Friday, January 07, 2005

"But Only One can be Instacrap"

Attaturk at Rising Hegemon hits one out of the park with this post--here's a small sample:
(ahem--well, apparently this is an encore. I took a look and saw that Attaturk first posted it this summer. Glad he decided to run it again, as this was the first time I'd seen it).
Ballad of the 101st Keyboarders (tune=Ballad of the Green Berets)

Flying fingers on PC or macs
Never served, but who needs facts?
Men who blog just what Dubya Orders
Flacid men, the 101st Keyboarders

Cheeto Dust upon their clothes
Most are men, but all are hos.
One Hundred one Keys upon their lap
But only one, can be InstaCrap.

The rest of the song is here.
I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I was reading it--otherwise, I might have ruined my keyboard.
The Silver Medal in Irony Goes to...

Full Disclosure: As'ad Abu Khalil posted this story, with the note "No wonder British people think that there is no irony in US."

While the winning ironic statement still is, in my opinion, the Vietnam-Era "We had to destroy the city in order to save it," this one comes in with a strong, second place showing. Actual Headline:

After Leveling City, U.S. Tries to Build Trust

As he navigated his Humvee through rubble-strewn streets, Lance Cpl. Sunshine Yubeta articulated a question key to the Marines' mission here.

"I wonder," said the 23-year-old from Madras, Ore., nodding toward several sullen-looking men on a corner, "if they hate us or like us."...

And, moving right along, we get:

In addition, U.S. officials hope for at least a modicum of participation from Fallouja in the Jan. 30 national election, to help bolster the credibility of the fledgling Iraqi government.

At five heavily guarded entry points to the city, military interrogators are selectively asking returning residents whether they have heard of the upcoming election and, if so, which, if any, candidates they support.

The goal, officials say, is not to influence how Iraqis vote but to gauge how well residents of politically isolated Fallouja understand the changes that have occurred in their country since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled.

"Hey, sorry we blasted your house--and everything you own--to smithereens. So...who you gonna vote for?" Yeah, that'll really fly with the people.

Posters offer rewards for the capture of insurgent leaders, although apparently there have been few takers.

To which I say--duh. Do you think anyone in their right mind would get involved in this?

Leveling a place isn't exactly the best way to begin "building trust." If you don't believe me, try taking a wrecking ball to your neighbor's house and see what happens.
Close to Home

A friend emailed me with the news, but I also got this link from Timshel:

HOUMA, La. (AP) — A National Guardsman and father of three from Raceland was among as many as six Louisiana soldiers reportedly killed in a bomb blast that struck their patrol vehicle in Iraq.

A uniformed officer informed family members that Sgt. Kurt Comeaux, 34, was one of those killed in the blast, Comeaux's mother-in-law, Karen Gunn, said Friday.

"We got the knock at the door about 10:30 last night," Gunn said.

Officials told Comeaux's family that six of the seven fatalities are believed to be a part of the Louisiana National Guard 156th Mechanized Infantry Charlie Company. The other soldier was from New York.

Charlie Company's guardsmen come from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, New Orleans and the Morgan City area. The troops were deployed in October.

There's more here at Channel 9's website.

Interestingly, though, there isn't a whole lot in the national press, although the Times carried this--the usual bloviating from the man who put us in this mess:

"Democracy is hard," Mr. Bush said in a brief question-and-answer session in the White House. "Our own country's had a history of kind of a bumpy road toward democracy."

Huh? Back to "it's hard work?"

Referring to the campaign to stabilize Iraq, Mr. Bush said: "I know it's hard, but it's hard for a reason. And the reason it's hard is because there are a handful of folks who fear freedom."

Let's face it--when it comes to Iraq--a $140 BILLION dollar sinkhole into hell, Bush is without a clue. This is an embarrassment, and, if you ask me, criminally negligent. I think someone--hey, where's Alberto Gonzales when you need him?--should write a memo suggesting that Bush ought to get smacked upside the head every time he knee-jerks out of his piehole the expression "they fear freedom" or "they hate freedom."

Contrast Bush's idiocy with someone who actually knows a thing or two about foreign policy--Brent Scowcroft:

Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser for the first President Bush, said on Thursday that he had grown pessimistic about chances for stability in Iraq. "The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Mr. Scowcroft said in a speech to a public policy group, The Washington Post reported.

So, what else does The Post have to say? Quite a bit:

Scowcroft told a Washington luncheon yesterday that he expects "an incipient civil war" between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq after the Jan. 30 elections. He said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is inflaming the Middle East and hurting the war on terrorism, and he suggested turning the operation over to NATO or the United Nations.

And, here's Bush's response to these very valid concerns:

Asked whether he shared Mr. Scowcroft's concerns, Mr. Bush replied: "Quite the opposite. I think elections will be such an incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."

The president went on to reaffirm his faith that "democracies can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned to tyranny, and I believe when democracies take hold, it leads to peace."...

Asked whether he shared the concerns of people who have expressed worries that many Sunnis will sit out the elections, thus diluting their validity and sparking even more unrest, Mr. Bush said, "Well, I want everyone to vote, and I understand that parts of the Sunni area are being targeted by these killers."

"This administration firmly believes that if people are given a right to express themselves in a ballot in the ballot box, in the public square, and through a free and open press, it'll lead to peace."

The president said he viewed the elections as an "historical marker for our Iraq policy."

"I suspect if you were asking me questions 18 months ago and I said there's going to be elections in Iraq, you would have had trouble containing yourself from laughing out loud at the president," Mr. Bush said.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not laughing out loud at this moron. I'm shaking my head, wondering how a simpleton like this could be trusted with something as dangerous and as complicated as foreign policy. We're not just talking about the equivalent of handing a gun to a drunk. We're giving him extra bullets, several sticks of dynamite, gallons of fuel oil, corporate sized bags of ammonium nitrate, blasting caps, gasoline, matches, roman candles--and an old barn full of dried hay, right next to a building full of kids...

I mean, my god--look at this direct quote:

"I think we're making great progress" in Iraq. He added, "And it's exciting times for the Iraqi people. And it's so exciting there are some who are trying to intimidate people from going to the polls."

And it's so exciting that you've got a full-scale war going on--a war that's killing people, like the six Louisiana soldiers noted above--or the estimated 15,000 or more Iraqi civilians.



What a fucking moron.
Alberto Gonzales Officially Opposes Torture...of Himself

Slate has as good an article as anyone else, although you can go to the actual transcript from this Times link. And Bob Herbert has a much more serious take on the Gonzales matter than myself (see post below):

The administration that thumbed its nose at the Geneva Conventions seems equally dismissive of such grand American values as honor, justice, integrity, due process and the truth. So there was Alberto Gonzales, counselor to the president and enabler in chief of the pro-torture lobby, interviewing on Capitol Hill yesterday for the post of attorney general, which just happens to be the highest law enforcement office in the land.

Mr. Gonzales shouldn't be allowed anywhere near that office. His judgments regarding the detention and treatment of prisoners rounded up in Iraq and the so-called war on terror have been both unsound and shameful. Some of the practices that evolved from his judgments were appalling, gruesome, medieval.

But this is the Bush administration, where incompetence and outright failure are rewarded with the nation's highest honors. (Remember the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded last month to George Tenet et al.?) So not only is Mr. Gonzales's name being stenciled onto the attorney general's door, but a plush judicial seat is being readied for his anticipated elevation to the Supreme Court.

For the record, I watched about as much of the hearing as I could stand, which is to say not a whole lot. I saw Abu G. evade a very simple question from Senator Patrick Leahy (Can the president essentially authorize torture by providing immunity to those who engage in it?)--later I saw a little bit of Russ Feingold's questioning period. John Cornyn did his best to make it seem like Gonzales was the one being tortured, what with having to actually go through the confirmation process.

But Paul Krugman really hits the nail on the head today. After saying he wants to write a novel--a bad novel, ("there won't be any nuance," he asserts, before reminding us just how crass and hypocritical the Bush Gang is), Krugman concludes

The principal objection to making Mr. Gonzales attorney general is that doing so will tell the world that America thinks it's acceptable to torture people. But his confirmation will also be a statement about ethics.

As White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales was charged with vetting Mr. Kerik. He must have realized what kind of man he was dealing with - yet he declared Mr. Kerik fit to oversee homeland security.

Did Mr. Gonzales defer to the wishes of a president who wanted Mr. Kerik anyway, or did he decide that his boss wouldn't want to know? (The Nelson Report, a respected newsletter, reports that Mr. Bush has made it clear to his subordinates that he doesn't want to hear bad news about Iraq.)

Either way, when the Senate confirms Mr. Gonzales, it will mean that Iokiyar remains in effect, that the basic rules of ethics don't apply to people aligned with the ruling party. And reality will continue to be worse than any fiction I could write.

Iokiyar=It's OK if you're a Republican.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Only Four Provinces...but More Than Half the Population

That's the short version of this story, which goes on to note that "within each [problem province], he said, there appear to be areas safe and secure enough for people to vote."

So, in other words, the election could also be thought of as a lottery--with potentially deadly results.

Speaking of deadly--thus far, CNN only has a "Breaking News" banner across the top of their page (and Google News has no mention--yet), seven soldiers were killed by an IED in Northwest Baghdad today. The Times article above notes their deaths:

The challenge for General Metz, and for the Iraqi government and the 153,000 American soldiers here, was made clear again today. Seven American soldiers who were on patrol in northwestern Baghdad were killed when their Bradley fighting vehicle was hit by "an improvised explosive device," the military said.


Note: I forget where I saw this, and apologize to whoever posted it--but recently I read a well written post about the FUBAR situation in Iraq, and how even the wingnuts are distancing themselves, in their usual, lurching ways. The post noted something about how many erstwhile warmongers get angry--viciously angry--when reminded of their position. Not long ago, I witnessed this myself at a bar, and fortunately was sober enough to just let it pass (or maybe not quite drunk enough to think that my nose would eventually heal). I'm thinking the wingnut position will eventually be to deny Iraq (wow--really supporting the troops, no?), and do the anger thing when reminded--hoping that that alone will cut off any further mention.

It won't. Iraq should be pinned--no, welded--to the wingnuts' collective hide. It speaks volumes as to their outlook, and their entire political agenda should be judged on the basis of it.
Now Serving Grilled Alberto

Abu Gonzales is having his day in, um--well, he's certainly having a much better time than the folks he and his boss Dubya sent to the death chamber in Texas, or the folks at Abu Ghraib--or Guantanamo. At the same time, it looks like C-Span will be interesting tonight, once Congress concludes its business.

Tom Tomorrow points to a live blog link for anyone interested, and Pandagon had a few musings earlier, the short version being that Alberto is teetering so badly you'd think that maybe he'd spent last night hooded, balanced on a box, with electrodes strapped to certain areas.

I'll also be watching for those of wingnut persuasion on the panel to come up with ever more preposterous justifications for torture--hell, I might even make a drinking game out of that. I've posted about this before--long ago, so I'm not going to scour through the archives--but it always amazes me to watch the, no-pun-intended, torturous rationalizations given for the necessity of inflicting pain and suffering. It's always "for the children" or "for the masses of civilians".

It's sort of like the justification for the death penalty, which always involves invoking the most horrific of crimes, e.g., the Manson murders, Son of Sam, etc. (funny though that neither Manson nor Berkowitz is on death row, although Charles was moved as a result of I believe Furman v. Georgia in 1972 or 73). Later, it seems that the death penalty becomes little more than an exercise in prosecutorial viciousness, aimed at those least able to mount an effective defense, with the side benefit of looking good come election time.

Torture, at least as practiced by Team Bush, seems to be in a similar vein. And, for that, we have many to thank, but Alberto Gonzales is high on the list. But now he promises to behave himself.

Actually, what's kind of sad is that while voting thumbs down on someone like Gonzales would certainly be humiliating for him (and about the worst "justice" he'll ever have to face), shunting him aside would do little to actually provide retribution for the shame he's brought upon the country. On the contrary, he'd simply make a mint in private practice, serving one or several corporate clients and enjoying high end, expense account meals.

But you also don't want to reward the guy. So, what to do?...

I say let him take the AG job--after spending a year or so at Camp X-Ray, under the same conditions as all the other residents of that facility. Don't tell him before the fact what the length of his stint will be--instead, handcuff him, tie him down in the cargo bay of a C-130, and fly him down. Let him see up-close what he's brought about.
More Europeanish

Sorry to stray off-topic for a bit, but I just can't look at the Loftcube website without wanting to talk in a German accent (or, for that matter, even without thinking in a German accent). Which reminds me of a small joke:

English is the language of Science, French is the language of diplomacy, Spanish is the language of poetry, Italian is the language of love...and German is the language you speak to your dog in.

To be honest, there are stylistic components of the Loftcube that I actually like...although I'm not quite ready to change my name to Dieter.
The News You Want, Not the News You Have...

If this is accurate, then Bush has turned Rummy's admonition on its head. This means the commander in chief probably missed this one from Lt. Gen. James Helmly, commander of Reserve Forces. He wrote a memo in December--following up on a similar warning in November that recruitment goals weren't being met (hence, things like $15,000 dollar bonuses, which lend a whole new meaning to "your money or your life...or limb").

Helmly called the memo "a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern" about the status of his force. It was not his first warning: In November, he told the House Armed Services Committee that the Army Reserve is falling behind its recruiting goals for the year.

No, I'm pretty sure Bush missed that one. And, if he HAS gone the route of self-imposed, not-in-the-loop on this, then he might also have missed this:

The bodies of 18 young Iraqi Shiites taken off a bus and executed last month while seeking work at a U.S. base have been found in a field near the volatile city of Mosul, police said Thursday...

Their hands were tied behind their back and each was shot in the head, police said. All of the men were Shiite Muslims from Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Kadhimiya who had been hired by an Iraqi contractor to work at a U.S. base in Mosul.

The bodies were discovered Wednesday, the same day a suicide attacker blew up an explosives-laden car outside a police academy south of Baghdad in Hillah during a graduation ceremony, killing 20 people.

A second car bomber killed five Iraqi policemen in Baqouba bringing the death toll to at least 90 so far this week in surging violence aimed at derailing this month's elections.

In a separate execution-style incident, the bodies of three Jordanian truck drivers shot in the head were discovered on the outskirts of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, an AP photographer at the scene said Thursday. "This is the fate of anyone who cooperates with the Americans," said a note placed on one of the bodies.

Now, how the hell can 18 individuals be killed, execution style, without some sort of police response? Well, one answer is found later in the article:

More than 1,300 policemen were killed in the final four months of 2004, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Without trying to sound vicious, police in Iraq--nominally our "allies," as Dick Cheney so adamently asserted during the vice-presidential debate--are easy targets. Now, in a stable, or even improving situation, you woudn't expect police to be killed in those kind of numbers. Consider what the response in this country would be if 1,300 police were killed in THIS country in four months. Actually, on a per capita basis, an equivalent total would be closer to 15,000. Something tells me we wouldn't be scheduling elections under those circumstances.

But Bush apparently doesn't hear any of this. Neither, I'm guessing, does he hear about stuff like this--eight Kuwaiti soldiers have been questioned, and two court martialed, for suspicion of conspiracy in plotting to attack American soldiers during joint exercises. And these are our friends...

No, Bush apparently doesn't hear any of this. Not this, not the latest ugliness emerging from Abu Gonzales Ghraib or Guantanamo, or anything else that might upset his breakfast. Instead, he probably hears about stuff like this from Major General Peter Chiarelli, who noted at his press conference yesterday:

Here you see about 18,000 folks that we currently have at work in Sadr City putting in new sewers, putting in new electrical lines, putting in new water mains, picking up the trash and establishing. The next picture shows you folks that are improving the electrical distribution.

I've got 18,000 folks that work in Sadr City, $161 million worth of projects. I've got similar projects going on in just about every district of Baghdad. And that's what's normally not reported every day. And I think it's having a tremendous effect that the Iraqi people here in Baghdad feel that they have hope for the future. And because of that, I expect them to go out in the polls in rather large numbers.

In fact, Sadr City is remarkably quiet right now, considering that just a few months ago it was the scene of vicious fighting, as well as a bizarre weapons buy-back program that apparently allowed Moqtada's Militia to pay for upgrades to their arsenal. Bush probably gets news like this all the time.

And, if you think about it, it IS good news, at least to the extent that at last, not quite one percent of the reconstruction funds allocated for reconstruction have begun to be spent. On the other hand, you've got to wonder just what the general actually means, especially in light of articles like this, which seem to note a great deal of confusion as to how much money is being spent, has been spent, or will be spent.

Then you've got to consider some details of the kind that I'm sure Mr. Bush has sternly directed to never disturb him with:

The candidate, Fatah al-Sheik, 37, is the leader of a newly formed slate that is competing in the national elections scheduled for Jan. 30. But what is unusual is that he and his running mates are all from the vast, impoverished Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad called Sadr City, and all are acolytes of Moktada al-Sadr, the young cleric whose stern visage glares down from nearly every wall.

Or this:

...firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army has begun organizing fuel distribution in eastern Baghdad to ease the growing shortages. With fuel shortages and distribution problems now affecting people in almost every Iraqi city, inhabitants of the areas covered by the Mehdi Army have been widely appreciative of their efforts.

In other words, the money we're spending directly assists forces that were fighting against us just a short time ago. Forces that might turn to arms again if the election doesn't quite turn out as planned--hey, it's not like they haven't fought us before.

And there's always potential for fighting between say, Sadr supporters (and fellow travelers) and/or the Sunni insurgents (and THEIR fellow travelers) and/or the Kurdish nationalists. But that's just more news that Bush doesn't want to hear. But that doesn't mean it isn't news.

In the end, The Poor Man has a nice conclusion to his own latest post on the situation in Iraq--sorry to steal it, but it's as good as anything else I've seen:

no, I have no clue about how we can improve things in Iraq. I don’t have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed, and I don’t hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion. I do, however, know who shit the bed, and have some sense of how frequently he shits there. Let’s stop shitting for a start.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Bush Fiddles

Today at least twenty MORE people were killed in Iraq--although Iyad Allawi, who must be feeling more and more like Freidrich Paulus at Stalingrad every day--dutifully insisted that the elections would go ahead as planned--even though, as Oyster pointed out the other day, the insurgency now appears to outnumber the US forces in the country (for more on that, check out this BBC article).

The US, hanging on by its fingernails in Mesopotamia, is now getting shrill with Syria--again--although this smacks more of kicking your dog after a bad day at work.

There's of course the ongoing effort to assist areas hit by the tsunami--for the record, I'm guessing that anyone reading my humble blog knows where contributions are being accepted--and, if by chance you're not sure of a deserving agency, I'll note that Scaramouche has a prominent link that you can get to from his site (and please be generous to the extent that you can).

So, with all that's going on, you'd maybe think George W. Bush would be, oh, I don't know, doing almost ANYTHING BESIDES pushing his latest Adult A.D.D. fixation? Nope--here's the latest example of his "hard work":

Restating one of his campaign themes, President Bush prodded the new Congress today to put curbs on medical-malpractice lawsuits, which he said were driving up the cost of care and driving good doctors out of medicine.

Notwithstanding the fact that this ridiculous concept is ALREADY in place in either 27 or 34 states (competing articles here and here on the numbers), or that we're talking about 2 percent of overall healthcare costs, or that Bush was pulling facts out of his ass when he asserted that it was costing the country between "$60 and $100 billion a year" during his third debate with John Kerry last year, "tort reform" and "malpractice reform" are nothing if not a sleazy attempt to roll back basic rights--like the right to sue for damages if your healthcare provider screws up. And, considering that what we're talking about is NOT honest mistakes, but plain, good-old fashioned bungling by people who are PAID GOOD MONEY precisely BECAUSE we trust them literally with our lives--well, you know, come to think of it, maybe that IS the point: the person who dropped the ball on Iraq, on the economy, on the environment, on education, on--you name it--must see shades of himself in those who've made egregious errors on patients--just as he's done himself with the body politic.

Unfortunately, while Bush's compassion goes out to his constituency, fire is consuming everything else. But it's hard work for the dauphin to put his fiddle down.
Um, Gee--Thanks, Alberto

Nominee for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales promises that "he'll abide by the government's non-torture policies."...

Now, are those the non-torture policies traditionally adhered to (well, more or less) over the years, or the new Bush administration non-torture policies, formulated in large part by...Alberto Gonzales. The new Bush administration policies where torture isn't really torture, they said so...?

Just curious.
Expressing Confidence in the Process...

CNN reports that Iraqi democracy is progressing so rapidly that 35,000 US soldiers will patrol the streets of Baghdad on election day. I guess there will be fewer troops in Fallujah, since Fallujah no longer exists in any meaningful way...well, never mind.

You've gotta love Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who in one breath manages to say about the insurgents, "We will find you, we will watch where you move, we will listen to you speaking to each other, we will fight and we will defeat you.

You cannot sleep, eat, move or meet without the clear understanding that you may be killed or captured at any moment. Cease your operations now and you will be choosing to live."

Then, moments later, like a piddling second serve in tennis, he admits, "I cannot guarantee that there will not be any violence in Baghdad during the elections," Chiarelli said. "In fact, we should expect there will be."

Wow. I expect the insurgents must be quaking in their boots--that is, when they aren't taking advantage of their superior access to combat intelligence and either ambushing, bombing, or otherwise "bringing it on," to paraphrase a certain president of the United States.

Oh--and, as Today in Iraq pointed out, the family values Bush administration is making sure that war is something that can be experienced by both father and son--together, in the same unit, at the same time. Just think--if it hadn't been for all sorts of pesky little rules back then, Dubya and Dad could've fought the VietCong as a tagteam...

Finally, buried in the first CNN story above is this:

Department of Defense officials said 10,252 U.S. troops had suffered combat-related injuries since the Iraqi war began on March 19, 2003. Of those, 5,396 have been wounded seriously enough that they were unable to return to the battlefield, and 4,856 U.S. troops have been wounded and were able to return to duty in Iraq, according to the statistics.

Hmmm. I wonder if the Bush spinners will try a "glass half full" argument...given that almost half of the wounded soldiers get to tempt fate again. What would be the pitch? "One IED might not ruin your day after all"?
Powell on Drugs

Well, it certainly looks that way after reading this article. The soon-to-be-ex-Secretary of State thinks "Muslims" will notice US generosity and suddenly realize that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are, you know, really nothing at all...

"What it does in the Muslim world, the rest of the world is giving an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action," Powell said after meeting with Hassan Wirayuda, his Indonesian counterpart.

"America is not an anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim nation. America is a diverse society where we respect all religions," the secretary said

Powell said he hopes Muslim countries see the wide range of U.S. aid and involvement around the world, of which the disaster relief is only the latest example. U.S. involvement and cooperation "is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest," he said.

Powell was careful to avoid unpleasantries like the fact that 44 percent of American citizens apparently have values that include restricting the right of Muslims (thanks to Tlachtga for the link), that the United States has for decades supported some of the vilest sets of rulers in areas where Muslims live--like the Middle East/Central Asia (Saddam, the Shah, the House of Saud, the Al Sabah's, to name a few), South Asia (Indonesia--remember Suharto?), and so on. Additionally, Powell managed to avoid explaining how our war spending is still outpacing our "generosity" to the tune of almost one thousand to one.

Ah, diplomacy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Fantasy Versus Reality

Or, a Study of two op-eds. Today's New York Times conveniently has opinion pieces by Paul Krugman and David Brooks for perusal. Krugman additionally links to a .pdf that provides further detail--I guess we'll just have to take Brooks's piece on his word (cough).

To (cough again) start with Mr. Brooks's--appropriately titled "A TALE of Two Systems"--it becomes necessary to, well, suspend belief for just a moment and enter his world of fantasy.

After numbing us to sleep with baleful statistics about Old Europeans (i.e., "Old Europe"--I dunno, maybe David is eternally upset that he never was able to have a to-hell-with-tomorrow, "Last Tango in Paris" fling with a heartbreakingly beautiful Euro-ingeune)--he concludes, somewhat ominously:

The question is: Will we leave our children a system as flexible, dynamic and productive as the one that was, fortunately, left to us? Or, by doing nothing, will we succumb to the same ineluctable pressures that now afflict Europe, and find that we are immobilized at the exact moment China and India are passing us by?

Nothing like engaging in gratuitous scare mongering, eh? And, why not combine it with a bit of partisan swiping, as David does when he reminds us that our "flexible, dynamic, and productive" system was achieved by "not...taking [liberal]advice for the past 50 years."

Really? I guess all that Marshall Plan money was just a waste of time, not to mention the relatively high corporate and marginal tax rates of the 1950's and 60's (which happened to coincide with high rates of economic growth--go figure).

But enough fantasy--time to hit the Brooks, um, I mean the books.

I've linked to the Krugman .pdf article above--for the record, it's eleven pages, and won't slow your browser to a crawl, but still...anyway, to bring us back to at least a semblence of reality, let's look at both Krugman's analysis of the so-called "crisis" in Social Security AND his criticism of the various alternatives proposed by people like Brooks (well, to be fair, proposed by people ostensibly a lot smarter than David, who is paid to schill for them).

To begin, Professor Krugman outlines what he calls the three main points of confusion in the Social Security debate:

• The meaning of the trust fund: in order to create a sense of crisis, proponents of privatization consider the trust fund either real or fictional,depending on what is convenient

• The rate of return that can be expected on private accounts: privatizers claim that there is a huge free lunch from the creation of these accounts, a free lunch that is based on very dubious claims about future stock returns

• How to think about implicit liabilities in the far future: privatizers brush aside the huge negative fiscal consequences of their plans in the short run, claiming that reductions in promised payments many decades in the future are an adequate offset.

First bullet point, short version: unless there is a general fiscal and budetary meltdown, there is no problem with the trust fund. Additionally, if the rest of the government was managed as efficiently as Social Security, we'd have had the double benefit of both steady (if boring) growth in the trust fund (dividends and interest), plus an eventual transfer of Trust Funds to a different investment instrument (the government would gradually have less debt to sell)--accomplishing part of the privateers fantasy.

Privitization advocates, in contrast, either pretend there is no real trust fund (i.e., the one-pocket, another-pocket argument) when data indicates no problem with the fund, or firmly accept the concept of a fund (when adopting scare tactics a la "the fund will go insolvent in 2018/2042/2052--pick you year). By the way, all those crisis years assume rather pathetic growth rates, which makes me wonder why these so-called free market advocates seem to be so, well, Marxist, when it comes to estimating growth rates years into the future.

Second bullet point, short version: once you factor in the costs of privatization, you're left with--at best--the same, non-sexy growth factor--with the potential for HUGE downsides, like, say, Enron-style boondoggles down the road.

To counter this possibility, proponents say that initial outlays will be, well, heavily restricted. In fact, the restrictions will be extensive to the point that growth potential is negated by both limitations on commercial paper available AND by things like management fees that amount to a subsidy for Wall Street, at the expense of real benefits paid to retirees. In other words, it's a zero sum game at best, with the downside noted above.

Third bullet point: long term projections carry all the value of science fiction. You can speculate about warp drive, missions to the outer planets, etc. etc. in sci-fi novels/movies, but financial planning should be a bit more rooted in reality. And, in fact, it is: financial markets have tended to ignore long term projections--although, as Krugman points out, they will likely pay attention to "good old fashioned debt," like what might arise from the Bush prescription plan--or the Bush privatization plan for Social Security.

Krugman sums up by noting that privitization is a "solution in search of a problem." He goes on to note a dualistic trend--some privateers simply can't stand the concept of Social Security, while others seek to establish their social and political bona fides (and, as he puts it, take the "defensible position that a pay-as-you-go system is bad for savings and long-run growth. And they hope that a bad privatization plan may nonetheless be the start of a reform that eventually creates a better system). Krugman has words of warning for those folks--the Bushistas might let them sit at the table, but aren't likely to offer much more than scraps.

As for my own take, well, I look at Team Bush and see not just a closetful of lies, but a pervasive tendency to ignore the truth that is literally supersized. You simply can't trust serial prevariacators like this administration--where every public statement is through the looking glass. Trust them on Social Security? If you do, I've got some weapons of mass destruction I'd like to have you take--by force, if necessary.
Apt Metaphor

Last night I tuned in Nightline and watched George Stephanopoulos, the Keanu Reeves of journalism, introduce a report by Mike Cerre on the return of Marine Company Fox 2/5 to the war zone.

Unlike the first time around, the second act for this Company is decidedly less glamorous. One Marine compared the initial assault to the moon landings--and he was a lot more on the money than maybe he realized. I forget the exact quote, but it was something like how he felt like the first man on the moon. Now, less than two years later, the Marine company, and the others there, might well be like the last to walk on the lunar surface, while public interest drifts to other things.

As for the rest of us--well, I think it's clear that any Westerner would be suicidally foolish to venture to the cradle of Western civilization in my lifetime.

The rest of the report focused on the usual stuff--the house to house searches that make a mockery of any sort of liberating aspect of the war. There were a couple of cutesy references to "Monster Garage" and "Pimp my Ride" about the frantic armoring of vehicles (making the trucks and Humvees look like props in the old sci-fi TV show War of the Worlds). Cerre himself noted the disaffection of especially younger soldiers, who are beginning to realize they might spend their entire career in the hellhole of the West Asian desert. And, in spite of the enormous sums of money spent thus far, it's looking more and more like the war was provisioned by Wal-Mart--bad or missing equipment, too few boots on the ground, etc. etc. One especially poignant segment of the report focused on a "good will" mission--undertaken only after two months or so of smashing down doors. Marines distributed tennis shoes to Iraqi children, after having set up a perimeter that included rooftop snipers (of course, doors were smashed in order to position the snipers). Off in the margins, disaffected young men watched, wearing the kinds of expressions found on gangbangers here in the US.

The real situation on the ground continues to LOL at the public statements the Bush administration made prior to the catastrophic success. Oyster has a very good post reminding us of the glowing rhetoric, coupled with a most sobering estimate of the actual insurgency faced by the soldiers. Then we've got today's news--Baghdad's governor assassinated, five more US soldiers killed, insurgent rhetoric every bit as insane as bin Laden's...This is success?

Meanwhile, public opinion is either drifting, in denial, or prone to sinking its collective head in the sand when it comes to the Bush manufactured disaster in Mesopotamia (see The Rude Pundit today for more on the latter). Like the moon landings, it's difficult to discern any sort of benefit from the operation. The downside seen here in the US--the funerals for the soldiers killed--has a chilling effect, even if the destruction wrought upon ordinary Iraqis is mostly ignored.

And the REAL downside to the loss hasn't even been felt yet.

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Hey, We Could Have an ELECTION!"

At least sixteen fewer people will "vote" in the Iraqi "election," still scheduled for January 29th, although you've got to wonder about anyone who says elections can be held under these conditions:

Lakes of sewage in the streets. The smell of corpses inside charred buildings. No water or electricity. Long waits and thorough searches by U.S. troops at checkpoints. Warnings to watch out for land mines and booby traps. Occasional gunfire between troops and insurgents.

Let's face it--the conditions make plebscites in Louisiana look positively clean in comparison.

Riverbend has a few words of her own regarding the upcoming tally:

The elections are set for the 29th. It's an interesting situation. The different sects and factions just can't seem to agree. Sunni Arabs are going to boycott elections. It's not about religion or fatwas or any of that so much as the principle of holding elections while you are under occupation. People don't really sense that this is the first stepping stone to democracy as western media is implying. Many people sense that this is just the final act of a really bad play. It's the tying of the ribbon on the "democracy parcel" we've been handed. It's being stuck with an occupation government that has been labeled 'legitimate' through elections...

There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.

American politicians seem to be very confident that Iraq is going to come out of these elections with a secular government. How is that going to happen when many Shia Iraqis are being driven to vote with various fatwas from Sistani and gang? Sistani and some others of Iranian inclination came out with fatwas claiming that non-voters will burn in the hottest fires of the underworld for an eternity if they don't vote (I'm wondering- was this a fatwa borrowed from right-wing Bushies during the American elections?). So someone fuelled with a scorching fatwa like that one- how will they vote? Secular? Yeah, right.

And Swopa at Needlenose came across an interesting article suggesting that Allawi might not do so bad in certain areas like Basra, where secular Sh'ias would view him more favorably than some of the more overtly religious candidates, particularly those with ties to Iran. Swopa notes that the lesser of evils in Iraq is certainly a good bit worse than what we get here in the US (to paraphrase Rummy, you go to the election with the candidates you have...).

However, let's be real--it won't matter who "wins" the election, for the same reason that it doesn't matter if you've got the right-of-way at an intersection but a Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup decides to make an illegal turn--you can have "but I had the right-of-way" chisled on your tombstone, but it's not likely to make much of a difference. The winner of the Iraqi election will have to contend with an insurgency that sees military strength as the ultimate arbiter--and the insurgency will be better organized, better trained, and, thanks to the stupidity of "shock and awe followed by catastrophic success," likely better equipped than any constitutionally organized security or military force.

Under those circumstances, elections are, well, foolish--they accomplish nothing except to provide insurgents with additional people to target. Of course, they also provide a cynical cover for some Washington politicians too...
Unbought and Unbossed

Your Right Hand Thief has some good things to say about Shirley Chisholm, who died two days ago.

I'm actually old enough to remember her running for president in 1972. I wasn't old enough to vote--and wouldn't be for another, um, dozen years or so--but her candidacy made quite an impression on me. What I remember most about Ms. Chisholm was the seriousness with which she took the race, and the honesty with which she answered questions and otherwise handled the press and public. A lot of politicians could learn a lot from her example.

She will be missed.
Two Different Ways of Saying the Same Thing

And it's about the same person--Dubya. Jerome Doolittle at Bad Attitudes cites John Stuart Mill:

In his Speech on Perfectibility, John Stuart Mill writes, “If there is a man in public or private life who is so impenetrably dull that reason and argument never make the slightest impression upon him, the dull people immediately set him down as a man of excellent judgement and common sense; as if because men of talent and genius are sometimes deficient in judgement it followed that it was only necessary to be without one spark of talent or genius in order to be a man of consummate judgement...Wisdom is supposed to consist not in seeing further than other people, but in not seeing so far.”

Sister Helen Prejean--Timshel provides the link--might be a bit less flowery, but is on the money nonetheless:

The aphorism "A hammer, when presented with a nail, knows to do only one thing" applies, par excellence, to George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, Bush tackled the social problem of street crime by presiding over the busiest execution chamber in the country. At the time of the thirteen death row exonerations in Illinois, Bush stated publicly that although states such as Illinois might have problems with a faulty death penalty system, he was certain that in Texas no innocent person had ever been sent to death row, much less executed. That remains to be seen. What is clear is that he had, as governor, no quality of mercy.
Not the Day From Hell

To be honest, I almost titled this post "The Day From Hell," until about three seconds of reflection made me realize that plenty of folks in South Asia would consider my workload quite pleasant...that said, Thursday's data migration was followed by the necessity this morning of making configuration changes on about fifty workstations, which is easier said than done. You see, to stop the kind of spyware and adware headaches we've had here (can't folks just NOT click on ads for online casinos, Vioxx, Viagra, and/or porn?), the office installed a security agent that prevents ANY program installation by the users. Ergo, a two minute install becomes a twenty minute exercise in rebooting...

Anyway--oh, and to stay off topic for a second, I managed to answer the Timshel Trivia Question without the use of any visual aid besides a world map I have hanging on my wall. The downside is that was the extent of my internet browsing today--one quick glance at one site on my lunch break.

So, I'll be catching up for a bit longer. Back in a few.
The Fighting Jesus, Part II

Please forgive the lengthy break--after Thursday's all-day, and Friday's hangover, I decided to ring in the new year without a post, per se. Well, one of 2005's resolutions is to show a little more discipline when it comes to writing...

Because I was slow to post, I missed out on commenting on this story, which notes that James Dobson is threatening to "target" six Democratic Senators if they "obstruct" any Bush court appointees. Hmmm.

Dobson shows himself ignorant of two things here: the Constitution, which expressly authorizes the Senate to provide "advice and consent" to executive appointees, and the New Testament, which sort of modifies the whole vengence meme that permeates the Old Testament.

Maybe someone out to tell him to read his damned Bible once in a while...