Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'Yellow-bellied cowards'

Addicted to Fear - Cowardice Has Become the Source of Republican Power

By "Super Macho Man" Jon Ponder
October 30, 2007 | The Pensito Review

The Republican Party's macho bluster and apparently endless appetite for war makes it seem counter-intuitive to think of them as cowards. And yet, seven years into the Bush regime, it is clear that the GOP has become dependent on fear to keep itself in power — and to support this addiction the party leadership has converted its rank and file members into America's first generation of bona fide yellow-bellied cowards.

After the GOP took over the government in 2000 and ran all three branches for six years, the truth about the conservative movement was finally revealed. After years of unctuous claims that they were for family values and lower spending and against corruption, Republicans demonstrated that the exact opposite is true. They were caught engaging in a wide range of sleazy activities, both personal and financial, and Bush and the GOP Congress ran the Treasury into the ground, racking up more debt than all the presidents since Washington, combined. Now, with that record fresh in voters' minds, all they have left to run on is the politics of fear.

Nearly every day, a subtle or not-so-subtle message of fear — about terrorists, Moslems, Iran, whatever works — is transmitted from the bully pulpit of the White House press room podium out to the public via the seemingly unwitting mainstream media, Fox News and rightwing talk radio. The government's fear propaganda is mostly just noise in the background to normal people, but rank and file conservatives gobble it up like ravenous dogs.

9/11 Did Not "Change Everything"

The Republican culture of fear was born out of the 9/11 attacks — which we are told "changed everything" because they were an "attack on America." But when the World Trade Center was bombed in February 1993 by rightwing Islamic terrorists very like the ones who would take the towers down eight years years later, no one suggested that our response to this "attack on America" should be invading and occupying Iraq.

The Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta July 1996 was an "attack on America" — albeit by an American rightwing Christian fundamentalist terrorist. But no one suggested that we should eavesdrop on Americans and torture prisoners as a result.

The Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, this time by another group of homegrown rightwing terrorists, was certainly an "attack on America" — in particular on a federal building and specifically targeting agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. No one suggested shredding the Constitution as a result.

For most of the century after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, a rightwing, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant terrorist group, attacked and killed Americans with guns, bombs and nooses. But during the first nine decades or so of this unrelenting reign of terror, hardly anyone seemed to mind very much, except of course for those who were the targets of the hatred and violence.

Around the globe, millions of people endure terror attacks without cowering under their beds. The Israelis have lived with terrorism since at least the 1970s — as have the Syrians, Lebanese, Saudis and others in the Middle East. The British stood stalwart against attacks by Irish separatists for generations. In just the past decade, terrorists have attacked in Colombia, Russia, China, Egypt, Mexico, Cuba, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pakistan, Latvia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Chechnya, Spain, Finland and on and on.

Only in the Bush era has it become acceptable for Americans to cower in fear at the same threat that others in the world face with courage or at least equanimity. Among democracies, only does the United States government deliberately encourage and inflame cowardice among its citizens.

The Soviets' A-Bombs - Now That Was Scary

Up until about a decade and a half ago, Americans bravely shouldered on every day in the shadow of a much greater national threat than Islamic terrorists will ever pose. Here's how Gen. Wesley Clark described it on Bill Maher's HBO show last Friday:

This nation lived for 40 years under the threat of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Six thousand nuclear warheads [aimed at] every American city — would have destroyed … life in America.

Osama bin Ladin and these people — they're crazy and they're nuts. Maybe they want to kill Americans but they are not an existential threat to America. And they are no reason for Americans to give up their freedom and their liberty.

Other than fear so intense it has shut down rational thought — which can be described as cowardice — what could explain the Republicans' willingness to be duped by Bush's lies in the run-up to war: that Saddam, the secularist who was on Al Qaeda's kill list, was part of the 9/11 conspiracy; that he had nuclear capabilities; that he might load drones onto ships and launch them at the U.S. off the Atlantic coast?

Other than having their brains dulled by terror, what could cause so many Americans to take at face value Bush's facile construct that "we have to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here?" It should be abundantly obvious that nothing about our being in Iraq prevents terrorists from coming here. They have maps. They can get plane tickets. They can cross the border on foot. And they can do this while American occupation forces are strapped down in Iraq, dodging bullets in a sectarian civil war between opposing followers of Muslim leaders who died 14 centuries ago.

The whole thing would be laughable if the price in American blood and treasure was not so steep.

Normal People Put Their Fears in Perspective

Those of us who live in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, blizzards and floods have to learn to cope with fear. Our mantra, in so many words, is "be prepared and hope for the best."

Most of us don't consider this rationalization of risk as "bravery" — and, to be sure, our day-to-day moxie is nothing compared to the courage required of troops facing IEDs and insurgents' bombs in Iraq or cops dodging bullets in American streets.

But, really, our sort of courage is no harder to come by than the courage it took to get up every day and go about life with the knowledge that this could be the day the Soviets will bomb us into oblivion.

This mildest form of bravery — the ability to put exposure to risk in perspective and go about life in peace and contentment — is what every American, even Republicans, must learn to muster if, gods forbid, terrorism continues to be a part of life in the States.

Unfortunately, because of the policies and actions of George W. Bush — enabled and supported by his fear-addicted supporters — the likelihood that terrorism will remain a fact of life in America is greater now than it would have been if Bush had not been president on September 11, 2001.

Warren Buffet: I should pay more tax

I think Buffet's opinion is doubly significant because, unlike the world's richest man, entrepreneur Bill Gates, Warren Buffet is a true capitalist. That is, he made his billions by investing his capital in other people's businesses.

So much of the debate on taxes in the U.S. centers around capital gains, which are Buffet's bread and butter. Conservatives argue that if we tax capital gains, we will inhibit capital investments, which will make the U.S. economy less productive. (Conservatives extend this argument to all manner of taxation, but emphasize capital gains most of all). Obviously, uber-capitalist Warren Buffet has no such fears about the effect of tax increases on the economy.

I Should Pay More Tax, Says U.S. Billionaire Warren Buffet
By Andrew Clark
October 31, 2007 | Guardian

The United States' second-richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax.

Warren Buffett, the famous investor known as the "Sage of Omaha", has complained that he pays a lower rate of tax than any of his staff - including his receptionist. Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52bn (£25bn), said: "The taxation system has tilted towards the rich and away from the middle class in the last 10 years. It's dramatic; I don't think it's appreciated and I think it should be addressed."

During an interview with NBC television, Mr Buffett brandished an informal survey of 15 of his 18 office staff at his Berkshire Hathaway empire. The billionaire said he was paying 17.7% payroll and income tax, compared with an average in the office of 32.9%.

"There wasn't anyone in the office, from the receptionist up, who paid as low a tax rate and I have no tax planning; I don't have an accountant or use tax shelters. I just follow what the US Congress tells me to do," he said.

Mr Buffett also took a pot shot at hedge fund managers. He said: "Hedge fund operators have spent a record amount lobbying in the last few months - they give money to the political campaigns. Who represents the cleaning lady?"

His intervention comes amid an increasingly rancorous debate on Capitol Hill about tax. Shortly after taking office, President Bush pushed through $2 trillion in temporary tax cuts, including sharp reductions for high-earners. These expire at the end of 2010 and the White House wants to renew them.

A leading Democrat, the Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel, published alternative plans this week that would impose a 4% surcharge on people earning more than $200,000 a year, while delivering tax relief to 90 million working families.

Republicans say the net effect would be a $2 trillion tax increase that would hurt small businesses and farmers. Meanwhile, Mr Buffett's remarks drew a robust response from the US Chamber of Commerce, which said the top 1% of US earners accounted for 39% of tax revenue - and the highest earning 25% of the population delivered 86% of the tax-take.

The chamber's chief economist, Martin Regalia, said: "Mr Buffett has made an awful lot of money and if he wants to pay more taxes, I think that's fine. But I think he should get his facts straight."

He added: "There's no question in my mind: if you were to impose [the Democrats'] tax increases, you would see the US go into a recession."

How the Corporate Media operates

This study's findings belie the myth of the Lib'rul Media.

A small skew overall in favor of Democrats can be explained by the MSM's favorable coverage of Obama, a liberal, vs. its very negative coverage of McCain, a conservative. But keep in mind McCain is
tremendously unpopular even among "real" conservatives, so he's an easy punching bag for the MSM.

Rather, this study reinforces the belief that we have a
Corporate Media that is interested in whittling down the field of presidential primary candidates as quickly as possible to a few household names like Hillary and Rudy, in order to start the "horse race" reporting, which, the MSM has believes, secures higher ratings than actually reporting on the issues and "no-name" candidates like Kucinich and Huckabee.

The question is: Is the Corporate Media right?

say they care about issues and the candidates' character and backgrounds, but do we really? Or do we really want to see precisely what the Media gives us: the political bloodsport of "celebrity" candidates, million-dollar fund raising, vapid, focus group-crafted sound bytes, day-by-day poll ratings, and big-name endorsements from Oprah and Arnold?


A First Look at Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign
October 29, 2007 |

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Keillor: What the Republican Revolution has wrought

What the Republican Revolution has wrought
By Garrison Keillor
October 24, 2007 |

There is a natural division of labor in politics: The Republicans fuss about the sanctity of marriage and getting God back in the schools and the Democrats about healthcare and the $8 billion that vanished in Iraq, and so far the Republicans are doing a better job. God is in the schools, the same as He is in Nebraska or even in Dallas, and marriage looks to be doing OK, since the White House is not in charge of it. Meanwhile, the Pentagon and the Justice Department are investigating fraud in Iraq, one grain of sand at a time, and we are likely to have answers in a decade or two.

I suppose that $8 billion is not so much considering that the war will cost $200 billion this year alone, and yet one is curious to know why the G-men can't find out where it went, at a time when the Current Occupant is so very concerned about keeping medical benefits away from undeserving children. Hundreds of millions paid to the gunslingers of Blackwater, but an American family with a seriously ill child has to tap-dance backward through a gantlet of government forms to prove they really, really, really are desperate.

As the old adage says, the little thieves get hung and the big thieves get richer and richer. When it comes to larceny, it pays to be ambitious.

If you were looking for a political platform, God and marriage would be a good bet, sort of like promising to make the sun rise. A part-time job with time left over to supervise the moon and the stars. It is so much more satisfying than the dreary business of investigating what happened to those suitcases full of bricks of $100 bills in Iraq during the Bremer years and tracking down the good Republicans who served over there -- the young folks with no prior experience in accounting or finance who were put in charge of the stock exchange and the national budget.

I heard a man on the radio the other day who was baying about Sen. Clinton's healthcare plan and at one point, in shock and dismay, he said, "This is taking away from those who have and giving to those who do not -- in other words, socialism." He sounded truly offended. And this is what the Republican Revolution has brought us to: No longer is there a consensus on taxation according to ability to pay. No longer agreement that it is in the self-interest of the well-off to promote a stable society by securing the safety net. It's the I Got Mine You Get Your Own party, marching under a Christian banner. But Republicans are starting to realize that if you claim to govern by divine inspiration, the voters will hold you to a higher standard. You can't throw $8 billion down a rathole and expect us all to forget about this.

Don't get me wrong. Marriage is a good thing. But as for the sanctity of it, you shouldn't look too closely. Every marriage has its profane moments, especially when children get mixed up in it, which so often happens.

There is yelling and weeping involved and door slamming and a great deal of bad poetry ("My life is a vortex of darkness because/ You never loved me,/ No, I was only/ An object of your wrath,/ Bad daddy") and all due to the horrors of parenting.

The childless couples I know seem smooth and easy together, working their old comedy routines, and the fruitful couples seem distracted as if expecting a phone call from the county jail. Childless couples don't go through this. They don't have to yell upstairs and say, "If I don't see you doing your homework in five minutes, I am going to yell and shriek and do such irrational things that they will put me into residential treatment and you will have to fix your own meals and do your own laundry."

The child has created a shrine to herself on Facebook and has a list of a thousand friends but not much is actually taking place underneath that hairdo. Just like with the Current Occupant, who represents them very well. He is a relaxed, easygoing, self-accepting guy whose old retainers love him for his self-effacing modesty, a wonderful trait, but when you are incompetent, it is not so wonderful as, say, a little more intelligence might be. He is heading for the short bus of history where Earl Butz and Spiro Agnew ride. Where are his parents? Why don't they yell at him?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Romney gibberish quote of the day

From the most recent GOP debate, as reported on by FOXNews:

"All of us on the stage are Republican. But the question is, who will be able to build the house that Ronald Reagan built — who will be able to strengthen that house, because that's the house that's going to build the house that Clinton, Hillary, wants to build," Romney said.


WAR ALERT! Cheney: 'We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon'

As Iran shows no signs of backing down and halting its uranium-enrichment centrifuges, Cheney's warning couldn't be clearer: the Bush Administration intends to attack Iran.

Bush said at a press conference last week: "We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

That statement is less clear, but it could still be interpreted by Iran as a threat from the United States.

Why all the hurry? Why all the urgency? It's not because Iran is close to making a nuclear bomb. It's the end of Bush's lame duck presidency that's speeding up the war planning. The Bushies know that the next Administration can't be counted on to attack Iran pre-emptively. Just like with Saddam after 9/11, they see a window of opportunity to "take out" another enemy who's been on their hit list since the 1980s.

Don't be fooled again!

All this urgency is being driven by the U.S. presidential election cycle.
The Int'l. Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran is still
3-8 years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon; the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates that Iran is 3-5 years away if they could manage to make weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU), which is doubtful. More likely, the IISS says, Iran is 10-15 years away, depending on the number of its functioning centrifuges and its intentions.

But prediction is an extremely tricky business.

In 2006 the CIA estimated that Iran was
5-10 years away from being able to make a nuke. But in 1993 the CIA estimated that Iran was 8-10 years from acquiring nuclear weapons. It's been 15 years since that dire prediction, and according to the experts Iran is still... 3-15 years away. Bottom line: We should be veeery careful about whose estimate we choose before deciding to attack a sovereign nation that has not threatened us.

... And Bush has a lousy record of assessing the threat from WMD.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Post-9/11 America: Got to be a macho man

I don't know if I fully buy into Faludi's theory, but there's no doubt America has tried desperately to become more "manly" and "macho" since 9/11, kind of like the guy who joins a gym and buys a gun after getting mugged.

From Rush Limbaugh to Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield, American conservatives' recent love affair with manliness is not just harmless chest thumping; it's indicative of a nation that desperately wants to feel like it's gotten the world "back under control" again. To that end, since 9/11 we've been ready to threaten or attack just about anybody who crosses us.

Yet real manliness would be admitting that the world was never under our control in the first place, that we are all going to die someday, and that statistically small threats -- like terrorist attacks -- should scare us much less than big threats -- like economic insecurity, proliferation of guns, and poor health.

As Samuel L. Jackson said in the movie 187: "Macho is bullshit." Macho is when the mind seeks to deny that the heart is filled with fear.

The Years of Magical Thinking
In her latest book, Susan Faludi plumbs the depths of the national psyche for reasons why our response to 9/11 was so disastrous -- and so bizarrely familiar

Madeleine Elfenbein | October 19, 2007 |

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America by Susan Faludi (Metropolitan/Holt, 351 pages, $26)

Reporting from the site of the World Trade Center on the morning after it was attacked, Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman bore witness to the "strangely silent precincts" around where the two towers once stood. The piles of rubble in their place "defied comprehension," he wrote. A medic on the scene stood by to treat survivors who never came, and Gellman noted the look on her face: "It was not the horror that she had seen," he wrote. "It was the impotence."

Ten days later in the nation's capital, the same reporter described a markedly different scene: "Monday morning in the Oval Office," and a "transformed" President Bush was barking orders at aides ("I want to see a draft of that speech tonight"). Gone were the strange silence and the feeling of impotence. Meanwhile, at Camp David, the president's advisers were dining on buffalo steaks and already talking about "taking the fight to Baghdad." Bush's own views on that subject were "pretty damn clear," in the words of one adviser.

It took only a few days for America's leaders to take us from rubble and confusion to "pretty damn clear." They did it, Susan Faludi argues in her new book, The Terror Dream, by taking us from an infinitely complicated global present to a simple, mythical American past. We recovered our national confidence by means of a retreat into "adolescent fictions," borrowed from 19th-century dime novels and mid-century westerns, which distorted our view of ourselves and the real threats we faced. Armed with false courage and blinded by these obfuscating myths, we chose the wrong targets and ended up hurting ourselves. As Faludi tells us, "There are consequences to living in a dream."

But if we take her argument, the man to blame for all this is not George W. but John Wayne, or the version of him that swaggered forth from the crypt of our national consciousness immediately after the attacks, summoned to reassure us of our fundamental goodness and indomitability. A thirsty American public tuned in to TBS's 20-hour John Wayne marathon that Christmas. Strut and bluster were back in vogue after a long hiatus, for politicians as for pundits, who broke out their most muscular and uncompromising patriotic prose.

There were a few notable exceptions: Susan Sontag, whose famous 450-word New Yorker piece was published only days after the attacks, was one. She began by decrying "the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric" of national leaders, calling it "a campaign to infantilize the public" that was "startling, depressing," and, "well, unworthy of a mature democracy." "Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together," she wrote.

That Sontag reserved her greatest outrage and indignation for the American response, rather than the attacks themselves, put her among a tiny minority of public figures, who would shrink to virtually nil when they saw what happened to her. She was called "deranged," "an ally of evil," and "a despicable woman"; former New York City Mayor Ed Koch declared that she belonged in the ninth circle of hell.

With the reaction to Sontag's piece, the window slammed shut on this kind of analysis and critique, and it stayed shut for years. Six years later, with the damage to our national security, diplomatic aims, and civil liberties made plain, it has opened again, and now the nation's bookshelves are sagging with portentous titles seeking to measure the consequences and allocate blame. Reading any one of the outraged accounts of these all-too-familiar years is a daunting but cathartic experience, a little like tearing into a buffalo steak after a long hungry spell.

Faludi's latest book is as factually rich and insightful as any of them, and it offers something the others don't. It retells the story in a way that reveals its strangeness to us, showing us for the knuckle-draggers we became, despite ourselves. Her book borrows from the suspense genre: "There is a mystery here," she writes: Why, faced with a sophisticated airborne attack on the nation's military and financial hubs, did we react by "distracting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life"? Why did we fall reflexively into exaggerated militarism and primitive gender roles, and how did we stay there for so long?

And rather than point the finger at Raytheon, neocons, or Al Qaeda for dragging us into it, Faludi ends up blaming -- warning to you innocents, spoilers ahead -- a cultural myth, one that she says is embedded in our national heritage and to which we have historically turned in times of trouble, from the Indian wars to the war on terror. As she tells it,

A young nation was struggling to make sense of a troubling legacy of episodic rampant terror in the homeland, a terror that its male settlers and soldiers had not been able to check at the familial front door. This was the experience that a national myth was called on to address -- by remaking its shame into triumph.

When the hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they "stirred some distant memory" and returned us to the primal scene of our nationhood: the frontier community under assault. Our collective response was to circle the wagons and order off the Wild West menu. We collectively endowed our leaders with "a cartoon masculinity" and based our sense of security on "a mythical male strength that can only measure itself against a mythical female weakness" -- in short, we exhibited "the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction."

If evidence of our "affliction" is needed, Faludi's chapter on Pvt. Jessica Lynch offers it up in the most compelling and disturbing way possible. In the spring of 2003, shortly after the assault on Iraq was launched, Lynch was "rescued" from the Nasiriyah hospital where she lay recovering following an insurgent ambush on her convoy. Lynch, suffering numerous broken bones and other injuries from the crash of her Humvee, spent nine days in a hospital, cared for by Iraqi doctors and nurses, before it was stormed by a team of U.S. special-ops forces who airlifted her out of the building. She was still wearing a dress leant to her by one of the nurses, had been fed with home-cooked food brought by her doctors, and had been infused with blood from their veins. The bed on which she had been lying, a special sand-filled bed designed to prevent bedsores and the only one in the province, was slashed by a member of the rescue team.

In the aftermath of her rescue, the media sought to establish her victimhood -- going so far as to speculate on the variety of tortures and humiliations to which they imagined she had been subjected, despite her not remembering anything of the sort. They also began the search for a hero to credit -- ignoring Lynch's words of praise for her fellow soldier Lori Piestewa, a young Hopi Indian American who became the first female soldier to die in the Iraq War -- and were frustrated in their attempts until Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, an Iraqi lawyer who was a fan of John Wayne movies, stepped forward to claim the mantle.

That Lynch had no recollection of meeting al-Rehaief, much less being rescued by him, did not prevent him from winning refugee status from the U.S. government and publishing a book about his heroics, for which HarperCollins paid $300,000. Three years after the ordeal, Lynch told The Washington Post, "I want people to remember me as being a soldier who went over there and did my job fighting for our country, our freedom." But of course that is not how she will be remembered.

Faludi provides us with a 19th-century parallel to Lynch in the form of the Texan settler Cynthia Ann Parker, who was just nine years old when a band of Comanche warriors captured her in a raid in 1836. Twenty-four years later, Parker was recaptured at gunpoint by a band of Texas Rangers and forcibly returned to white civilization. For years she sought to return to her Comanche husband and adoptive family; finally she stopped speaking and eating, and 10 years after her "rescue," she died.

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker's capture and rescue, minus these details, inspired the plot of Alan Le May's 1954 novel The Searchers, which two years later served as the basis for the John Ford classic film of the same name. John Wayne's role as chief rescuer in the movie is widely regarded as his finest performance.

Virtually all the 9-11 books agree that we were stupid; Faludi is one of the first to say we were stupid together. On the phone last month, I asked her how we came to be duped. Even if we weren't too smart for it, I asked, weren't we too diverse for an obsolete frontier myth to hold sway? Why would such a myth have power for Americans of non-Anglo stock, whose ancestors had no memory of the American frontier, or who had been on the other end of Anglo-settler conflicts? Why would the John Wayne myth speak to women, who stood to lose their status from it?

"It's hard to say," she said. "No one knows how a myth works." And yet, she said, as an American, "you swim in those waters," soaking up American myths and illusions as part of the assimilation process. "The curious thing," she said about the frontier myth, "is how hermetically sealed it seems to be, ready to be activated in a moment's notice."

In fact, the explanation for our post-9-11 cultural shift might be even more straightforward than that. John Judis' recent article in The New Republic reports on research into how the terrorism threat has shaped our political prejudices by disadvantaging progressive ideas and politicians. Three psychologists who have been researching the implications of "mortality salience" for several decades came out with a book in 2003 called In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. The book received relatively little attention, perhaps because we were still in the throes of the phenomena it described.

Some of its observations overlap heavily with Faludi's, but the mechanism the psychologists propose to account for them is far simpler. Fear of death, they explain, makes people more conservative, more resistant to social change, more fearful of differences, and more hostile to outsiders; the Bush administration has artificially heightened this fear through the terrorism alert system and through its rhetoric of an epic clash of values.

The arguments in this book make sense to me, and the research is compelling, but I prefer Faludi's headier account, with its focus on the displacement of anxieties onto the domestic sphere. For all its heavy psychology talk, Faludi's analysis seems to offer more autonomy to the beleaguered citizen who labors to make sound political choices in an unfamiliar world despite the persistent lure of atavistic fantasy. After years of growing alienation, I find it cheering to think that there is still a "we" in American society, even if "we" were duped. To the extent that Faludi's book holds all of us responsible for our own culture and the failed policies we pursued, it reaffirms our faith in the democratic premise.

As Faludi put it to me, one positive thing to come out of these awful years is a reduced faith in politicians and political commentators. "A year ago," she said, "the scales began to fall off the eyes of a lot of people." Increasingly left to our own devices, Americans have a chance to come up with something other than the false sense of protection afforded by a paternal figure. "If we did let go of this invincibility myth," she said, "we would be free to find our way back to some extraordinary and humane principles that this country has."

"The stakes are so high," she added. "If we're going to wake up, this would be the time."

Buchanan: Bush renewed the Cold War

"Crazy" Pat Buchanan gets it right again. Is it too late though for America to give Russia the respect it deserves and forge a real partnership? For Bush, yes. For the next U.S. president, hopefully not.

Who Restarted the Cold War?
"Putin's Hostile Course," the lead editorial in The Washington Times of Oct. 18, began thus:

"Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Moscow is just the latest sign that, more than 16 years after the collapse of Soviet communism, Moscow is gravitating toward Cold War behavior. The old Soviet obsession -- fighting American imperialism -- remains undiluted. ...

"(A)t virtually every turn, Mr. Putin and the Russian leadership appear to be doing their best in ways large and small to marginalize and embarrass the United States and undercut U.S. foreign policy interests."

The Times pointed to Putin's snub of Robert Gates and Condi Rice by having them cool their heels for 40 minutes before a meeting. Then came a press briefing where Putin implied Russia may renounce the Reagan-Gorbachev INF treaty, which removed all U.S. and Soviet medium-range missiles from Europe, and threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, whereby Russia moved its tanks and troops far from the borders of Eastern Europe.

On and on the Times indictment went. Russia was blocking new sanctions on Iran. Russia was selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Russia was selling weapons to Syria that found their way to Hezbollah and Hamas. Russia and Iran were talking up an OPEC-style natural gas cartel. All this, said the Times, calls to mind "Soviet-era behavior."

Missing from the prosecution's case, however, was the motive. Why has Putin's Russia turned hostile? Why is Putin mending fences with China, Iran and Syria? Why is Putin sending Bear bombers to the edge of American airspace? Why has Russia turned against America? For Putin's approval rating is three times that of George Bush. Who restarted the Cold War?

To answer that question, let us go back those 16 years.

What happened in 1991 and 1992?

Well, Russia let the Berlin Wall be torn down and its satellite states be voted or thrown out of power across Eastern Europe. Russia agreed to pull the Red Army all the way back inside its border. Russia agreed to let the Soviet Union dissolve into 15 nations. The Communist Party agreed to share power and let itself be voted out. Russia embraced freedom and American-style capitalism, and invited Americans in to show them how it was done.

Russia did not use its veto in the Security Council to block the U.S. war to drive Saddam Hussein, an ally, out of Kuwait. When 9-11 struck, Putin gave his blessing to U.S. troops using former republics as bases for the U.S. invasion.

What was Moscow's reward for its pro-America policy?

The United States began moving NATO into Eastern Europe and then into former Soviet republics. Six ex-Warsaw Pact nations are now NATO allies, as are three ex-republics of the Soviet Union. NATO expansionists have not given up on bringing Ukraine, united to Russia for centuries, or Georgia, Stalin's birthplace, into NATO.

In 1999, the United States bombed Serbia, which has long looked to Mother Russia for protection, for 78 days, though the Serbs' sole crime was to fight to hold their cradle province of Kosovo, as President Lincoln fought to hold onto the American South. Now America is supporting the severing of Kosovo from Serbia and creation of a new Islamic state in the Balkans, over Moscow's protest.

While Moscow removed its military bases from Cuba and all over the Third World, we have sought permanent military bases in Russia's backyard of Central Asia.

We dissolved the Nixon-Brezhnev ABM treaty and announced we would put a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Under presidents Clinton and Bush, the United States financed a pipeline for Caspian Sea oil to transit Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Black Sea and Turkey, cutting Russia out of the action.

With the end of the Cold War, the KGB was abolished and the Comintern disappeared. But the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House and other Cold War agencies, funded with tens of millions in tax-exempt and tax dollars, engineered the ouster of pro-Russian regimes in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia, and sought the ouster of the regime in Minsk.

At the Cold War's end, the United States was given one of the great opportunities of history: to embrace Russia, largest nation on earth, as partner, friend, ally. Our mutual interests meshed almost perfectly. There was no ideological, territorial, historic or economic quarrel between us, once communist ideology was interred.

We blew it.

We moved NATO onto Russia's front porch, ignored her valid interests and concerns, and, with our "indispensable-nation" arrogance, treated her as a defeated power, as France treated Weimar Germany after Versailles.

Who restarted the Cold War? Bush and the braying hegemonists he brought with him to power. Great empires and tiny minds go ill together.

Top Iraq diplomat slams U.S., Iraq governments

Ex-top envoy calls Iraqi government a failure
Former ambassador says country 'falling apart,' blames ministers, U.S.

By Aram Roston
NBC News Investigative Unit | Oct. 19, 2007

WASHINGTON - A principal architect of Iraq's interim constitution, who resigned in August as one of the country's top diplomats, has laid out a devastating critique of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the U.S. occupation, telling NBC News that, functionally, "there is no Iraqi government."

The diplomat, Feisal Amin Istrabadi, said in his first interview since stepping down as Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations that "this government has got to go."

When he resigned, Istrabadi, a U.S.-born lawyer who lobbied for the U.S. invasion and was the principal legal drafter of Iraq's interim constitution, said he was leaving because it was time for fresh ideas after having served three years at the United Nations.

But Istrabadi made it clear in an exclusive interview with NBC News that he was dismayed by al-Maliki's government and the U.S. occupation, saying the government was stocked with incompetent administrators who had helped bring about "chaos and instability."

The Iraqi government is an illusion, said Istrabadi, who is now a visiting professor at the Indiana University Law School. "You've got patently incompetent men appointed to important positions."

Many government departments were apportioned to religious parties for political reasons, Istrabadi said, citing the Health Ministry, which he said was dominated by the Mahdi Army militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical anti-U.S. cleric.

"You cannot have this sectarian doling out of the Cabinet ministries," Istrabadi said. "You've got to bring in competent technocrats to try to run those ministries, the service ministries."

U.S. political imperatives to blame

Istrabadi traced what he called the country's "chaos and instability" in part to the U.S. insistence on holding elections in 2005, before Iraq had developed robust democratic institutions to buffer the influence of religious leaders.

"Both the Shia and the Sunnis were told if they didn't vote for their respective parties, that would be a violation of their religious duties," Istrabadi said.

The result was a government dominated by Shiite Islamist parties and a constitution rejected by Sunni ethnic groups. Shiite Islamist parties have blamed the Sunnis for refusing to engage in the political process.

"I think the question was: 'Should elections have been held?' And I think that there is only one answer to that question, and that's absolutely not," Istrabadi said.

Istrabadi blamed the Bush administration for pushing for the elections at least two years before Iraq was ready for them.

"What did we accomplish, exactly, [with] this push towards an appearance of institutions ... merely an appearance?" he asked.

"Except that an American politician can stand up and say, 'Look what we accomplished in Iraq.' When, in fact, what we accomplished in Iraq over the last three years has been chaos and instability."

Free to speak out

Istrabadi acknowledged that he harbored those doubts at the time but was powerless to speak out because he represented the government. "I publicly defended them because that was the government's policy," he said.

Free of that burden now, Istrabadi was eager to speak out.

Istrabadi said there were probably few politicians in Iraq who could still build enough support to replace al-Maliki, whose government has been marked by instability and frequent discussions about a possible Cabinet reshuffling. But he lamented that the situation was so chaotic that they probably would not want the job.

"Fundamentally, you have the Iraq state falling apart and an inability on the part of the political class to put it back together," he said.

He also had harsh words for the United States' protection of private contracting firms. A U.S.-Iraqi panel is reviewing the use of private security companies after 17 people were killed when guards employed by Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians Sept. 16 in Baghdad.

Contractors are immune from Iraqi prosecution under a decree issued in June 2004 by Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator of Iraq.

Istrabadi said the Iraqi government had pushed for three years for a "Status of Forces Agreement," which would outline U.S. and Iraqi rights with regard to armed combatants, to no avail.

"What right does Paul Bremer have to exempt entities from the application of Iraqi law?" Istrabadi asked. "He created a lawless class in Iraq."

A man of two countries

Istrabadi, 45, a stocky man with the persuasive style of an accomplished lawyer, was born in the United States to Iraqi parents — his father was a Shiite and his mother a Sunni — in exile. As a young child, initially he returned with his parents to Iraq, and he holds both U.S. and Iraq citizenship.

He witnessed Saddam Hussein's rise to power, watching on television as 13 people were hanged.

When Saddam's Baath Party consolidated control in 1970, his family fled to the United States again, and he would spend the next 33 of his life as an exile in America.

Istrabadi became active in Iraqi opposition circles beginning in 1996, and he pushed eagerly for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even now, he is unwilling to call the invasion a mistake.

But he is glum over the prospects for his native country, and he is frustrated by what he found there.

"If I could say that the government, U.S. policy, was headed in a positive way in Iraq — so that I could see a light at the end of the tunnel — it would have been harder to walk away," he said.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gen. Sanchez's speech reconsidered as revisionist history

OK, so maybe my first impression of Sanchez's "anti-Bush" speech on Iraq was somewhat off. Ackerman does us a great service by recognizing the revision of history as it's happening.

The Disgruntled General
Spencer Ackerman | October 16, 2007 |

No one pities retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez quite like he pities himself. His reputation destroyed after his disastrous year as U.S. ground commander in Iraq -- including, most notoriously, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal -- Sanchez took a surprising move toward rehabilitation on Friday, delivering a blistering indictment of the war's history and its prospects before a military reporters' convention in Arlington. The war is "a nightmare with no end in sight," declared its former commander. President Bush, having failed to accept "the political and economic realities of this war," has adopted the surge in "a desperate attempt" to salvage his political fortunes, but will, at best, "stave off defeat." The press portrayed the speech as the latest in a series of volleys by retired generals furious with the Bush administration. Liberals eager for a cudgel against Bush may suddenly discover Sanchez's previously hidden virtues.

Except that Sanchez's speech is very different from the criticisms offered during the so-called "general's revolt" of 2006. Those accounts indicted the strategy of Donald Rumsfeld, the wisdom of commanders like Sanchez, and the opportunism of the administration as a whole. Sanchez's occasionally hysterical speech represents a triumph of embitterment, coupled with a cynical willingness to blame practically every civilian institution -- prowar, antiwar, whatever -- for the war's failures. "Our nation has not focused on the greatest challenge of our lifetime," Sanchez said. "The political and economic elements of power must get beyond the politics to ensure the survival of America." That's right: the survival of America.

Contrary to its billing, this was no mere attack on the administration. Sanchez's speech is perfectly positioned to accelerate the stabbed-in-the-back myth of explaining the war now emerging on the right. That corrosive idea, revived most recently by revisionist Vietnam historian Mark Moyar, holds that sybaritic and feckless civilians recklessly squander the hard-won gains of the military .

The current crop of right-wingers is too close to the Iraq war to accept Sanchez's vituperation, since it contains an attack on Bush. But as the war recedes and the need for scapegoating expands -- particularly if conservatives lose the White House next year -- Sanchez's speech reads like a foundational text for an aggrieved conservative worldview that the war was too virtuous for the country that fought it. And it makes a lot of sense that it's Sanchez, the most disgraced general of the entire war, who issued this j'accuse.

Consider the following line, one which didn't make it into most media accounts of the speech. "While the politicians espouse their rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power -- our soldiers die!" Sanchez is interested in attacking -- repeatedly -- unnamed "political leaders" whose partisan squabbling has "endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield."

Like with all good dishonest myths, this gets causality backward. The war's domestic politics became so acrimonious precisely because the Bush administration not only plunged the country into a disaster but treated all criticism as a mark of disloyalty. As a result, politics is understandably a contest between those who consider the Iraq war a national imperative and those who consider it a national catastrophe. For each side, political power is a national security objective, and against the backdrop of a protracted war, it's not entirely clear why that's wrong. But Sanchez prefers to wipe the blood of 3,800 U.S. troops across the entire political spectrum, rather than presenting a subtle account of who's responsible for the tragedy.

And Sanchez has no shortage of culprits. In fact, it's Bush who gets off easiest here. Nearly everyone not in uniform is responsible for the horror. The press has strayed from ethical standards -- so far, he says, that a reversal of course is needed so "our democracy does not continue to be threatened." Civilians within the Bush administration, and particularly on the National Security Council, failed U.S. troops by not devising and implementing a strategy for Iraq that involved more than military power. Congress is a particular enemy: it abdicated "focused oversight" in favor of "exhortations, encouragements, investigations, studies and discussions." America itself does not escape blame. The "greatest failures" in Iraq are linked to the country's "lack of commitment, priority and moral courage in this war effort." [Damn! Bill O'Reilly was right! I guess it really did make all the difference if I "rooted" for U.S. victory or not! -- J] Sanchez's comments might benefit war opponents in the short term, since the press hasn't emphasized this vitriol, but embittered conservatives looking to place blame practically have a catechism to read from.

It's hard to know what exactly to make of this. Does Sanchez actually mean to accuse the entire country of lacking "moral courage"? Can civilian-military relations possibly be that bad? After all, sustained popular admiration for the troops fighting the war has been a hallmark of the country's pro- and anti-war movements since the invasion. Congress can be subjected to any number of critiques, both hawkish and dovish, but the fact remains that Congress has approved every war-funding request Bush has submitted.

Sanchez has a good point that civilian agencies in the government don't treat wartime remotely as seriously as the military -- you often hear military commanders in Iraq understandably bemoan the relative lack of diplomats, economists, agronomists, civilian engineers, etc. -- but Sanchez's hysteria is not easily explained. That is, unless you take into account Sanchez's guilty conscience and his anger over his disgrace.

That conscience is made guilty, of course, by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal specifically, and the explosion of the insurgency during his year in command more generally. On September 14, 2003, in response to pressure from an effort led by Donald Rumsfeld to extract intelligence from Iraqi detainees on the insurgency, Sanchez issued a memorandum authorizing interrogation techniques imported from the Geneva Conventions-exempt Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Among them were the use of dogs, stress positions, sleep management and light, noise and dietary manipulation. Within a month, General John Abizaid, Sanchez's superior at Central Command, revoked the memo, but the techniques bearing Sanchez's imprimatur were on display at Abu Ghraib nevertheless. Senator Jack Reed asked Sanchez on May 19, 2004, if he ever "ordered or approved" the techniques. The same Sanchez who now attacks the ethics of Congress and the press replied that he "never approved the use of any of those methods," prompting the ACLU to accuse Sanchez of perjury.

Abu Ghraib was only one element in Sanchez's manifold failures as a general in Iraq. Lacking clear leadership or central coordination, his division commanders essentially ran their own occupations, resulting in drastically varying results -- from the heavy-handed tactics of Major General Ray Odierno in Anbar to the population-centric approach of Major General David Petraeus. In account after account from Iraq veterans in Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks's definitive book Fiasco, Sanchez is described as a tactician unable to see the bigger picture of the war .

Defying common sense among both liberals and conservatives, he told Tim Russert in April 2004, "the forces that we have on the ground are adequate," -- even as both the Sunni and the Shiite insurgencies inflamed the country. Whatever divides civilians and soldiers, it's not respect for Sanchez. One active-duty officer summed up the catastrophe in Iraq by telling Ricks, "In Vietnam we left Westy [Commanding General William Westmoreland] in. In Iraq we left Sanchez in."

The Iraq war was probably doomed from the start. And while Sanchez couldn't have won the war, he could have contributed less to its loss. And this is what Sanchez's account never grapples with: The proposition that a war likely to fail shouldn't be fought. That omission makes sense. After all, if Sanchez really saw the writing on the wall in July 2003 -- the beginning of his command -- he was derelict in his responsibility to either refuse command or to speak out in favor of drastic changes in strategy. Instead, he's emblematic of the general officer described in Lt. Col. Paul Yingling's recent essay "A Failure In Generalship": supine to civilian zealotry, hobbled by conventional wisdom, ignorant of counterinsurgency, and deceptive to the public. It should probably come as no surprise that his account of who's to blame for Iraq is as bitter and distorted as it is.

Earlier this year, Sanchez told AFP , "it's not about blame because there's nobody out there that is intentionally trying to screw things up for our country." The obviously self-pitying Sanchez of October 2007 has clearly amended his views. His new perspective is no sounder, and just as corrosive, than the ones that guided him in Baghdad. Having abetted one catastrophe, Sanchez may do even greater violence to the historical record.

2007 Economic Nobel can help stop global warming?

What we talk about when we talk about "free markets"....

Why You Should Care About the 2007 Economic Nobel

John S. Irons | October 16, 2007 |

"Is there something interesting to say about this year's Nobel Prize winners?" challenged my colleague next door. Could I explain what Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin, and Roger B. Myerson did that was so great?

"Yes!" I replied. "Their research on 'mechanism design theory' broadly, and incentive compatibility and preference revelation specifically, are an important part of several sub-fields including game theory, public economics, and even some social choice theory."

"No," he said, "something interesting to the broader public." Hmm, well that's harder. I sent him packing (literally -- he caught a flight to LA). And I also sent the idea to the back-of-the-brain.

Fortunately, the back-of-the-brain has lots of things bouncing around. While there, "mechanism design" met Al Gore and had a chat with carbon cap-and-trade policy. And I realized that the way to understand the importance of this year's economics Nobel was to take a look at how we debate the usefulness of markets.

A key insight of mechanism design theory is that real-world economic transactions differ from an abstract "market" where a price falls from heaven and trade happens. When engaging in trade in the real world, economic actors (buyers and sellers), must abide by certain rules and/or norms (e.g. Is it ok to negotiate? Can you make more than one counter offer?). Mechanism design shows that the economic outcomes, including market efficiency, can be dependent upon those rules.

Thus all "free-markets" are not equal. In fact a marketplace does not exist independently from its rules and norms -- they one and the same. Saying that "the market works" to allocate resources depends on the specific market design and conditions. Thus (and contrary to much conservative rhetoric) economic theory -- of which mechanism design is a part -- does not say that markets always achieve an efficient outcome. Mechanism design can help us better understand when markets do perform well. And when markets no not reach an efficient outcome, mechanism design theory can suggest mechanisms that might work better.

The theory also points out that economic actors have an incentive to hide their true feelings about the product. So, if you walk onto a used car lot, you would be foolish to let the salesman know exactly how much you like that '67 Chevy. And the seller would be foolish to let you know that he has not gotten a single offer on the car in the six months it's been on the lot. But at some point, either you or the salesman will have to make an offer to the other -- and in doing so, reveal some, but perhaps not all, of your true preferences.

The fact that people have an incentive to not reveal their true preferences has obvious important consequences for public policy. If people are asked if they want a new highway built, they might rightly worry that they will be asked to pick up some of the expense, and so might not fully reveal their true preference, opting instead to try to game the system as a free-rider. Economic research building from the Nobel winners' work analyzed ways to get around this -- to provide a mechanism by which people would volunteer their true valuation of the highway, and thus better evaluate the merits of a project that would benefit an entire community. (The key of this particular mechanism is to link an individual's valuation response to the decision to build or not, but to de-link the exact amount they would pay).

The Nobel prize in economics was awarded not so much for the particular insights noted above, but rather for working out all the implications for economic thinking in various situations -- for example, deriving conditions under which there are efficient equilibriums (an exercise only an economist would love). More generally however, the insights from the theory help to explain how we can better design markets and public policy to reach an outcome that works for more people.

This brings us to global warming and cap-and-trade policy. If we -- and by "we" I mean the entire planet -- ever take global warming seriously, we will have to adopt some mechanism for reducing carbon emissions. A real program will require nations to implement some form of regulation and/or market mechanism to reduce carbon. But what kind of mechanism? How do we design a program that reduces carbon across nations? Some nations will be harmed significantly by global warming, while others will be better able to adapt, but in a negotiation, countries will have incentives to hide their true valuations, just like in the used car example above. Can we design a mechanism that is more likely to get nations to commit to reducing global greenhouse gases?

Now some of this analysis of global warming problem is pretty much standard economics of externalities (a la fellow Nobelists A.C. Pigou and Paul Samuelson), where the abatement of carbon pollution is seen to be a public good. But I suspect that the information asymmetries across nations will make the problem more complicated at the international level than a simple analysis would suggest. And the research by this year's Nobel prize winners may prove to be very valuable indeed.

But that will have to wait for another day. For now, all I can think of is Al Gore riding around in a convertible '67 Chevy with three economists in the back seat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Army Captains Speak Out: The REAL Iraq

The Real Iraq We Knew
By 12 former Army captains
October 16, 2007 | Washington Post

Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion. Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles.

As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And, indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved difficult. The first commissioner of a panel charged with preventing and investigating corruption resigned last month, citing pressure from the government and threats on his life.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together. Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet -- moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

U.S. forces, responsible for too many objectives and too much "battle space," are vulnerable targets. The sad inevitability of a protracted draw-down is further escalation of attacks -- on U.S. troops, civilian leaders and advisory teams. They would also no doubt get caught in the crossfire of the imminent Iraqi civil war.

Iraqi security forces would not be able to salvage the situation. Even if all the Iraqi military and police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their 346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again, corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we're gone.

This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

This column was written by 12 former Army captains: Jason Blindauer served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Elizabeth Bostwick served in Salah Ad Din and An Najaf in 2004. Jeffrey Bouldin served in Al Anbar, Baghdad and Ninevah in 2006. Jason Bugajski served in Diyala in 2004. Anton Kemps served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Kristy (Luken) McCormick served in Ninevah in 2003. Luis Carlos Montalvรกn served in Anbar, Baghdad and Nineveh in 2003 and 2005. William Murphy served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Josh Rizzo served in Baghdad in 2006. William "Jamie" Ruehl served in Nineveh in 2004. Gregg Tharp served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Gary Williams served in Baghdad in 2003.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gore derangement syndrome

Gore derangement syndrome
By Paul Krugman
October 15, 2007 | The New York Times

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal's editors couldn't even bring themselves to mention Gore's name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with "that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore's stance." You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change - therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it's a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President George W. Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job - to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda's recruiters could have hoped for - the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.
The worst thing about Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the "ozone man," but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, "the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam." And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn't just inconvenient. For conservatives, it's deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals," said FDR. "We know now that it is bad economics." These words apply perfectly to climate change. It's in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else . Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing . In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. "cap and trade" system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America's lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America's air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet - and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I've just said should be uncontroversial - but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate . Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them .

So if science says that we have a big problem that can't be solved with tax cuts or bombs - well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor's Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of - who else? - George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Gore: In his case the smear campaign has failed. He's taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

Ex-Iraq Commander Blasts Bush Administration

Former Top General in Iraq Faults Bush Administration
October 12, 2007 | The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12— In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top American commander called the Bush administration's handling of the war incompetent and warned that the United States was "living a nightmare with no end in sight."

In one of his first major public speeches since leaving the Army in late 2006, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez blamed the administration for a "catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan" and denounced the current "surge" strategy as a "desperate" move that will not achieve long-term stability.

"After more than fours years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism," Mr. Sanchez said, at a gathering here of military reporters and editors.

General Sanchez is the most senior in a string of retired generals to harshly criticize the administration's conduct of the war. Asked following his remarks why he waited nearly a year after his retirement to outline his views, he responded that that it was not the place of active duty officers to challenge lawful orders from civilian authorities. General Sanchez, who is said to be considering a book, promised further public statements criticizing officials by name.

"There was been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," he said, adding later in his remarks that civilian officials have been "derelict in their duties" and guilty of a "lust for power."

The White House had no initial comment.

But his role as commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal leaves General Sanchez vulnerable to criticism that that he is shifting the blame from himself and exacting revenge against an administration that replaced him as the top commander in the aftermath of the scandal and declined to nominate him for a fourth star, forcing his retirement.

Though he was cleared of wrongdoing in the abuse matter by an Army investigation, he nonetheless became a symbol, along with officials like L. Paul Bremer III , the chief administrator in Iraq, of the ineffective American leadership early in the occupation.

Questioned by reporters after his speech, he included the military and himself among those who made mistakes in Iraq, citing the failure to insist on a better post-invasion stabilization plan.

But his main criticism was leveled at the Bush administration, which he said he said has failed to mobilize the entire United States government, other than the military, to contribute meaningfully to reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq.

"National leadership continues to believe that victory can be achieved by military power alone," he said. "Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory. The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat."

Asked after his remarks what strategy he favored, General Sanchez ticked off a series of steps — from promoting reconciliation among Iraq's warring sectarian factions to building effective Iraqi army and police units — that closely paralleled the list of tasks frequently cited by the Bush administration.

But he said that the administration had failed to craft a detailed strategy for achieving those steps that went beyond the use of military force.

"The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially the State Department, must shoulder responsibility for the catastrophic failure, and the American people must hold them accountable," General Sanchez said.