Saturday, April 01, 2006

The pathetic implosion of Katherine Harris

I guess I can't get enough of Katherine Harris, who in the short span of a few weeks has gone from ignominious perseverance to desperate rebirth to complete and utter self-destruction. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Harris's sagging Senate campaign, which will be hit with yet more high-level resignations this weekend, is now "on the verge of collapse".

And -- guess what -- she's playing the victim card, as if everyone's just out to get her.

Well, boo-hoo. Boo-bleeping-hoo. Does anyone out there feel sorry for her?

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How about a little economic justice?

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

The immigration issue in this country is coming to a head and if there was some sort of balance of power in DC, I would say, “great, it’s about time we had a real honest public conversation about this very important issue,” but since that is not the case, I’m a little worried about how this will play out. The Republicans are on the ropes and they need something that will drive their voters to the polls, and since they have effectively tied immigration to border security and there’s the added racial component, they may have found the perfect issue. Fear and bigotry rolled into one, just what Republicans like.

The problem for the country in having the Republicans control the debate on immigration reform is that they don’t give a damn about solving the problem, they only care about the political bounce they can get from demonizing illegal immigrants that are coming across our borders -- well, more specifically our southern border. And just like with the welfare mothers of the '80s, it’s not hard to sell working class Americans on the idea that they are struggling because those who are even poorer are stealing resources away from them. It was crap when Reagan shoveled it out, and it’s crap now.

There are some fundamental problems with the way we deal with illegal immigration in this country. First off, the Mexican government reads our slogan, “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free...” and they say, “Great, here you go,” because it’s of great economic benefit to them. For our part, we just wink and nod because big business in this country benefits greatly from the cheap labor they provide. Without tackling the real economic problems in Mexico, unemployment and underemployment for a start, people are going to do what they can to provide for their families, and for many on our southern border, that means coming to the United States to work.

Until we address the fundamental inequities in the distribution of wealth in this country, cynical politicians will always be able to turn us against each other. There will always be a “them” to point to, but somehow it’s never the “them” at the top.

While I understand the frustration that people in border communities feel about the so-called “drain” on their public resources, by aiming that frustration at poor immigrants, we miss the real point. Taxpayers are footing the bill while big business is reaping all the benefits. Not exactly a fair policy, but those who benefit from illegal workers are not going to volunteer to give up their profits to solve the problem, and that is what must change. We should all believe in the words of welcome that we roll out to the rest of the world. We want to continue to be a refuge for those seeking a better life. That is fundamentally who we are, building a wall to keep people out is not what America has ever been about, nor should we ever allow it to be.

For those sitting on top of the U.S. economic ladder, it seems like a no-brainer. Create an underclass that will give the poor in this country something to look down on, and no one will notice the money that the rich siphon off the top. This is the same strategy employed in the 80s and it worked like a charm. Working class Americans were pissed off at the woman down the street who kept having kids so she could stay on welfare (never the epidemic is was made out to be), while they worked their butts off in the local factory, never mind that the amount of taxpayer dollars that were spent on poor single mothers was only a fraction of what was given away in the form of corporate welfare. Creating a villain that people can understand and point to in their own lives always provides the perfect cover for the real economic drain that is usually much more complicated to follow.

So, here we are again, if we can see the Mexican family at the public hospital, paying for services with a Medicaid card while we struggle to pay for health insurance for our family, it’s easy to misplace our frustration. If those of us who see the bigger picture refuse to speak out when we encounter bigotry and misplaced anger, we will be contributing to the vilification of illegal immigrants that will last as long as it has for poor single mothers on welfare. It’s almost thirty years later and I still hear it, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit idly by and watch it happen again. We’ve got enough problems with race and class in this country without Republicans stealing our money and blaming illegal immigrants for the fact that our country is broke.

Let’s make sure we get some real workable solutions to the complicated issue of immigration reform, and let’s keep our eyes on the money this time. I’m pretty sure I know the pockets it’ll be going into, and they aren’t made of denim, that’s for damn sure.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Get governing yourself, Mr. President

So, let me get this straight:

Bush makes a contrived case for war built around politicized intelligence, launches a premature invasion, completely botches the occupation and reconstruction, declares mission accomplished long before any mission has been accomplished, keeps changing the rationale for going to war as each rationale crumbles under the weight of evidence, stands hapless and helpless while the country he invaded descends into sectarian violence and civil war and while pressing problems throughout the rest of the world worsen, barely even acknowledges that any mistakes were ever made, shifts responsibility onto future presidents, spins fantasy upon fantasy as truth, loses the confidence of the American people, and now...

Now he tells the Iraqis to "get governing" themselves? Excuse me while I bang my head against the wall, over and over and over again.

Nothing against the Iraqis, and I know that at some point they'll have to assume the ultimate responsibility of self-governance all by themselves, but isn't it all rather rich of Bush to foist that responsibility on them now, given all that he's done to ruin any hope Iraq may have had of transitioning peacefully to democracy?

This is his war. The civil war now raging in Iraq and threatening the long-term prospects of Iraqi democracy, is a result of that war. It seems to me that the chain of responsibility is clear.

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John McCain's rightward drift

He has that seemingly impenetrable reputation as a maverick, an independent. He has serious credibility on national security and the military. He has that compelling personal history. He was character-assassinated by Bush in 2000. He gets along with Jon Stewart.

All that is true, but what else lies beneath the popular facade? Senator John McCain, whatever else we may say of him, is an ideological conservative and unwaveringly loyal Republican. And it's about time that truth was more widely acknowledged.

For as ABC News reports, "the potential Republican presidential hopeful is taking steps to win over the conservatives who denied him the GOP's presidential nomination in 2000". Even Jerry Falwell seems to like him.

He's a conservative, and he always has been. But, looking ahead to '08 as the presumed early front-runner, he's now cuddling up to the far right. He knows he needs to win over the Republican base in order to get through the primaries. He knows that a maverick will never win the GOP nomination. He knows he has to play politics. That's predictable, but unfortunate.

Who is the real McCain? Perhaps the one who now seems so "conventional," to use E.J. Dionne's word, and "pathetic," to use Steve Benen's. I'm not sure I ever expected more from McCain -- I always knew he was far too conservative for my liking -- but I suppose I hoped that he wasn't just another typical Republican.

Now I know better.

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Reaction to the news: Olmert, Taylor, and Livingstone

I don't have the time to comment properly on these stories right now, but they're all worth following. All links are to The Washington Post:

-- Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party (founded by Ariel Sharon) won the most Knesset seats in Tuesday's Israeli elections (28 of 120). Israel uses a List-PR (proportional representation) electoral system, with seats apportioned according to the popular vote. Olmert will now look to build a governing coalition, likely with Amir Peretz's Labour Party. (For more, see here.)

-- Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been arrested in Nigeria. He was trying to leave the country after President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to hand him over to international authorities: "So ended, for now anyway, the political career of one of the most-wanted men in the world, a charismatic warlord-turned-president-turned-fugitive who finished the day in the custody of a U.N.-backed tribunal that has indicted him on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his long reign of terror across this fragile region." (For more, see here.)

-- On a lighter note, London Mayor Ken Livingstone called U.S. Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle "a chiselling little crook" and a "car salesman" on Monday. It's all about traffic congestion fees. (For more, see here.)

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Sign of the Apocalypse #31: Britney's pro-life birth sculpture

This is Britney. Britney Spears. On a bearskin rug. Giving birth to Baby Federline. As sculpted by Daniel Edwards. According to the Post, this piece of "art" will soon be on display at Brooklyn's Capla Kesting Fine Art gallery. Next to "anti-abortion materials" as part of an exhibit called "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston". Yes, that's right. This piece of "art" comes with a pro-life message, allegedly a non-political one. Birth = life. Or so says Mr. Edwards. But it obviously is political. Abortion is political. And what we have here is the image -- dare I say it, a quasi-pornographic image -- of Britney giving birth within the context of a pro-life, anti-abortion protest. Dress it up all you want. That's what it is.

Make of it what you will. There is something profoundly beautiful about the human form. And about a woman giving birth. Yet this piece of "art" seems rather tasteless, rather kitschy. And using it to express a political message makes it all the more ugly. Is it a Sign of the Apocalypse? Put all the elements together -- a pop star on the decline, a culture of trash, humorously vulgar "art" (why the bearskin?), and a contrived political message -- and I'm sure that it is.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reforming Foreign Aid(s): A modest proposal

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Most of us know something of the terrible toll that HIV/AIDS is exacting in much of the developing world, but few people are able to bring the magnitude of the suffering and the upheaval this modern-day plague is causing with the passion and conviction of Stephen Lewis, the current UN Special Representative for HIV/AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa. I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Lewis speak in New Haven yesterday, though the picture he paints is bleak: people struck down in the prime of their lives, orphan children left to fend for themselves, and the real possibility that certain southern African countries may simply be wiped off the map by the disease.

For a former diplomat, and a Canadian diplomat at that, Lewis is surprisingly blunt in denouncing the West's failure to do something to combat the AIDS crisis as "criminal negligence" that ought to be actionable before the International Criminal Court. We in the West have all the resources at our disposal to prevent tens of millions from dying premature deaths due to AIDS if we only made anti-retroviral drugs and basic medical care more widely available in the countries worst affected by the pandemic, and yet we choose not to do so. While Lewis's talk never really addressed why we are so torpid in our response to AIDS in Africa, his presentation did give me an idea on how we might want to go about changing things.

"One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic," said Joseph Stalin once, and for most of us AIDS, poverty, and hunger in the developing world are merely that: statistics we barely comprehend, let alone feel empowered to change. When confronted by such astronomical numbers, we are so overwhelmed that we simply throw up our hands and turn our backs to the suffering behind those numbers. Meanwhile, the efforts of official government foreign aid programs to put a dent in those numbers usually gets hoisted on its own numerical petard, as an uncomprehending public questions spending billions on programs that seem to make no difference to the problem. In the meanwhile, donor fatigue sets in, political will gets lost, and no progress is made.

If the problem with foreign aid is that it's too abstract and impersonal for people to understand, surely the solution must be to make it concrete and personal, so that people can grasp the difference that their contributions mek. That's why my modest proposal for reforming foreign aid is to replace the scattershot approach of the big government aid agencies (like USAID and CIDA) with a new program of "twinning," whereby every developed country would be twinned with one, two, or three developing countries, and would bear the full responsibility for lifting its twins out of poverty. Instead of a single specialized agency being responsible for foreign aid and development, it would be the responsibility of the whole society to help its twins out of poverty.

Government departments would be twinned with their counterparts in the developing country, as would schools, hospitals, universities, service organizations, faith groups, and even sports teams. Each would provide direct assistance in its area of expertise to its analogues in the twinned country, and each might even be charged with making sure that together with its twin, certain development goals are reached within a certain time.

In forging such close and personal connections between every tier of the donor society, and the recipients of their assistance in the developing country, political support for foreign aid would rest on a much more solid basis. Instead of being presented with a barrage of numbers, people in the industrialized world would be relating to real human brings whom they will be responsible for helping in very real and tangible ways. Piercing the veil of anonymity that shrouds the current foreign aid system would lead to schoolchildren, bureaucrats, business people, and church-goers feeling a sense of responsibility for their twins overseas, which I think would be powerful in shaking people out of their current apathy. Moreover, allocating responsibility in this way enhances accountability for when promises are not kept, and goals are not met; for unlike in the current system, there will be no statistics behind which people (and governments) can hide when they fail to own up to their historic duties.

The challenge, of course, would be to convince a country to abandon the old approach in favour of this radical new way of delivering development assistance. This will not be an easy task, given the strong constituencies backing the current order, but one of the virtues of this approach is that it empowers ordinary people to take the lead in advancing development. If each of us were to get an institution to which we belong to select a counterpart in the developing world that could benefit from our expertise, we would have made a very good start to delivering aid in a better way.

(Cross-posted at the Dominion Wine and Cheese Society.)

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White House change

By Creature

What is Bush so afraid of? This question comes to me while thinking about the departure of Bush's chief of staff, Andy Card, and Bush's safe, stay-within-his-bubble choice of Josh Bolten. The conventional wisdom being tossed around right now is that Bush listened to his critics by initiating, however grudgingly, the so-called White House shake-up yesterday. But if George was listening, it was only through one wax-filled ear. Bush picked Bolten, someone whom, as The Washington Post described it, "he knows and trusts implicitly." His choice of Bolten shows weakness. Real change takes courage. Real change would have been picking someone from outside his close-knit circle. Real change would have been firing Andy Card. Real change would have been firing Karl Rove. Real change would have been firing Donald Rumsfeld. My "real change" list is pretty long, so I'll stop there before my fingers tire.

So I'll ask the question again: What is Bush so afraid of? Could it be he is afraid of being seen as a presidential fraud if an outsider were to enter the Oval Office? And by presidential fraud, I mean a disengaged, incompetent leader who allowed the real power of the president to reside in the hands of his vice president. By presidential fraud, I mean a figurehead leader whose only purpose as the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is to make scripted appearances, shake a few hands, clear some brush, and look tough for the cameras.

The sad truth is that this is exactly what the president is afraid of. To thwart this Oz don't-look-behind-the-curtain act, he must keep his circle tight. He must keep his circle closed. For if he does not, he will be exposed for the fraud that he is.

Change more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The Democrats have a plan

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

The Democrats have rolled out their plan for national security and it looks pretty good. And the best part is, it’s short. The brochure is comprised of ten pages, but that includes the title pages and both an English and Spanish version. The actual plan is only three pages long and it’s filled with easy-to-digest, specific solutions to security problems that have stumped the GOP. There are a few good swipes at the Republicans as well. Even the title,
Real Security: The Democratic Plan to Protect America and Restore Our Leadership in the World, is a reminder of what Bush and the Republicans haven’t been able to do. (You can get more information and download the brochure here. -- MJWS)

There is no windbagging, no unnecessary words or complicated concepts, just clear-cut objectives and specific dates. Energy independence by 2020, securing loose nukes by 2010, screening of 100% of cargo containers, a promise to eliminate bin Laden, finishing the job in Afghanistan, and making significant progress in Iraq this year so that troop redeployment can begin. Reading this plan I get the sense that the Democrats are not as clueless as they’ve led us to believe, a pleasant surprise for sure.

The fearmongering seems to have been kept to a minimum as well. I was a little concerned that the Democrats would use the fear card in order to wrestle control away from Republicans this fall, but there is only one reference to the “danger” of outsourcing our port operations and they handled the bird flu pandemic hoopla in a reasonable fashion. Instead of scaring people about it and encouraging them to spend all of their money on stockpiles of food, water, and survival gear, the Democrats say they will invest in the public health infrastructure, train health workers, and make sure that first responders have all of the equipment they need for any disaster, natural or otherwise. All common sense stuff that doesn’t involve building a new bureaucracy or giving money to big pharmaceutical companies for useless antibiotics, the Bush plan up to this point.

I hope that this brochure makes it into the hands of voters across the country. It is a great first step and it takes the security issue away from Republicans. I’m hoping this is the test plan and that there will be more to come, a health care plan and perhaps an economic plan as well. As long as they keep it short and to the point, it’s hard to see how they won’t make gains in November. They are speaking directly to the concerns of the American people, they are promising to fix the critical gaps in security that Republicans have been unable to tackle, and they are doing so without nuance.

So far, so good. I hope they can keep it up.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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Podcasted (again)

I was on Shaun O'Mac's excellent Subject2Discussion podcast again last night.

You can listen to it at your leisure here (on your computer or downloaded to your iPod). As always, I'm on about 30 minutes in and I'm on for 30 minutes. I thought it went really well. We discussed Iraq, Feingold, Card, immigration... well, all sorts of things. Check it out.

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Who is the prime minister of Canada?

(I would like to welcome Daily Kos readers to The Reaction. I hope you enjoy your stay here. If you'd like to know more about us, click on the banner above to go the main page. -- MJWS)

See if you can spot the gross ignorance/indifference. This is from Scott McClellan's Tuesday press briefing:

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about Cancun and the other side of the talks, with Canada -- border, immigration? Are those high priorities?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this will be -- you're talking about Canada? I mean, the President had a -- first of all, had a good discussion with Prime Minister Martin [sic] yesterday. That was a call that Prime Minister Martin [sic] initiated, really to thank the President on behalf of the people of Canada for the efforts of our coalition forces, our American forces, part of the coalition, to rescue the hostages last week, including one Canadian.

But I think that when you're looking at this trip, first of all, it was last year in Waco when the three leaders -- Prime Minister Martin, at the time, President Fox and President Bush -- announced a new initiative, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, among the three nations. And this is a way to build upon our efforts to really make sure that North America is more integrated and remains competitive in this global changing economy that we live in. So they're going to talk about concrete ways that we can move forward on the security and prosperity partnership. And the President looks forward to those discussions with the other two leaders.

In terms of Canada, this will be the President's first meeting with Prime Minister Harper since he took office -- he had met with him briefly previously when he was the opposition leader. And each of these relationships -- the relationship with Mexico, the relationship with Canada -- is a unique relationship. We've had good relations with both countries. And the President looks forward to visiting with Prime Minister Martin [sic] and strengthening our relations. So he very much looks forward to this trip.


I wonder what McClellan's boss, President Clinton, thinks of this. Does he know the name of our prime minister? Our current prime minister? McClellan got it right once in four tries. One reference to Martin was right -- see the second paragraph.

But so much for Harper's Bush-friendly attempts to cozy up to the U.S. You'd think the president's press secretary and chief spokesman would know the name of our recently-elected Conservative prime minister, eh?

We Canadians never much appreciate the ignorance and indifference of our American friends, but ignorance and indifference inadvertently directed at Prime Minister Harper, of whom I am not a supporter (see here and here), leaves me quite amused.

(Thanks for the tip, Steve!)

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The worst of Oscar best

Edward Copeland is running a fun poll at his film blog: What are the ten worst Best Picture winners of all time?

Go through the list of winners and pick your 10 least favourite. Or, to put it another way, the 10 you dislike the most -- in order, with 1 the worst and 10 the 10th worst. E-mail your list to Edward (his e-mail is in the post). Make sure you list 10, no less. And make sure you only list films you've actually seen. The poll closes in a few days. Edward will tally and post the results.

I've seen all of the winners except Crash.

My list (in reverse order): Ordinary People, Million Dollar Baby, Rebecca, Chicago, The Deer Hunter, Forrest Gump, Gigi, West Side Story, Titanic, and Braveheart.

Yes, Braveheart is the worst Best Picture winner of all time. Period. (With the exception of Rebecca, note that my list includes only musicals and winners since 1978).

While we're at it, here's my list of the best (without really thinking about it), from 10 to 1: Dances With Wolves, It Happened One Night, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Godfather Part II, All About Eve, Schindler's List, Chariots of Fire, The Godfather, Patton, Annie Hall.

That's right: Annie Hall. The best of the best.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Used and abused

By Creature

A few weeks back, in order to cut out the main-stream middle man, the White House agreed to release a bunch of pre-war Iraqi documents with the hope that the conservative blogosphere could find a link between Saddam and Osama. A link here-to-fore discredited. The fact that the 9/11 commission found no such collaborative link has not stopped the rabid right from declaring that Saddam and Osama were not only working together, but that they were lovers as well. Thankfully Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, takes apart the right's wild fantasies in an op-ed in today's NYT. This paragraph alone should shut the wing-nuts up:

And, strangely, another document, dated Aug. 17, 2002, from Iraq's intelligence service explains there is "information from a reliable source" that two Al Qaeda figures were in Iraq and that agents should "search the tourist sites (hotels, residential apartments and rented houses)" for them. If Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had a relationship, why was it necessary for Iraqi intelligence to be scouring the country looking for members of the terrorist organization? [Emphasis Added]

Right-wingers, please, get over it already. Your denial runs so deep. Your president lied to you. He "fixed" whatever facts he could find, around whatever intelligence he could find, and he sold you a bill a goods so steeped in lies that even Saddam is having a good laugh over it. So, let go, dear right-winger, admit you have been used. Admit that you have been abused. We won't forgive for playing the fool, and we certainly won't forget, but maybe we can understand.

Therapy more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Rumsfeld's missed opportunity

Guest post by Sean Aqui of Midtopia

(Ed. note: Midtopia is "a vision of how the world would be if the moderate middle prevailed". Here's how Sean describes himself: "I'm politically moderate, though I'm more liberal on social issues and more conservative on fiscal issues. I'm practically libertarian about civil liberties. I support a strong military, but believe it should be used judiciously. We should ask our men and women in uniform to risk their lives only for the most defensible reasons." Midtopia is a new blog, founded just last month, but already I think it's one of the best "moderate" blogs in the blogosphere. I suppose I ought to mention that I don't always agree with Sean, even if liberals and moderates seem to be getting along quite well in Bush's America these days, but, whatever our disagreements, he writes thoughtfully and provocatively on a variety of issues, particularly the military and the economy (see, for example, his recent post on the estate tax here). I encourage you to check out Midtopia regularly. -- MJWS)


One of the few things I respect Donald Rumsfeld for has been his attempt to reform the structure and bureaucracy of the military.

Killing the Crusader self-propelled artillery program, for example, was a smart move. It hurts doubly to say that, because I was a tanker (making the Crusader kin of a sort) and because much of the work would have been done in my home state of Minnesota. But the Crusader was a hulking Cold War relic, unsuited for the sort of lighter, nimbler, more flexible military that I agree we need to build.

That's why this essay from Armed Forces Journal caught my eye. It argues that whatever his intentions, Rumsfeld has (once again) messed up the execution, missing his big chance to make a difference in how the military operates.

Every four years the Pentagon does something called a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which is supposed to outline what the military's situation and structure will be in the coming years. That, in turn, is supposed to guide assembly of the military budget. But it doesn't:

The QDR calls for greater mobility, but the budget terminates both of the Air Force’s airlift programs. The report says America is engaged in a "long war" against terrorism, but the budget cuts back the Army’s planned number of combat brigades. The report says the Pentagon needs to rely more on market forces in its business practices, but the budget proposes creation of a monopoly for producing the most popular military engine in the world.

That disconnect between rhetoric and reality is a bad start, but luckily we can write it off as irrelevant. That's because this QDR -- Rumsfeld's last opportunity to radically reshape the military -- doesn't really matter. It comes too late in the budget and political process. The Bush Administration's influence is on the wane as 2008 approaches, and if Rumsfeld wanted to make lasting changes he had to start last year. He didn't.

2001 was wasted on strategic reviews and staffing decisions. Then came 9/11, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, and Abu Ghraib -- all distractions that meant no traction for the 2001 QDR. When Bush won a second term and it was time for another QDR, Rumsfeld hadn't accomplished anything "transformative":

As it turned out, much of 2005 was consumed by the review itself. The sixth year of Bush’s eight years in office has commenced, and time is running out for military transformation. Two years ago, it was common for policymakers to say that hard choices would need to be made in the 2006 defense budget. When that didn’t happen, it was predicted that truly momentous shifts would unfold in 2007. Now, people around Rumsfeld are predicting real change in the 2008 budget. However, 2008 is the president’s last year in office, so nobody on Rumsfeld’s team is likely to be around to enforce the priorities contained in that budget. In other words, the transformationists have missed the budgetary boat. It’s too late to radically rearrange the nation’s defense posture.

Translation: Rumsfeld was too slow, and now it's too late.

Even if Rumsfeld had moved more decisively and submitted an ambitious QDR that matched his rhetoric, plenty of other self-inflicted obstacles remained: his alienation of Congress, an inability to rein in military entitlements, a detached and indecisive leadership style, and a poor appreciation for the threats facing us.

But maybe all that doesn't matter either. Because it seems increasingly apparent that Rumsfeld made a rookie mistake: thinking that what helps in one type of military situation is effective in all military situations. His idea that technology will mean we need fewer soldiers is a classic example.

In force-on-force combat, technology offers *huge* multipliers. My Abrams tank could hit targets more than 2,000 meters away. We had great communications to coordinate our movements, and satellite technology allowed us to pinpoint and anticipate enemy movements and locations within a few meters.

A tank battle was like a live-action video game, moving the targeting reticle from target to target, firing, reloading, doing it again.

But the closer you get to your enemy, and the more you have to discriminate between friend and foe, the less technology helps. I can nuke a whole city from the continental U.S.; if I want to capture the city, I have to send in troops. If I want to minimize civilian casualties, I have to be very careful in my target selection and send in far more troops per target. And the closer you get, and the more wind or rain or dust there is, the less difference there is between the U.S. soldier and his ragtag opponent.

That's one reason the Army hates urban combat. The close quarters neutralize many of our advantages; it gets down to the infantry digging people out of holes, one hole at a time. It's bloody, nasty, exhausting work that has destroyed more than one elite military force.

The U.S. military is unparalleled in its ability to destroy an enemy armored brigade. But its effectiveness in pacification comes down to training, unit cohesion, discipline, leadership and numbers -- not technology. You don't build local support by dropping bombs from space; you do it by walking the streets every day, meeting people, shaking hands, establishing relationships. A U.S. soldier's technology is no help in that regard. They are no more effective at that -- and, due to language and cultural barriers, perhaps even *less* effective -- than Pakistanis or Bangladeshis.

Rumsfeld saw the Iraq war as a sort of proof of concept, a live-fire demonstration that a small, nimble force could take out Saddam. He was right to some extent, though one may quibble about how "light" our mechanized invasion force was or how serious a threat the Iraqi military posed. But he was also myopic; he failed to recognize that actually occupying a country requires a different sort of approach and a whole lot more troops.

Compounding the failure, the White House let him do as he saw fit. Living in an alternate reality may be comforting, but it makes for really bloody messes when such fantasies are used as the basis for real-world policies.

In a way, Rumsfeld sums up much of what I think history will say about the Bush Administration: soaring and determined rhetoric sprinkled with good and principled ideas, but based on an unrealistic view of the world and executed with almost stunning incompetence.

It's too bad, because the military needs what Rumsfeld promised to deliver. We can only hope that the next Secretary of Defense has the same priorities and better luck.

I leave you with the thoughts of Retired Gen. Paul Eaton, who supports the venture in Iraq and was in charge of training Iraqi forces in 2003 and 2004. He lays out a whole list of reasons why Rumsfeld should be fired:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent to lead America's armed forces. First, his failure to build coalitions with U.S. allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has imposed far greater demands and risks on American soldiers in Iraq than necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in the U.S. military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to America's mission in Iraq... Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his Cold Warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower. As a result the U.S. Army finds itself severely undermanned -- cut to 10 active divisions but asked by the administration to support a foreign policy that requires at least 12 or 14.

There may be little point to firing Rumsfeld at this late date, but it would be nice to see the administration finally hold someone accountable for doing a poor job -- especially on something as important as the U.S. military.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Military tribunals and the state of American democracy

Over at The Washington Note, Steve Clemons has a must-read post on America's secret military tribunals in anticipation of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (to be argued tomorrow, March 27). Roberts has properly recused himself, but Scalia has already declared his support for such tribunals, but he's "an enemy of democracy, of real and true democracy".

Ultimately, this is about the state of American democracy and about the political values that America promotes, intentionally or otherwise, around the world: "America needs to stop teaching thugs in the world the loopholes in democratic process and needs to get back to walking the walk of democracy."

Those thugs are watching. So is the rest of the world. Scalia and his ilk may not care, but the rest of us should.

It's time for America to be America again. Otherwise, what's the point?

(Also see Political Animal, Ann Althouse, and TalkLeft.)

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Shame on Canada

I am generally quite proud of my country, and I will usually defend it against its critics, but our seal hunt leaves me disgusted and ashamed.

Whatever the excuses for it -- its supposed economic benefits, the alleged need to control the seal population -- there is simply no good reason for it. We're talking about the killing, the brutal killing, of 325,000 seals, most of them babies.

Shame on Canada for allowing this to take place year after year. And shame on Prime Minister Harper for defending the hunt with the ridiculously stupid statement that Canada is the "victim of a bit of an international propaganda campaign". The mass slaughter of seals is reality, not propagandistic fantasy. We need the leadership in Ottawa to end it for good.

(The BBC has more here, our own Globe and Mail here.)

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Ukraine's post-revolutionary about-face

It wasn't so long ago that pro-West reformer Viktor Yushchenko was the toast of Kiev, at least among the democratic masses.

Well, how far the mighty have fallen! Last September, Yushchenko was brought low by internal divisions and allegations of corruption. And in this weekend's parliamentary elections, according to the BBC, "he has been beaten into third place by the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych and his former Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko".

Defeat from within and without.

Yushchenko could still secure a parliamentary majority if he's able to form an alliance with Tymoshenko, who "has said that as part of any agreement she must be made the prime minister" and "a controversial gas deal Ukraine signed with Russia" must be cancelled. Yushchenko may not like either proposal, but he has "few options" left.

How fickle democracy can be.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq

It's quite amazing, isn't it? We get caught up debating the meanings of "civil" and "war" and whether or not they belong together in terms of Iraq's sectarian violence, euphemistically speaking, and many on the right, all those head-up-the-ass conservatives who believe that all is for the best in the best of all possible preemptive invasions justified on the basis of politicized intelligence, trumped-up threats, and a manipulated culture of fear, all those who buy into the propaganda or who willingly spew it, believing it as they do so, yes, many on the right can't even distinguish fantasy from reality, either ignoring reality or filtering it through their hyperpartisan lenses.

It's going well, they tell us. The media have it wrong.

But then we have these three lovely stories from what we shall henceforth refer as A Day in the Life and Death of Iraq:

-- The New York Times:

  • "American and Iraqi government forces clashed with Shiite militiamen in Baghdad tonight in the most serious confrontation in months, and Iraqi officials said the fighting left at least 17 Iraqis dead, including an 80-year-old imam";
  • "Earlier this evening, the bodies of 30 beheaded men were found on a main highway near Baquba, providing more evidence that the death squads in Iraq are operating out of control... The discovery of the 30 beheaded bodies, as well as the corpses of 10 other men found in Baghdad added to the hundreds of bodies that have recently surfaced on Baghdad's streets"; and
  • "Elsewhere today, a Kurdish writer was sentenced to a year and a half in jail for criticizing Kurdish leaders. The writer, Kamal Karim, had published articles on a Kurdish Web site accusing one of the most powerful men in Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, of corruption."

-- The Washington Post:

  • "A doctor has admitted killing at least 35 Iraqi police officers and army soldiers by giving them lethal injections, reopening their wounds or engaging in other deadly acts while they were being treated at a hospital in the northern city of Kirkuk, according to Kurdish security sources and Kurdish television."

Yes, just another day in Iraq. There will be many more. Not that those with their heads up their asses will see any of it through the fog of fantasy.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Where "art" thou?

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Good art is often provocative, but provocation does not always good art make. Take, for example. this report from Der Spiegel's English site about an art installation in the German town of Pulheim-Stommeln, which consists of a synagogue that has been hooked up to the tailpipes of six idling cars to make it into a gas chamber. Visitors can enter the empty synagogue / performance art piece by hiring a respirator from the Spanish artist behind this creative triumph, Santiago Sierra.

Predictably, the installation has created a furor in Germany, and, to his credit, Sierra has agreed to meet with Jewish and community leaders to discuss their concerns with his work, but my qualms are more with Sierra's lack of creativity than with the tastelessness of his work. He claims that the installation represents the "industrialized and institutionalized death from which the European peoples of the world have lived and continue to live," but does simply creating a working facsimile of the machinery of industrial death and parading people through it succeed in actually representing anything? In my mind, representation must be at one remove from the thing the artist is seeking to represent for it to be art. That is, the art must be evocative of that which the artist seeks to represent, rather than simply just being that thing. Paintings and songs are not happy or sad in and of themselves, but rather they represent those emotions by evoking them in us when we experience them.

As far as I'm concerned, Sierra has not succeeded in providing a single insight about the machinery of death with this work; he's merely reproduced it, which makes him about as creative as a forger or a photocopier. And whatever that is, it sure isn't art.

(Cross-posted at the Dominion Wine and Cheese Society.)

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Vladimir Putin, plagiarist?

The Sunday Times is reporting that "[a] new study of an economics thesis written by Putin in the mid-1990s has revealed that large chunks of it were copied from an American text". More, he may not even have a real doctorate.

Oops. There goes his blogging gig at the Post. I guess he'll have to settle for democratically-elected Russian autocrat.

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The desperate rebirth of Katherine Harris

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the ignominious perseverance of Katherine Harris. At the time, the widely disgraced 2000 Florida recount rigger, the one who made sure Bush would come out on top, was preparing to make a major announcement regarding her Senate campaign. Lagging well behind incumbent Bill Nelson in the polls, and with many state and national Republicans wanting nothing to do with her, there were rumours that she was set to pull out. But her major announcement amounted to telling Sean Hannity that she was going to spend $10 million of her own money on her campaign.

Good news, indeed. Nelson can go right ahead and crush her. What the hell were Republicans thinking?

But now her campaign has taken a decidedly bizarre turn. The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that Harris's "campaign [is taking] an increasingly evangelical Christian bent". Her evangelical "spiritual adviser," Dale Burroughs, the founder of the Biblical Heritage Institute, is now her "closest confidante". Burroughs was once a "staffer with Campus Crusade for Christ". Now, via the Arlington Group, she's connected to such right-wing evangelical luminaries as James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Jerry Falwell.

Some of this may be genuine, but Harris's political "rebirth," her attempt to sell herself as a largely religious candidate, also smacks of desperation, the last refuge of a true scoundrel: "Friends and advisers say Harris has been deeply religious all her life, but religion recently has become a central part of her campaign. Campaign staffers warily describe Harris as leading a 'Christian crusade.'" The writing is on the wall:

Her top campaign advisers, having failed to persuade Harris to drop her struggling campaign against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, are preparing to leave. Those include Ed Rollins, a highly regarded GOP strategist and her top campaign adviser; Adam Goodman, her longtime Tampa-based media consultant; and campaign manager Jamie Miller. Harris has been aggressively campaigning for support among religious conservatives, hitting large churches and headlining a 'Reclaiming America for Christ conference in Broward County last weekend. She told hundreds of attendees she was 'doing God's work' with her campaign.

Isn't it fun watching such a train wreck of a political career? Was she doing God's work when she soiled American democracy in 2000? Or how about when she took those illegal contributions?

I hope she stays in the race. She deserves a crushing defeat in November.

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Celebrate immigration

From the L.A. Times: "A crowd estimated by police at more than 500,000 boisterously marched in Los Angeles on Saturday to protest federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants, penalize those who help them and build a security wall along the U.S.'s southern border."

It should go without saying, but it is often forgotten: America is a nation of immigrants. It is true that many are in America illegally, but, as John F. Kennedy put it in a book with that very title, A Nation of Immigrants: "Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible." Most immigrants are in America because they want to be. Some have risked their lives to come to what they see as, in Lincoln's words, "the last, best hope of earth". They came to America because, to them, America represents hope and opportunity, because it offers hope and opportunity to those who simply have neither elsewhere. They now live in America and contribute to America. Indeed, they love America and want to stay.

To be sure, something needs to be done about "illegal" immigrants. I won't address the options here, but I will say this: Let America's policy towards these immigrants be generous, fair, and flexible. Do not punish them for having chosen to come to America. Offer them an opportunity to settle, legally, for good. If they work, if they pay their taxes, if they accept the American way of life and want to be a part of it, indeed, if they are already American, broadly speaking, be generous to them. They only want to live their lives in Lincoln's last, best hope, in a nation of immigrants that has historically welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses who have yearned for the chance to start anew.

These new Americans want to breathe free. Let them.

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