Monday, July 31, 2006

While Experts Shake Their Heads, Bush Sees 'Opportunities'

So far, after almost 60 years of Israel's existence, the US has managed, with diplomatic help from other nations, to keep the tensions in the Middle East from exploding into a wider war. There have been multinational wars but they've been short. There have been a handful of long wars but they have been severely restricted in land area. The fact of the matter is that most of the broader Middle East has grown in population and even prospered at times in some areas and prospered considerably in other areas. Some countries in the region either explicitly, or quietly in the background, have accepted the existence of Israel. There also has been quiet recognition that not all the problems of the Middle East can be traced to Israel or the United States. Through some brilliant and hard diplomatic work, the United States at times has even been recognized by all parties as an honest broker. Admittedly, the most intractable problem has been the Palestinian question but even that has been evolving over time and the problem cannot be placed entirely on the Palestinians.

It's now 2006 and Bush is threatening to challenge that record of peace in a difficult part of the world. In the last five years, Bush has put very little effort into the Middle East and has allowed a number of initiatives to flounder. Bush has no experience in diplomacy or war and in the sixth year of his presidency, he still does not learn from his mistakes. His began his presidency without any interest in foreign policy or the world abroad. He has been shown to have made blunder after blunder and a series of misrepresentations that undermine the credibility of the United States. And yet, he wants us to believe he knows what he's doing? Where's the evidence of his genius?

Peter Baker of The Washington Post has an article on the puzzling American response to the latest outbreak of fighting in the Middle East:
Although the United States has urged Israel to use restraint, it has also strongly defended the military assaults as a reasonable response to Hezbollah rocket attacks, a position increasingly at odds with allies that see a deadly overreaction. Analysts think that if the war drags on, as appears likely, it could leave the United States more isolated than at any time since the Iraq invasion three years ago and hindered in its foreign policy goals such as shutting down Iran's nuclear program and spreading democracy around the world.

"The arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction," said Richard N. Haass, who was President Bush's first-term State Department policy planning director. "The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases frustration and alienation from the United States in the Arab world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in Lebanon and this will just drive up anti-Americanism to new heights."

The White House recognizes the danger but thinks the missiles flying both ways across the Israel-Lebanon border carry with them a chance to finally break out of the stalemate of Middle East geopolitics.


Haass, the former Bush aide who leads the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president's public optimism. "An opportunity?" Haass said with an incredulous tone. "Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"

In the long run, he and others warn, the situation could cement the perception that the United States is so pro-Israel that a new generation of Arab youth will grow up perceiving Americans as enemies. The internal pressure on friendly governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere could force them to distance themselves from Washington or crack down on domestic dissidents to keep power. In either case, Bush may have little leverage to press for democratic reforms.

Gamblers, particularly when they're on a losing streak, always see 'opportunities.' Bush gambled on Iraq and what has he won? Bush is a gambler who has lost a number of gambles in his life. Gambling with the money of his daddy's friends is one thing. Gambling with our future is another. The right wingers see a visionary, the rest of us see a fool that Congress needs to hold in check.

Keeping a Clear Head in These Troubled Times

If anyone knows what happened to the old Republican Party, dial 911 and they'll send a rescue squad to bring them home. They haven't been heard from for a long time.

At Talking Points Memo, TPM Reader DK has these thoughts on today's politics (one caveat: instead of saying conservatives, I wish DK would say right wing conservatives):
The vigor with which the GOP has attacked journalism in recent months is a reliable indicator of what conservatives see as the greatest threat to their power (and if journalism is the greatest threat, that's a sure sign that other democratic institutions have withered). The Administration has attacked then investigated journalists for disclosing illegal government activities, some authorized by the President. It has suggested that journalists play into the hands of terrorists by reporting on the strife in Iraq. And 24 hours a day, conservatives' Fox News makes a mockery of journalism.

You can disagree about what reality should be. That is the essence of democracy. But when the instruments of state power, including the President's bully pulpit, are used to attack the effort--within government, but especially without--to identify, describe, and analyze what reality is, then we have run right up against the limits of what democracy can withstand. It is the abandonment of the Enlightenment in favor of a dark and uncertain future.

In an effort to lead the nation, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and now, apparently, Condi Rice are behaving so secretly that they're working without flashlights. God help us all.

American and Israeli Ceasefire Gaffe

That 48 hour bombing ceasefire didn't last long. Here's a post from Laura Rozen of War and Piece who was quick last night to notice the confusion:
Scanning the front pages of tomorrow's papers, there's an ominous lack of clarity about what exactly Israel has agreed to do in the next 48 hours, by way of halting air attacks in southern Lebanon in order to investigate what happened at Qana. The State Department says the attacks will be halted in southern Lebanon for 48 hours, and in addition, remaining civilians will have 24 hours to evacuate southern Lebanon (why they couldn't use the whole 48 hours of suspended air attacks isn't clear). Top Israeli military writer Ze'ev Schiff contends it's in Beirut the air strikes will be halted. It's not clear if his piece was written before the State Department announcement.

I've spent the last hour scanning different articles. It's a little confusing out there. Here's one of the latest articles I've found from Forbes:
Lebanese fled north in overflowing trucks and cars Monday, taking advantage of a lull in Israeli bombardment. Israel's prime minister took a tough line, apologizing for the deaths of dozens of Lebanese civilians in a single strike but declaring there will be no cease-fire.

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis faltered, despite increased world pressure for a cease-fire after the devastating strike in Qana.

Israeli warplanes hit Hezbollah fighters battling with soldiers near the border as the guerrillas fired mortars into Israel. The clashes signaled that the violence was not over, even though an Israeli suspension of most airstrikes in Lebanon - and a pause by the guerrillas on rocket attacks in northern Israel - brought both countries their quietest day since the conflict began three weeks ago.

And here's an earlier article from Yahoo News:
Israel's prime minister declared Monday that there would be no cease-fire with Hezbollah guerrillas, apologizing for the deaths of Lebanese civilians but saying "we will not give up on our goal to live a life free of terror." His Security Cabinet approved widening the ground offensive.

Israeli warplanes hit Hezbollah fighters battling with soldiers near the border as the guerrillas fired mortars into Israel. But an Israeli suspension of most airstrikes in Lebanon — and a pause by the guerrillas on rocket attacks in northern Israel — brought both countries their quietest day since the conflict began three weeks ago.

Lebanese fled north in overflowing trucks and cars. About 200 people — mostly elderly — escaped the border town of Bint Jbail, where Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas fought their bloodiest clashes. Two residents dropped dead on the road out, one of malnutrition, the other of heart failure.

Some survivors described living on a piece of candy a day and dirty water as the fighting raged.

If Israel and Hezbollah keep fighting, how long will it be before Syria enters the fray? And what will Bush do? And if Bush does something, what will Iran and Pakistan do? And what will our troops do if Iraqi Shiites decide to join the fight?

If anyone knows where the adults are, please call them and tell them to come back from their vacation. Definitions of 'terrorism' are rapidly becoming moot. In an age of nuclear weapons, we are rapidly heading for the worst crisis since the age of all-out war in a broad region that holds the world's oil supply. Cooler heads must prevail.

Republicans Have Poor National Security Record

I wonder how many Americans feel safer these days thanks to the incompetence, neglect and recklessness of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress? S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion has some reminders for us:
Back in January, Republican dirty-tricks mastermind Karl Rove assured a party gathering in New Hampshire: “The United States faces a ruthless enemy — and we need a commander-in-chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity that America finds itself in . . . President Bush and the Republican Party do.”

As recently as July 17, Vice President Dick Cheney told attendees at a Republican fund-raiser in Iowa: “As we make our case to the voters this year, it is vital to keep issues of national security at the top of the agenda. The president and I welcome the discussion because every voter in America needs to know where the president and I stand — and where every candidate for federal office stands — when it comes to the war on terror.”

Now, as Republicans labor to impress on voters how they’re all about national security and fighting terrorists, facts keep pushing their mirrors aside and blowing their smoke away. Little, niggling details keep emerging, like how utterly unprepared the Army is for waging war.

Be sure to read the rest. And don't forget, the man who didn't send enough troops to Iraq and didn't have a plan B in case the Iraqis didn't greet us with flowers is still on the job, Donald Rumsfeld. It seems Bush needs a new team in Congress to lean on him harder to do a better job.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Old John McCain Is Missing in Action

For a long time, the thing that made John McCain more interesting than other Republicans was his willingness to stand on principle. When he fought for the McCain-Feingold reform bill he was the old John McCain that even a liberal Democrat could admire. That John McCain has been gone for over two years and it now looks like we won't be seeing the old McCain anymore: The Carpetbagger has the story on John's neglect of his famous reform bill:
..."several people involved in discussions about the legislation" said McCain will probably abandon the public-financing system during his 2008 campaign, so he had to give up on a measure he's championed for years to avoid hypocrisy.

Kevin Drum responded, "Can we start keeping score on the number of positions that Mr. Straight Talk has abandoned now that he thinks he has a serious shot at the presidency?" Good idea; I've started a list.

* McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as "an agent of intolerance" in 2002, but has since decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans "deserved" the 9/11 attacks.

* McCain used to oppose Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.

* In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending "dirty money" to help finance Bush's presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.

* McCain used to think that Grover Norquist was a crook and a corrupt shill for dictators. Then McCain got serious about running for president and began to reconcile with Norquist.

* McCain took a firm line in opposition to torture, and then caved to White House demands.

I don't know how McCain avoids hypocrisy for something he once fought for and now abandons for the sake of his own ambition. It looks like he won't be the crusader who reforms the corruption now rampant in the Republican Party after all. What a waste of the old John McCain. I fully expect Karl Rove to be working for the new McCain by January.

Rumsfeld Needs to Be Replaced

Close observers of the Bush Administration have felt for some time that it is long past the day that Rumsfeld should be leaving. Not only is the man incompetent, but he seems to be growing increasingly delusional as reported by Think Progress:
Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria ripped into Donald Rumsfeld this morning on ABC’s This Week.


[If I were running against conservatives,] I would make up a campaign commercial almost entirely of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conferences, because the man is looking — I mean, it’s not just that he seems like a bad Secretary of [Defense]. He seems literally in a parallel universe and slightly deranged. If you listen to what he said last week about Iraq, he’s living in a different world, not a different country.

There is nothing more embarrassing, or dangerous, than an incompetent official clinging to his job.

Fareed Zakaria is the kind of journalist with inside information. It's possible there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Is Courage Coming Back?

When I was fifteen, I read A.J. Cronyn's Keys to the Kingdom. It's about a Catholic priest who has a Catholic father and a Protestant mother who doesn't quite fit in with the church hierarchy and is sent to China as a missionary. The main character is an honest Christian who is compelled to honor his father and his mother and so he comes to believe there are many keys to the kingdom and it isn't his job to comform people to his views but simply to lead them as best he can.

Later in life I was told the book was sentimental and I thought that description was lame. The book is about a difficult subject not many people master well largely because of a lack of courage. There is a reason why communities all over America have Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others working on projects of common interest whether it's hospice work or adult literacy or a recreation center for kids. A little courage.

I don't know much about Gregory A. Boyd and I have no doubt I disagree with him on an issue or two but I admire his courage to say enough is enough. Here's the story from AOL News:
Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing -- and the church's -- to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

A thousand people left Boyd's congregation but four thousand remained, many of them relieved by Boyd's approach. Boyd admits he's no liberal but he refuses to say what his political affiliation is. It's a kind of courage and this liberal has to admire it. Sometimes I feel I haven't learned much in life but I have learned this: religion is not about coercion, it's not about fear, it's not about the numbers that attend a church, it's about beliefs we hold dear to our hearts during the long journey of our lives. Each of us must come to our beliefs in our own way without losing our human connection or sympathy.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Campaigning for Bill Moyers

No, I'm not campaigning for Bill Moyers but I do admire him and half wish he would get into the presidential race. Molly Ivins may have hit on something as John Nichols of The Nation suggests (via Truthout):
With all due regard to one of the finest journalists and finest Americans I know, I respectfully disagree with Molly Ivins - not on the merits of a Moyers candidacy, but on the potential.

I'm not suggesting that Bill Moyers - with whom I've had the pleasure of working in recent years on media reform issues - is a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination or the presidency in 2008. I'm not even suggesting that he would be a good bet. But the politics of 2008 are already so muddled, so quirky and so potentially volatile that I believe - as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns - that Moyers could be a contender.

Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more practical political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.


Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.

So, Molly, I'll see your suggestion of Bill Moyers, and up the ante to suggest that Moyers really could be a contender.

If nothing else, Bill Moyers would be a vast improvement over the current president. For one thing, he would act on his values instead of just talking about them for public consumption and then doing the opposite. As just one example, it would be great to have president who actually believes in democracy.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

Here's a Russian poem by Alexy K. Tolstoy (1817-1875), a distant cousin of the more famous, Leo Tolstoy. Make of it what you will. The poem was translated by Babette Deutsch.

Soldier of Neither Camp

Soldier of neither camp, a casual guest in both,
I would rejoice to draw my sword in a just cause,
But secretly I chafe: both factions give me pause,
And neither can persuade these lips to take the oath.

My full allegiance, then, they cannot ever know—
My soul is still my own, though I choose either side:
The partial zeal of friends unable to abide,
I'd fight to keep unstained the banner of the foe.

—Alexey K. Tolstoy


Some Presidential Picks for Republicans and Democrats

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post has a blog (The Fix) where he covers the presidential candidates. At the end of June, he had a list of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans. The Republicans are largely lackluster though I'm sure Republicans would disagree. Cillizza's list of top five Democrats include Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Al Gore and Mark Warner. Here are the opening three paragraphs:
Since The Fix started listing the five Democrats and five Republicans most likely to win their party's presidential nomination in 2008, we've struggled with how to handle two potential candidates -- former vice president Al Gore and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

There are a number of similarities between the two men. Both began their political careers at young ages and were tagged as rising stars. Both achieved substantial early success and went on to reach the verge of great triumph before being brought low and disappearing from politics. And now both are back in public life and being urged by elements from within their respective parties to run for national office.

To date, Gingrich has shown more interest in a potential run than Gore, but neither has ruled out a bid. Until now we have left both men off the Friday Line, but that changes this month.
A Gingrich presidency would be interesting. It would be like replaying Goldwater all over again except that Gingrich makes it clear we would be voting for World War Three. Actually, explicitly or not, most of the other Republican candidates seem to advocate more war for what ails America. Not a good sign.

I like Al Gore a lot but I take him seriously when he says he's not a candidate. When you're not a candidate, you're free to speak bluntly and play the elder statesman and that seems to be what Al Gore is doing. But I wouldn't automatically rule him out and I think he belongs in the next tier of Democratic presidential hopefuls until and if he shows an interest in running for president again.

I'm puzzled to see Evan Bayh in the top five list. He's a qualified and viable candidate but I see others ahead of him. Russ Feingold clearly should be on the top five list. Personally, I think Wesley Clark belongs on the top five list until Bayh proves otherwise.

In another post, Chris Cizzilla rounds out the next group of five for both parties. In his second-tier group, Chuck Hagel is the only Republican who's viable and who wouldn't give me the willies (there are some Republicans more liberal but they don't have much chance of winning the nomination). The list of Democrats is strong and most are strong on foreign policy and are unlikely to lead us into World War Three. Here's the opening of Cizzilla's post:
Every time we put together a list of the five Democrats and five Republican most likely to win the 2008 presidential nomination, a number of commenters and emailers ask why a certain candidate didn't make the cut.

So, since regular Fix readers already know our picks for the top 10 contenders in 2008, we are dedicating this month's Friday presidential Line to the candidates that rank 6-10 in each party -- those people who could in theory make a run at the nomination but have one (or many) things holding them back.

For all you supporters of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), this Line's for you.

Keeping in mind that this is the second tier of Democrats, I notice Tom Vilsack isn't listed. As capable as Joe Biden is, I see Vilsack making more headway in fundraising and the primaries themselves. I would also put Christopher Dodd ahead of Biden. The only presidential hopeful among Democrats that Biden could probably beat is Tom Daschle and that's too bad. Daschle finally sounds like a strong Democrat; he didn't sound like that when he was majority leader. If a Democrat wins the presidency, Biden would make a good secretary of state. I don't think Bill Richardson can win but he's worth watching and again, if a Democrat wins the presidency, we could see Richardson as a vice president.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Opinion Poll about Iraq

I suppose the good news is that Americans are at least beginning to recognize what a mess Iraq is. You can't clean up a mess until you acknowledge that it exists. The bad news is that a sizable percentage of Americans still seem to think there's something to be gained by staying in Iraq. The Horse's Mouth of Prospect has the latest results:
WHEN WILL THE PUNDITS CATCH UP WITH THE PUBLIC ON IRAQ? Check out some of the numbers in the guts of today's New York Times poll that didn't make it into the paper's article about it. They're pretty eye-opening:
Do you think the United States should or shouldn't set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq? Should: 56 Should not: 40

Do you think it is worth the loss of life and other costs for the United States to remain in Iraq until there's a stable democracy there, or is it not worth the loss of life and other costs, or are you unsure?
Worth it: 25
Not worth it: 42
Unsure: 32
Unfortunately, with the exception of the Kurdish areas, which can take care of themselves, more and more Iraqis are voting with their weapons and not the ballot box.

If You Don't Like One Scientific Opinion, Perhaps You Can Buy a Better One

The consensus among scientists has been growing for years: global warming is real. There are still legitimate scientists who are global warming skeptics but there may also be a lucrative market for scientists who tell a story the power companies would like to hear; ABC News has the story:
Ever wonder why so many people still seem confused about global warming?

The answer appears to be that confusion leads to profit -- especially if you're in some parts of the energy business.

One Colorado electric cooperative has openly admitted that it has paid $100,000 to a university academic who prides himself on being a global warming skeptic.

Intermountain Rural Electric Association is heavily invested in power plants that burn coal, one of the chief sources of greenhouse gasses that scientists agree is quickly pushing earth's average temperature to dangerous levels.

Scientists and consumer advocates say the co-op is trying to confuse its clients about the virtually total scientific consensus on the causes of global warming.

Coal is going to be around for a long time. There's no reason to burn it so fast that we knock ourselves back into the dark ages by trying to hang on the horse and buggy age. It's time for our technology to move on and it's time that we start thinking about our children and grandchildren again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

World Respect for Bush Is Falling

It is not good when a president is so incompetent that he endangers our position in the world. Raw Story has an article on a poll that says Americans believe Bush isn't getting much respect from world leaders these days:
According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, sixty percent of Americans say that President Bush isn't respected by foreign leaders, RAW STORY has found.

"The poll finds Americans are pessimistic about the prospects for Mideast peace and do not think the United States should involve itself in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah," reports CBS News.

"More than 60 percent think the conflict will lead to a larger war in the region....
Here's my fantasy poll question of the day: if a 100 CIA analysts, 50 State Department specialists and 25 well-known experts who frequently appear on TV say one thing and our president's gut says another, who is likely to have the right answer?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In California, Solar Energy on the Rise

Many of us remember the flurry of solar panels that were installed in the 1970s during the energy crisis. Then, in the 80s, the market for solar panels crashed and the installation rate per year fell (though it never stopped).

Now, for a number of reasons, the installation of solar panels is on the rise again; here's a story from Environment California about the boom in solar system installations since the lows of the late 1990s:
Since the last time heat waves threatened rolling blackouts around the state in 2001, California has installed 177 MW of solar photovoltaic power systems on nearly 20,000 homes, businesses, schools and government buildings (1). Given that solar power systems generate electricity at a time California needs it most—while the sun is out and air conditioners are on full-blast—this 5,900% increase in the amount of solar power installed in California over the past four years will make a real difference on a day like today.

Further, thanks to the California Solar Initiative adopted by the California Energy Commission this past January, California has set a goal of building 3,000 MW of solar power on a million roofs by 2016 (2). Meeting this goal would mean 6% of California’s summer-time peak load would be met with clean, reliable solar power helping give grid operators a healthy margin between energy supply and demand.

Let's hope these trends continue and that more alternative energy solutions are found. Nationwide, we're going to need the energy—and more.

Bill Moyers for President?

In recent years, when Republicans run for president, they pretty much say the same thing. They run their ideas by political consultants and focus groups and figure out a way to fool most of the people most of the time. But their philosophy is also pretty much the same since the Republican right wing can pretty much dominate the primaries. Unfortunately, Republican strategy is now guaranteed to give us a failed president like the current guy.

Democrats tend to be more diverse but I say they're not diverse enough. Again, there's an uncomfortable relationship with political consultants and focus groups. Democratic voters are less willing to put up with nonsense but Democratic candidates sometimes deliver less than they should because of various electoral phobias currently built into the system and reinforced by many years of conservative nonsense that a majority of American voters fall for too easily. A good primary season ought to have at least one Democratic candidate that can speak the truth to Republicans and Democrats.

I found an article on Work for Change where Molly Ivins offers an interesting solution:
Here's what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.


Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me.

Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate. What would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn't triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues.

Hmm. I may have to add Moyers to the list.

When a Step Forward Is Not a Step Forward

The good news is that Ann Coulter has been dropped from her second newspaper. The bad news is that she's been replaced by Michelle Malkin. Editor & Publisher has the story:
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle has become the second newspaper to drop Ann Coulter's column this month, explaining that her "stridency" had crossed the line.

Coulter, of Universal Press Syndicate, is being replaced by another conservative columnist -- Michelle Malkin of Creators Syndicate.

I wish someone would explain to the editors of the Augusta Chronicle that there is a difference between conservatives and the radical right. Michelle Malkin is no improvement.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Thomas E. Ricks on the Hard Lessons of Vietnam

Most officers in the American military understand the need to learn from past mistakes whether those mistakes were made by Americans or others. Some military historians point out that if the Japanese had spent more time taking out the fuel tanks sitting above Pearl Harbor instead of battle ships, the United States might have been forced to retreat, at least temporarily, to the west coast.

It's important to study mistakes made by the military but it's also important to study the mistakes made by civilians who oversee the military. Hitler understood the importance of oil but there were two times when Hitler didn't understand oil well enough. If Hitler had sent more men and equipment to General Rommel, the Germans might have kept going east past the Suez Canal and on into the Saudi oil fields. Later, in his attack on Russia, Hitler missed the point of gaining control of the oil fields of the Caucasus and instead spread his armies across too wide a front (one of the reasons Hitler failed, by the way, is that he stopped testing his ideas with the generals as well as insisting on war plans improvements as he did early in the war; instead, he became convinced he had all the answers and began to blunder; we are fortunate that Hitler's ego got the better of him).

Already a great deal is being learned from the mistakes in Iraq including: have a plan, have people trained in counterinsurgency and have people who know how to run a peacekeeping operation. Thomas E. Ricks has a book out called FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. In an article in The Washington Post Ricks notes the phobia about discussing and learning from Vietnam in some parts of the military but the problem seemed particularly acute among Bush's civilian leadership, including the de facto American viceroy, Paul Bremer:
In improvising a response to the insurgency, the U.S. forces worked hard and had some successes. Yet they frequently were led poorly by commanders unprepared for their mission by an institution that took away from the Vietnam War only the lesson that it shouldn't get involved in messy counterinsurgencies. The advice of those who had studied the American experience there was ignored.

That summer, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, an expert in small wars, was sent to Baghdad by the Pentagon to advise on how to better put down the emerging insurgency. He met with Bremer in early July. "Mr. Ambassador, here are some programs that worked in Vietnam," Anderson said.

It was the wrong word to put in front of Bremer. "Vietnam?" Bremer exploded, according to Anderson. "Vietnam! I don't want to talk about Vietnam. This is not Vietnam. This is Iraq!"

This was one of the early indications that U.S. officials would obstinately refuse to learn from the past as they sought to run Iraq.

Right wing conservatives like Bush give the impression sometimes of being overly fond of the past. Bush freely expresses admiration for people like Theodore Roosevelt but he may not have any real understanding about Teddy Roosevelt's presidency; he just interprets his history any way he pleases—some would call that fantasizing. Whatever it is, we can hardly afford it.

Whatever the problem is with Bush, he shows little sign of American know-how. American know-how is not a birthright. It is something one earns by experience, by trial and error, by being honest about the facts, by thinking things through and by taking a pragmatic approach to the problems that face us.

Some Good Advice on Foreign Policy

One of the things I haven't understood about the Bush foreign policy is the inability to separate terrorists from the government of whatever outlaw area they manage to show up in. Not all countries fully control their territories or their borders. It would certainly help if every country truly controlled what happens inside their boundaries and there is much the United States can do to help without implementing a foreign policy that is so blunt and arrogant that it simply ignores reality and merely aggravates regional problems. Aggravating regional problems in the Middle East is the last thing we need.

Ernest Wilson of TPM's America Abroad has some useful thoughts on foreign policy:
The familiar bumper sticker reads ‘Think Globally, Act Locally.' Let me flip that bromide and urge us to “Think Locally, Act Globally".

If you're going to invade someplace as a global power, maybe you should know something about the neighborhood.

In last week’s blog I argued that Americans need to do two things to design a more user-friendly and effective foreign policy. First, learn a lot more about local matters in ‘neighborhoods’ around the world – their cultures, traditions, histories of political alliances and conflicts, and so forth. Policy makers should know, for example that Sunni groups dominate in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, and Shiites in Iran, Iraq and in Hezbollah, and the history and implications of shifting alliances. Secondly, Americans should avoid building simplistic one-size fits all ‘containment’- type frameworks that fail to appreciate adequately the role of the particular and the local in this globalizing world of ours. The failure to get these two things right has gotten American into a lot of trouble lately. Knowing the local (and tamping down our arrogance) is one of the main cautionary tales to extract from the Iraq debacle.

There is no 'new thinking' from the Bush Administration. It's mostly old thinking applied so badly that problems just get worse. And Congress has become too right wing to shine a bright light on the poor thinking of the Bush administration.

The media has also done a poor job of remembering that good advice can come from different directions. Bush is getting different advice from Republicans. The neoconservatives say attack Iran. People like Senator Lugar say it's time to talk (let's forget those in a third group who continue to ignore facts and who say Bush is on target; the overwhelming majority of informed people think otherwise and so do most Americans). Now why is it proof of lack of unity when Democrats can think for themselves and offer advice that varies somewhat but that is largely consistent on the facts and largely consistent in the general direction our policies need to go?

There was a time when good politicians simplified the explanation of their policies so that most Americans could understand what was going on; FDR was good at this (and he spoke in complete paragraphs). I don't think it's a good policy but it's still possible to roughly explain policies over several weeks with a series of good sound bites. But that's not what's happening these days. Sound bites are now used to mislead Americans, not to guide them.

If I spend a thousand dollars on a new computer, I want to understand what I'm buying, though it's not necessary for me to know exactly how the computer works or to know every single function of a computer program and so on. If a sales person misleads me, I'm going to be very angry. The same applies to the Middle East. If I'm going to spend a thousand dollars on 'bringing democracy to the Middle East' (we're spending more than that per American), I want to know how that money is being used and why. That means being informed at some minimal level.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

When a President Blunders, the Nation Pays

No matter how much we may criticize a president, at the end of the day, it's the American people who have to pay the price for that president's blunders. In Bush's case, when it comes to his foreign policy, the world too must pay the price, not just the American people and not just our soldiers. Truthout has an article by Robert Kuttner of The Boston Globe:
The latest violence in the Middle East demonstrates the bankruptcy of the Bush administration's grand design for the region. The Iraq war was going to display American power, promote democracy, strengthen moderates, and secure Israel. Instead, the quagmire has demonstrated the humiliating limits of US military power, fomented anarchy, recruited Islamist extremists, and strengthened a more radicalized Iran.


Bush insisted that we go it alone. Now, having rejected diplomacy, an isolated Bush administration is more dependent than ever on the European Union, the Russians, and the UN. In Bush's four minutes of open-mike fame at the G-8 summit, he plaintively told Britain's Tony Blair, "I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to [Syrian President] Assad and make something happen."

But when UN General Secretary Kofi Annan told the Security Council Thursday that we need an immediate cease-fire and expanded multilateral peacekeeping, America's UN ambassador, John Bolton, rejected the idea. Bolton and the other radicals in the administration want Israel to keep pummeling Lebanon a while longer. The Bush policy has produced a codependency of the most extreme elements on all sides -- the party of mutual Armageddon. This is the war party of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Israeli right, the Iranian ultras, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. Right-wing strategists like William Kristol, who often reflect the thinking of Cheney, are now openly calling for war with Iran.


During the "long twilight struggle" as John Kennedy called the Cold War, the Soviet Union was even more of a threat. The Soviets really did have nuclear weapons, by the thousands. There were some in the United States who wanted to have it out, in World War III. Miraculously, they never attained power. Containment worked, communism fell. When pragmatists governed, we even managed to constructively engage the baddest of the bad, Red China, now our ally in containing North Korea, our prime supplier of Wal-Mart and biggest creditor.

But today, the ideological heirs to that lunatic fringe are running the American government. Every arrogant miscalculation only leads them to more disastrous blunders.

And more disastrous gambling to make up for their 'bad luck.' President Bush and his friends are gambling addicts. If we are not careful we will be paying the price for their gambles and ever-growing catastrophes for a long time to come.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bush's Foreign Policy Batting Average

Presidents are going to be wrong from time to time but Bush and his advisers seem to have an awfully low batting average. S. W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion reminds us of another Bush truism that doesn't quite match reality:
Bush likes to point out that a big reason it’s important to democratize countries of the Mideast is to promote peace. That, Bush repeatedly assures, is because democracies don’t go to war with other democracies.

Well, Israel and Lebanon are both parliamentary democracies. The fact that Israel’s objective is Hezbollah and not the government or most people of Lebanon provides no cover for Bush’s warm-and-fuzzy notion. The facts are that Lebanon is being bombed, shelled and shot up, and Lebanese civilians are being killed.

File this example of neocon nonsense away with Saddam’s massive stockpiles of WMDs, Saddam’s close ties with al Qaeda, the looming mushroom cloud, the broken-down trucks that supposedly carried chemical weapons but didn’t, the Nigerian yellow cake purchase that never happened, the aluminum tubes for centrifuges that weren’t, the happy Iraqis who would greet our troops as heroes, the oil revenues that would defray invasion costs, the assurances we have plenty of troops in Iraq to deal with the insurgency and the notion the insurgency is in “the final throes.”

The sad reality is that Bush is losing democracies rather than creating them. Iraq and Afghanistan are in danger of going backwards. Russia is less democratic today than when Bush entered office. Bush defenders try to excuse Bush by saying he's had a string of bad luck. If so, Bush is the unluckiest president in our nation's history. I suspect the truth is that presidents who are competent tend to create their own luck which is generally more useful than trying to create 'reality' with a lot of public relations. Creating luck isn't all that difficult: it means building bridges, not burning them.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

The Chinese poet, Lu Yu died some 800 years ago just before the Mongol invasions. The translated lines are by Kenneth Rexroth.

Night Thoughts

I cannot sleep. The long, long
Night is full of bitterness.
Memories of the past flood back
Until they have exhausted me.
I sit alone in my room,
Beside a smoky lamp.
I rub my heavy eyelids
And idly turn the pages
Of my notebook. Again and again
I trim my brush and stir the ink.
The hours go by. The moon comes
And stands in the open door,
White and shining like molten silver.
At last I fall asleep and
I dream of the days on the
River at Tsa-feng, and the
Friends of my youth in Yen Chao.
Young and happy we ran
Over the beautiful hills.
And now the years have gone by,
And I have never gone back.

—Lu Yu


New Book from Charlayne Hunter-Gault

I remember Charlayne Hunter-Gault's amazing series of stories that she did about Somalia on The News Hour some years back. She's been living in South Africa but is on a book tour promoting her new book, New News out of Africa. Gayle Smith recently interviewed Hunter-Gault at the Center for American Progress; here's an excerpt from a summary of the event:
“We don’t know enough about Africa,” Smith said, because our current media coverage is reactionary and piecemeal, suffering from the “if it bleeds, it leads” syndrome. As a consequence, the American public has become apathetic to the continent. The perception, according to Hunter-Gault, is that if conditions never change than the issues are not a good investment of time, emotions, and money.

The lack of consistent media attention is obscuring important positive developments in Africa. The most interesting stories, for Hunter-Gault, are not Africa’s problems but the hope and heroism throughout the continent in the face of those problems. “Today there is a second wind of change blowing across Africa,” she said. Pointing to tentative but consistent democratic progress and a growing confidence that Africa can be active in improving itself, Hunter-Gault expressed hope that a more positive image of Africa in the media could emerge.

I heard Hunter-Gault on The News Hour last night and she used an expression, parachute journalism, to describe a style of journalism where events in places like Africa are only covered in emergencies where journalists drop in for a few days and then disappear. I feel like that can easily describe Bush's approach to being president. If something happens, he focuses on it for a few days and then disappears. We're going to lose our position in the world if we start don't doing things for the long haul. I don't understand this new era but I hope more Charlayne Hunter-Gaults begin showing up to turn things around.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush's Terrorism Policy Failing

I know it's not something any of us want to hear, but Bush's terrorism policy seems to be creating more terrorists. There's not much I can add to the following UPI article from Raw Story:
The measurable progress against al-Qaida is frequently touted: Three-quarters of al-Qaida's pre-Sept. 11 leadership have been killed or captured, according to government estimates, and at least $140 million in bank assets frozen.


The Rand Corp.'s counterterrorism office has been studying captured al-Qaida literature and speeches over the last year -- the so-called Harmony documents seized in Afghanistan and dating back to the mid-1980s -- and has arrived at a very different conclusion.

"Today, al-Qaida is also frequently spoken of as it if is in retreat: a broken and beaten organization incapable of mounting further attacks on its own and instead having devolved operational authority either to its carious affiliates and associated or to entirely organically produced, homegrown, terrorist entities. Nothing could be further from the truth," Hoffman told the committee.

The Afghan attack "pulverized" al-Qaida, Hoffman told United Press International Wednesday.

"I think we did do that, but this is a movement with enormous regenerative capacity -- its message resonates, and it's not wanting for volunteers," Hoffman said. "They've adapted and adjusted to even our most consequential countermeasures."

Thanks to poorly considered policies by the current administration, America is doing to al Qaida what the British did to the American colonies in the late 1770s. We're alienating people all over the world because of stupid things like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, rendering, torture, Fallujah and even deadly checkpoints that our friends in Iraq can't figure out. We can't even keep the electricity on. It's not what they intended, but Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are al Qaida's best recruiters. This has to change.

Rich Get Tax Cuts, Army Gets Shaft

Many of us want to believe there are politicians in Washington concerned about doing things the way they're supposed to be done. Apparently there are not enough of them these days. Bush and Republican members of Congress seem to be so busy cutting taxes for their wealthy friends that they've forgotten the US Army. USA Today has an AP story on the folks making sacrifices for Bush's war on Iraq:
The Army, bearing most of the cost for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Thursday its money crunch has gotten so bad it is clamping down on spending for travel, civilian hiring and other expenses not essential to the war mission.

A statement outlining the cutbacks did not say how much money the Army expects to save, but senior officials have said the cost of replacing worn equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is rising at a quickening pace.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said last week that in 2004 it cost $4 billion to repair or replace war equipment, but now it has reached $12 billion to $13 billion. "And in my view, we will continue to see this escalate," he said, adding that the Army is using up equipment at four times the rate for which it was designed.

Of course, it would be good to find out why patriotic defense contractors are charging the Army more than they were two years ago, wouldn't it? Republicans have been exercising almost no oversight when it comes to government contracts. Maybe that's the problem. Not only are the Republicans cutting taxes for the wealthy at a time when some sacrifices are in order, but they seem to have an awful lot of 'close' friends in the defense industry (see Cunningham scandal and its offshoots). When he was a senator, Harry S. Truman was famous in World War II for making sure the military got what they needed at a fair price and as free of defects as possible. The current crop of Republicans seem to have a different brand of values and ethics these days.

Democratic Straw Vote at Daily Kos

I can't help it. I'm a sucker for straw votes. When I was on AOL, I took their polls all the time.

If you're curious, Daily Kos has a straw vote for the current list of possible Democratic presidential contenders here.

Al Gore isn't included. Too bad. I notice they included Tom Daschle. I was wondering about him ever since he started sounding presidential and human instead of the rational but meek Majority Leader (I'll never understand why he took that posture). I'll put him on the list of candidates I'm covering.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Robert Scheer on Bush's G8 Misadventure

The G8 meeting was an historic event and not for reasons Bush was hoping for. It's hard to say what it means when the Russians and Chinese are the adults in the room. Just saying it is sobering. Here's an article from Truthout by Robert Scheer:
Bombs were exploding and innocents dying, from Beirut to Haifa to Baghdad, and yet George Bush managed to pose for yet another photo op, smiling as he gave the thumbs up at the close of the G8 summit. Thanks to an unsuspected open mic, however, we could also glimpse the mindset of a leader unaccountably pleased with his ignorance of the world.


But should we be surprised at Bush's poor grasp of the world he supposedly leads? After all, the blundering of the Bush administration has seriously undermined secular politics in the Mideast and boosted the religious zealots of groups like Hezbollah to positions of preeminence throughout the region, from savagely violent Iraq to the beleaguered West Bank and Gaza.

But what is truly "ironic" is that the Bush administration, having overstretched our militarily and generated no foreign policy ideas beyond the willy-nilly "projection" of military force, has become a helpless bystander as the entire region threatens to burn.


Where Albright was critical of the "disaster" in Iraq for distracting from the dormant Mideast peace process, Rice was shrilly defensive.

"For the last 60 years, American administrations of both stripe - Democrat, Republican - traded what they thought was security and stability and turned a blind eye to the absence of democratic forces, to the absence of pluralism in the region," she said Sunday. "That policy has changed."

While this is certainly a dramatic sound bite, the words have no logical meaning: The U.S. continues to embrace the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as has been the case for sixty years. In fact, Bush has added Libya to the "approved" list.

As long as Condi Rice is forced to tell the world pretty much what Bush wants to hear (or perhaps it's Karl Rove?), our foreign policy will continue to be crippled even if there has been a change of sorts in policy in the past few months (or nonaction as some acute observers have noted). Rice is supposedly intelligent. Surely, she doesn't believe her own nonsense, does she? In any case, it seems to me that the Bush administration has gotten good at fostering chaos, not fostering democracy.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer undoubtedly understands the Middle East a great deal better than Condi Rice and has an article based on facts rather than Republican slogans that summarizes the unpleasant reality of our current foreign policy:
The president was correct in citing Syria (while oddly omitting Iran) as part of the problem. I doubt Hezbollah would have started this crisis without a green light from both of its sponsors, who supply it with funds and missiles. But Bush's words revealed how little influence the United States has in this crisis. And without strong U.S. intervention, it's hard to see who has the power to bring about an acceptable cease-fire.

Under Presidents Reagan, Bush père or Clinton, the United States would have dispatched a top-level emissary to visit Israel and the relevant Arab capitals to stop the fighting. These days, while the United States can exert strong influence (if it chooses) in Jerusalem, it has no leverage with the other capitals that matter: Damascus and Tehran.

For all its strength, the United States is no longer the predominant player it once was in the Middle East.

Washington has had no diplomatic relations with Iran for decades and no ambassador in Syria since early 2005. (The administration expected the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to precipitate "regime change" in Syria and Iran. Some Bush officials still nourish unrealistic hopes these regimes will implode in the near term.) That gives the Syrians and Iranians incentive to stir up trouble in Lebanon and elsewhere.

In recent years, U.S. diplomacy in the region has been notable for its absence. Preoccupied with Iraq, the United States pretty much bowed out of efforts to restart the Mideast peace process.


Some argue that Syria and Iran should be bombed. Neither Israel nor the Bush team seems inclined in that direction, for good reason.

But the crucial Mideast mediating role once played by the United States has atrophied. Bush can't get on the phone with the Syrian president and "make something happen," nor can Condoleezza Rice visit the capitals that matter.

No wonder a frustrated president was wishing Kofi Annan could save the day.

For decades, our country has moved forward under Democrats or Republicans. Occassionally there have been setbacks under one party or the other. Under President George W. Bush, our country is seriously moving backwards. That is not acceptable.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Record Energy Needed to Cope with Heat

Air conditioners are using record energy during the current hot spell. The quickest way to boost energy in a hurry is to fire up a power plant that uses natural gas. Burning natural gas contributes more carbon dioxide to global warming. Uh-oh, maybe we need to think about this more clearly.

Here's a story from Reuters about record power use because of the hot weather (hat tip to The Oil Drum):
Blistering temperatures from New York to Sacramento on Monday will boost power demand to record highs and strain electric resources across the United States as people try to escape the sweltering heat, according to utilities and power grid operators.

Several grid operators, including the nation's largest, the mid-Atlantic PJM, have called for consumers to conserve electricity or for utilities to hold off from any maintenance as the situation was expected to linger for several days.
What I want is a house where I can just crank the roof up a couple of feet starting in the early afternoon and just let the heat flow out!

I remember a TV show from many years ago where some tycoon held a competition for a bunch of engineers to design some special machine for the assembly-line that would take care of some special problem. The engineers started making all kinds of sketches and drawings of very clever machines. Except one guy. The winning engineer was a guy who didn't design anything at all: he simply suggested hiring left-handed workers for that part of the assembly-line. A genius.

But we also need people again who are less interested in the maximum profit and more interested in solving problems for the maximum benefit.

Ralph Reed Casualty of Jack Abramoff Ties

In the Georgia Republican primary for lieutenant governor, Ralph Reed was defeated by Casey Cagle; here's an excerpt from an article by Matthew Bigg of The Washington Post:
Cagle's attacks focused on a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs committee report on Abramoff last month that said Reed, in work as a lobbyist, rallied Christian conservatives to stop gambling initiatives. But it said that work was in part funded by competing gambling interests represented by Abramoff.

A recent Cagle ad said Reed took millions of dollars from Abramoff to help casinos. Reed and Abramoff are longtime friends and business partners. Reed has not been charged over the case and denies wrongdoing.

Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker has more:
Ralph Reed barely finished his concession speech when press accounts began fingering Jack Abramoff for Reed's failure. Reed -- Jack's longtime political companion, who was running for Georgia Lieutenant Governor -- appears to be the first electoral casualty of the Abramoff scandal.

Paul Kiel, also of TPMMuckraker had a story yesterday:
The Indians made me do it.

On the eve of a tense primary election, that's Ralph Reed's defense against corruption accusations that threaten to capsize his candidacy for Georgia lieutenant governor.

Reed is suffering some punishing body blows from his opponent for his schemes to use money from Indian casinos to pay for Christian anti-gambling efforts -- by funneling the cash through shell companies to disguise its true source.

The charges have been around for months, of course -- accompanied by ample evidence that Reed played a key role in concocting the schemes and putting them into practice.

Republicans on the far right sure seem to have access to awful lot of money these days. Note the operative word in the scandal: millions. Of course billions have disappeared in Iraq and billions more in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those old $25,000 speaking fees politicians and pundits used to help themselves to seem pretty tame in the current era.

Juan Cole Comment on Hezbollah Leader

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has consistently been one of the more thoughtful commentators and analysts on the Middle East. Republicans on the far right dislike what he says because his analysis often doesn't not square with their preconceived notions. Cole does not appear to be pro-Arab or pro-Israeli or pro-Shiite or pro anything except pro facts as far as he is able to find those facts (though sometimes he can be blunt). Here's an excerpt of what he had to say yesterday about the Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah:

[Ar.] Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah (Hezbollah), gave a televised speech on Sunday explaining his own strategy. He said in an eerily calm and calculating voice that he had aimed his rockets only at military targets, not at Israeli settlements "in Occupied northern Palestine" (i.e. Israel). In contrast, he said, the Israeli military had from the beginning targeted civilians. (In fact, Nasrallah's katyushas are impossible to aim with any precision and in loosing them on Israel, he inevitably killed and wounded civilians; likewise in Haifa. His opening statement is a self-serving lie.)


He also denied that there were any Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon or that he had had Iranian help. He said people were always putting down the Arabs and saying they could not accomplish anything, but, he said, look at the Israeli warship in flames. That was an Arab accomplishment.

Uh, wouldn't an Arab accomplishment be more like, oh, inventing something or building up something nice? Destroying things and killing people is not an accomplishment.

I watched in horror as this maniacal speech unfolded in which Nasrallah actually threatened the Israelis with releasing chemical gas from local factories on civilians in Haifa. Despite fighting them for all those years, he clearly does not understand the Israelis' psyche or the trauma of the Holocaust. A threat like that. The Israelis don't like being caught in a quagmire any more than the next person, which is why Nasrallah could get them to leave southern Lebanon. But his victory appears to have given him megalomania, and he has now gone too far.

Israel is not without its faults and one could easily compile a list of mistakes Israel has made in the last thirty years. But Palestinians and the larger Arab world has made a number of repeated errors over the years as well and the one that seems to happen again and again is giving to much attention to megalomaniacs like Yasser Arafat and now apparently Nasrallah. An honest criticism of Arafat is that he knew how to fight but he did not know how to govern or how to keep the peace. Building peace in the Middle East would be an accomplishment and the major components of that accomplishment will have to come from within.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wading through the News and Commentary on the Middle East

There's lots of material out there and little certainty about what it all means. Here's a straight AP news story on MSNBC that includes a possible Israeli proposal:
Diplomatic efforts gained traction with Israel signaling it might scale back its demands. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said fighting would halt only if Hezbollah, a Shiite militia that controls much of south Lebanon, pulls back from the border and releases the two soldiers whose capture last week triggered the Israeli offensive.

An aide to Olmert indicated the prime minister was ready to compromise on the question of dismantling the Islamic militant group. But the aide said Olmert might oppose a U.N. and British idea of deploying international forces to Lebanon.

The current U.N. force in southern Lebanon has proven impotent and a larger, stronger force could hamper any future Israeli attacks, should any deal fall apart. Israel wants the Lebanese government to patrol the south.

Of course, I read the story several hours ago so things could easily be different in these swiftly changing times. We'll see.

The MSNBC story also included a sidebar item that said Hezbollah's arsenal of missiles includes about 10,000; I have heard that Hezbollah may have as many as 30,000 missiles.Somebody has been very busy over the last few years. One thing I'm learning is that the governments of a number of countries don't seem to control their entire country. I suppose that's been true all along but the lack of foreign coverage over the last twenty years has left Americans somewhat behind the times.

The mildly conservative Bloomberg has a number of things to say about the G8 conference including this:
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said the lack of support for Bush's stance illustrated that the U.S. is ``increasingly isolated, distrusted, disliked.''

In an interview, Brzezinski, who's now with Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was ironic that most of the G-8 leaders were closer to Russia than the U.S. in their views on the Middle East.

``It tells you something about the degradation of American leadership, and that is a serious challenge to America's long- term interests,'' he said.

While Bush left the summit without giving a final press conference, Putin showed no reluctance to meet with reporters. He held a news briefing at the end of every day of the summit. At yesterday's session, he said with satisfaction that all the documents drafted by Russia, including that on energy security, were approved ``practically without changes.''

Putin even extended his final press conference after his spokesman tried to stop it. He may have been enjoying himself so much because of questions like the one posed by a member of a student group, who asked Putin what he could expect for the future. ``Nothing but good,'' he replied. A Chinese journalist then told Putin that in China ``you are our true hero.''

Increasingly, Brzezinski has gotten tired of being polite and now simply tells it like it is. Many people did their best to get Bush to recognize the flaws in his policies but Bush never had the humility to recognize a simple truth: no man or woman on this earth can have all the answers. A president must know how and when to listen to others.

Russia and China seem to be working hard on becoming allies and given their mutual interests that's not particularly suprising. But we see here once again that George W. Bush is not serving our country well. This is a president who clearly wants to go on a long vacation but who has too much pride to resign or admit that he has led America down the wrong road.

US Oil and Natural Gas Imports

CNN has one of those special reports features that gives one bar graph of oil imports and another bar graph of natural gas imports. To be honest, the graphs look more like British Petroleum (BP) ads than news but they're reasonably accurate (but I'm not sure how long they'll be up).

The thing to keep in mind about natural gas is that the reason we get such a huge percentage from Canada is that natural gas is cheaper to import by way of a pipeline than it is by tanker (and also safer).

Russia has considerable natural gas reserves. If our relations with Russia improve before others lock up the markets, it's possible we might someday have an undersea pipeline from Russia to the US by way of Siberia and Alaska but that presents a technological challenge and perhaps a much higher price tag than importing by tanker.

Most of the world's remaining natural gas is in the Eurasia land mass and Africa is easily connectable as a producer or consumer. That's three continents where markets will increasingly be reachable by pipeline. That presents near term problems for the Americas as more natural gas imports become necessary and also problems for Australia and various island nations not close to a land mass and pipeline. All nations, however, need to think about longer term solutions.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Fighting in Israel and Lebanon

Our do-nothing president continues to sit on his hands while war wages in the Middle East. Laura Rozen of War and Piece links to this story by Ze'ev Schiff of Haaretz:
The fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has still not reached its zenith. The Israel Defense Forces' operational plans against the Shi'ite organizations have not yet been carried out. The next two days are the most critical and a lot depends on whether Tehran decides to take a chance and authorize Hezbollah to launch long-range missiles with more powerful warheads. This is a capability Hezbollah still retains, despite the heavy blows it has suffered in the IDF air strikes.

On Sunday, Israel bore witness to the use of more powerful rockets against Haifa, which killed eight people and injured dozens more. The Syrian-made 220 mm rocket has a warhead weighing more than 50 kilograms. Hezbollah was supplied with these rockets as the Syrian armed forces were receiving them off the production lines. The decision to give Hezbollah the rockets was made when it was concluded that the group would be considered part of the Syrian army's overall emergency preparedness.


From a military standpoint, the mobile Fajr rockets pose a special problem because they are more difficult to locate and destroy. On Sunday, the air force concentrated on attacks against regular Katyusha rockets whose range is shorter and many of which have already been launched against towns in the Galilee. But the presence of some 600 Hezbollah storage bunkers, a third of which were prepared for the longer range rockets, makes the task difficult.

I suppose the question I have about all this is why now? What is Israel doing? And does it understand the possible harm it may be doing to our own foreign policy? Of course Israel has the right to defend itself, and clearly Bush has been neglecting the Israeli/Palestinian problem for most of his presidency, but I hope we're not being dragged into something bigger. I have lots of questions and not too many answers at the moment. But I will say this: the world does not need more war right now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Woman Who Crowned George W. Bush

The spectacle of the Republican party continues. Katharine Harris, the woman who certified Bush the winner of Florida's controversial election in 2000, continues to have problems of her own as reported by Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press:
U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris' third Senate campaign manager has resigned, citing the candidate's "tantrums" and "increasingly erratic behavior."

"It became unmanageable, unhealthy, uncontrollable," said Glenn Hodas, who became campaign manager in April, when his predecessor left after only a few months in the role.

Four other key staffers are also leaving the campaign, Hodas said.


Ed Rollins, a prominent political strategist who had served as President Reagan's political director and ran Ross Perot's presidential campaign in 1992, also abandoned Harris' campaign.

He said Hodas' description was similar to what he had experienced.

"Everything is someone else's fault. If there's not a Starbucks coffee house within distance, it's someone else's fault," Rollins said. "After a while you say, 'Why am I putting up with this crap?'"

Republican Ed Rollins is as tough as they come. It must have been a sight to behold if he couldn't stomach sticking around. Maybe Katharine Harris is borrowing too many pages from President Bush and lacks a Karl Rove to overcome the candidate's shortcomings.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

I came across a curious site the other day called Quickmuse. They pit well-known poets against each other and give them fifteen minutes to write a poem. There's a feature that allows the reader to see how the poem was written. Fascinating. And well presented.

Here's tonight's poem for Cold Flute.


The rose fades
and is renewed again
by its seed, naturally
but where

save in the poem
shall it go
to suffer no diminuation
of its spendor

—William Carlos Williams


President Bush Slipping in Polls Again

The demise of Zarqawi was a step forward and gave Bush a small bounce. But, since then, Bush's public relations stunts are impressing people less and less. Fox News has a story on its own poll:
The president’s approval rating dropped to 36 percent, down from 41 percent approval two weeks ago and 40 percent in mid-June. Bush lost ground this week among some key constituent groups, such as Republicans, whites and men. Overall, 53 percent of Americans say they disapprove.

Mike Lukovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a brilliant cartoon that pretty much summarizes the current state of Bush's presidency. Go have a look at 'Burning Issues.'

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who Is Hillary Clinton?

I hope to write more positive posts on Hillary Clinton but I was reading Arianna Huffington and went back to a story in The Washington Post that includes this paragraph:
"She will define herself, and we will have the money to do it," said one close adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Clinton has forbidden those close to her to speculate publicly about 2008. "People have to get to know her, know that she was once a Republican, that she's a big Methodist. . . . That will happen."

Well, I've known for fourteen years that she's a Methodist and that's fine; most Americans belong to one church or another. I'm less sure about the line that she's been a Republican though I knew that about her too. Both these facts, with all the many variations one can think of, are a normal part of America. I grew up in a Republican household but I'm a Democrat. I went to a Methodist church but my father didn't. These are things I know about, and yet I'm uneasy about what this adviser is saying when he talks about Hillary defining herself. "...we will have the money...."

Given what's happened in the last seven years and the fictions that Bush has created around himself, I feel this is a political operative taking a page out of the Bush book where somebody can reach high office while pretending to be something one isn't. I hope I'm wrong, but I sense an adviser to Hillary thinking about using a lot of money to 'create reality' in the same way that Bush's political advisers brag about 'creating reality.' I think we've had enough of that. I used to like John McCain but I can already see him playing the same game. I see other Republicans doing the same thing.

I hope Hillary keeps it real and keeps her distance from overly clever political consultants who study what voters want to hear. Yes, you have to get your message out; yes, the voters need to know who you are. But keep it real. Americans are looking for leaders, not illusions.

Novak Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Despite his claim that he's finally telling his story, columnist Robert Novak is discovering that a fair number of people know a great deal more about Leakgate than he was counting on. It's fun to watch him squirm. TPMMuckraker alone has two items that show Novak is far from telling the full story about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame; here's the first item by Justin Rood about Novak allegedly communicating with Karl Rove after the investigation began for purposes Novak seem not to have explained:
Here are a couple good questions for Robert Novak: How good is your legal advice? And how good are you at following it?


One of those rules, as Waas noted in his May 25 piece, is that once an investigation has begun, potential witnesses should not communicate....

And here's the second item from TPMMuckraker, also by Justin Rood:
Trying to dodge criticism for his role in outing Valerie Plame, columnist Bob Novak last night attacked a National Journal story by Murray Waas on Fox's Hannity & Colmes. "I know that the Murray Waas piece in the National Journal, which interestingly was not picked up by anybody, was totally wrong and a total lie," he said.


In truth, two major news outlets confirmed the National Journal story the same day it was published, May 25.

Rood goes on to give links to MSNBC and Bloomberg, both confirming the story by Murray Waas about a conversation between Rove and Novak after the investigation started. Novak seems to have trouble with facts and honest behavior but he excuses himself because after all he's a big shot and you can say anything you want on Fox News if you're a right wing Republican. But he's still squirming. Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame have just filed a lawsuit over the Valerie Plame leak and the attempt by several Bush administration figures to shut up whistleblower Joe Wilson. In my book, Joe Wilson is a hero. And so's his wife.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Executive Pay and Corporate Ethics

Early in the history of American corporations, it had to be clear that corporations were somehow serving the public good in order to receive the protections and limited liabilities that corporations enjoy. And yet, in our era, it's not surprising that when it comes to profits and executive pay, corporate ethics are sometimes the losers. Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post has a column on executive pay:
Consider a Business Roundtable study, using data that Mercer Human Resource Consulting collected on 350 major companies. The idea was to examine median CEOs -- those in the middle -- as typical. Here's what the study found:

· From 1995 to 2005 median CEO compensation at these companies rose 151 percent, from $2.7 million to $6.8 million (the figure included base salary, bonuses, stock options and other "incentives" -- but not pensions).

· In the same period, the median sales of these companies increased 51 percent, to $7.6 billion, and the median profits 126 percent, to $591 million.

· By contrast, the median pay increase for full-time, year-round workers ages 25 to 64 in these years was only 32 percent, to $38,223 (that's all workers, not just those at the study's firms).

Something to keep in mind is that a 5% raise for someone earning $30,000 a year is only $1,500. A 5% raise for someone earning $6 million is $300,000. Do the math. The raise the executive gets is 60000% bigger than the raise workers get. A 5% raise for the executive means a great deal more than a 5% raise for a worker. If executives got the same raise workers get, the executives would still be doing very well.

Corporations have an obligation not just to executives, but to shareholders, pension funds (who are shareholders), workers, customers, neighbors, their larger community and even the future (meaning those who may have to pay for their errors or those who are going to need their innovations). Corporate America needs to do far better than it has been doing lately.

Solar Panels That Look Like Roofing Tiles

Solar panels that generate electricity are usually not particularly attractive. Technology Review has an article on panels that have been on the market for three years; they generate electricity but look like roofing tiles:
Homeowners have long been able to partially power their homes with sunlight, but it meant clumsily mounting photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof. Now the latest generation of PV panels look and act much like ordinary roofing tiles or shingles....


Around 500 square feet of PV tiles can produce three kilowatts of electricity, according to Subhendu Guha, president and chief operating officer of United Solar Ovonic, a maker of PV shingles in Auburn Hills, MI -- and most roofs are several times that size. His company's version is dark blue and can blend with ordinary shingles of a similar shade. Or a builder might devote an entire sunny section to PV materials.

"A south-facing roof on a three-bedroom home could supply 20 to 30 percent of the home's electrical needs," says Paul Maycock, a consultant and head of PV Energy Systems in Williamsburg, VA.

The more flexible and aesthetic the tiles become, the more they probably will be used for other purposes as well. In the southern United States, they might power streetlights (with a battery pack) or signals. Retail centers might attract extra customers by advertising that their stores are powered by tiles that everyone can see. A sturdier and shock-free kind of tile that's embeddable might be used on roads, or if that's too much daily pounding, then they might be used on road shoulders. There are many possibilities.

If the United States could lead in this kind of technology, there are even near-term opportunities for trade and the opportunities might not necessarily be limited to the federal government or big corporations. For example, computer manufacturing technology in the state of Washington might help in the expertise needed to make solar tiles, but in the western part of the state of Washington, it's too cloudy and too far north to make much use of the tiles. Perhaps the city of Seattle could make a trade, let's say with a place like Mexico City (Mexico is an oil producer) where Seattle would pay for these tiles to be installed in Mexico City in exchange, let's say, for natural gas for a certain number of years. Mexico City would get less pollution and Seattle would get a usable energy source. This example may be a little far-fetched but I think it shows that there are opportunities if Americans can think creatively.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Religious Center and Left

Republican right wingers would like other Americans to think they own the religious issue. That's hardly the case. I could be wrong but it seems right wingers, even when they mean well, sometimes get caught up in judging others too much; other Christians and religious people (in the middle and left) may have strong religious feeling but they may not feel that they have all the answers and so they're inclined to be more sympathetic to people in general, even if the other person doesn't share their beliefs. Here's a story from CBS News:
At a church in Washington, hundreds of committed Christians met recently and tried to map out a strategy to get their values into the political debate.

But these are not the conservative Christian values which have been so influential lately. This is the religious left.

"Jesus called us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, care for the poor, care for the outcast, and that's really the moral core of where we think the nation ought to go," Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches told CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell.


The Christian left is focusing on:
Fighting poverty
Protecting the environment
Ending the war in Iraq

"Right now the war in Iraq costs us $1 billion per week," said Rev. Jim Wallis, a Christian activist. "And we can't get $5 billion over ten years for child care in this country?"

The religious right has about 25% of the vote. Their leaders have been very effective in the last twenty-five years in increasing their influence and they haven't been particularly honest in how they do it. Whatever sells seems to be their main focus. It seems millions of Americans ought to be taking a closer look at their religious leaders and perhaps asking how much money they're raking in for their personal use.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gov. Bill Richardson: 2008 and North Korea

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has a lot on his plate these days. He's in the middle of a reelection campaign for governor, he's thinking about running for president in 2008 and he's been tapped by different news shows to give his thoughts on North Korea. Here's part of an article he published on July 6 in the New York Daily News:
North Korea's Fourth of July missile test was several things: an infantile demonstration of aggression by an isolated nation and a seriously destabilizing act felt throughout the Pacific Rim. But most of all it was a failure - a failure of a missile technology and a failure of diplomacy.

This test was a failure for North Korea because its outdated Taepodong 2 missile crashed prematurely into the Sea of Japan. But we also now see that the Bush administration's handsoff stance toward North Korea is not working. As the world's greatest superpower, we should be actively engaged in disarming and lessening the North Korean threat.

I traveled to North Korea last October and won from the North Koreans an agreement to return to the six-party talks involving the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Those talks were to be focused on lessening the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula - but they have stalled over unrelated financial disagreements.


We must turn North Korea away from its nuclear brinkmanship and toward providing a stable food supply and more opportunity for its people. This means direct engagement from the highest levels in Washington employing all the tools at our disposal.

We are doing this in New Mexico. North Korea desperately needs Western energy, agriculture and medical technology and, as a result of my trip there last fall, New Mexico is providing aid. Our joint humanitarian exchanges have already sent a team on North Korean heart doctors to New Mexico to learn the latest cardiac surgery techniques.

Bill Richardson has an extensive resume stretching back to the 1970s. He served in the House, was UN ambassador under Clinton and later Secretary of Energy and was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002; he has more hands-on experience than any of the other Democratic contenders that I've covered so far.

Here's an excerpt from an article by Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report who recently published the same article in Roll Call:
When I spoke with the governor recently, he would only say, “After November, I will reassess my plan.” But Richardson, 58, has long been mentioned for higher office as part of a Democratic national ticket, and I’d be flabbergasted if he didn’t take the presidential plunge for 2008.

In 1984, less than two years after he was elected to a new Congressional district created by reapportionment and redistricting, Richardson already was being touted as a possible Senate candidate against Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.
Rothenberg mentions some of Richardson's possible negatives (mostly minor) but, given the negatives of Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush that were glossed over by the media in 2000, I'm not sure how much Richardson's negatives will be in play.

Steve Terrell of the Free New Mexican had this to say of a recent GQ article that profiled the likely 2008 Democratic presidential contenders (sorry, no link to GQ):
...back on page 100, the governor of the great state of New Mexico is profiled along with several other probable 2008 presidential contenders.

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, to nobody's surprise, is named Democratic "front-runner." Below her are Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, Richardson, Sen. John Kerry and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

According to the analysis, "Of all the candidates on this list, (Richardson)'s the most likely to end up somewhere on the ticket. ... Richardson's a natural running mate for a senator who wants to embrace the reform message -- especially his old friend Hillary."

Richardson's "natural allies," according to GQ, are "Democrats who want to win. ... He has insider chops but can still campaign as an outsider."

Bill Richardson recently attended the Yearly Kos convention of bloggers in Las Vegas but of all the candidates I've surveyed so far, he seems to have the least presence on the blogs and the internet. This may be because he's in the middle of a campaign so it will be interesting to see what he does if he wins a second term. He does have a governor's campaign website here. And I found two independent blogs who are covering him reasonably well: The Bill Richardson Blog and America for Bill Richardson.

Bill Richardson is clearly in the second tier of possible Democratic candidates in 2008 but I suspect he and Evan Bayh are the two most likely to break out of that group. Given that Bayh tends to be more conservative than some of the other contenders, the edge may go to Richardson to move into the top tier. The fact that Richardson cut taxes in New Mexico may give him a broader appeal than other candidates if he can make himself wider known.

Next up in the series is John Kerry.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Newt Gingrich Insists on Encore

Wasn't once bad enough?

If Americans decide they're gluttons for punishment, they may decide to give the Newt Gingrich show another look in 2008; if the voters detect a rerun of the same failed Republican politics, they can be congratulated for an astute observation.

I wasn't planning a post on Gingrich—he gets enough free publicity as it is—but something struck me about the first sentence in Debra Rosenberg's Newsweek article on the former House Speaker:
His e-mail newsletter reaches more than 200,000 subscribers—and another 1,000 sign up every week.

I'm not on Newt's mailing list, but sometimes I like to take those online political surveys you see now and then. Guess what? If you're not careful, you wind up on a right winger's mail list. (Are they that desperate?)

Maybe those 1,000 sign-ups a week are real but there are others out there on the right whose lists are somewhat padded. Let's hope Newt Gingrich's integrity has improved since he brought in the right wing Republicans who now dominate Washington.

If I'm hard on Gingrich, it's because I'm grumpy about the high price of gasoline and the lack of a real energy policy. Back in 1995, Gingrich did everything he could for the oil companies.

Methinks Bush Should Wear a Sandwich Board

I was never impressed with the walkabout that Bush did on board the Abraham Lincoln; of course, as we all know, there were no WMDs and no mission accomplished. Shouldn't there be consequences?

Here's a story from Editor & Publisher about the punishment meted out by a judge who doesn't like people who try to claim they were in the military:
A man who lied to his probation officer about having served in the military was ordered to stand outside the courthouse wearing a sandwich board that says: "I am a liar. I am not a Marine."

William C. Horvath, 35, of Whitefish, pleaded guilty to making false statements, a felony.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy sentenced him to four months of house arrest and four years of probation. He also ordered him to stand outside the courthouse for 50 hours wearing the sandwich board with the message.

On the back, it must read: "I have never served my country. I have dishonored veterans of all wars."

Molloy, a veteran himself, also ordered Horvath to write letters of apology to newspapers, the U.S. Marine Corps, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in Kalispell. The judge said Horvath must admit in the letters that he lied repeatedly about serving and being wounded.

People who mislead a nation into war should have to wear a sandwich board. I'll leave it to the reader to decide what it should say.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

It's time for a change of pace. We know the war in Iraq is a mess. We know that George W. Bush is not a good president. I'm going to move away from war poetry for a while and look for poetry that reminds us of who we are or who we need to be.

Here's a famous villanelle by Dylan Thomas from half a century ago. Good poems always have meaning beyond their original circumstance. It's called resonance. Resonance is a good thing to have.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

—Dylan Thomas (1951)