capital, because of sabotage. An explosion also hit a pipeline near Baquba, northwest of Baghdad. Baiji and Baquba are both areas populated by Iraq's once dominant Sunni Arab minority, where loyalties to Saddam Hussein were once strong and where the insurgency against the occupation and pro-U.S. Iraqis is in full swing. U.S. and Iraqi officials fear violence could increase as the election nears. The cost of paraffin for heating has risen fivefold in the capital and bottled cooking gas tenfold, causing serious hardship for the many Iraqis without jobs or regular income. Lines several km (miles) long snake from the city's petrol stations where drivers can fill up for a subsidized 3 U.S. cents a liter. The choice is to pay 20 times as much to profiteers. Anger has boiled over, fights and shooting have broken out.
This war was about oil, plain and simple. There was never any other rational excuse, even in spite of the litany of reasons we were told in the run-up to the war. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney aren't stupid--they knew their excuses were bullshit, and knew they couldn't come out and say, "Yeah, it's the oil, stupid." And so it is that irony, and not oil, is Iraq's greatest export at the moment. We invaded Iraq for the oil, but don't have enough troops to protect the oil industry, which we were told would pay for the entire misadventure and help fund Iraq's blossoming democracy. Like just about everything else with this war, this great plan backfired, and the only people paying the consequences are those who didn't make the decision. The cost of these consequences is quickly escalating to the point that all the oil in the world won't be able to cover it:
The latest energy problems come as sources in Congress said the U.S. government, facing mounting violence and demands from troops for better equipment, is assembling a funding package for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that could outstrip earlier estimates, by as much as $75 billion to $100 billion.
But not to worry, as the "greatest Secretary of Defense the United States has ever had," Donald Rumsfeld has a plan:

"I don't believe that the United States has the responsibility for reconstruction, in a sense...[Reconstruction] funds can come from those various sources I mentioned: frozen assets, oil revenues and a variety of other things, including the Oil for Food, which has a very substantial number of billions of dollars in it."
[Source: Senate Appropriations Hearing, 3/27/03]

We're in good hands.
12.09.2004

PMD Don't Mean PM Dawn


Thomas Friedman makes an argument that the biggest intelligence failure leading up to the war was not the failure to find WMD, but the failure to calculate the number of PMD--People of Mass Destruction.
Let me explain: America's greatest intelligence failure in Iraq was not the W.M.D. we thought were there, but weren't. It was the P.M.D. we thought weren't there, but were. P.M.D., in my lexicon, stands for "people of mass destruction." And there were far more of them in Iraq than anyone realized. The failure of U.S. intelligence to understand what was happening inside Iraqi society during the decade-plus of U.N. sanctions that preceded our invasion is the key to many of the problems we've encountered in post-Saddam Iraq. The U.N. sanctions pulverized Iraqi society - a society already beaten down by an eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the war over Kuwait and some 30 years of Saddam's tyranny. As Saddamism and sanctions chewed up the Iraqi people during the 1990's, many people of talent left. Before the war, the Bush team told anyone who would listen that Iraq had the most talented secular elite in the Arab world. And it was right. The only problem was that during the 1990's many in that elite moved to Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Cairo, where they worked as professors, music teachers and engineers. Meanwhile, back in Iraq, those who had no access to Baath Party privileges got steadily ground down. Many Iraqi youth, unable to connect with the outside world and unable to find jobs at home, turned to religion. Saddam encouraged this with a mosque-building program. By wrapping himself in an aura of Islam, Saddam also hoped to buttress his own waning legitimacy. So Wahhabi religious influence flowed into the Sunni areas from Saudi Arabia, as Iranian religious influence flowed into Shiite regions. You know all those masked Iraqi youth you see in the Al Jazeera videos, brandishing weapons and standing over some foreigner whose head they are about saw off? They are the product of the last decade of Saddamism and sanctions. Those youth were 10 years old when the U.N. sanctions began. They are the mushrooms that Saddam and the sanctions were growing in the dark. The Bush team had no clue they were there. These deracinated, unemployed, humiliated Sunni Iraqi youth are our biggest problem today. Some clearly have become suicide bombers. We can't say what percentage, because, unlike the Palestinians, the Iraqi suicide bombers don't even bother to tell us their names or do a farewell video for mom. They not only are ready to commit suicide on demand, but they are ready to do it anonymously. That bespeaks a very high level of commitment or psychosis, or both. I would estimate that U.S. forces have been hit with over 200 of these human missiles, and we still are not sure how they are recruited and deployed. What we are facing, I think, is a crude underground suicide supply chain - a mutant combination of Wal-Mart and Wahhabism.
Wal-Mart and Wahhabism? Isn't that redundant? Friedman brings up an interesting point regarding Hussein's efforts to stoke religious fervor as a means of maintaining power. Forgive me, but I can't help but make a similar connection: Many American youth, unable to connect with the outside world and unable to find jobs at home, turned to religion. George Bush and Karl Rove encouraged this with an anti-gay marriage amendment proposal. By wrapping himself in an aura of Christianity, Bush also hoped to buttress his own waning legitimacy. I know, it's a stretch. Anyway, back to Friedman. Of course he is right. We failed (big time) to understand that when you "liberate" a country that has only known tyranny for the past thirty years, and is as ethnically divisive as Iraq, you're not going to be left with a pretty situation. As the great American hero, Donald Rumsfeld once said, "Quit your whiny bitching, soldier. Freedom is messy." Actually, "we failed" is a little bit misleading. There were lots of people, like the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass who did accurately predict that we were heading into a very hostile situation that would require far more troops than we had planned. At the time, their opinions were considered downright blasphemous by the people in the know--Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz--all of whom, for the record, still have a job. I disagree with Friedman on one point, though. He concludes that if we can figure out the supply chain flow chart for how the Iraq insurgencies recruit members and turn them into suicide bombers, he would feel a lot safer. I won't. The suicide bombings will increase, and so will the number of people willing to kill themselves, as long as we're in Iraq and as long as we continue to perpetuate the myth that we're bringing freedom, democracy and liberty to the Iraqi people. The Iraqis aren't idiots. They see the contradiction between our actions and our message, and they (rightfully) don't like it. That's the big problem that not even a two fold increase in troops can solve.
12.08.2004

No More Lighters On Airplanes


Wow. Go Congress!
WASHINGTON (AP) - Passengers already are barred from smoking on commercial flights. Now they won't be allowed to bring their butane lighters on board either. As part of the intelligence reform bill passed Wednesday, Congress added the lighters to the long list of items, including scissors, pen knives and box cutters, that passengers are barred from carrying on to planes. The ban does not apply to checked luggage.
I never understood why this was even possible in the first place (answer: tobacco lobby), especially after 9/11 and double especially after Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane by lighting his shoe bomb with a lighter. This should have been a no brainer, and I'm glad that Congress has finally done something about it. Note: This isn't an endorsement of the new intelligence bill, which I think doesn't really do too much in the way of making us safer, but it just goes to show that not all pork is bad.

Morale, What Is It Good For?


The Associated Press article mentioned in an earlier post leads with the following graphs:

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Disgruntled U.S. soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday about the lack of armor for their vehicles and long deployments, drawing a blunt retort from the Pentagon (news - web sites) chief. "You go to war with the Army you have," he said in a rare public airing of rank-and-file concerns among the troops. In his prepared remarks earlier, Rumsfeld had urged the troops — mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers — to discount critics of the war in Iraq (news - web sites) and to help "win the test of wills" with the insurgents. Some of soldiers, however, had criticisms of their own — not of the war itself but of how it is being fought.

From Dominic D. P. Johnson's Overconfidence and War, page 14:
The confidence of soldiers, commanders, statesmen, and nations has long been appreciated as an ingredient of success. Napolean believed that, in war, morale was three times more valuable than physical strength. More than a century and a half later, writing about the Vietnam War, Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts suggested that high morale remained a key attribute: "Optimism is psychologically necessary for dedicated and energetic performance." Indeed, differences in morale can turn tides of wars. Low morale can lead to military coups or domestic revolutions that bring down the home government (as with Milosevic in Serbia); high morale can allow nations to keep fighting apparently hopeless battles for years without surrendering (as with the resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). Weaker sides sometimes win wars--even against superpowers--and this is often attributed to the higher resolve of the underdog. In extreme cases, the resolve of a weaker power can render even massage military coercion by the stronger side effectively useless. The United States failed to break Norh Vietnamese resolve despite years of carnage and more tonnage of bombs dropped during all of World War II. As Ho Chi Minh promised: "Kill ten of our men and we will kill one of yours. In the end, it is you who will tire."
This further highlights the fact that there are serious problems inherent in our inability to a) put more troops into Iraq, and b) rotate those that are there often and reliably. I'm worried that the morale of our troops is dangerously low, not only because many of them have been there longer than they ever expected, and for reasons that now seem exaggerated (to put it nicely), but also because there seems to be no end in sight. For all the electoral praise Bush and Co. received for being stronger on Iraq and the war on terrorism, I still haven't heard a substantial proposal from them for how the hell we're going to get out of Iraq and what constitutes winning. That might not be a huge concern for you and I, after all, we can just turn off CNN or Fox and the war goes away. But for those there, who have families and loved ones back home, not knowing an exit plan, or even what constitutes victory, has got to be a huge and unnecessary burden. In contrast, we're fighting people whose motivations and goals are crystal clear. They want independence and freedom (irony is alive and well!), and probably want it more than however much we want whatever goals we have. That, in a nutshell, is why we're going to have one hell of a time winning this war (in any real sense of the word "winning"). Update: As PusBoy and BlondeSense note, Rumsfeld's full quote is even more disgusting: "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." I like what BlondeSense says, "So a big fuck you, you're going to die for Christmas," courtesy of the SecDef. Not to mention that this is just another beautiful example of irony in action. Rumsfeld, of course, went to war in Iraq with the Army he wanted and wished for.

Rumsfeld's Greatest Hits: Tough Love


Via AMERICAblog is this gem regarding Rumsfeld's recent trip to Kuwait. Apparently the conditions in Iraq are so bad that our soldiers aren't afraid to ask the Secretary of Defense some uncomfortable questions. Maybe we should send the press corp there for a while. From the AP:
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense. Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question. "We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson said after asking again. Rummy's reply? [Not from AP, but from AMERICAblog] "You go to war with the Army you have."
All class, that Rumsfeld. He should have just said, "Your selfish fellow Americans back in the States, who can't even find Iraq on a goddamn map, need their precious tax cuts."
12.07.2004

Rumsfeld's Greatest Hits: Private Military Corporations


Speaking of Rumsfeld, we often hear that one of his biggest wet dreams is to transform the military into a leaner fighting force, but we don't usually hear how he is actually going about doing it. At first glance, it sounds counterintuitive--we're already short of troops, why would we want to have even fewer? It's an honest question, but it fails to understand the culture of corporate greed that has seeped its way into the highest offices of the Pentagon. One of the things that Rumsfeld has done is increase the US military's reliance on private military corporations, which provide non-combat services like security, logistics, and training. In the past, the military was primarily responsible for these services, but over the course of the last few years, we've passed the buck, via contracts, to huge multi-national corporations. Iraq and Afghanistan have been the mother-of-all contracts for these companies because of all the work that needs to be done, and the lack of US military to do it. Now, I know next to nothing about business, but I do know that when you introduce a profit-seeking element into an area where it was previously lacking, and throw in a lack of oversight and accountability, corruption is nearly certain. And guess what? It's exactly what's happening. The market for these PMC's is booming, and nobody has a really good idea how much the companies are pulling in, but it is definitely in the billions. Unlike other sectors of the economy, PMCs can hardly employ people fast enough. Of course, as you might expect, this leads to some problems. In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman details the types of people these corporations are hiring to keep up with demand:
To an unprecedented degree, the United States and its allies have turned to private companies to fill tens of thousands of jobs once performed only by soldiers, from prison interrogators to bodyguards for high-ranking officials. Several of these companies have even engaged in firefights as part of their work. To Iraqis, the corporate guards are often indistinguishable from U.S. troops, with whom they often cooperate. Yet there is one key difference between the contract soldiers and U.S. troops: With pressure to quickly fill thousands of jobs, many companies have recruited former police officers and soldiers who engaged in human rights violations -- including torture and illicit killings -- for regimes such as apartheid South Africa, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. Some of these firms perform only cursory pre-employment screening, if any -- making it easy for those with questionable backgrounds to slip through unnoticed. “There is no interest on the part of many firms to do background checks,” says Marco Nicovic, an attorney in Serbia who serves as vice president of the International Bodyguard and Security Services Association. “For men who are wanted and have arrest warrants, Iraq is a way out. It’s easier, safer for them to start clean there.”
What is left unsaid in all of this is that we, the US taxpayers, are paying their salaries at a cost that is probably higher than what it would take to enlarge the military. And say you were about to leave the military (as if they'd let you), and you had the choice to re-enlist or get paid 10x more and work for a PMC, what would you do? Clearly, there are many concerns associated with the use of PMCs, but perhaps the biggest in my book is, as Yeoman writes, "To Iraqis, the corporate guards are often indistinguishable from U.S. troops, with whom they often cooperate." In other words, if you've got ex-Pinochet henchman running around in Iraq without any accountability for their actions, they're bound to do something that will hurt our image (if it is even possible anymore) in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. It doesn't even matter to an Iraqi whether they are contractors or aren't even American--they look like, are armed like, and are employed by the United States. The Arab world won't take its anger out on Blackwater or DynCorp. They will, and do, take it out on us. Finally, it adds to the growing list of contradictions filed under "Do As We Say, Not As We Do" a.k.a. The Abu Ghraib Rule. That is, it is silly for us to complain about the illegality of insurgents posing as civilians or not dressed in official military gear if we are going to employ non-military personnel to work alongside our own military. In this sense, our confusion, is equally their confusion.
12.06.2004

Rumsfeld Psyched for 2nd Term


Are you psyched? I'm so psyched I could puke:
"The president asked me if I would be willing to stay on, and I told him I would be delighted to do that," Rumsfeld said.
I'm speechless.

Musharraf to the UK: "We need to fight the root causes of terrorism"


It looks like Pervez Musharraf had a little more to say to Tony Blair and the UK then he did to George W. Bush and the US:
In an earlier interview for the BBC's Newsnight programme, it was suggested to the general the world was less safe - in part because of the campaign [the war on terrorism]. "Absolutely," he said, adding that the social grievances that helped recruit terrorists were not being addressed. Standing next to Mr Blair he added that it was crucial to tackle the "core of what creates terrorists, what creates an extremist, militant environment which then leads on to terrorism". "That is the resolution of political disputes." [...] In his interview with Newsnight, to be broadcast later on Monday, Mr Musharraf said there was a failure to tackle the core problems behind militancy. "We are fighting it in its immediate context, but we are not fighting it in its strategic, long-term context." He said a war on terror needed to combat the political disputes and social inequalities that gave rise to extremism. "What gives rise to a young man or woman to give up her or his life? It is the political disputes and we need to resolve them and also illiteracy and poverty. "These combined are breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism."
Isn't it surprising that he didn't mention this in Washington when he visited Bush to congratulate him on his re-election? It shouldn't be. We in America don't get to question the efficiency and effectiveness of the way we fight the war on terrorism. That would be downright unpatriotic! In our national discourse, the possibility that terrorism could be combated more effectively by directly addressing its root causes (poverty, political dictatorships, oil, etc) is about as pie in the sky as more efficient fuel standards for new auto engines. Or national healthcare. We've been drilled over and over again that military action is the only way we can win the war on terrorism, even as this thesis is continuously debunked with each passing day in Iraq. The fact is, Musharraf is right--relying primarily on military power to beat terrorism is a viscious circle that is unwinnable. I do not see how we are going to win unless we change our mentality. Of course, you cannot totally dismiss military power, but you can certainly use it more intelligently than we have so far. Such power should be used to complement and reinforce political, social, and economic power, all of which are just as important, if not more, than military force. Why? Because political, social, and economic power do not inherently provoke the problem. This illustrates my biggest problem with Bush's foreign policy: When you cast the battle in a black and white, good vs. evil, immoral vs moral framework you limit yourself to the most extreme ways of fighting the problem. It creates a bloodthirstyness that is unquenchable, but also destructive to those who try to quench it. Another consequence is that any alternative policy suggestions are immediately and completely marginalized, so that if a politician wants to become elected, he or she has to tease this bloodthirstyness (See Howard Dean, John Kerry, and any Democrat running for office from 2002-2004), which makes it even less likely that we'll ever be able to change this mentality. In this sense, we're our own worst enemy.