Friday, April 22, 2005


If a picture says a thousand words, then Rising Hegemon published a dissertation today: The (d)evolution of America...laugh the first time you scroll through, then give it a second look--it's not just funny, it's dead-on accurate.
Access Denied--That'll be $100, Please

Paul Krugman's latest in the New York Times points to one of the ironies of the US health "system," namely, the fact that several million administrative employees suck up health care dollars in exchange for denying claims and/or passing the buck (his phrase) to other providers of last resort, like Medicaid:

At a rough guess, between two million and three million Americans are employed by insurers and health care providers not to deliver health care, but to pass the buck for that care to someone else. And the result of all their exertions is to make the nation poorer and sicker.

Why do we put up with such an expensive, counterproductive health care system? Vested interests play an important role. But we also suffer from ideological blinders: decades of indoctrination in the virtues of market competition and the evils of big government have left many Americans unable to comprehend the idea that sometimes competition is the problem, not the solution.

As an aside, he brings up a point that others have noted in arguing that, eventually, this country MIGHT do the rational thing and adopt a single-payer public health system--if only because employer financed benefits are creating an uncompetitive burden on business: the U.S. system, medical costs act as a tax on employment. For example, General Motors is losing money on every car it makes because of the burden of health care costs. As a result, it may be forced to lay off thousands of workers, or may even go out of business. Yet the insurance premiums saved by firing workers are no saving at all to society as a whole: somebody still ends up paying the bills.

I guess this is as good a time as any to also note that Ezra Klein has been posting a series he calls The Health of Nations, with Japan and Germany the latest installments. Thus far, I've found his posts easy to read, but plenty informative enough. France, England, and Canada have also been looked at. Check them out yourself if you feel like it.

My own take on health care is "here's hoping I don't get sick..." AND I HAVE insurance...
"Hi, My Name is Colin, and I'll be Your Server"

But the only item on the menu is a cold dish of revenge:

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.

Others have suggested that it'd be nice if Powell would go public with his concerns, but the guy's history is that of ultimate team player--to the extent that he was willing to humiliate himself before a global audience with his UN speech debacle a couple of years back.

Too bad Team Bush was never called to account for Colin's performance, but, then again, personal responsibility isn't exactly their strong suit.

As for Bolton himself--consider this letter:

In the late summer of 1994, I worked as the subcontracted leader of a US AID project in Kyrgyzstan officially awarded to a HUB primary contractor. My own employer was Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, and I reported directly to Republican leader Charlie Black.

After months of incompetence, poor contract performance, inadequate in-country funding, and a general lack of interest or support in our work from the prime contractor, I was forced to make US AID officials aware of the prime contractor's poor performance...

Within hours of sending a letter to US AID officials outlining my concerns, I met John Bolton, whom the prime contractor hired as legal counsel to represent them to US AID. And, so, within hours of dispatching that letter, my hell began.

Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel -- throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman. For nearly two weeks, while I awaited fresh direction from my company and from US AID, John Bolton hounded me in such an appalling way that I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton, of course, then routinely visited me there to pound on the door and shout threats...

As a further aside, he made unconscionable comments about my weight, my wardrobe and, with a couple of team leaders, my sexuality, hinting that I was a lesbian (for the record, I'm not)...

John Bolton put me through hell -- and he did everything he could to intimidate, malign and threaten not just me, but anybody unwilling to go along with his version of events. His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological.

I cannot believe that this is a man being seriously considered for any diplomatic position, let alone such a critical posting to the UN...

Well, now I understand why Bush chose him--Bolton's behavior sounds like it's perfectly in sync with the administration's.
I'm the Pope, Damnit!

Well, so much for a Fifi-esque slap on the hand from Pope Rottweiler--Spain is in his crosshairs:

Pope Benedict XVI has responded firmly to the first challenge of his papacy by condemning a Spanish government bill allowing marriage between homosexuals.

Of course, now that Don Benedict is the leader of La Familgia Catolica, it would be unseemly for him to speak directly. Ergo, it fell upon Cardinal Trujillo to deliver the message that Spain is in danger of sleeping with the fishes:

Asked about the Spanish Bill, he said:"We cannot impose the iniquitous on people.

"On the contrary, precisely because they are iniquitous the Church makes an urgent call for freedom of conscience and the duty to oppose.

"A law as profoundly iniquitous as this one is not an obligation, it cannot be an obligation. One cannot say that a law is right simply because it is law."

He called on municipal officials asked to perform gay marriages to object on grounds of conscience and to refuse to go through with the ceremony, even if it meant losing their jobs.

And, of course, the Cardinal demonstrates a patronizing attitude towards gays and lesbians to boot:

The Cardinal went on to argue that the Church does not discriminate against gays, but said they needed help.

I think the church could stand to get a little help itself and give up on the gay-bashing.
Gilliard's Analysis

Steve Gilliard takes the latest news--the helicopter shot down north of Baghdad--to present a systematic analysis of why the Iraq war has turned into such a colossal failure. He identifies seven major points:

1. The military was unprepared to fight a guerrilla war.

For example, check out this Guardian article, noting that military exercises in 2002 were rigged. Guerrilla tactics on the part of the "enemy" commander were prohibited. Gilliard notes the lack of auxilliaries, i.e., genuine allies (as opposed to the ridiculous "Coalition of the Willing")--they could have provided the sheer numbers that Paul Wolfowitz, in a fit of hubris, declared were "wildly off the mark." I dunno--maybe Wolfo was having a bad hair day, or something.

2. The size and makeup of the resistance

They call it "Baathist remnants," "Islamic extremists," "Foreign elements," "Dead enders," etc., but the facts belie this. The resistance has at least SOME support. People not actively fighting are at the very least looking the other way. This is a disaster for the US, and particularly the Bush war planners, who assumed our soldiers would be welcomed with open arms. Now, with all the destruction resulting from 2+ years of combat, you can bet the Iraqi people would just as soon see us gone so they can work out their own issues of security and government.

Bush's kumbaya rhetoric about tyranny, democracy, and how the latter isn't just for white people anymore is profoundly ignorant and more than a little racist. His patronizing attitude (which filters down throughout the administration) combined with the lethal force--and inevitable consequences, i.e., death, destruction, and chaos, bring about a totally understandable reaction from Iraqis--a negative one. Geez--would YOU want the equivalent of an Oklahoma City type horror every few days?

3. Weapons

Gilliard points out that the Iraqi forces are remarkably well armed, yet another consequence of the piss-poor planning by Team Bush. Bypassing--and NOT securing--weapons dumps was profoundly stupid.

You can't blame the tactical commanders--they simply didn't have the numbers of soldiers available to do this. But again, the consequences are severe--insurgents can do a lot of damage with what basically amounted to a giveaway.

4. Intelligence

It's quite clear we simply don't have the intel resources to counter insurgent actions. It's also quite clear that the insurgency, on the other hand, DOES have good intelligence. Those they identify as collaborators are killed (sowing fear among the rest of the population), Iraqi police, security, and armed forces are thoroughly infiltrated, etc. One big drawback for the US is the simple lack of qualified translators--which can truly make things difficult. This is yet another example of godawful planning that went into this invasion--planning based in utter arrogance.

5. Wrong equipment

Gilliard's words: But the critical problem is that the US doesn't have the vehicles to fight this war. The tanks are too big, Humvees rolling targets and weighted down with field-expedient armor, too few troops with the right rifles and body armor and most of all not enough infantry. And what is the US debating? Missile systems and new ships.

6. Air Im-mobile

Helicopters haven't been used with the numbers, tactics, and frequency generally expected in this kind of conflict because they are in fact extremely vulnerable to relatively simple weapons--RPG's and SAM's.

7. Declining Morale

Recruitment is WAY down (duh--few clear minded people will consider joining the Army or Marines right now. Consider: who is MORE likely to be put into a combat situation--a fresh recruit or a trained specialist that the Army has put a heavy investment into?). Iraq is also a hell of a place to be in--all the usual outlets that the military uses to blow off steam don't exist. Plus, you're in an urban combat environment, i.e., it's high stress.

Gilliard believes this is slowly grinding the US Army to death. And the Rethuglican Congress is already pissing on the veterans--even before they come back home.

It makes for a very ugly situation.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

More Costs of War

You've probably seen the headlines today about the missile attack on a helicopter north of Baghdad today, which killed eleven individuals. But Cursor also noted two Washington Post stories dealing with day-to-day realities equally vicious:

In this one, Ann Scott Tyson recounts the horror of survivor's guilt when she realizes that a Humvee which struck an IED had been the one she was traveling in just ten minutes previously. And in this story Steve Fainaru writes about an individual NCO in Mosul who's taken his street-gang upbringing (in Puerto Rico and Brooklyn) and applied it to countering the insurgency. Neither is particularly uplifting--instead, both underscore the utter lost cause that is Mesopotamia.

Finally, Blogger was gone for the last couple of hours--and their own status pages indicates additional down time in not quite ten minutes. Soooo.....I'll cut this post short...hopefully this isn't an indication of a return to awful that was the norm a couple of weeks ago...
Body Counts

I came across this at Salon--one of the last dispatches filed by Marla Ruzicka:

During the Iraq war, as U.S. troops pushed toward Baghdad, counting civilian casualties was not a priority for the military. However, since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared major combat operations over and the U.S. military moved into a phase referred to as "stability operations," most units began to keep track of Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints or during foot patrols by U.S. soldiers.

Here in Baghdad, a brigadier general commander explained to me that it is standard operating procedure for U.S. troops to file a spot report when they shoot a non-combatant. It is in the military's interest to release these statistics.

Recently, I obtained statistics on civilian casualties from a high-ranking U.S. military official. The numbers were for Baghdad only, for a short period, during a relatively quiet time. Other hot spots, such as the Ramadi and Mosul areas, could prove worse. The statistics showed that 29 civilians were killed by small-arms fire during firefights between U.S. troops and insurgents between Feb. 28 and April 5 — four times the number of Iraqi police killed in the same period. It is not clear whether the bullets that killed these civilians were fired by U.S. troops or insurgents.

A good place to search for Iraqi civilian death counts is the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad and the General Information Centers set up by the U.S. military across Iraq. Iraqis who have been harmed by Americans have the right to file claims for compensation at these locations, and some claims have been paid. But others have been denied, even when the U.S. forces were in the wrong.

The Marines have also been paying compensation in Fallujah and Najaf. These data serve as a good barometer of the civilian costs of battle in both cities.

These statistics demonstrate that the U.S. military can and does track civilian casualties. Troops on the ground keep these records because they recognize they have a responsibility to review each action taken and that it is in their interest to minimize mistakes, especially since winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a key component of their strategy. The military should also want to release this information for the purposes of comparison with reports such as the Lancet study published late last year. It suggested that since the U.S.-led invasion there had been 100,000 deaths in Iraq.

A further step should be taken. In my dealings with U.S. military officials here, they have shown regret and remorse for the deaths and injuries of civilians. Systematically recording and publicly releasing civilian casualty numbers would assist in helping the victims who survive to piece their lives back together.

A number is important not only to quantify the cost of war, but as a reminder of those whose dreams will never be realized in a free and democratic Iraq.
Slap His Hand, Pope Soul Man

On the homepage of ABC News, you can click on a Flash streaming video of then Cardinal Ratzinger going all, well, Vatican, I guess, on a reporter who dared to ask him questions about the sexual abuse scandal affecting (and infecting) the church.

It's actually kind of funny to watch--I suppose there's no way to say this diplomatically, but for a man likened to a Rottweiler, he's looks pretty, um, Fifi-ish on tape.

For more on David Brooks's particular brand of idiocy, check out this spot-on post by Michael Berube. The Rude Pundit also weighs in.
The New York Wanker

Attaturk from Rising Hegemon rightly tees off on David Brooks, who's column I actually managed to gag down today (it was sooo much like watching a slow-motion train wreck--I couldn't stop. And, what the hell, my blood pressure needed to rise a bit anyway).

Bobo Brooks looks at the pending rape of Senate traditions, the rabid, poisonous acts of the Republican Junta and blames...

Harry Blackmun.

I kid you not.

That's actually true--Brooks wasted column space today justifying Senate wingnuttia as the logical outgrowth of Rove v. Wade, and offers as a solution the overturning of this landmark legal decision. What an idiot.
Separated at Birth?

Oh, wait...vampires don't die, so maybe they're really one in the same...just a change of uniform...

Better check to see what's in Pope Rottweiler's chalice--is it REALLY the blood of Christ? Or, just plain blood?

Trying to Recover

I almost wanted to title this "Sister Cities?" but that does justice to neither group of survivors.

Last night I did my usual relaxation ritual--then I tuned into Nightline and watched extended interviews with Oklahoma City residents who recalled the terrorist bombing ten years ago.

And it hit me--one bombing is plenty enough to cause lasting damage. In the decade since, the survivors have shown remarkable resiliancy and their courage in the face of suffering is admirable.

But Iraqi cities suffer from bombings on a daily basis--this has been going on at a high level of intensity at least since the invasion (and, for some areas, on a lower level of intensity since the end of the first Gulf War).

Whether the bombings are the work of terrorists--or our Air Force--matters little. People are killed. Horrific damage results. Lives are shattered. Things are never the same.

If not an explosion, violent death can come at a checkpoint. Or during a patrol where the victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this war, civilians are being killed at a frightening rat (See Today in Iraq's most recent post).

As noted above, this is NOT an attempt to mitigate the damage caused by Nichols, McVeigh (and, for the conspiracy minded, John Doe II). I do think, though, the damage caused in Operation Enduring Clusterfuck likewise affects those Iraqis who've suffered as the result of the ill planned attempt to make George W. Bush the ultimate Rhinestone Flyboy.

And I don't think Iraqis are all that different from Americans when it comes to how they're affected by acts of violence. My guess is that they'll display the same range of emotion that you'd expect from anyone. The invasion and the aftermath is, sadly, giving them plenty of chances to experience the range of emotion.

I wonder if we in the United States realize that...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Science Wednesday

Just when I think my blogging fate is instrinsicly tied to what I'd like to think is at least a bit of sanity--and a healthy dose of exasperation at wrong-wing lunacy--the gods have a bit of mercy and present me with something positive if not downright inspiring:

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

Andrew Leonard, writing in Salon (accessibile with a subscription or by watching an ad), cautions against being overly optimistic, noting that most of the material is fragmentary. But it's a hell of a lot better than nothing at all.

Let's just hope that present day politics won't cut scholars off from the region where the scrolls were found--the Middle East.
Saddam and the Grassy Knoll

OK, it's a link from Atrios, so you've probably seen it, but (warning--it's from Faux News)...

On Tuesday's show you heard FOX News' Rita Cosby talking about the quite shocking claims made by a group of victims' families that Iraq was at the bottom of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.

This has come up before: A reporter named Jayna Davis has a book out about it.

The whole thing stinks of Iraq. Ramzi Yousef (search), an Iraqi agent that was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and his associates were allegedly talking to Terry Nichols (search) in 1994 about how to build a fertilizer bomb.

So now the question: So if there is all this evidence, why has the U.S. government ignored it?

Well, for one thing, I submit George W. Bush didn't ignore it after September 11, 2001. He realized then that Iraq was behind a lot of the attacks on the U.S. and it was time for it to stop.

Hmmm..."a lot of attacks." I imagine Gibson has a LONG list of things he wants to blame on Saddam:

and, perhaps the ultimate tragedy:

I don't even know where to begin today--Iraq continues to be a hellhole, Tom DeLay continues to show signs of excessive chemical exposure, Pope Rottweiler I, who disguised as mild-mannered Cardinal Ratzinger, apparently was behind the idiotic attempt to smear US political candidates who refused to put the interests of Romanism above the laws of the country--and people have taken to venerating salt runoff in Chicago as the likeness of the Virgin Mary...

And I'm not even going to comment on Time magazine's founding of a cult of Coulter--that's simply too bizarre (besides, you can find excellent analysis at James Wolcott and Billmon).

Ten years ago, it seemed like politicians were behaving in a way that effectively made documentaries the new satire. Now, even the news is following that trend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Common Ground

You wouldn't think John and Michael Bolton shared anything in common--but The Editors found a couple of similarities (hint: think hairstyles and attitudes). The Poorman concludes:

Verdict: in order to save ’60s soul music and the United Nations, President Bush should appoint Michael Bolton Ambassador to the UN, and, by executive order, appoint John Bolton to fulfill the remainder of Michael’s contract with Columbia. Although he is not “bound by laws prohibiting torture,” according to his current Attorney General, we request that the President not have either Bolton sing any songs written by the previous Attorney General John Ashcroft.

What I thought was going to be a routine Help Desk turned on be fair, I can hardly complain: if this is the worst it gets, it really isn't that bad...two days of feverish activity doesn't exactly equal high stress.

Besides, it's probably fitting that I should be busy on a day when the College of Cardinals elected Pope Rottweiler I--who has decided to adopt the slightly-less-descriptive-if-more-pleasing-to-the-ears name of Benedict XVI.

Again, apologies while I try to catch up on other news--gawd, I've felt so out of it over the last couple of days--although, admittedly, while not putting in extra time at work, I did manage finally to watch a borrowed DVD of The Office--something I'd highly recommend...

Sorry for the slow updates yesterday and today. It's been a busy one over here. After lunch I might have a little time.

And, as always, I'm truly appreciative of all y'all who stop by--let's see, if I include close relatives, that amounts to almost a dozen...


Monday, April 18, 2005

If a Bush--or a Shrub--Falls Down in the Forest Desert...

Patrick Cockburn pokes a super-sized hole in any notion that things are getting better in Mesopotamia:

Iraqi and United States-led forces were last night preparing to launch a rescue mission for up to 150 Shia hostages held by Sunni insurgents.

The threat by Sunni militants in the town of Madaen, south of Baghdad, to execute the hostages unless Shias leave the area, intensified the growing sectarian fears.

The upsurge in violence across Iraq in the past four days has left claims made by the Pentagon that the tide is turning in Iraq and there are hopeful signs of a return to normality in tatters...

Ironically, one reason why Washington can persuade the outside world that its venture in Iraq is finally coming right is that it is too dangerous for reporters to travel outside Baghdad or stray far from their hotels in the capital. The threat to all foreigners was underlined last week when an American contractor was snatched by kidnappers.

When I was travelling in the northern city of Mosul this week, my guards - Kurdish members of the Iraqi National Guard - said it was too dangerous for them to travel with me in uniform in official vehicles. They donned Arab gowns, hid their weapons and drove through the city in a civilian car.

Most violent incidents in Iraq go unreported. We saw one suicide bomb explosion, clouds of smoke and dust erupting into the air, and heard another in the space of an hour. Neither was mentioned in official reports. Last year US soldiers told the IoS that they do not tell their superiors about attacks on them unless they suffer casualties. This avoids bureaucratic hassle and "our generals want to hear about the number of attacks going down not up". This makes the official Pentagon claim that the number of insurgent attacks is down from 140 a day in January to 40 a day this month dubious.

US casualties have fallen to about one dead a day in March compared with four a day in January and five a day in November. But this is the result of a switch in American strategy rather than a sign of a collapse in the insurgency. US military spokesmen make plain that America's military priority has changed from offensive operations to training Iraqi troops and police. More than 2,000 US military advisers are working with Iraqi forces.

Read the whole piece and you'll come away with a vastly different picture than the one you get--well, when you get it--from Rummy et al, or the US journalists in their Green Zone safe haven. Cockburn notes, for instance, that Iraqi troop numbers, for all we know, might include, for instance, 14,000 police in Nineveh province--who are considered essentially insurgent troops by THE GOVERNOR. Soldiers report they don't bother to report attacks if no casualties occur--this minimizes the bureaucratic hassle, and conveniently allows commanders to claim reduced attacks when the reality is far from the case.

But I guess the public is focused on the next reality TV show, or something...

(Note: this will be a slow posting day, as several things have come up at work--and I gotta set my priorities, pays the bills).
Yet Another Victim

The number of dead Iraqis continues to rise--while the news itself ranges from the terrifying to the it seems a little odd that Raed and Riverbend take the time out to note the passing of another American--but they do.

I recall seeing one news account of Marla Ruzicka (I think it was on Nightline). My opinion was that she seemed young, but dedicated and serious about what she was doing. Strange enough, roughly a week or two ago I recall wondering, first, what was this person's name again, and was she still in the miserable hell-hole that the Bush policy has created in the country?

She was--and, unfortunately, Ms. Ruzicka is another victim, along with her colleague, who goes by the single name Faiz.

Riverbend, Raed, and Justin Alexander all have posts up. You can search for news stories here.

Something tells me you won't be seeing any comment from the Bush administration--beyond perhaps an admonition that Iraq "is a dangerous place" (it sure as hell is NOW). But it's certainly sad that Ruzicka lost her life, because I think when people say that they admire Americans (as opposed to the American government), it is people like her--and others, like Rachel Corrie--that they're speaking about.

Even in a "successful" war, there really aren't any "winners." And there's no way the war in Iraq can be claimed as a success...which means it will simply continue to claim lives until the US leaves and Iraqis work out whatever system of government they decide upon. Hardly worth claiming as a legacy--but it reflects the nature of this administration like you wouldn't believe, because it turned out to be all bluster, but essentially empty.

Unfortunatly, a lot of very good people have perished, thanks to Bush (not that he cares). And Marla Ruzicka is one of those...