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Saturday, January 31, 2004
You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.
From the Washington Post:
The White House, already embroiled in a public fight over the deadline for an independent commission's investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is refusing to give the panel notes on presidential briefing papers taken by some of its own members, officials said this week.
Hello? American Public? Anybody home?
Friday, January 30, 2004
"Specific, credible threats"
against British Air and Air France. Again. Could be, I guess, but I doubt it. Here's why.

1.Unlike many American impressions of foreign airline security, the British and French are actually quite competent. Really.
2. Aircraft arriving from Europe are not really good bombs: they've already burned most of their fuel. Of course, they could still do a lot of damage, but not nearly as much as if they had full tanks.
3. Because they arrive in the US with most of their fuel gone, a hijacking would have to occur about an hour or so out, to give the suicide pilots time to orient and set up navigation to their targets. This is plenty of time for a paranoid US ATC system to ID them and vector an intercept.

Could any or all of these reasons be overridden and a successful hijack/attack occur from overseas? Yes. But it would be harder to do. If they try it again, most likely it will be a departure from HERE, not there. All this "intelligence" is likely to be as reliable as the WMD information we had before George and Dick's excellent Iraqi adventure.
Krugman nails it again.
He concludes his latest column thusly:
"...the big story isn't about Mr. Bush; it's about what's happening to America. Other presidents would have liked to bully the C.I.A., stonewall investigations and give huge contracts to their friends without oversight. They knew, however, that they couldn't. What has gone wrong with our country that allows this president to get away with such things?"

Let's hope they dont get away with too much more, or there'll be nothing left.

Thursday, January 29, 2004
Poor Bob Novak
He can dish it out, but he can't take it. Apparently, he assaulted a bystander in NH who called him a traitor for outing Valerie Plame. Hee hee hee.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
A Boring History Rant
I admit that I don’t have the first clue about what it might be like to live in Iraq today. Neither does the American media, or most of the American public. For a glimpse, look at Riverbend’s blog or Salam Pax. It would be good idea for US voters to get very smart about Iraq in the near future. One of the major issues of this presidential campaign year is going to be “The Iraq Question”.

Not the question of whether the war was justified; I have always been convinced that it was not, and every day the evidence mounts that I was correct in that assessment (even without access to classified briefings!). Rather , the question: How do we get out of this mess without making things worse?

Without understanding the historical and current realities of the Iraqi people it is impossible to evaluate the likelihood of success that our various “exit options” present. The Bush administration has set a target date of June for elections in Iraq. This presumes that sometime after that, as the Iraqi people begin to govern themselves, the US should be able to start withdrawing our occupation force. How likely is it that elections in June will be successful and accepted? Will the Iraqis be able to function as a nation with a democratic form of government? If so, how long will it take?

Before 1920, Iraq didn’t exist as a country. The region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire for several hundred years and was part of what was then referred to as Mesopotamia. The Ottomans administered the provinces in this region by treating with the more powerful of the local Sheiks. There was no national or even regional identity among the people in this region; only family, clan, tribe and religion.

The British gained control of the area as a result of WW I and in 1920 created the “nation” of Iraq out of the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. These provinces were mostly inhabited by Ethnic Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, respectively. In 1921, after brutally putting down an uprising, the British handed control over to Iraq’s first Monarch, King Faisal. For the next 37 years, Iraq was more or less ruled by a succession of Kings (with British support) who presided over varying degrees of unrest and bloodshed.

In 1958, the last Iraqi king was deposed and an era of military, totalitarian rule began. Coups and coup attempts continued until eventually, in 1979, Saddam Hussein assumed power. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim and Sunnis tended to do better under his regime than the other groups. Western powers, especially the United States and Britain, remained heavily involved in Iraqi politics throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The United States was a major supporter of Saddam Hussein from his accession until shortly before the 1991 Gulf war.

I admit, I’ve left a lot out, but that’s it in a nutshell. Here’s what I think it means:

1. The people of Iraq have no true “national identity”. This artificiality has historically always been imposed on them from outside forces.
2. The different ethnic and religious groups residing in Iraq fear losing power in this latest change of government. The Sunnis fear the Shiite majority. The Kurds want autonomy in the north, and feel they are owed this due to their cooperation in the war effort. The Shiites are heavily influenced by fundamentalist Imams, such as the Ayatollah Sistani, who favor an Iranian-style theocracy.
3. The Iraqi oil fields tend to lie under the areas inhabited by the Kurds in the north and the Shiites and tribal areas in the east and south.

Ottoman Provinces and Ethnic Areas
Oil Fields

The Sunnis (who are currently responsible for most of the violence) will not tolerate Shiite Islamic rule. An election giving Shiites control will result in greatly increased Sunni violence. The Shiites will not tolerate being dealt out of this new government. They are the majority and they will certainly initiate an uprising if they aren’t “fairly” represented. The Kurds will accept nothing less than their own country, or possibly some form of Shiite rule. Turkey will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan on their border. Dividing the country won’t work, as that leaves the Sunnis with no oil, which they won’t tolerate.

Lastly, the US now has a substantial investment in blood and gold in Iraq. The current administration is extremely unlikely to allow an unfriendly government to be elected there anytime soon.

Pay attention to how the President and the Democratic candidates talk about this issue. Chances are, unless one of them is a no kidding genius, we are going to be in Iraq for a LONG time.

Wondering why the New Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit favors the Drug Industry instead of seniors?
This might explain it.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
The Patriot Act is not a good thing.
It leads to serious prosecutorial abuse as in this example from Detroit:
"Farhat is at the center of an internal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the conduct of Richard G. Convertino, the lead prosecutor in the nation’s first terror case to stem from the investigation of the September 11 terrorist attack."

It also leads to serious investigative abuse, as in this example from Las Vegas:
"LAS VEGAS (AP) - The FBI used the USA Patriot Act to obtain financial information about key figures in a political corruption probe centered on striptease club owner Michael Galardi, an agent said."

And then it lends itself to just plain old abuse, as in this example from North Carolina:
" A North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, Martin Dwayne Miller could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about 6 months."

Of course, our US Attorney General thinks we're just a bunch of whiners:
"Some people cannot start their cars and say, 'Oh, it's the Patriot Act,' " Mr. Ashcroft said. "

Yep, count on our senior administration officials to squarely address legitimate concerns about matters such as civil liberties. Also you know you can count on the Justice Department to deliver an accurate assessment to Congress as they consider renewing this fine piece of legislation:
"It is clear that the government has been thoroughly responsible in its implementation of the act," Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said. "As the president has said, it is vital that Congress reauthorize these provisions."

Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where the press identified lies and spin for you?

So Howie Kurtz may be guilty of serious ethics violations?
MWO reports that Mr. Kurtz may have used his column to promote his wife's right wing PR firm. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you...
Monday, January 26, 2004
Another attempt at inferfacing with print media:
Sent this off to the Strib tonight. I wish I could figure out how to do tables in HTML; this looked a lot better in Word. (edit: got tables working-sort of.)

26 January 2004

To the Editors:

I read with interest our Republican Senator and Representatives’ rebuff of the Star Tribune editorial staff regarding your critique of President Bush’s State of the Union Address. I was especially struck by their blanket condemnation of the liberal internet community in general and bloggers in particular. When blogging, I feel free to express my opinion and always try to back it up with whatever facts are available on the internet. Perhaps it would inform our representatives in Congress if I give an example of internet research and blog opinion regarding the State of the Union Address. I guarantee it will be more informative than the “light on facts” accusatory outrage they find so easy to express:

While listening to the State of the Union Address last week, I noticed the President got a big round of applause and cheers when he announced that the Coalition of the Willing had grown to 49 nations. This should certainly be good news, since the strain of fighting the war and occupying Iraq is beginning to affect both the morale and the readiness of our Armed Forces. Although we hear about the Coalition in general terms fairly often, it seems that we rarely get any specifics on its members or their respective contributions. I thought I’d take a little time to track down this information and help all of us evaluate the value of the Coalition.

The first thing I noticed while doing this research was that information on the Coalition is hard to come by. I found several lists of member nations, but they didn’t agree completely with one another. Even the White House’s list on their web page is dated 2003. I used several internet based sources to try and get a complete list, although there seems to be a measure of confusion over the exact membership. What follows is my best effort at a list of Coalition members. Alert readers will note that there are 53 countries listed here; the White House claims 49 of them. Round bracketed ( ) entries appear on the White House list, but not in other documents. Square bracketed [ ] entries appear in multiple sources, but not in the White House list.

Costa Rica
(Czech Republic)
Dominican Republic*
El Salvador*
Great Britain

Marshall Islands*

South Korea
United States

The next challenge is to divine what sort of help each of these nations is offering as a coalition member. Obviously, some of these countries aren’t in a position to offer anything other than “political support” which can be described as words of encouragement, or moral support. Asterisks in the list identify countries in this category.

Other countries in the coalition are located where military over flight privileges would be helpful, but they offer no material support other than that. They are identified by double asterisks. According to this count, 23 countries who claim membership in the Coalition provide nothing in the way of monetary or material support.

The remaining members of the coalition offer varying amounts of support, ranging from the use of an airfield for refueling purposes, to medical teams, chemical decontamination squads, a submarine, Patriot Anti-Missile batteries and in a few instances, combat troops. Some of this personnel and equipment is contingent on not actually entering Iraq.

Many of the supporting countries are increasing or decreasing troop strength, hardware levels and conditions as this is being written, making it nearly impossible to pin down the exact contributions of Coalition members in real time. It is possible, however, to look at contributions during the invasion and initial occupation of Iraq:

United States: approximately 300,000 troops
Great Britain: approximately 45,000 troops
Australia: approximately 2,000 troops
All other coalition members combined: approximately 2000 personnel

It may be useful at this point to draw some comparisons with the 1991 Gulf War, in order get a feel for the differences between the Coalition in 1991 and 2003.

1991 Gulf War 2003 Iraq War

US Troops
Coalition Troops

(24% of total)

(14% of total)

US Investment
Coalition Investment

$6 Billion
$54 Billion
(90% of total)

$48 Billion
$6.5 Billion(est.)
(14% of total)

Note that these costs consider only the active combat phase of the Iraq invasion. Casualties are not considered for the purpose of this analysis. The level of Coalition monetary and troop support for the 2003 Iraq war is clearly lower than it was in 1991. The Coalition monetary contribution is estimated based on the assumption that our allies’ costs run approximately the same as our own and that we are not reimbursing them. It is also notable that US costs in the region subsequent to the combat phase of the war are running approximately $4 Billion per month, and are not being reimbursed by our Coalition partners, as occurred during the 1991 war. The following table, summarized from a US house budget committee document shows the expected costs of the occupation of Iraq using three possible scenarios:

Troops remain
Until 2006

Troops remain
Until 2008

Troops remain
Until 2010

$237.8 Billion

$308.9 Billion

$418.3 Billion

Some opponents of the war have pointed out that the United States will incur additional costs due to foreign aid increases and loan guarantees to some of our Coalition partners. Clearly, US costs in this venture are not currently being mitigated in any way that is cause for celebration. President Bush would do better and deserve more applause if he could announce significant increases in contributions from our numerous partners. Having a Coalition of the Willing is a good thing. Having a Coalition of the Willing and Able would be much better.

Sunday, January 25, 2004
The US military impending implosion, revisited.
Def sends this link to Eric Alterman's Slate blog. Scroll down to find a lengthy letter from a frustrated and demoralized soldier. Some excerpts:
"...Medical Hold Soldiers of the National Guard and Army Reserve were kept in Barracks at Fort Carson, CO that were scheduled for demolition. Many soldiers got sicker during our stay there. The toilet facilities were mostly broken, and mold covered everything. Soldiers that could not stand or walk had to live on the upper floors. Nothing was done about the problem, regardless of who we complained to. Many of us did not ever get our problems taken care of... I know of several soldiers of my state who are still sick at home. They cannot work, but have not been paid by the Army for their Active Duty Medical Extensions. The paperwork has either not been done, or has been lost, or something. There are stories like this from all over the country...."

" unit was put on planes to Baghdad, and we began convoy security operations. We also undertook offensive operations against guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle..... We never had the Interceptor body armor, and at times we were low on ammunition, food, and water.... I am so proud of my soldiers. You should’ve seen them. They performed brilliantly, but God alone knows how we didn’t loose anybody..."

"...Training for this (upcoming-ed) probable deployment will be difficult without weapons, however. We have one rifle, one machine gun and one pistol for our whole unit, for basic familiarization training ("This is a rifle—the bullets come out this end…"). This is for an Infantry company with over 100 men. All the other weapons have been transferred to another state for their impending deployment to Iraq. We have been told that we will get at least a few rifles and a couple of machine guns to train with by Annual Training in June. Hopefully we will get new stuff before the end of the year, but the CO just gave me a blank stare when I asked about it..... May God help us all."

Not a very rosy picture of how our reservists and guardsmen are being treated, is it? And this isn't the only source for this depressing information-scroll down this blog for more. Stand by for a recruiting and retention crisis of epic proportions.
That darn liberal media
"...Dennis Miller has usually been happy to spray his acerbic wit across the political spectrum, but things will be different on his new CNBC talk program. President Bush is in a mock-free zone.
"I like him," Miller explained. "I'm going to give him a pass. I take care of my friends."..." Click here

Refresh my memory: when did Dennis Miller ever "spray his acerbic wit" at anyone other than opponents of w? What is "acerbic wit, anyway? What does it look like when you spray it? Does it smell bad?

Shouting into the closet to inform and entertain the 10 people who actually read this thing. In our new format as an online magazine, we take pride in our reporting and opinions. Please leave reader feedback on our online magazine message board so that we can better serve you.

“There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” -Paul Wolfowitz

Cost of the War in Iraq
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