Sunday, December 31, 2006

What has been truly wrought

This from a BBC article on its webpage:
But even from his [not so] unmarked grave, Saddam Hussein will continue to haunt the Bush administration and define the legacy of the 43rd president of the United States.

Saddam had always promised to lure, fight and defeat the Americans in the cities of Iraq. No-one thought at the time that this would happen after he had already been deposed.

But his prophetic threat is becoming reality, triggering a multi-headed insurgence that no longer fights on his behalf, and a vortex of sectarian violence that makes a conventional civil war look organised and coherent.

The brutal bloodletting, ethnic cleansing and vicious fragmentation, in which American troops now find themselves embroiled, is also a legacy of Saddam's regime.

A quarter of a century of his mafia rule, in which tribal loyalties were lavishly rewarded and anything less was severely punished helped to rot the cohesion of a young and artificial country.

The extent to which Iraq is disintegrating has taken many Iraqis by surprise. It was grossly under-estimated by the officials who planned the occupation.

President Bush and his advisers have always liked to compare the birth pangs [the Lebanese have 'em, too!] of Iraqi democracy to the emergence of a free Germany after the World War II.

Bloodletting

But what they were dealing with was not Germany 1945 but Germany in 1648 emerging from the feudal bloodbath of the 30 years' war.

Another example would have been Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

So not even the few beleaguered optimists in the Bush camp, including the president himself, believe that the execution of Saddam Hussein will stem the bloodletting and allow America to plan for a graceful exit.

The sectarian violence in Iraq has reached its own alarming momentum, in which Saddam Hussein had been reduced to a walk-on part.

The White House may boast about the new rule of law but for many ordinary Iraqis justice comes in the form of death squads, torture gangs and rogue police road blocks.

These days the wrong identity card can get you executed. This is not the kind of justice that George Bush had in mind.

So now the noose has done its deed the Pentagon is, if anything, expecting a spike in the sectarian violence.

Indeed as the Nation's John Nichols notes:
While much of U.S. media coverage of Saddam Hussein's execution has strained to echo the Bush administration's suggestion that "justice" was done, the international reaction to the hurried hanging of the former dictator has recognized what one of the world's top experts on the Middle East refers to as the "gruesome, occasionally farcical" nature of the process that led to the execution.

Nichols continues, quoting Middle East commentators:
Chris Doyle, the London-based director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, was equally dismissive [echoing comments made by another person quoted in the article], telling the Guardian newspaper that, "For Bush, Blair and their diminishing brotherhood of diehard supporters, Saddam's demise is their sole concrete victory in Iraq in almost four years. This should have been the crowning glory of their efforts, but instead it may pose yet another risk to their demoralised troops. For Iraqis, some will see it as a symbol of the death of the ancien regime. For some Sunnis, Saddam's death represents the final nail in the coffin of their fall from power. But Iraqis may also see this as the humiliation of Iraq as a whole, that their president, however odious, was toppled by outside powers, and is executed effectively at others' instigation."

Doyle's assessment was shared by Iraqi expatriate Kamil Mahdi, an academic who is now associated with the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Britain's Exeter University. "It will be taken as an American decision," Mahdi said of the decision to execute Hussein and the way in which deposed leader was killed. "The worst thing is that it's an issue which, in an ideal situation, should have unified Iraq but the Americans have succeeded in dividing the Iraqis."

Not to mention the nature of the trial that was conducted by the US's client government in Iraq:
Critics of the trial and execution of the former dictator did not defend his actions. Rather, they recognized the fundamental flaws in his trial by an inexperienced and clearly biased Iraqi judiciary. And they condemned the rush to hang Hussein by a country employing the widely-rejected sanction of capital punishment.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

A Red Letter Day for Johnny!

Johnny Rocketseed sits on the edge of his chair in front of the mahogany Zenith. Johnny figets. He squirms. The suspense is unbearable. Johnny has his fingers crossed. His only thoughts are of the Iraqi people:
Will executing Saddam help? I think it will help some. The government's apparent dithering in connection with the deposed tyrant's trial and sentencing no doubt contributed to an image of ineffectuality. I don't know how many die-hard Sunnis have harbored fantasies of a return to Saddam's rule, but no doubt some have. So executing him will signify a clear and final break with Iraq's past.

And then, just when Johnny thinks he can't take it any more, the joyous news comes:
The Iraqi authorities reportedly have hanged Saddam Hussein. Good riddance. May it benefit the Iraqi people; I think it will.

The US, which has had custody of Saddam throughout his trial, handed him over to the US client government in the Green Zone minutes before he was hanged.

Spot is so glad for your considered opinion Johnny. You've always been right in your judgments about the invasion and occupation of Iraq before! The dead-enders have been in their last throes for so long--at least according to you and Rummy--they must be really ready to throw in the towel any time now.

Well, we did accomplish one thing. Saddam won't be around to talk about all the help he got from the US in the eighties! Spot thought that Saddam should have called Rummy as a character witness.

Update: Apparnetly, Saddam was spirited out of the Green Zone for his hanging.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Well, maybe one more





One more Spotty for the year. Probably. Anyway, here's a letter in today's Star Tribune that earns the award:

ELLISON'S HAND ON QUR'AN

Critics are ignorant

I am certain that most of those who are opposed to U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison taking his oath on the Qur'an are not aware of what it teaches.

If Rep. Virgil Goode and Dennis Prager, among others, had bothered to read the Qur'an, they would have found that it calls Mary, mother of Jesus peace be upon him), the most exalted woman of humanity.

They would have found that the Qur'an, according to the Muslims, the last revelation of the One and True God, affirms the 10 Commandments. They would have found that the Qur'an reveres Abraham, Moses and Jesus as the mighty prophets of God, Almighty. It acknowledges the Torah and the Gospel as the previous revelations from God and calls Jews and Christians the "People of the Book."

They would have also found that the Qur'an emphasizes that superiority is not by race, gender or ethnicity, but by piety and righteousness. It encourages Muslims to be kind, generous and gentle.

Also they would have been surprised to read that the Qur'an says, "If someone kills one innocent person, it is [as grave] as killing the entire humanity, and if one saves one life, it is like saving the entire humanity."

These critics may be ignorant not only of the Qur'an, but also of U.S. doctrine separating church from state. They could save time and embarrassment by first reading the Constitution of the United States and then the constitution for Muslims, the Qur'an.

TAM SAIDI, MINNEAPOLIS

Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, an op ed piece, or a blog post of comment that Spot wishes that he had written.


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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Probably the last one


The last Spotty of the year, that is. Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, an op ed piece, a blog post or comment that Spot wishes that he has written. Not only does Spot wish that he had written today's winner, Spot intended to, but never got around to it. Well, that's Spot's story, and he's sticking to it. Here's the letter in Wednesday's Star Tribune:
CITIZENSHIP TEST

Could Goode pass it?

There are 100 questions about U.S. history and civics that people seeking U.S. citizenship can be asked in the qualifying interview ("Test your U.S. IQ," Dec. 22).

One asks "Why did the Pilgrims come to America?" The accepted answer is "For religious freedom." Another asks to name three rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. One of these, of course, is that Congress shall not act to establish religion.

U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., is advocating policy to keep Americans with religious beliefs different from his own out of public service. The questions raised by this do not concern the religious differences between Americans. The question is how do we defend our Constitution from further un-American attacks against our basic freedoms. This job belongs to all U.S. citizens, of all religious beliefs.

JOHN M. RICHARD, MINNEAPOLIS

Update: Added the new Spotty award emblem from Tild. Ain't it a beauty?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ten top myths about Iraq - 2006

That's the title of Juan Cole's post on the subject. Here are the myths, boys and girls, but be sure to read Professor Cole's post to see why they are myths.
1. Myth number one is that the United States "can still win" in Iraq.

2. "US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out."

3. The United States is best off throwing all its support behind the Iraqi Shiites.

4. "Iraq is not in a civil war," as Jurassic conservative Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly insists.

5. "The second Lancet study showing 600,000 excess deaths from political and criminal violence since the US invasion is somehow flawed."

6. "Most deaths in Iraq are from bombings."

7. "Baghdad and environs are especially violent but the death rate is lower in the rest of the country."

8. "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror."

9. "The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq."

10. "Setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea."
When you're done reading Professor Cole, please go to Chris Floyd's post Escalation and Expansion: Bush's "Great Leap Forward" into Hell.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 25, 2006

They've got Spot's number

Here are some of the things Spot got for Christmas this year.

From his pups:
"The [George Bush] Out of Office Countdown" calendar for 2007. It contains some pithy Bush quotes and some of the more memorable things the prezinut has done. A franchise that has, obviously, a limited life, but it should be a big seller for the next couple of years.

"Worse than Watergate" by John Dean.

A pair of socks by "The Sock Guy" that have beer steins on the cuffs and the following is written on the sole: "Beer is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us to Be Happy," a quote from Ben Franklin. Franklin was, incidentally, one of the Founders that we can put squarely in the Deist camp.
From Mrs. Spot:
A book "The Word Museum: the most remarkable English words ever forgotten" by Jeffrey Kacirk. You can look forward to many obscure and archaic references in the future, boys and girls. Whether you want them or not.
It is Spot's wish that you all have friends and family that know you so well. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Stories That Our Monkey Brains Like

That's the title of a brilliant post by Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution. Life does imitate art, or what passes for art.

Just in time for Christmas!

Spot is the last to the party on this one. Did you hear, boys and girls, that female Komodo dragons can produce offspring without a male Komodo dragon? Although they'll use one if he's handy. Go to Tild for an icon of the immaculate conception.

Spot cannot help imagining, though:

The young woman Komodo dragon comes home from college and says, "Mom and Dad, I'm going to lay some eggs."

"What? How did this happen?" shrieks the mother Komodo. "You know darn well how it happened!" snorts the father Komodo.

"I can't explain it," sobs the young one, "I wasn't fooling around, honest!"

"Right," says Dad, "Do you really expect us to believe that?"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ho! Ho! Ho! Whatever

Alternate title: Beware Greeks bearing gifts

All this goodwill to men (and women) stuff has ol' Spotty thrown completely off balance. If it wasn't for the astringent slap of a column from Katie on the Christmas War, Spot might even be harboring some thoughts of a Christian and charitable nature. But when contemplating an avatar of the faith like Katie, such thoughts rapidly evaporate.

Katie's proposition today is that everyone should celebrate and say "Merry Christmas" because it has become a secular holiday and drained of religious meaning. Gosh even prominent atheists think so:
When an outspoken atheist such as [Richard] Dawkins says "Merry Christmas," we may be reaching a consensus. American popular culture has appropriated Christmas, as it has Thanksgiving, and drained it of religious meaning. So can Christian believers and nonbelievers share nothing this "holiday season" beyond family gatherings, feasts and a vague sense that "it's all too commercial?" Or is there something more substantial to the Christmas message that we can all celebrate together?
What does Katie think we can all celebrate? That the Baby Jesus was the original proto-democrat:

It's useful here to think back to what the world was like before the dawn of the Christian era. In ancient times -- from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greece and Rome -- the idea of human equality was utterly foreign. Then the baby was born in the manger. The gospels say that there was no room at the inn, and that the news was first given to poor shepherds. Christ's birth was a glimmer of light in history, which became a tectonic shift whose consequences have changed the world.

Sweet Jesus soap on a rope! Spot's busy mixing up his special egg nog today, so he won't take the time to run this a-historical codswallop entirely to ground, boys and girls, but please just consider the following:

By the time of Aristotle (fourth century BC) there were hundreds of Greek democracies. Greece in those times was not a single political entity but rather a collection of some 1,500 separate poleis or 'cities' scattered round the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores 'like frogs around a pond', as Plato once charmingly put it. Those cities that were not democracies were either oligarchies - where power was in the hands of the few richest citizens - or monarchies, called 'tyrannies' in cases where the sole ruler had usurped power by force rather than inheritance. Of the democracies, the oldest, the most stable, the most long-lived, but also the most radical, was Athens.

This quote is from a web page article of the BBC. And until the Enlightenment (and maybe even after it), Christianity was used primarily as a political force to foster the idea of the divine right of kings--not exactly a precept of human equality. It was the our Deist Founders who had had enough.

There are several things about Katie's column that frost Spot, but maybe this one most:

Jesus' teachings introduced a new idea into European history -- that every individual, no matter how lowly, has inherent dignity. This notion, and related ideas of equality and personal freedom, coalesced over the centuries to form the foundation of democracy. They fundamentally shaped America -- from the Declaration of Independence's "self-evident" truths, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to Martin Luther King Jr.'s ringing "Letter from Birmingham Jail." [italics are Spot's]

Martin Luther King's letter, for those of you who may not remember, was written in reaction to the call by white clergy in Birmingham to end the bus boycott. From an earlier post by Spot:

You have to wonder what Gena Bound's ancestors thought about Christian justification of slavery and the apartheid system in South Africa, or maybe the efforts of the white preachers to get Martin Luther King, Jr. to end the Birmingham bus boycott, rebutted so famously by King in his letter from the Birmingham jail.

From the time that Emperor Constantine conquered Rome under the sign of the cross, organized Christianity has been all about the status quo. Spot wrote about this too, last year, in He's not the only reason.

What Katie is trying to do of course is to give credit to Christmas for western civilization. Right, Katie. Didn't the Baby Jesus also invent the printing press and the telegraph?

Happy Solstice everybody!

Update: Spot made a couple of small edits for clarity.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Charlie beat Spot to it

Jonah Goldberg achieved a new, well he achieved something anyway, with the op ed piece printed in Sunday's Star and Tribune titled Iraq could use a Pinochet but not a Castro.Wise man Jonah opined that Iraq really needs a dictator, but it was important to get the right kind of dictator. What kind would that be? A right wing dictator, of course:

Now consider Chile. Gen. Pinochet seized a country coming apart at the seams. He, too, clamped down on civil liberties and the press. He too dispatched souls. Chile's official commission investigating his dictatorship found that Pinochet had 3,197 bodies in his column; 87 percent of them died in the two-week mini-civil war that attended his coup. Many more were tortured or forced to flee.

On the plus side, Pinochet's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure. And by implementing free-market reforms, he lifted the Chilean people out of poverty. In 1988, he held a referendum and stepped down when the people voted him out. Today Chile is a thriving, healthy democracy. Its economy is the envy of Latin America, and its literacy and infant mortality rates are impressive.

And the trains ran on time, too!

You know, of course, Jonah, that Pinochet and his buddies, with the help of the CIA, overthrew a popularly-elected government and murdered the president, Salvador Allende.

It's not that long ago that people like Jonah - and undoubtedly Jonah himself - were mocking the critics of the Iraq war with, "Do you think it was better when Saddam Hussein was in charge?" Now they do! It is just too bad that Jonah has no ear for irony.

When Spot read Jonah's op ed piece, he thought that he should have a dialogue with Jonah, but Charlie beat Spot to it. Recommended.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You have an art curator?


The art curator here at the Cucking Stool recommended a more compelling image for MNObserver's recent post. This is a painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a 14th century Italian. His brother Pietro was also, apparently, a painter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

One lonely green gum ball

Another flash of brilliance from Johnny Rocketseed:
One of the very high quality posters at the Power Line Forum is Korea Vet. Korea Vet has designed a quiz on the subject of profiling. Here it is, and here is a sample:
1) In 1968, Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by:

a. Superman
b. Jay Leno
c. Harry Potter
d. A Muslim male extremist between the age of 17 and 40

2) In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

a. Olga Corbett
b. Sitting Bull
c. Arnold Schwarzenegger
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

You get the drift, no doubt, but it's worth taking the whole quiz--a trip down memory lane.

SCOTT adds: AS Daniel Pipes points out here, Sirhan Sirhan is a Christian Arab, not a Muslim.

JOHN wonders: Does this mean we can add him to the list of "Christianist" terrorists, along with Eric Rudolph? Sort of the exception that proves the rule...

Okay, sez Johnny, maybe only one of the two examples cited were actually Muslims, but still. In fact, this is the exception that "proves the rule." No, you knucklehead: it is not the exception that proves the rule. In fact, your comment proves you have not the faintest notion of the meaning of the bromide.

Let's make it simple, Johnny. Let's say you have ten (10) gum balls; eight (8) are red and two (2) are green. Say you eat one red one and one green one. The red one was good, but the green one tasted terrible. So now, Johnny, you have seven (8) gum balls; seven (7) are red and one (1) is green.

Being no fool, you say to yourself, Johnny, I'll only eat the red gum balls, since experience tells me that the green ones are terrible. We will call this "Johnny's Rule." Words to live by, really!

Now over the course of twenty minutes or so, Johnny consumes the seven (7) red gum balls. Now the only gum ball that Johnny has left is the one (1) remaining green one. Don't eat that one Johnny; remember your rule?

But Johnny can't help himself; he pops the green gum ball in his mouth and gags at the taste. That's awful, says Johnny, I shouldda obeyed my rule!

That second green gum ball, Johnny, is the exception that proves the rule.

"An exception that proves the rule" is an instance of breaking the rule and suffering the consequences that caused the rule to be established in the first place. You have it exactly backwards, Johnny.

Thus endeth today's lesson.

Mother and child moment


From the DesMoines Register
Breastfeeding baby's mom among those detained

Marshalltown, Ia. — A priest's and nun’s mission to find the mother of a nursing baby was thwarted today after they said officials from Camp Dodge would not let them inside to tell their story.

Sister Christine Feagan, from the St. Mary’s Hispanic Ministry, and The Rev. Jim Miller, who is a priest from the St. Mary’s Parish, both said they drove to Camp Dodge this afternoon to find out the status of a nursing mother who was deported and nursing a baby. They were also seeking a father with an ashmatic child.

They didn’t come with papers showing legal status. Instead, they wanted “to show them the need to be free,” said Miller.

Miller said he knows detainees were located there, because they were permitted a phone call from Camp Dodge and some had called the church seeking help.

He said an ICE officer at the facility “wouldn’t tell us anything about anybody.”

The duo returned to Marshalltown this afternoon to deal with the scores of families trying arrange care for children whose parents have been detained.


And a very Merry Christmas to you, too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A postcard from Dave

Dave--the only person in Iraq who reads Spot--at least as far as Spot knows--left this comment to Spot's post about Dave's--yup, the same Dave--recent letter in the Strib. Dave quarreled with several things, as Dave is wont to do, but Spot did want to reply to a couple of things.

Here's a quote from Dave's comment:
Spot gives a great example by saying that "he read somewhere that the Anbar province is lost". Which actually means that he heard from someone who heard from someone who saw a report from a reporter who has never been outside the green zone in Baghdad that things are bad in Anbar.
Spot's comment was hardly the central point of his post, and Spot did not source the assertion as perhaps he should have, boys and girls. But Spot is not a complete idiot, boys and girls, and for some things, his memory is pretty good. Here's the someone that ol' Spotty was referring to:

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

The officials described Col. Pete Devlin's classified assessment of the dire state of Anbar as the first time that a senior U.S. military officer has filed so negative a report from Iraq.

Do you suppose Col. Pete has ever been outside the wire, Dave? Maybe not. Spot just assumed he had been. The article continues:

One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost."

And here's how Col. Pete is described in the article:

Devlin, as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) headquarters in Iraq, has been stationed there since February, so his report isn't being dismissed as the stunned assessment of a newly arrived officer. In addition, he has the reputation of being one of the Marine Corps' best intelligence officers, with a tendency to be careful and straightforward, said another Marine intelligence officer. Hence, the report is being taken seriously as it is examined inside the military establishment and also by some CIA officials.

The article linked above is from a September 2006 article in the Washington Post by Thomas Ricks. Not everyone agrees with Col. Pete's assessment, but it cannot be airily dismissed as Dave seeks to do.

One final thing in Dave's comment:

And by the way, Spot, we aren't fighting the Sunni insurgency out here in Anbar. The bulk of the enemy we face here gets their marching orders from a group you may have heard of, their leader is Osama Bin Laden.

In his letter that prompted Spot's post that is linked to above, Dave says that the soldiers in his unit are sometimes dodging munitions made in Iran. With the Sunnis and the Shias at each other's throats in Iraq, Spot finds it strange that Sunni al Qaeda in Sunni Anbar would be supplied it Shia Iran's weapons.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Holiday Dog

Every year about this time, the amount of goods and services produced in this great land of ours, well, slackens. And this is also true in the blogosphere, at least the part that Spot inhabits. Well, okay, maybe it's just Spot. Anyway, Spot confesses that he is a Holiday Dog. That is why his posting has been spotty--although his ear for the pun remains undiminished!

In the closing weeks of the year, boys and girls, Spot would like to return to a favorite topic: intolerance in general and religious intolerance in particular. Although he doesn't have any more for you today, Spot would like you to consider the following remarks, made by Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street after he returned from his recent trip to meet with President Bush:
The prime minister said he believed it was the duty of all immigrants to embrace those values [belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage]. "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it, or don't come here," he said. [italics are Spot's]
The UK doesn't have a First Amendment, boys and girls, but there are more Establishment and Free Exercise issues contained in that one sentence than you can shake Spot's fetching stick at.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Brought low by a gang of cretins

That's Chris Floyd's title for a post that includes the following:

Evil is the only word to describe the wilful ignorance at work throughout the entire process of the Iraq War, from its inception to its execution to the catastrophic endgame now unfolding before our eyes. The reality of the situation is almost unimaginable, almost unendurable: that the most powerful nation in the history of the world has thrown itself, deliberately, for no compelling reason whatsoever beyond the selfish interests of a few elitist cliques, into a cauldron of mass murder and moral ruin, whose financial, political and spiritual costs will be felt, with deep suffering, for generations.

And that such a fate should come at the hands of such third-rate fools! Not only the gibbering idiot hugging his stolen presidency and "Decider-in-chiefship" to his chest like a baby with a blanket, but the whole rogue's gallery of dullards and brutes whose rat-like cunning in the service of their own lusts for pomp and power has been mistaken for genuine intelligence and substance: Dick Cheney, bumbling factotum of two failed presidencies  Nixon's and Ford's  and now the guiding light of a ruinous third; Don Rumsfeld, corporate bagman and lifelong blowhard (also a minion in the failed Nixon and Ford regimes), who began his career with vicious lies and has ended it with the blood of half a million Iraqi civilians on his lily-white hands; Douglas Feith, the utter nonentity well-described by General Tommy Franks as the "fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth," an empty suit who nonetheless had a far greater role in pushing the war and designing its lunatic aftermath than most people realize; Paul Wolfowitz, the comb-licking weirdo whose much-alleged, never-proven "brilliance" has disguised a lifelong record as an apologist for repression and mass murder, from Indonesia to Iraq & and on and on, through the whole sick crew.

Source: Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque - High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium - America's Shame: Brought Low By a Gang of Cretins

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A man of letters

Dave Thul, an occasional commenter here at the Stool and persistent letter writer to the Strib, had another one in the paper today:

Iran is the enemy. Can someone please explain the ISG's recommendation to include Iran in fostering stability in Iraq? Some of the IEDs my soldiers and I are dodging on Iraqi roads are coming from Iran. Iran is publicly calling on all Arabs to kick the United States out of Iraq. The Iranians are helping people who are trying to kill American soldiers, and we should ask them for help? SGT. DAVE THUL, AL ASAD, IRAQ

That's a good question, Dave, and Spot imagines that you ask it with some emotion. Spot would.

Wars end in one of two way: the total surrender of one side or the other, or by a negotiated peace. Spot read somewhere that the war against the Sunni insurgents in Anbar Province--where Dave is--was already lost. And the trend line in the rest of the country is not good either. Unless we re-instutute the draft, which we now know that Congressman John Kline is unalterably opposed to, and remake a lot of attitudes about the war around here, the reality is that we cannot or will not mount an effort necessary to achieve the total surrender of the insurgents in Iraq. The current war effort could ultimately cost a trillion dollars and it is driving us into bankruptcy according to the Comptroller of the Currency. [no link, sorry]

So, that leaves negotiation. When you negotiate with anybody over just about anything, you have to talk to people that you probably don't like, and who don't like you. The alternative to talking to them is to continue on a path that isn't getting anywhere. We have seen where not talking to the Palestinians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans has gotten us; it certainly isn't to a safer place.

Spot walks on touchy ground now. There is a natural human tendency--especially strong in a soldier who has experienced it first hand--to say that we must continue and win to honor the sacrifices already made. By as Richard Clarke said recently [again no link], what has happened before, including the loss of life to-date, is in bloodless economic terms "sunk cost." In other words, you make decisions about future expenditure of blood and treasure by looking foward, not backward.

Source: Letters in a batch for Saturday, Dec. 9

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Spot always wondered about this

From the Washington Post, this lede to a story:

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

DynaCorp International, Blackwater USA, L-3 Communications, and Kellogg, Brown & Root all figure prominently in this total.

But it's a pretty safe deal for them, isn't it Spotty?

Not exactly grasshopper:

About 650 contractors have died in Iraq since 2003, according to Labor Department statistics.

We know that service members are injured--many of them seriously--at a much higher rate than are killed. If we assume the same ratio applies to contractors--and Spot does not know if this assumption is a good one--there are several thousand injured contractors, too.

It's just something to keep in mind when totaling up the blood and treasure account.

Link to Census Counts 100,000 Contractors in Iraq - washingtonpost.com

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Poor Paul Pouts

Columbia History Professor and author Eric Foner wrote an article that appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday last. Spot will let Eric introduce it:

Ever since 1948, when Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. asked 55 historians to rank U.S. presidents on a scale from "great" to "failure," such polls have been a favorite pastime for those of us who study the American past.

Sometimes, the historians' ranking will vary for a particular president over time, Normally, however, they seem pretty consistent from year to year:

More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the "great" category. Most presidents are ranked "average" or, to put it less charitably, mediocre. [Andrew] Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon occupy the bottom rung, and now President Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history, as well as Bush's policies, explains why.

Like Bush, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson (the latter three served before and after the civil war), they were just not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, and surrounding themselves with sycophants are traits mentioned by Foner.

Also like Bush, Harding and Coolidge were plagued by corruption and scandal during their terms.

With Nixon, Bush shares a disdain of the Constitutional limits on a President's authority.

George hit the trifecta!

Of course George does have his sycophants. Paul at Power Line mounts a defense of Bush against Foner. Paul says that Foner committed some kind of historical malpractice by calling the Bush administration corrupt, saying to his recollection only Scooter Libby was under indictment. On the contrary, says the The Carpetbagger Report: here's a better list.

Paul also says that Bush only stripped civil rights from terrorists. Sorry Paul, but that's impossible. If you deprive an accused of basic due process and then find he's a terrorist, the process is not legitimate and the outcome is not reliable.

Foner is pretty good historian, boys and girls. You can read a little about his credentials here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Two annoying things

One

Of all of the appliances of modern life, the one with the power to annoy the most is the cell phone, and it's getting worse. The phone itself, that is. Spot saw the latest iteration in the war on peace and quiet this weekend, but he'll save that for later.

Soon after cell phones came out and began to get smaller, they started sporting more and more elaborate ring tones. An entire industry has arisen to quench the ring-tone thirst of a cell-obsessed nation. A generation of people know only two classical pieces: Fűr Elise and the closing bars of the 1812 Overture. Played over a speaker that makes the drive-up ordering system at the Dairy Queen sound good.

In the last couple of years, Spot has noticed a new kind of cell phone that mounts on the user's head. Perhaps it's a permanent installation, but Spot is not sure. It allows the wearer to pretend to be Communications Officer Uhura on the Starship Enterprise. Sorry people, very few of you look as good as Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the television series and in some of the Star Trek movies. Not to mention the fact you look odd talking to yourself, or rather to the voices in your head. Schizophrenia is running rampant; zombie-like humanoids obey the inner voice's order to pick up a half-gallon of milk on the way home.

And now this: new cell phones have speaker-phone capability. Sweet Jesus, what were they thinking? At a local mall this weekend, Spot saw a woman plowing a furrow through the crowds while holding her cell phone out ahead of her, kind of like a divining rod, and barking into it, "Lyle, are you there?" or some such. Imagine sharing an elevator to the 50th floor of the IDS Tower with such a delicate flower.

If you thought the blogosphere was vacuous at times, just listen to Lyle and the love of his life for a while.

Two

Of all of the columnists of modern life, the one with the power to annoy the most is Katherine Kersten, and she's getting worse. Take today:

Four years ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty began his first term inheriting a gigantic $4.5 billion state budget deficit. The sky-is-falling crowd insisted that only major tax increases could avoid budgetary disaster. Without tax hikes, they claimed, the state's schools would go to seed, and its roads would begin to crumble.

I served on Pawlenty's transition team in 2002 and saw the pressure for tax hikes growing.

But Pawlenty didn't blink. He closed the budget gap through spending discipline, reallocating funds and holding government accountable. In the face of opponents' onslaught, he repeated a simple truth: Minnesota's budget woes weren't caused by the fact that its citizens were under-taxed. [italics are Spot's]

Maybe TPaw didn't blink, but he winked. Oh, and Katie, thank you for your service, but please don't do it again.

In the first biennium of TPaw's term, the K-12 budget was cut $185,000,000. (Spot has cited sources in the past; you can peruse the archive for one, if you like.) The governor likes to talk about the large increase in the K-12 budget in his second biennium, but a big part of the increase was just to get back to previous funding levels.

And raise your hands, boys and girls, if you think the state's roads are in good shape.

Among the "reallocation of funds" we can include using the surpluses from Minnesota Care while arguing that the number of enrollees should be trimmed. (Again, there are sources in previous posts from Spot.)

Katie dismisses the "health impact fee" and says moreover that the state made its way out of the deficit without any "broad-based" state tax increases. Apparently, Katie can wink, too. What about property taxes, Katie?

Spot's property tax bill is up 40 - 50 percent since TPaw became the governor. Casa Spot has certainly increased in value during this time, but to Spot it is still the same house.

Katie's Point here (remember, there's always an ideological point) is as follows:

[referring to the projected surplus] And not one Minnesotan had to pay higher income tax rates.

Magic? Not at all. The surplus sprang, in large part, from a strengthening economy, according to the state Finance Department and news reports. Corporate profits and tax collections have soared to their highest levels in decades.

Why have business conditions improved? The hard work of Minnesota business owners and citizens has a lot to do with it. But so does a governor who grasped the importance of a low-tax environment. At the federal level, tax cuts initiated by President Bush also have helped.

For the Gang of 200 [the Growth & Justice folks who took out an ad saying that the state needed more revenue], it's a teachable moment. These folks assumed that to get more money for government programs, you have to raise tax rates. In fact, to get higher revenues, you often need to lower tax rates and stimulate growth.

This is an article of faith with Katie, of course: trickle-down economics. But trickle-down economics ranks right up there with a belief in witches.

Charlie writes on this at some length at Across the Great Divide. Recommended.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tom Friedman's genocidal fury

That's what Chris Floyd calls it at Empire Burlesque. Friedman's column appears in today's Star Tribune and start out lamenting those idiot Iraqis, who can't even seem to run a civil war!

Here is the central truth about Iraq today: This country is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war.

Oh, Tom! You're such a card.

This column was printed in Thursday's NYT, and it is reproduced at the foot of the Empire Burlesque link above. (You can't get it from the Strib site, and you need a subscription to read it behind the NYT firewall.)

Since this stinker has been out for a while, some of the blogosphere's lesser lights (kidding), like Chris Floyd above, and Glenn Greenwald here and here, have already commented at length. Spot urges you, boys and girls, to read what Floyd and Greenwald have to say.

Friedman continues in his column:

On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

Did Rudyard Kipling have a moustache like Tom? Why Spot believes he did:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

This is, of course, the first stanza of White Man's Burden, a poem that Kipling wrote on the takover of the Phillipines by the US in the Spanish American War.

Here's what Chris Floyd has to say about Friedman and his pottery store rule:

Yes, yes, the "Pottery Barn Rule" says that if we are responsible for those broken pieces, then we own them. But never let it be said that Friedman lacks the moral courage and mental elasticity to admit that he is wrong. Not about his advocacy of the war, of course. Nor about the idea that murdering 600,000 civilians (and counting) is a jim-dandy way to advance "progressive politics or democracy." Heavens to Betsy my word, no. All of that still goes, and we can only hope to see this course followed again elsewhere, and soon -- and done right this time. No, what Tom manfully admits is wrong is his "Pottery Barn Rule" itself. It turns out that "Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there." So none of what has happened is our fault. The blame lies with those "1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism." (So much more corrosive than the European authoritarianism that overlaid the White-Folk homeland for, oh, say 3,000 years or so.) The blame lies with "three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule" -- that would be the Sunni Baathist rule that was put in place by means of not one but two CIA-assisted coups, and maintained with lavish help from Ronald Reagan and George Humpty Dumpty Bush. The blame also lies, it seems, with a "crippling decade of UN sanctions," screwed on ever tighter by those champions of humanitarian intervention, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Spot read somewhere (he can't find a link, but he thinks the author was Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution) that there are three stages in any imperial initiative: first, my God, we must help these people; second, inexplicably, these people don't seem to want our help; and third, we must kill these people. Friedman is clearly at stage three.

It is fortunate that historians will have Friedman's scribbling in "the newspaper of record" to help them understand the thinking behind one of, if not the, premier foreign policy blunders of American history.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The final curtain, part deux

Author and journalist James Fallows sums up what the options are in Iraq:

If it is not in our power to prevent these disasters [e.g., an uptick in the violence when the US departs], then it is better to do as little extra damage to ourselves as possible before they occur. Sure, it is theoretically in our power to do more in Iraq. It’s just not possible in the real world. To start with: we’re not going to double the size of our military to sustain an open-ended presence in Iraq.

So the choice is between a terrible decision and one that is even worse. The terrible decision is just to begin leaving, knowing that even more innocent civilians will be killed and that we’ll be dealing with agitation out of Iraq for years to come. The worse decision would be to wait another year, or two, or three and then take that terrible course. If we thought a longer commitment and presence would lead to a better outcome, then the extra commitment might be sensible. But nothing occurring in Iraq in the last year has given rise to any hope that things are getting better rather than worse. (This, by the way, is the reason I have changed my mind: the absence of evidence that the chances for a “decent” departure will improve.) [emphasis in the original]

Fallows says that there is no evidence that staying will do any good. We're just going to have to live with the obloquy of this one, boys and girls.

Via Altercation.

The final curtain

The always acerbic James Wolcott has a good post about the denouement in Iraq, including this quotation from Robert Fisk of the British newspaper, the Independent:

About the only truthful statement uttered in Amman yesterday was Bush's remark that "there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq [but] this business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all." Indeed, it has not. There can be no graceful exit from Iraq, only a terrifying, bloody collapse of military power. The withdrawal of Shia ministers from Maliki's cabinet mirror the withdrawal of Shia ministers from another American-supported administration in Beirut - where the Lebanese fear an equally appalling conflict over which Washington has, in reality, no military or political control. [italics are Spot's]

As if there had been anything graceful about US Middle East policy.

Source: James Wolcott's Blog: Wolcott's Blog: vanityfair.com

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bonhomie mist

Okay, no more fighting, boys and girls. Oh, who is Spot kidding? He is just sorry that he is late to the fight. Who started it?

It was Dennis Prager, who wrote a column about Keith Ellison's intention to take the oath of office on the Koran:

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

This is the most fatuous piece of gasbaggery that Spot has seen all year and it is December now.

Prager has drawn fire from many quarters, including from Robin Marty at Power Liberal and from Joe Bodell at Minnesota Monitor; pay special attention to the comments to Bodell's post.

Of course, the keeper of the sacred scrimshaw Captain Fishsticks has to disagree with the criticism:

When I read Minnesota Monitor's account of the Dennis Prager column criticizing Keith Ellison for taking the oath of office on the Qur'an rather than the Bible, I was inclined to toss them a nod and agree. Then I read Prager's column. Yes, he goes a little over the top, but the point of his column is well-taken.

[Sticks is quoting Prager here] When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim Americans want to bequeath to America. But if it is, it is not only Europe that is in trouble. [Europe's problems are beyond the scope of this post, boys and girls]

A little over the top, Sticks?

Sticks continues:

America is a country founded on unifying value system, not blood lines. That system is reflected in Judeo-Christian values, but not necessarily a result of them. [this is high-order pussy-footing, for reasons that should become apparent in a moment]

. . .

If Ellison wants to take the oath on the Qur'an, so be it. I do think, however, he misses an opportunity. I think he might have made a more symbolically unifying statement by taking the oath on the Bible, highlighting the integration of his Islamic faith with the values and traditions of Congress.

. . .

Ellison has his reasons for taking the oath on the Qur'an and without knowing his mind, I accept that they are sincere. Nonetheless, I think he missed the opportunity to reach out and bring people together.

Judeo-Christian values, Sticks? Like the ones of the Pilgrims who massacred the Pequot Indians a decade after the first Thanksgiving, a neighborhood picnic that was held in part to observe the role of the Indians in getting the Pilgrims though the first year?

Both Prager and Sticks are purveyors of absolute a-historical Christian Reconstructionist tripe. The Enlightenment Founders of this country were deliberate in creating a republic that was a-theistic. You read that right: a-theistic. We've been through this all before, boys and girls. Here's what Article 6, Clause 3 of the Constitution says:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Other than the First Amendment, this is the only time that religion is mentioned in the Constitution: no references to God, even in the preamble, no references to religion of any flavor. The United States was not founded as a Christian nation, no matter how hard Dennis Prager and Captain Fishsticks wish otherwise. Many of the founders were deists.

Boys and girls, Keith Ellison could take the oath of office on a Betty Crocker cookbook, and it wouldn't make any difference. The fidelity in the oath or affirmation is to the Constitution, not the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Analects, or the Veda.

Sticks says in his post—in language not quoted by Spot above—that tradition is important to Conservatives [his capitalization] and shouldn't be treated "lightly." But "Conservatives" are prone to remember and regard anything as traditional just so long as it suits their world view.

No Sticks, the bonhomie missed was not on Ellison's part; it was on yours.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do they have the Internets at the U of M Law School?

Here's the lede in a City Pages Blotter article this morning:

The Minnesota Daily reported yesterday on the ruckus currently unfolding at the U of M Law School over the hiring of Robert Delahunty to teach a Constitutional law course next semester. Delahunty formerly served in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. In that capacity he co-wrote one of the so-called "torture memos" that seemingly justified the psychological and physical abuse of detainees in the war on terrorism.

As you can read in the article--and as Spot has mentioned before--Delahunty is a former sidekick of John "Professor Organ Failure" Yoo when they were at the Justice Department.

To their everlasting credit, some of the profs at the law school have objected and requested reconsideration of the hiring decision. You can read their five-page letter here. And God love 'em, the letter even has footnotes.

Link to City Pages - The Blotter - Do they have the Internets at the U of M Law School?

Mr. Rocketseed, your witness

Judge: Mr. Rocketseed, your witness.

Johnny Rocketseed: Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Lauer, you testified a moment ago that Iraq is in a civil war. Correct?

Matt Lauer: Yes, Iraq is in a civil war.

JR: NUH UH!

Counsel for Matt Lauer: Objection. Argumentative.

Judge: Sustained. It's also not a question. Please refrain from trying to testify Mr. Rocketseed.

JR: Okay. It's just that . . . well, never mind. Mr. Lauer, have you ever been to Iraq?

ML: Well yes, several times.

JR: Oh.

[uncomfortable pause]

Judge: Please continue Mr. Rocketseed.

JR: Mr. Lauer, I hand you what I have marked as Exhibit X for identification. [handing Lauer a single sheet with a big red "X" in crayon scrawled at the bottom] Can you tell me what this is?

ML: [after examining the document for some time, looking puzzled] I have no idea what this is.

JR: If I told you it was a blog post that I wrote criticizing NBC for calling the civil war in Iraq a civil war—strike that—if I told you it was blog post that I wrote criticizing NBC for calling the situation in Iraq a civil war, would that refresh your recollection?

ML: In view of the fact that I've never seen this before, I'd have to say no.

JR: All right. Nevertheless, would you read the document to the Court?

CML: Objection. The document hasn't been authenticated. It's not in evidence. Its contents are hearsay and an attempt to offer expert testimony without qualifying the expert.

Judge: Overruled. This might be fun.

[ML reads the document aloud, stumbling over the opaque syntax at several places]

JR: Mr. Lauer now do you admit that NBC is wrong and that it's not a civil war?

ML: Based on this specious twaddle? No, of course not.

JR: Objection! Scandalous!

Judge: Mr. Rocketseed, you can't object. You can move to strike, though.

JR: Then I move to strike the answer.

Judge: Overruled. Why don't you ask Mr. Lauer about some of the points you made in your little essay?

JR: That's a good idea. Mr. Lauer, didn't I write that Iraq was not in civil war because it's not really a war because there aren't soldiers marching around and stuff?

ML: It's absolutely true that you wrote that.

JR: Do you agree with it?

ML: No, of course not. The Lebanese civil war from about '75 to '90 was a guerilla conflict but a civil war nevertheless. You could say the same thing about the recent Balkan conflicts precipitated by the breakup of Yugoslavia. The overthrow of the French regime in Algeria was certainly a guerilla conflict, at least for the Algerians. And of course, let's not forget the Vietnamese campaigns by the Viet Minh and the Viet Cong in their civil war, the one you probably think of as being primarily about communism.

JR: Move to strike.

Judge: On what grounds?

JR: I don't like that answer.

Judge: Overruled. Move on, Mr. Rocketseed.

JR: I also made the point that Iraq is just not violent enough to be a civil war. Do you agree with that?

ML: [sighs] No, I don't agree. Over 3700 civilians were killed in Iraq just in October of this year. Look at it this way: Iraq has, or had, a population of about 26,500,000 people. Multiply 3700 by a factor of 12 to compare that figure to the US population, and you get 44,400 people. If that many people were killed here in a month, you can bet we'd call it civil war.

JR: Okay, we'll move on.

Judge: That's a good idea, Mr. Rocketseed.

JR: I also said that it couldn't be a civil war because the violence was isolated in a couple of places. Isn't that true?

ML: Cutting to the chase here, it's a specious argument. Moreover, it isn't factually true. All you have to do is read a couple of days of news reports, or a summary of them in a place like Informed Comment, and you'll see that there is sectarian violence all over the country. That's even true in the Kurdish north.

JR: I have no more questions for this uncooperative witness.

Judge: Mr. Lauer, you are dismissed.

JR: I would like to call a rebuttal witness, Your Honor.

Judge: Who?

JR: I would like to call Johnny Rocketseed to stand.

CML: Objection!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Until the last Iraqi is dead

 That's how long we'll be in Iraq according to President Bush:

RIGA, Latvia, Nov. 28 - On the eve of a high-profile trip to Jordan to meet Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, President Bush on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that Iraq had descended into civil war, blamed Al Qaeda for the latest wave of sectarian violence and vowed not to withdraw troops until the mission is complete.

Chris Floyd said in a post some time ago (can't find it offhand) that every time George Bush open his mouth bits of clotted blood and corpse flesh fall out.

Source: Bush Declines to Call Situation in Iraq Civil War - New York Times

Memo: keep the helicopters gassed up

 From a dispatch by Peter Cockburn for the Independent, via Cursor:

Iraq is rending itself apart. The signs of collapse are everywhere. In Baghdad, the police often pick up more than 100 tortured and mutilated bodies in a single day. Government ministries make war on each other.

A new and ominous stage in the disintegration of the Iraqi state came earlier this month when police commandos from the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-run Higher Education Ministry in the heart of Baghdad.

Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call "the Saigon moment", the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried out by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said to me with a despairing laugh this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen. [italics are Spot's]

Source: Independent Online Edition > Middle East

Presiding over the morgue that is Iraq

That's the title of Jim Klobuchar's post at Vox Verax about a St. Cloud Minnesota State professor, an ethnic Iraqi, who went back to Baghdad to help his family. Klolbucher's post contains a recent and horrifying email message from the professor. He describes the continuing deterioration of Baghdad and the increasing violence there. Klobuchar ends with a quotation from the professor, and then a valediction of his own:

“On a more personal subject, I still haven’t been able to see my family and it's becoming increasingly out of the question. You can imagine how frustrating and sad that is for all of us.

“Again, I so much wish I could be writing to you with hope and optimism and a sense of better things to come.”

Abbas [the professor] didn’t return to Iraq, a place he actually loved as a boy and young man, to write an obituary. But he may have.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The alpha buffalo speaks!

There are certainly more unserious and inconsequential political figures who have written to give the Democrats advice than Tim Penny, but Spot cannot think of who they are at the moment. Ah yes, Tim Penny, the intellectual godfather of the Independence Party in Minnesota: the man who drew a line on the tree at 16% in the governor's race in 2002 and dared Peter Hutchinson to beat it. Alas, poor Peter could not best this mighty feat!

Thus established as the alpha buffalo, it is incumbent on Tim to tell the incoming Democratic Congress how to govern. "Heed me or perish!" thunders Tim, "I am the White Buffalo. I am the vessel in which the sacred broth of fiscal responsibility is simmered!"

Here's Tim's principal policy prescription:

From the Iraq war to ethics, to deficits, the Democrats spent the election season criticizing Republican mismanagement of the people's business -- while seldom offering a coherent alternative of their own. Now they are in charge of Congress and must deliver. What will they do? What can Democrats agree upon? Thankfully, Democrats will be led by two experienced and respected Budget Committee chairmen, John Spratt (S.C.) in the House and Kent Conrad (N.D.) in the Senate, both of whom are serious about reducing deficits. Spratt has recently gone on record calling for a balanced budget within five years.

To reach that goal, they might start by looking to the Blue Dog caucus -- comprised of 44 moderate and fiscally conservative members (nine of whom were newly elected this fall). Their prescription for fixing the budget morass created in recent years by Republicans is worth a serious look.

That's right: the Blue Dogs have the answer. A caucus of less than 10% of the Congress (that's even less than 16%, Tim!) will lead us out of the wilderness! Tell us Tim, the wisdom of the Blue Dog:

Among other budget disciplines, the Blue Dogs have proposed restoring "pay as you go" budget rules, tighter restrictions on emergency spending, and limitations on appropriation earmarks (commonly called pork-barrel spending).

Tim, these are all things that got out of control with the Republicans in charge, right? The new Congress hasn't even take the oath of office yet; perhaps you could save your sanctimonious flaying of the innocents at least until January.

Penny couldn't let the occasion of getting some ink in the Strib go by without mentioning the most serious offense to his asceticism: entitlements:

Sadly, not even the Blue Dogs have proposed taking a serious look at reducing entitlement spending. Yet, with the retirement of the babyboom generation just a few years away, the cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will soon skyrocket. Medicare is already in fiscal straits and Social Security will be in a cash flow crunch by 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Here's the fundamental dishonesty. Social Security has been wracking up surpluses since the eighties, and for most of Spot's working life as a employee, and as an employer. Politicians did not have even a teeny problem using the surpluses to fund other parts of the government. Now, in 2017 there will be a "cash flow crunch" according to Tim.

What Tim means is that in 2017 we will reach the point where regressive social security taxes will no longer be available to borrow for other uses, and the government will have to start to "pay back" monies into the system to fund benefits. This doesn't seem so unfair to Spot; it seems, in fact, responsible, to use one of Tim's favorite words.

Also in fact, the boomers aren't, alas, going to live forever. Isn't sauce for the social security goose sauce for the overall budget gander? In 2050, or 2060, or maybe never, when the social security "surplus" is all used up, why can't social security borrow a little general tax revenue until all the old geezers are dead?

Isn't that at least worth considering as an alternative to taking the current system and yanking it out by the roots to be replaced by a privatized system that has been mostly unsuccessful where it has been tried?

That seems about right to Spot

 Via Buzzflash, a British MP describes Saddam's blueprint for the war:

A couple of years ago I had a chilling conversation with a very senior British general who was then intimately involved in our efforts in Iraq.

The trouble was, he said, that Saddam had thought it all through. He knew he hadn't a hope against the Pentagon, so he had a three-stage strategy. First he instructed his army not to put up much resistance to the Patton-like thrusts of the US army. Then, when Baghdad had fallen, he encouraged his soldiers to melt away to their homes and keep their weapons. The third stage, said this British general, was the one we had been embroiled in ever since: a guerrilla war, spiced with sectarian violence, to become gradually more intense until it became no longer possible for the allies to remain in Iraq.

Source: Telegraph | Comment | I remember the quiet day we lost the war in Iraq

Friday, November 24, 2006

Navel Academy

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani! Conservatives around the country are trying to figure out why they got spanked at the polls earlier this month. Answers vary: from it was the corruption, to we just weren't conservative enough:

Spot thinks the best answer comes, however, from a recent article in the American Conservative. Written by former director and trustee of the National Review (and recently asked to resign by the aforementioned Bill Buckley) Austin Bramwell. He said this about the notion that conservatism should return to its roots:

Another group pleads for the conservative movement to return to its alleged first principles. “If only people would still read Russell Kirk,” one hears. But the movement never had any first principles to begin with. Although it boasts a carefully husbanded canon of supposedly foundational texts, the men who wrote them—Kirk, Strauss, Voegelin, Weaver, Chambers, Meyer—were notorious eccentrics given to extravagant claims whose policy implications remain largely obscure. Russell Kirk, for example, even as he shrewdly positioned himself as the intellectual godfather of the conservative movement, had almost no political opinions whatsoever.

In other words, my odious little ducky friend, there's no there there. (Lasting fame to the grasshopper who can tell Spot who wrote that and about what, or maybe about where it was written.) The emperor not only has no clothes: he never had any!

But Spotty, maybe conservatism is more of a cultural thing, you know, based on local loyalties and associations.

About that, Bramwell says this:

Still others eulogize local attachments and ancestral loyalties. They invoke a litany of examples: family, church, kin, community, school, the “little platoons” in which Burke found the basis of political association. Celebrating such “infra-political” institutions may well have made sense in the 1950s, the high tide of American nationalism and federal government prestige. At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive. The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan. Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East. Most ominously, praise of local attachments now comes in the guise of multiculturalism, perhaps the most insidious threat to a just order today. Not for nothing did communitarianism become a left-wing vogue. [we'll discuss this last sentence another time]

Bramwell delivers this valediction of the conservative movement of which he was a part:

But “conservatism” has no mystical essence. Rather than a magisterium handed down from apostolic times, it is an ideology whose contours are largely arbitrary and accidental. By ideology, I mean precisely what Orwell depicted in 1984. I do not mean, of course, that conservatism is totalitarian. Taken as prophecy, 1984 has little merit. Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all.

Wow, Spotty! No wonder Bill Buckley asked him to resign.

Indeed, grasshopper. You are encouraged, boys and girls, to read the entire article. The watershed event for Bramwell's rejection of the conservative movement is the war in Iraq, but it's clear this has been building up in him for some time. Just let it out, Mr. Bramwell.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow, we commemorate that early Pilgrim celebration of survival with the Indians that helped them make it. However, don't turn your back on a Pilgrim: he can turn on you in an instant. Here's Howard Zinn's account of events that took place a scant ten years after that first Thanksgiving:

It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a 'city upon a hill.' Reagan embellished a little, calling it a 'shining city on a hill.'

The idea of a city on a hill is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.

In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here's a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason's attack on a Pequot village.

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.

That turkey tasting a little dry?

Source: Howard Zinn: The Power and the Glory

Update: General J. C. Christian has more on the thankful sensibilities of our pilgrim forefathers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kate Parry in sackcloth and ashes

Here's the backstory. Scotty Johnson at Power Line gets word that a Star Tribune editorial used some similar-sounding language, including the "subcontracting" of policy matters to corporate interests, to a Hendrik Hertzberg comment in the New Yorker. Regardless of the fact that two different people might use similar words to describe a mugging, Scotty accuses the Strib of plagiarism. Spotty is sorry to ask you to do this boys and girls, but please go and read Scotty's entire pedantic summation. Scotty says that the Strib is terrible, except for Katherine Kersten, of course.

Now comes Kate Parry, always ready to throw a Strib staffer under the bus for Power Line, who writes a mea culpa for the incident, expressing her sorrow at her inability to engage in some more flagellation of the editor involved. This affair sent Spot on a trip down memory lane, recalling another case of following a little too closely by, guess who, Katherine Kersten. Here's a reprint of his post Conservative Reverb from September 15th of last year, just after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast:

Conservative Reverb

"Here in the blogosphere, Spotty means. Why yes, there is. Katherine Kersten's Thursday column in the Star Tribune, titled Gratitude, not anger, comes from Astrodome [the column is no longer available on the Strib website], sounded suspiciously familiar to Spotty. He decided to sniff it out.

What Spot found is evidence of the right wing echo chamber at work, and echoes that percolated up from the winger blogs almost directly into Katie's column. Before we get into that though, let Spotty describe the column.

Katie tells, or rather retells, the story of Jim Lodoen, a Minneapolis attorney who was in Houston last week to visit his mother, in the hospital, which Spotty always approves. While he was there, he spent several days at the Astrodome as a volunteer, and he also raised several thousand dollars from colleagues in Minneapolis, which he distributed in the form of Target gift cards and cash. Very commendable. [ . . . ]

However.

Katie says that Lodoen told her that reports of the criticism of the federal government response were wrong.

Back at his mother's hospital room, Lodoen saw television reporters interviewing victims who appeared angry and indignant. "I thought, 'Where are they coming up with these people? I'm not seeing them.'" He was also shocked at the shrill finger-pointing on the news. "All around us, politicians are focused on the blame game. Yet the victims themselves are blaming no one. I didn't hear one complaint. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the love, faith, determination and compassion that everyone shared."

Who is Katie's stringer, Spot wondered? In just a few moments work, he found out that Lodoen is a right wing side kick of Peter Swanson of Swanblog and Scott Johnson of Power Line. These are, of course, two blogs in the vast right wing circle jerk. Lodoen is also the guy who put this question to Vin Weber at a conclave at the Center of the American Experiment right after last fall's election:

I've got a quick follow-up to the Supreme Court discussion. Is it going to be difficult to replace Rehnquist or possibly Antonin Scalia with a justice of similar position and strength, or Bush won't [probably should read won't Bush] be able to move to the right of there? Will he lose ground and move a little bit more toward center?

Clearly, a man of liberal political sentiment. It would be ungrateful of a hurricane survivor to complain to a complete stranger giving you money, of course. But are Lodoen and his blogger and columnist buddies just trying to put a brave face on the criminal ineptitude of the Bush administration? Spot thinks so.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here are just a few of the echoes from the blogosphere that wound up in Katie's column.

From an email from Lodoen reprinted in Swanblog:

The people are comfortable and the Houston operation is very well organized. A lot of food is available although the selection is not too extensive at the moment, and doesn't work for special diets. Free stores stocked with clothing, personal items and games are well stocked. Social Security, FEMA, Job Service, etc. are all in place and helping people. Volunteers are on laptops helping people find family and friends. People are very secure with police everywhere.

And then from Katie:

Once in Houston, Lodoen made his way to the Astrodome complex, which houses thousands of victims displaced from ravaged New Orleans. He was prepared to find chaos. Instead, he says, he was struck by how well-organized the massive operation was. "There was lots of food, and free stores stocked with clothing, personal items and games. Volunteers on laptops were helping people find family and friends." FEMA, Social Security and other agencies were out in force.

From Swanblog:

In fact one family spent their first four days in the stadium seats at the Astrodome after arriving in Houston because the cots on the floor were full. They slept in the stadium seats. I said, "That must have been terrible." She said, "No, it was o.k. I was just grateful to have food, air conditioning, lights and a roof over us."

Katie actually embellishes this one a little:

He met a family that had slept in stadium seats for four nights. "I said, 'That must have been terrible.' 'Oh, no,' the woman said. Instead of focusing on what they lacked, they were deeply thankful for what they had: food, lights, a roof, each other."

Swanblog:

One husband/wife with 4 kids had both been working two jobs to buy their first house. The closed on Friday and stayed at the house that evening, moved in on Saturday, waited out the storm on Sunday and evacuated on Monday. They were grateful for the two days they had in their home. The father shared that all he does in life is about and for his family, and he needed to get them out. (His wife took me aside and shared that he is thinking that he did not do as much as he should have to protect his family so when he and I spoke I was able to give him a big pat on the back for saving his family, etc.) They left the house hand in hand with the two youngest on he and his wife's shoulders and walked through blocks and blocks of water up to their necks to a bridge where they waited for buses.

Katie:

Another family told of fleeing their first home two days after moving in. The mother and father left hand in hand with their children perched on their shoulders, struggling through water up to their necks. They were awestruck at nature's power, and grateful to survive. Now, at night, the parents plan their future as their children sleep.

Actually, Katie, you got that last part messed up in the transcription, because Lodoen attributes the planning for the future while the children sleep on cots to a different family mentioned in a different post:

Michael said they try to go out for ice cream twice a week and that this was a real treat for them to do this again. His focus tomorrow is to try to get a job with a Houston division of the water delivery company he worked for and to work with his insurance company, etc. to see what their new beginning will look like financially. He and his wife are busy planning their future at night as their children sleep on the cots next to him.

And finally, commenting on volunteer help:

First Swanblog:

However, the kind words or hugs of the volunteers working for the charities, or a contribution "from some friends at Lindquist & Vennum in Minneapolis", does something more by letting people know someone--an actual person or group of persons--cares! That makes them feel special--like we are all in this together. And we are!!

And Katie:

Lodoen acknowledges that hurricane victims need government aid. "But volunteers can do something more. With hugs and kind words, they can let people know that someone -- an actual person or group of persons -- cares. "That makes the victims feel like we're all in this together. And we are."

Then, of course, Power Line has to get into the act:

September 14, 2005
Houston without CNN
My colleagues Gene Allen and Peter Swanson have been working overtime to get out the story of Jim Lodoen, the Minneapolis attorney who personally brought the generosity of the Minneapolis legal community to New Orleans evacuees in Houston. Peter is the proprietor of Swanblog and has written about Lodoen here, here, and here.
Our friend Katherine Kersten knows a good story when she sees one, and better yet knows how to tell it. That's what she does in her moving column in tomorrow's Star Tribune: "Gratitude, not anger, comes from Astrodome."
Posted by Scott at 11:14 PM

Actually, Scott, it appears that Katie only knows a good story when it comes up and kicks her in the ass."


Now ask yourselves, boys and girls, who did a better copy job, the editor or Katie? Let's see a show of hands. Who thinks Katie? Ah, most of you.

Spot called Katie's column to Kate Parry's attention, and this is what he got back:

I reviewed the allegation in the blog and brought it to the attention of the editor. He reviewed the blog posting alleging there was a problem, the original blog where the emails were posted and Katherine Kersten's column. Then he interviewed Kertsen and her editor, Doug Tice, about the reporting process for the column. Here is the editor's conclusion after that review:

The paper is always interested in criticism and takes complaints of any kind seriously. This is one of the reasons we have long had a reader representative position and hold every staff members to high standards of accuracy and precision. When we looked into the concerns raised about Katherine Kersten's column, we found that the complaints were without basis.

The column she wrote last week was based on three interviews with the subject, Jim Lodoen, who had also written down his recollections of the trip that he shared with Kersten and had posted on a website. Katherine drew from her interviews and used his written comments to compile the story of his trip. As is often the practice in our newsroom, she went over the quotes with Lodoen, as the primary source for the piece, before filing the story to make certain she had every word right.

The complaints about this column suggest there's something wrong with the work because the story is similar to the email notes. That would of course be the case, since both are coming from the same place. In at least one instance, Katherine's interviews with Lodoen cleared up some confusion in his notes, and she wrote the story as he determined it happened. Another suggestion is that there's something wrong with the column because parts of the story circulated on the internet before it appeared on the paper. Newspaper stories can originate in every imaginable place, including accounts on the internet. The job of the newspaper is to seek out what's happened, confirm its accuracy and run stories that our readers will be interested in. This is exactly what happened in this case.

Anders Gyllenhaal
Editor

If you have further concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Kate Parry
Reader's Representative

And so it goes; the cub reporter gets special treatment.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A new Spotty: Hypocrisy Revealed Division

Robin Marty, the den mother at Drinking Liberally and at Minnesota Monitor, wins a Spotty for scoring an absolute bulls-eye for her observation today:

Hotdish Sunday - Sausage and Eggs

Nov 19, 2006 -- 10:58 AM CST Robin Marty

Quote 1 "Now, of course, the anti-negro revelers are jumping for joy that Brad Johnson will get his opportunity to continue being old and washed up. It won't matter if we lose as long as we have guys we like at the helm."

Quote 2 "[Brees]'s white, too, which certainly guarantees more tolerance among that segment of Vikings fans that wears Purple to cover red necks. This isn't a theory, but a fact demonstrated by the muted response to Brad Johnson's stink-a-thons against Pittsburgh and Baltimore at season's end."

One of these quotes was written by the pseudonym Rahelio Soliel at the blog "American Hot Sausage" and has been called a "racial barb" on the A1 page of the Star Tribune, above the fold.

The other was written by Star Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse on March 11th, 2006.

Spot's has had his dust-ups with Rahelio Soleil, but the sanctimonious hypocrisy surrounding the Tammy Lee parody site has reached a fever pitch. The Star Tribune is adding fuel to the fire, irresponsibly in Spot's view. While it may have been a clumsy in execution, the parody site did raise a definite subtext of the campaign: race.

Don't believe it? What about the newspaper advertisement (a rather large one at that) in the Star Tribune - perhaps it appeared elsewhere, too, but Spot didn't see it - by a group of primarily DFL, and primarily white, supporters of Tammy Lee? This group didn't support Peter Hutchinson, Robert Fitzgerald, or, well you get the idea.

Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, op-ed piece, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes that he had written. As always, cash value 1/20th of a cent.

Source: Minnesota Monitor