Thursday, November 30, 2006

Money for the Blind

The American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department, claiming that the lack of non-visual identifying features on U.S. paper money violates the guarantee of "meaningful access" to all government programs in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998 (29 USC 701), which says, "[D]isability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to ... enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society." A federal judge agreed, and has ordered the U.S. Treasury to develop techniques to permit blind and visually impaired people to determine the value of a bank note without relying on the honesty of a sighted person. The Treasury opposed the lawsuit, claiming that it would be expensive and also that it would undermine anti-counterfeiting efforts.

When 12 countries in Europe introduced the Euro a few years ago, for the first time, advocacy groups for vision-impaired people were actively involved in the initial design phases, ensuring that the Euro bank notes are easily distinguishable by touch alone. The United States has a moral obligation to follow that lead, to make our paper money accessible to the blind, and not to appeal this ruling.

Lastly, one random bit of money trivia for you: only one U.S. coin has ever been minted with Braille markings. The Alabama state quarter, issued in 2003, features a portrait of Helen Keller, with her name in Braille just above her name in regular print. The Braille is much too small to read by touch, but it was a nice gesture all the same. I hope that same spirit of outreach will govern the Treasury's future dealings with the vision-impaired community.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Witness Al Jazeera in English

Earlier this month, Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite television news channel, launched an English-language channel, broadcasting news and public affairs programming 24 hours a day from facilities in Doha, Qatar; Washington, D.C.; London, England; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So far, no U.S. cable provider carries the new channel, although it is available in parts of Europe. Viewers around the world can receive the channel if they have satellite dishes, but not the small "pizza-dish" receivers tied to specific U.S. providers. One reason is that many people in the United States consider Al Jazeera to be little more than a propaganda arm of militant Islamist terrorists such as Al Qaeda. ...

I've already written to my cable company, asking them to carry Al Jazeera International, and I encourage readers to do the same. Fortunately, would-be Al Jazeera viewers without television access to the channel can receive it on the Internet. Just go to and click on "Watch Now." You have the option of the low-bandwidth free feed, which requires that you click to renew the connection every 15 minutes, or the high-bandwidth feed for a subsciption fee of USD $5.95/month. Both feeds stream to the free RealPlayer application. It's definitely worth the effort, because Al Jazeera offers a perspective on world events that is difficult to find on American television. Our media is not as blinkered as in much of the world, but it does have a definite bias, particularly on the question of what is "newsworthy." Al Jazeera has its own bias, of course, but far less than Americans believe.

Yesterday, the top headline in the hourly news summary was the statement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel would recognize a Palestinian state if the Palestinians met certain conditions. While Al Jazeera (correctly) noted that the conditions were non-trivial, the overall tone of the reporting portrayed the gesture as an olive branch. If anything, the coverage was sympathetic to Israel. The news coverage also showed Palestinians violating the recent cease-fire by launching rockets into Israeli territory, noting that there were no injuries from those attacks.

In addition to straight newscasts, Al Jazeera has several magazine programs. One is a call-in show hosted in Washington, D.C., with an unfiltered breadth of political viewpoints. Callers can pose questions directly to high-level officials appearing on the program. That show airs live at 18:00 UTC (1:00 P.M. Eastern, 10:00 A.M. Pacific). Another show focuses on women's issues, from a perspective that is unabashedly contrary to the misogyny of many radical fundamentalist Muslims. On Monday, the program Witness profiled a team of Israeli doctors who offer free heart surgery to children from poor areas around the world; about 1/3 of their patients are from the Palestinian Territories. This is an Arab-owned channel highlighting Israeli efforts at bridging the animosity between Israel and Palestine — not at all the jihadist propaganda that many U.S. commentators and politicians would lead you to expect.

I spoke of Al Jazeera's bias, which is certainly present, but not in the direction you might think. The bias is primarily in the prioritizing of news stories: the Middle East generally gets top billing, followed by "the South" — the world below the Tropic of Cancer. There is certainly coverage of significant events in Europe and North America, but greater weight is given to places like Africa and South America. In the actual reporting, I have not yet seen any evidence of bias against the United States and its allies, even in coverage of Iraq and Iran. You should check out Al Jazeera in English; I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. It reminds me of the early days of CNN, or more recently CNN International. It is certainly not a chest-thumping mirror-image of Fox News.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Snake-oil Infomercial on PBS

My local PBS affiliate is running a pledge drive, running rather different programming from its usual fare. Right now, they're running what amounts to an infomercial for snake oil, in the person of Dr. Mark Hyman and his "Ultra-Metabolism" plan for "automatic weight loss." He makes a number of valid points: skipping breakfast will make you gain weight, Americans don't eat enough fiber, we should eat leaner protein, there are good fats and bad fats, and we should exercise more. However, mixed in with those bits of truth are some half-truths, misdirections, and outright falsehoods that set off my bullshit detector repeatedly. Most especially, he talks about the "new science of nutrigenomics" that will "reprogram your genes" to help you lose weight. I'll puncture some of his marketing hype, and also tell you the true secret to healthy and sustainable weight loss.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Mark Hyman, and I'm here to tell you how to use revolutionary new science, the science of nutrigenomics, to reprogram your genes to automatically lose weight and regain your health. ... You literally can reprogram your genes by changing the way you eat ... During this program, I'm going to teach you about the myths that make you gain weight ... 'Now, what is he talking about?,' you might be saying. 'I thought genes were something you got from your parents. ...' But no, genes are every moment, every second, interacting with your body, interacting with your environment, with the food you eat, with the stress you're under, with the thoughts you have. Everything is turning messages on or off in your DNA that literally controls your metabolism." Well, first of all, it's not a "myth": your genes are something you got from your parents. Saying that your genes are "interacting" with your environment, however, is a myth. "Interacting" means that your genes act upon the environment, and the environment acts upon your genes, but neither of those is actually happening. Indeed, you absolutely and categorically cannot "reprogram" your genes by eating differently. The genes you were born with are the genes you will die with, except for any that might get garbled by mutation or viruses or cancer. What Dr. Hyman actually means is that you can affect the genetically programmed responses of your body by changing your circumstances and your environment. If you are hot, your genes have programmed your body to perspire, but moving from the arctic to the tropics is not "reprogramming" those genes. It is simply giving different input to your body, which has genetically determined responses.

"If we understand this new concept, that we can use food, that we can change our environment, that we can change the way we live in our lifestyles, to literally communicate messages to our DNA, to turn on health and weight loss, then we have the problem of obesity solved." Well, no, actually you can't "literally communicate messages to your DNA." It's a nonsensical assertion. To be specific, your DNA has no receptors with which to receive "messages" from your food or your body or your environment.

I promised you the true secrets of weight loss, though, so here they are:
  • Eat when you're hungry, but don't eat when you're not hungry.
  • Stop eating when you're satisfied, not when you're absolutely stuffed.
  • Eat healthy, nutritious food, in reasonable portions, with modest amounts of "treats" like candy and desserts.
  • addendum: Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. If you rush through eating a meal, your stomach doesn't have time to send a signal to your brain that it's full, making it easy to eat too much before you realize it. Eating slowly also gives you the opportunity to savor your food — your taste buds get the same joy with less food. Finally, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly improves your digestion.
  • Exercise regularly.
All of the above is just common sense, not some magic bullet or secret elixir of health. Some of Dr. Hyman's specific advice is right on the mark: eat more fiber, less processed food (especially processed sugar and the dreaded duo of transfat and high-fructose corn syrup), more fresh vegetables, and sensible, regular meals. Skipping breakfast is very bad, and for exactly the reason Dr. Hyman gives: your body's natural reaction to food deprivation is a starvation response — lower metabolism and the impulse to binge at the next opportunity. Filling up on candy, freedom fries, soft drinks, Twinkies, and all the other forms of junk food obviously leads to weight gain, but if you deny yourself all junk food, you're unlikely to stick with the plan. When you feel the desire for a treat, make it a small one, and make some of your treats non-junk food. A piece of fruit is sweet and juicy and flavorful, but much better for you than a Ding-Dong. You can still have the occasional outright indulgence, but not with every single meal. Make your treats, especially the less nutritious ones, less frequent so that they are more special.

The secret is that it's all vastly "easier said than done." You won't have sustainable weight loss by going on a crash diet. You have to make real and lasting changes in your eating and exercise habits, and there is no way around that reality.

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Friday, November 24, 2006


"We can't win, but we can't leave." Isn't that exactly what we mean when we say that Iraq is a quagmire?

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

General Batiste on the Iraq War

MSNBC: Gen. John Batiste on Hardball
On MSNBC Hardball, host Chris Matthews just conducted a live interview with retired Major General John Batiste about the Iraq War, but the lines of communication seemed to have some static on them, particularly regarding the nature of the adversary. General Batiste commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004. He repeatedly called for Secretary Rumsfeld to go, and he will be speaking to the Democratic Congressional delegation in December. General Batiste views the entire Iraq War as a conflict between the West and the jihadists, but, despite Chris Matthews' bulldog determination, Batiste never explained how the Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is somehow a part of the jihad against the West. ...

You can view the video clip on the MSNBC Hardball web site, or go to the Hardball main page and select "Video: What's next for Iraq?" Here's the full text of the interview, which will undoubtedly be up on MSNBC's web site by next Monday.
Chris Matthews, MSNBC: Where do you think the Democrats are on the issue of Iraq? Have you been able to "read" their leadership yet?

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, U.S. Army (retired): No. I mean, they're all over the map right now, and it would be nice if they would coalesce into a single position.

Matthews: This proposal for beginning a withdrawal within 4 to 6 months, what would that be in terms of policy? Would that make any difference to anything or is that just a political move?

Batiste: I think it's a political move. Chris, I think we're fighting a protracted war against the jihadists, and these people mean business. They have as a stated objective the destruction of our way of life. We got off to a terrible start in Iraq, a strategy that was fundamentally flawed, that opened up Pandora's box, that unleashed hell, and now we've got to get this thing under control quickly.

Matthews: Are we fighting jihadists in Iraq?

Batiste: Exactly.

Matthews: Are we?

Batiste: This is important, Chris. This group, this movement is after us, big time. (Who?) We need to stop this.

Matthews: We have the Shia militia, we have the Sunni insurgents, and we have al Qaeda terrorists in that country. Which group is associated, or is part of this jihad?

Batiste: Clearly the al Qaeda, that foreign influence in Iraq, that has as their stated objective the destruction of our way of life, and my point is, we need to take this very, very seriously. To simply leave Iraq, to set timelines without conditions, set us up to fail big time in the future.

Matthews: The troops we have over there, 140,000 of them, what percent of our troops, what chunk of them are fighting jihadists, and what percent are fighting militias on the side of the government we're putting in there, and what percent are fighting Sunnis who are upset because they're losing out on the loss of power since Saddam fell?

Batiste:To the troops on the ground, it really doesn't matter; they're all the same. Whether you're talking al Qaeda or a Shia militia group or a criminal gang, it's all the same, they look alike, they carry the same weapons.

Matthews: I'm confused here. Are we fighting a jihad, or are we fighting an Iraqi civil war right now?

Batiste: I'll tell you what: what's going on in Iraq is the first phase of a long-term struggle that this nation needs to come to grips with pretty quickly.

Matthews: Well, help us. What should we do in Iraq? Who should we be shooting at and fighting at, and who should we be defending? What side should we be on in Iraq? Tell us what's going on over there. What should we be doing?

Batiste: Chris, the first thing we have to do, like I said, is recognize that we're fighting a long-term struggle. Iraq is but phase one in this whole effort. This could go on for decades. We need to mobilize this country, in multiple areas. We've been fighting this war on the cheap and we've inconvenienced the American people as little as possible, and that's not how we're going to eventually win this struggle. We need to properly resource the Army and the Marine Corps. These great organizations, we've never fielded better armed forces in our history, are too small for our national strategy. We need to get serious about funding this war. We need to think about some kind of a war tax so we're not funding this war at the expense of our domestic budget. It goes on and on.

Matthews: I think you'd be more successful with that argument, General, if you would tell me who we're fighting in Iraq right now, and why should we be fighting them, and who should we be fighting for in Iraq?

Batiste: Chris, here's the end-state we're after in Iraq, I think: we're looking for the rule of law to take root in Iraq, enforced by a competent Iraqi security force — army, police, border patrol — in support of an Iraqi government, probably not democratic, but representative, taking into account the tribal, ethnic, and religious complexity of that country. The problem is, we're fighting an insurgency that has many faces: al Qaeda, Shia militia, other militia, criminal elements, gangs, thugs. It doesn't matter what it is, the fact is, we've got to get it under control.

And here's what I suggest. One is we've got to get the Iraqi security forces stood up, fighting the enemy on an even playing field. This needs to be America's main effort very quickly. It has not been, for the last three years. General Marty Dempsey is the best we've got — if anybody can figure it out, he can, but he needs the resources. We need our very best officers and non-commissioned officers embedded into the Iraqi battallions, embedded into the Iraqi police departments, with all the resources that they need, which, oh, by the way, may require mobilizing a piece of our economy to support that.

The next thing is, we've got to stop the flow of the insurgency from Iran and Syria. Those borders are porous now, they were porous when I was there, we need to bring to a full stop the flow of that insurgency, and that may involve involving countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, with large numbers of troops, to get control of this. It's in their interests to do so. We count on our government to build coalitions of the willing for something this important.

We need to stop the militias. That includes Sadr and his militia, that is probably tied to the government in Iraq, but these militias need to be incentivized to stop being part of the problem and rather being part of the solution, and if they can't be incentivized, we need to crush 'em; it's that simple. Until the Iraqi security forces can do it by themselves, to establish and enforce the rule of law, it's my belief that we need to reinforce the coalition with more troops. That's not necessarily American troops, but it's allies and friends that need to take this thing very seriously.

I go back to my first statement: we're fighting a war against the jihadists. This effort in Iraq is but the first step in a very long, protracted struggle. But until the Iraqi security forces can stand up and do it for themselves, they need help to secure that country. It may be tens of thousands more required; I don't know, but I do know that we can't just leave Iraq. It's got to be conditions-based. To leave Iraq, I believe, will send that region into unbelievable turmoil, pitting Sunni on Shia, nation on nation, Kurds, ultimately, on any numbers of nations in the region. At the end of the day, our country is affected enormously. We'll be back there later if we don't get it right now, and the cost in blood and dollars will eclipse what we need to spend now to fix what we broke.

Matthews: Well, General, that's not what I'm hearing from other people over there, including other generals. We'll be back, and I'm going to cut through and ask some tough questions about what you just said. We're fighting jihadists, are we, or are we fighting in the midst of a civil war where the Shia want complete power? — they want to erase the power of the Sunni and the Sunni want to fight them for whatever power they can hold onto.

[commercial break]

Matthews: General, the problem from my perspective, watching this, and you're the expert, the military man, we're reporting on numbers every day, coming out of Iraq, something like 3,700 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis, the Shia militia going after Sunni, the Sunni insurgents going after Shia — they're killing each other. If that's the case, that Muslim is killing Muslim, how can you describe it as some jihad against the West?

Batiste: That's exactly what it is. Chris, inside Iraq, we're fighting a multi-faceted enemy, but make no mistake about it: we're fighting the jihadists. What do you think the attack on 9/11 was?

Matthews: Wait a minute, let's talk about Iraq. The Iraqis are killing each other, General, every day, over 120 a day on average this month, 3,700 Iraqis being killed each month, by Iraqis; how can you define that as an anti-Western war?

Batiste: It's all part of it, and it's exactly why we need —

Matthews: How so? Just explain how an Iraqi killing another Iraqi is an attack on the West.

Batiste: It's a mix of multi-faceted enemies that are coming at us, and part of it is a civil war — no question about it — but it's why we need a new, dramatic strategy on the ground in Iraq now, to solve this problem.

Matthews: Who are we going to be shooting? Who do we shoot?

Batiste: It's why we need leadership that can explain all this to the American people. We need to stand up —

Matthews: Stand up against whom?

Batiste: It doesn't matter. That's why the intelligence is so important, that's why we're fighting at the same time al Qaeda, Shia militia (other forms of militia, by the way), criminal gangs, and thugs. It's all about the rule of law in Iraq, that we need to regain quickly or this thing is going to go further south. We need leaders to stand up and explain the what, the why, the how long, and what the risks are for failure. We have two generations of Americans who have never served, and I think that's a very unhealthy position to be in, when you consider that we're in a long, protracted war for our very existence.

Matthews: Well, I guess I still have a hard time figuring it out, General, because when I read the papers every day and read all the reports, I see Iraqis killing each other by the hundreds, by the thousands each month, I see us getting in the way, I see us trying to bring order, as you put it, to a society that doesn't really want to get along with each other, and you're saying they're all shooting at us when they're clearly shooting at each other and blowing each other up. How do you draft an American soldier to go fight — to what? play referee in the Iraqi civil war? What kind of a call to duty is that?

Batiste: Let me give you this thought, Chris: we do need to increase the number of troops in Iraq by some number quickly, and that involves Americans, it involves allies, combination of both. What I'm trying to focus on is, down range further in this protracted struggle against the jihadists. Our military right now is too small for the strategy for the future. It's too small to continue to fight this war. We've been incredibly unfair to our great military and their supportive families. We need to get off the ball and start taking a long-term view of this thing.

Matthews: Do you believe former Secretary of Defense — the man who you wanted removed and now is removed — Rumsfeld said we didn't have a way of measuring this, but do you believe there are more jihadists now than there were before we went to Iraq, and do you believe Iraq has encouraged the jihadist movement?

Batiste: I believe that's the case, yes.

Matthews: Well then, why do we want to put more troops into Iraq and encourage more hatred, more killing of Arabs, more revenge on the part of their people back against us?

Batiste: Because if we lose Iraq, and if we lose Afghanistan, we're on the slippery road to a further clash with the jihadists on some other ground, some other time, that'll be far more expensive to the United States in blood and dollars.

Matthews: How will holding Iraq — holding American military control of Iraq, and of Afghanistan, stop us from being hit by a bunch of Islamists in Germany, in Hamburg where they came from last time, or from living in New York City, blowing us up from Newark? How does it stop it? I've never gotten the connection between us fighting in Arab lands and trying to take over Arab lands and hold them, and the fact that we might get hit at home by ex-pats, Islamists living all around the world. I don't get the connection.

Batiste: It's all tied to stability in the Middle East, and that is important to us; it's in our national interest. We've got to fix it, we've got to fix it in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I agree with you: we need to be taking a longer-term view of where these jihadists can impact the American way of life and our allies. Our military is too small, period, to deal with this.

Matthews: The crowd running this country of ours right now has put 10,000 troops — they were left in there, going all the way back to the first Bush Administration — 10,000 American soldiers sitting in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. We've never really tried, under this administration, to bring peace to the Middle East. We've never pushed hard for peace on that front. All the things you say about a jihadist movement have come about as a result of those two facts: we've embarrassed the Saudis and the jihadists, because they all came out of Saudi Arabia, by humiliating their religion. We've refused to take sides and try to bring peace in the Middle East because it's not smart politics. And all these things have happened because of that — not because we don't have enough troops in Iraq. I just disagree with you.

I think we've got to go at this politically around the world, change our politics, perhaps, but most importantly, understand a mentality that says it's better to die if you can kill a couple hundred Americans, and also understanding that within the forces of Islam, there's a hell of a lot of division, to the point where the Sunni and the Shia are killing themselves at almost 4,000 people a month in Iraq. I think it's more complicated than "us against them," but thank you, General Batiste.
General Batiste makes a number of important points, but he undermines his own credibility by steadfastly refusing to answer straightforward questions. If anything, General Batiste shows great promise as a future politician, and I don't mean that as a compliment. He tried to throw 9/11 into a discussion of the Iraq War, which should set off loud alarm bells in anyone's head.

Batiste insists that we are fighting the jihadists in Iraq, which is a misdirection at best. There are a small number of jihadists in Iraq, fighting alongside the insurgency. Batiste speaks of the need to "stop the flow of the insurgency from Iran and Syria," but the insurgency is — by the very definition of the word — a domestic phenomenon. There is a flow of weapons from Iran and Syria to the insurgency in Iraq, but the insurgency is the Iraqis fighting against the Iraqi government. More to the point, though, lumping all of the violent anti-U.S. factions under the umbrella of "jihadists" obstructs an understanding of the actual nature of the enemy, as well as blinding us to the fact that the insurgency is breeding new jihadists — Iraqis who were not particularly interested in killing Americans until we invaded their country and touched off a civil war. The insurgency will not follow American troops out of Iraq, but the jihadists will; if that's not enough difference to matter to General Batiste, then he needs to re-evaluate his priorities. We also need to be very careful about phrases like "slippery road" that sound disturbingly like "domino theory."

General Batiste said a couple of times, "To the troops on the ground, it really doesn't matter; they're all the same." There is a basic truth there, but also again an element of misdirection. The troops on the ground are most concerned with their immediate surroundings and very specific objectives: take out this enemy target, hold this position, guard this location. It may not really matter to the troops on the ground whether they're up against jihadists or insurgents or criminals and thugs, but it does — it must — matter to the people in charge of the overall strategy, because the strategy needs to be adapted to the characteristics of the adversary. The hawks dismiss talk of "understanding" the enemy as some form of coddling, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. By understanding what makes your enemy tick (or tick-tick-tick), you learn his strengths and weaknesses. If you do not understand the enemy, you may lose the battle, or you may win but at a much higher cost than was necessary.

General Batiste hit the nail on the head, though, when he said that we need to take a longer-term view of the struggle. That longer-term view needs to encompass putting far more resources into training the Iraqis so that they can "stand up" and we can "stand down." It also needs to encompass far more work on understanding the elements that combine to create fertile ground for recruiting jihadists. We need to replace World War II's "Rosie the Riveter" with a 21st-century "Terry the Translator." We need to talk to Iran, Syria, Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds, and everyone else with a stake in Iraq. We need to talk to Muqtada al-Sadr, because it's worth trying a little bargaining so we maybe do a bit less shooting and bombing.

We also desperately need, as General Batiste put it, "leadership that can explain all this to the American people." Unfortunately, Batiste did a poor job on that front in this interview, but we need to have a serious non-soundbite-driven discussion about what our real goals are in Iraq and how we intend to achieve them. Right now, we talk about the Iraqis "standing up," but we grotesquely underfund the effort to train them, and then we put experienced Iraqi military officers under the tutelage of greenhorn Americans who've never seen combat. We talk about stopping the flow of weapons and foreign jihadists from neighboring states, but what are we actually doing about it? Should we perhaps seal Iraq into its own Tupperware® bowl — seal the borders airtight — and let them sort out their blood feud themselves? I doubt we'd like how that plan would pan out, but we need some honest talk about how we're going to extricate ourselves from Iraq with whatever success we can salvage.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

McCaffrey on Iraq and Iran

Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, now an analyst for MSNBC, talked today to Chris Matthews on Hardball about the situation in Iraq and the possibility of a military strike against Iran. General McCaffrey pointed to similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, including popular opposition to the wars and incompetence in their prosecution, but also differences, chiefly in the stakes for the American people: Vietnam didn't have oil. He expressed adamant opposition to sending more troops to Iraq, and called an attack on Iran "preposterous."

Here is my rush transcript of the segment, with only a few bits of well, you know, um, verbal polishing:

Chris Matthews: Is Iraq looking more like Vietnam, and did the Bush administration ignore the lessons of Vietnam? Retired General Barry McCaffrey is an MSNBC military analyst. General, I am struck by watching that report [David Shuster on the comparisons between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War] to recall that we didn't lose the war in [Vietnam]: American soldiers never really lost the big battles, they held their ground, we left under a timetable that our government had established. It was later that the ARVN forces fell due to a lack of support from us, but we didn't actually lose. Is Iraq similar in that regard, meaning we're unlikely to get blown out of any position, we're probably going to hold, but in the end it will be a war of attrition and we'll have to come home without meeting our objectives?

General Barry McCaffrey: Well, of course, the final statement you made is the hypothesis: how will this turn out? We don't know yet — it depends on what we do, what our allies do, what the Iraqis are capable of doing. The comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq are eerie in terms of domestic opposition, of some governmental incompetence (Rumsfeld versus McNamara). You can certainly argue, Chris — I sure do — that Iraq is much more important than Vietnam. We have an immediate important economic and political stake in the outcome of this struggle. Certainly the execution of it has been incredibly flawed. We are in trouble, and seeing our way clear now and generating the biparisan support to make it happen is going to be a very tricky situation.

Matthews: Explain that, because back in the Sixties, we were afraid that we looked at the world as a kind of a game board, if you will, a tragic game board, where the Soviets and the Chinese, the Communist powers, were gradually extending their red coloration, or pink coloration in some cases, around the globe, through Africa, through Latin America. We saw Vietnam as part of that growing control of the world, and that was the argument for the war. This time, how is it more tragic and more frightening than that?

McCaffrey: There's oil. There's something worth fighting over. There's access — you look at Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Persian Gulf states, Iran, Iraq: much of the world's known energy supplies are there. So, our allies, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, are at risk. A failed state in Iraq may bring in the six surrounding neighbors [Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey]. The outcome, if it's a disaster, I would argue, will do more damage to the American people than the endgame in Vietnam.

Matthews: You know, if you had said that, General, as we were going into war, that this war was largely over oil, you would have been ridiculed by the Administration for reducing their moral advantage here. They would have said it's not about Israel, it's not about oil, it's about democratizing in that region and protecting us against a mushroom cloud. Do you understand — what you're saying is probably common sense, but it has been denied that this was about oil. In the last Persian Gulf war, Jim Baker admitted it was about jobs, jobs, jobs. This time, for whatever reason, they wanted to sterilize the war and make it look like it was about some higher mission.

McCaffrey: I think a lot of the democracy argument has crept in once the WMD argument evaporated with the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines entering Baghdad, so I think we've actually had replacement arguments for why we're in Iraq. I don't mean to be critical of them in that sense, but we went in there because of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, a threat to their neighbors: that's why we went in, and now the argument has morphed into different rationales.

Matthews: Let's get to the particulars of the options apparently being discussed at the Colonel level at the Pentagon: more troops (maybe 20,000 to 30,000 now for the short term) for training in the long term, no real option there of an immediate pullout, and no dramatic doubling of forces or anything like that. What do you think of this proposal that we bring in another 20,000 to 30,000 troops for the short term to begin a long training period.

McCaffrey: First of all, I am adamantly opposed to reinforcing the current troop strength in Iraq. I think it's a big mistake. If you put an inconsequential increase — 20,000 to 30,000 troops; three, four, five brigades — it won't make any major change in the tactical situation. Then you'll be asking commanders six months from now, with the situation very likely to be worse, not better, to agree that it's a great idea to send them home. By the way, we're going to have to take this tiny Army and Marine Corps, tell them to extend their tours, accelerate the deployment, call up the National Guard for involuntary second deployments of the brigade — this is a bad idea. By the way, Chris, neither the Baker Commission nor the leaks out of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] make one comment on the disastrous shortfall in resources: $61 billion to the Army, our National Guard has a third of their equipment (generators, trucks, helicopters). We'd better fix the Army and the Marine Corps before we start talking about options to fix Iraq.

Matthews: So John McCain's proposal for a substantial increase in forces over there is just not credible?

McCaffrey: No. Look, if the North Koreans invade South Korea, we could surge a quarter of a million troops in 90 days. We'd call up the entire National Guard, the Army Reserves, the Marine Reserves; we could do that, but not steady-state for a war that the American people have walked away from. One way or another, it's $7 billion a month. That money is coming out of Air Force and Navy modernization. We've got sailors and airmen filling ground combat roles all over Afghanistan and Iraq. The Congress — Article I of the Constitution — has to fix the resource shortfall before they willy-nilly talk about extending the tours of the combat forces now in country.

[commercial break]

Matthews: I have to ask you, General, about the story we talked about a moment ago with Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker. Without getting into all the details, do you think it's feasible for the United States to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, such as they are?

McCaffrey: No, I think our rhetoric has been ill-advised. The notion that we can use conventional air power to go after Iranian nuclear facilities is preposterous. We probably know where 3/4 of them are. With a six-month air campaign, we could probably degrade or knock out half of them. We'd set the entire world against us. And, oh, by the way, they'd close off the Persian Gulf and try and close our lines of communication from Kuwait up to 150,000 troops stuck in the middle of Iraq. It is absolutely a senseless idea; we're not going to do it.

Matthews: If we did so — maybe this is more of a technological question than a military one — what would stop the Iranians, with the wealth they have, from rebuilding everything we destroy, only this time with the entire world viewing them as victim?

McCaffrey: I don't think it would go that far. If we took two carrier battle groups and ran a bunch of good, vigorous strikes against Iranian nuke facilities at Bushire (بوشهر) and places like that, we'd have an immediate reaction: they would close the Persian Gulf. The Navy would have to withdraw out to sea. They'd go out 200, 300 miles. You'd see a huge insurgent effort against our 400 km [250 mi] supply lines. We'd be in a crisis mode within a week of the first air strikes.

Matthews: So they have retaliatory ability against us. It wouldn't just be a clean strike and walk away.

McCaffrey: Sure. My first platoon sergeant said, "Don't ever threaten people in public, and by the way, when you do it, make sure you can carry out your threat." We're threatening people in public and we can't carry out the threat.
General McCaffrey served in the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, where he was praised for his speed and boldness and criticized over allegations that he ordered the ruthless killing of thousands of retreating Iraqis after a cease-fire had taken effect. In the current Iraq War, General McCaffrey has soured dramatically from his early optimistic appraisals to more recent phrases like "abject misery," "real nightmare," and, on the positive end of the spectrum, "perilous, uncertain, and extreme — but far from hopeless." He also said, "This is the most competent and brilliantly led military in a tactical and operational sense that we have ever fielded," which seems to stand in contrast to his criticism of Rumsfeld's incompetence. It was particularly refreshing to hear such a clear-headed assessment of the perils of attacking Iran, absent the fuzzy-headed neocon chest-thumping.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Earmark reform

Congress has the authority to "earmark" (designate) funds in a spending bill for a specific project. A common and widely abused practice is to approach the chairman of a committee after the committee has approved a bill, asking that the committee report earmark some of that appropriation for a specific project. The process is in need of a serious overhaul, and on this issue I am old-school conservative.

Click below for more... I propose the following rules for earmarks, to make the process transparent and accountable to the people:

  • No appropriation or earmark shall be reported out of committee that has not been voted on by the full committee at least 24 hours after its publication in the Congressional Record; however, the committee may report appropriations and earmarks placed on the consent calendar without objection, provided that the 24-hour notice requirement has been met.

  • No appropriation or earmark may be added by amendment on the floor of the House or Senate except by roll-call vote.

  • Without exception, no appropriation or earmark may be added to the conference committee report that was not contained within either the House or the Senate version of the bill.
It is still possible to have earmarks, but you have to put them in the plain light of day. If you want $230 million for a bridge to serve 50 people, it will have to pass the committee first.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

The Lesson of Vietnam

President Bush is in Vietnam for an economic summit. A reporter asked him if Vietnam has any lessons for the war in Iraq.

I think one thi — uh, one lesson is that we tend to, uh, want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while. ... It's just gonna take a long period of time to — for the ideology that is hopeful, and that is an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate. ... We'll succeed unless we quit. — President Bush, Hanoi, 2006-11-17
No, Mr. Bush, the lesson of Vietnam can be summed up in one simple, succinct sentence:

If you pick the wrong fight, you will lose.

Read more... President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration engineered the dramatic expansion of U.S. involvement in what amounted to a Vietnamese civil war. The country had been partitioned, with the north communist and the south nominally democratic and capitalist, but North Vietnam sought to reunify the country. Johnson cooked up a provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin, exaggerating an incident between the North Vietnamese navy and the U.S. ships USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy to give a reason for American attacks against North Vietnam. Over the next decade, the United States sent more than half a million troops to Vietnam, more than 57,000 of whom were killed. The American public saw that the South Vietnamese government lacked the support of its own people, and that victory by the North was inevitable. We saw that our own soldiers were committing atrocities in the name of our nation, and that they were beginning to mutiny. The United States could never outlast the Vietnamese people, because they have an obviously greater vested interest in their own country than we have in a country 6,000 miles [almost 10,000 km] from the nearest U.S. soil. We had reached a point where every day that U.S. soldiers remained in Vietnam diminished America's standing in the world.

However, many among the Bush Administration and its friends (notably former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger) steadfastly believe that the United States' mistake in Vietnam was that we lost our nerve and turned tail and ran. Back in June, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this:
The fact of the matter is, American history shows we cannot be defeated in a fight unless we lose our nerve or we lose our will. We have only lost those conflicts where we have withdrawn from the field of battle before we prevailed. — Michael Chertoff, 2006-06-23, emphasis added
The question then becomes, what would it have taken for the United States to win the Vietnam War? At the beginning of Richard Nixon's term — and of Kissinger's tenure as National Security Advisor — the United States had more than 553,000 troops in Vietnam, and we were unable to achieve victory. We bombed North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and we were unable to achieve victory. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, was more popular in the South than many of the South Vietnamese leaders.

I submit that even if we had sent a million troops to Vietnam, and doubled the peak of bombing raids in the North, it would not have been enough to overcome the resistance of the North Vietnamese people to what they viewed as an occupying power. Therein lies the lesson we should take to Iraq: we will never outlast the insurgents, because they are fighting for their own country. We have picked the wrong fight, and we have already lost, never mind the upbeat assessments from President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld.

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Ya just gotta love it

We get massive volumes of e-mail spam here at The Third Path, but every once in a while you see one that surprises you, if only in the depth of stupidity of the scumbags that are spammers. Spammers send their spew to addresses with names like "spamtrap" and domains like "SueSpammers." Tonight, though, one landed in one of my spam traps that made me chuckle:

From: puey
Subject: sorry about {%rot: last night | last wk | last week | yesterday | earlier | what i did %}
To: spamtrap

Take delivery of a super colossal reduction on your tablets
faithful grades, prime quality.
immeasurable diversity, including challenging to find drugs
No doc ordinance indispensable.
Secret with No waiting space or arrangmenet vital
take in amplitude and Save! admitting another
Wow. First of all, the botched attempt to send a random subject line (sorry about last night, sorry about last wk, etc.) should've shown up in even the most cursory glance at the progress of the spam dump. But more remarkable are the linguistic gyrations in an attempt to evade e-mail filters that catch phrases like "huge savings, cheap pills, all kinds, no prescription needed." ("No doc ordinance indispensable." — I couldn't make this stuff up!) And it doesn't even mention Vivagra or Ciallilis.

By the way, on the subject of bogus e-mails, the rumor is going around yet again that the government is about to order every telemarketer to bombard your cellphone with so many nuisance calls that your voicemail will spontaneously burst into flames. Here's a simple rule of thumb: if you get an e-mail warning that urges you to forward it to everyone you know, it's almost always a bad idea to pass it along, and doubly so if it makes some claim about the mainstream media having ignored this dire warning. No one is going to tax your e-mails, nor will they send you Bill Gates' pocket change. There is no west African banker eager to divide the estate of some hapless tourist who died with no known next-of-kin, and you haven't won a lotto that you not only never entered but have never even heard of before.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Murtha and Carville

I spent almost an hour this afternoon watching the hidden-camera video of Congressman Jack Murtha discussing a shady deal with an undercover FBI agent pretending to represent an Arab businessman who wanted to move to the United States. In the video, Murtha doesn't come off as badly as some others, but he doesn't come out smelling lily fresh, either. Murtha repeatedly says words to the effect of, "Don't give me a bribe, just invest in my district, create jobs in my district — oh, and by the way, invest in some specific banks and companies to help me politically." He also makes a point of saying that, although he is refusing a bribe for now, the situation might change down the road a bit — oh, and by the way, those other two Congressmen who recommended me, they are expecting some cash under the table. The video is from the ABSCAM scandal in 1980, so it's a long time ago, but, notwithstanding his powerful statements on the Iraq war, I'm glad that Murtha lost today's vote for House Majority Leader. The Democrats need to be truly the party of ethics reform, and Jack Murtha can never be the poster boy. In the ABSCAM video, Murtha talks about being careful to protect his future in the Congressional leadership, but he wasn't careful enough.

Then there's James Carville, a long-time Democratic Party strategist, who savagely attacked Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, saying that his leadership was "Rumsfeldian in its competence." Carville claims that the Democrats could have won possibly as many as 15 more seats with better targeting of ad buys in close races. The issue with Carville's statement is its public nature and its timing. Why on earth did James Carville want to rain on the parade as Democrats celebrated taking the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years? It certainly comes off as a "circular firing squad," to use the popular metaphor. In particular, the timing creates the appearance that Carville is placing some other interest above both his party and his country.

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Colbert's Superficial Ingratiation

On Wednesday's Colbert Report, Stephen has a couple of quotes about Rush Limbaugh's admitting that he was "carrying water" for Republicans in whom he did not have faith. The first is from blogger Andrew Sullivan; the second is a quote that may fly by you before it can sink in.

Read more Spoiler Alert! ... The quote is from the case file of Charles Manson in the early 1960's: "He hides his resentment and hostility behind a mask of superficial ingratiation ... even his cries for help represent a desire for attention with only superficial meaning."

I wonder who's craziest: George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, or O. J. Simpson....

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

San Francisco's Rainbow City Hall

I was riding the #47 Muni bus down Van Ness Avenue a couple of hours ago, taking me right past San Francisco City Hall. This afternoon (Tuesday), the City filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court of an appeals court ruling against gay marriage. In commemoration of the event, the dome atop City Hall tonight was lit rather differently. Usually the dome is lit with ordinary white lights, but tonight, the faces of the dome were illuminated in alternating lavender and blue. It was a symbolic gesture, of course, but it was an elegant way of expressing the city's support for equality for all. I'm just sorry I didn't have my camera.

I was talking to Assembly member Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) just this Saturday about the legal status of same-sex unions, and I told him that I personally don't care if it's called "marriage" or something else, so long as a gay relationship has equivalent legal rights. Gay couples that have been together for 30, 40, or even 50 years and more, lack many of the basic rights that heterosexual couples take for granted. It's not about destroying the "traditional" family; it's a simple matter of acknowledging that other types of families exist. It's a matter of allowing each individual to define "family" according to his or her own conscience. It is a matter of nothing more nor less than Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Decision 2044: Lincoln v. Maylyn

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Monday night featured the first debate of the 2044 Presidential race. The election is still 1,982 weeks away, but we got a preview of the early favorites, kindergarteners Lincoln and Maylyn. They got a little help honing their message from Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Although I favor Maylyn's proposal for affordable cootie insurance, I have to go with Lincoln as the sentimental favorite, just on namesake value. Of course, Logan Lerman (Bobby McCallister in Jack & Bobby on the WB in 2004–05) will be running for re-election in 2044, so it might be tough going.

Incidentally, there are four members of the 109th Congress named Lincoln: Senatora Lincoln Chafee (R–RI) and Blanche Lincoln (D–AR), and Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R–FL 21) and Lincoln Davis (D–TN 4). Senator Chafee was defeated for re-election, so there will be only three Lincolns in Congress for the next two years. Still, Lincoln is clearly a good name for American politics, even if Lincoln Diaz-Balart was born in Cuba.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yes on Oversight, No on Impeachment

The Progressive Liberal Anti-War Case Against Impeachment

Even with the statements by presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that the Democratic majority will not pursue impeachment, the issue is still buzzing about the nation. I have very mixed feelings about it myself, but I have come to the conclusion that it would be unwise to go down that road.

Read more... My political awakening was the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1974. I watched a steady parade of witnesses detail the disregard for the rule of law shown by the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Nixon famously said that, because he was President, anything he did was legal. Nixon resigned because it was clear that the House would vote to impeach, and quite likely that the Senate would then vote to remove him from office. His crimes were obstruction of justice, violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, and willfully disobeying Congressional subpoenas.

Bill Clinton, like Andrew Johnson before him, was impeached but not removed from office. (Impeachment is analogous to indictment; removal is the punishment for conviction.) In both of those cases, the charges were motivated far more by political spite than by any actual malfeasance. Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury, both of which are serious crimes, but the Republican Party engineered the circumstances for nakedly partisan purposes. Further, the Republican Supreme Court assisted in engineering the partisan witch-hunt by ruling, incomprehensibly, that allowing the Paula Jones lawsuit to proceed while Clinton was in office would not "place unacceptable burdens on the President that will hamper the performance of his official duties" and that it would not "generate a large volume of politically motivated harassing and frivolous litigation." Even though the ruling was unanimous, it was promptly contradicted by reality on both counts.

Johnson was impeached for trying to force out his Secretary of War without the approval of the Senate, in violation of a new law, passed over Johnson's veto, which required Senate approval to remove anyone who had been confirmed by the Senate. There again, the impeachment was an entirely partisan political machination.

I do believe, quite firmly and earnestly, that President George W. Bush is in fact guilty of far worse crimes than Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton combined. Bush lied to get us into a war of choice which he sold as a war of necessity. He has ignored the Constitution, engaging in illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens without court supervision — one of the very things for which Nixon was about to be impeached — and detaining U.S. citizens in secret without access to courts. He has at the least turned a blind eye (with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge) to treatment of detainees that constitutes torture under established U.S. judicial precedents from World War II. He has committed numerous war crimes. He is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst President ever in the history of the United States, worse than Harding, Hoover, Buchanan and Pierce combined.

However, the question must be what benefit and detriment would the nation get from impeachment. For the remainder of his Presidency, Bush will be limited by the Democrats' control of both houses of Congress. If that impediment proves ineffective at reining in his grotesque arrogations of power, then he should be impeached. However, the impeachment process would likely take at least the better part of a year, and would cast the Democrats in much the same negative light as the Republicans' efforts against Clinton, despite the obvious difference in the legitimacy of the charges. It would cast a terrible pall over the 2008 campaign, and probably throw the White House to the Republicans for at least another 4 years.

In a sense, impeaching Bush now would be analogous to Bush's own decision to topple Saddam Hussein: Saddam was thoroughly contained by various measures including the No-Fly Zones, and removing him by a military invasion has proved to be a disaster, by any measure not worth the cost in lives or dollars; likewise, Bush will be contained by the Congress — at least better contained than he was by the Republican lackeys — and removing him could easily do more harm than good.

Besides that, you would have to impeach both Bush and Cheney, because no one in their right mind wants to see President Dick Cheney, even for five minutes. Unless you phased the impeachments to allow time for an appointed successor, that would leave you with President Nancy Pelosi, and the nation would not stand for that unless the case was so compelling that the people were virtually unanimous in demanding Bush's removal at any cost. I think Pelosi would be a far better President than either Bush or Cheney, but then again, I say the same thing about my friend's cat.

While impeachment and removal would be just and fair to Bush, and while it would be emotionally cathartic for Democrats, the cost to the nation is too high, until and unless Bush makes another decisive blunder.

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Will Pelosi turn into Willie Brown?

Since Nancy Pelosi, the Member of Congress for my very own district, is poised to become the Speaker of the House, I've been reflecting on another San Francisco politician, one who ruled his legislative body with an iron fist for many years. I'm talking about Willie Brown, who was Speaker of the California Assembly for 14 years, and whose autocratic leadership style is widely credited with selling the idea of term limits to Californians. The question at hand is whether Speaker Pelosi will adopt a less obnoxious leadership style.

Read more... Willie Brown is a solid liberal, well to the left of Nancy Pelosi. Indeed, only in San Francisco could he be described as centrist, much less center-right, even if he did vigorously and consistently support the interests of large developers. But it wasn't his liberal credentials that put him on my bad side, it was his leadership style. In Willie Brown's Assembly, no bill moved forward unless he personally wanted it to. The conduits of political power in Sacramento all went through Willie's office. In that respect, Willie Brown was in the mold of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, with their "majority of the majority" rules. Although I think that term limits are a terrible idea, I wasn't sad to see Willie taken out of the equation. In fact, I only just recently threw out my "Anybody but Willie Brown" window sign from his 1999 mayoral re-election campaign — his style at City Hall was just as autocratic and just as obnoxious. A friend of mine said, "Yeah, he's a crook, but he's our crook," meaning that Willie supported issues like LGBT equality; I said, "A crook is still a crook, and I won't vote for a crook." It's something like the logic by which so many Republicans turned out to vote for Democratic Congressional candidates last week.

My hope is that Speaker Pelosi will take something more of "the high road" in her approach to her new job. The "majority of the majority" requirement — no legislation will come to a vote on the House floor unless it is supported by a majority of the members of the majority party — must be scrapped and buried in the ash-heap of history. If a Republican proposal can get enough Democratic support to create a majority of the House, it should be brought to a vote — just as Bill Clinton brought NAFTA through the Democratic-majority Senate over the objections of many Dems. The "majority of the majority" rule is a cornerstone of the elevation of partisan interests over the good of the nation, and America deserves better.

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Remembering Veterans Day

Yesterday was Veterans Day, the 88th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. On Veterans Day, it is appropriate to remember the brave men and women who have fought for our country, and in many cases were wounded or killed in the line of duty. It is also an appropriate moment to look at present-day issues of the use and misuse of military power and of the treatment of our soldiers and veterans.

Read more... The United States today, even apart from the Iraq War supplemental appropriations, spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. I'm not a hard-core pacifist — I do believe that the U.S. needs a strong defense — but the only way such lavish spending can be justifiable is if we view the entire rest of the world as our enemy. Not just Iran, North Korea, and Cuba, but Canada and Mexico and Japan and New Zealand and Portugal. We spend billions of dollars, and yet we feel terribly insecure about our position in the world.

I am also not an isolationist by any means. I believe that the United States must engage actively in the affairs of the world, and that on occasion we must engage militarily. However, we have spent the last 3½ years on a foolish military misadventure in Iraq. Our rationale for going into Iraq was dead wrong, and I and many others said so at the time. We said that it would not be a "cakewalk," that the people of Iraq would resist us as occupiers rather than welcoming us as liberators, and that we would be stuck there for years, not the six months or less that Donald Rumsfeld dismissively assured us. When all of those predictions came true, the Administration's response was "No one could have predicted..."

The Iraq War has been impressively mismanaged from the very beginning. We failed to give our troops the equipment they needed to fight before the war, and were altogether too slow in getting it to them after the war began. We sent in too small a force to secure the capital, much less the rest of the country, and we shrugged off the civil unrest that began the day we arrived. We undervalued "law and order" as a key element of success, believing that the removal of Saddam and the opportunity of democracy would magically unify the Iraqi people, who would throw flower petals and candy to our soldiers.

We should not have gone into Iraq to begin with. Given that we did invade, we should have sent an overwhelming military presence to secure the country long enough for the seed of democracy to be planted in fertile soil. We should not have outsourced our security and support functions to war profiteers who charge U.S. taxpayers $45 for a six-pack of Coke and, far worse, mercenaries who ride roughshod over the Iraqi people with legal impunity, leaving the soldiers (at a fraction of their pay) to absorb the ramifications of the ill will they generate. We should not have entrusted the rebuilding of Iraq to no-bid contracts granted to politically connected corporations.

We should also take a moment to look at the shameful mistreatment of the troops and veterans by the Administration and the Congress. Benefits for veterans have been slashed, healthcare for active-duty reservists denied, hazard pay reduced, funding for the VA cut even below its already inadequate levels, commissaries shuttered, and a host of other insults. Candidate George W. Bush said of veterans in his 2000 campaign, "A promise made is a promise kept," but he has broken his promise to support the troops — even while accusing the Democrats of the same.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Colbert's Shout Out to Antarctica

On Thursday's show (2006-11-09), Stephen Colbert acknowledged a viewer at the South Pole, more than 9,000 miles [over 14,500 km] away from Colbert Report Headquarters.

This shout-out goes to a hero who watches the show from the Amundsen–Scott Research Station at the South Pole. His name is Michael Rehm, and he downloads the Report from a satellite link-up. Bravo, Mike — you understand that the Report provides everything you need to know about the outside world: my opinion. Mike here is the research station's cook; I hear he makes a mean thawed military surplus beefloaf. [photo of a clean-shaven Michael Rehm in a suit and tie] Actually, that's an old picture from before he moved to the station; do we have anything more recent, Jimmy? [photo of Michael Rehm with long hair, beard, mustache, and several liquor bottles] Aha! There's Mike after a year at the South Pole, with eight of his signature dishes. You can almost taste the isolation.

Now, Mike, I know you're watching, so tonight I'm getting outraged on your behalf with a brand new segment, "Stephen Colbert's South Pole Minute." First up: penguins. They look like birds, they swim like fish, and they're friendly like dogs; pick a side, you waddling flipper-floppers! Otherwise, I'll pick one for you: delicious like turkey. Next up: ice core samples. You know what I call these where I come from? Ice cubes. Oh, you contain information about millions of years of geo-tectonic history; [yawn]. Call me when you come in a paper cone with cherry flavoring. And don't think I've forgotten about you, upper atmosphere physics! Boo-hoo, bidirectional reflectance distribution functions reveal fluctuating polar albedos and declining directional hemispherical reflectance in the Antarctic? Cry me a fucking tundra!

α = (1 – D) α′(Oi) + D α″

Oh, one more thing, Michael: I know you get much information from us, but don't get much information down there in the South Pole, and if any of these photos you are sending us are any indication, you're in a fragile mental state right now, so, I am, uh, happy to tell you that as far as the midterm elections went, um, Republicans won. It was a landslide. Jimmy, let's drop the balloons. [cascade of red balloons] Everything's great, Michael; we'll talk about it when you get home, but you're not going to see Donald Rumsfeld any more, because the, uh — well, the President sent him to live on a farm, where [beginning to sob] there's lots of room to run and play. He loves it. [full-on sobbing] Jimmy, cut the feed to Antarctica! Cut the feed to Antarctica!

I didn't know how to tell him. [abruptly stops sobbing] Nation, on Tuesday I swore I'd never read another newspaper, but last night I got really drunk. Well, I bought up the whole newsstand: back issues, newsweeklies, I was reading them two at a time. I even did a Sudoku. I woke up this morning with newsprint all over my shirt collar, and this article stuck to my forehead: [International Herald Tribune, "Putin Talks of 'Influence' After '08"] ...

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Thursday, November 09, 2006


Tonight, I go to make seeing of movie film Борат, starring Саша Барон Коҳєн. All I can say is, "Я хочу сделать сексуальный время с вашим братом." Well, that and it really is the funniest film I've seen in a long time. It's been a while since I laughed uncontrollably at a movie. It was almost as funny as Another Gay Movie.

Борат travelled in Соединённые Штаты Америки (С.Ш.А.!! С.Ш.А.!! Юэссэй!!) to make this movie, and he met many wonderful people along the way, driving cross-country on a most unusual road trip. The government of Қазақстан was not particularly pleased by the portrayal of their country in the film, but in fact it lampoons the United States far more than Kazakhstan. The most telling scenes in the movie are the reactions from "typical Americans" to Borat's crazed careening outside all bounds of "civilized" behavior.

Министерство Правды Узбекский приветствует это точное добавление к культурня наследие центральной Азии. Мой ховеркрафт полн угри, но я не говорю по Қазақ. By the way, Borat, I think you misspelled Вашингтон.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dan Rather on the Daily Show

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, soon to premiere a new show on HDNet, stopped by Comedy Central during tonight's Daily Show / Colbert Report Midterm Midtacular live broadcast, a little after 11:15 P.M. Eastern.

Read more... Jon Stewart: Joining me right now with further insight into some of these races, our special correspondent for the evening, Mr. Dan Rather. Dan, thank you so much for coming on. Nice to see you. Tonight seems to be trending towards the Democrats; what are your thoughts on this evening so far?

Dan Rather: Well, first of all, the Democrats still have a very good chance to take the House. They're not there yet, at this hour. The chances in the Senate not looking quite as well as earlier in the evening — still have a fighting chance to do it, but I expect on the basis of what we know now that tomorrow's newspaper will read "Democrats take the House, Republicans hold onto the Senate."

Jon: Dan, that was a terrific analysis. That was terrific. (Well, thank you, Jon.) We sort of brought you in here to, you know, give us a little more of that Dan Rather, you know what I'm saying, give us a little more of that homespun kind of ... (How so?) For example, how about Hillary Clinton? We knew she was going to win in a landslide, but how would you, Dan Rather, you know, describe the largeness of her victory?

Dan: It was a healthy margin. [pause, Jon gestures for Dan to continue] Well, how about, "She ran away with it like a hobo with a sweet potato pie"?

Jon: Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about! The Allen–Webb race in Virginia, it's still too close to call, it's an ugly, ugly race. (Yes, it was.) I'm wondering in your view, the magnitude of the ugliness, is there some way that you might ...

Dan: Well, I'd say it was as ugly as a hog lagoon after a bachelor party.

Jon: All right. That is ugly, I think. Let me give you a couple more results here in the House, a couple of races we're watching. In Florida, Mark Foley's district, the 16th district — although Foley swears it was 18 when he first ran — anyway, this one is closer than expected. It looks like Tim Mahoney might take it; Joe Negron, of course, running for Foley. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Chris Carney who has never been accused of choking his mistress, defeated incumbent Don Sherwood, who has in fact been accused of that. Dan, in your mind, why didn't the Peruvian mistress wife-strangler take that race?

Dan: Jon, let me explain it to you this way: if you ain't got the yolk, you can't emulsify the Hollandaise.

Jon: Now I don't know what you're talking about.

Dan: It's simple, Jon. If you don't eat your meat, how can you have any pudding? How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Jon: All right, we're going to do one more result. Connecticut — official state motto: "Richer than God" — all right, it was a three-way race, which, like most threeways, ended up with one person watching awkwardly and not really involved. Joe Lieberman opened up an Ark of the Covenant can of Whoop-ass on his foes. Having lost the primary, Lieberman wins the election, saying, quote, [unintelligible]. Can I tell you something? You've wanted to do this for 44 years, haven't you? Is this your — how many years have you been covering elections?

Dan: I've been covering elections for more than 55 years. This is my — well, 44 with CBS and 55 overall.

Jon: So this is 56, or this would be 55? (This would be 56.) So, you are counting this, or you decided not to count it?

Dan: Well, given this experience, I probably won't count it.

Jon: Ahhh! Well, we've enjoyed it. Is it — in your mind, is it the turning point? Is it a national referendum? Are you looking at this as the American people saying, "We don't care about these local races any more, we just want to throw out whoever's in power," or is it not gonna be that audacious?

Dan: No, I don't think it's going to be that definitive. I think Iraq was the overriding issue in the campaign, no question about that, but we want to remember that George Bush will be President for another two years, and given the power of the Presidency, he will have the power, a large measure, to set the agenda. (Still?) Still.

Jon: All right. Well, we want to thank you very much for stopping by there.

Dan: Well, thank you, Jon. I really appreciate being here, it was a real eye-opener for me. I realized pretty early on that I was just a $4 gopher in a $2 pelt.

Jon: Uh — that's an insult, right?

Dan: Uh-huh, I believe it is, Jon.

Jon: All right, Dan Rather's new program Dan Rather Reports — it airs on HDNet, November 14th at 8 P.M.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Jon Stewart on Ted Haggard

On tonight's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon gave his take on the recent revelations regarding Reverend Ted Haggard, a male prostitute, and some crystal meth.

Read more... Last week, the Daily Show team was in Columbus, Ohio, broadcasting from the Ohio State University.

I figure we'll come back to New York, we'll coast today, but no, a full plate of news. The entrée, of course, Saddam Hussein's death sentence, but, you know what, I'm feeling randy — let's start with dessert. As you probably heard by now, Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals (I'm sure there's an acronym for that.) resigned his post this weekend after admitting to a three-year sexual relationship with a gay hooker. Ah, oh, and he also purchased and used crystal meth, because if you're the head of a gay-hating organization and you're having a gay affair, why not go nuts? What are you gonna say, like, "I'm dating a gay hooker there, but drugs — I don't know, I might get in some real trouble with my constituents."? As it happens, conveniently enough, Haggard can currently be seen in theaters in the documentary Jesus Camp; I have faith we have an unbelievably ironic clip from that:
We don't have to have a debate about what we should think about homosexual activity, it's written in the Bible. ... [directly to the camera] "I think I know what you did last night. If you send me $1,000, I won't tell your wife."
"And then I will use that $1,000 to get myself speed-tweaked and sodomized." Can I get an a-men? Of course, the evangelical community being so tight-knit, they rushed to the defense of their colleague.
Jerry Falwell: I don't know him that well.

Pat Robertson: The National Association of Evangelicals represents 30 million evangelicals — that just isn't true. They have very little money and they have very little influence.

Falwell: He's president of an association that is very loosely knit, and I've never been a member of it.
Seems so "holier than thou." Haggard was exposed by a male escort named Mike Jones, who said he was troubled by the hypocrisy of Haggard's public support of a Colorado initiative to ban same-sex marriage. You know you're in trouble when you have ceded the moral high ground to a drug-dealing prostitute. You know what, Reverend Haggard, meet me at camera — you know what, forget that. I think I have another camera we can meet at that might make you feel more comfortable.

[extreme close-up on Jon Stewart's face, with most of the screen masked with dark gray, with only a small circle in the center fully lit] Psst! Hey! Hey. Hey, what's up? How's it going? Hey, man, it's our gloryhole cam. Found it at the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Now, Reverend, you may wonder why people are taking such pleasure — some would say glee — in the idea of an anti-gay activist being, you know, gay! First of all, I want to say, as a Jew, stop out-self-loathing us. Second of all, people like you make it really hard for, quite frankly, people like you. See, here's a little piece of advice for you, and for anyone else out there in your situation: you cannot run from gay. Let me put this in terms you can understand: here's you [photo of man in business suit with briefcase] and here's gay [photo of muscular man wearing only bikini-style shorts and sneakers, plus sunglasses and a bracelet]. "Gay" works out. I know that when you feel like "gay" is chasing you, all you need to do is run towards "straight" as fast as you can, hide behind that wife-and-kid fort you've been building, but here's the problem: "gay" can see through walls! The kids aren't gonna protect you from "gay." Now, you can't catch gay, but gay sure as hell can catch you. So, Ted, look at the view from here: it's not so great. But once you stop trying to outrun gay, you can catch your breath and realize, the world's actually [switch to regular camera, with a mountain meadow backdrop] a pretty nice place. See, there's "glory" around you, Reverend, just not in a hole.
It's worth noting another quote from Reverend Haggard in the film Jesus Camp. He looks into the camera and says that if the filmmakers use this particular bit of footage, he will sue them. I think he's got bigger problems now. Still, I wonder what Becky Fischer, the woman who runs the church camp profiled in the documentary, has to say about Reverend Haggard.

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Olbermann's last pre-election "Special Comment"

MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann program sometimes features a "Special Comment" at the end. Today, Olbermann took one last shot at Bush, but also at those, both in Washington and in the nation as a whole, who have enabled his abuses. The video and transcript are already available here on the MSNBC website. Below the fold, a couple of highlights.


Saddam Hussein, found guilty in an Iraqi court. Who can argue against that? He is officially, what the world always knew he was: a war criminal. Mr. Bush, was this imprimatur, worth the cost of 2,832 American lives, and thousands more American lives yet to be lost? Is the conviction of Saddam Hussein the reason you went to war in Iraq? Or did you go to war in Iraq because of the weapons of mass destruction that did not exist? Or did you go to war in Iraq because of the connection between Iraq and al-Qaida that did not exist? Or did you go to war in Iraq to break the bonds of tyranny there, while installing the mechanisms of tyranny here? Or did you go to war in Iraq because you felt the need to wreak vengeance against somebody, anybody? Or did you go to war in Iraq to contain a rogue state which, months earlier, your own administration had declared had been fully contained by sanctions? Or did you go to war in Iraq to keep gas prices down?

How startling it was, sir, to hear you introduce oil to your stump speeches over the weekend.


Saddam Hussein will get out of Iraq the same way 2,832 Americans have and thousands more. He’ll get out faster than we will. And if nothing changes tomorrow, you, sir, will be out of the White House long before the rest of us can say we are out of Iraq.

And whose fault is this? Not truly yours. You took advantage of those of us who were afraid, and those of us who believed unity and nation took precedence over all else. But we let you take that advantage. And so we let you go to war in Iraq to oust Saddam or find non-existant weapons or avenge 9/11 or fight terrorists who only got there after we did or as cover to change the fabric of our Constitution or for lower prices at The Texaco or…?

There are still a few hours left before the polls open, sir. There are many rationalizations still untried.
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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
the Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

Read more... Today is the Fifth of November, the 401st anniversary of the plot by Guy Fawkes and his conspirators to blow up the assembly for the formal opening of Parliament in London. It was hoped that the explosion would kill King James I, a Protestant, and many of the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The nearest analogy to present-day America would be to try to blow up Congress during the State of the Union address. (It is for precisely that reason that at least one Cabinet member does not attend the State of the Union.)

The story of Guy Fawkes was highlighted in the public arena by the release earlier this year of the film V for Vendetta, set in a dystopian England about 30 years in the future. The United States has collapsed, largely due to its own hubris, leaving England as the unchallenged sole superpower. However, a small band of ideologues has seized power and gradually eroded the concept of liberty until what is left is a nightmarish police state, with surveillance trucks and unlimited police power and a carefully managed "spin" machine with pliant and docile media. A mysterious man, only ever seen wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, sets out to get a bit of personal revenge and bring down the government. Although the original comic strips were published in the early 1980's, with the satire pointed mostly at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it is impossible to miss the applicability of their themes to George W. Bush.

The English citizenry in V for Vendetta have sacrificed their freedom for the illusion of security, but their lives are dominated by the unrelenting fear-mongering of their own government, to the point that only dramatic and violent action can free them. I don't believe that the United States has reached that level yet, but I want to make certain that we never do. That is why I believe that every American must go to the polls on Tuesday and vote NO on fear, no on George W. Bush and his enablers, and yes on civil liberties and the rule of law.

Let's mark this Election Day as the beginning of the end of America's national nightmare:

Remember, remember,
the Seventh of November!
Let Liberty carry the day.
This is no season for fear and unreason
To ever hold sway.

Okay, a poet I'm not. Submit your own rhymes in the comments section.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

You can't even tell your own lawyer

Saturday's Washington Post has a front-page article by Carol D. Leonnig and Eric Rich, "U.S. Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons: Court is Asked to Bar Detainees from Talking about Interrogations." In essence, the Bush Administration is claiming that our torture interrogation methods are so sooper-seekrit that the people who have undergone those "alternative" interrogation techniques must not be permitted to discuss them at all with anyone including their own lawyer.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney for the family of one of the Guantánamo detainees said the government has presented no evidence that the prisoner, Majid Khan, has any classified information; "Rather, the executive is attempting to misuse its classification authority ... to conceal illegal or embarrassing executive conduct."

To borrow one of Dick Cheney's favorite phrases, this court filing truly "shocks the conscience."

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