Thursday, May 31, 2007

Well, something is surging at least ...

... and it's most emphatically not the economy, which saw the weakest quarter for growth in over four year. The raw figures are 0.6% growth, instead of the 1.3% initially estimated (and which would have been pretty anemic in it's own right, especially when compared to the 5.6% growth rate from the first quarter a year ago). Hey, though, the economy's great, everything's fine, stay the course. Trust the administration. Pip pip cheerio and all that.

I could swear I have heard such words before ... now where was it ... hmmm ... oh yeah, it was that increasingly unpopular unnecessary war we started, and are still suffering through.

Senator Joe Lieberman just made a suprise visit to Iraq where he's once again claiming (as he did last year, and the year before that) that "progress is being made", and I suppose he's right if he means progressively more people are dying, both American and Iraqi.

As the Wall Street Journal noted today:

Can the Iraq 'Surge' Be Salvaged?

As Violence Seems to Outpace Progress, Officials Talk of Next Steps

WASHINGTON -- When the Bush administration decided to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, the strategy rested on an unspoken trade-off: U.S. troops would risk greater casualties to tamp down violence and buy the Baghdad government time to make the political compromises needed to reconcile the country's warring factions.

But a resurgence of sectarian violence and attacks on U.S. troops, coupled with little to no progress on crucial Iraqi political goals, is already spurring discussion about whether the current strategy can succeed.

The article goes on to note, the roughly 120 US troop deaths this month (a figure which doesn't include yesterday or today) is the worst single month since the 2004 fighting in Fallujah, and I believe the third-worst month on record. Since the onset of the surge, casualties for US soldiers have risen steadily. However, the military has an explanation for that -- we have more troops, and they are patrolling more actively, so they are more often in harm's way. Fair enough, that makes sense.

However, there is supposed to be a trade-off for this increase in American deaths and injuries -- all the extra soldiers and extra patrols are supposed to make Baghdad, at least, a safer place for the Iraqi populace, and buy time for the government to come to some sort of agreement on various issues. Unfortunately, as the WSJ article also notes, that ain't happening. The number of unidentified corpses found this month and attributed to sectarian violence is up at least 25% from January. The Iraqi government is no closer to resolving its divisions.

There's still three more months until September, when the awaited assessment from General Petreus is due. Three long, hot, dry, dusty summer months which I don't expect will do a lot to help cool off the simmering tensions. No matter how often Baghdad Joe throws on the pantyhose and does his little song-and-dance routine in an attempt to lighten the mood, the only progress we seem to be making in Iraq is in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Something the Prez and I agree on

If nothing else, the last six-plus years of the Bush (mis)administration has helped crystallize my position on the political spectrum -- I used to consider myself a left-leaning centrist, socially pretty liberal, economically a little conservative. However, since 2000 either the spectrum has moved considerably to the right or I have become increasingly liberal as I approach my dotage, and I now find myself firmly ensconced on the left side of the fence.

One signifier of this personal shift has been that on nearly every major policy issue, with the notable exception of immigration, I have found myself in some reasonably significant (i.e., more than just mild) degree of disagreement with the administration position. However, today I finally found something else I can support El Presidente on. President Bush finally imposed some sanctions against the Sudanese government for its failure to address the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

In the past, such genocides could occur in relative privacy. These days, however, there is no excuse for not being aware of them. In particular, NY Time columnist Nicholas Kristof has been actively covering the story for years, including sneaking into the country after the Sudanese government had barred him, documenting the horrors and aftermaths of the attacks by Janjaweed militia. For his efforts, Kristof won his second Pulitzer prize last year.

In Sept. 2001 the President famously wrote "Not on my watch" while reviewing a report about his predecessor's weak response to the Rwanda genocide in the 1990's. Despite this, the Darfur killings have continued for years with little other than a rare verbal denouncement issuing from the White House. Today, however, Bush announced a set of four steps he intended to take in response to the failure of Sudan's government:

1. Increased enforcement of economic sanctions against a list of 100 Sudanese companies already barred from conducting business with the US.

2. Add 31 more companies to the list, 30 of which are sponsored by the Sudanese government.

3. Target specific individuals who are deemed responsible for the violence for sanctions.

4. Have Secretary of State Condolezza Rice consult with allies as a precursor to trying to pass a UN resolution imposing an arms embargo on Sudan and creating a military no-fly zone over the country.

I wish more had been done, and I wish it had been done sooner, but at least this is a first step. What is important is that it not be the only step. If President Bush is finally ready to get serious on this matter, he needs to make sure to follow-through on pressing for UN sanctions. They may come to naught (China has said they are opposed to the idea, and they can veto a Security Council resolution), but we must at least try.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Outsourcing Wiretapping

It's not enough that our government has already, for years, been engaged in illegal wiretapping of US citizens, but apparently the administration has decided to borrow from current business practice and outsource it's insatiable demand to listen in on conversations of Americans.

Mexico has, for years, had a program to wiretap calls made into the country, a fact which has been publicly known. The new angle is the Mexican government intends to expand and modernize the system -- using funding from the US.

By Sam Enriquez, Times Staff Writer
May 25, 2007

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is expanding its ability to tap telephone calls and e-mail using money from the U.S. government, a move that underlines how the country's conservative government is increasingly willing to cooperate with the United States on law enforcement.
The system will allow authorities to track cellphone users as they travel, according to contract specifications. It includes extensive storage capacity and will allow authorities to identify callers by voice. The system, scheduled to begin operation this month, was paid for by the U.S. State Department and sold by Verint Systems Inc., a politically well-connected firm based in Melville, N.Y., that specializes in electronic surveillance.
But the contract specifications say the system is designed to allow both governments to "disseminate timely and accurate, actionable information to each country's respective federal, state, local, private and international partners."
It's unclear how broad a net the new surveillance system will cast: Mexicans speak regularly by phone, for example, with millions of relatives living in the U.S. Those conversations appear to be fair game for both governments.

Legal experts say that prosecutors with access to Mexican wiretaps could use the information in U.S. courts. U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that 4th Amendment protections against illegal wiretaps do not apply outside the United States, particularly if the surveillance is conducted by another country, Georgetown University law professor David Cole said.
Renato Sales, a former deputy prosecutor for Mexico City, said Calderon's desire to expand federal policing powers to combat organized crime was parallel to the Bush administration's use of a secret wiretapping program to fight terrorism.

"Suddenly anyone suspected of organized crime is presumed guilty and treated as someone without any constitutional rights," said Sales, now a law professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. "And who will determine who is an organized crime suspect? The state will."

Federal lawmaker Cesar Octavio Camacho, president of the justice and human rights commission in the lower house of Congress, said he too worried about prosecutorial abuse.

"Although the proposal stems from the president's noble intention of efficiently fighting organized crime," he said, "the remedy seems worse than the problem."
The LA Times has the full article here.

Leaving aside issues internal to Mexico, the article makes clear one target of the wiretapping program will calls to Mexico made by US citizens (and calls made from Mexico to US citizens). These citizens needs not be suspects in any matter, yet it's possible, likely even, their private conversations will be listened into, and any information could be shared back with the US government.

It's not hard at all to think of scenarios where this system could be used and abused. For example, the US government has person X they want to get some info on, but no reasonable grounds for it. However, conveniently person X makes and receives regular phone calls to Mexico. Problem solved! Get the Mexican government to tap all phone calls to and from person X and pass information back to the US. All 4th-amendment rights have been nicely skirted.

As always, there are reasonable purposes presented to justify the program -- Mexico has a real problem with drug violence, particularly in the north of the country along the US border, and a program like this really could help address the issue. However, given the long history of abuse of such programs in Central America (which the article alludes to), who would really trust the government to limit the scope of the program? Historically, governments are addicted to this sort of thing -- give them a little in and they start continuously looking for ways to wedge the opening wider and wider, until the program is far broader than was ever intended.

The direct consequences would be an issue for Mexico to deal with, but if the program expands and more and more information gets shared with our government, then it affects us to. I certainly don't trust any administration, much less the current one, to act properly with regard to programs like this.

If Mexico wants to expand the program, fine, that's their choice -- but then Mexico should pay for it. The US government should not be in the business of forking over funding so foreign governments can do a better job of spying on US citizens.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Military Stupidity

Saw this Associated Press story this morning, and just shook my head:

By Lolita C. Baldor - The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers who say the military has kicked out 58 Arabic linguists because they were gay want the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to let the valuable language specialists go.

Seizing on the latest discharges, involving three specialists, members of the House of Representatives wrote the House Armed Services Committee chairman that the continued loss of such “capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war.”

The story continues on with some further details. For my part, I am comforted to know that while US soldiers continue to die by the hundreds in Iraq, and civilians die by the thousands, at least the military still realizes where the real threat to our way of of life lies.

Whatever idiot(s) OK'd these discharges should be court-martialed, on felony stupidity grounds if nothing else applies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vamos a Costa Rica

Planning on having a child anytime in the near future? You might want to relocate to Costa Rica if you do.

A recent opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof included the statement "... a child in Costa Rica born today is expected to live longer than an American child born today." Needless to say, this caught my eye. I've been to Costa Rica, and it's a great place to visit, nice people, but there is no way I would expect the life expectancy of an average Costa Rican to exceed that of someone born in America.

As it turns out, my initial expectations are, at least arguably, wrong (and Kristof is, at least arguably, correct). According to Globalis, the data for Costa Rica and the United States show Costa Rican child born today would be expected to live one year longer than a child born in the United States.

I qualified the above paragraph with the word "arguably" because I also found data showing life expectancy in the US is still greater than that in Costa Rica (although not by much, and the gap was closing). Still, the fact the most powerful, most advanced society on the planet, one which spends more money per person on health care than any other nation (and by a _wide_ margin) can boast of a life expectancy comparable to that of a 2nd-world nation says a great deal about both countries -- good things about Costa Rica, bad things about us.

The amount of money we spend on health care (over $7000 per person per year) is astonishing. The same Kristof column included the following factoid: "By next year, the average Fortune 500 company will spend more on health care than it earns in net income, according to Steve Burd, the head of Safeway. "

Our companies are being cannibalized by the need to provide health insurance for their employees, yet the return on investment is pathetic. We lag behind nearly every Western nation in standard measurements of health-care effectiveness -- infant mortality, percentage of insured, death in childbirth, etc. As our health care costs rise, and the number of people who are uninsured rises as well, the numbers can only get worse.

Despite this, any call for a single-payer system, or even for any significant revamping of the current, horribly inefficient, system is met with unyielding resistance. The system never changes, and things continue to disintegrate.

One of Benjamin Franklin's more famous quotes is "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Our current health care system is insane.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reprimand Murtha

The Associated Press reported the following a short while ago:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans angled Tuesday to put Democrats in a no-win position: reprimand a senior colleagues or be seen as blindly excusing legislative bullying for partisan reasons.

House leaders tentatively scheduled a late Tuesday vote on a Republican move to reprimand Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The GOP accuses Murtha of making a blatant threat against a Republican who challenged a pet project that Murtha wanted.

Democratic leaders said they believed they had the votes to kill the motion, but conceded that some party members were unhappy about being pressed to defend a blustery colleague known for bare-knuckled politics.

Murtha has not disputed a Republican claim that he stormed across the House floor May 17 to confront Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. Rogers had tried unsuccessfully to strike a $23 million Murtha earmark -- or narrowly targeted spending item -- for a drug intelligence center in Murtha's district.

In a House speech Monday, Rogers said Murtha threatened him by saying, ''you will not get any earmarks now and forever.''

Rogers, backed by House GOP leaders, said Murtha's threat violates congressional ethics rules and ''merits the reprimand of the House.''

If true (and Murtha is not denying it), why would Democratic leaders kill the motion? Not only should they pass it, they should twist arms to pass it by a landslide. Murtha should vote in favor of reprimanding himself.

I would be quite irate if any Republican congressperson acted in such a manner toward a Democrat, and I am appalled to see Murtha or any Democrat behave like a spoiled child toward a member of the other party. Such actions should not be ignored, condoned or in anyway tolerated, no matter which party is in in the majority, or which party the offending member represents.

I expect Democrats to have higher standards, to set a good example for their colleagues across the aisle. Sadly, I also expect to be disappointed on this matter.

Update: Sure enough, the attempt to reprimand Murtha failed by a 219-189 vote, along a near perfect party-line split (one D voted to reprimand him, two R's voted not to). All AZ Representatives voted the party line.

"Heck of a job, Albie!"

Somehow, Alberto Gonzales retains his job.

It's worth bringing up again, in light of James Comey's breath-taking testimony last week, and with Monica Goodling scheduled to testify before the Senate tomorrow ... how exactly does this man continue to hold a high position in government?

Gonzales has, in the last few months, either lied under oath in his testimony before Congress or shown himself to be completely incapable of fulfilling the job requirements of the position he holds. There is no third alternative. Now we have Comey testifying that, while serving as Presidential counselor, Gonzales attempted to induce then US Attorney General John Ashcroft (Gonzales' predecessor), who was recovering from gall-bladder surgery and still in a drugged state in ICU, to reauthorize a wiretapping program (which involved wiretapping of US citizens) which Comey, acting as AG while Ashcroft was recovering, had previously refused to sign off on. Is this the ethical standard we are willing to accept from the top-ranking lawyer in our government?

By the way, a "scaled-back" version of that wire-tapping program was subsequently declared Unconstitutional in a US District Court. The administration is currently appealing the decision.

It will be interesting to hear what Goodling has to say tomorrow. Apparently, whatever it is, she thought it might open her to criminal prosecution ... but it's going to be tough for her to top Comey's revelations.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Oriental thoughts

While visiting China the last 10 days I managed to see lots of terrific sites: The Great Wall, Forbidden City, the terra cotta warriors, Shanghai History Museum and more ... all worth seeing. However, what most caught my eye from a blogging persepctive were a couple pieces of economic news.

1) There was a great deal of discussion about China's burgeoning trade surplus with the US and the various effects of it. Chinese leaders are concerned enough about it they seem willing to broker deals for materials they don't necessarily need (such as a recent agreement to purchase $4.3 billion in high-tech goods) just to help keep the trade difference closer.

What really got my attention, though, was several articles discussing China's trade surplus also mentioned China's monetary reserves. I.e., unlike the US and it's vast national debt, China actually has money in the bank (unfortunately, the articles I saw didn't give a figure -- the only one I have seen was from 2003, at which time the amount was $46 billion).

In my lifetime there have been a handful of individual years when the US ran a surplus, but the nation has never had an overall net surplus. I can think of some drawbacks -- you could argue you would rather have the money working for you on, say, freeway building rather than sitting around in the bank, for example. However, it must also be nice to not be paying billions of dollars a year in interest payments, and to have funds available for an emergancy -- like, say, a hurricane destroying the city of Anshan.

All-in-all, I don't think I would mind too much struggling with the inherent problems of having an overly large national surplus as opposed to having an overly large national debt. I suspect the problems which might come with having a surplus would be easier to deal with. Sadly, they are unlikely to be problems our nation will ever have to deal with in my lifetime, esepcially if we keep ending up with bozos in office who insist on instituting tax cuts while simultaneously instigating unjustified wars.

2) There's been a lot of angst in recent years about jobs moving to China. Many of those jobs are industrial, but it extends across to professional fields such as accounting, software development, biomedical research, etc. as well. The general perception in this country (at least, in the circles I run in) seems to be of a never-ending horde of Chinese workers willing to fill roles at lower wages.

The view in China is different.

Recent studies there show the labor pool drying up by 2009 or 2010. So far, the Chinese economy has prospered by basically being able to throw more manpower into any field where additional manpower might be needed. Labor costs have remained largely static, because there were always more laborers available.

This upcoming squeeze in labor is generally attributed to the maturation of China's Birth policy, which has been successful in limiting population growth. This squeeze will cause further increase in labor wages (which are already rising slowly, but sufficiently to cause some manufacturers to move positions from China to even cheaper locales) and will likely force Chinese industry to invest in more advanced production methods (which will allow more to be done with less manual labor).

Most interesting to me, nothing I read discussed possibly changing China's retirement policy. White-collar women in government companies or institutions have a mandatory retirement age of 55, 60 for men, For blue-collar jobs, it's 50 for women, 55 for men. You would think raising these ages (particularly for women), or simply not making retirement mandatory, would add tens of millions of potential laborers back to the pool.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A short hiatus and other things

1) As I write this, I will be getting married in six hours. We then leave the country for ten days. I don't know what level of internet access (if any) I will have, and if we do have access, I have no idea what level of patience the new wife will have with me blogging when we are supposed to be touristing. She's extremely patient (sadly, it's a required personal trait for anyone willing to put up with me for any extended time period), but that might be a bit much.

Anyhow, it's possible, likely even, there may be no posts for the next 10 days or so. That doesn't mean I've given up the blog. Regular posting will resume on our return.

2) I was interested by this NY Times article, which discusses how some liberal legal scholars are arguing the 2nd amendment gun rights were intended to be individual rights, not collective ones.

Historically, case law has favored the "collective rights" position and most scholars continue to do so (as the article makes clear). I certainly am in this camp personally (although I certainly am not a legal scholar). However, I had a slight fling with the "individual right" argument in my post from Friday, although my argument was based something other than pure 2nd amendment grounds.

3) The times also had this article discussing today's run-off elections in France. It notes the turnout for the general election was 85%, and an even higher figure was expected today.

This sounds (and is) very impressive, and groups interested in increasing voter participation in US elections would be ecstatic to see a figure like that. However, France isn't even close to the top of the chart in this regard.

If voter turnout is one sign of a healthy democracy, we as a nation have a lot of work to do.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Calling a spade a flower

Charles Krauthammer, one of the guys who got everything wrong in regards to Iraq yet still manages to retain gainful employment as a pundit, has a piece the Washington Post today. The piece itself is nothing particulary great or bad ... a standard, mealy-mouthed response to claims George Tenet makes in his recent book. However, this part made me actually laugh out loud:

The decision to go to war was made by a war cabinet consisting of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. No one in that room could even remotely be considered a neoconservative.

None of them are neoconservatives in the same way no sahuaro is a cactus, or no woodpecker is a bird.

Of those five individuals, Cheney and Rumsfeld unquestionably fit the profile of a neoconservative. Cases can be made for Rice and Bush. Only Powell, who left the administration in late 2004, doesn't fit the bill.

Heck, if we apply Krauthammer's standards, then Al Gore is no environmentalist, Barack Obama is no liberal, and Krauthammer himself is not an idiot.

Between a rocket launcher and a hard place

New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced a bill late last month which would limit gun access for many Americans ... and found a lot of support from the Bush administration.

The bill, titled the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2007" would give the US Attorney General the right to deny individuals the right to buy guns if they are on a terrorist watch list. It also has provisions to allow individuals to challenge the ban. The US Attorney General's office has come out in support of the bill.

It's not really surprising to see the AG supports passage of the bill. This stance is consistent with the administration's views on increasing the powers of the executive branch, even at the expense of the Constitution. Given the focus of promoting "the war on terror" over anything else, the administration is nearly obligated to push to have this bill enacted. What I find most interesting, though, is the bind it places on conservatives and (to a lesser extent, I think) liberals.

Conservatives first ... gun-rights advocates are up in arms over this betrayal of their sacred, god-given right to own any piece of military hardware they can lay their not yet cold, dead hands on. Remember, these are some of the same folks who favor allowing the mentally incompetent to buy guns. Still, you can absolutely bet any Republican facing re-election who votes against the legislation will face ads saying "Senator Lardbut voted to let terrorists buy guns!". Tough choice.

Liberals face a choice as well. Although most (not all) favor some form of reasonable limits on gun purchases, how can you justify stripping someone of rights citizens generally have based on nothing more than suspicion? Particularly with this administration already infamously violating FISA statutes to spy on people illegally, blatant misuse of national security letters and propensity to detain citizens indefinitely without charge.

Still, I don't think it's going to hurt Dems as much. If they vote for the bill, heck, they weren't getting votes from ardent 2nd-admendment supporters anyway. If they vote against the bill, well, liberals are all traitors anyway.

My $.02? I favor gun control, and I find I am still opposed to this bill. If someone who is an accused terrorist deserves certain rights such as habeas corpus, rights to lawyers, right to see evidence against them, etc. (all of which which I believe, and which they aren't currently receiving), then someone who isn't even an "accused" terrorist should have as much right to purchase a gun as any other citizen. Preventing convicted felons and established mentally incompetent from buying guns are reasonable restrictions. Preventing someone from exercising a right everyone else has just because they ended up, in some mysterious way, on a "watch list" is not. If the evidence against them is that strong, charge them.

It's still not going to keep me from enjoying a sense of schadenfreude observing any terrorist-loving Republican who votes against passage of this bill.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A lie by any other name

As I was driving home from work, I heard White House Press Secretary Tony Snow state something to the effect of as far back as 2002 President Bush had asserted there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, and that any assertions the President or his administration had made such claims were "lies".

That must be news to the majority of people who believed there was a link as late as six months after the Iraq war started. I can't imagine how all those people mistakenly ended up with the wrong impression.

Oh yeah ... it might have been statements like these:

Vice President Dick Cheney: "[Iraq is] the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

President Bush (as part of the now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, Apr. 2003): "The battle of Iraq is one victory in the war on terror which began on September the 11th, 2001 - and still goes on ... the liberation of Iraq ... removed an ally of al Qaeda."

Cheney again (Sept. 14, 2003):
"With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've never been able to develop any more of that yet in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know. "

At the time he made the above statement, Cheney was well aware both the CIA and FBI had determined the alleged meeting "probably did not take place", that Czech government officials were doubtful about it, and America records showed Atta being in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting.

Bush again (Sept. 25, 2002): "You cant distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.”

And so on ...

Now, in the narrowest sense of the term, I believe Snow is at least partly correct - I am not aware of any administration quote explicitly claiming Saddam Hussein had a direct hand in the 9/11 attacks. However, the earliest record I can find of President Bush explicitly stating this dates to Sept. 2003, six months after the invasion. It's possible there is a similar statement dating to 2002, but it's well-hidden.

However, it's certainly possible to lie by implication, and it seems beyond any reasonable question the administration, including the President, regularly, knowingly, willfully lied in this manner.

A lie by any other name is still as ... well ... not sweet.

The guys who got it right

In the run up to the Iraq war we saw and heard a great deal from individuals promoting the war: William Safire, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Peter Beinart and others of their ilk were nearly ubiquitous on the television news talk shows, on the editorial pages, pushing the case for a war some of them had been advocating for a decade or more.

There were a few dissenters. Phil Donahue tried to host guests who challenged the administration's case. For his pains, his MSNBC show was canceled. Howard Dean gave a speech a month before the war that was nearly prophetic in anticipating the future course of events in Iraq. It's worth reading if you haven't - the degree of accurate understanding of what might (and, to a large extent, did) happen is breathtaking. For his foresight, Dean was labeled a "nut", "unpatriotic", and roundly vilified.

However, nobody got things as "right" as Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel.

Landay and Strobel were both senior reporters for Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy), and in the run up to the war they were amongst the very few writers consistently challenging the administration's claims on nearly every topic - the existence of WMDs in Iraq, the alleged ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda, the significance of the "aluminum tubes" the administraton claimed were intended for centrifuge manufacturing, Iraq's alleged nuclear programs. On point after point, Landy and Strobel's contacts inside the government and intel agencies were painting a very different picture for them than the administration was painting for the country.

Unlike individuals such as George Tenet, who were also aware of this all along but waited four years to let everyone know, Landay and Strobel were publishing at the time, voices in the wilderness, crying for attention but receiving none while reporters such as Judy Miller of the NY Times were printing near-propaganda pieces echoing the administration talking points.

As we now know, on point after point, Landy and Strobel were right. Kristol, Beinart, Krauthammer, et. al., were all wrong.

In any "rational" world, you would think the individuals who were so completely, demonstrably wrong for so long about so many things would be shunned, their views sidelined. You would especially think this given the alleged "liberal" bias of the national media. You would think.

Krauthammer continues as a national syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. Beinart is an editor-at-large for the influential periodical The New Republic, as well as a regular contributor to the Post. Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard and a regular guest on Fox News where, among other things, he now advocates yet another war, this one with Iran.

Landay and Strobel continue to work for McClatchy, where they write articles disputing the case for war with Iran and don't get regular invitations to appear as guests on Fox news. Neither has been hired to replace Miller at the NY Times (she resigned as part of a leak scandal, not for her poor pre-war reporting). Virtually no one has heard of them.

Apparently, it pays to be wrong.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A few things ...

1) As expected, President Bush vetoed the supplementary spending bill yesterday. His rhetoric included states about "setting a date for failure" and "prescription for chaos and confusion".

The President is often portrayed as detached from events (or even reality), but even he must be aware the current state of affairs in Iraq is not exactly all neat and orderly ... and things have been getting worse, not better.

For me, though, the truly humorous part of his speech was "Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders."

What makes this such a howler is the administration itself engaged in _exactly_ this type of behavior, shuffling through commanders who's advice did not match up with the administration's desires. This point is brought home in the following letter (via

May 1, 2007

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

Today, in your veto message regarding the bipartisan legislation just passed on Operation Iraqi Freedom, you asserted that you so decided because you listen to your commanders on the ground.

Respectfully, as your former commander on the ground, your administration did not listen to our best advice. In fact, a number of my fellow Generals were forced out of their jobs, because they did not tell you what you wanted to hear -- most notably General Eric Shinseki, whose foresight regarding troop levels was advice you rejected, at our troops' peril.

The legislation you vetoed today represented a course of action that is long overdue. This war can no longer be won by the military alone. We must bring to bear the entire array of national power - military, diplomatic and economic. The situation demands a surge in diplomacy, and pressure on the Iraqi government to fix its internal affairs. Further, the Army and Marine Corps are on the verge of breaking - or have been broken already - by the length and intensity of this war. This tempo is not sustainable - and you have failed to grow the ground forces to meet national security needs. We must begin the process of bringing troops home, and repairing and growing our military, if we are ever to have a combat-ready force for the long war on terror ahead of us.

The bill you rejected today sets benchmarks for success that the Iraqis would have to meet, and puts us on a course to redeploy our troops. It stresses the need for sending troops into battle only when they are rested, trained and equipped. In my view, and in the view of many others in the military that I know, that is the best course of action for our security.

As someone who served this nation for decades, I have the utmost respect for the office you hold. However, as a man of conscience, I could not sit idly by as you told the American people today that your veto was based on the recommendations of military men. Your administration ignored the advice of our military's finest minds before, and I see no evidence that you are listening to them now.

I urge you to reconsider your position, and work with Congress to pass a bill that achieves the goals laid out above.


Major General Paul D. Eaton, USA, Retired

2) In voting to defund our troops (thus depriving them even longer of life-saving MRAPs -- where's the outrage, Frank??), President Bush mentioned trying to bring members of both parties together to work on compromise legislation. This word, "compromise" ... I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

A compromise entails concessions by both parties in a negotiation. There has been discussion already of how the "get out of Iraq" side of the matter might compromise. Perhaps by tying funding to specific, measurable benchmarks for the Iraqi government, perhaps by quickly passing a short-term spending bill with no strings, etc.

On the other hand, there has been no discussion I am aware of of what the "stay in Iraq until our grandchildren die fighting there" side of the discussion might give up. The President has repeatedly said he will veto any supplementary spending bill that has "strings attached".

That's not a compromise, that's a demand.

Update: I see there some discussion from adminisration aides of having "non-binding" benchmarks on the spending bill. If they are non-binding, what's the point again? How is this a concession?

3) This paper co-authored by Nobel prize-winner James Heckman is (loosely) tied to my post yesterday.

The paper discusses the economics involved in early intervention programs for disadvantaged children, and pretty much proves beyond doubt that the earlier children from such backgrounds are placed in such programs, the greater their likelihood of success as teenagers and adults.

There are parallels with software engineering -- there is a large body of work supporting the notion that the earlier you discover a "bug" the cheaper it is (by orders of magnitude) to fix it. Not that children are "software bugs", but it makes sense that the sooner you can snag a child who might be headed down the road to trouble and redirect their energies to productive pursuits, the cheaper the overall cost to society.

While the paper is concerned with disadvantaged youth in America, the same argument would apply to disadvantaged youth anywhere in the world, I would think.

4) Pressure continues to ratchet for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a scathing report was issued yesterday about his handling of the il-fated invasion of Lebanon last year.

There are interesting comparisons to be made between that conflict and its aftermath in Israel, and our four year involvement in Iraq. I had actually planned to make such a post, but then discovered Glenn Greenwald had already done so, and far more thoroughly than I could ever hope to. Read his comments here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Why can't we export education?

The Associated Press circulated this short piece yesterday:

KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 85 students and teachers were killed last year in attacks blamed on insurgents who oppose education for girls and teaching boys anything but religion, Afghanistan’s education minister said Sunday.

Insurgents also burned down 187 schools, while 350 closed because of security concerns, Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said.

“The enemy of our nation … has targeted our education system through destruction and inhumanity,” Atmar told thousands of students at a stadium in Kabul in a speech marking Education Day. Militants are “killing our innocent teachers and students and burning our schools.”

The number of students attending school has skyrocketed since the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime, which banned girls from school and boys from studying anything other than Islam.

But more than half of Afghan children still lack the means to go to school, while 60 percent of those enrolled “study under tents, in the shade of walls and trees or in some cases, under the hot sun,” Atmar said.

About 5.4 million students were enrolled in school last year, up from less than 1 million during Taliban rule. Thirty-five percent of those enrolled were girls.

New York-based Human Rights Watch reported at least 190 attacks on schools last year – up from 91 reported in 2005.

While our country seemingly has a difficult time convincing our "troubled" youth to attend class, much less graduate, in other parts of the world children, particularly girls, are literally dying for the chance to attend school, even schools which don't exist other than as a gathering on the ground, outside, with one teacher and no supplies.

The AP article specifically discusses Afghanistan, but similar stories could be written about rural poor in India, Africa, South America. Virtually anywhere you see a US-sponsored school you see chldren doing anything they can to attend. They seem to understand, perhaps instinctually, how rare this chance is for them, how brief the opportunity might last, and how valuable it could be for their future.

Which begs the question -- why are these opportunities rare and brief? Why aren't we, as a nation, doing more to make these opportunities more available?

Look at the Arab world right now -- the primary source of education available for millions of young men (and virtually no young women) without much financial means consists of the madrassas, Islamic religious schools. While some such schools do offer broader educations, others focus solely on the Koran, to the exclusion of anything else. Funding for these schools generally comes from private sources, and the students often attend free.

Why allow this to continue unchallenged? I would love to see a massive "Education Export" project, where we attempt to help subsidize placing teachers and providing materials in some of these rural areas of the world, with multi-year commitments.

The benefits could be massive, and not just a one-way street. Developing countries would stand to gain a huge amount from having an increased number of educated citizens. Increasing the number of educated women in many of these nations can only help in overcoming the traditional opposition to allowing women equal opportunities which exists in much of the 3rd World.

Coming the other way, increasing global opportunity can only help improve global markets for our economy ... but that's not the real point ...

Imagine a program like this, running all over the world for 20 years. An entire generation, or two, who learn more about how the world works while at the same time, through an almost inevitable osmosis, gaining some degree of "Westernization" through exposure to our ideas and culture. I'd much rather invest the $100 billion a year we are spending on our forces in Iraq on something like this instead.

We won't ever defeat terrorism entirely, and we certainly won't defeat it with our military exclusively. You defeat terrorism by making it in the best interests of the general populace to help you rather than the terrorists. You do it by providing opportunity.

You provide opportunity through education.