Friday, February 02, 2007

The Elephant and the Needle

According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus said that it was easier for "a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." Reflecting on today's National Intelligence Estimate, I'd have to say that the chances of U. S. policy succeeding in Iraq are more like getting a herd of elephants through the eye of a needle.

The Bush administration's plan is to have Iraqi army units lead a military effort to clear Baghdad of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Once areas are cleared, the Iraqi army will set up forward posts with American support in order to continue holding the neighborhoods, prevent insurgents and militias from returning, and attract the loyalty of residents. With such minimal security, economic reconstruction will begin.

The Bush administration believes that re-establishing basic security in this way is a prerequisite for the compromises needed to achieve overall political stability in Iraq.

The problem is getting all the Bush elephant-sized assumptions to get through the miniature openings provided by conditions on the ground. Here's one of those assumptions.

The Bush administration expects the Iraqi army to take the lead in clearing insurgents and militias out of Baghdad. However, the Iraqi army is riddled with Shiite militias. According to McClatchey reports, the Mahdi Army has been especially effective at infiltrating Iraqi army and police units, benefitting from American training, and using American weapons. For 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, the Mahdi army exercises practical control in Baghdad. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

The Bush administration imagines that the Iraqi Army as a national institution. However, American efforts to strengthen the Iraqi Army have also strengthened the Shiite militias. In fact, the presence of 140,000 American troops might be the only thing that is keeping the Iraqi Army from devolving into a sectarian militia. According to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) the transition of the Iraqi Army from national army to sectarian force is a possible outcome of an immediate withdrawal. If we leave, the Iraqi Army will become an extension of the Mahdi Army.

Unsafe in Any Country

On Wednesday, a German court issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives who kidnapped an innocent German citizen of Lebanese descent and took him to Syria to be interrogated and probably tortured.

That's on top of the 25 indictments that prosecutors are seeking against CIA agents in Italy.

The idea of the kidnapping or "extraordinary rendition" program was to make it so terrorists could never feel safe from American power.

But the result has been far different.

Now it's CIA agents who can't feel safe anywhere in the world.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How to Annoy Your Right-Wing Relatives

One of the problems that Blue Staters don't have nearly as much as us in the Red States is the curse of right-wing relatives--all of the parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins who give money to the evangelical weirdos, support the failed occupation in Iraq, think that Bill O'Reilly is a great guy, and make denigrating comments about minorities whenever they get a chance.

I have it particularly bad. I have seven brothers and sisters and two of them are racists, one's a follow Bush all the way war-monger, another can't understand why the Democrats don't like tax cuts for the wealthy, and yet another is a one-issue voter for tax cuts. As far as I know, they were all gung-ho for invading Iraq.

So, how do I get under their exquisitely thin skins? It's important to understand that right-wingers are the thinnest-skinned people alive. So, you don't really have to do much to bring them to the edge of spittle-flying insanity. Here are some of my ideas:

1. Remind them that the French were right. Right-wingers hate the French more than they hated Saddam or even American liberals. Reminding them that America would be much better off today if we had listened to the French induces spasms of outrage. I've also had some luck with pointing out that George Bush is now almost as unpopular in the U. S. as he is in France.

2. Quote Jesus on Wealth. In Luke 6, Jesus condemned the wealthy--"Woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation." The only thing that right-wingers love more than Jesus is money. Pointing out to them that they can't have it both ways is good for their souls. And yours.

3. Send Donations In Their Name to They'll appreciate the thank-you notes they get from the leftists at MoveOn.

4. Gay Friends Having Babies? Make sure you figure out a way to drop that into conversations.

5. Who would have been the Better President? In their hearts, right-wingers know that George Bush has blown his presidency sky-high. Yet, they've constructed phony images of Al Gore and John Kerry as hopelessly ridiculous people who could never have been plausible chief executives. Pointing out that both Gore and Kerry would have been better presidents than Bush helps them adjust to the reality of the present disaster.

6. Learn Spanish. Hostility toward immigrants is the right-wing bigotry de jeur. Learn Spanish and practice addressing your relatives as your madre, padre, hermanos, y hermanas. For extra-credit, learn French.

7. The Future is Bright. Whether you support Hillary, Obama, or one of the wannabe's for the Democratic nomination, make sure you emphasize the likelihood of a Hillary presidency to your right-wing relatives. It's even more satisfying than praising the French.

Bush Renegades vs the People

Last night the Senate Democrats and John Warner came up with compromise language for a resolution to express the Senate's opposition to the troop build-up in Iraq. Contrary to the views in the mainstream media, the conflict over the Senate resolution is not mainly over whether the President or the Democrats are going to win. Instead, the conflict is over whether the United States is going to have any government that represents the public. Now that the public opposes the Iraq War by overwhelming majorities, the Bush administration has abandoned the broader idea of representative government and has retreated to the President's narrower constitutional mandate as commander-in-chief of the military. The question before the Senate if whether Congress is going to take up the burden of representing the American public in opposition to the renegade presidency of George W. Bush. It appears that the Senate is hesitatingly moving to fulfill that task.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tiger Woods: King of Triple A?

Tiger Woods has now won 7 straight PGA tournaments going back to 2006. That's only four short of the late Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight wins dating back to WWII.

However, given the biennial pulverizing of American golf by the Europeans in the Ryder Cup, wouldn't Tiger's streak be more impressie if it were on the European tour? Tiger Woods is a great golfer, but right now he might just be the King of Triple A golf.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Shifting Ground

The Emergence of Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi is emerging as a central figure in the re-emergence of the Democratic congressional leadership as a force in public debate. The shift has been dramatic. Before she was sworn in as Speaker of the House, Pelosi was known primarily through the caricatures of the right-wing attack media. Her views on the war were not even known as well as those of John Murtha in the House of Representatives. However, Pelosi has managed her 100 hours legislative agenda, the State of the Union speech, and her trip to Iraq and Afghanistan so well that the Washington Post now credits her as "a leading critic of the adminstration's approach in Iraq."

Joe Lieberman Finds a Home. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate is having trouble finding their public footing. Desperately engaged in backroom efforts to prevent large numbers of Republicans from supporting any resolutions opposing the surge, the new Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell has largely been absent from public debate. With the vacuum in any Republican leadership in support of President Bush's war policies, Joe Lieberman has emerged as the most important advocate for supporting President Bush other than John McCain. I wouldn't be surprised if the administration isn't asking Lieberman to advocate its policies in media outlets like NPR. If McCain gets nominated, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lieberman as his vice-presidential candidate.

The Collapse of the GOP Political System. The Republicans used to have a system that worked pretty smoothly. Right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and leading conservative groups like Focus on the Family would provide the Bush administration ideas for policy proposals. When the Bush administration announced these proposals, they then became red meat for the whole chorus of Republican voices including the think tank gurus, conservative pundits, and the talk show hosts. In that way, the Republican apparatus could dominate mainstream political discussion, keep the money coming into conservative groups, and motivate right-wing activists to continue the attacks on Democrats and liberals. That's all fallen apart now. President Bush's domestic proposals on energy conservative, health care, and immigration aren't very conservative anymore. Consequently, the conservative attack media has to devote a large amount of energy to questioning the President as well as attacking the Democrats. The right-wing still supports the President on the War, but that's not exactly motivating the troops or keeping the money coming in. All the parts of the Republican apparatus survive, but they're no longer working in coordination. The system has collapsed.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Love-Bombing the Opposition to the War

Mickey Kaus of Slate magazine is the Joe Lieberman of journalism, a guy who claims to still be a liberal although he devotes all of his energy to attacking liberals and war opponents. Outside Lieberman himself, Kaus is probably the only neo-conservative in the country who tries to pass as a liberal. Tonight, Kaus put out a particularly mean-spirited attack on Chuck Hagel and the "love-bombing" that Hagel is getting from the mainstream media.

Funny, I don't remember Kaus giving any resistance to the MSM when it was love-bombing President Bush after 9-11, uncritically repeating ever lie in Colin Powell's fraudulent UN presentation, or romanticizing the initial invasion of Iraq.

And look how well that all turned out!

Chuck Hagel is no hero of anti-war activism, but he does deserve credit for his scepticism concerning the war. He started pounding away at the Bush administration's incompetence almost as soon as it emerged and has ramped up his war opposition in response to the surge. And Hagel is right! The surge isn't about "victory," it's about President Bush avoiding "defeat" until after he leaves office. It's about ensuring that the next President gets stuck cleaning up the mess in Iraq, paying the bills, and tending to the maimed and wounded.

And Hagel is also right to emphasize his war experience. Just like Kerry was. For the Bush administration, the war is about a series of word fetishes--a "free and stable Iraq", an "ally in the war on terror," a "generational struggle," a "test of will," and so on. None of these slogans were anything more than public relations ploys for advertising the Bush administration's belief in their own toughness. Hagel's emphasis on his war experience frees discussion from Bush administration language games and gets down to the actual reality of the lives wasted in this pointless war. The war does have heroes other than the soldiers who have been fighting. That is the war opponents who've kept up their opposition from the time Bush and Cheney began pushing the invasion scam through the initial occupation to the current surge debate. Some journalists (especially at McLatchey), some politicians (Russ Feingold and some House Democrats), and some celebrities have served as the face of war opposition, but the guts of the anti-war effort has been the tens of thousands of bloggers, internet posters, and other people who kept up the anti-war meme through thick and thin. A few liberal bloggers have broken through to some notoriety. However, most war opponents have had no reward and feel little if any satisfaction that the war has failed so dismally. But they've kept on anyway and deserve a lot of credit for doing so.

The Sounds of 2008

That Giant Sucking Sound. The giant sucking sound you heard out of Iowa yesterday was the oxygen being taken away from the campaigns of any Democrat not named Hillary or Barack. There were 1500 people at a high school gym to see Hillary on a very cold day and every word she said was parsed and psychoanalyzed for what it says about Bill and Hillary, her position on the war, and her attitude toward President Bush. To effectively challenge as big a front-runner as Hillary, either the front-runner has to blow up or the new faces or marginal candidates have to be more interesting. Obama might still prove to be interesting enough to overtake her, but the media and the voters are much more interested in Hillary than they are in John Edwards, Chris Dodds, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, and the rest. That's one of the big reasons why all of those guys are doomed.

Early Blow-Ups. John McCain lost his patience last Saturday with progressive columnist and uber-blogger Arianna Huffington over her Iraq questions. McCain has a long-standing reputation for having a "short fuse." If he's going to start losing his temper a year before the first primary, it's going to be a long, long campaign.

The Tree Unheard. With so much attention so early on the 2008 campaign, the Bush administration might find it hard to get heard. That's why we can expect a lot of snarling from the President, Dick Cheney, and Joe Lieberman as the War Party struggles to be heard over the twin drumming of the celebrity candidates and the daily disasters in Iraq.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More on the Heroes of Winter

It's snowing in Kentucky again and my kids are out sleigh-riding with a friend in our yard. Talk about working with scarce resources--the snow still hasn't completely covered the ground and their "hill" is about a forty foot incline. Unbelievable.

Now, they're going to transfer snow from the yard to the driveway to create mini-luge course. More on this story as it develops.

More on Race-Baiting

White students have their own way of celebrating Martin Luther King's Birthday. Last week there were parties at Tarleton University in Texas and the University of Connecticut where students dressed up as black stereotypes. According to racialicious, Tarleton undergraduates "mocked black stereotypes by featuring fried chicken, malt liquor and faux gang apparel" while UConn LAW students went all out with "do-rags, gang signs, gold teeth, malt liquor, and a fake machine gun."

There have been scattered incidents of black-face frat parties for years. However, it still might be the case that the current versions of these black-face parties might be connected to the victory of the Democrats in 2006, the Barack Obama presidential candidacy, and the prospect of a big Republican defeat in 2008. Surrendering their hopes for victory (here and in Iraq), people on the right might be deciding to give up color-blind rhetoric and begin enjoying more direct forms of white supremacy again. In this connection, a student of mine reported that an ape doll with a noose around its neck was displayed in her home town of Waverly, Ohio last December. There were similar reports of a manager putting a noose on display for his black employees outside NYC in December.

One thing I would be interested in seeing is whether right-wing news outlets like Fox and the conservative talk shows begin to switch from their liberal bashing, Muslim bashing and pedophilia themes to race-baiting over the next couple of years. Will Bill O'Reilly turn from his almost daily scrutiny of pedophilia cases to unending discussions of black crime? Will Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter begin tearing apart blacks the same way they go after white liberals? It will be interesting to see.

Hey Fox, Hire Some Liberals!

The media embargo against war opponents continues. As Matthew Yglesias says, "no jobs for the left, no accountability for the right." But I can see help coming from an unexpected direction--FOX.

Fox has been running through a series of awful right-wing commentary segments since the elections in 2006. First, there was Greg Gutfeld and his semi-snarky friends. Gutfeld is a former Maxim editor who just oozes slime (no surprise there!) and his New York friends were condescendingly conscious of their own superiority. I bet that didn't play too well with all my Fox-watching relatives because Gutfeld was off after three or four segments. Dennis Miller is giving comic commentary now, but his schtick is dragging too.

Now, Fox has a new segment (or one I've just caught for the first time) called the Beltway Boys with Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke, guys who were so fossilized from their decades as talking heads that their jaws seemed to creak as they talked. Talk about deathly dull. Even worse, they were using their segment to plug Joe Biden's presidential campaign.

If Fox wants to introduce something new and controversial, they should put one of the big liberal bloggers like Greenwald, Yglesias, Jane Hamsher, or even Arianna Huffington on one of their segments. That kind of move would infuse badly needed energy, boost their ratings, and upgrade their advertisers. They should try it.