Archive for December, 2006

Outsourcing death and the American way of war

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

So apparently we’re going to begin outsourcing our military related dying by recruiting foreign nationals to fight our wars for us, based upon the promise of an easy pass to US citizenship. Somehow it all sounds so familiar.

During the years leading up to the debacle in Iraq, it became fashionable to say that Americans had become accustomed to near zero-casualty warfare. And why not?

Panama Invasion: 23 American deaths.
Gulf War (1991): 148 American deaths
Bosnia and Kosovo: 0 American deaths

While every life lost was, of course, a tragedy, let’s face it: Compared with previous wars these were stunningly small losses. This was war on the cheap, at least in terms of the blood spent — American blood that is. The death rates among civilians and opposing forces in all of these conflicts were, of course, much higher, although the exact numbers are usually disputed.

Back in those heady days before the current Iraqi meat grinder, pundits often fretted that these low casualty numbers would make the American public intolerant of losses, such that they’d turn and run the first time our noses got bloodied in combat. Indeed, some disillusioned neoconservatives, unwilling to concede the fruits of their own incompetence, continue to insist even today that this is why the American people have turned against the war in Iraq.

But that’s, of course, hogwash. Americans will always be prepared to pay the price of liberty. What they aren’t prepared to do is to pay the price for the neocon’s delusions.

(more…)

Question of the day: Will Bush publicly celebrate Saddam Hussein’s execution?

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

It now appears likely that Saddam Hussein will be executed sometime very soon.  As a death penalty opponent, I abhor all applications of the death penalty.  And no, I make no exceptions for alleged war criminals.  I also think that killing Hussein is likely to generate more, not less, violence in Iraq.

But none of that is what I want to talk about here.  The topic of the day, rather, is whether we think Bush is stupid enough to make a major production out of it when the “big” day comes.  The smart move couldn’t be more obvious: Shut the fuck up.

At most, Bush should release a brief written acknowledgement that “justice” has been carried out according to Iraqi law, closing a dark chapter in Iraqi history, and looking forward to Iraq now moving forward as one nation, or some similar BS.  But does Bush have that much common sense, let alone that much impulse control?

Personally, I doubt it.  My prediction is that he’ll insist on some form of public celebration over Saddam’s execution, spinning it as yet another in the endless procession of turning points in the war.  Now, if he does this, he’ll almost certainly end up with egg on his face — again — when the retaliatory attacks come.  But, given how starved he is for good news I doubt he can resist.

What do you think?


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A billion here, a billion there

Monday, December 25th, 2006

What is perhaps most shocking about the latest report of Bush Administration malfeasance is how, well, unshocking it is. It fact, it all seems so terribly predictable.

(AP) Katrina fraud likely to balloon past $1B

The tally for Hurricane Katrina waste could top $2 billion next year because half of the lucrative government contracts valued at $500,000 or greater for cleanup work are being awarded without little competition.

Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work.

“Based on their track record, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw another billion more in waste,” said Clark Kent Ervin, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general from 2003-2004. “I don’t think sufficient progress has been made.”

This is going to get ugly — really ugly. Bush & Co. lived in a protective cocoon for most of the last six years, all but untouchable. In many ways, the federal government resembled an old-fashioned company town, where “the company,” in this case Bush and the GOP, controlled everything, including the police.

That kind of power can easily lead to reckless excess and these guys broke all the records.

This most recent case has the look of a very specific kind of corruption, one grounded in a distorted view of conservative political principles. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these aren’t government haters. They love government; they simply detest efforts to use it to help any but the wealthy and privileged.

So for Bush and his fellow travelers, spending billions of dollars to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, while politically necessary, was in the end just so much hooey. So if they had to throw all that perfectly good money down a black hole of compassion, they might just as well make certain that a good portion of it went to a more worthwhile purpose — enriching their campaign supporters.

Of course, Bush & Co’s graft has hardly been limited to do-gooder programs. They’ve done the exact same thing in Iraq, a government enterprise they wholeheartedly endorse. So, on second thought, perhaps the corruption isn’t tied to their political beliefs at all — maybe they’re just a bunch of crooks.

Either way, they’ve had a hell of a run. But the protective cocoon is gone now. Democrats control Congress and the oversight investigations are gearing up. We seem certain to learn some incredibly damning things about Bush & Co. I wonder if any of it will still have the power to surprise us.


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Merry Christmas from the Last Chance Democracy Cafe

Monday, December 25th, 2006


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Desperation masquerading as strategy

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

To surge or not to surge: that is the question.  Actually, it doesn’t look to be much of a question anymore.  According to press reports, the commanding officer in Iraq, General George W. Casey Jr., has now endorsed the proposal.  With the formerly skeptical Casey on board, the escalation is probably a done deal.  Soon somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 more American troops will start heading into the Iraqi nightmare, though God knows where the military will find them in our already overstressed armed services.

Has there ever been a more predictable train wreck?  For one thing, this is a plan — if we are to give it the dignity of calling it a plan — dreamed up, not by military planners, but by politicians.  And let’s face it — the batting average of these particular political armchair warriors has been far from reassuring.

So as to be completely fair, I would like to be able to address the specifics of the proposal, rather than just running it down in general.  But that, of course, won’t be possible, since its advocates have offered no specifics.  They want more troops sent into harm’s way — that much is clear.  Beyond that they’ve given us next to nothing.  

Incredibly, there doesn’t even appear be consensus as to what mission these new troops should have.  Some want them used to “take care of” the militia of radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  That should prove interesting, given that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has recently refused to play ball even with efforts to politically isolate al-Sadr, believing that doing so would damage Shiite unity.  So I’m sure a full-fledged military attack against al-Sadr will go over really well with the Shiite majority.

Others argue that the new troops should be deployed in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods where, hopefully, they will help to reduce ethnic bloodshed — a noble goal, but again more a vague hope than a carefully crafted proposal.  What will the rules of engagement be?  Who will the troops shoot at when fighting breaks out between ethnic groups?  What’s the exit strategy?

Nobody knows the answer to these questions, of course, because nobody has worked out the details of the mission.  Remember, this escalation isn’t something our military planned out and then sought civilian approval for.  This is the brainchild of neoconservative politicians that is being forced onto the military.

It is political desperation masquerading as strategy.  And as such it’s a recipe for disaster — one more time.

No draft, no way, no how

Friday, December 22nd, 2006


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Tell Me About Your Accomplishments?

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Is it just me, or is this whole “you” as the Time Man/Person/Thing of the Year a major cop-out?

The only thing of value that could come out of this are scores of online resumes listing this under “Achievements”:

Time Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year

And it would be true.

Next year, it’s going to be “Americans with a Pulse,” because people without a pulse are so unproductive, and in 2008, word is they’re going to award it to “Vertebrates” for being so important to evolution.

- Greg

Is it just me or is this seriously spooky?

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

It’s a funny thing about global warming: Out of all the terrifying aspects of the science of climate change, it’s often the small stories — the reports about the way planetary warming is affecting specific species — that seem most frightening. 

(The Independent, via BuzzFlash) Climate Change vs Mother Nature: Scientists reveal that bears have stopped hibernating

Bears have stopped hibernating in the mountains of northern Spain, scientists revealed yesterday, in what may be one of the strongest signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world.

In a December in which bumblebees, butterflies and even swallows have been on the wing in Britain, European brown bears have been lumbering through the forests of Spain’s Cantabrian mountains, when normally they would already be in their long, annual sleep.

Bears are supposed to slumber throughout the winter, slowing their body rhythms to a minimum and drawing on stored resources, because frozen weather makes food too scarce to find. The barely breathing creatures can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight before warmer springtime weather rouses them back to life.

But many of the 130 bears in Spain’s northern cordillera - which have a slightly different genetic identity from bear populations elsewhere in the world - have remained active throughout recent winters, naturalists from Spain’s Brown Bear Foundation (La Fundación Oso Pardo - FOP) said yesterday.

Something is going fundamentally wrong with this planet, something we’ve done to it ourselves.  And so far, at least, there’s little evidence that we have the will to do anything about it.

And yeah, I’d call that scary, damn scary.

Who’d have thunk it: Democrats learn!

Thursday, December 21st, 2006


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A Cease Fire? In Iraq? Hmmm.

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Brent Budowsky has an interesting idea I haven’t heard before: offer to broker a cease fire in Iraq.

Why don’t we champion a cease fire in Iraq, and make a major public announcement that the United States will be ready and willing to withdraw every combat troop as called for by the Baker Group, to withdraw every American soldier from every combat zone, to provide an international reconstruction program that would be carried out honestly and effectively, if the Iraqi factions reach a true national reconciliation and begin with a 60 day cease fire.

Not that I think Bush is going to do anything different, without being forced to, but it never hurts to have the ideas on the table.

- Greg


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