Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cutting and Running on "Stay the Course"....

Now that election time is near and the polls show Bush being a net drag on his party's chances in the election (at this point, that's like saying, "a little bit pregnant"), Bush is claiming in an interview with George Stephanopoulis, "we were never 'stay the course'...."

As usual, Dear Leader is full of shit and playing to the polls he never reads (others do that for him). This is a Republican fourth down on their own twelve and their quarterback's been sacked so many times he's gotten gimpy and dizzy and taken to changing plays on audibles no one else knows. Others have outlined all the instances where Bush and his minions insisted that he was "staying the course," so there's no need for me to do so again (and those instances are legion).

What I want to do is to remind everyone of a little recent history. Bush's dad, Poppy, hustled the Saudis to permit U.S. troops on Saudi soil. He told them Iraq was going to invade them after taking Kuwait. It wasn't true. Now, there had to be a reason for that, because the troops didn't leave after Hussein's forces had been removed from Kuwait. They stayed, to the great consternation of Saudi clerics and certain Saudi fundamentalists of whom we are all familiar.

Those U.S. troops didn't leave until the start of the invasion of Iraq. Now, they are in Iraq, and Qatar and Bahrain and the UAE. But, they're off Saudi soil and still are in the Middle East.

I would say, from that, that the U.S. intends to have troops strategically situated in the Middle East for as long as they can create circumstances to justify having them there, one way or another.

That presents a conundrum. The Iraqis don't want U.S. troops permanently stationed in Iraq. Saudis certainly won't take them back now. Bush/Cheney don't want them moved. And yet, there's silly talk in the press about those troops eventually leaving? That there really is a timetable?

Context is everything. There's an upcoming election. Repugs are getting their asses handed to them in the polls precisely because they've been parroting "stay the course," just like their dear leader. U.S. policy for approaching twenty years is to have significant numbers of soldiers in the Middle East, even though they are not wanted by the people there.

Either the Kuwaitis are going to be happy having 150,000 troops permanently stationed there (not bloody likely), or the Bushies think they can create peace in Iraq and still have an occupying force in place there forever--against the will of the population, or it's a scam by the Bushies until they can get past the election with their Congressional hides intact.

Let's put it even more simply--if U.S. policy has been to keep troops in the Middle East for the last sixteen years, even when people in the Middle East are dead set against permanent installations (except, perhaps, for the Israeli government), then what's the chance of Bush removing U.S. troops now?

Which is more likely? One gets extra points for any answer solidly grounded in cynicism.

Monday, October 23, 2006

About Those Problems, George....

It was not quite four years ago that George Bush said, in his 2003 State of the Union address:

This country has many challenges. We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations. We will confront them with focus and clarity and courage.

And yet, Bush is going to do exactly that. And the problems are whoppers. What is Bush going to pass on to future Presidents and future generations?

If his consistent intentions to "stay the course" in Iraq are carried out in these next two years, he will leave a military, fiscal and diplomatic problem of gargantuan proportions. The military--and particularly, the National Guard--will be more demoralized than at any time in modern history. The debt associated with war and increased military spending will further erode the discretionary side of the budget through increased interest payments on that debt, and the next president will be left with only unpleasant choices related to stabilizing Iraq: a draft to put more boots on the ground, a withdrawal which would have adverse political consequences here and in Iraq--especially if the civil war there increased in intensity (which it certainly would, for a while), or maintaining Bush's current policy of not nearly enough military force to bring stability to a country which already greatly resents the troops that are there now. For practical purposes, Bush has put the next President in a box with regard to Iraq. Even if withdrawal is generally supported by the public, the next President will have to endure the media/GOP/right-wing harpies screaming that leaving Iraq to organize its own government was a capitulation to the terrorists.

The next several Presidents will also have to contend with a world grown suspicious of U.S. intentions and unhappy with U.S. foreign policy. In October, 2003, Bush still believed that his "flight suit" moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln was the actual end of the war in Iraq and that the mission had been accomplished. In fact, most of the Middle East is in even greater turmoil three years on, and with Kindasleazza Rice and John Bolton in charge of putting out the brush fires with gasoline, the next two years promise very little in the pacification department. Future presidents will have to contend with the problem of keeping troops throughout the region and suffering continuing losses and political instability because of their presence or drying up Rumsfeld's "lily pads" and watching fragile governments fall to fundamentalists (though those fundamentalists, particularly the Taliban, know about as much about governing as the Bushies do and are certain to eventually be overthrown), knowing that the bad press will accumulate to them no matter what they do.

There's also the matter of being seen as ineffectual, which might induce future presidents to go on relying upon precisely those same tools as Bush--that very large hammer, the military--which got us into the current messes in the first place, thus burying us even more deeply in the hole which Bush has been busily digging for himself.

Katrina: despite huge sums of money spent, little has been done to effectively improve the lives of the victims. So, the next president will have few resources to correct a problem which the Bushies have been too slow and too indifferent to solve equitably. Five years after the hurricane, the plan will still be to turn the city into a gold-plated gated community with a few people of color tending the lawns.

No Child Left Behind: quite apart from lingering Foley jokes, there's little good that will come from reducing education to simple metrics, just as Rumsfeld has done for defense. About half a generation will graduate from high school knowing the basics of reading and arithmetic and won't do either, because they're not interested in anything and weren't taught to think for themselves. NCLB is the New Math of the 21st century, so one segment of society will travel through their lives missing an elemental aspect of life. Many others will be shunted out of the system or be encouraged to drop out to preserve a school system's test averages, thus creating an underclass which will work for substandard wages Bush's economy will create.

Debt: at the current rate, by the time Bush leaves office, total debt will be nearly double what it was when he was inaugurated. Interest payments on the debt are now over $350 billion each year--a considerable chunk of the discretionary budget, and by 2009, will be close to $450 billion--roughly double the amount necessary to run the entire government exclusive of the DoD and the intelligence services. The next several presidents will probably have to raise taxes (and not just on the wealthy), trim services beyond their already low levels and reduce defense spending, all of which are political poison. The only obvious way to correct the problem is to undo what created it--reducing defense spending to approximately double peacetime levels (spending now is about five times peacetime levels) and raising taxes on the wealthy to a much greater degree (pre-Reagan levels) to offset the money transferred in the past six years to the rich and to large corporations through changes in the tax structure and war. And any president recognizing the obvious and doing this is handing his political opponents the grenade they will throw at him.

Energy: at a time when there are intertwining energy and climate problems, Bush handed significant amounts of tax money to mature, profitable hydrocarbon-based industries and essentially told them, "go ahead doing what you've been doing." The rest of the world already sees the U.S. as the CO2 pig, and continued high consumption of hydrocarbons will exacerbate existing problems, both domestically and internationally. Reversing this policy in the midst of also having to contend with the problems created by debt will force upon future presidents conservation policies which will be highly unpopular with the public (remember Jimmy Carter's "wear a sweater" routine?).

Quality of life: Bush's attempt to institutionalize fear of terrorism will persist, and interference in freedom of travel, particularly, will continue. There will be more delays, more random searches, more legislation reducing fundamental rights to technicalities. Congress will not repeal the more draconian of legislation passed during the Bush years, but will continue to tinker with it to ameliorate the complaints of civil libertarians. The most tyrannical aspects of the legislation will likely continue unabated. Any president seeking to completely undo the framework of authoritarian law created during the Bush years will be attacked as "soft on terrorism," or, more cynically, as a "terrorist sympathizer." Any attempts to bring order to and end the gross cronyism of Homeland Security will be met with the same sort of attacks reserved in the past for anyone suggesting cuts in defense spending.

Environment: the next president may find the repairing of the EPA an onerous, but doable, task. It's one of the few areas where the general public doesn't respond positively to the prevailing market-first politics. Nevertheless, those agencies which have been effectively neutered by political appointments (EPA, Interior, BLM, National Park Service) will not suddenly spring back to life. There have been losses of career personnel which will take time to rebuild.

Faith-based Initiative: once forbidden fruit has been tasted, it's hard to deny the appetite. Bush opened the gates for evangelicals to easy cash from the government, and as David Kuo has recently said in a new book, the process was fraught with Tammany Hall-style favoritism. Any future president determined to shut off that tap--for the good of both religion and taxpayer--will be subject to charges of religious persecution. Bush's Office of Faith-based Initiatives was meant to be both a wedge into church/state separation and a poltical patronage system, and as Chicagoans well know, getting rid of political patronage is a Herculean task. Throw into that mix a few megachurch pastors suddenly cut off from easy government money and it could easily turn ugly.

The intelligence swamp: with the additional layer of bureaucracy established by the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the intelligence situation will continue to deteriorate, and the general trend toward privatization of intelligence will accelerate. Any president trying to stem the tide of money directed toward private companies will be accused of harming national security. The morale problems at, particularly, the CIA won't go away just because Bush is gone. There is a fundamental split between the analytical and operations sides growing out of the institutionalization of torture and kidnapping and the politicization of the agencies from the top down. Bush has also given the paramilitary sides of the intelligence services--particularly in the Pentagon--free rein, and this will probably continue without the next president's knowledge until an international incident blows up in his face. When not even our own embassies know when such paramilitary intelligence groups are operating in their sectors of interest, the situation is rife with potential for disaster. The situation may be analogous in some ways to Kennedy inheriting the Bay of Pigs debacle, or Clinton inheriting troops in Somalia. There are likely plenty of trip wires waiting for any future occupant of the Oval Office.

Iran: it's speculative to talk about Iran at the moment, since there's been no overt military action against that country as yet. But, all the signs point to an attack on Iran as an inevitability. The consequences will largely shape the foreign policy of any future president in adverse ways, since Iran will likely not sit still and will react in ways not easily predicted. Oil shortages could produce price manipulations a new president would be unable to deter and present economic problems similar to those encountered by Ford and Carter in the `70s, and renewed terrorist attacks on American interests, domestically and in the rest of the world, seem an almost foregone conclusion. The expectation of the Bushies that the Iranians will thank the U.S. for attacking them and will overthrow the ayatollahs and install a government sympathetic to the laissez-faire free-market policies embraced by U.S. multinationals is just as insane as that same expectation was with regard to Iraq. An attack on Iran will also further inflame the Muslim community around the world, and lend further credence to the currently-held view that Bush is waging a holy war against Muslims.

Social Security: unbeknownst to most of the U.S. public--thanks to a press as uncurious as the current president--some elements of privatization were slipped into the 2007 fiscal year general appropriations budget and their effects will be a time bomb on the system. Moreover, Bush will continue to push for radical privatization of the system in his last two years. In the meantime, the real, but repairable, problems of Social Security will be ignored by the administration, leaving--as with climate change problems--a bigger mess for future presidents.

Medicare: most seniors have reached the the doughnut hole of Medicare Plan D, and will be pretty much on their own until the end of the year. Expect complaints to surface and the number of marginal fixed-income seniors dropping below the poverty line to increase. With drug prices increasing well above the rate of inflation, 2007 and 2008 may end up creating a huge backlash against the drug plan just as a new president arrives. Taking care of that problem with a Congress of uncertain composition is yet another problem waiting. The solution is actually very simple--enable the government to negotiate prices with suppliers and refuse to extend expiring drug patents--but the political costs of such actions would be high, mostly because Congressional campaigns are funded to a considerable degree by the pharmaceutical companies and the financials sector.

The economy: even as Bush extols the performance of the economy, it is slipping inexorably backwards toward recession. The effects of the housing bubble are starting to be felt--most painfully in the places where housing prices are most inflated--and the smart money has already left that market and returned to equities. There's no identifiable set of characteristics that would point to a sudden strengthening in the markets, so it suggests that either the housing market money has moved to create a new stock bubble, or money is being parked there until the next speculative opportunity comes along. For most of the people in the country, the economy has been drifting. Real unemployment is much higher than the advertised statistics (the Bushies have modified the way they count unemployment three times in six years) due to people dropping off the unemployment rolls when their unemployment benefits disappear, underemployment is almost pandemic and real wages are declining in the bottom three quintiles. All of the automakers are in some manner of serious trouble, and the net effect of that trouble will be more long-term unemployment and a decline in economic activity, which then will have repercussions in the federal budget as the government is required to prop up more and more traditional pension plans. Bush has been loathe to rein in hedge funds and the prospects for unregulated mischief there, with potential rippling effects in the capital markets.

There's an old adage in systems planning that big problems always have their origins in small problems that were easily correctable when they were small, but become almost insurmountably difficult in size and effect if ignored. Bush has done that, and created some truly large problems right from scratch. One has to wonder what he was thinking, if he was thinking at all, in January, 2003. The next president is going to be handed a blivet with a pretty bow tied around it, but, no matter how one tries to evade the obvious, it's still an overflowing bag of shit. One also has to wonder who in his right mind would want the presidency under such circumstances. There are no shortage of suitors for that position, and, perhaps, one should question the sanity of each and every one of them.

No doubt, there are St. Georges among them, but they should realize that when they enter the mouth of the cave, there's not a single dragon waiting for them, but, rather, a passel of them, bred with care and fed well by the Bushies, just waiting to roast the ass of the unsuspecting and the overly confident.

Would have been a whole lot better if George had done what he's done best in life--nothing. Marking time would have been easier to fix. The arch-conservatives' desires to wreck government (apart from defense, although Bush has done a good job of wrecking that, too) have been a fixture of Bush's policies to date, and he's done a "heckuva job" from that perspective. However, Bush's assertion that he came to office "to confront problems... not to pass them on..." can only be viewed as yet another self-serving (or self-deceiving) lie in a long, long, long litany of lies. The small problems have gotten bigger still, and the big ones are now of monstrous proportions.

And, I can't help but think, given the evidence, that that was the strategy of Bush and his people all along. As with much of what Bush says, whether it be on the prospect of war, the economy, on not leaving problems for his successors, the truth is ultimately to be found in its opposite.

Whomever gets to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, had better do it wearing asbestos underwear, a flak jacket and a crash helmet and have a healthy supply of tranquilizers on hand. Even then, it's going to be rough sledding. In more ways than one, it's going to be like having to clean up after enema day in the elephants' quarters at the zoo. A broom and a dustpan and a sunny smile aren't going to cut it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Calendar Check...

The USS Eisenhower carrier battle group, along with various other ships, including minesweepers, should be off the coast of Iran tomorrow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


The last few days have felt like emptying out the garage for the first time in years, and finding mostly stuff that exposed ugly family secrets....

Of course, top of the list is George Bush's signing of the MCA (Misery, Cruelty, Aberration).

Then, there's Mike Tyson endorsing Michael Steele for Senator from Maryland. Using the word "research" in any sentence referring to Mike Tyson is much like using "normal" to describe James Inhofe.

Thom Hartmann and Lamar Waldron seem certain that recently released documents exposing a plan for a "palace coup" against Castro bolster their contention that John F. Kennedy was murdered on orders from a Mafia don, and that the exposure of one of Castro's insiders in the coup plot moots any objections the CIA and other agencies could have to the release of all documents relating to Kennedy's assassination.

As if the JFK assassination weren't `60s enough, there's Bush meandering around the Tet offensive as if it were an election ploy....

Thought the "Bridge to Nowhere" was on hold, after being exposed as a Ted Stevens boondoggle extravaganza? Think again. It's somewhere.

Speaking of Repug politics as usual... there's this. Dick still thinks he's running Halliburton, I would guess. And on the "GWOT" scene, not so much advertising by the Repugs of the home-grown variety. Oh, yeah, and more politics as usual... GOP-style.

Some not-so-usual politics. If a governor wanted to quell domestic disturbances which were beyond the capability of the local police, he or she might have to call in the state's national guard. That's the way the system works. State national guards are under the control of the state in which they're located. Well, no, not any more. There's a natural tendency (apart from the idiot leading the Ohio NG at Kent State) to avoid killing one's friends and neighbors, so, if killing were intended, out-of-staters might be less inhibited. And that's what this change allows, and it allows Bush to make the decision, not the state governor. M'self, I'd hope that investigative reporters are poking around the edges of the FBI, Homeland Security and CIA, looking for signs of plans to instigate riots....

Finally, at the back of the garage, under a pile of rotting brownshirts, there's an old tintype of Nixon. We are all terrorists now.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ever faster go the invisible needles sewing...

... the emperor's new clothes. Every time Bush gets really stupid in public, out come the tailors.

It's getting to be like puncturing the kids' balloons at a four-year-old's birthday party, but, young 'uns, Bush ain't smart. Even if he were born that way (and he wasn't), twenty-five years of spending his nights drunk and coked up and his days drunk and watching daytime TV didn't do his marginal intellect any good. And you can tell that none of that time was spent watching Jeopardy because he got all the geography and foreign rulers questions wrong in the 2000 campaign.

Why, oh, why didn't this horse's ass stay in baseball, where the worst he could have done was set fire to the stadium, or trade away Sammy Sosa, or drool a bit while fantasizing about the baselines being lines of blow?

But, President of these United States? Puhleeeeze. Pick the worst attributes of every bad president ever and he's got `em all. Along with a few that the psychiatrists are going to be stumbling over for decades to come just trying to name properly, let alone figure out.

Not a soul took Bush seriously when he said, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Everyone should have. I would say that someone–on his own self-described authority–who has assumed the power to spy on citizens without warrant, killed hundreds of thousands in wars of choice, imprisoned self-declared enemies and citizens alike without due process for indeterminate periods, authorized torture, discarded law, used the mechanisms of government to reward his cronies and thrown elections is getting pretty close to the commonly understood textbook definition of a dictator.

But, as long as the Constitution hasn't been suspended, there's no martial law or curfews, no shooting in the streets, and there are John Hindrockets and Tony Snowjobs to sing Bush's praises, everything's fine. Fine, that is, if you're the sort of person who'd like to sit down and have a beer with a dictator.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

If Only Ignorance Were Strength....

Ever since the end of WWII, there has been endless political discussion of the "strength" of the United States (most generally in the act of attempting to define a political opponent as "weak").

What's missing in the discourse, of course, is a uniformly understood definition of national strength. It is whatever the speaker of it wants it to be, and for a long, long time, the volume of the expression has been what has counted, rather than the precision of use of the term.

If one listens carefully to Bush's speeches, it's the indiscriminate application of military force for specious reasons. For him, it's an act, not a quality. To exercise that "strength" is to be strong. But, even that circular logic can't be separated from the political and the personal, where Bush is concerned, since Bush can't help but, in casual fashion, link himself to that strength he perceives in action, as in his offhand self-referential, solipsistic language: "I'm the decider," or, "I'm the war president." Bush is saying, and not all that convincingly, either, that he himself is "strong" because he has the will (or the stupidity) to act militarily. Indiscriminate use of force isn't necessarily a manifestation of "strength."

There are all kinds of strengths, but at the national level, strength of mind is probably more important than strength of purpose. I once had a math instructor in college whose second-favorite expression--invariably used when faced with a student who consistently misinterpreted a concept--was "the inability to let go of a bad idea is the sign of a weak mind" (her first was, "I know whereof I speak"). And that inability of Bush's to let go of a bad idea undermines any other notions he might have of "strength," prevents him from behaving differently, if only because he's incapable of seeing a bad idea for what it is, seeing the problem for what it is. His vaunted intractability, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of what he asserts, is not an asset (what most of us would call a "strength"). Eventually, and ultimately, that steadfastness of direction, that "staying the course," only appeals to similarly weak minds, which explains Bush's steadily declining support since the attacks of 9/11, as evidenced by the polls.

How much of that intractability has its roots in the political, and how much is personal, i.e., the way Bush thinks, is difficult to discern. After all, the same rhetoric was effective in the two prior elections. Nevertheless, the longer that Bush remains intractable and refuses to acknowledge the destruction and occupation of Iraq to be a disaster, the more support he has lost.

Certainty of purpose can be a strength--if, and only if, one has considered the rectitude of one's actions rationally, on a multiplicity of grounds and weighed their potential effects--and if one is willing to modify one's thinking as conditions change, in order to achieve that ultimate purpose. It is not, however, an absolute strength in and of itself--even the paranoic has certainty of purpose, that his actions are defensive, are the result of the persecutions of others. The schizophrenic has some certainty that the voices in his head are directing him in purposeful ways.

It's not likely that one can create a definition of national strength that will satisfy everyone, but we can make some determination of whether or not the policies of the current government, as espoused by George Bush, are accomplishing their purported ends (a backwards definition of strength, I suppose). International polling by the Pew Research Center shows that ordinary people around the world think little of the United States' policies, that this lack of respect for the country corresponds to the unwarranted invasion of Iraq, and that this lack is particularly notable in predominantly Muslim countries. In internal polls, Americans, too, have increasingly come to think of that action as a mistake.

Iraq, it seems, has turned out be a net negative--a weakness, if you will--which was predicated on presumed strengths--military power, determined policy and resolve. There is no evidence that greater application of any of those supposed strengths will improve the situation, or will make the United States respected once again. Therefore, the problem may be that we have, for too many years, believed in those errant definitions of strength.

Largely with the aid of Congress and Presidents of all stripes, the American people have come to believe that, for example, spending more on defense makes us stronger. Does it? We've rarely questioned that seeming truism. We've spent so much on defense over the years that the Pentagon has become a kind of sub-government within the government which has its own rules of operation, its own lobbying contingent, its own spies, its own domestic and foreign policy. We don't run it. It runs us. And with Donald Rumsfeld in charge of it, by extension, that means...?

Strength, somehow, has come to mean not something real, but something virtual and symbolic, something highly political, as with portraits of bald eagles on nationalist art. If I were able to ask average people, fifty years ago, what they thought national strength meant, they would likely have said, "freedom from fear," following FDR's lead, or, "the ability to maintain the peace." In fact, over the years, the U.S. has done neither of those things. The U.S. has been at war for much of the last fifty years, either overtly or covertly, and the military machine has actually stoked the fears of the public in order to obtain its own ends.

In the meantime, the other aspects of what many would perceive as strength--solid economics, good jobs and respect in the world have been steadily diminishing over time. The economy, particularly in the last few years, has been going great guns for the wealthy, but, umm, not so well for the great unwashed, the middle class. Respect around the world for the U.S. is also going the way of the dodo bird more than a hundred years ago--it's very close to extinct.

As importantly, the negatives implicit in past and current military spending have the potential to be extraordinarily damaging economically, because of the relationship of deficit spending for arms and the interest on the debt. While George Bush is currently crowing about the tax cuts reducing the annual deficit, there's most likely some sleight-of-hand creative accounting justifying the claim (we'll eventually find, I think, that more of the deficit has been offset by borrowing from the SS trust fund than is being currently advertised). In fact, as even Bush's own economists have previously admitted, the tax cuts have not generated enough economic activity to raise tax revenues to the level of the revenues lost by the tax cuts. They didn't during the same regimen during the Reagan years, and they won't this time around.

This set of circumstances points to an obvious result. As large amounts of debt--incurred through deliberate war and military spending--are deferred into future years (and because so much of that debt is being carried by the SS trust fund), US taxpayers will eventually find themselves in the position of the consumer subsumed by credit card debt--most of the tax money they pay will go for servicing debt. If substantially trimming military expenditures (which also requires substantially trimming the ambitions of the neo-colonialists in government) is not politically possible, the taxpayers will find that virtually all social programs will either not be funded or will be funded in ways that increase debt, because interest on the debt, along with repayments to the SS trust fund, will have crowded out virtually all other government functions--except defense. (This eventuality--as well as Wall Street's desire to sink its teeth into the tax-rich SS system--may be behind the current attempts by the Bushies to privatize Social Security. Certainly, Republicans want to remain in power as long as possible. That, of necessity, means they will be the political victims of their own policies. They will have to raise taxes to meet future SS obligations, or they will have to renege on their policies of unrestrained defense spending and give up their reputed political advantages on "national security," or, in the worst case, both.)

None of the immediate above could be described, by anyone sane, that is, as a position of strength. Add in the potential currency problems created by offshore holdings of U.S. debt, the inseparability of U.S. energy policy from its military and foreign policies, and one begins to see that what has been traditionally and contemporarily described as strength is actually an increasing overall weakness.

Now, let's overlay onto all this a couple more variables--declining oil reserves coupled with increasing worldwide demand and the potential for social, economic and political disruption due to global climate change. There are material costs associated with alleviating or minimizing the effects of those interrelated problems. There has been, along with increasing global temperatures, a concurrent shortage of and misallocation of fresh water. There will be large costs associated with improving that situation (and even larger costs if the current trend of privatizing water distribution continues). There will be large costs associated with repairing damage incurred from extreme weather events. There will be a strong desire on the part of all future U.S. governments, Democratic or Republican, to use military force to guarantee risk-adverse U.S. corporations high profitability by securing for them monopolies on low-cost labor and low-cost natural resources, and there will be large costs (social, political and economic) associated with those misadventures. All this will have to be done, to a considerable extent, with tax dollars and dollars borrowed from abroad.

Just as with the consumer overwhelmed with debt, there may be no cushion left for the time when a real emergency occurs. The government has been able to use deficit spending for limited periods of time to stimulate the general economy (such as using tax dollars to fund the CCC and the WPA during the Great Depression), but what happens when something truly dramatic happens, such as the so-called tipping point, when the Atlantic "conveyor belt" which drives the Gulf Stream shuts down completely, and the upper third of the country is almost immediately engulfed in year-round cold and damp, while the lower third begins to dry out and burn up? Similar events will be happening not just here, but all around the world, and with the credit card maxed out, the borrowing resources of government simply may not be there, either to staunch the bleeding or to fund the measures to fix the problem.

The government, reduced to having only a very heavy hammer in its toolbox, will then likely see all these myriad problems as nails, maintaining or increasing excessive levels of military spending in order to use the only tool it has at its disposal--the military, thus exacerbating each problem that arises. We're doing precisely that at the moment, so why should it seem fanciful that we would continue doing exactly the same in the future?

Does that sound like real strength? Until the public lets go of that bad idea--that more and more military spending, combined with lower and lower taxes on the wealthy, means more national "strength"--we're going to have weak-minded policy going into the future, no matter who's in Congress or the White House.

We may, in the end, not be able to come to any set definition of what national strength is, but we've had ample opportunity to see, in demonstrable, fact-driven ways, what it is not.

"The First Rule of Holes..."

... as the inimitable Molly Ivins would say, is "when you find yourself in one, stop digging."

Sage advice for just about anyone... except Chris Shays, who, finding himself in a hole, just leans on the shovel a little harder.

Kindasleazza Rice, having already dug one hole for herself in primetime at the 9/11 commission hearing, tries for a brand-new one. Sort of a Condo of holes....

Don Sherwood, as we've seen, seems to think no one will notice him in that hole he's dug for himself.

Denny the Hutt would be well-advised to just shut up and take the next few weeks off--he'd come out better in the election if he did--but, noooooo, Jabba the Hastert wants to take a few more licks with the laborer's friend.

Tom Reynolds, thinking he knows which end of the shovel is which, proves that he can dig a nice, deep hole for himself without having a clue, and also wind up with the shovel up his ass.

And, the king of holes, the Grand Asshole, as it were, Georgie W., given a chance by the press to, you know, sort of, just nudge up against reality and admit, after years of increasingly bad news, that Iraq isn't going _that well_, that the press offers him a hand up out that hole he so dearly loves, and instead, he seems to get out the power equipment in his attempt to drill himself into the ground:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Thank you, Mr. President. Back on Iraq, a group of American and Iraqi health officials today released a report saying that 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war. That figure is 20 times the figure that you cited in December at 30,000. Do you care to amend or update your figure and do you consider this a credible report?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don’t control it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.

By the time he leaves office, George is going to be so deep that everyone's gonna recognize Bush not as "Dubya," but, rather, as "The Mohole A-hole."

Oh, yeah, speaking of holes, anyone seen or heard of KKKarl Rove lately?

Just wondering... when a Bushie drops out of sight, there's probably been some hole-digging goin' on.

"I'm Don Sherwood and...

... even though my girlfriend thinks a little sex fun went way beyond fun, you should have seen the bruises on my gullet after my wife got through with me. And my kids kicked the hell out of my shins while she was chokin' the livin' hell out of me. But, friends and neighbors, I was still doing my very best, all the while, to keep my mind on cutting taxes for my wealthy contributors, so they'll have even more money to give my campaign to pay for lamoid ads like this one, and at the same time contemplating the issue of security (you would, too, if you'd been sued by a crazy bitch that you were just having a little clean fun with) and how my really, really good friend, George Bush, is defending us against our real enemies, the people who say that George is just disassembling our national security. I stand for security and low taxes for all my friends...

... so, be my friend, and help pay for this message that I approved that I hope will sort of gloss over the fact that I've been behaving on the public's dime and time like the degenerate that we all know the liberals really are. A lot of Republicans do it, but they don't really mean it. I mean, it's not like this sort of Foley sort of behavior is in our hearts or anything..."

[from off-camera] "Don, just shut the fuck up and stay with the script. Ready, take 82, coming up."

No wonder the GOP has to spend so much money on ads this year. Their candidates just can't read the script....

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hell, Yeah...

... I think the end-timers and the Rapture-Ready should have their own party and their own candidate.

Just to see the look on KKKarl Rove's face when they stopped voting for any ol' GOP shill that comes along.

But, Judge Moore can't do it alone... he's gotta have a running mate. Give some thought to that, Christian soldiers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Another Nuclear Power?

The most recent news suggests that the North Koreans have completed a successful nuclear weapons test. [Update: Janes Defence Weekly is saying, uh, no, it probably wasn't successful. More on that issue below.]

What happens next is anyone's guess.

Already, there's some large talk about how this might affect Japan. A lot depends upon what Japanese leaders say in the next few days about the matter. If the Bushies start pushing Japan to begin a nuclear arms race with North Korea, there's no telling where that might lead. My guess is that it would create a fracture in Japanese politics which would be almost impossible to repair. The situation is more complicated than we view it in the West--the Koreas, generally, still harbor long-held resentments toward the Japanese for their treatment of Korea during Japan's occupation of eastern Asia before and during WWII.

Had Japanese leaders made sincere apologies and some meaningful gesture beyond token reparations at some point in the past, Japan might not be part of the North Korean equation today.

But, that not being the case, Japan might well feel it's the object of North Korea's currently apparent belligerence. And, under nuclear threat, once again, the Japanese, out of national pride, might not be inclined to offer entreaties to North Korea, even if it were in their best interest to do so. On that score, it may simply be too late.

At the root of this mess, however, is George Bush's determination to have his own way, however stupid that way might be. The very first transgression against common sense was the Bushies' determination to view all things Clinton as bad. While the Clinton administration dragged its feet on fulfilling its 1994 agreement with North Korea (one which Jimmy Carter forced on them by intermediating in a situation that promised to blow up in unpredictable ways--the Clintonites wanted to attack North Korea--no telling how that might have gone over around the world), the Bushies torpedoed that plan almost immediately after assuming office. They sent John Bolton to threaten the North Koreans, and summarily abrogated the "Agreed Framework," as it was called, by halting heavy fuel oil shipments which North Korea needed for electricity production. They effectively did everything possible to ruin the "sunshine" initiative by South Korea to normalize relations with the north. Then, in January, 2002, George stood up in front of the world and declared (with the help of his born-again speechwriters) North Korea to be part of an "axis of evil."

When rich, messianic, raggedy-assed white folks from the Bush family start barking about evil, you're going to sit up and take notice, especially if you've been called out by one of them. Now, not many Americans realized that Bush's painting a target on Kim Jong Il's back was all about justifying the breach of the ABM treaty and continued funding for the NMD system--something that the Bushies had been pushing for all they were worth while al-Qaeda was busy planning attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Without a threat from North Korea which could be inflated to unrealistic proportions, there was little reason to pursue ABM schemes requiring indefensible amounts of money. Even after 9/11/2001, the Bushies kept trying to shove a cattle prod up Kim's ass, because the National Missile Defense system was not yet installed and the Bushies needed to have Congress worked up about it.

So, what happened? The Bushies got what they wanted--an installed missile defense system that military contractors wanted, which works, um, maybe not so good, after all--and a greater threat from North Korea than the one for which they'd planned. Whether by accident or intent, that's the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, let's not underestimate the damage North Korea can do, but, also, let's not forget who and what they are. For those Americans with not much understanding of its history (or where the hell it is), it's a country living in a long-distant past. It's a tiny country trying to maintain a Stalinist government more than fifty years after Stalin himself no longer has any ability to consume any of the planet's oxygen, and this in the face of it sharing a border with a prosperous capitalist circus directly to its south composed of people with a culture, language and history common to its own. North Korea is so anachronistic, in the 21st century, that it defies description and understanding. Even the Chinese, North Korea's only erstwhile ally, can't get them to bend from a system which has impoverished them for decades. The economic and political situation in North Korea is virtually impossible for Westerners to fathom. The country is illogical, desperately poor and repressive, and there seems to be no explanation for the fierce and intractable loyalty of North Korea's leaders to a system which has even impoverished them and left them to be viewed by the rest of the world as petty tyrants.

If it simply were a matter of individual tyranny, its military would have taken over the government with the death of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il's father. That didn't happen, and that it didn't, whether by virtue of allegiance to ideology or indoctrination, says a great deal about the insularity of the country. For that reason alone, the Bush administration's interference with South Korean president Kim Dae-jung's reengagement policy is the greater crime in all this. Only by steady and careful engagement and demonstration of good faith could the leadership of such an isolated country be gradually led to entertain alternatives.

Bush and friends, though, thought they could change the world to their liking in eight years. Perhaps they have done that, but their notions of what the world should be like are not to the world's betterment. We're all the worse off for their impatience, and that much closer to war.

On the matter of whether North Korea has been successful or not, despite Janes' pronouncement, my guess is we'll have to wait and see for the data to come in. Most people seem to be basing their assumption of failure (a fizzle yield of 0.55Kt) on an unclassified paper done in 1989 by Lynn Sykes and Goran Ekstrom of Columbia Univ. as a check on the ability to do remote seismic verification of compliance with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which limited underground tests to a maximum of 150 kilotons.

There are a number of reasons to use the paper only as a rough guideline for what likely happened in North Korea. From my reading of the methodology of that paper, the estimates for yield are based on a simple formula that assumes the test resembled those done by other nuclear powers (bore hole into hard rock). Right now, I'm guessing that that's not a suitable assumption, because the geology of the area hasn't been described adequately in the press. As well, the early reports indicated that the North Koreans used an existing mineshaft into a mountain. No telling how that might affect seismic readings, as variables such as depth, orientation, composition, relation to the water table and size of the mineshaft are not immediately known. Blasts below the water table in soft rock tend to show lower than expected magnitude for seismic body waves. Another measure of yield can be done by examination of two types of surface waves (Love and Rayleigh waves), but that data may take longer to generate and compare from a number of seismic stations. Finally, there's not many datum points for very small blasts (that information apparently is still classified) because yields determined hydrodynamically at the event site have not been published, even though the U.S., over the years, has done a fairly large number of small-yield tests.

If there is leakage from the site, more information may be gleaned from that release of radionuclides, but, it may take days for those to be carried through the air to a point where they can be collected without creating an international incident.

A last consideration is the nature of implosion weapons. From existing available evidence, North Korea has been intent upon stockpiling bomb-grade plutonium, and they apparently do not have the infrastructure in place to do significant physical isotope separation (such as by a gas centrifuge cascade). This would limit North Korea to building implosion weapons with the fuel chemically separated from spent fuel rods. The most common assumption is that, as with most countries testing their first weapon, North Korea would aim to detonate a simple proof-of-concept weapon with sufficient bomb fuel to guarantee fission, something like the first implosion weapon built by the U.S. (the weaponized version was "Fat Man," which was used to destroy Nagasaki). For such a bomb to be considered a success, its yield would be nominally in the range of 10-20Kt. A half-kiloton yield would, therefore, definitely point to a failure.

What changes this assumption is the fact that North Korea, from the best estimates, doesn't have very much bomb fuel available. Its long-term storage of fuel rods is poor, the spent fuel rods themselves show some signs of damage consistent with problems with reactor operation, etc. They might have as little as 25-30Kg of usable plutonium, enough to make a few (3-5) smallish weapons. Now, the convenient aspect of implosion weapons (from the viewpoint of the designer) is that fission can be achieved with much less than the optimum amount of plutonium. Bombs can be made smaller. (In fact, the U.S. has made very small plutonium weapons, down to equivalent yields of perhaps 20-30 tons of TNT.) All that is necessary is to uniformly squeeze the plutonium enough so that supercriticality is achieved (the point at which uncontrolled fission begins). This presents new problems for the designer, but the basic operation of the bomb is similar to larger versions. Therefore, it is possible that North Korea intentionally made its first test smaller than expected to conserve its small stock of bomb fuel. Given the variables previously mentioned, it could have aimed for a 1Kt yield and come fairly close to that figure, and if it succeeded in that, a somewhat larger bomb would actually be easier to make by comparison.

Right now, though, the evidence does point to North Korea not attaining its goals, and if it did not, it is the first known country in the history of nuclear weapons development to have failed on the first try. If it did fail, all the factors mentioned above bear on the reasons for that failure. Virtually every aspect of North Korea's nuclear program moves in slow motion compared to those of other countries--North Korea has been working toward nuclear weapons for over thirty years. Its second small reactor was completed in 1984, tested in 1985 and still did not begin power operation until about 1987. The combination of abject poverty (North Korea's GDP is not much over $20 billion/yr for a population of now about 20 million) and a decrepit Stalinist bureaucracy may be the central reasons why North Korea is not quite the threat that the Bushies have described it to be. Its imports are about twelve times its exports, and the internal situation there is pretty dire. A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in 2005 said:

The North Korean economy is one of the world's most isolated and bleak....

During the 1990s, the inefficiencies of North Korea's centrally planned economy, especially its promotion of state-owned heavy industries, along with high military spending--as much as 30% of GDP--joined with drought and floods to push the economy into crisis. In addition, the collapse of the Soviet bloc meant the loss of Russian aid, export markets, and cheap oil. Trade with the former Soviet Union dropped from as much as $3 billion to the current $45 million per year. This added to disastrous domestic economic conditions in North Korea. Food has been so scarce that North Korean youth are shorter than those in other East Asian nations. Since 1998, the military reportedly has had to lower its minimum height requirement in order to garner sufficient new recruits. Life expectancy has been contracting.

Let's not forget, too, that this possible failure comes hard behind a confirmed failure of a recent Taepo-dong 2 missile launch, and that the most recent variants of that missile, even with successful launches, have not (despite much propaganda to the contrary) come near the range necessary to become a threat to U.S. territory. North Korea's almost inevitable technical problems have given the Bushies many opportunities to intercede diplomatically, to encourage the "sunshine" dialogue between the two Koreas, to nudge the North Koreans away from military programs which have overburdened their already unhealthy economy. Instead, Bush has been trying to run a red-hot poker up the ass of the North Koreans at every opportunity.

As technologically backward as North Korea's military programs may be, they're a model of efficiency compared to Bush's brand of diplomacy. Bush's apparently personal dislike for Kim Jong Il has prompted him to resist all of North Korea's efforts to talk one-on-one with the United States. In the meantime, the political atmosphere grows more poisonous, and North Korea learns a little more about building nuclear weapons. Even failures are instructive, if one is paying attention and is willing to acknowledge one's mistakes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Spate of Denials....

Almost forty years ago, James Coburn starred in a nifty little movie, "The President's Analyst," in which he played, yup, the President's psychiatrist. Coburn's character, Dr. Sidney Schaefer, at first thinks the job an extreme honor, but, after a couple of weeks of being on call, day and night, Sidney starts going bonkers himself and flees, with the "CEA" and the "FBR" in hot pursuit, along with the spy services of every country from the Soviet Union to Lower Bantustan, only to finally be captured by TPC. TPC? Why, The Phone Company, of course, because The Phone Company has a plan to wire everyone's brain at birth with an implanted communication device, thus saving TPC the cost of maintaining the phone system.

The phone company abducts Sidney in order to convince him to use his influence on the president to get the government to endorse and subsidize the plan through a tax. In one sense, the script was prescient in its portrayal of corporations and their desires to use government to their own ends, and at the same time, was woefully short-sighted. Compared to the current environment, in which the government is actively defending and subsidizing corporations against citizens' interests, when Bush's FCC even tries to avoid public hearings and public comment on matters of media consolidation and corporate control of publicly-owned communications resources, the premise of the film seems, well, almost quaint.

The plot framework, that of the President needing the services of a shrink, however, is not quaint and is still germane. Nixon surely could have used one (lord knows he could have used something besides drinking to excess when under pressure), and while Reagan probably could have benefitted from same, he had Nancy and their astrologer to keep him from falling off the cliff of right-wing extremism (his living in the relatively benign dream world of film nostalgia might have been an advantage for us all--we've now had a chance to see what life would have been like if he'd been twenty years younger as president). Clinton might have fared somewhat better with a bit of friendly medical advice before an infatuated 22-year-old intern showed him her ass and let her turn his head. Emulation of JFK's tendency to satyriasis was not a quality to his advantage with the likes of right-wing crazies like Ken Starr and Richard Mellon Scaife intent on destroying him and his party for the most crabbed and self-serving of reasons.

And, then, there's George W. Bush--and his disciples--bringing White House psychopathology to an unprecedented new level of speculation. As recently as August, Justin Frank (of Bush on the Couch) was asking about the "second half of his medical check-up: psychological testing."

Frank was right to ask about Bush's state of mind. At the height of the Foley scandal in Congress, Bush was raising money among the hoipolloi of the Republican Party by saying, "Democrats can't be trusted to run Congress." Now, even in the context of political hyperbole, that's either an expression of denial or a delusion, and at its most benign, still a lie. Bush knows they can run Congress. That's what he's afraid of.

And, almost any observer, partisan or otherwise, can see that, if Democrats do take one or both houses of Congress, it won't be just about one randy Congressman chasing underaged boys. L'affaire Foley (and its attempted cover-up by Republican House managers) is just the latest layer of corruption plunked down on an increasingly rancid and moldy old cake which House Repugs have been assembling all these many years, ever since Newt Gingrich's contract on America. (All the evidence necessary to show general insanity amongst the latest crop of Republicans can be found in Newtie's belief that he can and should be President).

It's likely going to remain a conundrum, long after Bush has left office, as to whether he was ever playing with a full deck. Ever since the advent of network television, the Presidency has been a captive of what is now euphemistically called "perception management." Every administration does it. Reagan could be trusted to hit his marks and read his lines convincingly. No one was quite sure from whence those lines were coming, but they were delivered with assurance. However, by the time Lawrence Walsh had tried to interview Reagan in 1992 about Iran-Contra and related matters, just three and a half years after he left office, there was, conveniently, not enough left of Reagan's mind to contain much of anything specific. The final report on the matter read:

By July 1992, when Reagan agreed to a final, extensive interview with Independent Counsel, it was obvious that the former President truly lacked specific recollection of even the major Iran/contra events which took place in 1984-1987.

How much that was case during Reagan's time in office will likely remain shrouded in the ongoing myth-making in which Reagan acolytes and his adoring fans have engaged over the years.

Frank has generally described Bush as an untreated alcoholic, exhibiting classic "dry drunk" symptoms, along with a tendency to megalomania. Others have pigeonholed him as prone to narcissism and exhibiting sociopathic behavior. Bush's brother describes him, simply, as "a hard case" and someone who "truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under."

That might explain his tendency to employ very hardball political tactics, or, it might also explain his fascination with torture--and his unwillingness to acknowledge it for what it is and its lack of usefulness.

His greatest failing, though, seems to be, both as a politician and as a human being, his inability or unwillingness to acknowledge anything as fact which does not conform to his notions. In politics, that could be construed as being hardheaded, and that seems to be part of the territory of being a right-wing American politician these days. However, when dealing with the public and the press, at any suggestion that things aren't going as he imagines, he either clams up or promptly denies the obvious. Frank, again:

I had always felt that his inability to respond to crisis, as seen in his response to 9/11 and Katrina and Israel's bombing of Lebanon, was because he suffered from something called affective flooding, where overwhelming anxiety paralyzes any ability to think or even function. Such a response is similar to denial but writ large. Those who observe the president at such moments - thanks to smuggled film clips and his historic April 2004 press conference when he was asked if he had made any mistakes as president - see that he starts rapid blinking movements before his eyes glaze over and become almost fixed in a blank, mindless stare. This massive disconnection from inner self and outer world is called "splitting."

But his most recent press conference (August 21, 2006) showed that when he is in control he is not flooded in this way. Rather, his splitting takes the form of hatred of reality. I use the term hatred purposefully. When he was pushed by a few increasingly frustrated reporters, he behaves like the untreated alcoholic he is - summarily dismissing material reality.

When offered a chance to re-think the Iraq war he becomes obstreperous, using sarcasm to both mask and express his internal rage at being challenged. When back in control he patronizes members of what he calls the "Democrat" party, saying that they are "good people" and that he doesn't question their patriotism. In control he is a poor man's Cicero, saying what he's not going to say anyway. Reading between the lines, he calls his critics quitters.

All of this behavior is in the service of defending himself against reality - something he actively hates. At times, his attempts to ward off reality make him appear stupid. He is not. Rather, internal and external realities are too threatening for him to face. When asked whether he had been surprised or frustrated by all the bad news from Baghdad he didn't even understand the question. This is because the very act of facing such questions threatens to destroy his tenaciously held preconceptions. This he cannot risk; he employs various coping mechanisms to attack such questions in any way he can. Instead of acknowledging personal frustration he said that the war must be frustrating for the national psyche. But his hatred of reality required a more violent approach - the day after his conference he sent more of those poor marines back into a world of horror.

Frank's conclusion is that Bush is "psychotic."

We'll probably never know, for sure. Twenty years from now, Bush may be wandering around his driveway in Crawford, shooting at cars wearing nothing but his pajama tops and cowboy boots, and at that time, people will think, "yup, Bush has finally gone nuts." As for now, perception management is, well, managing perceptions. Bush is in a serious state of denial about a whole host of things--Iraq, the current domestic political situation, Afghanistan, maybe even whether Barney still gives a shit about him or not, but as long as that resistance to reality is spun as "steadfastness," or "resolve," or commitment," there'll be no way of knowing what's really in his mind, such as it is, unless he starts to melt down in a very obvious and public way. (Answering reporters' questions in tongues would be a clue, but, then, who could really tell the difference? Peeance, freeance, anyone?). We know from the Nixon tapes that Nixon had a bad habit of calling foreign leaders after he'd had too much to drink--but we didn't find it out until almost thirty years after he left office. (Had we known in 1969, would it have made a difference? Will we find out, thirty years from now that Bush had to be restrained to keep him from nuking Ted Kennedy's house on Martha's Vineyard? Or Paris? In the current climate, would it have made a difference?)

What has complicated any assessment of Bush's mental health is that he's been convincing enough to get reelected--even if he stole 2004, too, it would still mean almost half of the country is just as nuts as he is. Looking back on the last nearly six years, I'd have to say that, yes, that is possible, but it doesn't make defining the problem any easier.

If Justin Frank, M.D., is correct, though, what would be done about it? The current Congress won't restrain him, and having him appear at press conferences in a straitjacket would probably encourage the terrorists. His doctors are probably already filling him with all manner of pharmaceuticals (why else would the United States Government be afraid of someone stealing Bush's feces?), but Thorazine would be obvious--Bush is only metaphorically drooling right now.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see. There's a big list of ifs to be hurdled. If the Democrats take the House and/or Senate. And, if they do, will they be daring enough to use the power of subpoena? If they are, will they begin to dismantle, in the process of investigating his administration, the support structure which has protected Bush from reality all these many years?

Quite apart from the pure entertainment value of Karl Rove appearing under oath, will there be Oval Office mental health consequences to a Democratic Congress investigating George W. Bush's maladministration?

I suppose the only way to find out if Bush is really nuts is to vote Democratic on Nov. 7th and find out. It's, at the very least, one way of bringing a little sanity back to politics... by comparison.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Impure Motives....

Sen. Bill Frist made what seemed to be a ridiculous statement (for an insane Republican, anyway) recently, suggesting that making peace with the Taliban and bringing them into the existing government was an alternative to being completely routed from southern Afghanistan. He just as quickly tried to take a mulligan on the remark, saying that he'd been "quoted out of context."

Now, I realize that any Republican these days trying to make sense of a bad situation is going to seem traitorous to the cause and look sublimely ridiculous, but, what Frist was obviously doing was poking around the edges of trying to bring reason to a problem that has seen precious little of that commodity from the very start. The direction of his suggestion may be dead wrong, but the attempt is noteworthy. Post-9/11, the mere suggestion of applying one's mind to the alternatives is downright astonishing--for a post-modern Republican, that is.

If one were to record all the stupid, disingenuous, rude, obscene and barking mad comments made by the right since the 2000 election, it would take about twelve volumes, and an eight-volume concordia to catalogue and explain it all.

We're swimming in spewed verbal diarrhea, and so any instance of Republicans acting like normal people deserves some consideration.

Unfortunately, strategically and historically, Frist is probably on the wrong track. While the Taliban have lately been trying to woo the local tribal leaders in the south, village by village, with what appears to be more political means, rather than by bullets, one has to consider their ultimate aim--a return to control of the government. Here's a little conjecture and speculation to put Frist's seemingly hasty comments in perspective.

Taliban supporters, as their name suggests (the root of the word comes from talib, "one who is seeking," now, particularly, a religious student), came principally out of the madrassas that sprang up in the refugee camps on the periphery of the Soviet-Afghan war. The madrassas in those camps taught the same sort of fundamentalism prevalent in Pakistan (and, likely, Saudi Arabia, too), with an important difference. Living conditions in those camps was austere, at best, and folded into that traditional fundamentalism was a belief in extreme austerity as a religious virtue. Hence, when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, they banned (and enforced, with the aid of the religious police) television of all sorts, music, motion pictures of all varieties, contemporary public arts of all types. While the Taliban said this was an effort to rid the society of Western influence, that didn't explain the exclusivity of the ban. It more likely was to recreate, throughout the country, the same privation of the refugee camps (which had made the madrassas seem like such a relief from refugee camp life).

Deprivation was, therefore, an essential component of the Taliban's strategy of using religious education to form a unified theocratic government and religious society--the ultimate aim of the nationalist Islamists funding the madrassas.

In the background of this phenomenon are the nearly thirty years of continuous war in the country, beginning with the Soviet invasion (suckered into doing so through a plan devised by Zbigniew Brzezinski), which had fractured the country's political core and which had created the circumstances for the reemergence of the warlords. The Reagan administration (with the considerable help of Rep. Charlie Wilson) pumped huge amounts of money into the country with the ostensible purpose of fighting the Soviets--perhaps $3 billion in a few years, while wealthy Saudis also contributed to the cause, to an unknown extent, probably on the order of $500 million-$1 billion over a similar period. The important point about the money was that much of it was funneled into Afghanistan by the CIA, whose presence and funding could not be made too public--the whole point of fighting a proxy war is to make it seem as if it is an indigenous conflict. For this reason, the CIA used the Pakistani intelligence service ISI as a cut-out. Lots of the funding was channeled through Pakistan. Saudi funding was treated in the same way. At every waystation for that money, someone was skimming off some in preparation for the time when the Soviets would finally leave. The warlords used the money for weapons, brought into the country on pack mules bought by the ISI, but they also put some away for expanding opium production, which would become their power base. Pakistan shaved off a little (maybe as much as $500 million over the years from all sources) in order to support their interests in Afghanistan afterwards.

Economists talk of "soft landings" and "hard landings" of the economy after it's been overheated, with the likelihood of the former happening through policy adjustment and planning, while the latter usually occurs when there is no plan and no expectation of anything adverse occurring. The United States had no plan for a soft landing for Afghanistan because its only interest there was in wearing down the Soviet Union, forcing it to waste time and money "on its own Vietnam." Once that had been done, Afghanistan was left to its own devices. That this was policy was made apparent by the deals Reagan/Bush made with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 and 1989: the Soviet Union would leave Afghanistan, but only if Bush agreed to withdraw all U.S. funding and political involvement. Both countries, it was agreed, would not interfere in the politics of Afghanistan.

Politics, as with nature, abhors a vacuum, and the Najibullah government in Afghanistan was almost immediately in the midst of a civil war, pitting various warlords against each other and the government. Kabul was shelled almost daily by various factions. As with the mujahideen and the Soviets, the smarter force, the Pakistan-backed Taliban, largely withdrew to let other factions beat up on each other and waited. The Taliban returned to the fray, well-supplied, in 1993, and by 1996 had firmly established a government. (The Frists of the world would be well to study recent history of the Taliban, because they are now doing what they had done in the past. When the U.S. invasion began in 2001, they melted away to the borders, or deep into northwestern Pakistan, and waited. By 2004, the Afghan population was tired of being targets for U.S. planes and indiscriminate fire from soldiers who couldn't tell the Taliban from apolitical villagers. By 2005, car bombs and IEDs were in regular use, and by now, the British commanders in the regional Taliban strongholds around Kandahar are admitting they could lose the area.)

This latter realization is what drives Frist to think that partial representation for the Taliban in the existing government might be acceptable. What Frist didn't say, but was thinking, I'm sure, was that such was far more preferable than the Taliban seizing the entire government again. Frist's later denial of what he really did say publicly doesn't change the obvious--Frist knows the occupation is going badly (as occupations facing an insurgency always do), and any step toward accepting the need for diplomacy, even if it's a misstep, is better than a protracted, but doomed, military campaign.

Unfortunately, there's that prior history to understand. There were pro-democracy elements within Afghanistan that felt that the U.S. had abandoned them when the Soviets withdrew. That generated internal suspicions about U.S. motives. Nor had the U.S. done much to restrain the Pakistani ISI's enthusiasm in its support for the Taliban. The Taliban initially gained support by limiting the fighting and bringing some semblance of order to the country, but their religious and cultural extremism was too much for even the average Afghan in a country that was already mostly Muslim, even more tribal than Arab societies and exceedingly patriarchal. At the heart of that skepticism about the Taliban was the Taliban's expectation that it could radically alter Afghan society to conform to its own weird, warped notions of religious purity, precisely at a time when the country desperately needed help rebuilding after fifteen years of war. When the Taliban excoriated the West, generally, they were also driving away the elements which could help Afghanistan. As a consequence, the Taliban were seen, by at least part of the inhabitants of the country, as incompetent managers, and, indeed, in the five years that the Taliban ran the country, it became even poorer, as impossible at that seems. Their implementation of a draconian version of Sharia law only compounded the ill-feeling many in Afghanistan held for the Taliban.

It's difficult to say, from a remote vantage point, how the general populace felt about the Taliban giving sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and what by then was known as al-Qaeda. Taliban supporters might have thought it would give them credentials with the fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia, and might mean some financial help. Less sanguine appraisals from non-supporters certainly included the notion that the United States would not be pleased, and that what little aid coming in from western NGOs might dry up if violence was in the offing. But, at that time, the Clinton government had not tied the Taliban government to bin Laden as co-conspirators and had continued to view bin Laden and his supporters as a criminal enterprise.

Then the Bushies arrived in Washington, ready to kick ass and take Democratic names and advance an agenda that had been long in the works. Their first solution to the problem of the Taliban was to bribe them. The $40-odd million in-kind payment to the Taliban in 2001 was reported in the U.S. as a good-faith payment by the U.S. for the eradication of poppy fields, with the implication that the Taliban's religiosity was at odds with opium production, but as with most things in Afghanistan, the situation was far more complicated.

Opium as a cash crop was relatively easy to grow, and provided farmers with more money than traditional crops, and after many years of war, money at the local level was extraordinarily tight. Extra money paid for the cultural incidentals of life--pick-up trucks, gasoline to run them, maybe a CD here and there, and if one were lucky, television with satellite service. Many of those things were precisely what the Taliban had banned. Killing off poppy production--without instituting effective government programs to replace the lost income--had the effect of impoverishing the farmers, reducing them to the level of privation equivalent to that in the refugee camps, the only way of life many Taliban supporters knew and understood.

But, more importantly, the Taliban wanted to eradicate the source of income of the warlords, to hamper their ability to pay or coerce recruits to fight for them against the Taliban, to minimize their capability to procure further arms and ammunition.

The Bushies, however, didn't much care about that. Their bribe was the set-up to get the Taliban to change their mind about a pipeline deal. UNOCAL had wooed them without success, and in the meantime, the Taliban had awarded a related contract to Bridas, a consortium based in Argentina. The only way the Bushies could stop that contract with the Afghan government was to get rid of the government. So began in the spring and early summer the carrot-and-stick approach--the "carpet of gold, or a carpet of bombs" routine. The Bushies were planning to attack Afghanistan for the purposes of regime change well before the attacks of September, 2001. Shortly after those attacks, of course, came the announcement of the Bush doctrine, that governments which harbored terrorists would be equally liable. (I have no idea if U.S. intelligence services had knowledge of the Taliban actively aiding al-Qaeda in their 9/11 attack plans. It seems unlikely that al-Qaeda would have broken security to that degree. As well, implicating their hosts in the plans would have assured an invasion. What is now reasonably certain, however, is that Pakistan's assistance to the fundamentalists in Afghanistan was palpable and that camps for fundamentalist fighters (terrorists, in the catch-all of Bush rhetoric) existed in Pakistan. And yet, Pakistan was not invaded. Afghanistan was. Pakistan, miraculously (with the aid of U.S. threats and bribes), became a staunch ally of Bush in the "war on terror.")

The effect of that "doctrine" was to institutionalize extended military response to terrorism (codified in the 2001 AUMF), which was conveniently a means of spreading U.S. bases into central Asia, the "lily pad" concept promoted by Donald Rumsfeld. A massive military response could also convince the U.S. and western European publics that al-Qaeda was, contrary to intelligence, an equally massive and monolithic military force, bent on conquest. In fact, al-Qaeda, as it existed in Afghanistan, was at most a few hundred core fighters who had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets, followed him to the Sudan and returned to Afghanistan with him after his expulsion from there in 1996. Outside of Afghanistan, bin Laden's support might have totalled a couple of thousand serious people wishing for funding as "franchisees" of al-Qaeda plans or asking bin Laden to underwrite their own operations, either as individuals or as "cells," many of whom were disaffected Saudis or radical fundamentalists around the globe.

The attacks on the United States unleashed a Pandora's Box of mistakes in Afghanistan (precisely what has happened in Iraq, in very large part for the same reasons--in both instances, the object was regime change, and the plan consisted of little more than to install a puppet government which would carry out the Bush administration's wishes without contradiction or resistance). The U.S. choice to lead Afghanistan was Hamid Karzai, who was, in turn, guided through the early government-forming process by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Both of these people had connections to UNOCAL, and Khalilzad had strong neo-conservative credentials in Washington. Did Afghans not notice that the U.S. was immediately creating a puppet government which could not survive without continuing U.S. occupation of their country? How could they not? An early call to return the exiled elderly king,
Muhammed Zâhir Shah (who was popular with the non-aligned in Afghanistan and with the tribal chieftains) and reconstitute the loya jirga as the traditional tribal government went unheeded. Had the U.S. taken that course or something similar, provided protection to the tribal leaders from both the warlords and the Taliban, the last five years in Afghanistan might have had a different outcome.

The British failed in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and the Soviets spent ten years fighting there in the 20th, to no good end. The United States is now halfway along the same path the Soviets traveled. NATO countries are increasingly chary about committing more troops to what seems to them a thankless task without the promise of benefit to anyone, including the Afghans themselves. If there are doubts about how little the Afghan people figured into Bush administration calculations, let's not forget that when the Bushies submitted their fiscal year 2003 budget, there was no provision for humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan included.

As more is known about the early months of fighting in Afghanistan, it seems clearer that the Bush administration had its eyes fixed on the prize of pipeline contracts for American multinationals, creating a puppet government and on manipulating U.S. public opinion in favor of an interminable "war on terror" (principally by finding yet another new target in Iraq), rather than on the immediate requirements of capturing the leaders of al-Qaeda and bringing them to justice, neutering the Taliban militarily and politically, and restoring a stable native government. Five years on, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri still remain at large, the Taliban are now resurgent, and the Karzai government is no less dependent upon U.S. and NATO occupation forces for its survival.

The parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq are numerous, because the Bush administration saw both through the same distorted lens of self-interest, and applied the same lack of planning for what would come after the bombing, in large part because they were firmly convinced that with the application of military force and a belief in the "free market" (read: U.S. economic control of resources), all else would simply fall into place.

Maybe Frist is finally figuring that out, even if George Bush hasn't (or won't). Frist's initial statement was a halting, if ill-considered, recognition of fact. His later denial, his insistence that his statements had been taken out of context, was just the politics of self-preservation. It's wrong of him to think that the Taliban would be satisfied with a minority role in the Afghan government. They won't be, and the wealthy Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the UAE who want to see the establishment of a pure Islamic state in Afghanistan won't, either. But, it is right to begin to think of using diplomatic effort, rather than depending upon the continued misapplication of military force and occupation.

Smart diplomacy is in order, but accommodating the Taliban is not smart. It would be far better to convince our erstwhile "friends" in the region, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the UAE (coincidentally, the only three countries in the world which recognized the Taliban government), that neither a Taliban- nor a warlord-controlled Afghanistan is in anyone's best interest, and most of all, is not in the best interests of the majority of Afghans, who mostly want to be left alone. The mujahideen succeeded in driving out the Soviets, principally because they had plenty of CIA and Saudi money behind them. The warlords have maintained their control because the U.S. backed them monetarily before, during and after the invasion. It takes little imagination, then, to understand why the Taliban have returned with a vengeance. Someone is funding them to do so, and that money is very likely coming from within countries who are supposedly our allies. As was the case in the post-Soviet withdrawal period, some of that money may even be our own.

The fundamental truth, though, is that as long as it's politically advantageous to the Bush cohort to perpetuate the "long war" on terror, that's exactly what they will do. They are no more interested in diplomatically marginalizing the wealthy Islamists funding extremism than they are in marginalizing the religious extremists in the United States. Both are essential elements in a plan borne of impure motives.

(Photo c/o UN Commission for Children and Armed Conflict)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When Generalizing From a Particular...

... becomes a disease... or worse. We've had that, in spades, with l'affaire Foley these last few days, not to mention a good deal of sophistry to explain the significance of the generalizations. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wants us all to conclude from this business that "tolerance" is the real criminal here:

We are all shocked by this spectacle of aberrant sexual behavior, but we shouldn't be. This is the end result of a society that rejects sexual restraints in the name of diversity. When a 16-year-old boy is not safe from sexual solicitation from an elected representative of the people, we should question the moral direction of our nation. If our children aren't safe in the halls of Congress, where are they safe? Maybe it's time to question: when is tolerance just an excuse for permissiveness? [h/t Orcinus]

Gay Republican congressman chases teenaged boys? The whole country is depraved and rampant permissiveness (read: acceptance of gays) is the root cause.

Patrick McHenry, a representative from Kentucky with dubious motives and correspondingly questionable logic, decides that, apparently, since politics is just full o' dirty tricks (not a mention of which party has the post-doctoral CV in that regard), top House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel should testify on what they know about the leak of the documents to the press leading to the Foley scandal. Maybe if McHenry read the news before opening his mouth wide enough to swallow a Big Mac whole....

George W. Bush may be the worst of the bunch in this regard. Someone didn't get killed in Iraq today? Oh, well, then, overall, things are going great! Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet and people in his own party are running from him like he was a junkie with AIDS trying to share a needle with them, but someone is letting him pick Republican pockets behind closed doors once in a while? Ah, then, that spells success in November. If the country doesn't want the CIA torturing suspects, well, by god, that means we can't interrogate anyone, even humanely, and the terrorists win. Americans just want FISA law followed on internal spying, why, that will prevent Bush from spying on anyone, and gawdamightyohshittheterroristswillkillusall, sez George.

Cheney is running neck and neck with George in that regard. If there's a one percent chance of Iraq having WMDs (although 99% of the evidence says no, they don't), we have to wage an all-out war and invasion against them and kill hundreds of thousands of people--just as if they did. If Cheney forgot just once, in 248 public events, to mention a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, he simply won't tolerate being accused of lying about linking the two.

Folks, it's gone way past the point of just grumbling about a disregard for nuance on the part of these bozos. When faulty logic climbs into bed with hyperbole, the resultant child is hysterical nonsense, and its godparents are lying and denial.

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's a Full-Time Job...

... just keeping up with the excuses the wingnuttery on the right are manufacturing for Denny Hastert not investigating l'affaire Foley.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family thinks the fault lies in an "oversexualized" society.

The eminently predictable Matt Drudge blames the victims, those 17-year-old "beasts" working as pages whom, he intimates, were teasing and seducing the poor old doddering congressman.

The inflated and eminently over-inflatable former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, apparently speaking from personal experience with scandal, thinks Hastert didn't speak up out of fear of being labelled a gay-basher. (That one, given the rabid right's obsession with bashing gays is probably the howler of the day.)

Bush's own Tony Snow tried (and failed) to pass off the Foley business as nothing more than "naughty emails."

Hastert, in the meantime, has been doing Sgt. Schultz impressions like he's never, ever missed an episode of "Hogan's Heroes" and is, today, doing his damnedest to waddle his fat ass in the general direction of the exit while pointing his finger at people "leaking" emails and intimating that the scandal was sprung on him for political purposes.

Foley, himself, is conveniently incommunicado, having checked himself into a detox center for alcoholism for an indeterminate stay. In Florida. Most likely Clearwater, FL.

It's like a three-ring circus and the clowns just shot the ringmaster with the lion tamer's pistol....