Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Hoping for Seven and Eleven--and BlackJack

I'm taking my first significant vacation since starting this blog--and damnit, I'm using the term blog now. I used to hate it--thought it sounded so primitive, but I also saw David Brooks deign to use the term, and, in the interest of hate, I've decided Brooks comes up way short. Thus, hang my head in shame, I humbly adopt the term--it ain't a particularly attractive child, but...

Posting will be curtailed until I find a good place to view and post--shit, I'm gonna be mostly in Raleigh, NC--there's gotta be a college there, right? Hopefully I'll find a library, or an internet cafe, or something...

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit or otherwise read--and, I swear, there will be more when I get back...hopefully this won't be an excuse to forget the sometimes not entirely sober rantings of someone who lives literally walking distance from the Mississippi River--cough.

I'll try even harder to keep up with all y'all's stuff...look for me on sitemeter as "unknown," but I'll be there.

Now I've gotta listen to a little Chris Leblanc while I pack. Take care and thanks again....


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Rick Santorum Appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Well, no, I lied in the title, but Molly Ivins has something to say about John Negroponte being appointed Ambassador to Iraq:

"Negroponte speaks no Arabic, he is a specialist in covert operations in Latin America, and he has no Middle East experience aside from the Iran-Contra insanity. He is, however, a bona fide, certified, chicken-fried neo-con. Is anyone else appalled?

I find this appointment terrifying, and it leaves me afraid the administration is contemplating something I have heretofore dismissed as a loony-left conspiracy theory. Could it possibly consider handing over Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 to any combination of Iraqis that includes Ahmad Chalabi? Chalabi is the convicted crook, demonstrated liar, purveyor of false intelligence and con man who so charmed Dick Cheney and the other neo-con hawks that they still half-believe him. He is now on the Iraqi Governing Council, earning an enviable reputation for corruption."

Since the "embassy" in Baghdad will dwarf any so-called diplomatic station either contemporary or in history, perhaps Negroponte's title should reflect this: I propose he be named Reichsmarshall.
Nothing to be Seen Here--Except a Complete Fuck Up

Mary is where I first saw a reference to the Jason Vest article that Atrios posted about yesterday. Here's her link. In light of recent polling data showing Bush with a slight lead over Kerry (of whom a commentor at Billmon noted, "the backbone transplant seems to have been rejected"), this serves to underscore a strange dualism in the country: deep down, I think folks know the Iraq war is a disaster, but are too wrapped up in the throes of group-think to own up to it. What's the deal about the stages of grief? If you ask me, the body politic is somewhere between denial and deal-making. Kerry is no more immune to this fallacy than anyone else. Billmon himself has recently posted that Kerry seems to have undergone a "Vulcan Mind Meld" with Joe Lieberman. Anyway, the Vest piece makes it clear that Iraq is GONE. The memo's author notes a number of screw ups by the administration, then, for some odd reason, turns around and suggests that support for Ahmad Chalabi wasn't strong enough. No wonder we're fucked in Iraq: that's the best alternative to Saddam we could dredge up from the slime pit? Chalabi? Hell, he had to import a private security contingent of about five hundred folks just so he could get a few cheers when he makes public appearances. He is Spiro Agnew to Hussein's Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile, I'll just add my voice to the sentiment expressed here by Atrios (who is probably read by everyone who visits this site, but here's the link anyway)--the ridiculousness of the all-war and only-war crowd is manifest when you think about the ultimate costs of the Iraq folly. Costs that, by the way, will never be recouped because there won't be a fix to the disaster. What was bad has now become worse: Saddam was a two bit thug, a tin pot dictator, whose overthrow had opened the door of power to whoever manages to maintain the strongest and most dedicated organization in the country. That happens to be Sadr at present. The US troops are just one more faction amongst the various local, regional, and national aspirants to power. They can hold their own, sure--they've got plenty of firepower. But they have no way to build support--they aren't native. And, worse for Bush, the public in Iraq is not unlike the public right here. They want to be left alone to go about their business. As far as they're concerned, the fighting is between the US and the various armed militias. They're sitting this one out.

Should they decide, though, to take sides, what side does anyone think they'll take? WE don't have ANYTHING to offer. Not security, not jobs, not money--and even if we COULD offer this, we can't provide the assurances that anyone taking the offer won't be shot as a "collaborator." Damn, this is bad.

How bad? Take a look at this editorial from The Virginian Pilot. When you read it, consider: the various bases in the Norfolk area (where I lived as a kid) represent the largest concentration of military in the United States, if not the world. When they see the handwriting on the wall (even as they hold out the slimmest glimmer of hope) then you know it can't be good.
Cheney and The Pequod

I pulled in last night after losing a tennis match (I play in a rec. league here in BR for exercise, and got plenty of it. The match was three sets, and the two sets we lost took tiebreakers to decide).

Anyway, after cleaning up, I took a quick look at a couple of sites, and came across this via The Angry Arab. Bob Woodward, who is no Melville, nonetheless has excerpts from his latest book on page one of The Washington Post.

Now, I can't vouch for Woodward's veracity, but if his story is accurate, Bush becomes little more than second-mate Flask to Dick Cheney's Ahab (actually, Cheney's physical appearance is more of a morph between Peleg and Ahab, but...). Colin Powell (Starbuck?) called the Veep's obsession with Hussein a "fever," and I wonder of Dick personally held Saddam responsible for at least one of his heart attacks--or the gradual deterioration of his ticker over time.

I picture Cheney, clad in a hospital gown, scowl on his face, pacing up and down the hallways, wheeling along an IV dispenser, pondering Hussein, who floats along in the Sea of Oil (robbing old Dick of his breath, his energy, his very life force), muttering to himself: "I seek the Great White Unfinished Business! I had you in my sights, Moby Saddam, but old man Bush wouldn't move in for the kill!"

Later, he pulls out a dabloon and, breathing heavily, hammers it into the wall of his West Wing office. "Cost-plus military contracts to whoever brings me the head of Saddam Hussein!" As he lets his obsession grow, the mid-sized fish that Saddam represents grows to leviathian proportions. Growing ever more delusional, Dick rants, "I seek the proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction! I seek the elusive connection to Al Qaeda and 9/11! I seek to place the Great White Blame on Clinton for allowing this to tarnish my reputation! I seek"--then he grabs his chest in a fit of coughing and heaving--"nitro! Get---me---goddamned nitro pills! Adrenaline---hypo--now!" before collapsing on the couch, aides at the ready with his pharmacopia.

Having crossed the line long ago, Dick is no longer worried about the unhealthy ramifications of his Saddam fixation. EVERYTHING becomes an excuse to attack. There are those who argue that Saddam is hardly more than a guppy in the whole scheme of things, but to Cheney, the Sea of Oil is vast, and Saddam is Nemesis. It may kill him, it may sink the boat, but he will have Hussein.

Well, unlike the epic, Cheney got his man. But the boat has been beached on the sands of Mesopotamia. A beached ship is about as useful as a beached whale, and the small fry that are the resistance will be able to snipe at and otherwise pick off the odd patrol more or less at will. The "coalition" is sinking, as more countries realize the futility of the operation. The Pottery Barn Rule is in full force: Iraq is ours. We broke it--now we have to pay. $200 billion and counting. Maybe it's even worse than the Pottery Barn Rule: at the mall, you only have to pay once. We'll be paying for Iraq over and over again.

And Cheney is going down with the ship.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Future is Simply the Past Over and Over Again

Check out this post over at Needlenose.
Sad Anniversary

It's been nine years since a Ryder Truck loaded with explosives pulled up in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I remember the day distinctly: some time after hearing the news, I found myself at a local Madison watering hole (Amy's Cafe, if Matt Lavine comes by to take a look today)--discussing the tragedy with someone I vaguely knew from the Political Science department and a local sheriff's deputy, of all people (sheriff deputies didn't make Amy's a normal part of their rounds, but there you go). IIRC, the PoliSci guy's name was Jason. He instantly made note of the date, the 2nd anniversary of the tragedy in Waco, a stupid and criminal action undertaken by the Clinton administration (it's still no crime to be a weirdo, David Koresh nee Vernon Howell notwithstanding). The sheriff guy disagreed vehemently--his exact words were "the kind of depraved indifference to human life is a mark of Middle Easterners." How wrong he turned out to be.

On the subject of wrong--here's an AP Newswire story (courtesy of TalkLeft) that suggests the Secret Service has records indicating a security camera had footage of the van as it drove up, and as the occupants--plural--exited the vehicle. If this is actually the case, it means that evidence has been withheld from both the defense attorneys for those charged, as well as from the general public, who have a right to know if such evidence exists--that's why trials are PUBLIC.

If this kind of stuff is being withheld, what does the government have under lock and key about stuff they are perpetrating?

Never trust a politician--even the ones you vote for.
More on the Hearts and Minds Front

Links courtesy of The Angry Arab News Service:

This L.A. Times article summarizes the problems the US forces have in obtaining decent ground intelligence. Note how the Marines on the ground are calling the area around Fallujah, with its dense foliage, the "Vietnam" area. This article pants a far more complicated picture of just how the Iraqi "security forces" are performing in the conflict. And this BBC story outlines definitely a "worst-case" scenario for the occupation: a united Sh'ia and Sunni resistance.

If the population doesn't support you, it will be difficult if not impossible to win. It doesn't matter if the population's lack of support is active (i.e., they're resisting) or passive (they simply don't care one way or the other). Sure, the resistance is certainly making sure that "collaborators" are dealt with harshly, which brings up a third reason for the lack of support for the occupation. But the fact is that until the occupying troops can PROVIDE REAL SECURITY for the general population, there's not a chance in hell they'd provide us with anything. I mean, who's crazy enough to ask to be shot?

All this goes back to Rumsfeld's war on the cheap, which is an oxymoron. War is NEVER cheap--unless you think human lives are. That said, the method by which this conflict has been fought will sit squarely on his shoulders, and, by extension, the man he works for: Richard Cheney. Of course, there's the matter of the Idiot in Chief, but history will give Dubya such a pranging that I won't be surprised if he's excised from the ranks one day. Perhaps the 22nd Century will recall Woodward's other startling revelation about Bush--he asked Dubya how he thought history would judge the war, the idiot replied, "Who cares? We'll all be dead."

And for the 43rd pResident, hopefully forgotten.
And the Earth Quaked and the Ground Trembled

Naked Furniture is where I first saw something written about what, yes, is the startling revelation that Prince Bandar bin Sultan was tipped off to the Iraq war prior to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Furthermore, Bandar indicated that Saudi Arabia was willing to provide the pro quo for the Bushistas quid by making sure oil prices drop in time for the election cycle to pick up the news (assuming something else doesn't happen, as Ms. Condi indicates). Mary has more on this here. be sure to check out the links.

I expect oil to be going for about thirty pieces of silver a barrel come mid October...
Crossing the Cultural Divide

Imagine that: Middle Eastern television viewers like watching game shows too. The New York Times provides the details.
One Toke oh for the Line, Sweet Jesus

Jeffrey over at Library Chronicles notes both the last day of French Quarter Fest AND the opening of the Canal St. Streetcar line.

FQF, in his words, "is what Jazz Fest ought to be." After seeing the references, I'll second the motion. Damn, wish I'd known about this, even as I THINK, but can't be sure, that my sister, a former denizen of the Crescent City, mentioned this before. I gotta start making better plans.

As for the Canal St. line: hey, if this even works for semi-tourists like me, all the better. One good bit of news: it looks like the line will run 24 hours. Nothing like a system shut down to screw up drunken plans.

Check out Jeffrey's site for more links--here's the main site for NORTA, while LibraryChronicles references a more specific site.

I was stuck awake last night, staring straight up at the ceiling tiles, almost hoping yet another one would fall--at least 4 or 5 have in the five years I've lived in the damned place. Old apartment. I think I was pissed off because yet another leak in the plumbing has developed, this time the cold water tap in the kitchen sink. This will be the third major leak I confront. Anyway, as I tried to come up with SOMETHING, ANYTHING that would cause me to nod off, I began to calculate the cost of "security" in Iraq, particularly as it relates to the overall budget for reconstruction. Unfortunately, thinking about numbers didn't quite do the trick--I managed to come up with a $6.8 billion dollars, and I was no more tired--damn, normally thinking about budgets, outlays, etc., can put me to sleep quite rapidly.

Imagine my surprise upon seeing this article, which largely confirms my math. The New York Times doesn't QUITE come up with the same figure: they're saying about 25% of $18 billion dollars (or $4.2 billion per year--maybe they're outsourcing), still a substantial chunk of change. My own calculation was 20,000 folks at $1,000 a day. The Times hedges the bet, noting that the going rate is $500-$1,500 a day for "[the] most skilled operators."

The reporters managed to discover that security itself had been budgeted at 10% of the reconstruction funds, which is one of the few recent figures I've come across that actually seems to confirm that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, is doing the job the taxpayers have hired her or him to do, namely, analyze trends and come up with figures (sarcasm for the irony challenged. Something tells me they have some figures, both pre and post invasion, but refuse to release the latter. IIRC, the pre-invasion figures were ridiculously lowballed).

The writers came across the plum contract: $100 million to guard the Green Zone, although why am I guessing it's a "cost plus" agreement? A hundred mil is big money, to be sure (and some in the Pentagon are grumbling that particularly Special Ops guys are opting out, of low level government pay in exchange for some real money when putting their lives on the line, even if the equipment isn't always up to standard. Of course, given that we're STILL having trouble putting all the troops in body armor, up to standard might be a relative thing. Besides, I assume the brass can always issue more "stop loss" orders, i.e., the draft-that-isn't-a-draft).

The article is pretty long at five pages, but take a look: this is yet another example of the dunderheaded decision making that went into the invasion. The level of security required for folks like Bremer is outrageous, and how can we possibly expect that businesspeople would require less? Considering the situation on the ground, i.e., kidnappings, ambushes, etc., "business as usual" would be laughable if it wasn't tragic.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The News Cycle

I spent yesterday recovering from the combination birthday/dissertation celebration a friend had here in Baton Rouge. Rather than try to keep up with the happenings, I did a little cleaning up, then got to sleep early.

It almost feels like I have to play catch-up now, and it make me wonder how people who don't follow the news on a more or less daily basis consider things. Something tells me that Bush is relying on these folks to form his core support--for instance, I caught this quote over at Democratic Veteran--apparently Bob Woodward asked Bush about his legacy and got this reply:

"History. We don't know. We'll all be dead." (Democratic Veteran cites Roger Ailes for the tip)

The New York Times reports that Spain is on the fast track for withdrawing troops from Iraq, while Robert Fisk expresses his admiration for the Spanish in recognizing the folly of the "mission," as it were. Ariel Sharon is tottering on the brink of insanity in killing Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, leader of Hamas, while at least eleven soldiers were killed in various areas in Iraq. More information is forthcoming in regards to just what was known about bin Laden's intents prior to 9/11, while MSNBC carefully summarizes, as best as can be determined, the casualty report from the Iraq war.

David Lindorff calculates how many of our tax dollars are paying for the conflict in Iraq (average $2,150 per family and counting). This should dispell any notion that Bush is a fiscal conservative. Bush is also doing an about face in regards to combat pay and bonuses, offering an extra $1,000 a month to each soldier called back into the conflict, while bin Laden, if he was in a position to hear the news, would be wetting himself with glee over this story from Kosovo: US and Jordanian MP's ended up in a firefight (2 Americans and 1 Jordanian killed, 11 injured) sparked by arguments about Iraq.

And this was just a weekend. It seems almost impossible to keep up with what's happening in the real world, even as most folks these days seem to be far more interested in The Apprentice or Survivor or NASCAR or whatever. Even taking a day of rest, with no television (still haven't cut it on--not that there's anything to watch), and I feel hopelessly behind. Those who don't take an interest in public affairs must feel completely out of the loop.

A democratic government--and a democratic process--REQUIRES an informed citizenry. Without the public providing a check on the virtually limitless power possessed by the government, the country is in danger of becoming little more than a National Security State. If/when that happens, there will be little chance of returning to any semblence of democratic rule.

That's why the upcoming election is so damned important.