Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wednesday Wrap Up

Might have time for a post or two tomorrow before joining the family for dinner, but I'll finish up today on a high note, of sorts. First, thanks to No Katrina, I came across Murph's link to a NY Times op-ed by NOLA resident and former Murph prof John Biguenet that really captures the bittersweet season in South Louisiana--an additional hat tip goes to World Class New Orleans. I'm really need to update my blogroll--soon:

The mood here has turned angry in the last month, as we've begun to lose hope we will get the hurricane protection the future of the city depends on. On the street, the sense of betrayal boils over into empty talk of closing our oil and gas pipelines, which supply much of the nation's needs: "They won't build us levees that work? Then let them freeze in the dark."

Even the reliably conservative Times-Picayune ran a heated front-page editorial on Sunday, blasting the federal response to a disaster caused by one of its own agencies. Noting the false assurances we received that our levees would protect us in a Category 3 storm - all that was left of a weakened Hurricane Katrina by the time it sideswiped the city on Aug. 29 - the paper exhorted its readers to flood Washington with demands for protection against Category 5 storms: "Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina."

Why are we all so angry? An afternoon working beside me would make that clear. Like many of my fellow New Orleanians, I've spent much of every day for the last two months gutting my flooded house: dragging soggy furniture and reeking appliances to the curb, ripping out moldy walls, throwing my children's mementoes on a huge trash heap of ruined clothing and family photos and books and artwork.

On my way every day to where we used to live, I drive through a city I love that lies in ruins. The park that lines one side of a boulevard I follow home is now a solid wall of debris 20 feet high. On the other side of the street, desolate houses destroyed by the flood gape back with shattered windows, open doors and ragged holes in rooftops kicked out by families trapped in their attics when the water rose. Every single thing - wrecked houses, abandoned cars, even the people - everything is covered in a pall of gray dust, as if all the color of this once vibrant city has been leached out.

Exactly. Maybe I'm not as creative as Biguenet, but it bears repeating...and repeating: protecting the Gulf Coast, which includes, but is not limited to New Orleans, is of vital NATIONAL interest. So, it should be a NATIONAL project. Duh.

Oyster found a report about Charles Melancon asking for a March on Washington to emphasize the necessity of action. I'll have to see about the march itself, but I'll damn well sign the petition he wants to circulate. I'll also doff my figurative hat to YRHT for something he wrote in a previous post about the possibility of NOLA focusing even more on gambling as a tourist draw/revenue source...I put my own .002 cents worth in a comment--how would gambling affect the music and restaurant scene--drawing this astute reply:

Your concern about casinos "bottling up" their guests inside the hotels is definitely valid. I would only hope that visitors would insist on walking and dining in the Quarter if they've come to New Orleans. Some young maniacs who had a good night at the craps table would also insist on going to bars outside the hotels (and other entertainment spots where the burdens of disposable income can be quickly alleviated).

the burdens of disposable income can be quickly alleviated...I like that. Some enterprising businessperson could turn it into a slogan.

Anyway...until tomorrow, and, if I don't manage to post anything, I sincerely hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday, wherever you happen to be.

Captures the Essence--Both Outside and Inside

Neil Shakespeare offers his Portrait of Richard Cheney.
From the "You've Gotta Be Kidding Me" Department

Top FY 2005 Accomplishments of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA division:

The response to Hurricane Katrina

I guess awarding Medals of Freedom is on the agenda.
No Word as to a Roast Goose, but...

FEMA backed away from their most recent Scrooge imitation:

Responding to an outpouring of criticism, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Tuesday that most of the estimated 150,000 hurricane evacuees still living in hotel rooms would have an extra month to find other housing before the federal government stops footing the bill...

Under the new deadline, evacuees living in hotels in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, California, Tennessee, Arkansas and Nevada will be able to remain, on the government's account, through Jan. 7, the date previously set just for Louisiana and Mississippi. About 35,000 hotel rooms are occupied by evacuees in those states.

For those staying in 3,700 rooms in other states, the new deadline will be Dec. 15 instead of Dec. 1.

"We are not kicking people out into the streets," R. David Paulison, acting director of FEMA, said in announcing the revised deadlines at a news conference here. "We want families in decent housing."

The hotel program, started by the American Red Cross, has already cost the federal government about $300 million, or an average of about $59 a night per room. It was begun after emergency shelters were overwhelmed by the number of people fleeing the coast.

Thanks to Firedoglake for the link, and the Scrooge reference.

However, the move to apartments is a mixed blessing. I don't know anything about Anthony Patten, but he made a good point last night on The Lehrer Show:

However, I do want to say something about when we had the opening of the show, I overheard an interview from the FEMA representative talking about moving people out of hotels and into apartments.

And, quite frankly, the people of New Orleans feel like that's the wrong move. You're locking people into one-year contracts outside the city of New Orleans. And what that does is it stops those people from partaking in the re-growth of New Orleans and the rebuild.

I would suggest use those same resources, put people up down here in New Orleans next to their home in the hotels or wherever we can find space for them and allow them to be involved in rebuilding their own neighborhoods.

And I think that you'll find things will happen a lot quicker because they're personally invested and it probably will save the taxpayers money, too, because folks want to build their homes; people want to be back home.

Don't get me wrong: hotels are not built as permanent housing--and people who've evacuated have suffered quite enough. But I agree with Patten--provided the rebuilding effort gets moving the way it should.

New Orleans is too important to ignore.
For Those Keeping Score

From Crooks and Liars, a state-by-state breakdown of GOP'ers under investigation for various crimes/scandals/moral and ethical lapses, etc.

Wow...all 50 states, plus two territories, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A clean sweep.
Scientific Method

The Editors explain their methods for determining the Weekly Wanker--and provide graphical (.pdf) evidence of the same.
Misrepresented, and Manipulated

Big Time can speechify himself hoarse, as can the Boy Idiot, but, to quote John Murtha, "just because they say it doesn't make it true:"

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter...

One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources...

"What the President was told on September 21," said one former high-level official, "was consistent with everything he has been told since-that the evidence was just not there."

In arguing their case for war with Iraq, the president and vice president said after the September 11 attacks that Al Qaeda and Iraq had significant ties, and they cited the possibility that Iraq might share chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons with Al Qaeda for a terrorist attack against the United States...

The new information on the September 21 PDB and the subsequent CIA analysis bears on the question of what the CIA told the president and how the administration used that information as it made its case for war with Iraq.

The central rationale for going to war against Iraq, of course, was that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons, and that he was pursuing an aggressive program to build nuclear weapons. Despite those claims, no weapons were ever discovered after the war, either by United Nations inspectors or by U.S. military authorities.

Much of the blame for the incorrect information in statements made by the president and other senior administration officials regarding the weapons-of-mass-destruction issue has fallen on the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

In April 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report that the CIA's prewar assertion that Saddam's regime was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program" and "has chemical and biological weapons" were "overstated, or were not supported by the underlying intelligence provided to the Committee."

Read the whole thing (hat tip to TPM and Rising Hegemon).

And, yeah, I did omit the once and future wingnut talking point about Hussein's support for Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal--well, sorta support--you see, Nidal "committed suicide" by multiple gunshots in 2002 (or was he "killed trying to escape")...and as for Hussein's general support for Palestinian nationalists/terrorists, that was no secret. Of course, if it becomes the rationale for invasion, we'd have to invade almost every other country in the region...including Saudi Arabia.

But I digress. The point is that, despite the administration's latest round of bloviation, they LIED the country into a war that's become a daily disaster, while here at home, vital needs aren't being met.

Worst. Administration. In my lifetime, if not all time.
If You Can Stand Reliving a Tragedy

I've been poring over the NOVA and Frontline pages this morning--and watched both programs last night. A couple of things:

1) Mike Brown is still an ass. Looks like he's taken the ensuing weeks--and government salary--to piece together what he considers a reasonable alibi. It's not working, Brownie ("You're not doing a heckuva job.")

2) Both programs did a decent job of chronicling what happened, and when. As for "why," I believe they were deliberately vague...PBS, despite wingnut claims of "liberal bias," rarely steps out on a limb.

3) Just prior to the broadcasts, The Lehrer News Show devoted a segment to recovery efforts. The overall picture is that things are moving at a snail's pace. Actually, that's not really true. Things would have to speed up to move at a snail's pace.

4) Ivor van Heerden made any number of solid points...He's been featured in news broadcasts, etc., quite a bit since the storm. One thing people might not realize is that he's also been harassed quite a bit by Waste Management, Inc., because of his opposition to expansion of the Woodside Landfill in Livingston Parish...proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

4) Via HumidHaney and YRHT, an effort is underway to get Gret Stet bloggers to work in whatever way we can to keep storm recovery on the front burner. Count me in--and let's not forget those folks affected by Hurricane Rita either.

5) PGR has a post up featuring an amazing set of photographs taken along Bayou St. John--the photographer put his pictures up for public view in the areas where they were taken, i.e., you can see for yourself the devastation and inundation. Wow.

6) If there's anything more pathetic than the continued wasting of resources on a fool's errand in Mesopotamia--while the same expenditures HERE would actually be productive, not to mention FAR less deadly for the military--I sure don't know what it is. I''m not religious, but if I was, I'd think the supreme being was sending a message.

Back in a bit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Texas Tonguelashing--With a Honey Coating

Molly Ivins mixes hot and spicy with just enough syrup:

I always thought the single best reason to doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was that the United Nations inspectors were over there looking and couldn't find any. This was while Donald Rumsfeld was claiming we knew where the WMD were being stored. So why didn't we tell the inspectors so they could go look there? It never made sense.

As author Eric Alterman notes, we've been having a kind of harmonic convergence of b.s. lately. The administration's first response to challenge is to lie, the second is to attack. Dick Cheney, always good in the attack role, called critics of the war "dishonest," "reprehensible" and "opportunist." Again and again, anyone who raises questions about the reasons for or the conduct of this war is promptly accused of "being against the troops," "hurting morale" and "helping the terrorists."

Dissent equals treason. Anyone who criticizes Bush is unpatriotic. According to this pitiful attempt at intimidation, to notice that this war is a disaster is the same as spitting on our soldiers. Stephen Hadley, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney have all played this card in recent days.

It's just plain old intimidation, trying to scare people into shutting up -- it's an old, ugly, mean trick, and it only works against cowards.

The treatment of Rep. John Murtha is a classic example. Murtha, stalwart supporter of the military, described Iraq as a "flawed policy wrapped in an illusion" and called for pulling troops out "at the earliest practicable date." White House spokesman Scott McClellan promptly denounced Murtha for "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.'

And the charming Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio quoted an Ohio colonel: "He asked me to send Congress a message to stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run. Marines never do."

But Murtha -- 37 years in the Marine Corps, decorated war hero in Korea and Vietnam and widely respected for his knowledge of military affairs -- is not easily intimidated. Of the vice president he said, "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

While Washington stands around having a public relations battle over all this, the real war with real people dying goes right on. The main reason we should get out is because we're not doing any good over there. We stayed for years past the point of reason in Vietnam because they said there would be a "bloodbath" if we left. But there's a bloodbath because we're there.
42 Years Ago

Photoshop credit

Saw posts up from Ian, Neil Shakespeare, TPM, and Agitprop. The New York Times made it the focus of "This Day in History."

I put my two cents worth in comments here and there: I was born a couple of years after JFK's assassination, as a child, I remember the books I read about him were decidedly respectful--war hero, tragic death, the All-American family. His father's, ahem, questionable business practices, personal life, and political stances were conveniently ignored...for that matter, JFK's own personal life wasn't exactly suitable for children's books...anyway, by the mid/late 70's the personal stuff became tabloid and magazine fodder...which managed to further obfuscate the man's political record, which was, well, mixed: extremely tepid support for civil rights, classic cold-war spectacular failure--the Bay of Pigs fiasco--a couple of modest successes--the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and, fortunately for all of us, settling the Cuban Missile Crisis without going to (presumably nuclear) war.

My own suspicions are, had he lived, he probably would've escalated US involvement in Vietnam, but of course we'll never know. And I'm certainly not glad he was shot and killed.

But it's interesting that something once certain to be a central focus now seems, well, as distant as April 12th must have seemed to a generation that never really thought much about Roosevelt. And I guess 9/11 is now the new seminal event in history that makes folks recall where they were, even more so than the Challenger accident of 1986 (to be honest, I remember where I was for BOTH of those, but I'd have to go look up the date for the latter).
Road Rage

Slightly off topic relative to recent posts, but for some time car culture and the associated headaches have been of interest to me...which is why this link from Kos captured my attention right away. In summary, it's a commentary on incivility expressed on roadways; the writer takes aim at folks who "cut in line" at construction zones, lane narrowings, etc.--and city attempts at stopping this.

The comments aren't bad either--one linked to this Seattle Times story, complete with shorthand descriptions of certain tactics.

Closer to home, I've pretty much written off entire sections of Red Stick, and do my best to limit driving in areas where I do go. For such a minor league town, BR has always had major-league traffic headaches--and things have definitely gotten worse...not just because of increased population due to the storms, but you've got more cars, bigger cars, with more gadgets/'s almost like some folks can't be bothered with actually DRIVING.

And, of course, public transit is virtually non-existent...
We Must Stop the Volcano BEFORE It Erupts

PGR links to this interesting post.
And the Winner Is...

Swopa's having a caption contest--but WIIIAI, IMHO, posted the blue ribbon entry:

Like Alfred Hitchcock, but Scarier

Good comment as well:

Dick Cheney calls those who say the Bushies lied about intelligence guilty of “revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety.” Which is funny, because corrupt and shameless are... well, you know where I’m going with this. Honestly, for Cheney, a sense of shame, like a sense of irony, is just something for others to experience. He also calls such charges “dishonest and reprehensible” – possibly he got confused and was just reading off his resumé – but hey, it’s a “perfectly legitimate discussion,” as long as the opposition doesn’t use any actual, you know, words.

Two from Attaturk--on the home front, USA Today reports some 6600 people or more are still listed as "missing" following Hurricane Katrina:

Most of those who remain listed as unaccounted-for 12 weeks after the storm probably are alive and well, says Kym Pasqualini, chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing Adults. She says they are listed as missing because government record-keeping efforts haven't caught up with them in their new locations.

However, Pasqualini says those counting the victims are particularly concerned about an estimated 1,300 unaccounted-for people who lived in areas that were heavily damaged by Katrina, or who were disabled at the time the storm hit. The fact that authorities haven't been able to determine what happened to them suggests that the death toll from Katrina could climb significantly.

9/11 literally launched TWO wars, with part of the rationale being to avenge the victims. WHEN will this administration devote similar efforts and resources to PROTECTING an area of vital national concern?

On the foreign front, I'm taking this with a grain--if not a shaker--of salt, given my general knowledge of the English press. But if it's true, then one George W. Bush deliberately and with forethought considered actions that qualify as war crimes:

President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

A source said: "There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.

A source said last night: "The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush.

"He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. Blair replied that would cause a big problem.

"There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do - and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it."...

The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors.

In 2001 the station's Kabul office was knocked out by two "smart" bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station's Baghdad centre.

The memo, which also included details of troop deployments, turned up in May last year at the Northampton constituency office of then Labour MP Tony Clarke.

Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh, 49, is accused under the Official Secrets Act of passing it to Leo O'Connor, 42, who used to work for Mr Clarke. Both are bailed to appear at Bow Street court next week.

Again, I don't know the Mirror's reputation, but IF this is true, two war crimes were considered: deliberately targeting journalists, and attacking a neutral country. Neither can be justified--even considering this is shameful and should be considered yet another reason to impeach.
What 2,000+ Lives, $221 Billion--and Counting--Buys in Mesopotamia

The right to be labeled as legitimate targets.

A withdrawal based on a timetable--hmmm...somebody's not listening to Shrubleroy and the Penguin.

The strong possibility of civil or regional war.

And you've drained the treasury at a time when domestic needs are critical.

Nice job.

Oh--and on the subject of invasion in the first place, well, there's this unfortunate (for the administration) report alleging chemical weapon use by Iraq in 1991 against Kurdish forces. The chemical in question? White Phosphorus.

Meanwhile, Big Time's spinning so rapidly he might well corkscrew into the ground if he's not standing on concrete or asphalt.

While I still have relatively "good" cable teevee, I've been catching the various evening news shows--last night I was treated to yet another interview with John Murtha, who really seems to have gotten one thing, which he continues to repeat: the public is WAY ahead of the government on this. Um, yeah--the public is well aware of the REAL cost of war. Not just the money, but the shattered bodies, fractured families, lost or horribly maimed friends, lovers, husbands, wives, children...and for what? We're not curtailing terrorism--if anything, we're actively promoting it. We're not bestowing the blessing of civilization there: The Fertile Crescent is the goddamned CRADLE of western civilization--we may not like or even understand how they organize themselves, but they've done so for thousands of years without our assistance--and, as noted above, they'd like us to get the hell out, thank you very much.

It's been an awfully steep price to pay for a photo-op on an aircraft carrier.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Why Bob Graham Voted "No" in 2002

I'll admit I never had much admiration for Bob Graham, the former Florida Senator (and half brother of Phil Graham)--to me, his decisions back in the late 70's/early 80's on the death penalty smacked of political opportunism, and I couldn't take his 2004 run for president/vp seriously...except for one thing: I was aware he'd voted "no" on the Iraq resolution in 2002, and I knew he'd held either the chairmanship or ranking seat on the intel committee--which put him in a position to counter Shrub administration claims re: Iraq.

I just wish he'd written this back then (hat tip to YRHT for the link):

The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine the truth.

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress.

I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series of events undercut that confidence.

In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda...

At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.

Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.

There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.

Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary.

The American people needed to know these reservations, and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year," underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq.

From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth.

On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not.

Caveat Emptor is about as good a summation of Team Bush as anything.
Playground--and the Happy Meal--for Preznit,
Big Macs for the Senior Staff

In case you haven't seen this yet:

In five years in the presidency, Bush has proved a decidedly unadventurous traveler, an impression undispelled by the weeklong journey through Asia that wraps up Monday. As he barnstormed through Japan, South Korea and China, with a final stop in Mongolia still to come, Bush visited no museums, tried no restaurants, bought no souvenirs and made no effort to meet ordinary local people.

"I live in a bubble," Bush once said, explaining his anti-tourist tendencies by citing the enormous security and logistical considerations involved in arranging any sightseeing. "That's just life."

The Bush spirit trickles down to many of his top advisers, who hardly go out of their way to sample the local offerings either. A number of the most senior White House officials on the trip, perhaps seeking the comforts of their Texas homes, chose to skip the kimchi in South Korea to go to dinner at Outback Steakhouse -- twice. (Admittedly, a few unadventurous journalists joined them.)

First lady Laura Bush usually has more interest in looking around. In Pusan, a bustling port city perched on the sea against the backdrop of woodsy foothills in southeastern South Korea, she went to the Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library to read to orphans and the Pusan Metropolitan Museum to check out an exhibition of traditional costumes and palatial silk flowers. Here in Beijing, she explored the Ming Tombs, the underground chambers where 13 emperors are buried.

She has had little luck enticing her husband into joining her over the years. The first time the Bushes traveled to China together in their current capacity, she had to tell him to slow down as he tried to race through a tour of the Great Wall. She once persuaded him to go to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, only to see him burn through the place in 30 minutes. He dispensed with the Kremlin cathedrals in Moscow in seven minutes. He flatly declined an Australian invitation to attend the Rugby World Cup while down under.

This is the team that's supposed to handle nation building in the Middle East...
Compare and Contrast

Corpse plant:

Turd Blossom:

Any questions?
Fantasy vs. Reality

In one corner of this tag team match, we've got Frank Rich and Paul Krugman, representing rational thought...while the other side must make do with the delusional rantings of Shrubusto and Big Time.

But while the war is lost both as a political matter at home and a practical matter in Iraq, the exit strategy being haggled over in Washington will hardly mark the end of our woes. Few Americans will cry over the collapse of the administration's vainglorious mission to make Iraq a model of neocon nation-building. But, as some may dimly recall, there is another war going on as well - against Osama bin Laden and company.

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

"The Next Attack" is prescient to a scary degree. "If bin Laden is the Robin Hood of jihad," the authors write, then Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "has been its Horatio Alger, and Iraq his field of dreams." The proof arrived spectacularly this month with the Zarqawi-engineered suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman. That attack, Mr. Benjamin wrote in Slate "could soon be remembered as the day that the spillover of violence from Iraq became a major affliction for the Middle East." But not remembered in America. Thanks to the confusion sown by the Bush administration, the implications for us in this attack, like those in London and Madrid, are quickly forgotten, if they were noticed in the first place. What happened in Amman is just another numbing bit of bad news that we mentally delete along with all the other disasters we now label "Iraq."

Only since his speech about "Islamo-fascism" in early October has Mr. Bush started trying to make distinctions between the "evildoers" of Saddam's regime and the Islamic radicals who did and do directly threaten us. But even if anyone was still listening to this president, it would be too little and too late. The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on.

Not long ago wise heads offered some advice to those of us who had argued since 2003 that the Iraq war was sold on false pretenses: give it up. The 2004 election, they said, showed that we would never convince the American people. They suggested that we stop talking about how we got into Iraq and focus instead on what to do next.

It turns out that the wise heads were wrong. A solid majority of Americans now believe that we were misled into war. And it is only now, when the public has realized the truth about the past, that serious discussions about where we are and where we're going are able to get a hearing.

Representative John Murtha's speech calling for a quick departure from Iraq was full of passion, but it was also serious and specific in a way rarely seen on the other side of the debate. President Bush and his apologists speak in vague generalities about staying the course and finishing the job. But Mr. Murtha spoke of mounting casualties and lagging recruiting, the rising frequency of insurgent attacks, stagnant oil production and lack of clean water...

I'd add that the war is also destroying America's moral authority. When Mr. Bush speaks of human rights, the world thinks of Abu Ghraib. (In his speech, Mr. Murtha pointed out the obvious: torture at Abu Ghraib helped fuel the insurgency.) When administration officials talk of spreading freedom, the world thinks about the reality that much of Iraq is now ruled by theocrats and their militias.

Some administration officials accused Mr. Murtha of undermining the troops and giving comfort to the enemy. But that sort of thing no longer works, now that the administration has lost the public's trust.

Instead, defenders of our current policy have had to make a substantive argument: we can't leave Iraq now, because a civil war will break out after we're gone. One is tempted to say that they should have thought about that possibility back when they were cheerleading us into this war. But the real question is this: When, exactly, would be a good time to leave Iraq?...

Mr. Bush never asked the nation for the sacrifices - higher taxes, a bigger military and, possibly, a revived draft - that might have made a long-term commitment to Iraq possible. Instead, the war has been fought on borrowed money and borrowed time. And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970's.

So the question isn't whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.

Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we're better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose."

And there's a good case to be made that our departure will actually improve matters. As Mr. Murtha pointed out in his speech, the insurgency derives much of its support from the perception that it's resisting a foreign occupier. Once we're gone, the odds are that Iraqis, who don't have a tradition of religious extremism, will turn on fanatical foreigners like Zarqawi.

The only way to justify staying in Iraq is to make the case that stretching the U.S. army to its breaking point will buy time for something good to happen. I don't think you can make that case convincingly. So Mr. Murtha is right: it's time to leave.

You can run your own search for Big Time and Shrub's latest tripe--it's out there on what the latter calls "the internets." But I'll close this post with a graphic courtesy of Democratic Underground--sort of a "Separated at Birth?" comparison:

Casualties of War

Another tragic example of why armed conflict should ALWAYS be a last resort:

BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. troops opened fire on a crowded minivan north of Baghdad on Monday, fearing a car bomb attack, and killed at least three members of the same family, including a child, the U.S. military and survivors said.

The U.S. army's 3rd Infantry Division confirmed the incident, saying its troops had opened fire after first trying to wave the minivan to a stop and then firing warning shots.

"This is a tragedy," said Major Steve Warren, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Baquba, near where the shooting occurred...

Warren said three people -- two men and a child -- were killed and three were wounded, but the survivors disputed that, saying five members of the family, including two children, were killed and four were wounded.

One of the survivors told Reuters the family was traveling from Balad, a town about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, to the nearby city of Baquba for a funeral when they were shot at by a U.S. patrol as it approached them on the road.

"As we tried to move over to one side to let them pass, they opened fire," one survivor said. None of them would give their names but said the head of the family was a Mohammed Kamel.

Warren said the incident occurred near a U.S. military forward operating base as vehicles were entering the camp. He said U.S. troops frequently set up impromptu roadblocks in such cases and force all nearby vehicles to come to a halt.

The U.S. military took the minivan away immediately after the incident, Iraqi police and the U.S. army said.

Reuters television footage showed two dead children in a morgue in Baquba and relatives kissing another dead body on a morgue trolley. One child's head appeared to have been been blown off.

"They are all children. They are not terrorists," shouted a relative. "Look at the children," he said as a morgue official carried a small dead child into a refrigeration room.

"We felt bullets hitting the car from behind and from in front," said another survivor with blood running from a wound to his head and splattered on his shirt. "Heads were blown off. One child had his hand shot off," he said.

Of those wounded, two were women and one was another child, the survivors said. The U.S. military said two men and one woman were among the wounded.

U.S. troops are frequently accused by Iraqis of shooting at civilian vehicles at checkpoints and roadblocks. At the same time, U.S. troops are attacked every day by car bombers in civilian vehicles who race at U.S. patrols or roadblocks.
This Old House of Horrors

Major funding provided by Black & Decker:

British-trained police operating in Basra have tortured at least two civilians to death with electric drills, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence, admits that he knows of "alleged deaths in custody" and other "serious prisoner abuse" at al-Jamiyat police station, which was reopened by Britain after the war.

Militia-dominated police, who were recruited by Britain, are believed to have tortured at least two men to death in the station. Their bodies were later found with drill holes to their arms, legs and skulls.

The victims were suspected of collaborating with coalition forces, according to intelligence reports. Despite being pressed "very hard" by Britain, however, the Iraqi authorities in Basra are failing to even investigate incidents of torture and murder by police, ministers admit.

Additional funding provided by our taxes...
Picture This

World Class New Orleans has a post up with an excellent graphic showing one of the problems with the NOLA floodwall protection system. If I remember right, the data was from the 17th St. Canal (yeah, it was).

Modest Proposal: before we toss more money into the Iraqi sinkhole, maybe we should try some nation building RIGHT HERE--where it's pretty desperately needed, we speak the same language, and there aren't any IED's...
At Home and Abroad

Spent the weekend mostly working on my little sliver of lawn, and also went out and caught Good Night and Good Luck yesterday (as you might expect, I liked it).

Playing catch-up here this morning, I was struck by a couple of Schroeder's posts, which capture what for me is fury and frustration at Team Bush's particular brand of governance--a mix and match of genuine incompetence, perceived incompetence that hides a cynical cronyism, abject venality, etc:

Weapons of mass destruction my ass. New Orleans is being neglected by the Bush administration. This country is being neglected by the Bush administration. The domestic security of the United States is being neglected. Resources are being diverted from essential needs here at home.

Exactly. In the other post, PGR worries--correctly--that the still devastated Gulf Coast is being forgotten by the can't-be- bothered-with-poor-people media...which is a reflection of the can't-be-bothered- with-poor-people-federal-government:

This isn't just a national disaster, it's a national emergency. All the people who don't get it, and who think we can handle this problem in a business-as-usual mode should be ejected from office immediately. And the press needs to get their asses down here to New Orleans and start covering the vital stories about what is happening here...

Ah, if only, as Billmon pointed out last September, NOLA could've been in a swing state during an election year. Then Team Bush would've gotten off their sorry, corrupt asses.

Or if they'd been able to frame the storm on context of, oh, I don't know, a war on weather, complete with macho imagery of weapons being fired, bombs, be they smart or dumb, dropped from on-high by can-do top guns, videogame-like images of enemies being blown to bits...and flight-suited Codpiecers-in-Chief boldly strutting forth to declare Mission Accomplished.

Well, in the latter case, they DID sorta do a Mission Accomplished thing--the wierd Shrub speech from Jackson Square (he spoke from almost the exact same place where the anti-war march in 2003 concluded), bathed in a bizarre blue light...kind of a "Mission Beginning" address, except that the mission never really began. I guess it was more like your standard snake oil/used car stump oration, with the dauphin promising cures for rheumatism, bunyons, baldness...and 50 miles to the gallon, no maintenence, free tires for life...and let's get the hell outta here.

Of course, nothing's come of it. In fact, NOLA imagery (another hat tip to Schroeder for pics and links) often reminds me of Mesopotamian devastation--except we're ACTIVELY PAYING for the latter. And they're certainly two sides of the Team Bush coin: utter neglect of the homeland, and useless, counterproductive, indeed, dangerous misadventures overseas--a perfect storm, no pun intended, of stupidity, arrogance, greed, viciousness, cynicism, evil--and neglect...hell, they're so goddamned awful the redder than red (state, that is) Pic castigated the feds--on the front page--for, well, the metaphor they used was assault...sexual assault, if not rape:

They act as if we wore our skirts too short and invited trouble.

Strong words...but, then again, maybe it's necessary--although not nearly as necessary as booting these clowns out come 2006.