Thursday, July 29, 2004

AARP questions, Shrub ducks

OK, students -- compare and contrast:

...And this is the same AARP that supported Shrubya's medicare ripoff. Go fig.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Some call it Prevaricating

Juan Cole: "...the US should not get involved in places that it may get thrown out of, because that projects an image of weakness and vulnerability to the country's enemies. There was no way the United States could possibly have maintained a presence in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Reagan was foolish to put those Marines in there, and even more foolish to put them in without pilons around them to stop truck bombs. The country was embroiled in a civil war, and it would have taken a massive commitment of troops to make a difference. In the wake of the Vietnam failure, the American public would not have countenanced such a huge troop build-up. Likewise, Bush senior was foolish to send those troops to Somalia in the way he did (which became a poison pill for his successor, Bill Clinton).

The question is whether the quagmire in Iraq makes the US look weak. The answer is yes. Therefore, by Cheney's own reasoning, it is a mistake that opens us to further attacks.

Reuters reports, "Cheney said Americans were safer and he stood by prewar characterizations of Iraq as a threat despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and new warnings by Cheney and other administration officials that another major terrorist attack may be coming."

Iraq was not a threat to the United States. Period. Let me repeat the statistics as of the late 1990s:

US population: 295 million
Iraq population: 24 million

US per capita annual income: $37,600
Iraq per capita annual income: $700

US nuclear warheads: 10,455
Iraq nuclear warheads: 0

US tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 31,496
Iraq tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 0

While a small terrorist organization could hit the US because it has no return address, a major state could not hope to avoid retribution and therefore would be deterred. Cheney knows that Baathist Iraq posed no threat to the US. He is simply lying. I was always careful not to accuse him of lying before the war because who knows what is in someone else's mind? Maybe he believed his own bullshit. But there is no longer any doubt that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no active nuclear weapons program, no ability to deliver anything lethal to the US homeland, and no operational cooperation with al-Qaeda. These things are not matters of opinion. They are indisputable. Ipso facto, if an intelligent person continues to allege them, he is prevaricating."

... a 3-letter word would suffice.

Oh, yeah, this is SO encouraging ...

"(AP) Detailed electronic records from Miami-Dade County's first widespread use of touchscreen voting machines were lost in computer crashes last year, erasing information from the September 2002 gubernatorial primaries and deleting some records of other elections, elections officials said.

The crashes occurred in May and November of 2003. In December, officials began backing up the data daily, to help avoid similar data wipeouts in the future, said Seth Kaplan, spokesman for the county's elections supervisor, Constance Kaplan.

The malfunction was made public Tuesday after the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, a citizen's group, requested all data from the 2002 gubernatorial primary between Democratic candidates Janet Reno and Bill McBride. "

... How's that working for ya?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Housing Bubble About to Blow

Economic Doomsday Scenarios Dept -
Here's how it all comes apart:  The housing bubble doesn't burst, just starts to recede a bit. That hits consumers much harder than you might think, since equity withdrawals reached 6.3% of disposable income (far higher than the 2.5% of the late '80s boom), and nearly 2% of GDP. That river of cash is going to dry up like the LA river, and then watch out...

"Michael Buchanan, a senior global economist at Goldman Sachs, and Themistoklis Fiotakis, a research assistant there, reckon that at current interest rates, home prices are now overvalued by 10 percent, on average. Because this figure spans the entire nation, the hottest markets - California and New York - are obviously more overpriced.
The economists compute fair value in home prices by using a variety of measures, including interest rates, population and demographic data, and the overall health of the economy. If interest rates increased by one percentage point, the economists said, home prices in the United States would be overvalued by 15 percent.
None of this would be worrisome if homeowners had not turned the paper profits in their properties into cold, spendable cash. But withdrawals from home equities have recently totaled 6.3 percent of household disposable income, according to the Goldman study. In the late 1980's, equity withdrawals reached only 2.5 percent of disposable income.
Federal Reserve studies indicate that as much as half of the equity withdrawals went into personal consumption and home improvements. As a result, the Goldman economists estimate that equity cash-outs added 1.75 percent to the growth in the gross domestic product in 2003. That is a significant increase from the 1.25 percent kick that equity withdrawals added in 2002.
Consumption would slip 1 percent, Goldman estimated, if housing prices fell by 10 percent, to the fair value level. But if prices decline to well below that, as often happens when overheated markets go cold, consumption may fall by 2.4 percent, Goldman reckoned.
Such a housing crash took place in Britain in the early 1990's. At the market's low, home prices had fallen by 27 percent, 5 percent below Goldman's estimate of fair value at the time.
Such a decline is not expected here, said Dominic Wilson, a senior global economist at Goldman. That's because home prices in Britain had escalated much more than they have in this country, even now. And interest rates had soared into the high teens, which is unlikely here.
But even small declines in home prices could hurt the economy. "The precise degree of the vulnerability isn't going to be clear until we see house prices slow," Mr. Wilson said. "You've never seen consumers this stretched, operating at levels of leverage we've never experienced before. House prices are starting at a level that is pretty high relative to what we think fair value is going to be, and the economy as a whole has gotten a lot more sensitive" to housing-related spending.
Indeed, Goldman estimates that home equity lines of credit and the like have magnified the effect of housing wealth on consumption over the past decade, taking it to 10 percent from 4 percent.
Although rising home prices have been stopped dead in the past by sharply higher interest rates, the Goldman economists note that bear markets don't necessarily need major triggers to get started.
Small events can change the market's psychology, and asset bubbles sometimes just cave in on themselves.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The 911 Report names the Islamist enemy

It took them nearly 400 pages to get to the point, but at least they got there ...

Chapter 12, "What To Do? A Global Strategy" (page 378 of pdf)  "...In this sense, 9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests “over there” should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America “over here.” In this same sense, the American homeland is the planet. But the enemy is not just “terrorism,” some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism —especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology.
As we mentioned in chapter 2, Usama Bin Ladin and other Islamist terrorist leaders draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within one stream of Islam (a minority tradition), from at least Ibn Taimiyyah, through the founders of Wahhabism, through the Muslim Brotherhood, to Sayyid Qutb. That stream is motivated by religion and does not distinguish politics from religion, thus distorting both. It is further fed by grievances stressed by Bin Ladin and widely felt throughout the Muslim world—against the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, policies perceived as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and support of Israel. Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the “head of the snake,” and it must be converted or destroyed.
It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground—not even respect for life—on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated."

Following up on Flight 327

Lotta web chat about the Syrian band on Flight  327 but nothing on the WT article.  My take:

(1) This tidbit has been ignored:  "a man of Middle Eastern descent locked himself in [the lavatory] for a long period. The marshal found the mirror had been removed and the man was attempting to break through the wall. The cockpit was on the other side " -- !?!? EXCUSE ME?

Folks, that should set off some major alerts but I don't see a trace of follow up.   When?  Where is the miscreant now?  Why is the media completely ducking this -- are corroboration rules suddenly back in vogue?

(2) The Syrian band should be on extended vacation at taxpayer expense. I don't care if they passed the initial interview, visa or no visa -- they're Middle Eastern men who brought themselves to the attention of a flight crew with threatening, rule breaking behavior...  "Sit down, boys, we need to talk.  This could take a while."

We ARE at war with Islamofacism. We ARE being probed.  We SHOULD take prudent countermeasures.

See also

The WashTimes (a usually unreliable source) on Flight 327

WT is terrible but even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then...

"Scouting jetliners for new attacks

"Flight crews and air marshals say Middle Eastern men are staking out airports, probing security measures and conducting test runs aboard airplanes for a terrorist attack.     At least two midflight incidents have involved numerous men of Middle Eastern descent behaving in what one pilot called "stereotypical" behavior of an organized attempt to attack a plane. 

    "No doubt these are dry runs for a terrorist attack," an air marshal said.     Pilots and air marshals who asked to remain anonymous told The Washington Times that surveillance by terrorists is rampant, using different probing methods.     "It's happening, and it's a sad state of affairs," a pilot said.     A June 29 incident aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles is similar to a Feb. 15 incident on American Airlines Flight 1732 from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.     The Northwest flight involved 14 Syrian men and the American Airlines flight involved six men of Middle Eastern descent.     "I've never been in a situation where I have felt that afraid," said Annie Jacobsen, a business and finance feature writer for the online magazine Women's Wall Street who was aboard the Northwest flight.     The men were seated throughout the plane pretending to be strangers. Once airborne, they began congregating in groups of two or three, stood nearly the entire flight, and consecutively filed in and out of bathrooms at different intervals, raising concern among passengers and flight attendants, Mrs. Jacobsen said.     One man took a McDonald's bag into the bathroom, then passed it off to another passenger upon returning to his seat. When the pilot announced the plane was cleared for landing and to fasten seat belts, seven men jumped up in unison and went to different bathrooms.     Her account was confirmed by David Adams, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), who said officers were on board and checked the bathrooms several times during the flight, but nothing was found.     "The FAMS never broke their cover, but monitored" the activity, Mr. Adams said. "Given the facts, they had no legal basis to take an enforcement action. But there was enough of a suspicious nature for the FAMS, passengers and crew to take notice."     A January FBI memo says suicide terrorists are plotting to hijack trans-Atlantic planes by smuggling "ready-to-build" bomb kits past airport security, and later assembling the explosives in aircraft bathrooms.     On many overseas flights, airlines have issued rules prohibiting loitering near the lavatory.     "After seeing 14 Middle Eastern men board separately (six together and eight individually) and then act as a group, watching their unusual glances, observing their bizarre bathroom activities, watching them congregate in small groups, knowing that the flight attendants and the pilots were seriously concerned and now knowing that federal air marshals were on board, I was officially terrified," Mrs. Jacobsen said.     "One by one, they went into the two lavatories, each spending about four minutes inside. Right in front of us, two men stood up against the emergency exit door, waiting for the lavatory to become available. The men spoke in Arabic among themselves ... one of the men took his camera into the lavatory. Another took his cell phone. Again, no one approached the men. Not one of the flight attendants asked them to sit down."     In an interview yesterday with The Washington Times, Mrs. Jacobsen said she was surprised to learn afterward that flight attendants are not trained to handle terrorist attacks or the situation that happened on her flight.     "I absolutely empathize with the flight attendants. They are acting with no clear protocol," she said.     Other passengers were distraught and one woman was even crying as the events unfolded.     The plane was met by officials from the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department, Federal Air Marshal Service and Transportation Security Administration. The Syrians, who were traveling on one-way tickets, were taken into custody.     The men, who were not on terrorist watch lists, were released, although their information and fingerprints were added to a database. The group had been hired as musicians to play at a casino, and the booking, hotel accommodations and return flight to New York from Long Beach, Calif., also checked out, Mr. Adams said.     "We don't know if it was a dry run, that's why we are working together with intelligence and investigative agencies to help protect the homeland," he said.     Mrs. Jacobsen, however, is skeptical the 14 passengers were innocent musicians.     "If 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?" she asked in the article.     The pilot confirmed Mrs. Jacobsen's experience was "terribly alike" what flight attendants reported on the San Juan flight.     He said there is "widespread knowledge" among crew members these probes are taking place.     A Middle Eastern passenger attempted to videotape out the window as the plane taxied on takeoff and, when told by a flight attendant it was not permitted, "gave her a mean look and stopped taping," said a written report of the San Juan incident by a flight attendant.     The group of six men sat near one another, pretended to be strangers, but after careful observation from flight attendants, it was apparent "all six knew each other," the report said.     "They were very careful when we were in their area to seem separate and pretended to be sleeping, but when we were out of the twilight area, they were watching and communicating," the report said.     The men made several trips to the bathroom and congregated in that area, and were told at least twice by a flight attendant to return to their seats. The suspicious behavior was relayed to airline officials in midflight and additional background checks were conducted.     A second pilot said that, on one of his recent flights, an air marshal forced his way into the lavatory at the front of his plane after a man of Middle Eastern descent locked himself in for a long period.     The marshal found the mirror had been removed and the man was attempting to break through the wall. The cockpit was on the other side.     The second pilot said terrorists are "absolutely" testing security.     "There is a great degree of concern in the airline industry that not only are these dry runs for a terrorist attack, but that there is absolutely no defense capabilities on a vast majority of airlines," the second pilot said.     Dawn Deeks, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, said there is no "central clearinghouse" for them to learn of suspicious incidents, and flight crews are not told how issues are resolved.     She said a flight attendant reported that a passenger was using a telephoto lens to take sequential photos of the cockpit door.     The passenger was stopped, and the incident, which happened two months ago, was reported to officials. But when the attendant checked back last week on the outcome, she was told her report had been lost.     Recent incidents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul international airport have also alarmed flight crews. Earlier this month, a passenger from Syria was taken into custody while carrying anti-American materials and a note suggesting he intended to commit a public suicide.     A third pilot reported watching a man of Middle Eastern descent at the same airport using binoculars to get airplane tail numbers and writing the numbers in a notebook to correspond with flight numbers.     "It's a probe. They are probing us," said a second air marshal, who confirmed that Middle Eastern men try to flush out marshals by rushing the cockpit and stopping suddenly.

Friday, July 16, 2004

moles in the FBI?

Did moles in the US government assist 9/11 plot? < devolution > 07/16 17:03:12

Attorney General John Ashcroft took yet another step last week to deep-six the Sibel Edmonds case by classifying the report of an investigation into her allegations of FBI wrongdoing so the public will never know what it says. Meanwhile, Justice Department officials met in secret with a federal judge in Washington, following which he dismissed her suit charging the FBI with wrongfully firing her.

Edmonds is the translator hired by the FBI after 9-11 to help its woefully inadequate staff translate documents and wiretaps pertaining to the attacks in languages such as Farsi and Turkish. As she has told the Voice in past and recent interviews, she was given a top secret security clearance. She soon discovered that there were what she describes as two enemy moles with possible connections to 9-11 working both in the FBI and with the Air Force in weapons procurement for Central Asia, at one point. These were the Dickersons: Douglas with the Air Force and his Turkish-born wife, Melek Can Dickerson, with the FBI as a translator monitor. After they were subpoenaed for a court hearing, they left for Belgium in September 2002 and have not been heard from since.

Among other things Edmonds told her FBI superiors, she had discovered that Melek Can Dickerson affixed Edmonds's name to a printout of inaccurate translations. Properly translated, she says, these wiretaps revealed a Turkish intelligence operative in communication with his spies in both the Pentagon and the State Department.

When Edmonds tried to tell her FBI superiors what was going on, the bureau seized her home computer, gave her a lie detector test (which she later found she passed), and then fired her, warning her not to talk—backing that up by following her around in an open and intimidating surveillance. That didn't stop her. She went to the Senate Judiciary Committee and told her story. The committee's then chair, Vermont's Patrick Leahy, and ranking minority member Charles Grassley of Iowa wrote a letter to Justice demanding to know what was going on. Subsequently the FBI confirmed some of Edmonds's claims.

Daily Show kicks some ass

Oh, the irony!...

Thursday, July 15, 2004 – Jon Stewart – The Daily Show - Comedy Central

Talking Points: Keeping up with current events

Jon Stewart: "It’s not easy keeping up with current events. As soon as you catch up, more happens. That’s where conventional wisdom fits in. Conventional wisdom is the agreed upon understanding of an event or person. John Kerry is a flip flopper. George Bush has sincere heartland values and is stupid. What matters is not that the designation be true just that it be agreed upon by the media so that no further thought has to be put into it. So how is conventional wisdom arrived at? For instance, let’s take the example of the addition of John Edwards to the Democratic ticket. I don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t know what it means. Here’s how I will."

CNN: "This is 28 pages from the Republican National Committee. It says, ‘Who is Edwards? It starts off by saying a disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal.’ We also saw from the Bush-Cheney camp they released talking points to their supporters."

Jon Stewart: "Talking points. That’s how we learn things. But how will I absorb a talking point like ‘Edwards and Kerry are out of the mainstream’ unless I get it jack hammered into my skull? That’s where television lends a hand."

Fox News: "He stands way out of the main stream."
CNN – Terry Holt, Spokesman for Bush Camp: "…way out of the main stream."
CNN – Communication Director, Bush-Cheney: "He stands so far out of the main stream."
CNN – Lynn Cheney: "He’s so out of the main stream."
CNN - Terry Holt: "They’re out of the main stream."
CNN – Frank Donatelli, GOP Strategist: "…well out of the main stream.

Jon Stewart: I’m getting a feeling. I think, I think they’re out of the main stream. But, what if I wonder why?

CNN – Frank Donatelli: "…two of the foremost liberal senators of the US Senate."
CNN – Crossfire: "…two of the foremost liberal senators of the US Senate."
MSNBC – Ed Gillespie: "…the most liberal rated senator in the US Senate."
Hardball – Lynn Cheney: "…the most liberal senator of the Senate."
Fox News: "…who was rated as the number 1 liberal in the US Senate."
Fox News – Elizabeth Dole: "…the number 1 most liberal senator in the US Senate."

Jon Stewart: Wow! Those guys are liberals!! In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say they’re the first and fourth most liberal in the whole Senate. Wow! And while we don’t have any idea what that means and where those rankings come from and how they were arrived at or whether it’s even true, I don’t like the sounds of it. And it’s certainly not something for the media to question. As a matter of fact, I would imagine people like that, liberal and out of the main stream, hang out in some pretty extreme places.

ABC – This Week – Lindsey Graham: "…talking about the hatefest."
CNN: "…Hollywood hatefest."
Fox News: "…last Thursday night’s hatefest."
Pat Boone: "…Radio City Music Hall hatefest…"

Jon Stewart: "Yeah. See, out of the main stream, liberals, and hatefest. Keeping up with current events is easier than you thing. Talking points – they’re true because they’re said a lot."

... the irony is that the irony is so often missed.

This day in history

On July 16, 2003, 28-year old Ram?n Reyes Torres of the 432nd Airborne of the U.S. Army Reserve based in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, became the 148th GI, and the eighth from Puerto Rico, to be killed in action in Iraq.

Also on July 16, 2003, the American military commander in Iraq, General John P. Abizaid, having just assumed command there, declared that the enemy was engaging “a classical guerrilla-type” war against the 130,000 U.S. forces stationed in that defeated country. In retrospect, this was a shocking departure from what was heralded in April 2003 as a brilliant and swift conventional war rout.

... How's that working for ya?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The American Conservative critiques the Iraq Adventure

July 19, 2004 issue
Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative

A Time for Reckoning

Ten lessons to take away from Iraq

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Reality has not dealt kindly with the hopes and expectations conjured up to justify Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although the war may not be lost, it cannot be won, at least not as the Bush administration once defined winning. What then are we to make of this experience?

The question may strike some as premature. Whether President Bush (or President Kerry) “stays the course” or cuts American losses, difficult days lie ahead. The bill yet to be levied for this misadventure promises to be steep. More Americans and even larger numbers of Iraqis will lose their lives. Combat operations and the black hole of “nation-building” will consume additional billions of dollars, adding to the ocean of red ink that is the federal budget. Yet even as events wind their way toward what promises to be a deeply unsatisfactory denouement, the argument over what it all means must necessarily be joined. Common sense dictates that we apply to future U.S. policy what we have learned in Iraq, and the future will not wait.

With an eye toward that future—and with no claim that any of what follows qualifies as definitive—herewith a first cut at identifying the war’s operative lessons.

First, ideology makes a poor substitute for strategy. With the invasion of Iraq, it became impossible to deny that in the heady aftermath of the Cold War American grand strategy became uncoupled from reality. Certain that history had spoken and that Americans were uniquely able to interpret its meaning, policymakers both Democratic and Republican uncorked old vials of Wilsonian illusion and breathed deeply. As a consequence, zealotry supplanted calculations of power and interest as a determinant of U.S. policy.

Bill Clinton entertained visions of globalization, creating a world without borders in which all nations would be sure to enjoy the blessings of peace, prosperity, and democracy. George W. Bush topped Clinton, vowing after 9/11 not only to eliminate terror (an impossibility) but also to put an end to evil. But mixing utopianism and politics is a recipe for miscalculation and an invitation to strategic bankruptcy—as the Iraq War has painfully reminded us.

It is the tradition of George Washington rather than the tradition of Woodrow Wilson that best serves American interests. The nation’s first president—and successors like Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman, and Eisenhower—understood not only the uses but also the limits of power. That balanced sensibility, anchored to considerations of prudence, has vanished from the current foreign-policy elite. There is an urgent need to restore it.

Second, wars leave loose ends. In a political sense, decisive victory—meaning military success that makes a clean sweep of the complaints giving rise to war in the first place—is a pipe dream.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to finish the job that Bush’s father had left undone in 1991. Oust Saddam Hussein, the war’s supporters promised, and all sorts of good things were sure to follow. War would transform Iraq into the first Arab democracy, usher the Middle East into an era of lasting peace, and nudge Islam toward moderation and modernity. Today, the Ba’athist regime is gone, but none of the predicted benefits seems likely to materialize. Instead the United States has exchanged the limited burdens of containment for the far more onerous burdens of occupation. We have overthrown a tin-pot dictator posing no immediate threat to the United States and thereby energized and encouraged far more dangerous enemies. Rather than persuading Muslims to see America as liberator and friend, we have cemented our image as Great Satan.

War is like a highly toxic drug: with the cure come side effects. And Iraq reminds us that the side effects can prove worse than the disease.

Third, allies have choices—and will exercise them. Across a decade of hyping the United States as “sole superpower” and “indispensable nation,” too many policymakers persuaded themselves that America’s traditional allies had no alternative but to accede to U.S. “global leadership.” Both the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the Kosovo conflict of 1999 seemed to show that when Washington called, others clamored to board the bandwagon. To opt out was to be left out and left behind: from Washington’s perspective, this was a risk that few “friends” were likely to take.

Iraq demolished such fantasies. Allies are not vassals. When interests diverge sufficiently, “friendship” counts for little. The Iraq experience has, time and again, affirmed this fundamental principle: when “old Europe” chose to sit out the war altogether; when Turkey rejected Washington’s request to allow U.S. troops to cross its territory; when Spanish voters concluded that occupying Iraq was exacerbating rather than reducing the threat of terror. At every step of the way, as key allies stiffed us, the costs borne by the United States have necessarily risen.

Even before Iraq, the bonds that once joined what was called “the West” had already (and perhaps inevitably) begun to fray. Thanks to its insistence on preventive war, the Bush administration has hastened the West along the path toward oblivion. Nations whose support we once assumed to be a given now question the acceptability of the Pax Americana and may yet muster the collective will to proffer an alternative. Before launching on more crusades, we have diplomatic fences to mend.

Fourth, Israel’s war is not our war. President Bush’s undifferentiated “global war on terror” has encouraged the government of Ariel Sharon to assert that Israel’s enemies and America’s enemies are one and the same. But they are not. Indeed, Sharon’s misguided effort to crush resistance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza through brute force serves only to complicate and exacerbate our own problems. Sharon’s policy will not work, and as Israel’s chief supporter we get tagged with much of the blame.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute will not itself alleviate Muslim antagonism toward the United States. But absent such a resolution, that antagonism will fester, thereby providing fertile ground for Osama bin Laden and other Islamic radicals to enlist new recruits.

We should not deceive ourselves about the prospects of bringing real peace to the Holy Land. Something like partition is probably the best outcome one can hope for. But brokering and if necessary enforcing such a partition rather than vainly attempting to democratize the Arab world at the point of a sword ought to form the centerpiece of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Further deference to Israeli hardliners like Sharon, who know nothing but force, is contrary to American interests. True friends of the Jewish state will see it as contrary to Israel’s interests as well.

Fifth, “shock and awe” gets you only so far. More than a decade ago, the previous U.S. war against Iraq brought to full flower the American romance with high-tech warfare. Operation Iraqi Freedom has offered the fullest illustration to date of what this new American way of war can and cannot do. On the one hand, it affirmed what we already learned in Desert Storm: U.S. forces will make short work of any conventionally organized and equipped adversary foolish enough to put up a fight.

On the other hand, developments since the fall of Baghdad have also affirmed what we learned in Mogadishu: against a determined insurgent armed with even primitive weapons, air power, stealth, and precision weapons—all the signature capabilities that distinguish the preferred American style of warfare —won’t do the trick. Defeating guerrillas requires something more and something different. The United States military is no closer today to devising a technological solution to the riddle of unconventional war than it was when Vietnam ended in defeat.

Sixth, the margin of U.S. military supremacy is thinner than advertised. Ours is undoubtedly the mightiest military the world has ever seen, with a more than ample inventory of high-performance fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and top-of-the-line nuclear submarines. But our inventory of soldiers and Marines is grossly inadequate—inadequate at least to implement President Bush’s grandiose plans for sprinkling the blessings of liberty throughout the Greater Middle East. Despite the administration’s obdurate insistence to the contrary, the fact is that the United States today has too few soldiers doing too many things.

In just one year, the Iraq morass has brought U.S. ground forces within a hair’s breadth of overstretch. Expedients such as relying on reserves and hiring thousands of mercenaries have not fixed the problem; they embody it. Announced plans to divert troops from Korea to Iraq and to deploy stateside training cadres show just how bare the cupboard has become.

If the United States is intent on playing the role of global hegemon, we need to put more young Americans in uniform—lots more. If as citizens we’re not willing to pay that price, then the Iraq experience should oblige policymakers to scale back their ambitions.

Seventh, the myth of American casualty aversion is just that. The conventional wisdom of the 1990s was that a risk-averse military and a casualty-phobic public constituted major obstacles impeding the effective use of force. For the Clinton administration and its defenders, this became a convenient device for offloading onto others responsibility for American military fecklessness. The onus for the pseudo-campaigns of the decade leading up to 9/11—the zenith coming in 1998 when U.S. Navy cruise missiles demolished an empty pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum—lay not with the commander-in-chief but with foot-dragging generals and fainthearted citizens who lacked the stomach for serious military action.

Historians can debate whether or not the sensitivity to casualties was ever as great as it once appeared. But there is little room for debate that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 swept aside any such constraints. Traditional American ferocity and bloody-mindedness reasserted themselves with a vengeance. All that was needed was competence at the top to harness and direct it. But as the Iraq debacle has made plain, competence remains, as it was in the 1990s, in precariously short supply.

Eighth, so too with the myth of an American genius for spreading democracy. From the very day that U.S. forces entered Baghdad, the officials charged with raising a new Iraq out of the ashes of the old have displayed remarkable ineptitude. However admirable the hard work of those who have risked life and limb to give the Iraqi people a fresh start, the overall effort has misfired.

Far from replicating the success achieved in postwar Germany and Japan after 1945, L. Paul Bremer has managed to reprise the sorry record achieved in places like South Vietnam. If the United States insists that it needs to be in the nation-building business, then it’s time to go back to square one, drawing on the disappointments of Iraq to devise the techniques, create the institutions, and develop the leaders to do better next time out. Or, perhaps more wisely, we might conclude that bringing democracy to the Arab world is akin to making bricks without straw—a trick best left to others.

Ninth, it’s hard to win when you don’t know whom you’re fighting. Much has been made about the blunders in strategic intelligence such as the failure to anticipate 9/11 and the bogus assertions regarding Saddam’s weapons of massive destruction. But the inadequacies of tactical intelligence have been at least as great, if not greater.

In a situation truly without precedent in all of American military history, American forces in Iraq have for more than a year been engaged in a full-fledged shooting war and still do not know whom they are fighting. The reliance on generic terms to describe the “terrorists,” “insurgents,” or “foreign fighters” tells the story. Exactly who is the enemy? How is he organized? Who gives the orders? What are his aims? We don’t know. And as long as we don’t, the enemy will retain the initiative.

In short, the Iraq War shows that the imperative of intelligence reform goes far beyond any problems attributed to the CIA.

Tenth, civil-military relations at the top are broken. The Iraq War has confirmed what had already become evident during the 1990s: the relationship between senior military leaders and the top echelon of civilian officials is dysfunctional. That dysfunction contributes to flawed decisions on crucial issues related to peace and war.

During the Clinton era, the problem was one of a weak commander-in-chief unable or unwilling to assert effective control over the generals. Donald Rumsfeld came into office intent on clearing up any confusion about who is in charge. But the Rumsfeld approach is to treat his principal military advisers with McNamara-like disdain. Those who speak up—like the Army chief of staff who had the temerity to suggest that occupying Iraq might require a considerable number of troops—are rebuked and marginalized.

The point is not to suggest turning war over to the soldiers. Unambiguous civilian control is essential. But effective civil-military interaction demands something more than simply throttling generals. It means incorporating professional military expertise into the debate over basic national security policy. That in turn requires a combination of trust, honesty, mutual respect, and mutual self-restraint that has been absent for many years. This is an intolerable situation that in all likelihood the Department of Defense itself cannot fix. It cries out for serious and sustained congressional attention.

As was the case with Vietnam, the debate over the lessons of Iraq promises to be a protracted one. Again as was the case with Vietnam, the temptation to exploit that debate for partisan purposes will be great. But the issue is too important to use as an excuse for bashing neoconservatives, scoring points against President Bush, or luxuriating in the peculiar satisfactions of Schadenfreude. To avoid repeating the errors that got us into this mess, we need to get those lessons right.

Whatever happened to ...

I think a list of news items that raised more questions than they answered would be helpful.

(1) the Dancing Israelis: what happened to the Israelis seen dancing in the NJ parking lot on 9-11?

(2)Jake & The Suicides: Was there ever any investigation into the multiple suicides and accidental deaths in the Enron/Bush crowd?

Monday, July 12, 2004

Intelligence Whitewash

At least someone is asking the pointy little questions ... why are the Dimmocrat Senators so sound asleep to let this report out?

"The report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday confirmed widespread doubts about the accuracy of the intelligence President Bush used to make his case for war in Iraq, but left unanswered several questions surrounding Bush and his administration's role in the production and use of that intelligence. The findings in the report offered a "broad indictment" of the CIA, and "left in shreds" the Bush administration's main rationales for war. However, it stopped short of addressing the pressure applied by the administration in gathering that intelligence, including repeated trips to CIA headquarters by Vice President Cheney, the creation of a secretive Office of Special Plans to filter intelligence, and several pre-war statements exaggerating intelligence estimates or ignoring conflicting points of view.

UNDER PRESSURE: The report states there is no evidence intelligence analysts were pressured to change their judgments or alter " intelligence products to conform with administration policy," but committee co-chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) indicated he "voted for the report in spite of that with which I did not agree, that is the subject of pressure. I think there was a lot of pressure." The evidence supports Rockefeller's suspicions: if analysts weren't sufficiently intimidated by Cheney's "repeated trips to CIA headquarters in the run-up to the war for unusual face-to-face sessions with intelligence analysts poring over Iraqi data," they may have noticed when the Pentagon set up a rival intelligence-gathering outfit, the Office of Special Plans, which "rivaled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush's main source of intelligence regarding Iraq's possible possession of WMD and connection with Al Qaeda." Rockefeller said, "the ombudsman of the CIA, whose job it is to listen to people's complaints said that in his 32 years of work in the CIA, he had never seen so much hammering, i.e. pressure, on the intelligence community."

THE 2002 NIE: The report focused on the flawed findings of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), claiming the report said Iraq had WMD, was developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and "probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents." Conservatives have suggested it was this unsupported intelligence which led Bush administration to make inflated claims. There's just one problem—the 2002 NIE does not support many of those claims. For instance, a declassified excerpt of the report noted that the Department of Energy disagreed with assertions that aluminum tubes were being used as part of Saddam's effort to reconstitute nuclear weapons. But this didn't stop Secretary of State Colin Powell from using the tubes to make his case for war to the United Nations. The report also lists as "highly dubious" the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa, which Bush nevertheless cited as fact in his 2003 State of the Union Address. It's hard to know what else the 2002 NIE really said, because "the CIA has decided to keep [it] almost entirely secret," despite a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Security Archive. But you can see this declassified list of warnings the administration was given that its assertions about Iraq were weak.

OTHER INTELLIGENCE: There was plenty of available information that conflicted with the 2002 NIE, but it was ignored by administration officials. In February of 2003, a CIA report on proliferation said the intelligence community had "no 'direct evidence' that Iraq has succeeded in reconstituting its biological, chemical, nuclear or long-range missile programs in the two years since U.N. weapons inspectors left and U.S. planes bombed Iraqi facilities." Inspectors repeatedly told the UN Security Council they could not find evidence of weapons in Iraq and the IAEA warned Bush it had "found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq." For more examples of the administration neglecting intelligence, check out this American progress backgrounder.

HELPING OUT THE COMMITTEE: The Senate Intelligence Committee will soon begin a "follow-up investigation that will examine prewar statements by President Bush and other administration officials." According to the LA Times, Chairman Pat Roberts (R – KS) has asked members of the panel "to submit lists of claims made by White House officials and other policymakers that would be scrutinized to determine whether they were exaggerated or unsupported by intelligence assessments available before the invasion of Iraq." Here are a few exaggerated or unsupported claims that could help get the panel off to a good start: 9/25/02: President Bush tells the press, "You can't distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam." 8/26/02: Vice President Cheney says, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." 9/19/02: Donald Rumsfeld tells the Senate Armed Services Committee, "[Saddam has] amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons, including anthrax, botulism, toxins and possibly smallpox." And on 9/7/03, Condoleezza Rice told CNN, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Sunday, July 11, 2004

If the Dems won WH & both houses, could they outdo the GOP spendaholics?

"$8.6 trillion bill sent to future generations

With the 2003 tax cut and a huge prescription drug benefit, the folks in Washington ran up an unprecedented bill they'll leave to future taxpayers.

By Scott Burns

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.

I'm serious.

Let's limit the evidence to two pieces of legislation enacted last year. The first was the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, passed last May. It provided a major tax cut for current taxpayers. That's not something one normally associates with a threat to liberty.

The second was the prescription drug bill. It was part of a major overhaul of Medicare passed in November. Most people don't think of prescription drugs as a threat to liberty, either.

But consider the two bills together. They work to maximize income and benefits for those living (and voting) today by sending a gigantic bill to our children and grandchildren. This is not political hyperbole. You'll be amazed at the burden our politicians dropped on the kids in a single year.

Sadly, the tax cut is a minor problem compared with the expected cost of the prescription drug benefit. In their report for 2004, the Social Security and Medicare Trustees estimate the 75-year general revenue cost of the new benefit at $8.1 trillion. (The number is on Page 108 of the Medicare report.)

Those are present-value dollars. "

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Inquiry Confirms Medicare Chief Threatened Actuary

Published: July 7, 2004

WASHINGTON, July 6 - An internal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program's chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged.

A report on the investigation, issued Tuesday, says the administrator of Medicare, Thomas A. Scully, issued the threat to Richard S. Foster while lawmakers were considering huge changes in the program last year. As a result, Mr. Foster's cost estimate did not become known until after the legislation was enacted.

But neither the threat nor the withholding of information violated any criminal law, the report said. It accepted the Justice Department's view that Mr. Scully had "the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress.'' Moreover, it said, the actuary "had no authority to disclose information independently to Congress.''

Mr. Scully, who resigned in December, in part to become a lobbyist for health care companies, had denied threatening Mr. Foster but had acknowledged having told him to withhold the information from Congress.

... well, suhPRIZE, suhPRIZE.

I'll show you "inexperience"!

When you hear Republicans disparage Sen. John Edwards's lack of experience, remember the words of Sen. Orrin Hatch, spoken to George W. Bush at a debate on Dec. 6, 1999.

"You've been a great governor," Hatch declared of his rival for the Republican presidential nomination. "My only problem with you, governor, is that you've only had four and going into your fifth year of governorship. . . . Frankly, I really believe that you need more experience before you become president of the United States. That's why I'm thinking of you as a vice presidential candidate."

... How's that working for ya?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Happy Birthday, Dear Insurrection

LA Times

By Mark Mazzetti Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Almost a year after acknowledging they were facing a well-armed guerrilla war in Iraq, the Pentagon and commanders in the Middle East are being criticized by some top Bush administration officials, military officers and defense experts who accuse the military of failing to develop a coherent, winning strategy against the insurgency.

Inadequate intelligence, poor assessments of enemy strength, testy relations with U.S. civilian authorities in Baghdad and an inconsistent application of force remain key problems many observers say the military must address before U.S. and Iraqi forces can quell the insurgents.

"It's disappointing that we haven't been able to have better insight into the command and control of the insurgents," said one senior official of the now-dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority, recently returned from Baghdad and speaking on condition of anonymity. "And you've got to have that if you're going to have effective military operations."

Friday, July 02, 2004

Before the involuntary recall, there was Hackworth

pointing out the emporer had no soldiers ...

"Top military managers insist that our all-volunteer Army isn’t stretched too thin from this country’s heavy and hazardous commitment to hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan and cooler places in another 131 countries around Planet Earth. They spout positive numbers like carnival hucksters, hyping enlistment and re-enlistment rates they keep insisting are at an all-time high.

“Loyalty, patriotism and seeing the results of successfully accomplishing their missions are the key factors in this success,” said Col. Elton Manske, an Army personnel chief in the Pentagon.

Except that’s exactly 180 degrees out from what hundreds of soldiers have told me during the past few weeks.

It also doesn't square with the fact that the Army is currently extending 44,000 soldiers under stop-loss provisions – which, like a form of the draft, arbitrarily keep a soldier in service beyond the agreed-upon term of enlistment.

"Stop loss is not only a breach of contract, it’s a form of slavery,” railed a Special Forces (SF) senior noncommissioned officer. “There's a tidal wave of folks getting out. ... The number of senior SF NCOs leaving is amazing. Our battalion had three of five sergeant-majors retire, and our sister battalion had two of five. The number of master sergeants was well into double digits. I predict that the exodus will devastate the senior NCO corps at a time when experience and stability are most needed.”

Despite all the accentuate-the-positive spin coming out of the Pentagon, the anecdotal reports I’ve received – especially from Reserve and National Guard folks – agree with the SF sergeant and point to a mass exodus that will reach the hemorrhage point by mid-2005.

“Speaking off the record,” writes a military wife, “my husband was supposed to come home from Iraq this week but has just been extended another 120 days. His old unit, 3rd Infantry Division, is already seeing an exodus of junior officers. Since their return from Iraq, 35 captains have left the Army for greener pastures. Several more – read: another 15-20 – are due to leave, but who knows whether or not they’ll manage to do so before more stop losses and stop moves come down prior to their return to the desert. ... Between separation from family, no guarantee of tour lengths, no clear mission and consistent pay problems, folks are pretty fed up. If they can get out, which is no small feat, they seem to be doing so while the getting is good.”

“Don't use my name,” writes a senior sergeant. “I believe we are going to have a massive attrition problem in the Reserve. I have 24 years in the Army Reserve, and this is my second time in the Gulf. They’re talking about reservists having to deploy once every five years. I doubt our civilian employers and families are going to buy into that. I've got to get out when I redeploy if I want to stay married.”

“We're stretched too thin,” reports a sergeant. “Our CO (commanding officer) admitted this to us during our tour in Afghanistan. He also admitted that morale is down due to the extending of tours. Yet the Pentagon insists there’s no problem with morale. We lost over 75 percent of our unit when we got back. I know other units are having the same problems. If this trend continues, we won’t have enough people to defend this country when the need arises.”

An Apache pilot in Korea says, “It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Army is going to be losing a lot of people as soon as they get the chance to vote with their feet.”

I’m sure the brass have all the paperwork to back up their propaganda campaign. But as far as the old saw that “figures don't lie” goes, I’ve been around long enough to know that liars figure and soldiers know the truth. So I’ll go with the soldiers.

Unless so-called Army short tours in the badlands of Iraq and Afghanistan become manageable based on the number of troops available – right now the Army is trying to do the work of 14 divisions with 10 under-strength, active-duty divisions – we’ll see a mass exodus from the Green Machine and the inevitable return of the draft."

... but not before Nov 2.

Are they really hiding something or just a pack of stubborn, mule-headed fools?...

'Nearly a year after first requesting documents related to the Air Force's planned multi-billion dollar deal to acquire Boeing KC-767 refueling tankers, John McCain is still unhappy with the Pentagon's response, according to a Senate aide. While the Pentagon has turned over some documents and offered to arrange restricted viewing of others, the DoD has never fully complied with the McCain's requests, according to an aide. 'This matter of the documents had been elevated to Senate leadership,' the aide said. In September of that year, McCain made a new request seeking internal communications between Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's acting acquisition chief, and James Roche, the Air Force secretary. While McCain initially made his request as chairman of the SAC, the issue eventually was handed over to the SASC. SECDEF Donald Rumsfeld replied formally to SASC last month, saying that the Pentagon would allow the relevant oversight committees to view some internal correspondence. However, he placed restrictions on which documents could be reviewed, and would not allow the members to have their own copies. McCain said the Pentagon's offer was unacceptable. The documents issue continues to cause problems for the Pentagon's civilian leadership. McCain has placed a hold on all civilian nominations to Pentagon positions until the issue is resolved. (Defense Daily) "

USCG is quietly going about its business

Almost entirely overlooked in the war on terror is what looks to me to be a significant step in the right direction -- "New international security measures took effect Thursday at seaports worldwide. As a result, the Coast Guard barred at least six ships - of 265 that were expected to arrive on Thursday - from entering U.S. ports. The United Nations-imposed rules are designed in part to prevent terrorists from smuggling themselves or materials such as radioactive 'dirty bombs' aboard cargo ships. The rules allow the Coast Guard to board every foreign vessel that approaches a U.S. port to make sure it has a security officer, an alarm system, a way to check the identification of everyone on board and a way to restrict access to the ship's bridge and engine rooms. DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said the rules will add to measures already in place. According to the Homeland Security Department, more than 95% of the nation's overseas cargo moves through U.S. ports"

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Meanwhile, back at the Halliburton ranch (aka Iraq) a

"former Army chaplain working for Halliburton was so upset by attacks on the company, she e-mailed the CEO with a strategy on how to fight the political slurs. But today, after five months inside Halliburton‘s operation in Kuwait, Marie deYoung has radically changed her opinion.


MYERS: DeYoung audited accounts for Halliburton subsidiary KBR. She claims the there was no effort to hold down costs because all costs were passed on directly to taxpayers and that she repeatedly complained to superiors of waste and fraud. The company‘s response?

DEYOUNG: Quote: “We can as dumb and stupid as we want in the first year of a war and nobody is going to care.”

MYERS: DeYoung produced documents detailing alleged waste even on routine services, $50,000 a month for soda at $45 a case, $1 million a month to clean clothes or $100 for each 15-pound bag of laundry.

DEYOUNG: That money could have been used to take care of soldiers.

MYERS: DeYoung also claims people were paid to do nothing. This man says he was one of them. Paid $82,000 a year to be a labor foreman in Iraq, Mike West claims he never had any laborers to supervise.

MIKE WEST, FORMER HALLIBURTON LABOR FOREMAN: They said, just log 12 hours a day and walk around and look busy. OK. So we did.

MYERS: Both deYoung and West have since left the company.

Pentagon documents obtained by NBC News support the whistle-blowers‘ charges. In December, auditors complained of Halliburton‘s serious deficiencies, including lack of cost control and cost consciousness, examples, purchase of hundreds of high-end SUVs and pickup trucks loaded with options like C.D. players, which most KBR employees do not need, duplication and gold plating in purchases of computer and high-tech equipment, Halliburton employees living in five-star hotels.

The company declined an interview, but suggests critics are politically motivated—quote—“When Halliburton succeeds, Iraq progresses. Sadly, a few people don‘t want either of those results.”

Halliburton also says the soda problem has been corrected and the laundry charges are being investigated, but insists it absolutely not true the company is cavalier about taxpayer money.

DEYOUNG: They‘re using the war as an excuse, but it‘s not the war.

It was very bad management.

MYERS (on camera): Pentagon auditors apparently agree. They‘re withholding $186 million from the company and threatening to hold back even more unless Halliburton corrects the problems.

... We are shocked - SHOCKED!