Thursday, November 27, 2003

Troops Get Turkey for Thanksgiving

You all know what I'm talking about...

It was a great photo-op; and it really was the right thing to do. I guess that's why it surprised me. Unfortunately we'll be seeing those pictures longer than we saw the flightsuit photos. Endlessly.

Being ex-military, I know how much that meant to the soldiers in Iraq.

Now, how about those funerals?

Happy Thanksgiving

Despite all the things that we on the Left have to complain about, to improve on in the desire to protect and improve our society and country, we should not, on this day, forget all the things we have to be thankful for. Most of us probably have family around, lots of food and drink on the table and the ability to not only know what is going on in our country and the world, but to comment freely on them.

So as we contemplate how we could make things better, let's not lose sight of just how good they are already.

I hope that everyone who regularly reads my contribution to the national dialogue - or anyone who just drops by - will have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. If you're not from the US, I hope that your day and week are full of things that you are thankful for. Don't forget to take a few minutes to think about those people and things that make you happy, don't forget to let those people know how much they mean to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the blogosphere!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Market Driven Health Care

After passage of the soon-to-be disastrous Medicare bill, aWol is crowing about the Repug stranglehold on the law making apparatus. And, as always, the Wall Street Journal joins in.

One of today's opinion pieces makes the hard sell - again - for a health care system driven by... what else... the free market. The author, Regina Herzlinger, is not a doctor, not a health care professional of any kind. She's not even an HMO or insurance company flack. Ms. Herzlinger is a professor of business administration at Harvard. Surprised? No? Me neither.

I won't go into a lot of detail about the article - it is the usual pean to free markets. What I will do is say one thing about what I believe a true, free market for medical care will get us all.

Porsche vs Yugo.

I don't believe that access to medical care is a fungible, consumer good; it is not just another discretionary purchase. For those who need medical care, that service is not readily exchangeable for another set of goods or services: if a heart transplant patient can't afford the suite of devices and services that treatment requires, he cannot either shop for something a little cheaper or decide to put it off and buy that new pair of sneakers he's been eyeing instead.

And yet a market driven health care system would treat people like customers instead of like patients. The "system" would offer all the best treatments with all the latest drugs and devices and would price them according to demand (and the cost of provision). Just like cars. You want that heart transplant which requires the latest techniques and devices? You can have it - as long as you can afford it. Yes, sir, here's your Porsche! Otherwise, save your pennies or you can mosey on down to the Yugo dealer down the street. They'll give you some aspirin, maybe. Or some generic drug that's three generations removed from the current one.

Is that how we want to treat our fellow citizens who need help? Is that how we want to be treated when we are in need? According to the Rethuglicans, yes.

Turns out accessible health care falls into the same category as international treaties like the Montreal Protocol (see the post below). It helps out mostly poor people. And we know what kind of deal BushCo likes to give them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"More Poor People Dying? Cool." - g.W.b.

In the vein of never meeting an international treaty he liked, read up on just one that aWol is trying to break; The Montreal Protocol.

But Punta Arenas is full of poor, brown people, right?

Three years ago, the mayor of Punta Arenas, Juan Enrique Morano Cornejo, succinctly summarized the effects on the hoi polloi of this kind of politicking. "Around here," he told me, "we call it the Ley del Gallinero" -- the law of the chicken coop. The law of the chicken coop turns out to be a lot like the law of gravity: Things fall downward, and for the chickens at the bottom of the coop, life is, well, kind of shitty.
Same kind of deal BushCo wants to give everyone: shitty.

Via Working for Change.

Cobalt Goes Missing in Iraq

If that headline doesn't grab you and send a shiver down your spine, you must be dead.

Read the full text in the NYT.

The lead graph:
A seeming lapse in surveillance by American forces has led to the looting of dangerously radioactive capsules from Saddam Hussein's main battlefield testing site in the desert outside Baghdad and the identification of at least one 30-year-old Iraqi villager, and possibly a village boy, as suffering from radiation sickness.
And the question everyone would like an answer to:
Under investigation is how American surveillance of the area, now under the control of the 82nd Airborne Division, failed to spot villagers entering the testing site with heavy vehicles to dismantle three of the poles, or towers, for scrap, leaving heavy tire tracks in the desert.
Possible answer:
Looting of military depots has been a persistent problem since the fall of Mr. Hussein, prompting suggestions that the 130,000 American troops in Iraq may be too stretched.
[UPDATE] I forgot to add that the Cobalt was all found but that several people in the local villages are thought to have radiation poisoning.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Freedom of the Press - Baghdad Style

Could this be the new model of a "free press" in the U.S.?


MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi Governing Council ordered the Arab language television network al Arabiya to shut down its operation in Baghdad on Monday, sending the Iraq Interior Ministry to the network's headquarters to "seize their uplink and transmission equipment until further notice."
I mean, we have been told that the U.S. is exporting democracy to Iraq, right? And while this was on CNN, the article was mostly about the incidents over the weekend (yes, I'm avoiding that for now...) it was rather a small part of the story. What I want to know is why this isn't seen as alarming to the media. Or at the very least, hypocritical given the whitewash of "exporting democracy" that the administration is slathering all over anything related to this adventure.

Now That's A New Drug I Need!

It turned out to be a case of misreading the lead paragraph in a Wall Street Journal story, but...

I thought the sentence read that a certain drug company was looking for FDA approval for "a new omnipotence drug." Of course that's not what it said at all. And, of course, the government would never let a drug like that out on the market even if they could invent one. And since the powerful are almost always the first ones with access to new treatments, I'm pretty sure in retrospect, that there was no such "omnipotence" drug.

I mean, really; do you think Bush has had access to such a thing?

But of course, reality intruded on my momentary lapse of reading comprehension. Thankfully I don't need the drug the article was really about!

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Compassionate Conservatism at Work

If you want to see just what an oxymoron "compassionate conservatism" is, check out today's editorial in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof.

He takes a look behind all the talking and negotiating ahead of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (F.T.A.A.) and exposes just one of the potential downfalls of poorly balancing the needs of people and the desires of big business. In this case, it's big pharmaceutical companies, but the message is the same regardless of the business:

Do we really want to place protecting the profits of a small group of already very profitable corporations over the lives of real, live people?

100,000 in 2005

A senior military official, speaking - of course - anonymously, said that there would likely be 100,000 troops in Iraq in 2005. This official was making assumptions about what the security situation would be like at that time and wasn't speaking for the president or any of his staff. However, that is a level which, by that time, would start causing serious problems with the National Guard and Reserves. The active component would be stretched seriously thin as well; that number is not significantly lower than the approximately 130,000 troops that are there now.

With all the effort going on now to train the Iraqis to take over security operations, and the administration consistently saying that our troop levels will depend on the security situation in Iraq, you'd think that BushCo would want a rosier picture painted to the public. 100,000 doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy about how secure things will be two years from now.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Wal*Mart - Again

From Damn Foreigner:

Fast Company has a great article discussing the implications for suppliers specifically and the economy generally in dealing with the colossus. The article, while pretty long, is a great primer for discovering the real costs to all of us of the Wal*Mart phenomenon.

A couple of excerpts to whet your curiosity:

Wal-Mart wields its power for just one purpose: to bring the lowest possible prices to its customers. At Wal-Mart, that goal is never reached. The retailer has a clear policy for suppliers: On basic products that don't change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year. But what almost no one outside the world of Wal-Mart and its 21,000 suppliers knows is the high cost of those low prices. Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.


"People ask, 'How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?' Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains," says Dobbins. "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."


If Levi clothing is a runaway hit at Wal-Mart, that may indeed rescue Levi as a business. But what will have been rescued? The Signature line--it includes clothing for girls, boys, men, and women--is an odd departure for a company whose brand has long been an American icon. Some of the jeans have the look, the fingertip feel, of pricier Levis. But much of the clothing has the look and feel it must have, given its price (around $23 for adult pants): cheap. Cheap and disappointing to find labeled with Levi Strauss's name. And just five days before the cheery profit news, Levi had another announcement: It is closing its last two U.S. factories, both in San Antonio, and laying off more than 2,500 workers, or 21% of its workforce. A company that 22 years ago had 60 clothing plants in the United States--and that was known as one of the most socially responsible corporations on the planet--will, by 2004, not make any clothes at all. It will just import them.
(All emphasis is mine - Ed.)
And that's just the tip of this well researched iceberg of an article.

I think, though that for progressives of all stripes - and this will be my last quote from the article - the money quote, the one that should really make you think, has got to be this:

Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: "We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world--yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions."

A damning indictment, indeed.

Vague Memories of Dealy Plaza

I lived in Dallas several years ago and made the seemingly obligatory visit to The School Book Repository and its Sixth Floor Museum. I roamed the streets and grassy knoll of Dealy Plaza. It was an odd feeling, sort of like the feeling you get walking around the pyramids of Mexico or the battlefields of Chickamauga; a feeling of the weight of history on a place.

Unlike those other places, the traffic still flows through Dealy, drivers in their cars driving unnoticing over the small X's painted on the road where key points in that day's events - 40 years ago tomorrow - took place. Yet for all its "ordinariness," that weight is still there; above the street noise is a silence that is somehow louder than tires on asphalt or the roar of engines. It's hard to explain, but if you been to any site where history hangs in the air, you'll know what I mean.

When JFK was assassinated, I was not quite three years old. Yet, probably through some combination of actual memory of such a momentous event and the retelling of family stories, I seem to have vague memories of those days. What I think I remember is standing in front of the television - black and white - watching pictures of Kennedy's Caisson rolling up a street in Washington, D.C. I have no other memories so clear of that time, but there is a sense of confusion and sadness when I try to remember those days; when I try to see beyond the television images.

What informs the rest of my memories and thoughts on the assassination is what I've read on the subject, the investigative news specials, the Warren Commission reports, books. I've never subscribed to the more fantastic conspiracy theories that remain so popular and I've never had the desire to watch Oliver Stone's confabulation "JFK." But I do wonder. I wonder what the world would be like if Kennedy had lived; what would have been different. No-one can say, of course, with any degree of certainty. And I've always thought that "what-if" histories were a sort of mental self flagellation. But the thoughts are there, in the back of my mind.

What would have been different? What would have been the result if Camelot had been allowed to flourish?

The vision, the memories, the hopes for Camelot contrast so brightly against the despair so many feel today. The contrast of the idealistic, young, war hero Jack Kennedy - all his human foibles now known - with the shallow, corporatist, uncurious, duty shirking Bush is striking not just for it's dissonance. But also in how the two men affect(ed) those around them. In 1962 there were problems to be sure; but there was hope there was confidence that they could be solved: civil rights, the cold war and the growing troubles in South East Asia. Today there seems to be a growing malaise; of helplessness over problems seemingly too big for those in power to comprehend, much less to solve.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Administration Admits Iraq War Illegal

From Atrios: Richard Perle, no less, in a Guardian interview:

In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing." [snip]

But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.
The sheer chutzpah. Everyone opposed to the war has been saying this for months - and Perle just comes right out and admits it.

I only wish I could say I was shocked.

Maybe BushCo was tired of inventing new reasons why they started this war. WMDs didn't work, freeing the Iraqis didn't really cut it, the "Reverse Domino Effect" didn't really work either. So they just said "fuck it. We did it because we could. "

Go read Atrios, then head over the Guardian to read the whole thing.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Civil Rights.

Equal Rights.

Women's Rights.

Gay Rights.

Basic Rights.

Human Rights.

Yesterday the Massachusetts SJC handed down a decision that said to the State Legislature that there are no good reasons to deny gays the same rights, privileges and obligations as straights when it comes to civil recognition of marriage. No sooner had the ink dried on the decision than the wingnuts were on the airwaves. They renounced judicial activism, they demanded amendments to the state constitution. And the reverberations were felt in Washington just as quickly with all the usual morons calling for an amendment to the national constitution.

I wrote a couple of months ago about all the hoopla around the confirmation of Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop. And I stand behind what I wrote then.

But I have to say that the backlash to the Massachusetts ruling still stuns me in some ways. If you were to substitute the word "Black" or "Hispanic" or "Women" or "Jews" into the ruling, nobody would blink an eye (well... there are a few white-hooded rednecks who might, but ...). Why is it that gays remain the last group that can be so openly hated and repressed?

On the way to work this morning all I could think was that the wingnuts who are so worked up over the issue of civil unions/marriages for gays are the same ones (or their children - the nut doesn't fall far from the tree, and all that) who wanted African-Americans to stay in the back of the bus or wanted women to stay home and out of the workplace. How, in this more enlightened age, these ideas can continue to thrive in some places and in some segments of society escapes me.

Maybe I'm too idealistic. Maybe I think too much of humanity's capacity for reason, for understanding, for love of fellow man. I hope not.

But there seems to be reason to despair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Yes, I'm a Poet

Well, there should be plenty of scoffing over that statement, but check out my honorable mention in Todd's haiku contest over at Dohiyi Mir!

While you're there, check out the rest of Todd's blog. He's got some great stuff!

Now, off with you, go get some culture!


$200,000.00 at breakfast.

$200,000.00 at lunch.

$300,000.00 at dinner.


That was Cheney's haul yesterday in New York state. 700 people paid $1,000.00 per plate to have a meal in the same, large room as the veep.

I think I expressed my disgust at this yesterday.

Can you imagine the discussion these big donors and the Vice President must have had about Medicare or Medicaid? Can't you just hear the impassioned pleas to spend more to help those without health insurance?

[Crickets Chirping...]


Monday, November 17, 2003

Cheney Sighting

Seems Rochester, NY is now considered a "secure, undisclosed location." While listening to the radio at lunch-time today, I was reminded that VP Dick will be at a fund raising luncheon today in Rochester. It's part of an all day fund raiser in New York state; breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different cities.

Not that BushCo doesn't already have more money than all their adversaries combined; you can have a meal with Dick today for $1,000.00 a plate.


You can bet that that amount of smack will get you a meal in the same room as the veep, but don't bet on it getting you any say in what's going down in Washington. A measly grand doesn't compare to what the big corporations are funneling to the repugs... not to mention the Pioneers or the Cowboys or whatever in the hell the big contributors are called.


How much good would that money do if donated to a local charity? Not that our compassionate-conservative leaders would ever want any of their supporters cash going to those damned poor people or those friggin' cripples. They'll never make enough of themselves to ever be a real donor.


Imagine what a family living on the wrong side of the poverty line could do with that money. It would likely put food on the table for a couple of months or more. Maybe they could get their kids to the doctors finally. Perhaps it would pay for a month or two of medical insurance. It might even be enough to get their old car repaired and get an up-to-date state inspection. Maybe they could have a real Christmas for a change this year.


To BushCo a thousand dollars is not even a rounding error in their campaign "war chest." To the people who can afford to drop a thousand bucks for lunch it's small change. To so many others it could mean not having to choose between buying groceries and being able to buy vital medication

If you were to put it that baldly to someone at this luncheon today, they would look at you like you'd just spit in their food...

Rush to the Airwaves

Just in case you've forgotten - or really tried to avoid thinking about it - Rush is back today.

I wonder what he'll be like after his little "retreat?" Will he be contrite and full of empathy for the addicts among us now?

Sure. And monkeys will fly out my ass...

Two More Blackhawks Down

I just couldn't bring myself to post anything about the Blackhawks that went down this past weekend. 17 more good soldiers gone. 2 more helicopters wrecked. Just that much further mired in the wasteland of Iraq.

I've gotten to the point that when it comes to discussing the casualties I don't even know what to say anymore. The outrage is still there; the feeling that the sacrifice is for nothing. Rather than learning from its mistakes and changing directions in Iraq, BushCo may be on the verge of a modified "cut and run." But to change directions, to learn would be to admit to the error in the first place. And one thing that the folks in Washington seem incapable of doing is admitting to error. There are no mistakes in this administration, never anything to learn from. Faith-based administration requires only adherence to the first principles.

But even as I watched the pictures of recovery crews lifting the mangled remains of aircraft, knowing that if metal was so badly twisted and torn that the bodies of the soldiers and pilots were much worse; I just felt heavy. Like nothing I could do or say would make a difference. Nothing that is within my power would keep more soldiers from dying in the heat and sand and dust of Iraq.

So... rather than learning and adapting to the situation, it seems that Bush is trying to rush through the transition of power to the Iraqis so that he can have his homecoming parade footage for his re-election campaign. But Saddam is still out there, taunting Shrub. Remnants of the Republican Guard are still lurking in the general population; armed with heavy weapons, mortars and anti-aircraft missiles. Foreign Arab jihadists are coming across the borders to join in on the fun. And the Iraqis on the street are starting to really fear the reemergence of Saddam and the Baathists.

And we sit here at home, starting another week, continuing the horrible count of young soldiers killed or maimed. While the architect of this mess sits in the chair of the most powerful person on earth, counting his reelection money, barely aware of the massacre taking place under his direction.

Something has to give.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Reading the Papers

It's too bad aWol doesn't read the papers, this might give him some second thoughts.

If you read it, make sure you have a tissue...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Taking a Hard Right Turn

It seems that I need more time to sit and think about my posts on this blog...

I've been mulling over a rather longish post about how politics have changed in the past several years. About where the Right is leading us all; they have nearly all the power in Washington (and yet claim to be under siege), they have basically been given a pass by the media (that's the infamous SCLM) and they seem intent on taking us somewhere. Somewhere dark. Somewhere where there are no protests - can you say "First Amendment Zones?"

I had all these thoughts and was in the first, mental steps of organizing them...

And then I found this.

David Neiwert at Orcinus says it perfectly. Without hyperbole, well supported with links and facts. This is no rant, but rather a cold-eyed look at the hard right turn our country is being forced to make. A small sample of David's style and substance:

"What is becoming increasingly clear is that conservatives are less and less inclined to rely on "intellectual" or political exchanges, and are turning more to an eliminationist strategy that seeks to demonize liberals and make them social outcasts -- and concomitantly, acceptable targets for violence because of the "damage" they cause the nation through their ostensible treason.
Those of us on the Left, especially those of us who write openly, publicly about our distrust of and unhappiness with this administration must surely hope that Neiwert is wrong about the ultimate result of this trend.

Return to War?

I haven't seen it on any of the blogs I read and I haven't seen any kind of official announcement either. But this morning on ABC News, the talking head said that a military official in Iraq had confirmed that there were more operations in and around Baghdad last night against units of the "Republican Guard."

I'll try to find out some more about this, but this is something that I don't believe has been stated so baldly before.

In the past it has been Baathists and resistance fighters and foreign fighters and terrorists. But for the administration to let something like this out, seems to me, to be a subtle but important change. There has been talk over the past week that the military might be moving back towards more combat operations, and the attacks and bombings in the Sunni Triangle have sure looked more like what went on before May 1, than after.

An interesting turn of events, no?


I also forgot to mention that Central Command is so concerned over the way things are going in Iraq that Gen. John Abizaid is moving his HQ back to Doha, Qatar from Tampa, FL.


ABC News is now saying that one of the attacks last night was on a former Republican Guard warehouse. Hmmmm... interesting change of words. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

While it is necessary, if our military is going to stay, for them to try and stop these attacks, it cannot be done at the expense of the battle for the "hearts and minds." Otherwise, no matter how badly we defeat the insurgents/resistance, we will lose this war.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Justice is Done

At long last, Chief Justice Roy Moore is done. The judge who refused to remove a huge, granite monument to the Ten Commandments has been removed from the bench by the Alabama state judicial panel.

Read about it here.

168 - 4

Do I really have to say any more about the petulant, childish publicity stunt pulled by Senate Republicans?

Tell me again how many Clinton appointees never made it to a vote?

Universal Health Care - Again

I wrote a little about Universal Health Care in a post last month in the context of a practice called "Body Attachment." Today there's an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) comparing medical care in the U.S. with that in Canada.

The article focused on the wait times for elective and non-emergency surgeries, but was, overall, rather benign in its tone towards Canada's system. Not at all what I expected when I opened the story. The WSJ even included data - well known but neglected in most discussions - that Canada's system cost less as a percentage of GDP (10% vs 14%) and that Canadians live longer that Americans (79.4 yrs vs 76.8yrs).

I go to Canada a lot. My wife is Canadian and her father needs regular medical care and so I've been to the hospital and have knowledge about scheduling there. When he needs immediate care, there is no waiting. When he needs tests there is some waiting, but it depends on the exact test to be done. Most importantly, he never gets a bill for his care. He's had to go in for emergencies twice this year. He's retired and if he and his wife were living in the same situation in the States, they would have no insurance and those two visits would likely have taken every penny they could scrape together before Medicare or Medicaid kicked in. In Canada, he goes home from the hospital and a home-care nurse comes by when needed and he never gets a bill.

The wait times are being more closely managed in the Canadian system, and there is a general issue of the public using emergency rooms and clinics for very minor problems like colds. But that happens here, too.

There are just so many reasons why learning from all the best systems in the world and implementing a Universal Health Care system in the U.S. makes sense. I am constantly baffled by the arguments against it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Turn Off Your Radios and Take Your Blood Pressure Medicine

Rush is back!

The overweight, over medicated, no-talent, maid exploiting blowhard will be back on the air on Monday, November 17.

Forwarned is forarmed.

Ready or Not, Here it Comes!

Our man Bremer in Iraq has had his meeting with his bosses and the word is out. Regardless of the situation in Iraq, they want to be able to hand over Iraq to the Iraqis quickly. In time for the election.

Nobody has written the story that baldly - yet. But if I were a betting man, I'd have my money on the line that something very close to that was said in Bremer's meeting. From the BBC:

"He [President Bush] remains steadfast in his determination to defeat terrorism in Iraq and steadfast in his determination to give the Iraqis authority over their country - authority they are already beginning to assume very quickly in the area of security and in the area of running the Iraqi ministries," Mr Bremer told a news conference. [Emphasis is mine - Ed.]
Is it me or does this also sound suspiciously like Bremer is blaming the increased security issues on the fact that the Iraqis are already assuming responsibility "in the area of security?"

Anyway, while the actual intentions or plans (if any) of BushCo remain inscrutable, it certainly looks, from the outside, that they want desperately to set up an end-game where during the run-up to Election 2004 Bush can proudly point to returning soldiers and an established (if under siege) government in Iraq. What will happen after that is anybody's guess. Perhaps the Iraqi government, a suitable period of time after the election, will make an "official" request that the U.S. send in the military to help out a new friend in the Middle East.

I wish these thoughts didn't go through my mind after every news cycle - but while the past is not a perfect guide to the future, it is the only guide we have.

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Have you heard of that company before? If not, you should learn more about it. This from the Wall Street Journal (no link; subscription required):

The PBGC is a government run corporation, much like Fanny Mae, that takes over pension plans after companies default on them or go out of business. It ensures that workers who've contributed to and been promised a pension are not left holding the (empty) bag. Right now it is projected to have an $8.8 billion long-term shortfall in funds. But the big news is that some very large companies that are having trouble meeting the federally required minimum pension funding are asking for relief from the rather strict "catch-up" schedules want to change those schedules. These schedules set out how quickly companies must re-fund their programs after relief during financial hardships.

In this instance, the White House is staunchly behind the PBGC in wanting to maintain the catch-up schedules:

The Bush administration is on record as strongly opposing any attempt to water down the catch-up requirements. "If we're going to provide short-term funding relief, how do you not do the same for every future firm that finds itself in that situation?" a senior administration official said.
Giving relief to those who've asked, so far, would likely result in the PBGC being over $80 billion underfunded.

But (you just knew there had to be a but)...

Despite concerns within the Bush administration, however, influential congressional leaders are widely believed to be pushing relief. They include House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican whose state is home to troubled UAL Corp., and Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, whose large rural state is served by Northwest Airlines.
Didn't you know you'd be able to count on our elected representatives to do what is right for the whole country? It's so pleasant to know that these guys will be consistent - they may not have the gonads of a gnat - but you can bet they'll stand up for their true constituents.

The Day After Veterans' Day

First, I'd like to thank those who stopped by yesterday and left some very nice comments and thoughts on Veterans' Day (except the troll - although it was my first one). I decided to honor the day with just the one post. I hope all those who read it were at least prompted to stop and think for a moment what the day really means.

Next, I want to thank NTodd over at Dohiyi Mir for my first link (that I know of) on another blog. I like NTodd's eclectic posts and I'm honored he chose to add me to his blogroll. I'm hoping this will help drive more traffic here. While I like writing this blog, and it's a good place to vent and - on occasion - rant, I'd hate to think that I'm only talking to an empty room.

So, on to the day. I hope that at least some of us will think of and thank the veterans who've made our way of life possible on more than just one day of the year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Veterans' Day

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The custom is not so prevalent any more, but I remember my dad buying a small red poppy from veterans who sat outside the stores in mid-November. They came on a green wire so that it could be attached to a lapel or - more usually - the rear view mirror in a car. Now, the only place I can still get a poppy is when I travel to Canada near Veterans' Day, Remembrance Day there.

It's really too bad.

Instead of the bombast and braggadocio of those who push war as the panacea for all that threatens or seems to threaten us, the poppies are a reminder that war has consequence. The vision of "…the crosses, row on row…" is evocative of Arlington National Cemetery or the Antietam Cemetery. I've never been to the cemeteries overlooking the Atlantic in France, but even the photos choke me up. I have been to Arlington and I have seen the Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Those sites make me proud, and profoundly sad.

As a veteran, I can only shake my head when I think of what this solemn holiday has become. Furniture stores find this a perfect time before the holidays to have sales. Some schools get the day off, but most businesses do not. Some towns have parades in honor of veterans, but who can go if they must work? News that the current administration is seeking to cut funding to so many programs that benefit soldiers, their families and veterans puts the lie to Bush's pledge to "support the troops." What lessons does this teach our children of the worthiness of service-to-country and self-sacrifice? What does this say to all of our veterans about their worth to our society?

Instead of hyping war, let's use this Memorial Day to remember those who've made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Let's remember, too the families left behind, and the battle scarred - whose wounds, both visible and invisible are a constant reminder of the horror of war. Let's also remember that those who've died in service to our country did so in order to protect our freedoms and way of life. Remember this when those same freedoms are under threat by those who would protect us by making us less free.

In these times, it is best to remember Ben Franklin's words:

"Those who would give up essential liberties for a measure of security, deserve neither liberty nor security."

Monday, November 10, 2003

Is it Worth the Effort?

Some of you may or may not have read Kim du Toit's execrable mess of an essay. If not, well... I'm not sure whether to send you there or not. At least not without some warning. Everything you read in this essay, if you are even the slightest bit to the left of Gengis Khan, will make you sputter in disbelief. Be warned.

I've read some of his stuff - know the opposition and all - and I find him generally so bombastic and full of himself as to be all but unreadable. But this is beyond the pale. A couple of people in my blogroll have already commented on it...

Perhaps Mr. du Toit is compensating? Perhaps his mother was a little too controlling when he was growing up? I'm not sure.

If I can stomach it, I'll come back to this later. That's a big if.

Cognitive Dissonance

On the increasing attacks against American forces in Iraq - now numbering between 25 and 30 per day - Paul Bremer III had these two things to say:

"There are going to be increased attacks and increased terrorism because the terrorists can see the reconstruction dynamic is moving in our direction,"

- and -

"Unless our intelligence gets better, we're going to have a problem," he added, seemingly conceding that coalition forces were at a disadvantage coming to grips with the Iraqi insurgents.
I guess he means that the better things get, the worse they will become. I'm sure that will really help to improve morale of the troops already there and especially of those being mustered for deployment early next year.

al Qaeda - Yet Again

I just want to make a short addition to my last post...

My disgust at what al Qaeda continues to do, while still there, is somewhat tempered by my hope that the Saudis will have some serious second thoughts about whatever ways they are funding this group. Evidence that they are funding al Qaeda directly is limited at best. But that money flows from Saudi Arabia into the coffers of bin Laden's group is probably as close to fact as you can get in this murky part of the world.

Wahabbism, for some reason, has an appeal to rich, listless Saudis and bin Laden's rhetoric draws them in. But now that the results are coming very close to home, perhaps they will pause to think about what they have done. And regardless if this latest attack causes introspection on the part of the bored Saudi millionaires who fund al Qaeda, I hope that the Saudi government finally takes the problem seriously and shuts down the various front operations that funnel supposed charity money to terrorists.

But as always, when talking about the Middle East, despair is always the smart choice - hope has been dashed too many times.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

al Qaeda - Again?

They weren't Americans - and yet their lifestyles were similar... in some ways. But apparently that was enough.

Al Qaeda - Osama bin Laden - chose mostly Saudis to carry out their attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. And yet, because they worked with Americans or just because they lived a somewhat more secular life than OBL would approve of, al Qaeda "expressed its displeasure" with their Saudi brethren.

But these were not soldiers or policemen. They were women, men, children; at home in a quiet, residential, supposedly secure area. 11 dead. Perhaps as many as 110 wounded.


Friday, November 07, 2003

"A Long, Hard Slog"

Through Atrios, I found this graph. It shows the number of U.S. soldiers' deaths, by month since the beginning of our little escapade in Iraq.

It seems to put the lie to aWol's assertions that it's getting better over there. The death rate appears to be on a steady, nearly linear climb. As someone in the comments to Atrios' post said: it doesn't seem that the Iraqis are desperate, more like they are well organized and determined.

But don't take my word for it. Go look at the graph - and notice the source of the data: it's all official. Oh, and while you're there, take a look in the lower right hand corner to see how much this "slog" is costing us in dollars.

Special Delivery

There were lots of things that aWol promised to do or needed to do after 9/11. Arguably, he has accomplished only one of them: taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of the most worrying items - because it actually involved incidents in the U.S., because nobody knows who was involved - was the anthrax-in-the-mail situation.

I guess we can add solving that crime to the list of things that BushCo has failed to do.

Nearly a dozen area post offices remained closed Friday while authorities tried to determine whether anthrax was found at a Navy facility that handles mail for federal agencies.
It's really amazing. The NYT lays out the what, the where but there are no actual words around the issue that this is part of the string of anthrax contaminations that occurred just after 9/11. There is nothing to indicate that BushCo has had no success in solving this crime or actual terrorism while it is engaged in it's show of bravado in Iraq.

I would bet that this will be roundly ignored by Bush. Hey, look over there! We've created a (not so) secret group to capture Saddam!


It's the Russian word for "arrow." It's also what they call the SA-14 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. This is the missile that likely brought down the Chinook helicopter earlier this week and may have been what downed the Blackhawk this morning (it may have been and RPG; the final details have not been released).

Regardless. This is a devastatingly effective weapon, similar in size, shape and capability to the U.S. made "Stinger." If you're not familiar with this type of weapon, they are basically self contained missiles sealed in a tube. A grip-stock and sight with a battery are snapped onto this tube to create a complete system. When it's powered up, a soldier points the weapon at an aircraft, preferably just as it has gone by so the seeker head can "see" the infra-red signature from the engine. He then waits for the appropriate "tone" that lets him know the seeker is locked on and pulls the trigger. A small booster charge kicks the missile out of the tube to a safe distance in front of the soldier so that the rocket engine can ignite without injuring him. The missile is fast - supersonic - and agile; there is not pilot so it can maneuver at high g-loadings. The seekers on the newer missiles like the SA-14 and Stinger are very effective and can "see" through some jamming efforts.

A high-flying fighter has some chance of evading this kind of missile - if the pilot sees the launch and exhaust trail. A helicopter flying just a couple of hundred feet or less from the ground has almost no hope of evading one. Even though most combat helicopters have at minimum a "disco ball" IR jammer, they are so low to the ground, so close to the launch point of the missile that they don't help a whole lot.

The warhead on these weapons is small, but surrounded by a scored, metal canister that, along with the missile body, fragments into very sharp, very hot fragments upon detonation. If you've ever actually come in close contact with any kind of aircraft, you know that they are incredibly light and flimsy. Even though critical systems in combat aircraft are somewhat armored, the explosion and fragmentation products of a ground-to-air missile will very effectively cut through every part of the aircraft and the explosion will ignite fuel and high-pressure hydraulic fluids. I don't think I need to say much about what kind of violence this does to a human body.

So. Why all the details? Because there were so many of these weapons in Iraq; both U.S. and Soviet. And we have made some very bad enemies by our actions in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. And the borders in Iraq are so porous as to barely deserve the name. Our military didn't have the manpower when it drove through the country to secure all the ammunition depots it came upon. And it hasn't likely found all the depots there were. And, unbelievably, even all the depots that are known are not currently guarded. There just aren't enough soldiers on the ground to do so.

More importantly is this: where have all these weapons gone? Are they all still in Iraq? Still in the ME? Have any made their way into the U.S.? Are they on the way?

Despite what you may hear from our fearless leaders, you cannot protect civilian airliners from these weapons. The protective systems are expensive and heavy and require lots of training to operate. To be fully effective, the systems require that the pilot be free to VIOLENTLY maneuver the aircraft to evade the missile - assuming he has the altitude and the airspeed to do so. On a standard, civilian approach to landing, i.e. "low and slow," there just isn't that kind of latitude. And airliners are not built to withstand the stress of the kinds of combat approach to landing that you'd see C-17s and C-130s make in Baghdad.

Two words: Sitting Duck.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

NJ Court: Gays Not Human

That might as well have been the entire ruling from State Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg of Trenton. In her opinion, Feinberg wrote:

...homosexual couples do not have "the right to enter into a government-sanctioned marriage," either under state marriage law or the state constitution's protections for privacy and for legal equality. (From the Boston Globe)
The key phrase in that decision was "under ...the state constitution's protection equality." According to Feinberg, gays do not have equality under NJ law; which when you take a broader view is supposed to ensure equality under the law for all "humans" in the state.

As with any of the statements of these moronic, bigoted yahoos if you were to substitute the name of just about any other minority group nearly everyone would be offended and demand Judge Feinberg's head on a pike. But because her ruling affected only homosexuals, well... what's the big deal?

Lambda Legal will of course appeal the ruling to the next higher NJ court within the next couple of weeks.

"Everything that has a beginning, has an end"

I went to the premier of "The Matrix Revolutions" last night - and I'm exhausted.

While the NYT reviewer, among others was less than glowing about the movie, I thought it was very good and a great, ambiguous ending to a trilogy that purposely strove to be non-linear.

I won't reveal too much so keep reading if you are worried about spoilers.

The Wachowski Brothers have shown themselves to be geniuses when it comes to creating movies with a new look, a new feel and to immerse you in a world you probably could never have imagined. That genius is on full display in "Revolutions." Some of the criticism leveled at the middle movie and in early reviews of the last have to do with moving from the focus of a completely new and fully realized world to more "action." But as I said to my wife as we left the theater last night, it couldn't be any other way.

The first movie, besides being an absolute tour de force visually, created this new world - The Matrix. The second and third movies took place in this world, but it was a world that we are already familiar with. The Matrix - Real World dialectic had been established - the story was now ascendant.

Revolutions continues to be laden with references and allusions to the major religions and philosophies as well as many classic literary works. But I think two of the major themes were brought together in Revolutions resulting in the somewhat ambiguous ending that was, nonetheless, very satisfying. Neo is finally able to break out of the great cycle of "The Ones," a cycle taken from several eastern religions. And upon breaking that cycle, he fulfills his other role as savior - a role taken directly from Judeo-Christian tradition.

Even though this movie is heavy (critics might say freighted) with philosophical implications, there are, of course, some incredible action scenes. The fight to save Zion is incredible - and physically exhausting. And there is the final, apocalyptic fight between Neo and Agent Smith who has reached a zenith (perhaps nadir) of sneering malevolence. There are plenty of little twists and turns, so you have to really pay attention amid the effects, explosions and incredible fight choreography.

So, where am I going with this? Just here: go see "The Matrix Revolutions." It will answer many of the questions posed by the first two movies. But be warned, unlike most of today's movies that wrap up so neatly at the end, be prepared to leave with some new, unanswered questions.

Gas Prices to Decline - in Iraq

From this morning's Wall Street Journal:

The Army Corps of Engineers will be terminating Halliburton subsidiary KBR's no-bid contract for fuel in Iraq. The Corps has spent over $6 million per day in fuel costs under the plan where KBR was charging around $2.69/gallon to the government. The spot price for gas in the Gulf area is around $0.65/gallon.

Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, says the company only recovers "a few cents on the dollar" for the importing of fuel into Iraq. "It is expensive to purchase, ship and deliver fuel into a wartime situation, especially when you are limited by short-duration contracting," she said. "It is not as simple as dropping by a service station for a fill-up."
However, enterprising Iraqis are importing fuel from neighboring states and selling - for a profit - in the $0.75/gallon range. Something's not adding up here - other than Halliburton's profits.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Lie

Nicholas Kristof shares some interesting news from John Zogby; you know - of the eponymous Zogby Polls. Cheney and Shrub have famously touted results supposedly taken from a Zogby Poll in Iraq. Turns out that the numbers issued by ShrubCo. are not exactly... how to put this... accurate.

Mr. Cheney has cited a Zogby International poll to back his claim that there is "very positive news" in Iraq. But the pollster, John Zogby, told me, "I was floored to see the spin that was put on it; some of the numbers were not my numbers at all."

Mr. Cheney claimed that Iraqis chose the U.S. as their model for democracy "hands down," and he and other officials say that a majority want American troops to stay at least another year. In fact, Mr. Zogby said, only 23 percent favor the U.S. democratic model, and 65 percent want the U.S. to leave in a year or less.

"I am not willing to say they lied," Mr. Zogby said. "But they used a very tight process of selective screening, and when they didn't get what they wanted they were willing to manufacture some results. . . . There was almost nothing in that poll to give them comfort."
It's too bad that Zogby is not willing to say they lied. Because they did. Through their teeth.

And as usual, I am left asking the same question: Where is the media on this? Sure Kristof writes about it in his NYT column, but that's way back in the opinion section. You'd think something like this would be front page news; "above the fold."

Oh... it's that damned liberal media, again!

Wanted: Dead or Alive

This is in the NYT today, it's short, so here's the entire text:

Microsoft to Place Bounty on Virus Writers

Published: November 5, 2003

Filed at 10:10 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. said on Wednesday it would offer cash bounties for information on the authors of the crippling MSBlast and Sobig computer bugs.

Microsoft, joined by U.S. and international law-enforcement groups, said it would offer $250,000 apiece for information leading to the arrest of the writers of two of the costliest computer-bug outbreaks to hit the Internet.

The bugs wreaked havoc across the world in August and September, attacking computers that run on Microsoft's Windows operating system.
My home computer is an Apple, as I've said before, so viruses are not a big worry for me there. Unfortunately, at work I use an IBM Thinkpad. Virus protection is a big deal, not just from the havoc it could wreak but because of all the work and expense our IT department has to go through keeping virus protection up to date.

Maybe this is long past due. Of course the reward is for information leading to the arrest, but I know some IT folks who wouldn't mind adding the "dead or alive" clause.

Hiding the Dead - 2

The Headline for this article in the NYT is "Issue for Bush: How to Speak of Casualties?"

But it really ought to be: "Issue for Bush: Speak of the Casualties!"

As Commander-in-Chief aWol (who would ever put those two terms side-by-side without such supreme irony?) has a duty to help the families of the dead and wounded AND the larger, American family get through their grief and anger. He has a duty to fully and truthfully explain to all of us why our young soldiers are dying.

Enough of the spinning and redacting and the outright lying, goddammit! Tell us the truth! NOW!

Erosion of Rights

I don't think anything illustrates the plight of the Bill of Rights during this administration like the wholesale violations of due process for detainees after 9/11. The rights denied these prisoners are basic - in the original usage - like freedom of speech, assembly and the press.

Secret trials, sealed case files, redacted filings, no representation and military tribunals. Sounds like something from the Soviet Gulag, no? And yet they all happened here, under the direction of BushCo and especially John Ashcroft. The Wall Street Journal has a good article this morning about a case that will actually reach the Supreme Court this year. Read the whole article here (subscription required), but a couple of things are worth quoting in this post:

"His appeal has reached the Supreme Court, only there is little written evidence that his case exists. Lower courts sealed all the legal filings, as well as the records of how his case was handled. The proceedings were held in secret."
"M.K.B.'s appeal includes blank page after blank page, where the ruling would have been. The nine justices will be able to see all the information that is being withheld from the public.

"The fact that someone can be held like this, and there be no trail of the existence of the case is mind-boggling," said Michael Greenberger, a counterterrorism expert and former senior official in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration."
Knowledge about these detentions is hard to come by and what little makes it into the press is usually spun so far to the right that it is virtually meaningless anyway. The lapdog press regurgitates the administration line and so it becomes the accepted wisdom.

It's true that some of the detainees were illegal aliens, some were legally here. But don't let those facts dissuade you from wondering if citizens' rights will be the next to be abridged; can you say "Patriot Act?"

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

On My Reading List

I've been meaning to post about watching "Bowling for Columbine." I finally got around to watching Michael Moore's movie about two weeks ago - even though it's been on my "list of movies to see" since it came out.

But, I'm not going to get to that just yet. I will however say that I have great respect for Moore and his ambush techniques; as well as "Bowling."

I've added his latest book, "Dude, Where's My Country" to my reading list. I know, in a general way, what it's about and it should be, like "Bowling," interesting, funny and most of all thought provoking. No... and most of all irritating to those in the thrall of aWol and his merry band.

Moore also gets props from me for this:

"On his international book tour, the author of “Dude, Where’s My Country?” was asked what he thought of Americans. “They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet ... in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks,” he replied. “We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know about anything that’s happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing.”

Hiding the Dead

Thanks to a comment thread at Eschaton, I bring you this article from the Toronto Star.

Now, the Star is not the Globe & Mail (Canada's equivalent of the New York Times) and Torontonians often make fun of this paper. But can you even imagine one of our great "national" papers - say the NYT or the Washington Post - printing an article containing this?

"Americans have never seen any of the other 359 bodies returning from Iraq. Nor do they see the wounded cramming the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington or soldiers who say they are being treated inhumanely awaiting medical treatment at Fort Stewart, Ga.

In order to continue to sell an increasingly unpopular Iraqi invasion to the American people, President George W. Bush's administration sweeps the messy parts of war — the grieving families, the flag-draped coffins, the soldiers who have lost limbs — into a far corner of the nation's attic.

No television cameras are allowed at Dover.

Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers who gave their lives in his war on terrorism."
No, our compassionate conservative commander-in-chief has no time to spare for the very soldiers who make his imperial aspirations possible. And he has made sure that Americans don't have their dinners interrupted by disturbing pictures of flag draped coffins being repatriated through Dover Air Force Base.

Here's my comment from the thread at Eschaton:

As a commander, I had the honor and sorrow of being the "Casualty Assistance Officer" to the wife of one of my pilots who died in an aircraft crash. While unusual for the commander to do this duty, it was at the request of the family, with whom I had a close relationship.

I can tell you that there is nothing more humbling than to help these families through their sorrow and through the endless red tape that any large organization like the Army has set up around events like this. My main point is that going through something like this provides a very different perspective on the things that we do (did) everyday in the military.

Everyone in the military has a certain, necessary facade of bravado, without which it would be too difficult to face the daily danger and boredom. Helping a weeping widow and children chose a casket and burial site for their fallen soldier can break through the most hardened facade.

Bush needs to attend these funerals; he needs to allow press coverage of the Dover arrivals so that Americans can see the sacrifice required of their young sons and daughters. It should be mandatory that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and all the rest be there to help carry the coffins and fold the flags and comfort those left behind by dint of their decisions.

It would do them good. It would do our military policy good. And there is the smallest possibility that it would get through their small, narrow minds and their hardened hearts.

Monday, November 03, 2003

The Truth is Under [Sa]Fire in the SCLM

If you can get through the whole thing without throwing up, read Safire in today's NYT.

There are so many lies, fibs and dissembles (is that a word?) that it's hard to know where to begin. But if you got through them all, you know what I meant in that first sentence. It's sickening.

I'll see if I can get through a couple of them:

"There is no denying that the shooting down of a transport helicopter, killing 16 Americans and wounding 20, was a terrorist victory in Iraq War III. The question is: Will such casualties dishearten the U.S., embolden failuremongers and isolationists on the campaign trail, and cause Americans and our allies to cut and run?" There's that damned word again. "Terrorist." Whoever is shooting at our people in Iraq are not terrorists. Their targets are, for the most part, military. Therefore, by definition, they are not terrorists. The actions against civilian targets like the U.N. and Red Cross could rightly be considered terrorism. But Safire and Repugs lump them all together with ambushes on military convoys and shooting down helicopters. They are not the same.

"Although such a retreat under fire would be euphemized as an "accelerated exit strategy," consider the consequences to U.S. security of premature departure:

Set aside the loss of U.S. prestige or America's credibility in dealing with other rogue nations acquiring nuclear weapons."
Iraq has not been shown to have been trying to acquire nuclear weapons. How many times and how loudly must this be said? It was all a hoax. Yet, apologist that he is, Safire continues to follow the Rethug line on this one. Keep telling a lie and soon enough it is the accepted wisdom.

"Either we stay in Baghdad until Iraq becomes a unified democratic beacon of freedom to the Arab world - or we pull out too soon, thereby allowing terrorism to establish its main world sanctuary and its agents to come and get us." Again, the false dichotomy. We have more than those two choices. Where is the mention of going back to the U.N. with a real plan to share power and responsibility on rebuilding what we broke? Safire completely ignores all but the two options that make liberals and progressives out to be wimps andquitterss.

Which brings me to my final point about this piece:

"Our dovish left will say, with Oliver Hardy, "a fine mess you've got us into" - as if we created Saddam's threat, or made our C.I.A. dance to some oily imperialist tune, or would have been better off with our head in the sand. Most Americans, I think, will move past these unending recriminations, reject defeatism and support leaders determined to win the final Iraq war." Again, Safire paints the left with the broad brush of being quitters on this whole mess. Yes, I would also repeat Oliver Hardy's apropos quip. This is a "fine mess" aWol and the rest of his neocon imperialists have gotten us into. Can we doubt that BushCo, if they didn't invent the threat of Saddam, certainly they inflated it beyond the recognition of even their own CIA?

The whole piece should certainly put the final nail in the coffin of the long dead "So-Called Liberal Media." That a supposedly bastion of big city liberalism like the New York Times would publish something like this puts the lie to that long standing assertion.

From now on Safire's byline should read: William Safire (R, NY).

You Had to Know it Was Coming...

Everyone knows the news, some of the details. Everyone's seen the pictures; too blurry and pixilated to have been from very close - but the jumble of metal, the smoke - they were unmistakable. Thirty-six (final count?) soldiers on their way out of Iraq for their 2 weeks R&R had their trip cut short by a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. 16 are dead, 20 wounded.

I was out of the country this weekend so I'm not sure how this was covered by the media. The stories this morning are all about details and the "back story." All I know is how it affected me.

I've been out of the Army too long for anyone I really knew to have been on the Chinook. But I knew them anyway. Every couple of years, as young soldiers and the older, more experienced ones cycle through the units, the faces are new, but they are the same, too. Their stories, although the details are different, are the same. It's that shared experience that helps bond soldiers together even though they move in and out of units every 18 - 36 months.

As a commander and as an operations officer, I've had to make the decisions that send these young men and women into harm's way. Each time, regardless of how many times you do it, it is a difficult decision to make. That knowledge that you could end up writing that letter to someone's family was always in the back of my mind. So in some small way, I know what the immediate commanders in this case are feeling. It's a sickening feeling and humbling as well; writing that letter, making preparations for memorial services and talking to the family left behind.

What I don't know is what the politicians are feeling. Most, especially in Bush's immediate circle of advisors - and especially those most involved in promoting and running this war, have never served. Chickenhawk has been overused and much misused. Civilian authority is vested by the Constitution without regard to former military service, and we should not be so cynical to assume that it is required to make the difficult decisions in prosecuting a war. But in this instance I wonder if there are some basic human feelings missing from Bush's cadre of neocons. They have let political expediency trump humanity. Here's Rumsfeld on this weekend's tragedy:

"It's clearly a tragic day for America," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington. "In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days. But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated." A White House statement expressed grief for the loss "of all brave men and women in the military and elsewhere who pay the ultimate sacrifice to make the world safer and better."
These kinds of "tragic days" may be necessary in a war that makes America and world safer. But this war was never about making anyone safer. The rotating reason-for-war-of-the-day leave no doubt that this was a war of power; the neocons stretching their muscles in readiness for... what?

Now that the Iraqis have found a cache of anti-aircraft missiles (they wouldn't use them unless they have several) and figured out how to use them (or found an ex-Iraqi soldier who knows how and can train them), we can expect to see more attempts to shoot down our helicopters. And as they are emboldened will their next target be a C-17 cargo aircraft, perhaps loaded with replacement soldiers, lumbering in for a landing in Baghdad?

Will this incident, despite Rumsfeld's statement, spur serious reflection by those responsible for this war? I hope so; but I remain distressingly doubtful.