Thursday, August 25, 2005

MAUREEN DOWD - NYT

From Dowd's Op-Ed in the NYT -- pretty harsh but there's some truth to it. And I think it's too early to say democratic hopes 'have been dashed'.

My point has always been that we are paying an awful price -- in lives and $$$ -- for the CHANCE -- read that again: "for a chance" that our policies will result in a democratic Iraq. And if we get that outcome, there is only A CHANCE that a democratic Iraq will act as some sort of example or stabilizing influence in the region (I still can't get anyone to explain how that will work? Is Saudi Arabia gonna hold open election because Iraq does? -- Remember, that's where a lot of this fundamentalism is bred...)

Not to mention that we KNOW that our policy is creating terrorists/insurgents (they are attacking us in Iraq, the Brits, etc and telling us that its because of our policies).

Why aren't the vast majority of Americans more solidly calling bull-sh*t on this president's policies? Thoughts?

Rick

...

The main point of writing a constitution was to move Sunnis into the mainstream and make them invested in the process, thereby removing the basis of the insurgency. But the Shiites and Kurds have frozen out the Sunnis, enhancing their resentment. So the insurgency is more likely to be inflamed than extinguished.

For political reasons, the president has a history of silence on America's war dead. But he finally mentioned them on Monday because it became politically useful to use them as a rationale for war - now that all the other rationales have gone up in smoke.

"We owe them something," he told veterans in Salt Lake City (even though his administration tried to shortchange the veterans agency by $1.5 billion). "We will finish the task that they gave their lives for."

What twisted logic: with no W.M.D., no link to 9/11 and no democracy, now we have to keep killing people and have our kids killed because so many of our kids have been killed already? Talk about a vicious circle: the killing keeps justifying itself.

Just because the final reason the president came up with for invading Iraq - to create a democracy with freedom of religion and minority rights - has been dashed, why stop relaxing? W. is determined to stay the course on bike trails all over the West.

This president has never had to pull all-nighters or work very hard, because Daddy's friends always gave him a boost when he flamed out. When was the last time Mr. Bush saw the clock strike midnight? At these prices, though, I guess he can't afford to burn the midnight oil.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bush and Military Service

I was reminded today how people are able to convince themselves of nearly anything -- esp when it comes to politics.

Look, you can like or hate Bush... But to completely remake his service record (especially when compared to Senator Kerry's) is intellectually dishonest. The facts are there for all to see: during the height of the Vietnam war, as his deferment was running out, the (now) president used his political connections to get a coveted slot in the Texas Air Guard. A place he knew would save him the trouble of a trip to
SE Asia.

How else can you explain it when a guy walks into the guard office and is sworn in the very same day -- when there is a waiting list...

Here are some points I've brought up with folks when this topic comes up... I've clipped bits from newspaper articles as well as Colin Powell's book.

Powell:

"I particularly condemn the way our political leaders supplied the manpower for that (the Vietnam) war. The policies -- determining who would be drafted and who would be deferred, who would serve and who would escape, who would die and who would live -- were an antidemocratic disgrace. I can never forgive a leadership that said, in effect: These young men -- poorer, less educated, less privileged -- are expendable (someone described them as "economic cannon fodder"), but the rest are too good to risk. I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well placed and many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country."

Unlike Senator McCain, during Campaign 2000, Bush has refused to release his full military records.

Bill Maher:

The president said in his Teatime with Tim Russert interview that, regarding his time in the Guard, “And I would have gone (to
Vietnam, that is) had my unit been called up, by the way.”

How brave, seeing that during Vietnam, over 2.5 million Americans went to Vietnam, and out of that, the number of guardsmen called up was 8700. 8700 out of 2 and a half million, which is less than 0.3%.

So to say “I would have gone” when he knew he never would (on top of which, he flew an obsolete plane that never would have been called to Vietnam) – fine, but once again, not the kind of thing that, to me, shouts “honor and integrity.” Although, I guess even the president’s fans have realized by now that ‘honor and integrity’ was more of a Campaign 2000 thing. Oh well, still better than a “liberal.”

But what I think has gotten lost in this debate is that the Guard is a completely different institution today that it was in the Vietnam era, and The Master of Morphing is trying to morph the National Guard of today with the one he was in back then, the same way he morphed monogamy into integrity in the election and Bin Laden into Hussein in the War on Terror. The numbers speak for themselves: 0.3% then; today in Iraq, 22% [actually closer to 40% today, RS] of the force serving are Guard.

As Colin Powell says in his autobiography: “I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well placed managed to wrangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units”

I don’t think anyone’s wrangling spots in the Guard today. So isn’t Powell talking about the president in this quote? If George Bush, jumping over hundreds to get that slot in the Champagne Division, is not the “powerful and well placed” wrangling a spot, who is?

Wash Post:

By George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 28, 1999; Page A1

Two weeks before he was to graduate from Yale, George Walker Bush stepped into the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Field outside Houston and announced that he wanted to sign up for pilot training.

It was May 27, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Bush was 12 days away from losing his student deferment from the draft at a time when Americans were dying in combat at the rate of 350 a week. The unit Bush wanted to join offered him the chance to fulfill his military commitment at a base in Texas. It was seen as an escape route from Vietnam by many men his age, and usually had a long waiting list.

Bush had scored only 25 percent on a "pilot aptitude" test, the lowest acceptable grade. But his father was then a congressman from Houston, and the commanders of the Texas Guard clearly had an appreciation of politics.

Bush was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied. His commander, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, was apparently so pleased to have a VIP's son in his unit that he later staged a special ceremony so he could have his picture taken administering the oath, instead of the captain who actually had sworn Bush in. Later, when Bush was commissioned a second lieutenant by another subordinate, Staudt again staged a special ceremony for the cameras, this time with Bush's father the congressman – a supporter of the Vietnam War – standing proudly in the background.

..

Staudt, the colonel who twice had himself photographed with Bush, said his status as a congressman's son "didn't cut any ice." But others say that it was not uncommon for well-connected Texans to obtain special consideration for Air Guard slots. In addition to Bush and Bentsen, many socially or politically prominent young men were admitted to the Air Guard, according to former officials; they included the son of then-Sen. John Tower and at least seven members of the Dallas Cowboys.

In 1989 he tried to describe his own thought process to a Texas interviewer. "I'm saying to myself, 'What do I want to do?' I think I don't want to be an infantry guy as a private in Vietnam. What I do decide to want to do is learn to fly."

Among the questions Bush had to answer on his application forms was whether he wanted to go overseas. Bush checked the box that said: "do not volunteer."

Bush said in an interview that he did not recall checking the box. Two weeks later, his office provided a statement from a former, state-level Air Guard personnel officer, asserting that since Bush "was applying for a specific position with the 147th Fighter Group, it would have been inappropriate for him to have volunteered for an overseas assignment and he probably was so advised by the military personnel clerk assisting him in completing the form."

But there was no chance Bush's unit would be ordered overseas. Bush says that toward the end of his training in 1970, he tried to volunteer for overseas duty, asking a commander to put his name on the list for a "Palace Alert" program, which dispatched qualified F-102 pilots in the Guard to the Europe and the Far East, occasionally to Vietnam, on three- to six-month assignments.

He was turned down on the spot. "I did [ask] – and I was told, 'You're not going,' " Bush said.

Only pilots with extensive flying time – at the outset, 1,000 hours were required – were sent overseas under the voluntary program. The Air Force, moreover, was retiring the aging F-102s and had ordered all overseas F-102 units closed down as of June 30, 1970.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Energy Policy - Where's the leadership?

Time for an energy-leadership rant...

I read a good article by Thomas Friedman (below) a couple of weeks ago. He makes the point I do when talking to friends: we need real leadership if we're going to not only be competitive in this new "free trade" world, but to be prepared for a time (in the not to distant future) when we're competing fiercely for limited oil resources with the likes of China and India.

The Chinese are putting 1000+ new cars on the road EVERY DAY... India is using more and more energy... (Their industries are already taking some of the brightest workers too.) The simply fact is that world oil production is simply not going to be able to keep up with demand over the next couple of decades. Given this fact, wouldn't a sound energy policy -- no, not just energy, economic policy -- foster and promote American innovation?

Oil simply isn't gonna be cheap and plentiful in 20-30 years or so... So why not challenge American industry to innovate and position itself to sell the energy technology of the future to not only Americans, but to China, India, Russia, etc. ?? They are all moving at high-gear into the 21st century. If we focus on the long term now, we can be ready to drive the techno-energy engine of the future world economy... We need, now more than every (cuz the clock is ticking down on oil reserves), serious research into alternative fuels. (I don't even have time to bring the environmental argument into it: but imagine whats gonna happen as 1 BILLION Chinese move from low impact -- riding bikes and living on farms -- to HIGH impact -- driving cars, living in cities and using 10-20 times the energy, per capita).

Instead this administration gives incentives to oil companies who are making record profits (Exxon/Mobil - $7 BILLION in 3 months) to do 'more of the same'... Shouldn't our tax dollars be helping to position American industry for the future? I think Exxon/Mobil can fund their own research into oil relasted exploration/processing.

We can't even get congress to press the auto industry to make more fuel efficient cars.. That would actually mandate that may make someone actually THINK/INNOVATE to make their money --- something large American companies do little of that (case in point, GM has to BUY it's hybrid tech from Toyota. Sound like the '80s again? A company 3000 miles away anticipates the American Market better than US Companies). Big companies are simply more inefficient than even government: at least the populace elects our officials every few years: CEOs elect themselves (they and their buddies own most of the stock). ... and we're busy incentivising them to 'stay the course'... foolishness doesn't even begin to explain this.

Let's focus government dollars where they do the most good: basic research and development that corporate America has little stomach for...

Remember, some of the greatest innovations of the last decade (of the last century!) were based in government funded research (e.g. - ARPANET -> the internet, MOSAIC -> Netscape, and next - hopefully - current research into quantum computing)... To use our tax dollars to 'stay the course' with regard to energy policy is like following the lemmings over the cliff: it may seem like progress, but the surprise is waiting just ahead.

--

Too Much Pork and Too Little Sugar

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Wow, I am so relieved that Congress has finally agreed on an energy bill. Now that's out of the way, maybe Congress will focus on solving our energy problem.

Sorry to be so cynical, but an energy bill that doesn't enjoin our auto companies to sharply improve their mileage standards is just not serious. This bill is what the energy expert Gal Luft calls "the sum of all lobbies." While it contains some useful provisions, it also contains massive pork slabs dished out to the vested interests who need them least - like oil companies - and has no overarching strategy to deal with the new world.

And the world has changed in the past few years. First, the global economic playing field is being leveled, and millions of people who were out of the game - from China, India and the former Soviet empire - are now walking onto the field, each dreaming of a house, a car, a toaster and a microwave. As they move from low-energy to high-energy consumers, they are becoming steadily rising competitors with us for oil.

Second, we are in a war. It is a war against open societies mounted by Islamo-fascists, who are nurtured by mosques, charities and madrasas preaching an intolerant brand of Islam and financed by medieval regimes sustained by our oil purchases.

Yes, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism: our soldiers and the fascist terrorists. George Bush's failure, on the morning after 9/11, to call on Americans to accept a gasoline tax to curb our oil imports was one of the greatest wasted opportunities in U.S. history.

Does the energy bill begin to remedy that? Hardly. It doesn't really touch the auto companies, which have used most of the technological advances of the last two decades to make our cars bigger and faster, rather than more fuel-efficient. Congress even rejected the idea of rating tires for fuel efficiency, which might have encouraged consumers to buy the most fuel-efficient treads.

The White House? It blocked an amendment that would have required the president to find ways to cut oil use by one million barrels a day by 2015 - on the grounds that it might have required imposing better fuel economy on our carmakers.

We need a strategic approach to energy. We need to redesign work so more people work at home instead of driving in; we need to reconfigure our cars and mass transit; we need a broader definition of what we think of as fuel. And we need a tax policy that both entices, and compels, U.S. firms to be innovative with green energy solutions. This is going to be a huge global industry - as China and India become high-impact consumers - and we should lead it.

Many technologies that could make a difference are already here - from hybrid engines to ethanol. All that is needed is a gasoline tax of $2 a gallon to get consumers and Detroit to change their behavior and adopt them. As Representative Edward Markey noted, auto fuel economy peaked at 26.5 miles per gallon in 1986, and "we've been going backward every since" - even though we have the technology to change that right now. "This is not rocket science," he rightly noted. "It's auto mechanics."

It's also imagination. "During the 1973 Arab oil embargo Brazil was importing almost 80 percent of its fuel supply," notes Mr. Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. "Within three decades it cut its dependence by more than half. ... During that period the Brazilians invested massively in a sugar-based ethanol industry to the degree that about a third of the fuel they use in their vehicles is domestically grown. They also created a fleet that can accommodate this fuel." Half the new cars sold this year in Brazil will run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol. "Bringing hydrocarbons and carbohydrates to live happily together in the same fuel tank," he added, "has not only made Brazil close to energy independence, but has also insulated the Brazilian economy from the harming impact of the current spike in oil prices."

The new energy bill includes support for corn-based ethanol, but, bowing to the dictates of the U.S. corn and sugar lobbies (which oppose sugar imports), it ignores Brazilian-style sugar-based ethanol, even though it takes much less energy to make and produces more energy than corn-based ethanol. We are ready to import oil from Saudi Arabia but not sugar from Brazil.

The sum of all lobbies. ...

It seems as though only a big crisis will force our country to override all the cynical lobbies and change our energy usage. I thought 9/11 was that crisis. It sure was for me, but not, it seems, for this White House, Congress or many Americans. Do we really have to wait for something bigger in order to get smarter?

Friday, August 12, 2005

US Policy: Breeding terrorism?


I heard a good program today on Left, Right and Center. In the course of the discussion, I think the 'left' brought up a good (wider) argument.

The commentator made the point that the public has 'bought the lie' that invading Iraq has something "directly" to do with the "War on Terror" (beyond the 'spreading democracy' argument -- which is wishful thinking at best).

His argument goes as follows.

To start, our government considers Iran the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world today. The fundamentalist Islamists there have called for Muslims to kill American's for more than 20 years. In the 80's Saddam was our ally against the "Islamist extremists" based in Tehran.

Chalbi (a Shia), the man (until recently), who was supposed to be the Iraqi George Washington, has given SECRETS to Iran... and has a summer home in Tehran. He's currently part of the new Iraqi government.

The Ayatollah al Sistani is a Shiite -- who ranks even higher than the supreme leader in Iran... In fact Sistani was born in and studied in Iran. He is and will be the most influential leader in that Shiite dominated society.

The Badr Corp, Shiite vigilantes that help to "keep the peace" in southern Iraq are closely tied to Iran and their Republican guard...

The bottom line is this: the people who will hold the majority of power in a new Iraq will be closely aligned with the seat of state sponsored terrorism: Iran.

So...

First - By invading a mostly Muslim country you create a somewhat self fulfilling reality: you create Islamic insurgents/terrorists. We created an enemy in Iraq. That enemy simply had nothing to do with the terror attacks in this country. Yes -- I'm sure most of the people in Iraq's Baath party hated us, but they didn't attack us and really didn't have the means to (they were completely contained by our forces and those of our allies). This makes Iraq a distraction from the real threat.

Second - While there are foreign jihadists in Iraq, American soldiers are mostly dying at the hands of Former Regime Elements (FRE) - Baathists and nationalists -- fanatics to be sure, but probably not hard-core Islamists -- in most cases. Again, we are engaged with an enemy we created -- and killing this enemy has NOTHING to do with killing terrorists that would attack us here at home. The nationalists are deathly afraid of a Shiite dominated Iraq.

Third - If this is a War... why are only about 150,000 American's really involved? Why did the administration cut taxes on those who have benefited the most in this country while middle and lower class send their sons and daughters overseas (how many members of congress have kids in the service??) What have ordinary American's been asked to do to help win this struggle that is likely to last a very very long time?? (Like maybe make more fuel efficient cars to reduce our dependancy on foreign oil? - nah)

So, in the new language, this is a war against violent extremists. But we are in Iraq helping to consolodate the power of a group of people who are closely aligned with those in Tehran -- the very people that WE DEFINED as Islamic fanatics. ... But, at the same time we say we are 'fighting terrorists/Islamic terrorists' in Iraq. It simply doesn't compute...

So what happens a few years after we leave?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Iraq again... What kind of policy makers do we have?

I'm simply flabbergasted at the arguments that otherwise sane people make when talking about the war in Iraq...

Here we go again.

Let's go over the facts.

We invaded a country because we thought they had WMDs... and that they could possibly give them to Islamic fundamentalists. The fact that Iraq was the most 'contained' and monitored nation in the world wasn't enough. The president perceived a threat and he acted. That's what presidents do.

Turns out there was no threat. So the mission morphed: we're not in the heart of the middle east "spreading democracy and freedom". Only problem, the state department had a plan for "post-Saddam Iraq" - they were never consulted about post-war planning. Oops.

Now we're years into a conflict that is costing 100's of billions and 1000's of service men's (and civilian) lives. Tens of thousands have been injured. These are the costs... We know them, they are concrete.

So what is the payoff for these costs?

Well, as I see it, there is a chance... just a change - maybe 50-50? That the middle east and Iraq in particular will be better off in 10-15 years. My point is there are no guarantees: things may get better, they may degenerate into a kind of Israeli-Lebanon situation where a relatively high level of violence persists for decades. It may just degrade into civil war.

It may also work... But does that mean regimes like the Saudi's will become more moderate? Again, I don't know - there's a chance there will be a positive influence on Iraq's neighbors, but that's only a chance. Tyrannical regimes tend to hold onto power at all costs - violently putting down dissent.

So here we are: we know the costs - 1000's of American lives (not to mention Iraqi lives) and 100's of billions of dollars... all on the CHANCE that our policy will improve the situation there.

Please tell me where my logic is errant...

I don't see it... I see an irrational policy implemented by a group of people who couldn't have really thought through their actions... or are incredibly naïve.