Friday, December 22, 2006

Rocky Balboa

The iconic underdog is back, but more accurately, he never left. Nobody alive today does not relate to Rocky somewhere deep in their soul. If you feel that Rocky is not part of you, then you are not tapping into your feeling center.

Critics will point out that the acting is coarse, the storyline is strained, the scenes are contrived and the dialogue is hazardous (“You're a fighter, Rocky, so... fight.”) The gloomy cold cityscapes of Philadelphia and the gloomy sweaty gym scenes are preambled with forty-five minutes of Rocky gloomily pining at Adrian's grave and gloomily bemoaning his poor relationship with his estranged son.

Rocky Balboa's miasmatic gloom serves as the motif of everyman's reticent suffering. The struggles of our imperfect relationships, our waning motivation, our losses, our physical aging. All beings suffer, and Rocky shows us how.

The worst thing to do would be to cogitate too much about Rocky Balboa-- it's a gut movie, a feeling movie. Intellect is great when trying to solve foreign policy crises, but for the 100 minutes of watching Rocky, turn off the brain and let the heart (or as Rocky would say, “the basement”) take wing. Be a gut player. It's the right time to do it.

The nuts and bolts of the movie are as sinewy as Stallone's ageless biceps: Rocky's wistful devotion to his deceased wife, his concern for his son and family, and the compassion he shows to strangers and former rivals as well as an unkempt stray dog. These gritty themes are necessary to see and feel once in a while.

Rocky traverses the valley of fear and survives the dark night of a ten round battle against the heavyweight champion. “I feel better than I thought,” the bloodied Rocky says at one point during the fight. In the end, the broken and bruised Rocky is again redeemed, the perpetual archetype of salvation.

Polishing Rocky Balboa, the man or the movie, would certainly be ruinous. The infrastructure is pure unvarnished granite, and it's beauty never gets old.

Quiet Please, Terrorists at Work

Keeping tabs on the Iraq war takes its toll, both in time and in soul-sucking anguish. The events that currently take place on a daily basis, from Baghdad car-bombs to verbal dissembling by our leaders, rise to a higher level of outrage with each passing day. I lack the available hours as well as the fortitude to dwell on these issues, but I feel compelled to add a few thoughts.

I'll just give a sample of the bullshit we endure. From the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. military officials and diplomats want Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states to recognize Maliki government, send ambassadors to Baghdad and forgive more than $40 billion in Iraqi debt. Among Sunni states, only Egypt has sent an ambassador, and he was assassinated.

The problem: Most Arab states, an official says, “see the current government as…an Iranian stooge.”

How can Condi Rice approach the Arab world with a straight face and ask for their economic aid in Iraq? Condi lecturing Arab states to “do the right thing” is like The Donald judging whether some beauty queen bimbo would make a good role model for our teens. On a human level I am embarrassed for Rice, but as a citizen who pays her salary, I am frothing in disgust.

Or, how about this tidbit? Washington Post:

Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is: We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."

Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 24 news conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.

An interesting construct” indeed. Friends and family of mine who voted for Bush never mention their thoughts on the president these days. I have made a point to refrain from talking politics on any level just to see if the subject will be broached. It never is. No intellectual discussion of nascent democracy, no talk of “just war” theory, no long diatribes on our vulnerability to terror. The constant drone of death in our names quietly continues. Honestly, I long for those care-free days when the nominal conservatives had the time and energy to fill my email box with Clinton blow-job jokes and Hillary cartoons.

Where is the outrage? New York Times:

First there was the “mission accomplished” banner. Then, last year, there was a “plan for victory” and, just this past October, the presidential assertion, “Absolutely, we’re winning.” Now that President Bush is seeking “a new way forward” in Iraq, he is embracing a new verbal construction to describe progress there: “We’re not winning. We’re not losing.”

We're not winning. We're not losing?” Somebody actually said this? The president actually said this? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs actually said this? I wasn't quite conscious during the lies of Vietnam, but I cannot imagine that BS being any deeper than what we hear today.

The sad part is that over 30% of the American people still believe Bush is doing a good job as president. I'm not sure Bush even believes that anymore. The other sad part is that previous Bush supporters have checked out. Their attention has been diverted away from the insoluble problem of Iraq and onto other fatuous concerns, like whether to buy a Wii or a Playstation, which plasma TV is the best, or whether the stock market is too risky to add capital.

These past 70 months, my confidence in our nation and our political system has been rocked. Never would I have imagined that a meathead like Bush would be elected twice, and then his supporters completely ignore the disaster that has become his presidency.

The question, and one I'll never get an adequate answer to, is why anybody would have voted for Bush/ Cheney in the first place, but especially in 2004 when it had become abundantly clear that Bush is a pernicious imbecile and that Cheney is a psychopath. What possible motivation would compel someone to vote for these guys? What policy was so important that they needed to spend four more years in office? What fear was so great that Al Gore or John Kerry, both decent honorable and intelligent men, weren't satisfactory candidates? The Supreme Court? Tax cuts? Abortion? Gay marriage? Gun rights? What?

My feeling is that anyone who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 may have been misguided, but anyone who voted for him 2004 did nothing less than commit "citizenship malpractice." They should think long and hard about why they cast their ballot; they should ask friends and families to help them work this through; they should perhaps seek counseling. Above all, anyone who voted for Bush in 2004 should refrain from casting any more ballots in any election for any office until they have figured out exactly how on earth they could have made such a huge blunder.

I'm not being too dramatic when I say that when I realize what my country has done in my name, it breaks my heart. No matter the stated intention-- to bring democracy, to save the Iraqis from Saddam, to protect us from WMD's and terrorism-- the Iraq war is a fool's errand perpetrated by a fool, a fool that we knowingly elected and re-elected. We are all responsible. We are all murderers. We are all incompetent. Blaming Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice is the easy way out; we all should have known better. Democrats should have been more skeptical, the media should have been more questioning, opponents should have been more vocal, I should have been more eloquent in my castigation.

The days that my blog remains empty are not to be construed as days that my conscience is not troubled by the virulence inflicted by my country. My heart aches daily.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jimmy unleashes the fury

The newest book to land on the nightstand is former President Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his review and assessment of the Arab-Israel conflict beginning with his tenure up to the present day. I have perused the introduction but have not made much headway through the tome.

In today's Washington Post, Kenneth W. Stein, a professor at Emory University and former Carter Center scholar, offers the expected rebuke of Carter's conclusion about the occupation of Palestinian land by armed Israelis. Carter maintains that such occupation, a term that even Ariel Sharon has used, is not only counter-productive but unlawful. Stein voices the usual concerns about Israeli security, only he peppers his opinion with uncorroborated accusations about Carter's ethics and motivations. Criticism of Israel always demands a hefty toll and requires a thick skin.

The United Nation Security Council has issued no less than 65 resolutions, most of which have been been vetoed with the US' and Israel's sole dissenting votes, that take issue with Israel's handling of Palestine. To be sure, Palestinian leadership has been lacking, but their job has been made more impossible by the increasing bloodshed and economic strife these past six years. Material support of Mahmoud Abbas may do wonders for increasing Arab support of US interests elsewhere in the region.

We hear little of the US' role in the Levant these days, other than our Secretary of State cheering on the Israeli Army's push through southern Lebanon with some twisted reasoning that Iran backing Hezbollah somehow justifies the US' proxy military killing hundreds and displacing thousands of civilians and destroying a billion dollars worth of property. Other than that, we hear no serious movement, only passing presidential rhetoric, towards a two-state solution in Palestine and Israel.

Does this have relevance? You bet. No less pertinent body than the Iraq Study Group has re-iterated moderate Arab pleas for more positive intervention by the US to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. All rational quarters know that without peace and justice in Israel, there will never be hope for peace anywhere in the Arab or Persian spheres, and the geopolitical implications of an unstable southern Asia are indeed grave, to our economy and the welfare of the entire planet.

Predictable criticism will be forthcoming from Israel apologists who are concerned that justice in the Middle East is somehow zero-sum and who feel that any gains by the Palestinians will be at the expense of Israel's safety. Carter will certainly be vilified for his recent historical polemic, as he was as president for engaging the Palestinians and recognizing that severe injustices have been thrust upon them over the past 60 years. Carter's voice is a welcome respite from the inanities coming out of Washington these past six years, and arguably, it is in lockstep with the realist surmise of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

I'll finish Carter's tome one of these days in the not too distant future, and unfortunately I can wait because it's relevance is unlikely to wane anytime soon. I'm sure Carter suffers no delusion that he possesses the Rosetta stone to Middle East peace, but he certainly recognizes that stemming violence is always the first step to approaching reconciliation. Let's take the first step.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

BREAKING: Iraq is a mess

Well, the much awaited Iraq Study Group Report has come out. Seventy-nine recommendations for the president and congress.

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”- ISG Report, 2006

The conclusion of the ISG, as well as the newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is that the Bush policy has been a failure. No kidding.

I have one favor to ask. Can someone please explain to me what the point of electing Bush was?

Every single optimistic comment the president made these last two years has been shown to be pure bullshit.

I have to agree with Pat Buchanan that “the entire establishment of the federal government has failed this nation, just as they did in Vietnam.” The ISG recommendations are flawed because they 1) are too numerous to institute in a timely fashion and 2) are often unrealistic, such as expecting that a ragtag group of Iraqi police will be able to quell violence that the US military can't.

I agree with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) who noted that the ISG is flawed because not one of the members of the group were opponents of the Iraq war from the beginning.

I agree with President Bush that there is "no easy exit." It may not be easy, but we do need to exit. It's useless to review all the "what ifs" of securing borders, training Iraqis, preventing looting, refraining from torture... We lost.

Whether we stay or go, we are screwed, and our allies will be killed. We can't stay because we are losing. We can't pull out because we'll leave chaos and even more death and destruction. We can't increase our troop numbers because we don't have enough soldiers, and even if we did, we don't have an endpoint.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” -- John Kerry, 1972.

It took 10 people from both parties a total of 8 months and over 200 interviews of generals, congresscritters and strategists to figure this out? Some of us knew this years ago.

Bush is a failure.

But then, Bush has been a failure his entire life, so who would expect something different this time?

Shame on Bush. Shame on anyone who voted for him-- you should have known better.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq Quagmire: Option 2

We are still awaiting the report from the Iraq Study Group which will presumably give President Bush detailed instructions on how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the previous post we reviewed the McCain option of adding more troops to the Iraq war in an effort to stabilize the region. We also noted that the venerable Senator did not give us a clue from what source these extra troops would come.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Vietnam veteran, represents the opposing stance, that we should “redeploy” our armed forces, in other words pull out and allow the Iraqis to sink or swim. We have seen Bush dither as the situation has devolved in stepwise fashion on his watch.

Here's a blurb from Chuck Hagel's op-ed from this past weekend:

"The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.
We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government...
The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq. The cost of combat in Iraq in terms of American lives, dollars and world standing has been devastating. We've already spent more than $300 billion there to prosecute an almost four-year-old war and are still spending $8 billion per month.
It is not too late. The United States can still extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton commission [aka, ISG] gives the president a new opportunity to form a bipartisan consensus to get out of Iraq. If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder -- one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead. “

This is basically the position that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a decorated combat veteran, had taken several months ago for which he was called a “coward” by Rep Jean Schmidt (R-OH); and this is the option which the president, vice-president, RNC Director Ken Mehlman, Sean Hannity, Karl Rove and other chickenhawks have labeled "cut and run." And the list of experts that have taken the public wrath of the administration is impressive:

  • Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said in May 2006, "I think that the United States should soon begin its process of redeployment."
  • Former National Security Agency director and retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom wrote in the May/June 2006 issue of Foreign Policy, "America must withdraw now."
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. and retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns wrote in November 2005, "There may well be some negative consequences as a result of withdrawing of U.S. troops, but fewer, we believe, than if we continue on the present course. Ultimately, the United States will be stronger if we leave the quagmire that is Iraq to resolution by its own citizens."
  • In a November 2005 interview, retired Army general William Nash said, "This is not a situation of figuring out the perfect solution. So I am one who believes strongly that our presence is now a detriment to our achieving our goals. As a consequence, I would say we need to be looking for excuses to withdraw, not for reasons to stay.
  • On October 18, Richard L. Armitage, who served [in the Bush administration] as deputy secretary of state from 2001 until 2005, expressed his support for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
And the Dailykos gives more detractors:

"Add to that list former Senator McGovern and William Polk, who in their new book Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now propose starting withdrawal this year, with a complete withdrawal completed by mid-2007. Oh, and add Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, who called for a withdrawal of troops after the election in 2005 (with complete withdrawal in 2007). Add Barry R. Posen, director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (who argued in January for a complete withdrawal within 18 months). Add former senior counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke. And add Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. In his op-ed, Carpenter calls for a withdrawal beginning today."

The tsunami of public opinion is engulfing the administration and the only option will be to pursue a “phased redeployment.” The facts on the ground have dictated this eventuality for over a year, and probably two, but the president has dithered away every opportunity to do the right thing. Mr. Bush has broken our military, the nation of Iraq and our international credibility. He has been directly responsible for the deaths or mutilation of hundreds of thousands of people, and that number will surely triple after we leave Iraq.

Unlike Vietnam, the loss of Iraq has significant geopolitical ramifications because 40% of the world's oil comes from the region, but also because neighboring Iran will be strengthened politically and economically by a Shia Iraq, and not least, a failed state in Iraq would surely give terrorist jihadists the perfect training ground.

Next post, we'll discuss what else Bush can destroy in his remaining 24 months.

Iraq Quagmire: Option I

The Iraq Study Group is busily putting the finishing touches on their final report that is supposedly going to save Boy Bush's hide and his presidency. Usually when such a council is set up it is purely for political cover, in other words the president has already decided on “the plan”, and the expert panel is merely configured to add credibility to “the plan.” In this case, however, I don't think Bush is pursuing the panel's advice for the expediency of political cover. I believe Bush really doesn't know what to do. We'll help him consider his options.

George W. Bush deserves our compassion. Seeing him recently meeting with Vietnamese leaders I was struck by how vulnerable and pathetic he looked. His hair grayer, his brow more furrowed, Bush did not seem to have the same irrepressible joviality. He apparently saw no irony in bluntly stating that Iraq is no Vietnam while being entertained in a beautifully manicured palace in the heart of Hanoi. He's right, Iraq is leagues worse.

What to do in Iraq? There are really only two courses to consider: Go heavy, or go home. The American people are weary of this debacle and the president has been derelict in his duty of planning and fighting this war. The time for making this decision is years late. Be that as it may, when the ISG comes out with their recommendations, the president should not expect a silver bullet. There is none, and none will be forthcoming.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has recently taken the Barry Goldwater stance that the USA has a responsibility to the people of Iraq and we should fulfill this obligation by sending more troops in an overwhelming effort to achieve stability. Of course, he conveniently never puts a number on that additional force, but I'm sure it would need to be in the hundreds of thousands. From McCain's recent op-ed:

“We must be honest about the war in Iraq. Without additional combat forces we will not win. We must clear and hold insurgent strongholds, provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies, arrest sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias, train the Iraqi army, and embed American personnel in weak and often corrupt Iraqi police units. We need to do all these things if we are to succeed. And we will need more troops to do them.

They will not be easy to find. We should have begun to increase significantly the size of the Army and Marine Corps the day after 9/11. But we did not. So we must turn again to those Americans and their families who have already sacrificed so much in this cause. That is a very hard thing to do. But if we intend to win, then we must.

It is not fair or easy to look a soldier in the eye and tell him he must shoulder a rifle again and risk his life in a third tour in Iraq. As troubling as it is, I can ask a young Marine to go back to Iraq. And he will go, not happily perhaps, but he will go because he and his comrades are the first patriots among us. But I can only ask him if I share his commitment to victory.”

On one level, I share McCain's sentiment that the Iraqi people deserve our forthright attempt at achieving a livable resolution to the conflict that we started. The question McCain never answers is what it would take to send the necessary troops. The troop levels in Iraq (I'm not even considering the Afghan disaster) have ranged from 125K earlier this year to approximately 145K now after the president canceled the tour leaves of several thousand Marines, National Guard and Army troops. We know this isn't enough to fulfill McCain's plan. The current military has approximately 1 million men and women, of which 1/5 can be deployed at any given time. To get the requisite 400K combat ready soldiers to make up an overwhelming contingent, we would need 2 million active duty. In effect, we would need to double the size of the military immediately, and that would also mean immense outlays for equipment.

Where can McCain get troops? We have already lowered recruitment standards, paid unprecedented sign-on bonuses, and canceled honorable discharges in order to keep men and women in uniform. McCain has no words of advice, except to “ask a young Marine to go back to Iraq.” McCain doesn't answer how many will say, “No, thank you” and how many times will he need to ask that “young Marine” again and again?

In the reality-based world, the only way to acquire enough soldiers to put 400K into Iraq is to dust off the military draft. Indeed, the draft. Literally millions of young men have already signed up for conscription, we already have their names, and the president only has to get the computer to spit out a few hundred thousand random birth dates, and voila! We have a huge frickin' Army. Instantly.

If McCain's stance is actually agreed upon, as long as we are indulging our fantasies, I would add one more recommendation: the only fair thing to do would be to first ask anyone under 30 years-old who voted for Bush in 2004 to do the responsible thing, the patriotic thing, the moral thing. They should be asked to enlist voluntarily and take infantry assignments. If they believe in this war, then we should give them the opportunity to walk the walk.

After all, what would be fair in drafting those who may have voted against this radical administration in the first place? Send them to war? No way. George W. Bush has saved us all from the dreaded weapons of mass destruction, he has bravely rescued Iraq from Saddam, and now our "crusade" has hit a few bumps in the road. Sen McCain is generously offering a solution-- and the very least these young Republicans can do is offer to serve.

Next post, we'll discuss the traitors who want to “cut and run.”

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Subpoenas: the time has come

To re-iterate the cliche, this election was a referendum on George W. Bush's policies. With the Democrats wresting control of the House by two dozen seats, I think it's safe to say the people have spoken. Mr. President, this is what “a mandate” really looks like.

The Senate at this moment is undecided. James Webb and Macaca Allen are in a dead heat, which begs the question, how deranged do you have to be to vote for George Allen over Jim Webb? The fact that Allen got 12 million votes boggles my mind. Who are these people?

Starting in January, the Democrat House has a lot of work to do. The Iraq policy must be changed in the most immediate way. Fiscal responsibility needs to be re-instituted. Immigration, education, health care and the Medicare drug boondoggle, habeas corpus and the torture bill, energy policy and foreign oil use, stem cells, taxes and the deficit: the neglect on these important issues has crippled us for decades. Nancy Pelosi, while not necessarily my favorite legislator, is so much better than what the Republican had to offer that we have cause for hope.

For me, this election is about something bigger. Something more fundamental. This election is about subpoena power. This administration is the most corrupt and secretive in memory. The cynicism of Nixon's White House has been institutionalized and perfected under Bush and Cheney. Nobody puts it better than Billmon:

-- the collectivized bribery of the K Street Project, the Abramoff casino extortion ring, the Defense and CIA appropriation scams, the Iraq War contracting scams, the Pacific Island sex trade protection racket, the church pulpits doubling as ward halls, the illegal wiretapping, the lies, perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame case (I really could go on like this all day) -- and it's clear that what we need most isn't a new Congress but a new RICO prosecution, with lots of defendents and unindicted co-conspirators.

There's probably not much that can be done on that score, even if the Dems take both houses of Congress today. Oversight hearings and subpoenas to appear are all well and good, but what we really need to see is a heap of good old-fashioned law enforcement. I want to see the Rovians testifying in courtrooms, not hearing rooms.

Only by gaining access to documents and testimony under oath can the the American people learn how the government's power has been used. No-bid contracts, Pentagon spending corruption, misuse of military personnel are all now open for inspection. Let the sun shine in.

The Democrats will have 24 months, a virtual sprint, to get the process rolling. Nothing would warm the cockles of my heart more than seeing Turd Blossom Rove, Darth Cheney and Incurious George sweating it out in House hearings trying to explain what the hell they have been doing the past 6 years. I'd really like to know.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Lot of Kids Left Behind

Kids are at risk.

I know this topic is not nearly as appetizing as Shrub missing Senator Kerry's poorly delivered joke, or the Republican leadership ignoring a congressman's harassment of an underage intern, or a meth-crazed Evangelical pastor playing hide the salami with a male prostitute. And of course in our popular press every topic is framed around the obligatory question “How will this affect Republican voters on Tuesday?”**

The larger issue is how much damage GW will do before he gets his ass continuously subpoenaed over the next two years (as we can only hope.)

Kids are at risk. Make no mistake.

I know this topic will get lost among all the juicy news of yet another Republican hypocrite getting male tail on the sly, but it's just too emblematic of the cognitive dissonance within the White House, even with all this red meat out there to be devoured.

Reuters is reporting that the administration has revised the Medicaid policy to withhold coverage for children born to illegal aliens unless their parents make formal application.

New federal rules deem babies born in the United States to poor illegal immigrant parents no longer automatically qualify for Medicaid health coverage, a policy some doctors worry might deprive these newborns of vital preventive care.

As with most Bush policies, I have no idea the purpose of this mandate. Like the Medicare drug plan, Social Security privatization, reducing dividend taxes, and many many other ideas, this one is just plain inexplicable.

The babies are American citizens by virtue of being born in the United States, even if their parents are in the country illegally.

Medicaid is a joint state-federal government health insurance program for low-income people. Previously, a child born in the United States was deemed automatically eligible for Medicaid for a year after the mother got emergency care under Medicaid for the birth.

"Since the mothers are illegal immigrants, they are not very likely to go to the Medicaid office to enroll their children because they're worried that they're going to get caught and deported," said Dr. John Lewy, a senior official with the American Academy of Pediatrics and retired pediatrician.

"The children are getting trapped by this," Lewy added.

So, Bush is instituting a draconian policy that puts the most vulnerable citizens at risk. Instead of defending our borders to keep illegals out; instead of enforcing laws to catch employers who hire illegals, Bush puts obstacles to care for babies who are eligible for necessary and cost-effective preventive care.

Dr. Rick Kellerman, a family doctor in Wichita, Kansas and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said as a result of the policy, parents of these babies might not get them preventive care and early intervention for illness.

Because such care reduces the likelihood of major medical problems that are costly to treat, the policy might become hugely expensive for federal and state governments, Kellerman said.

The leaders of the two physician groups who care for children understand the challenges associated with care of poor and defenseless kids. Preventive care has been shown to reduce chronic illness and suffering on a human level, and reduce cost of care on an economic level. Bush's policy is not only inhumane but financially foolish. Surprised? Don't be. Just look at almost any other mandate or project that has come out of the White House-- from the Iraq war to the fight against embryonic stem cell funding: inhumane and costly.

Kids are at risk.

The administration lackeys at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have tried to defend this lame policy by stating that they know of no child who has been refused care because of this mandate. Of course, they are missing the chilling nuance which is provided by Dr. Lewy:

"I don't think there will be evidence that they're denied care. What I think is that they're not seeking care."

Duh! As a taxpayer as well as a physician, I have some appreciation that our nation faces the daunting enterprise of providing increasingly expensive health care to an ever more populous underclass. That's a tough nut, no doubt, but this is not the answer. Public Health 101 clearly states the the most cost-effective measures any community can institute are 1) clean water, 2) sewage management and 3) vaccinations. Even the poorest Third World countries make every attempt to provide these basic aspects of health care to their citizens, but our government is going to withhold one of the most treasured parts of our child care: vaccinations, among other preventive care and anticipatory guidance.

Kids are at risk. And I'm not even getting into the more nuanced topics of “herd immunity” which protects all of us, nutrition, proper use of car seats, prevention of accidents, emergency notification procedures and all the other benefits that these small citizens would have by being plugged into the medical care system from the start.

Why would GWB sign on to such a dangerously negligent policy? Does he think he will coerce the illegals to take their kids-- US citizens-- back to Mexico or Honduras? Does he believe that the few dollars saved by delaying these vaccinations and other services is cost-effective? Does he think that the illegal parents will somehow find the cash to enroll in private insurance to avoid this bureaucratic snafu? Or is Bush just stupid?

For the life of me I cannot see the purpose of this policy. A more sane policy would be to do the opposite: provide the very best medical care for these young citizens. Lavish them with Cadillac care in order to ensure that they grow up healthy and able. Provide parents with needed transportation to bring these tiny American citizens to the doctor. Make every attempt to increase the interaction these poor and often uneducated parents have with health professionals.

Am I a bleeding heart liberal? Hardly. I'm just being plain selfish. These kids are US citizens, so they aren't going anywhere. It's in our best interest they make it to adulthood in one piece, and don't infect our families with rubella or pertussis on the way...

After all, these diapered little citizens are the ones who will be caring for us when we are diapered senior citizens.

[**How the hell should I know?!! I have no idea how anyone could possibly even consider voting Republican on Tuesday, or any other day for that matter. If the Democrats don't win at least the House, then I know in my heart that Diebold delivered this election to save Chicken George and Darth Cheney from impeachment.]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Retirement Plans

Mr. Rumsfeld imploded today. Resignation watch begins, look for an announcement sometime after the election. On his way out, just to be more condescending than Condescenda Rice herself, Rummy taunts a questioner when asked if and when he will decide to spare the lives of further soldiers in a pointless war:

"You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult. Honorable people are working on these things together."

He actually said that. “Relax.”

The Cunning Realist outlined, more than a year ago, fifteen points in which the Iraq war resembles the Vietnam war. Rumsfeld's recent exchange represents two of the fifteen:

# 7. Year after year, our political leaders cited "Vietnamization" as an open-ended goal. As the deaths started to mount, the American public was repeatedly assured that when South Vietnamese troops had been trained in sufficient numbers and were ready to fight on their own, our troops would come home.

#14. During Vietnam, our press became the enemy.

Relax, Mr. Rumsfeld. May I suggest a cozy little condo somewhere on the Carolina coast. Have fun with your time off. Too bad it hadn't come a six years ago.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Un-Quiet Desperation

I'm just a hack. I write goofy blog articles for no concrete reason, perhaps to show-off some intellectual acumen, to diarize my thoughts at the moment, to vent anger or joy, certainly not for remuneration. I know this is a fool's exercise. Today's post by Billmon is priceless and I will reproduce it in it's entirety, then sulk away in disgust for myself and my government. Here's Billmon:

Down the River

Riverbend posted today for the first time since early August. As she explains: "Every time I felt the urge to write about Iraq, about the situation, I'd be filled with a certain hopelessness that can't be put into words and that I suspect other Iraqis feel also."

There is no way I can even begin to comprehend what it must feel like to be an Iraqi right now -- much less an intelligent, educated, secular woman stuck in the middle of a slow-motion genocide. But I do know what a "certain hopelessness" feels like, or at least I think I do. It's what I feel every time I think about how we came to this point.

Riverbend's topic is the Lancet study on war deaths in Iraq, and she curtly eviscerates the conservative Holocaust deniers:

We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons -- with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?

Nor does she have any kind words for any of the rest of us here in God Bless America, whether on the left or the right, who posture and bloviate while her country dies a slow, agonizing death:

They write about and discuss Iraq as I might write about the Ivory Coast or Cambodia -- with a detachment and lack of sentiment that, I suppose, is meant to be impartial. Hearing American politicians is even worse: They fall between idiots like Bush -- constantly and totally in denial, and opportunists who want to use the war and ensuing chaos to promote themselves.

That last one hits too close to home. A bulls eye, in fact. I've probably been as guilty as anyone of thinking of the war as some sort of strategy game, or a domestic political issue or a fascinating, if bloody, story -- a news junkie's next fix. When you're 8,000 miles and an existential light year away from the war, it's easy to distance yourself, intellectually and emotionally, from the stench of blood and the bloated corpses.

[Caption at left: An Iraqi girl screamed after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident.]

There's also a natural tendency, which I touched on yesterday, to make it all about us -- to consciously or unconsciously treat the Iraqis like extras (or worse, bloody mannequins) in a Mad Max remake produced and directed by Americans.

I'll also admit that I've become progressively less attentive -- not more -- as the death toll has climbed and we've been subjected to dispatches such as this:

The bloodletting there was touched off Friday by the kidnapping and beheading of 17 Shiite laborers working in date-palm groves in Duluiyah. Shiite leaders in the neighboring town said Saturday they asked militias of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to come from Baghdad to strike back and take revenge. Shiite militias poured into the area, and Balad hospital workers said the bodies of 27 Sunnis had been brought to the hospital by Saturday night, all of them shot to death and bearing holes from electric drills and other signs of torture.

Everything I dreaded has come to pass -- for the Iraqis, if not for us.

The point deserves frequent repetition: We did this. We caused it. We're not just callous bystanders to genocide, as in Rwanda, but the active ingredient that made it possible. We turned Iraq into a happy hunting ground for Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army. If Iraq is now a failed state, it's because of our failures.

But one can fully accept America's moral and legal responsibility for unleashing this barbarism and still not have a clue as to what can or should be done to stop it. Would a U.S. military withdrawal reduce the bloodshed or worsen it? I don't know, and I think anyone who says they do know is either lying or as deluded as Bush. But my intuition tells me that either way, whether we stay or go, thousands more, maybe millions more, are going to die.

A certain hoplessness, you see.

For someone in my shoes, though, hopelessness can become an excuse for not thinking about unpleasant truths. But there was something about Riverbend's quiet despair that forced me to think hard about my own moral responsibility as an American for a genocide caused by America -- because of a war started in my name, paid for with my taxes.

I've opposed this war since it was just a malignant smirk on George Bush's face. I've spoken against it, written against it, marched against it, supported and contributed to politicians I generally despise because I thought (wrongly) that they might do something to stop it. It's why I took up blogging, why I started this blog.

But the question Riverbend has forced me to ask myself is: Did I do enough? And the only honest answer is no.

I opposed the invasion -- and the regime that launched it -- but I didn't do everything I could have done. Very few did. We may have put our words and our wallets on the line, but not our bodies. Not when it might have made a difference. In the end, we were all good little Germans.

My question to myself, in other words, is like Thoreau's famous question to Ralph Waldo Emerson when Emerson came to visit him in jail after he was arrested for not paying his poll tax as a protest against slavery:

Emerson: What are you doing in there, Henry?
Thoreau: No, Waldo, the question is: What are you doing out there?

It's easy to think up excuses now -- we were in the minority, the media was against us, the country was against us. We didn't know how bad it would be.

But we knew, or should have known, that what Bush was planning was an illegal act of aggression, based on a warmongering campaign of deception and ginned-up hysteria. And we knew, or should have known, what our moral and legal obligations were:

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

We were all complicit. I was complicit. Because I was afraid -- afraid to sacrifice my comfortable middle class lifestyle, afraid to lose my job and my house, afraid of the IRS, afraid to go to jail.

But not nearly as afraid, of course, as the thousands of Iraqis who have been tortured or murdered, or who, like Riverbend, are forced to live in bloody chaos, day after day. Which is why, reading her post today, I couldn't help but feel deeply, bitterly ashamed -- not just of my country, but of myself.

I just hope that in the next life I don't run into Henry David Thoreau.

--Billmon, October 19, 2006


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bears Win... But Ugly

File this one under “a W is a W and we'll take it.” The Bears win, but they are not ready yet. They may be aroused from their hibernation, but they still need a double espresso to clear the cobwebs. The Bears win 24-23 when Arizona kicker Neil Rackers missed a 40 yard field goal with 30 seconds left.

The hype for the past week has been all about comparisons of this year's Bears to the 1985 Super Bowl team. It was fun seeing clips of Samurai Mike's piercing gaze and Refrigerator Perry's touchdown run, but that 1985 team, with all it's mythology and legend, won because they were disciplined and fundamentally sound.

Tonight's display of lazy arm-tackles, turnovers and three-and-outs by the Bears was more indicative of an Abe Gibron 1970's Bears team than the 1985 Super Bowl Shufflers. Before the season I predicted the Bears would “be lucky to win 9 games” and, while I hope I'm wrong, I'll stand by it. Tonight, the Bears didn't have an offensive touchdown.

The combined winning percentage of the teams the Bears have beaten is less 0.300 and they damn near lost to the 0-4 Cardinals who started a rookie quarterback. Matt Leinart went 24 for 32 with 232 yards and 2 TD's. Which Super Bowl defense has ever gotten schooled by an opposing rookie quarterback?

The Bears looked bad. Edgerrin James ran through holes large enough to fit TO's ego. Maybe we forget how good that 1985 team was. I won't go over the stats, but a defense that stingy didn't get there by standing around with their hands on their hips. McMahon didn't throw into triple coverage.

Don't get me wrong. When it's twenty below and the wind is howling off the lake, I'll be in the East stands in my Bears parka with hand warmers and wool socks. I'll be hoarse on Monday morning just like every other Monday morning.

The Bears win, but only despite their poor play. Are these the re-incarnation of 1985? Hardly. We're 6-0, nothing to celebrate, let's take the gift and move on.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chris Matthews: Useful Idiot

Tonight's Hardball show takes the pile. Matthews has “Jimmy” Baker and Lee Hamilton on to talk about the Iraq Study Group, the administration's latest machination to save face in the midst of a hellish, murderous, unwinnable war.

Matthews asked Baker what he thought of the National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the the Iraq war had become a recruiting and training tool for al Qaeda, that the war has caused more terrorism that it will ever prevent. A reasonable question.

MATTHEWS: OK. What do you make of the National Intelligence Estimate that we are creating more terrorists over there than we‘re killing?

BAKER: Well, I don‘t know because I haven‘t seen it, and I‘m not privy to the intelligence. We have access to what we want, provided it‘s not too far up the food chain in terms of classification. I haven‘t seen that NIE, and so I really can‘t comment on it.

Baker's horseshit answer was the same that Cheney, Rice, Snow and almost every administration official has used: I didn't read it. Baker, the head of the Iraq Study Group, didn't read the NIE on Iraq? “I didn't read it.” What the fuck has he been doing the last 6 months. The NIE was reported in the Washington Post, Google News, Yahoo News, Captain Kangaroo News and every other news source this side of Kazakhstan. Even some middling gynecologist in Kalamazoo has read the conclusions to the report.... but good ol' boy “Jimmy” Baker hasn't read it? Bull- fucking- shit! “I didn't read it.” Liar.

The worst of it is that Matthews grunted affirmation and went on to the next question. That is journalistic malpractice, plain and simple. How in God's name can you allow this sumbitch to play you like that? Chris, why do you even bother to have a show, to get up in the morning, to write down all those clever little questions in your spiral notebook? What's the point? Really? You're not that cute, so cut the crap.

Matthews, you are a tool of the highest degree. I would expect such conversational fellatio by Chris Wallace, Shep Smith, Steve Doocey or even Geraldo. The fact is that the situation has been deteriorating in Iraq ever since April 2003 and the administration has gone through all the stages addiction: ignore the problem, deny the problem and now bargaining. “We'll do something about it as soon as the election is over.”

Chris, I'll be blunt: our soldiers are being killed. You and the rest of the media enablers have been complicit in this debacle from day fucking one. Hundreds of thousands of Iraq civilians have been killed, maimed, orphaned and widowed. You, my friend, should know better. When you have one of these vultures, these bloodsuckers who profit from war and pretend to be concerned, on your show you have to verbally wring their necks. You must hold them accountable.

At some point these administration criminals will be called to account for their deceit and their ignorance, and history will look back to see who stood up to them when a difference could be made. Where were you, Mr. Matthews? Sipping champagne and sampling tea biscuits with “Jimmy”? Shameful.

You are not a journalist, you are a sell-out and an embarassment.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Copyright Infringement Review

Google is buying You Tube, so in the interest of joining the video revolution, the Post will support the American way and pilfer some intellectual property. The top five videos on You Tube (with one from Photobucket):

#5 Republicans lose their minds over Foley scandal. This video is worth it for no other reason than Hannity's bold-faced lie about Monica Lewinsky's age (she was born in 1973):

#4 Keith Olbermann reviews the intelligence and news reports leading up to 9-11. I know it's old stuff and rather long at over 9 minutes, but it sure beats reading the entire Chapter 8 of the 9-11 report:

#3 What is the difference between the Iraq war and the Viet Nam war? Bush knew how to get out of the Viet Nam war. Watch how Rumsfeld lies better than Robert McNamara ever could. And Lara Logan in a red dress is must-see TV:

#2 A future president of the USA has one minute to give the real priority as shown to us by all the terrorist and war events of the past six years. Listen to what he says:

#1 The number one video is a cable TV classic. If you've seen it already, it never gets old. The Black Bush:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

They Knew (exhibit #237)

My guess is that every American will one day realize that something big was happening during the summer of 2001 and that a multitude of evidentiary exhibits show that the attacks on the World Trade Center could have been foiled.

For me, the "Aha" moment occurred the first time I read the 9/11 Commission Report and saw the veiled admissions that warnings were ignored in chapter 8, entitled "The System Is Blinking Red", and for others it may be the recent review of the July 2001 news story as unearthed by Blue Meme at dailykos.

Bob Woodward in his latest book State of Denial, relates the timeline that Condescenda Rice was told on July 10, 2001 that the FBI and CIA had increased the threat assessment for a terrorist attack on US assets. She asked that Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same presentation, which he was then given on July 17 according to official logs.

Blue Meme points out this news story from CBS from July 26, 2001 that Ashcroft had abruptly stoppped flying commercial airlines and instead chartered private jets, at a cost of $1600 per hour to taxpayers, immediately after that presentation:
In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.
Why? We were never told.

Bush's cabinet members were changing their normal travel behaviors in apparent direct response to the same information outlined only now in Woodward's book. Instead of warning the public and casting a wide net, Bush was preoccupied with pilfering the US Treasury of tax cuts for the upper class and spendng a full month clearing brush from his Texas faux ranch.


Brother, can you spare a dime...?

The last three months of the calendar year tend to give stock traders the yips. Perennially, money flows disfavor stock investment for a number of reasons and downard pressure on stock prices often ensues during this quarter. While my better judgement dictates that I refrain from comment on the stock market or money management, the recent hoopla over the Dow Jones Indusrial Average hitting a new high gives me pause. A few stats from Barry Ritholtz, market maven and famous contrarian:

All time high Date of high Recent high % off all time high
Dow 11,750.28 (1/31/00) 11647.69 0.25%
Tran 5,013.67 (5/31/06) 4433.34 11.57%
SPX 1,552.87 (3/31/00) 1333.7 14.11%
Nasdaq 5,132.52 (3/31/00) 2258.3 56.00%
NDX 100 4,816.35 (3/31/00) 1656.07 65.62%
Russell 784.62 5/31/2006 729.94 6.97%

The Dow has only 10 stocks above their January 2000 highs, and of those 10, four are responsible for dragging the index higher – Boeing, United Technology, Altria and Caterpillar...

• Cash has outperformed the Dow since January 2000; Even considering reinvested dividends; cash STILL out performs the Dow.

• The Dow's Real (inflation adjusted) performance, even with dividends reinvested, is significantly below breakeven.

• Lastly, see this for Why the 1994 Goldilocks scenario is so unlikely.

Aside from a handful of stocks, most major indices have not fared so well since the market highs of six years ago. Large cap tech is still off over 65% from that high. International indices, junk bond funds and plain old cash have outperformed the US market indices since 2000.

I'll leave the interpretation to each individual, but the possibility exists that the economy may not be as strong as some would have us believe. Pressures on the market, such as decreasing home equity values and continued underemployment can have significant effects on the economy. Soft landings in such scenarios are rare.

If you trade, remember to keep disciplined stop-losses. If you are a long term investor, prepare for some short term volatility. And remember, holding cash isn't always a bad thing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chris Wallace: Owned

Both sides will claim victory: Clinton bitch- slapped Chris Wallace versus Fox News made Clinton lose his cool. If you haven't seen the unedited video, it's worth a peek. If you've seen clips, there's value in seeing the entire segment in order to appreciate the wind up and the pitch by the interviewer. Also, to truly appreciate Clinton's answer, listen to what he says rather than merely focusing on his demeanor or his socks.

Wallace begins his “question”, which is really just a smirky gotcha, with a laundry list of every bomb that has gone off since 1993, including WTC attacks, Somalia Blackhawk Down episode, US embassy attacks in Africa, OBL's war declaration and finally the USS Cole, before asking if Clinton did enough to catch Osama bin Laden. Wallace prefaced the question with the canard that “viewers want to know” and referenced the latest book The Looming Tower.

Clinton showed justified indignation when responding:

  1. The WTC attacks in 1993 and the US embassy bombings were done before OBL and al Qaeda were on the radar of our clandestine services.

  2. Somalia ws not recognized as having anything to do with Osama bin Laden, but rather Muhammad Aidid.

  3. The CIA and FBI did not recognize al Qaeda as the responsible party in the African bombings until much later.

  4. USS Cole was attacked in October 2000 and the investigation wasn't completed until early 2001 when inspectors determined that al Qaeda, and not Hamas, was responsible.

So, the long preface to Wallace's question was 95% bullshit that had nothing to do with the resolve of the previous administration to get bin Laden. Fox news is so used to interviewees dreamily going along with the canard that they are surprised when somebody is intellectually honest enough to dissect the issues and put them into temporal context.

The USS Cole is the seminal issue. The official report came out in early 2001 that Osama bin Laden was responsible and reports littered the intelligence estimates that OBL was “determined to attack within the US” during the summer of 2001. Richard Clarke, in his book Against All Enemies, is the only high ranking official to come clean on the handling of this information and gives a first-hand account of why and when action could have been taken. The facts can only be fleshed out by people who were actually there. Clarke maintains that the Bush administration disbanded the OBL unit and began to pull back the human intelligence and signal intelligence resources dedicated to al Qaeda surveillance.

The myth that Clarke is a partisan Bush-basher was also addressed by Clinton, who pointed out that Clarke served Reagan, George H.W. Bush and then Clinton before being demoted by George W. Bush when the anti-terror priorities changed in early 2001. Clarke is a dedicated government bureaucrat who has served the US in various capacities under several administrations. Why read books by journalists when there's one out there written by the former head of the OBL unit of the National Security Administration?

Was Clarke just covering his ass by coming out early with his account after the tragedy of 9/11? That would hold water if the 9/11 Commission hadn't corroborated many of the facts asserted by Clarke. If the 9/11 Commission Report can't be read in its entirety, then at least read Chapter 8, entitled “The System was Blinking Red”, which is a must read for any responsible citizen. Anyone who can read that chapter and not flesh out that Bush, with his 4 week vacation in August and his priority of getting big tax cuts for the wealthy, dropped the ball on OBL, needs to re-evaluate their reading comprehension skills.

I think Clinton's surmise of Chris Wallace was perfect and I was heartened that someone finally called out Fox News for their partisan bias. Clinton asked why nobody from the Bush administration was ever asked about the USS Cole, and Wallace tried to hedge that “a lot of questions were asked”, but Clinton rightfully pressed him: “but not that one.” Indeed, so why was it asked of Clinton, because of Wallace's intellectual curiosity? The investigation, completed in 2001, clearly has been ignored by our government and media.

Wallace is trying to frame the coming election with "Clinton missed bin Laden, so Democrats cannot be trusted in the War on Terrah (TM)", and Clinton nipped that crap in the bud. I saw it as a controlled, calculated response that Clinton the politician planned long ago. And, as the kids say, Wallace got owned. I realize that Bush and Fox apologists won't see it that way, but who cares? Anybody so deficient to have voted for Bush is probably also too cataleptic to squeeze the remote hard enough to change the cable station over to Olbermann.

It was refreshing to see someone call out Wallace for his intellectual dishonesty, even if the reality set in afterward that Fox News remains unfazed when their website published this picture:

...and Fox has higher ratings than any other cable news outlet. Is that a respectful “fair and balanced” way to portray a former President by a responsible news outlet?

I've said this before: history will be extremely harsh to George W. Bush, and by proxy his personal media outlet, Fox News. Unnecessary wars which lead to accelerating terror will be the legacy of our current president and the press outlets have enabled such repetitive miscalculation. The next generations will pay for all the boondoggles initiated under the current leadership.

I have compassion for citizens who voted for Bush, especially in the last election when it was clear to every informed citizen that Bush is an idiot who has mismanaged our government. I have compassion for these citizens who feel that the mere act of voting fulfills their responsibility, not giving heed to the consequences of a poorly cast ballot.

Mostly, I have compassion for our nation, which is at the mercy of its collective delusional fears that are skillfully stoked by political operatives, like Wallace, whose cynical misinformation permeates our society. Our higher senses have been dulled by the constant drone of partisan derision, so much so that we fail to recognize the subtleties of targeted questions on pseudo-news shows. We have become a nation of hair-trigger limbic systems reacting only at gut level and mistaking it for responsibly informed citizenship.

Whither Orwell?