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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The evolution of insurgency

This is an interesting framing, though I missed it when it first appeared. From USA Today, November 7, 2004:
T.X. Hammes, a Marine colonel who studies guerrilla warfare at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., says American troops will confront the best fighters a determined enemy has to offer. "Insurgency is Darwinian. Those who are stupid and unlucky were killed early," Hammes says. "Those that survive get tougher. We see this in the enemy's tactics — they figure out what we are doing and they change. They are a very adaptive enemy."
That's my emphasis added.

Actually, I read a similar quote in a recent issue of Time in a waiting room, but couldn't find it on the web.

Others have discussed the fact that insurgencies evolve, including major media outlets and bloggers, but the usage here could be catchy if repeated often: the "insurgency is Darwinian."


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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Louisville welcomes a blogger

Heather Hurlburt of Democracy Arsenal is coming to Louisville Monday to speak to the local Committee on Foreign Relations. I have a seminar in the evening, which conflicts with the event, so I'm meeting her at the airport and taking her to coffee (well, actually, I'm a tea guy).

She's connected:
From 1996 to 2001, Ms. Hurlburt served in the Clinton Administration. She initially served as a State Department speechwriter and member of the policy planning staff for Secretaries Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. From 1999 to 2001, she was a Special Assistant and speechwriter to President Clinton.
I listened to one of her coauthors talk while on sabbatical last year. The piece they wrote on nation-building is good.

I'm guessing she will be a part of some Democratic presidential campaign in 2008, advising on foreign policy issues.

Anything in particular I should ask her -- or try to pass along in "netroots" fashion?


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Sunday dog blogging



That's Paddy (for Paddington) on the left and Robey (for Darrowby) on the right. The pics are about a month old now.

Sorry for the "green eye."

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

U.S.: we're number 28!

The results of a comprehensive study are in and the US simply isn't very green. From the 2006 Environmental Performance Index, which was produced jointly by Yale University and Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information network (CIESEN):
A pilot, nation-by-nation study of environmental performance shows just six nations - led by New Zealand and followed by five from northern Europe - have achieved 85 percent success in meeting environmental goals ranging from clean drinking water and low ozone levels to sustainable fisheries and low greenhouse-gas emissions.

The report, which has been peer reviewed, ranks the United States 28th over all, behind most of Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Chile
That text comes from Felicity Barringer's story about the study, which originally appeared in the New York Times.

The report was released at Davos for the World Economic Forum. I don't know whether Billmon will be live-blogging the event again this year. Unfortunately, he's been relatively quiet for weeks now.

In any case, the study looked at 133 nations and is based on 16 different environmental measures. To me, that sounds fairly comprehensive. African, as well as Central and South Asian states score the worst. Pakistan and India were both ranked among the 20 bottom-scoring countries.

Update: An interesting and thoughtful first-hand analysis in regard to Taiwan's relatively high finish can be found here. A bit more technical info (from environmental economist John Whitehead) is available here.


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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Italy: unwilling

This past week, Italy announced that it will be withdrawing all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2006. At the start, Italy had provided about 3000 troops to the war.

It has been awhile since I blogged about this, but note:
  • By July 2004, the Phillipines, Spain and Honduras were gone. Poland had already cut its commitment in half.

  • In January 2005, I reported Ukraine's imminent withdrawal from Iraq.

  • April 2005, Poland announced its complete withdrawal. Oh, and the Netherlands was already gone by then -- along with Thailand, Hungary, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, New Zealand and Norway.
  • Maybe the US should follow the Italian lead on this. Defence Minister Antonio Martino is simply declaring "mission accomplished"!
    "The military operation Antica Babilonia [Ancient Babylon] will end its mandate gradually over the course of the year 2006 and the mission will be considered over and accomplished at the end of the year," said Mr Martino.
    I guess they didn't hear President Bush's warning in December 2005 (echoed by Karl Rove this week), about how it would be dangerous to "cut and run" as it would "embolden the terrorists and invite new attacks."


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    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    The impeachment question

    Sometimes, it's the question, not the answer, that matters. Peter Dauo:
    Should Bush be impeached for violating the Constitution?
    Of course, the question has been lingering for a while now.

    Remember these past highlights?
  • "On to Syria!"


  • The lies about Iraq.


  • The "Downing Street Memo"?


  • And now, domestic spying.
  • Ask someone you know: Should Bush be impeached for violating the Constitution?


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    US missile strike: "state terrorism"?

    Pakistan, as a member of the "coalition of the willing," has learning that the American citizens potentially losing their privacy are not the only "friendlies" being asked to sacrifice in the "war on terrorism." That missile attack earlier this month is provoking all sorts of harsh criticism.

    The BBC reported this development:
    But nearly two dozen of the country's Islamic parties and right-wing political groups, have made statements expressing outrage and condemnation.

    Some have described the bombings as state terrorism, and others have said it is an attack on the entire Islamic world.
    State terrorism?

    Is that what one calls it when a state launches a surprise "armed attack" on another state and kills a number of innocent people?


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    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    War, what is it good for?

    Is the US at war? Really?

    George Bush has often said something like this during the past couple of years:
    This is a dangerous time. I wish it wasn't this way. I wish I wasn't the war President. Who in the heck wants to be a war President? I don't. But this is what came our way. And this is our duty, to protect our people.
    Congress never declared war on terrorism, per se. It hasn't formally declared war, in fact, since December 1941.

    Would every congressional authorization to use force (think "Bosnia" or "Somalia") legitimize the kind of domestic spying the administration is currently justifying?

    The President may not have wanted to be the "war president," but he and other members of his administration realize that it is a terrific way to increase executive power.

    On January 24, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the program to intercept communications without warrants was justified because the US is "at war."
    it's about detecting and preventing attacks. And we are a nation at war, and the courts have upheld the President's authority to engage in surveillance. Surveillance is critical to prevailing in the war on terrorism.
    In the press conference, by the way, McClellan was being pushed to explain why the administration couldn't be bothered to obtain warrants -- since the relevant law (FISA) even allows the executive branch to obtain them after the surveillance begins!

    Senate Democrats, however, certainly aren't buying the "we're at war" line. As reported in the Washington Post:
    Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that [Attorney General] Gonzales and other administration officials are engaging in "revisionist history" by portraying a congressional resolution authorizing military force against al Qaeda as justification for the NSA program.
    This debate isn't over and I eagerly await Arlen Specter's hearings on this question.


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    Wag the finger

    Great line of the day, from The Wege about Bush and Jack Abramoff:
    "He did not have a relationship with that man."
    Thanks to Helmut of phronesisaical for the link.


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    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Confronting Karl Rove

    This past Friday night, the man sometimes known as "Bush's brain," Karl Rove, delivered a widely covered political speech before the Republican National Convention. In the address, Rove argued that his party should continue to make national security a partisan issue in forthcoming debates and elections.

    I saw this bit on TV earlier this morning:
    At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview - and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.
    Democrats need to confront Rove directly.

    Want to know what I'd do as a Democratic strategist or speechwriter in 2006? I'd take Rove's words and reverse "Republicans" and "Democrats" and replace "9/11" with "Iraq." Try this on for size:
    At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Democrats have a post-Iraq worldview - and many Republicans have a pre-Iraq worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.
    I'd continue:
    In Iraq, Republicans used America's tremendous military power to provoke terrorists and create al Qaeda outposts where they did not exist before.

    They also pulled important security assets out of Afghanistan before the hunt for al Qaeda, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden was finished. As a result, even today, the future of Afghanistan is uncertain and the main perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on America remain at large.

    Worse, even after learning that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had neither weapons of mass destruction programs nor operational ties to Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush and the other Republicans who control Washington boldly declare that would still make war on Iraq if forced to decide again. They would again choose to make Afghanistan and al Qaeda a lower foreign policy priority than Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

    Before the war, Republicans in power in Washington ignored the caution urged by some of America's strongest political allies and they ignored the analysts and policy advisors who were telling them about the likely weakness of the Iraq WMD intelligence data. The President observed millions of people protesting against war in February 2003 and dismissed them as an irrelevant "focus group." Now, Bush and the other Republicans in power ignore the adverse effects of the Iraq war on America's national security.

    Promoting liberty in the Arab and Muslim worlds is a tremendous political goal, but there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that the best way to do this is at the point of American bayonets. The far more threatening Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire were brought down by vigilant containment -- not war. South Africa's brutally racist apartheid regime too was ended by the worldwide application of sanction and disapproval -- not war.

    If it wants to democratize the Middle East while also fighting a "war on terror," America should be applying the lessons of the bloodless "velvet Revolution," and uneager to repeat the mistakes that lead to the violent insurgency in Iraq. The elections there have been somewhat helpful and promising, but America has lost more than 2200 lives, spent over $200 billion, and has seen its armed forces bogged down in an internal insurgency that even America's military leaders say promises to go on for many, many years.

    Iraq was not a "central front" in the war on terror until the Bush administration threw a dart at the Middle East and decided to invade a country that did not pose a significant security threat to American interests. Had that dart landed on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt, a similar nationalist insurgency would have been created with bloody consequences. Note, however, that the connections to al Qaeda and anti-American terrorism are stronger in every one of these states than they were in pre-war Iraq.

    America must be vigilant about the threat from terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation, but it must also be smart. It must not worsen its security situation by undertaking wasteful and deadly wars against tin horn dictators.

    Few states in the Arab or Muslim world are free and democratic and America has a long-term interest in promoting its values in that part of the world. However, the "war on terror" is a separate objective altogether. In fact, the raw data reveal that most victims and perpetrators of terrorism are citizens of democracies.

    Obviously, that is not a strong argument against democratization. However, it does demonstrate that the Republicans in Washington misunderstand the threat from terrorism. As the former CIA al Qaida specialist Michael Scheur has repeatedly argued, and many studies demonstrate, terrorists do not hate America because of its freedoms. Terrorists attack America and Americans because they disagree with specific aspects of US foreign policy.

    We should not therefore give in to the terrorists, but it makes no sense to create yet another reason for the Arab and Muslim worlds to hate America. And make no mistake about it, the Iraq war is extremely unpopular in the Arab and Muslim world. We may claim to be offering them liberty, but the great mass of people in the Arab and Muslim world see the war as just another western occupation of their land that should be resisted.

    The US has never apologized to anyone for invading Iraq under what now amounts to false pretenses. While many other states around the world agreed that Saddam Hussein was a horrible leader who certainly behaved as if he had something to hide, few states agreed that it was a good idea to topple his regime.

    Even the top-level Republicans who served in the political administration of George H.W. Bush understood why the war was a risky and bad idea. Their early '90s warnings now seem quite prescient: Bush Sr. feared creating "an unwinnable urban guerilla war." Colin Powell thought that such a war would pose an "unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships." Dick Cheney thought "we would have been bogged down there for a very long period of time with the real possibility we might not have succeeded."

    These former leaders were right at the time and it is not at all clear why the situation in Iraq merited a new view. Former Bush Sr. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft made these sorts of arguments again in the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, but no one listened to him.

    What American cannot abide, however, is the failure to learn from this horribly costly foreign policy mistake. In the three and a half years since Republicans in Washington decided to invake Iraq, they are yet to learn the important lessons of that conflict. They continue to say they'd make the same choice again.

    With Iran on the international agenda, and problem-states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia still to be addressed, Americans must not give the Republicans another chance to repeat the mistakes of Iraq.
    Typical of Rove, he addressed the issue of Iraq by trying to take this strong potential issue for Democrats and turn it against them. He tried to link Democrats to the "cut and run" strategy of "immediate stand down of U.S. troops in Iraq and withdrawal by the end of April."

    Democrats must not let Republicans get away with this in 2006. Moreover, they must turn this political issue into a winning campaign point so as to assume the reigns of power and put American foreign policy back on a better course.



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    Friday, January 20, 2006

    24

    If that last post doesn't get you through the rest of the week, then I have a (simple) challenge: propose a drinking game for use during viewing of Fox's "24" TV show.

    My wife and I disagree about this. I say the show is too farfetched to watch without such an enticement and she says we're too old for drinking games.


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    The law of war

    I'm too busy right now to post something new, but at the Duck of Minerva, I've blogged about "The Pakistan missile attack." Follow the links I've created and it will lead you to some lengthy comments I've also posted at Tom's always-entertaining Functional Ambivalent.


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    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Foreign fighters

    In comments, someone pseudonymously criticized my advice to "pro-war" Democrats for the 2006 elections. I argued that Dems should remind everyone that George Bush himself "flip flopped" on the justification for the use of force in Somalia because the "mission changed." Now that Iraq isn't about WMD or Saddam Hussein's nonexistent operational ties to al Qaeda, Dems could reject the grand nation-building mission without fear of being labeled wimps.

    My advice would fail, wrote the commenter, because Republicans would just point out that the US is in Iraq to fulfill the primary post-9/11 mission: "kick terrorist butt."

    I offered a fairly detailed response, but wanted to add a bit of data about one key point.

    Let's turn this into a question for the post-Saddam era: Who is America fighting in Iraq?

    War supporters say that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Full stop. Terrorists are attacking American troops and innocent Iraqis, so the US needs to find them and kill or capture them.

    War opponents emphasize the Iraqi nationalists who arguably constitute the lion's share of the insurgency. It is perfectly natural for people to resist foreign invasion and occupation. The President himself said as much. Pre-war, the Pentagon apparently screened "The Battle of Algiers" -- even if they didn't get the film's message.

    Which view is more accurate?

    The Pentagon says there likely aren't very many foreign fighters in Iraq. USA Today had a fairly good story about this last November 6:
    Maj. Angela Hildebrant, a military spokeswoman, said the U.S. military estimates the number of foreign fighters by counting the number of foreigners killed in suicide attacks or captured by coalition forces in Iraq.

    Only 3.5% of the 13,885 detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq are foreigners...
    Yet, the Pentagon asserts that these foreign fighters "are often behind the deadliest suicide bombings and provide financing and organization to Iraq's insurgency." I've seen no definitive data that support the claims, but there is anecdoctal support.

    Obviously, if the US is fighting terrorists in Iraq, it helps legitimize the mission both at home (with voters) and inside Iraq. That fact should make everyone more skeptical about the Pentagon's claims. The Washington Post had a valuable story November 17:
    "Both Iraqis and coalition people often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who is writing a book about the Iraqi insurgency.

    "It makes the government's counterinsurgency efforts seem more legitimate, and it links what's going on in Iraq to the war on terrorism," he continued. "When people go out into battle, they often characterize enemies in the most negative way possible. Obviously there are all kinds of interacting political prejudices they can bring out by blaming outsiders."
    In December, Cordesman (with the Assistance of Sara Bjerg Moller) released a study (warning, pdf) estimating that between 4 and 10 percent of the roughly 30,000 insurgents are foreign.

    A Post story from last May 15 revealed that US military analysts do not think the foreign fighters are major terrorists even if they are linked to al Qaeda:
    Many of the suicide bombers appear to have been novices in warfare, attracted by the relative ease of access to Iraq and the lure of quick martyrdom. "This is not al Qaeda's first team," said [Col. Thomas X.] Hammes of the National Defense University. "These are the scrubs who could never get us in the States."
    In short, the US government knows that the insurgency is overwhelmingly Iraqi, and some officials admit it (on or off the record). The November 17 Post story quotes a military commander in Iraq:
    "The foreign fighters' attacks tend to be more spectacular, but local nationals, the Saddamists, the Iraqi rejectionists, are much more problematic," said Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, commander of the Army's 42nd Infantry Division. His unit, which lost 59 soldiers during its tour here, was based in the northern city of Tikrit, Hussein's home town, before transferring the region to the 101st Airborne Division this month.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq maintains a presence in the region, he said, "but they're not having much of an impact. Their message is not resonating."
    And from State, in the same story:
    In Washington, a senior State Department official called foreign fighters "an important element to the insurgency," but added that "it would be a mistake to imagine that this isn't a largely Iraqi-based operation with critical support from foreign elements."
    Politics

    John Murtha's primary reasons for calling for withdrawal from Iraq are that the US troops are feeding the insurgency and the military is being destroyed by the prolonged engagement. Thus, even if the insurgency is boosted by key foreign elements, that does not mean that the best US foreign policy is built upon counterinsurgency and nation-building. It may be there are insufficient troops to win in Iraq. It may be that there are higher security priorities.

    Moreover, even if the foreign fighters are providing critical support for the insurgency, there's bad news for the Republican administration buried in the data. Most foreign fighters apparently come from Saudi Arabia, an alleged US ally in the war on terror and a state very close to the Bush White House:
    An NBC News analysis of hundreds of foreign fighters who died in Iraq over the last two years reveals that a majority came from the same country as most of the 9/11 hijackers — Saudi Arabia....The U.S. military also says Saudi Arabia and Syria are the leading sources of insurgents.
    Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism and Director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, published a report last March (warning, pdf) finding that 61% of the foreign insurgents killed in Iraq over the previous six months were from Saudi Arabia (thanks for the link to Evan Kohlmann of The Counterterrorism Blog).

    The Cordesman/Moller study found a more varied array of foreign fighters.

    Democrats who want to be anti-war in Iraq can nonetheless remain quite hawkish about other global terror and WMD threats -- by focusing more attention on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As loyal readers know, I've blogged repeatedly that the US is not doing much about the threats emanating from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Numerous national security experts agree.

    I'll stand by my original point: Democrats should repeatedly point out that the "mission changed" in Iraq and that the Republicans really don't have an "exit strategy." As a result, America is bogged down in a quagmire that costs billions and doesn't markedly improve US security. The "real" war on terror should be fought on more important fronts.

    That does not mean that Dems should allow the administration to change the subject to Iran.


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    The Iran Solution

    Here's a deal: the US offers Iran a promise not to attack, as it did with Cuba in 1962 and offers to ease some long-term sanctions (in place since the fall of the Shah). Moreover, the Iranian effort to join the WTO is allowed to move forward without US objection.

    In turn, Iran promises to end the most worrisome elements of its nuclear program (enrichment) and assures ongoing, intrusive access by the IAEA.

    Sanctions are going to take time and won't work given Iran's oil export revenues -- and the western need for oil imports.

    A military attack is quite risky and likely a very bad idea.

    Now, how long will this take?


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    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    The Security Council & Iran: Here's a problem

    This headline from Reuters Tuesday explains why the Security Council won't be able to threaten Iran very effectively: "World can't afford to lose Iran's oil-US EIA."
    A disruption in Iran's crude oil exports because of a dispute over that country's nuclear program would further crimp the already tight global oil market and lead to higher petroleum prices, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration warned on Tuesday.

    "The market is so tightly balanced, clearly, we can't afford to lose a large supply of crude to the market," EIA chief Guy Caruso told Reuters in an interview.
    Sure, I'd prefer economic sanctions to war, but it is really difficult to imagine effective sanctions that wouldn't limit purchases of Iranian oil -- and it's even more difficult to imagine the west limiting the oil market right now.

    This past summer, it was widely reported that Iran was a decade away from going nuclear.

    Why the rush to confront Iran now? AP's Amy Teibel, January 13:
    Israeli officials think Tehran is closer to the "point of no return" in developing weapons than Western countries do, arguing that point is not when Iran might have a bomb, but when it might have the technology to produce the fissile component of nuclear warheads.
    Hmmm.

    What about nuclear deterrence?


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    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    "Pro-war" Democrats and the 2006 Elections

    For many months, pollsters have demonstrated that public opinion is turning against the war in Iraq. About 60% of those surveyed by CBS News, over a period of many months, "disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq." At times, nearly 60% of those polled say the war was a mistake, and despite some fluctuations in the results, at least half the population seems to think that the US should never have gone to war in Iraq.

    Given the way politics about national security and foreign policy are framed in the US, members of the media would probably be surprised to learn that a plurality of respondents say that "the Democratic Party is more likely to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq."

    Politically, for now, the most important finding is this: 85% of those surveyed in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll January 6-8, 2006, replied that "the stituation in Iraq" would be extremely or very important to their "vote for Congress this year."

    Election contests are not really on the public's radar yet, but the Denver Post recently (December 28) noted an interesting and simple Democratic strategy -- put an Iraq war veteran on the ballot:
    More than 30 Iraq and Persian Gulf War veterans have entered congressional races across the country as Democrats, hoping to capitalize on their military experience to topple the incumbent Republican majority.
    In my home district, five-term incumbent Anne Northup is being challenged by Andrew Horne, a Marine Reserve officer who "spent months working with Iraqi security forces and helping with reconstruction and humanitarian efforts."

    Wait, before anyone gets too excited, note that the Dems tried something like this in 2004 at the very top of the ballot.

    It didn't lead to the results they wanted. Republicans called Senator John Kerry a flip-flopper for voting "for the war" in October 2002, but then later criticizing its prosecution. Kerry had a tough time explaining his vote for the $87 billion before his vote against the $87 billion. And his fate might have been sealed in August 2004, when he said he'd still have voted "aye" even after it was quite apparent that Iraq had no threatening WMD or operational ties to al Qaeda.

    So much for the idea that a military veteran can assure electoral success in an election dominated by national security issued and foreign affairs.

    I'm confident many Republican strategists are planning to use a similar ploy in 2006.

    In October 2002, remember, 29 Democratic Senators and 81 Democratic House members voted for Joint Resolution 114, which was entitled "To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq." Not all of the "pro-war" Democrats will be up for re-election in 2006, thanks to a scattering of retirements and previous electoral losses. And, because of six year terms, only one-third of Senators stand for election every two years.

    Still, dozens of Democrats up for re-election in 2006 voted for the Iraq Joint Resolution and this apparently bipartisan act will provide ammunition for all Republicans against all Democrats. Indeed, the early signs are that Republicans are prepared to use this fact as a stick with which to beat Democrats over the head.

    Congress had access to the same intelligence, the President and other members of the administration claim. They also boast that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq, as he posed (allegedly) an ongoing threat to American security.

    In short, Republicans argue that the war was an honest mistake, if it was a mistake, because the intelligence was flawed. Moreover, it wasn't a significant error because 9/11 "changed everything" and America has to be prepared to eliminate its enemies even before they fully develop. Iraq had the ability to make weapons of mass destruction and it was lead by a strongly anti-American despot who could have linked to terrorists at any time. Conclusion? Only weak-willed Democrats would continue to fret over a decision made three years ago. Decisive and strong leaders have to shrug off their mistakes and move on to the next fight, which appears to be Iran.

    Even though the situation in Iraq is a mess, and the Bush administration is largely to blame for the American presence there, few war critics are overtly embracing a complete anti-war message and calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Many fear civil war and/or state failure, which is entirely reasonable. Nonetheless, a nuanced anti-war message is hard to sell in politics. As I've explained before, that typically works to the advantage of Republicans.
    • What can "pro-war" Democrats do to combat the likely Republican strategy in the 2006 election?
    • How can Democrats be against the war, without appearing weak?

    Well, arguably, George W. Bush provided an electoral answer in the 2000 foreign policy debate with Al Gore. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about the circumstances when the US should use military force.
    MODERATOR: ...I figured this out; in the last 20 years there have been eight major actions that involved the introduction of U.S. ground, air or naval forces. Let me name them. Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo. If you had been president for any of those interventions, would any of those interventions not have happened?
    After running through the list for Vice President Gore, Lehrer turned to then-Governor Bush and asked him what he thought about his father's military intervention in Somalia:
    MODERATOR: Somalia.

    BUSH: Started off as a humanitarian mission and it changed into a nation-building mission, and that's where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow the dictator when it's in our best interests. But in this case it was a nation-building exercise, and same with Haiti. I wouldn't have supported either.
    A few moments later, Bush elaborated on his view of nation-building:
    I thought the best example of a way to handle the situation was East Timor when we provided logistical support to the Australians, support that only we can provide. I thought that was a good model. But we can't be all things to all people in the world, Jim. And I think that's where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I'm worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. You mentioned Haiti. I wouldn't have sent troops to Haiti. I didn't think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation building mission, and it was not very successful. It cost us billions, a couple billions of dollars, and I'm not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before.
    So, Democrats, there you have it.

    It's OK to support a well-intended military mission -- and then reject it later because the "mission changed" to "nation-building." The costs of attempted democratization are high and the benefits are often dubious. The President's views on Haiti were widely shared and an updated Iraq version might well resonate with voters.

    If liberal hawks supported the Iraq war in 2003 because they genuinely feared WMD and al Qaeda, so be it. To oppose the war now, run some clips of Governor Bush explaining the circumstances when it is acceptable to change one's view.

    Moreover, Dems can claim that they want to save the military. The burgeoning threat from Iran proves the need to have a military not bogged down in a political backwater by insurgents (and "dead enders") who don't have weapons of mass destruction.


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    Monday, January 16, 2006

    King for a day



    From Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963:
    Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
    This speech is also available on the State Department's website (where I also obtained the photo). It's a terrific speech, obviously.

    Speaking of the U.S. State Department...American representatives walked out of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which was held in Durban, South Africa during the first week of September, 2001.

    Given the terror attacks of the following week, people may have forgotten about the conference and the U.S. walkout. If one searches the White House website using "World Conference" and "racism," the only mention is by Laura Bush at the International Lion of Judah Conference, October 2004:
    When the World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa became a theater for anti-Semitic expression, President Bush ordered the United States delegation to walk out in protest, and I'm glad he did.
    Search for "Durban" on the official website and a handful of press conference references appear, but none since early September, 2001. It is basically forgotten.

    This is what the 2001 conference actually said (pdf of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action) about Israel:
    63. We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process andbring it to an early conclusion;

    64. We call for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region in which all peoples shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognized human rights,and security;

    65. We recognize the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all States to facilitate such return;

    ...

    151. As for the situation in the Middle East, calls for the end of violence and the swift resumption of negotiations, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, respect for the principle of self-determination and the end of all suffering, thus allowing Israel and the Palestinians to resume the peace process, and to develop and prosper in security and freedom;
    Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, claimed in advance of the meeting that the conference participants had already embraced the "Zionism is racism" theme from past debates -- but the Durban Declaration does not contain the word "Zionism" and I have noted the only two times Israel is noted in the text.

    The ADL website plays up this charge as well, noting strong language by some protesters and NGO representatives, as well as anti-American and anti-Israeli banners and political cartoons -- but the real concern seems to have been that some official government speakers equated Israeli treatment of Palestinians to South African apartheid.

    The Durban Declaration mentions the crime of apartheid half a dozen times, but at no time mentions it in the context of Israel or the Palestinians.

    Israel does occupy land it took in war, which is contrary to international law, and is in violation of over 30 UN Security Council resolutions (by the count of Professor Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco). And the plight of the Palestinian people is a major international issue. Even President Bush says Palestinians deserve their own state...

    Like Dr. King, I'll quote the Declaration of Independence:
    "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..."
    Enjoy the holiday.


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    Europe: CIA renditions are illegal

    The Scotsman ran a story Saturday that isn't getting much play in the US:
    US policies in the war on terror are contravening international laws on human rights, a top European investigator says.

    "The strategy in place today respects neither human rights nor the Geneva Conventions," said Dick Marty, the head of a European investigation into alleged CIA prisons in Europe.

    "The current administration in Washington is trying to combat terrorism outside legal means, the rule of law."

    Marty, a Swiss politician leading the probe on behalf of the Council of Europe, said there was no question that the CIA was undertaking illegal activities in Europe in its transportation and detention of prisoners.
    The Council of Europe is a 46-member state organization that was established to "defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law" and now casts itself as "the guardian of democratic security."

    In short, they take the question of law quite seriously.

    The US has observer status.


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    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    Arlen Specter: Impeach Bush?

    Reuters explains the domestic spying issue quite well:
    The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without the approval of a special, secret court. Bush secretly gave the National Security Agency authority to intercept communications without such approval.
    Does the chief executive have the power to grant the NSA action?

    At least one Republican Senator is skeptical -- and he's the chair of the Judiciary Committee, which should be concerned about the law:
    The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee promised a thorough investigation on Sunday into President George W. Bush's secret domestic eavesdropping program and said there would be no blank check for Bush.

    Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said Bush in theory could face impeachment charges if found to have violated the law by authorizing the program...
    Hmmm.

    Then again, Specter says he's heard no talk of impeachment and that he thinks Bush made a good faith effort to protect the population from terrorism.

    The Left Coaster has more.


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    Old comments are back!

    For some time, I've been frustrated by the fact that old comments disappeared from the blog. A few times, I was trying to remember references to webpages (or old movies) and couldn't find them because they were gone.

    Then, in December, a commenter on Mrs. Coulter's Republic of Heaven noted that Haloscan will retain old comments on a blog if the blogger buys the premium account with a $12 "donation." Presumably, that's an annual cost.

    Yesterday, I gave Haloscan $12, the first cash I've spent on the blog.

    Hopefully, readers will find those old comments useful as well.

    BTW, some readers may have also noticed in the past few weeks that I added my first advertisement on the bottom of the right-hand column. It's for Powell's, a damn fine independent bookstore located in Portland. Some family members own bookstores in Chicago too. If you order books from that store (using the link from my homepage), I receive 7.5% of the sales price as a partner/affiliate. Any funds (none so far) will be used to support the blog.

    I visit Powell's every time I go to Portland (which is every few years). I like the fact that customers can purchase new or used editions, depending upon your needs and means.

    Happy reading!

    1/31/06 Update: I corrected the Powell's information, which originally had an incorrect sales commission rate.


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    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Blogging for the BBC

    After I posted "Isn't this what friends are for?" Wednesday, I received an email from Kevin Anderson of the BBC News radio program, "World Have Your Say."

    Kevin wanted me to partake in a discussion about Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster's critique of the US army in Iraq -- live Thursday (about 1:30 pm ET, early evening in the UK). Unfortunately, he wrote only a few hours before the broadcast and I read it only half an hour or so in advance.

    I emailed him (he quickly replied) and asked if he wanted to talk to me about the war. I've done many radio interviews and thought this was more of the same. He'd taken the care to find my university email address, so I figured the BBC wanted my opinion in a short quote or two.

    Wrong.

    I finally discovered that one can comment about a story on-line, so I posted a couple of paragraphs to the news forum during the early part of the program. However, it's not (currently) shown. Then again, I didn't register for membership for the BBC forums, and thus my remarks were automatically delayed for a moderator to read.

    At least one blogger was mentioned in the post-show wrapup...so I guess I screwed up big time.

    I misinterpreted the invitation, thinking it was for the "old" media (radio), and didn't catch-on quickly enough to be a full participant in the on-line, but real-time discussion on the relatively new media.

    Oops.

    Kevin, next time I'll be ready!


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    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Bush's limits on debate

    The President, in Louisville Wednesday:
    First of all, I expect there to be an honest debate about Iraq, and welcome it. People can help, however, by making sure the tone of this debate is respectful and is mindful about what messages out of the country can do to the morale of our troops. (Applause.)

    I fully expect in a democracy -- I expect and, frankly, welcome the voices of people saying, you know, Mr. President, you shouldn't have made that decision, or, you know, you should have done it a better way. I understand that. What I don't like is when somebody said, he lied. Or, they're in there for oil. Or they're doing it because of Israel. That's the kind of debate that basically says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise. It's one thing to have a philosophical difference -- and I can understand people being abhorrent about war. War is terrible. But one way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006 elections, is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way, and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening an enemy.
    Read the address that preceded the Q&A. Bush is still bragging about going to war and toppling Saddam Hussein -- even though there were no Iraqi WMD or links to al Qaeda.

    And he wants to tell critics where to draw the line?



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    NSA Whistleblower: Bring it on!

    A former NSA employee acknowledges that he is a source for the leaks about domestic spying -- and he says that communications from millions of Americans could have been monitored. ABC News had the story January 10 (hat tip again to Laura Rozen):
    Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet....

    Tice tells ABC News that some of those secret "black world" operations run by the NSA were operated in ways that he believes violated the law. He is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department and the NSA in the post-9/11 efforts to go after terrorists.

    "The mentality was we need to get these guys, and we're going to do whatever it takes to get them," he said.

    Tracking Calls

    Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call as they are switched through centers, such as one in New York, and to search for key words or phrases that a terrorist might use.

    "If you picked the word 'jihad' out of a conversation," Tice said, "the technology exists that you focus in on that conversation, and you pull it out of the system for processing."

    According to Tice, intelligence analysts use the information to develop graphs that resemble spiderwebs linking one suspect's phone number to hundreds or even thousands more.

    Tice Admits Being a Source for The New York Times

    President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants.

    But Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used.

    "That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum," Tice said.
    Tice says that the agency committed "abuses" that need to be addressed.

    Tice's security clearance was apparently stripped away last May and he was eventually fired because of "psychological concerns."


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    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Isn't this what friends are for?

    You know you're in a "special relationship" when your partner feels free to offer frank criticism.

    As reported in today's Washington Post, the Bush administration has now found that out:
    A senior British officer has written a scathing critique of the U.S. Army and its performance in Iraq, accusing it of cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micromanagement and unwarranted optimism there.
    British Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, former deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, has penned a "candid" critique in the U.S. Army publication, Military Review (December 2005). The pdf is here.

    There is some very tough critique: the cultural insensitivity "arguably amounted to institutional racism," he writes.

    And there's much more:
    ...the Army's can-do spirit, he wrote, encouraged a "damaging optimism" that interfered with realistic assessments of the situation in Iraq.

    "Such an ethos is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command," Aylwin-Foster says. A pervasive sense of righteousness or moral outrage, he adds, further distorted military judgments, especially in the handling of fighting in Fallujah.
    Read the entire Post article, which includes some context as well of criticisms of the British author's piece, but if you're really interested, definitely look at the original article as well.

    If the Army can take this kind of heat, you would think the chef-in-chief could too...but no, he's in Louisville today talking about the "war on terror" to a non-public audience (tickets were distributed by local Republicans and business elites).


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    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Following the money

    For the past few days, I've been working on a post about the Alexander Strategy Group, a Republican lobbying group in DC with clear links to Rep. Tom DeLay (under indictment) and confessed criminal and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Washington Post has a story about their ties to these figures in the January 10 edition:
    [former DeLay aide and ASG owner Edwin A.] Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, for four years. It also benefited by working closely with Abramoff. Abramoff's plea agreement mentioned his close ties to Tony C. Rudy, one of Buckham's colleagues at ASG, identified in the court papers as "Staffer A."

    Rudy, a former DeLay aide, worked for Abramoff before joining ASG. According to the plea document, a political consulting firm run by Rudy's wife allegedly received $50,000 in exchange for official actions Rudy took while working for DeLay.
    Additionally, Bloomberg reported a few days ago that the Rep. Duke Cunningham (CA) affair is also linked to the lobbying firm (dubbed "DeLay, Inc.").

    A trifecta!

    However, it would appear that I'm too late to the story. The Alexander Strategy Group is closing its doors. The Post story again (hat tip to Laura Rozen):
    One of Washington's top lobbying operations will shut down at the end of the month because of its ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay.

    Alexander Strategy Group, which had thrived since its founding in 1998 thanks largely to its close connections to DeLay (R-Tex.), will cease to operate except for a relatively small business-development division, Edwin A. Buckham, the former top DeLay aide who owns the company, said yesterday.
    Oh, but read the fine print. A dozen of the firm's lobbyists plan to start a new firm.

    So, the dirt still matters.

    What have I been doing? Well, the media stories about Abramoff and DeLay tend to focus on the corporate and Indian clients and the various legislative interests. I decided to look at the firm members' campaign contributions, using data from Open Secrets. Specifically, I examined their contributions in the current (2006) election cycle:

    Terry Allen

    Mark Alsalih: no records
    Paul Behrends
    Edwin A. Buckham
    Anne Duke: no records
    Karl Gallant
    Dan Gans
    Terry Haines
    Christian Hofreiter: no records
    Mike Mihalke
    John J. Powell
    Tony C. Rudy
    Allison R. Shulman
    Edward B. Stewart

    Obviously, a more complete study would examine contributions dating back more than one election cycle. I invite a reader to do the work.

    In any case, what are the commonalities? Well, unsurprisingly, most of those who gave wrote checks to DeLay (TX). Most also contributed to Rep. Bobby Jindal (LA) and Rep. Don Manzullo (IL).

    A fair number also gave to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (MI), Rep. John E. Sweeney (NY), Rep. Jim McCrery (LA), Rep. Spencer Bachus (AL), Rep. Mike Ferguson (NJ), Re. Mark Kennedy (MN), Rep. Richard Baker (LA), Rep. Tom Feeney (FL) and Rep. Sam Graves (MO).

    In all, dozens of candidates have already received checks.

    What do these men have in common, other than their Republican party affiliation? Why would the ASG lobbyists give thousands and thousands of dollars to these incumbents well in advance of the 2006 election?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    I do see three members of Louisiana's delegation up there...hmmmm.

    Ideas? Patterns?


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    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Outsourcing censorship

    Microsoft has shut down the website of a well-known Chinese blogger, in order to facilitate that government's censorship policies. The IHT has the original NYT story:
    The site pulled down this past week was a popular one created by Zhao Jing, a well-known blogger with an online pen name, An Ti. Zhao, 30, also works as a research assistant in the Beijing bureau of The New York Times.

    The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of The Beijing News, which prompted about 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike on Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has long complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.

    The move by Microsoft came at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up its own efforts to crack down on press freedom. Several prominent editors and journalists have been jailed in China over the past few years and charged with everything from espionage to revealing state secrets.
    The blog's information is maintained on computers in the US, so Microsoft is arguably censoring speech in America, ostensibly to comply with Chinese law. For more on that angel, see Rebecca MacKinnon.

    The newspaper story notes that Yahoo revealed information about a personal email account some months ago that led to the imprisonment of a Chinese journalist.

    China now leads the world in imprisoning journalists, though Stephen Colbert figured out a way for the US to catch up:
    the USA is currently ranked sixth in jailing journalists worldwide. China is far ahead. To make up for lost time, Stephen proposes that we throw the entire New York Times editorial department, the anchors of 60 Minutes, Tim Russert, and anyone else who's been hired since the departures of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Ted Koppel into jail.
    The US imprisons a handful of foreign journalists in its jails in Iraq and Gitmo.



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    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Pitt stop

    I watched "Troy" on HBO "on demand" last night and it was much better than I expected ("the soft bigotry..." issue). In fact, I stayed up later than I intended just to see the entire thing in one sitting. It helps to have outstanding original material for the story, obviously.

    After seeing the film, I have one question: Where does Brad Pitt get those kind of arm and shoulder muscles? He used to be kind of a skinny guy.

    I guarantee you that if a baseball player looked like this (that's Pitt in his breakthrough movie, "Thelma and Louise," as J.D., 1991) and then looked like this (as Achilles, 2004)...people would be screaming about steroids.

    I stood next to Barry Bonds in Florida during spring training 1987. He looked about like this. I'd guess that he was even then more muscular than Brad Pitt was in 1991. Bonds was about to turn 23 in March 1987, when I met him, while Pitt was 28 in 1991. News flash: they are practically the same age. Pitt is about 7 months older.

    Has Bonds gotten significantly bigger than Pitt? Click on those links and decide for yourself.

    Or maybe it's time for a congressional investigation of movie stars...


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    Rock chalk

    There are nearly 20 college basketball games on TV today, so unless you are a fan, you may have missed the spanking Kansas applied to Kentucky at noon. These are two of the winningest schools (third and first, respectively) in NCAA hoops history; yet, the final score was as lopsided as the 1989 game (which was the last time Kentucky visited Lawrence).

    This time, however, each team scored only about half as many points as that last meeting in Allen Fieldhouse:

    This year: 73-46 (KU over UK by a factor of 1.59)
    1989 game: 150-95 (KU over UK by a factor of 1.58)

    After a bad start for the very young team, Kansas has now won half a dozen in a row.

    Rock chalk, Jayhawk, KU!
    Repeat 4 times.


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    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Blogosphere notes

    Thursday, I posted some information for your listening pleasure. Today, a few links for your reading and viewing pleasure.

    To read: Guest-blogger Glenn Greenwald has a great post at Digby's Hullabaloo, Attacking Bush's only weapon: Fear. A taste:
    Fear of terrorism is what the Administration has successfully inflamed and exploited for four years in order to justify its most extreme and even illegal actions undertaken in the name of fighting terrorism.

    Without pause, the Administration has sought to make Americans as frightened as possible about terrorism and has used that fear to justify its actions with regard to almost every issue.
    Needless to say, they've used fear and the "war on terror" to justify just about every foreign policy decision. Indeed, I'd add one point that I've made before -- the administration has turned international relations on its head, arguing that the greatest threats to US security often come from the world's weakest states. Now that's some use of fear, eh?

    Also, read this: Brad DeLong's A Riddle Inside a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma... DeLong combines a couple of threads -- did the Bush White House bug Christiane Amanpour? If so, did it thus also bug Jamie Rubin, former Clinton administration official and Kerry campaign advisor? It's an interesting couple of questions, though Atrios reports on the inevitable denial.

    And finally, a "must see" link: Jeffrey Lewis has a great short video link at his Arms Control Wonk blog: Kim Jong Il's Bodyguards. Watch it. Now.


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    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Best music of 2005

    My friend Michael Young, a part-time DJ, posted his "Top 10 Americana Albums of 2005" on public radio station WFPK's (91.9 Louisville) website. Mike's show "Roots 'n Boots" is available in streaming audio, Sunday nights at 6 pm until 8. I listened to it regularly even when in Boston for five months and hate missing it when I'm traveling.

    Unfortunately, because of a late flight arrival, I did not catch this past Sunday's show when Michael played songs from his top 10 albums. However, I can present his top 10, with a few excerpts from his accompanying comments:
    10. Freakwater – THINKING OF YOU [Thrill Jockey] Cathy Irwin, Janet Bean & Co. tackle hurt, pain & politics with a few foot-stompers thrown in for a well-balanced album. Their first since 2000, and perhaps their best.

    9. Merle Haggard – CHICAGO WIND [Capitol/Hag] If this were produced by Rick Rubin, it would be getting all the raves of that tripe put out by Neil Diamond which is more “Heartlight” than “Cracklin’ Rose.”

    8.Danny Barnes – GET MYSELF TOGETHER [Terminus] With his second straight jaw-dropping solo release (after 2003’s Dirt On The Angel) Danny is an artist deserving of much wider exposure.

    7. Lucero – NOBODY’S DARLINGS [Liberty & Lament] Heart wrenching, yearning, and rocking all at once -- reminiscent of Springsteen in his Born To Run prime. If Kurt Cobain was raised on Hank Williams instead of the Meat Puppets, you’d have Lucero lead singer Ben Nichols. Beautiful despair.

    6.Grayson Capps – IF YOU KNEW MY MIND [Hyena] The year’s best debut by far. With “Get Back Up” this Louisiana songwriter wrote the perfect New Orleans recovery theme before the hurricane.

    5. John Prine – FAIR & SQUARE [Oh Boy] His humor, political bite, and relationship perspective shine though in a strong collection of songs.

    4. James McMurtry – CHILDISH THINGS [Compadre] Captured the mood of many across the country in “We Can’t Make It Here,” THE anthem of 2005. McMurtry said he hates protest songs, so it has to be really bad if he has to write one.

    3. Son Volt – OKEMAH AND THE MELODY OF RIOT [Transmit Sound/Legacy] Jay Farrar has rediscovered melody!

    2. Mary Gauthier – MERCY NOW [Lost Highway] Currently, America’s best songwriter....I hate to constantly compare artists, but Lucinda’s got some catching up to do.

    1. Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell – BEGONIAS [Yep Roc] This is rot gut, cry in your beer, no holds barred HURT pressed into vinyl (or plastic, or whatever they make CDs out of). It doesn’t get much more straightforward than “Don’t Make It Better, Make It Over.” But it’s not all gloom and doom because many of these breakup songs are delivered in bouncy, sunny country melodies.
    I don't own any of these albums, yet, but Mary Gauthier (Mike pronounces it Go-shay) has a great track ("I Drink") on "This is Americana" volume 2, which I received from a friend. That CD is well worth the $1.98 cost. It also includes a Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell cut, "Party Time."

    The best 2005 Americana album I own is Los Super Seven's "Heard in on the X," which I blogged about in early June. Because that album included a couple of tracks written by Doug Sahm, I asked for and received "The Best of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975." It's a great album, but it was issued in 1990 and the music is more than three decades old.

    I also received the very good"Kids in Philly" Marah CD from 2000.

    Since buying it some months ago, another favorite CD this past year was J.J. Cale's 1998 release, "The Very Best Of J.J. Cale."

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    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Oil big shot

    On September 15, 2002, when it was becoming increasingly probable that the US was gearing up to "liberate" Iraq, The Washington Post ran a front page story about the future of that state's oil. Reporters Dan Morgan and David B. Ottaway noted that Iraq had the world's second largest supply of proven oil reserves (112 billion barrels), which meant that toppling Saddam Hussein
    "could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets."
    The story quoted Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi saying, "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil."

    Well, Chalabi is now officially the Iraqi oil "big shot." This week, he took over as the Iraqi Oil Minister. Chalabi was already head of Iraqi's energy council, even though he suffered a humiliating defeat in the December elections (his party received 0.36 percent of the vote).

    Chalabi with Laura Bush at the State of the Union address, 2004. Whitehouse photo.

    For the Bush administration and its cronies, Chalabi's placement in the Oil Ministry is probably much more important than any role in the newly elected government.

    For years, oil has been the unidentified elephant in the room for many administration and security experts who discuss Iraq policy. Debate about Iraqi links to terrorism and WMD gave way to discussions about counter-insurgency and civil war -- but these were arguably just distractions from the big enchilada.

    Sure, Vice President Dick Cheney noted the strategic importance of Iraq's oil in his famous August 2002 VFW speech that kicked off the Iraq war "marketing campaign."

    Oil fields and the Oil Ministry were secured in 2003 even as other public facilities -- including WMD facilities -- were looted. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed the other looting, declaring "stuff happens." He added, "Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

    But the Oil Ministry and oil fields were overtaken by US forces in the initial fighting and heavily guarded throughout the looting period.

    Plenty of additional evidence suggests that oil has always been on the administration's agenda. Cheney's old energy firm Halliburton received enormous (no bid) rebuilding contracts in Iraq. In August 2005, President Bush himself mentioned securing oil supplies from insurgents as a rationale for continued US troop presence in Iraq.

    But Iraq's oil infrastructure needs to be modernized to meet America's (and the world's) growing demand for imported oil. Professor Michael Klare explained the main problem in March 2005:
    The NEP [May 2001 National Energy Policy] also made it clear that the existing oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf was inadequate to produce the much higher levels of oil that would be needed to satisfy projected U.S. and international requirements in the years ahead. According to the 2001 edition of the Department of Energy’s International Energy Outlook, the Gulf countries would have to nearly double their combined output, from approximately 24 million barrel per day (mbd) to 45 million barrels, in order to meet anticipated world demand in 2020—a Herculean task that exceeded the capacities of many of the region’s prevailing regimes, including those in Iran and Iraq. Only if U.S. firms were allowed to come in and take over production in these Gulf countries, the NEP hinted, would it be possible to quench the world’s insatiable thirst for oil.
    What better person to assure this kind of production transformation than Chalabi, a pro-western Iraqi expat businessman with a history of alleged shady dealings and corruption?

    Reuters reported the bottom line yesterday:
    Oil revenue in Iraq's 2006 budget is forecast at around $28 billion compared with around $24 billion last year and $17.5 billion in 2004.
    Do the math, that's a forecast growth of nearly 17% this year.

    No wonder the administration has all but abandoned Iraqi reconstruction aid.

    Could it be that they've gotten what they wanted all along?


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    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    New banner

    I'm not much of a graphic artist.

    If anyone wants to grab that banner and play around with it a little -- feel free. I'd be grateful.

    Ideally, the dark green in the title background space would be lighter (perhaps to match the blue-green of the original box). Also, the corners could be rounded, the small patch of white on the right could be eliminated and the blog title text should be in white rather than black.

    Otherwise, what do you think?

    Update: If anyone needs to tweak the results, here are my photo credits:

  • Condi's matrix
  • Mushroom cloud
  • Rumsfeld
  • Iraq map
  • Bush flightsuit
  • Baseballs (autographed by the President)
  • Blair
  • Earth

    I'm willing to live with two rows of four slightly larger photos, with the blog name scripted across these photos. The blog description text could be off to the (right) side.

    BTW, my photo order had a logic. Blair and the globe sort of go together, as do Bush/baseball, and Condi and the mushroom cloud. I cropped some of the photos.


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  • The post-modern President

    Back in early 2001, President George W. Bush used to say stuff like this a lot:
    A priority of mine in my budget will be paying down national debt. And yet, after setting priorities, there's still money left over.... I'm asking Congress to pass $1.6 trillion in tax relief, after we've met priorities. That's over a 10-year period of time....It's your money.
    In 2001, Bush had inherited a $230 billion budget surplus.

    So, he gave it back to the people.

    December, 2005, same guy:
    We've been wise with your money, as well. Each year I've been in office, we've cut the rate of growth in non-security discretionary spending. We're on track to reach our goal of cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009. Thanks to tax relief, and spending restraint, and pro-growth economic policies, this economy is strong, businesses are booming, and the people in this country are working. (Applause.) See, we can't take this growth for granted. So we're moving forward with a comprehensive agenda that's going to keep the economy growing to make sure people have got a hopeful future. Keeping this economy growing begins with a commitment to keeping your taxes low, and at the same time being wise about how we spend your money.

    Unfortunately, just as we're seeing the evidence of how our tax cuts have helped the economy, we're hearing some voices in Washington that want to raise your taxes. The tax relief we set -- that we delivered is set to expire in a couple of years. In other words, it's not permanent -- it can go away. And unless Congress acts, you're going to get a big tax hike when that happens....

    Our approach on spending is clear: Working families have to set priorities for their spending, and so should the federal government. Unfortunately, we have too many politicians back in Washington who preach fiscal discipline while voting against spending cuts -- and too many who think the only answer for runaway spending is to raise your taxes. My solution is to keep your taxes low and to be fiscally sound about how we use your money....
    Fiscally sound?

    The current annual budget deficit exceeds $300 billion. The Congressional Budget Office doesn't anticipate any reduction in that total until 2011...just after the tax cuts expire.

    According to the conservative Independent Institute, federal spending since 2001 has increased almost 20%. Non-defense discretionary spending has increased 25%.

    President Bush has never used his veto power, so every congressional spending measure has been at least tacitly approved by his administration.


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