Sunday, December 12, 2004

What Life is Really All About

A long walk in the snow at night. Watching the flakes come down, swirling in the street lights and the headlights of passing cars.

The blush of warmth as you step inside.

A glass of very good chardonnay.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Sometimes it's the very small and simple things that mean so much; that make you so very glad to be here; to be alive.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Let Them Eat Armor

It's fun watching Rummy twisting in the wind, isn't it? Even Bush, according to the media anyway, "sided" with the soldier who put Rumsfeld on the spot.

Actually I'm surprised the question made it through the screening that the military usually does on those kinds of events. Perhaps that says something about what commanders in-country really feel about their situation.

The worst thing I've heard about this situation is that the factory that armors the Hummers is not running at anywhere near capacity. If this doesn't finally blow up in their faces...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reduced Posting Ahead

Things at work are changing a bit and I'm going to be relatively busy for the foreseeable future. I'm doing several new things - and the holidays are coming up as well - so I'm going to have much less time to post than I've had in the past couple of months. Hopefully as I settle into my new situation I'll find time to post more often.

For now, I'm not closing down The Fulcrum. It just might be a day or two between posts; or I'll try to find the time to write during the evenings. I hope you'll keep coming by and for sure I'll be reading all of my regulars as often as possible.

Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sometimes It's Better to Forget

As a cadet at West Point I studied military history every year. We absorbed the lessons of warfare from The Peloponnesus to Viet Nam. World War II took up a great portion of our studies, not so much for the lessons that old-style warfare could teach us - although there were many of those - but for the changes that war wrought on our world and their long-lasting effects.

This past week or so has brought the anniversaries of two great events in WWII; The Battle of the Bulge - which signaled the closing act in the European Western Front; and the attack on Pearl Harbor. On Monday's local Public Radio broadcast, an interviewer was speaking with veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and today, discussions of Pearl Harbor were everywhere. I saw countless pictures of veterans, well into their dotage, standing as tall as possible with their ribbons and their old uniforms draped over gaunt frames.

All of the coverage was aimed at preserving the memory of those times and those battles and although all wars have their horrors and their atrocities on all sides, it really was the "last good war." If there can be said to be such a thing. As I looked at the wrinkled and wizened faces of these veterans and thought of our newest veterans, I had a thought that was, perhaps, terrible - or maybe just one that shouldn't be spoken aloud while fervently wished for.

What if, I thought, when the last of these veterans have had Taps played for them, we forgot about their war?

Not literally of course; history will see to that. But many of these men and their sons and grandsons have had a profound impact on our government and on our foreign policy. They have made those decisions in the light of their memories of World War II. But the experience of those who've fought since then is different. Certainly nobody would call either Korea or Viet Nam a "good war." And while Gulf War I went quickly and relatively painlessly (at least for our side), certainly nobody will come away from our current debacle in Iraq with fond memories.

Maybe, when these old men are gone, then we can begin the process of developing a more realistic, a more adult view of warfare and the horrors it imposes on the world. Perhaps as the memories fade into the pages of history books, the more recent memories, seared into a new generation or two will hold sway over our public psyche. It might be only then that Americans can truly learn the lessons that even the ancient Greeks knew. War is hell.

The Beatings Will Continue...

...Until Morale Increases.

Seems that we're all getting tired of working more hours, doing more jobs all for less pay so that our companies can book more to the bottom line.

The productivity of America’s workers grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the slowest pace in nearly two years, the government reported Tuesday.
Or as a certain Red Queen might have said:

"...it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

CIA: Iraq F.U.B.A.R.

Baghdad Station Chief agrees with me.

The classified cable — sent last month by the CIA’s station chief in Baghdad after the completion of a one-year tour of duty there — painted a bleak picture of Iraq’s politics, economics and security and reiterated briefings by Michael Kostiw, a senior CIA official, according to the Times.
And as usual, the CIA's assessment - from the ground - differs from BushCo.'s - from The White House and other, secure, unspecified locations.

The assessments are more pessimistic than the Bush administration’s portrayal of the situation to the public, government officials told the newspaper.
The truth is so damned inconvenient...

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Halt! Who Goes There?

On the weekends, I tend to read a few blogs - when I get the chance - but not to write any posts. No matter how badly things are going in the world, up to a certain point, there are some things that matter more than others. Time with my wife and resting up from the last week being high on that list.

But this weekend, something a little odd has happened. Yesterday, Saturday, I got more hits than any other day of the past week; something that never happens. I also got hits from some unusual places. Anyway, I don't have any idea why. Perhaps it was just coincidence, or maybe some folks just had nothing better to do than to stop by here.

Whatever the reason: hello to you all. Leave a comment or two to let me know where you've come from and how you found The Fulcrum.

Oh, and happy weekend!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fascism by Degrees

I could never before imagine reading something like this about my country:

U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of foreigners as enemy combatants are allowed to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to keep them imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government conceded in court Thursday.
And there is no way in hell I would have ever thought that someone in my government would make the following argument:

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon asked if a detention would be illegal if it were based solely on evidence gathered by torture, because "torture is illegal. We all know that."

[Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General] Boyle replied that if the military’s combatant status review tribunals (or CSRTs) "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause (of the Constitution) prohibits them from relying on it."
If that last sentence doesn't send a chill down your spine, you're dead. That motherf***er just said that the Constitution of our United States has nothing to say about using information gained by torture - "evidence of questionable provenance." Nice euphemism.

If I could get my hands on Mr. Boyle, I'd fold up a copy of the Constitution until it was all sharp corners then shove it right up his ass.

No Joy in Job-ville

Our "robust recovery" keeps right on rolling. Unless you're a member of the Reality Based Community, that is. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) says job growth wasn't so great last month:

U.S. employers sharply slowed the pace of hiring in November, surprising Wall Street and rekindling worries about the strength of the economic recovery.

Nonfarm payrolls grew by only 112,000 jobs last month after a revised 303,000 increase in October, the Labor Department said Friday. That was the weakest gain in five months, and well short of the 200,000 jobs economists had expected, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC. Just before the report was released, traders were pegging the increase at 220,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percentage point to a three-month low of 5.4%, as expected.

In its revision, the government said employers created 54,000 fewer jobs in September and October than previously thought. Employers added 119,000 jobs in September and 303,000 in October, down from previous estimates of 139,000 and 337,000, respectively.

Economists say the economy needs to generate at least 125,000 jobs a month just to keep up with new entrants into the work force. The average since August of 2003, when employers resumed hiring after a long slump, has been slightly above that threshold at 152,000.
And don't be fooled by that dropping unemployment rate number, many economists feel that's due to people just giving up looking for work right now. So, if you got a job, hold onto it like a lifesaver in rough seas. And if you're wondering why it seems like your income just isn't keeping up with costs these days, you're not imagining things:

Average hourly earnings rose one cent to $15.83 in November. In annual terms, earnings increased 2.4%. The average work week shrank for the first time since August, declining six minutes to 33.7 hours.
With anything related to petroleum rising at double digit rates and many food items going up that 2.4% increase is, in reality, a pay cut.

Oh, and don't those extra six minutes every week really feel good?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hearts and Minds? Check!

The residents of Fallujah, when the military finally lets them back into their now destroyed city, are really just going to love us. No, really.

Nor is it clear that the city's residents will favor the Americans over their enemies. Last week, Hamid Humood, a 38-year-old cigarette seller who had stayed in the city during the battle, was one of those seeking American food and water at the Hadra mosque.

"They are all liars, the government and the Americans," Mr. Humood said. "The mujahedeen didn't hurt us. They helped us."
F.U.B.A.R.

Need I say more?

They Knew...

Steve Bates, The Yellow Doggerel Democrat, in a comment on this blog, stated that he hoped Bush would be "disgraced in front of the American public" like Nixon and forced to leave office. He also resurrected the term "high crimes and misdemeanors." There are so many things which could potentially blow up to give Steve his wish, but the situation in Iraq seems to be the one thing with the most potential.

The lies that got us there, the incompetent planning for the post-war period, the no-bid contracts to Halliburton, GITMO and abu Ghraib; they are all just ticking time bombs in Bush's second term.

Today, MSNBC has a report that could speed up the ticking of one of those bombs:

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.

[snip]

The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.

[snip]

Herrington asked the officer [the officer in charge of a secret detention facility in Baghdad] whether he had alerted his superiors to the problem, and the officer replied: "Everyone knows about it."
And there's the rub, no? Everyone knows about it. Since this was a joint CIA - Army mission, at the very least, the Secretary of the Army and the Director of the CIA knew about this. These kinds of things are not just thrown together by even the Theater Commander. It's likely that the Secretary of Defense knew about it as well. And if Rummy knew...

Tick tick tick tick tick...

Hard Headed

But not hard enough.

I owned a motorcycle for about 7 years. During most of that time I lived in California where the weather is just about always perfect for a bike ride. Trips up and down Highway 1 along the coast were always beautiful and I might see anything from eagles to whales to topless sunbathers. One thing I never - ever - considered (the law notwithstanding) was riding without my helmet.

Much of my family is in police work and I've spent many hours on the road with them. I've seen what happens to the human body when it meets an unyielding surface like asphalt or concrete. I've taken a few physics and engineering courses so I understand things like acceleration, kinetic energy and torque which helps me understand just why people are injured and killed in accidents. Understandably, I have very little sympathy for these morons (WSJ - subscription):

Over nearly three decades, bikers have pushed successfully to weaken or eliminate helmet laws in 29 states. Most of that activity came in the 1970s, but recently, bikers have been active again. Since 1997, five states, including Texas, have repealed laws requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. The other four are Florida -- which, like Texas, is a major biker haven -- and Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. Federal statistics show that, on average, in the years after the recent legislative changes, helmet use dropped, and motorcycle deaths increased.
They use the usual arguments against "big government" and riders making responsible choices, but despite their successes over the years, they remain unpersuasive, except to weak-spined politicians. When those politicians give in, here's what happens:

In the six years since Texas repealed its law in 1997, the annual rate has jumped nearly 30%, to an average 10.95 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles, compared with an average of 8.46 deaths for the two years prior to the repeal. In Kentucky, the average rate has jumped to 9.9 in the five years since its 1998 repeal, up 55% compared with the average for the two years before.

In Florida, in the three years since repeal, the rate is up 21%, to 8.94, compared with the two-year average prior to the repeal. Last year, 358 motorcyclists died in Florida. That is just 10 fewer deaths than occurred in California, the largest motorcycling state, which has 43% more registered motorcycles than Florida. California has a mandatory helmet law.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths rose 12% in 2003, to 3,661. That is the sixth straight year motorcycle deaths have risen. Twelve percent is the largest annual increase since 1988. The national fatality rate increased 4.4%, to 6.82 deaths per 10,000 motorcycles, the highest such figure since 1990. That rate is four-and-a-half times as high as the auto-fatality rate.

The jump in motorcycle deaths in 2003 came in a year when total highway fatalities dropped, federal statistics show. Alcohol-related fatalities fell 3%, to 17,013, and deaths of passengers not wearing seatbelts fell 6.5%, to 18,019. Federal officials attribute those declines to states passing tougher seatbelt and drunk-driving laws.
Riders who advocate repealing mandatory helmet laws will say that it's their choice about whether or not to protect themselves. And while the choice may be theirs, often the choice of who pays for their stupidity when they have an accident is no choice at all. Those riders without adequate catastrophic medical coverage - and every encounter between brain-pan and asphalt is catastrophic - are treated and the costs are spread to either the tax payers or to other insurance payers. That is; you and me.

I know this is a bit off of my usual topics, but it's one that never fails to really tick me off. Mostly because I can't abide stupid people, but also because it affects my wallet. Putting the two together is the perfect way to get me going...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

White House Perp Walk

It's liable to stay just a dream, but first Canada considers whether they could arrest Bush when he arrives today and now Germany (WSJ - subscription) is considering whether to accept a request - on behalf of former detainees - for a prosecutor to investigate whether Rummy and other US officials are culpable for war crimes committed at abu Ghraib.

The four Iraqis contend U.S. authorities have failed to review whether superiors bear criminal responsibility for the abuse at the prison that was disclosed this year. Several U.S. investigations of the scandal have cited failures of leadership in general terms, but so far, only low-ranking soldiers have been charged or convicted.
In reality, there's every possibility that this will go nowhere, but the fact remains that our President and his closest advisors draw the attention of prosecutors wherever they go in the world. That's a far cry from the reception that Clinton got when he traveled the world...

Monday, November 29, 2004

What Were They Thinking?

If you've wondered about the possible reasons why BushCo. have suggested cutting the business tax exemption for health insurance premiums, Paperwight just may have the answer for you.

Before you go, make sure you're not eating or drinking anything. His post is liable to cause you to either snort whatever you have down the wrong way or to spew it all over your monitor and keyboard.

And if you've never followed my blogroll link to Paperwight's Fair Shot, this is a great opportunity to find another great voice in the blogosphere.

The Rich Get Richer

And you know the rest of that old saying. Seems it's more true now than in many years. The weekend after Thanksgiving has traditionally been big for Christmas shoppers; many stores didn't move into profitability until after that weekend.

In the Bush economy, only some people are able to help move the economy along and it shows by which stores did well over the "Black Friday weekend." From this morning's Wall Street Journal:

Near-record crowds turned out for the holiday shopping season's Thanksgiving weekend kickoff, bringing with them unexpectedly robust sales gains to many malls and retail chains across the country.

Except, surprisingly, at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

[snip]

...J.C. Penney Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. also remained cautious about overall holiday sales, despite dazzling customer turnout.
But if you know where BushCo. has concentrated their tax cuts and their loopholes and their attention, you won't be surprised by the stores and the products that did well this past weekend.

High-end retailers continued their months-long streak of strong sales. Joanne Teichman, owner of Ylang-Ylang, a Dallas jewelry boutique, said Friday's sales were 20% ahead of the same day a year ago. "At the higher-end designer brands, there is no price resistance," she said.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, a unit of Saks Inc., demand was hot for brooches, fur-trimmed capes and mufflers and a Dolce & Gabbana snakeskin handbag and coordinating zodiac-sign buckle. The handbag and buckle sell separately for $1,095 and $480, respectively. "We're having real trouble keeping them in stock," said Ron Frasch, chief merchant. "We bought a lot of it, but we will definitely sell out."
Bush's rich business backers and their families will be having lavish Christmases this year, but all those red-state, rural, values voters will have to make do with less. And all of us Democrats, too.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

My Favorite Season

While I like Thanksgiving and all that it stands for - see my post below - it's that period after Thanksgiving, through to the new year that I love most of all.

There are so many things to like about what has come to be known as "The Holiday Season." There are the lights - whether a Menora or a Christmas tree - that seem to warm the whole world, if you're in the North there's the possibility of snow that quiets even the noisiest city to a whisper, and there are gifts and candies and parties.

Best of all in this season, though, is how suddenly strangers will say hello or wish you a "happy holidays!" families gather together and the world seems, despite the colder weather, to be so much warmer and friendlier.

So, following the example set by Saintperle, who just couldn't keep up the non-stop critique of BushCo. through the holidays without also injecting a little hope and warmth and happiness into the season with a wonderful recipe, I thought I'd make it a point, between now and New Year's Day, to bring a little peace and beauty into the political discourse. I like to cook, too, but my contribution will be images. Images of the season, seen from my little corner of the world. Images that I hope will make you think just a little about what's really important.

My wife and I, every year on the day after Thanksgiving, rather than joining the mad rush to the stores, spend the whole day together decorating for Christmas. This year was no different and at the end of the day, before stopping for a glass of wine, I stopped to take a quick photo of our living room:

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful for my wonderful wife, my family, my home and my health. Anything beyond that is nice, but it's those things that make me happy.

At a time when American and coalition troops are patrolling, fighting and dying in Iraq for no good reason, we should all keep them in out thoughts. They will have their turkey amid the dust and cold of the Iraq desert. They will have to rotate through a chow line knowing they will have to go back out on patrol in the evening and knowing that their friends and comrades are in harms way. So as you sit down to your table for dinner or to your TV for parades or football, remember them.

If you stop by here today, thank you and I hope that you have at least one thing to be thankful for. Please leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Spewing Spending Spin

It's hard to believe that anyone would have the "gonadal fortitude" to say this, much less the miscreants who pushed this package. Says Joshua Bolten, director of the OMB:

With Congress's completion of its work on the 2005 budget this week, President Bush and Congressional leaders have achieved a significant victory in the battle for spending discipline in Washington.
It is on the Wall Street Journal OpEd page, so you'd expect a little hyperbole.

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

The Bush administration has had some really bad ideas in the past four years. And I had no doubt that we'd see plenty more in the next four. I just really didn't expect to see something this bad (WSJ; subscription) so quickly.

Pentagon officials have drafted a secret order telling U.S. Special Forces to be prepared to conduct clandestine operations against terror groups, many with ties to al Qaeda in the Middle East and Asia, according to military and civilian officials.

[snip]

If adopted, the Pentagon document would lay the groundwork for special-forces operations against terror groups in countries where the military hasn't been active, possibly including missions in nations friendly to the U.S., officials said. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides want special-operations troops to have greater involvement in jobs traditionally handled by the CIA. The missions under consideration range from intelligence gathering to apprehending individual terrorists to lethal attacks, people involved said.
It's pretty much assumed that if you have disagreements with a country (and often, even if you don't), there will be spooks from your intelligence agencies trying to figure out what's going on. These professionals are trained and their agencies are set up so that the US maintains a level of diplomatic and legal deniability in these operations. It would seem to me to be an entirely different situation if you have members of the military snooping around, kidnapping or killing people in another country.

While spies and agents are reasons for diplomatic complaints and expulsions, isn't the presence of military operatives a casus belli?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Busy...

Today was nuts!

I hope you clicked through to some of those great blogs on the right.

More tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2004

No Politics Here...

If you want a clear picture of how BushCo. politicized the situation in Iraq prior to the elections you only have to read this article on MSNBC carefully.

First, notice that now the election is over, it's okay to start talking about how more troops are needed on the ground. This discussion is couched in terms of continuing to press the "insurgents" now that the battle in Fallujah is over, but if comments about having "broken the back" of the insurgency could be taken at face value, then why would more troops be needed? Now that the election is safely past and Bush has no fear of being held responsible by voters for just how FUBAR Iraq has become, he is free to ramp up troop strength:

The officers said the exact number of extra troops needed is still being reviewed but estimated it at the equivalent of several battalions, or about 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq fell to nearly 100,000 last spring before rising to 138,000, where it has stayed since the summer.

To boost the current level, military commanders have considered extending the stay of more troops due to rotate out shortly, or accelerating the deployment of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is scheduled to start in January. But a third option—drawing all or part of a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division on emergency standby in the United States—has emerged as increasingly likely.
Second, while it was perfectly okay to "telegraph" our intentions in Fallujah, but hold off from executing the attack - again so that no ugly pictures would interfere with the Bush campaign's rosy depiction of progress in Iraq - it is now not okay to do so.

In discussing battle plans, commanders here did not want to telegraph the areas U.S. forces might be focusing on for their next offensives. But some of the potential targets can easily be discerned by mapping the locations of attacks on U.S. forces, including areas in or around the restive cities of Mosul, Ramadi, Baqubah, Samarra and Baghdad.
Most disturbing of all in reading this article is that is seems that some key lessons that should have been learned are being ignored. The first is that drawing on the emergency reserves - that brigade of the 82d Airborne Division - could leave the military even more short-handed than it already is to deal with military flare-ups in another part of the world. The second is that it seems that BushCo. is not finished "misunderestimating" the insurgents:

At the same time, officers cautioned against expecting anything on the scale of Fallujah, which involved more than 10,000 U.S. troops and about 2,500 Iraqi forces.

“They’re not going to be big operations like Fallujah, because there’s no place else in Iraq where the situation is like what it was there,” one commander said.
Not yet... not yet.

No Body Counts

Perhaps taking their cue from BushCo.'s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, big businesses are unable to account for the number of jobs lost to outsourcing among the number of employees laid off in any quarter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been attempting to provide a public count of jobs lost to outsourcing, but more and more, the answer they are getting from companies is "we don't know." From this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription):

In its latest report, published last week, the BLS could say only that 16,091 workers were laid off because of job relocations in the third quarter. It couldn't say how many jobs had shifted within the U.S. or were shipped overseas.

In 13 of the 95 cases involving job relocations during the third quarter, "the employer could not say anything beyond, 'I laid off 100 people in this layoff. I did move work, but I can't tell you how many of these 100 were due to the movement of work to X, Y and Z,' " says Lewis Siegel, who directs the BLS's mass-layoffs statistics program. The bureau concluded that that proportion was too high to provide a "meaningful" count.
There just is no doubt that these companies not only know this count, but they know - to the penny - how much they are saving by moving jobs offshore. There is nothing that businesses do - perhaps other than some mom & pop shops - that is not analyzed from every angle.

But is there really any incentive for the BLS, a part of the Bush Administration, don't forget, to get to the real numbers here? Is there any incentive for the businesses interviewed to give up the real answers? So long as more money flows to the bottom line, where it can be showered on obscenely paid executives and on pliant politicians, you can rest assured that the answers to both of those questions is "no."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Watching Clinton

All my wife and I could say last night, while watching Peter Jennings talk with Bill Clinton, was "man... I really miss him." The comparisons with Bush are immediate and unavoidable; here is a man who has a genuine warmth and a broad and deep intelligence. This was a man worthy of the office.

ABC's web site has a synopsis of the interview, but - unsurprisingly, I suppose - doesn't include the part of the interview where he slams the media and, pointing at Jennings, specifically ABC for aiding and abetting Republicans in the long smear of the Clintons. It was a classic Clinton moment.

As you would expect, Jennings steered the conversation in a different direction after that.

"Man, I really miss him..."

What Is Left to Say?

As I posted on Tuesday, regardless of what we do in Iraq now, we've lost in the long run. But do we really have to make it worse?

Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. soldiers, stormed one of the major Sunni Muslim mosques in Baghdad after Friday prayers, opening fire and killing at least three people, witnesses said.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Shopping For Health Care

Have you really thought about what health care might be like should Bush be able to get his plan enacted? Something I saw the other night got me thinking about it...

The piece I saw said that Bush's health savings accounts would mean that we'd all be responsible for the cost and use of our health care dollars. The reporter and Peter Jennings opined that would likely mean that people would skimp on preventative care, trying to keep lots of money in their accounts for later use. This would, of course, result in more trips to the emergency room which is much more costly in both the short and long run.

What really caught my attention was that there would be incentive to "shop around for the best price on medical care."

I don't know about everyone out there, but when I'm sick I really don't feel like calling around to find out which doctor's got the lowest price on an office call. If my doctor thinks I need lab work done, I don't want to have to take even more time from work to call around to different labs to find out who's got a sale on blood work that week.

Besides not wanting to shop around when I'm sick or when I'm afraid I might be, what the hell do I know about determining which lab has the best equipment or provides the most accurate tests? Just how am I supposed to know how to balance an inexpensive office call fee with expert care? For more complicated or more urgent medical work, am I supposed to take the time - would I even have the strength or the mental wherewithal - to shop around for an MRI or an endo-scopic exam? How do I judge the worth of one course of chemotherapy over another?

This idea of owning your health care sounds wonderful. If we were all doctors with the knowledge and experience to make such incredibly important decision in times of high emotion and stress, it might work. Maybe. But there are some things that are too important to trust to "the market." This remains among the worst ideas ever floated before the American public. I hope Bush's marketization of medical care dies a quick and quiet death.

New Title Available for Bush

North Korea's state media on Wednesday broke with the rigid codes it employs in referring to Kim, dropping the highest honorific title of "great leader" from a report on his visit to a military base. Although the term was again picked up in later broadcasts, it marked the first such omission in coverage of an official Kim event since he inherited the title from his late father -- North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung -- a decade ago, according to Japan-based Radiopress Inc. which monitors North Korea's official media.
Read more, here.

Walking in Circles

I'm sure I recognize these footprints, I know I've seen this rock before.

The United States has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, further evidence that the Islamic republic is determined to acquire a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday.

Separately, an Iranian opposition exile group charged in Paris that Iran is enriching uranium at a secret military facility unknown to U.N. weapons inspectors. Iran has denied seeking to build nuclear weapons.

[snip]

Powell appears to be saying the Iranians are working very hard on this capability," Cirincione said. He said Powell's comments were striking because the International Atomic Energy Agency said this week that it had not seen any information that Iran had conducted weapons-related work.
Is it just me or have we been here before?

Wall Street Journal: "Cheney" the Geneva Conventions

I posted yesterday that the WSJ had completely ignored the reality of Fallujah in its editorial pages by leaving out any account of the Marine(s) shooting unarmed, wounded "insurgents" inside a mosque. Well, they finally got around to talking about that incident in an editorial today.

If you can believe these idiots, here is the first paragraph (subscription):

Some 40 Marines have just lost their lives cleaning out one of the world's worst terror dens, in Fallujah, yet all the world wants to talk about is the NBC videotape of a Marine shooting a prostrate Iraqi inside a mosque. Have we lost all sense of moral proportion?
Despite saying later that we let most of the insurgents get away for "humanitarian purposes," Fallujah was still, apparently, "one of the world's worst terror dens." And this somehow absolves our soldiers of all duties to obey the laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and of the United States. Both of which require soldiers to comply with the Geneva Conventions.

When not disemboweling Iraqi women, these killers hide in mosques and hospitals, booby-trap dead bodies, and open fire as they pretend to surrender. Their snipers kill U.S. soldiers out of nowhere. According to one account, the Marine in the videotape had seen a member of his unit killed by another insurgent pretending to be dead. Who from the safety of his Manhattan sofa has standing to judge what that Marine did in that mosque?
Ignore the snide remark that makes it seem that only folks sitting on their (expensive)"Manhattan sofa[s]" could be outraged by this behavior. We all have the standing to judge this Marine. He, along with all his superiors - right up the empty flight suit in the Oval Office - work for us. We expect them, regardless of their situations, to obey the laws and standards that make us (made? are we past that?) the beacon of hope and justice in the world.

It is, in the end, The Wall Street Journal, and anyone who supports their view of this event, who have abdicated the moral position that we should proudly occupy, that raises us above those whom we fight - whether or not we ought to be there. This soldier, and any others who broke the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, ought to be judged by all of us. And we should take that responsibility, to ourselves, to our soldiers and to the world, very seriously.

The Wall Street Journal, obviously, does not.

Republicans to Students: "Go Cheney Yourself"

Remember the debates? Remember how on so many subjects, the only thing that Bush could dredge out of his addled brain was education? It seemed to be the solution to everything from well... education to air pollution.

Guess what's the first thing to get cut in the budget proposals going before Congress - as they work to raise the federal debt ceiling by $800 billion?

Republicans in Congress neared agreement on a year-end budget bill that would dramatically slow the growth in federal support for education and nondefense scientific research to meet strict spending targets set by the White House.
While they're screwing over students, they might as well blow off scientific research. I mean those damned scientists are mostly atheists anyway, and none of the things they discover ever support what it says in the bible.

So yeah. "Cheney" them too.

Goodbye to Employer Provided Health Insurance?

If BushCo. get their way in a second term and is able to push through their tax plans, many of us who get our health insurance subsidized through our employers may be looking on the open market. Note the sentence I've highlighted in the paragraph below from this morning's Washington Post:

Instead the administration plans to push major amendments that would shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation, expand tax breaks for business investment and take other steps intended to simplify the system and encourage economic growth, according to several people who are advising the White House or are familiar with the deliberations.

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers said.
Hat tip to Atrios for the link.

So much for Health Savings Accounts being "voluntary," eh? Notice, too, all the sops to big business in the first paragraph. Not that there was any doubt, but there you have BushCo.'s true constituency. If you ever drank the "compassionate-conservative" kool-aid and thought the Republicans cared about what happens to you or me, this should finally disabuse you of the notion.

Welcome to the birth of USA, Inc.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Seeing Through the Red to the Hope

If you've heard of or read the Washington Post series about Michael Shackleford, a young, gay man living in Oklahoma, you'll want to read this.

There are times when people can give you hope that all is not lost in our country.

Florida Voting Problems?

There are some interesting things going on in Florida... still.

Via dKos, we find out that Bev Harris and her Black Box Voting folks have been looking very hard at results from certain precincts in Florida. The results have been not only some questionable results in vote tabulations, but some very hostile reactions from (Republican, of course) voting officials.

Read the diary entry here. Scroll down to see the latest from Bev.

There can be only one question here, and it should be asked of every Republican in office and that you know. When you ask, there should be no allowances for bluster or dissembling. Tell them to just answer the fucking question:

Why don't Republicans want every vote counted?

Denial

It's not just a river in Egypt.

Not surprisingly, the editors of the Wall Street Journal are still not reading their own paper nor, apparently, anyone else's. In an editorial this morning, they scoff at the very idea that our actions in Fallujah could possibly do anything other than keeping freedom on the march. They dismiss out of hand the possibility that the violence and destruction visited on Fallujah - and soon on other cities - could possibly encourage other Iraqis to take up arms against the US and Iraqi forces.

So coalition forces strike the city of Fallujah, and Iraqi insurgents respond by attacking in Mosul, Baquba, Kirkuk and Suweira. This, we now hear, proves that the more insurgents the U.S. kills, the stronger the insurgency grows. Call it the Obi-Wan Kenobi school of international relations: Strike him down, and he'll only become more powerful.

In real warfare, of course, killing the enemy means there are fewer enemies to kill. And in one week in Fallujah, and at the cost of some 40 American soldiers' lives and several Iraqi ones, about 1,200 insurgents were killed and another 1,000 taken prisoner. The insurgents have been denied their principal sanctuary. Their torture chambers -- a stark indication of what they intend for all of Iraq if they're allowed to prevail -- lie exposed.
Note that they even drag out that old bogeyman from Saddam's day: "torture chambers." So removed from the reality of the situation are the editors that they have not yet come to accept that we are an occupying force - note the quotation marks below;

Beyond whatever tactics the Iraqi insurgents may employ, their strategy is to convince Americans that there is no bottom; that their cause enjoys huge popular support; that it feeds off the resentments that "occupation" inevitably engenders; and that it can go on undeterred by whatever damage U.S. forces inflict.
Finally, exhibiting what is coming to be typical conservative behavior, they completely ignore events that have a profound effect on the topic at hand so that they don't have to change their minds given changing information. You know: "flip-flopping." There is not a word to be found in the editorial about the video of marines shooting wounded POWs inside a mosque in Fallujah. They acknowledge neither the event nor the profound - and negative - effect that action is likely to have on the situation.

It's no surprise, as I said. But it is instructive.

No Train Under the Tree?

I remember my first train set - anyone who had one probably does. It was a starter set that my grandmother bought me when I was about 10 or so. I remember setting it up in her basement; I remember how the track pieces snapped together, how I would carefully hook up the wires from the transformer to the track and then set the cars onto the track. The set had just enough track to make an oval or a small figure-eight, but I can still remember the sounds and the slight ozone smell as the train ran around the track.

Unlike many people, I never had a train in later years to put under my Christmas tree. I always wanted to get one, but other things took priority or I wasn't going to be at home during the holidays. Now of course, getting a scale train set, even a starter set, is pretty expensive: $800 to $1,000. Especially if you want a Lionel set - and really, when you think of trains, what other name comes to mind?

Well, it seems I may not get the chance now. In fact, nobody may get the chance after this year. Seems that Lionel has had to file for bankruptcy, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription). And while filing for protection allows them to continue manufacturing and selling product for now, there is no guarantee that they will come out of bankruptcy.

There are other companies that make trains beside Lionel. But for those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, the loss of this brand would be the loss of one more memorable icon from our childhoods. That would be sad indeed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's Over

If there were any hope of salvaging our efforts in Iraq before, this should destroy it. We could stay for the next hundred years or pack up and leave tomorrow; it would not matter.

Destroying Fallujah in order to save it was not bad enough. Blasting mosques to rubble was not bad enough (regardless of the necessity). No, none of that was so horrible that we could not overcome it - eventually. A marine killing an unarmed, wounded "insurgent" inside a mosque while being filmed by an embedded TV crew; there is just no way for BushCo. to talk - or fight - their way out of that one. It doesn't matter if the soldier(s) responsible and every officer in their chain of command is court martialed and hung in public, we have lost the "hearts and minds" of every Iraqi and every Muslim in the world.

It's horrible enough that our soldiers would be put into such a situation; it's even worse that the winking and nodding at abuses at abu Ghraib and GITMO and other undisclosed detention areas have created a climate where the soldiers in the field believe that this sort of thing will be overlooked. We were supposed to have learned this lesson, along with so many in Viet Nam. Every training session I ever had in the course of 10 years in the Army that dealt with enemy wounded or POWs stressed that they were to be medically treated, segregated and sent to the rear for further treatment and interrogation.

We have lost this war with a single gunshot caught on video tape.

Pack our soldiers up and ship them home, there is now less reason than ever to expend them in this horrible war of aggression.

Iraq is lost.

What Face Will We Show to the World?

Yesterday, after Colin Powell's resignation was announced, I wondered who Bush would pick to take his place. Powell had started with such high expectations, only some of which were not disappointed. He had the potential to be a true moderating force on BushCo., but was so marginalized that he wound up being almost invisible except when trotted out to sell the neocon lies about Iraq to the United Nations.

I think he was uncomfortable not only in his role as Secretary of State but also in the role of pitchman to the UN. Only history will tell if Powell knew he was presenting false data to the world or not. Apparently, he's not telling; saying there is no book deal in the works. But it's a rare public figure who can resist telling the story from their own perspective.

Much like Bush's pick for the Justice Department, there was always the probability that he would choose so as to consolidate his coterie of yes-men. So in place of Ashcroft, who was widely despised by anyone to the left of... well, to the left of Ashcroft, we got Alberto Gonzales, the author of the torture memos. So it is, then, with State. In place of the rather moderate Powell we get Bush's confidante and "honorary family member," Condi Rice.

Instead of the affable Powell, Bush has chosen Rice to represent us to the world. Condoleeza Rice; the humorless, pinch-faced woman who's whole life has been defined by such an unbalance that she's not only never been married, she's never even been known to date; hell, I've never seen her smile. But this makes perfect sense if you think of how BushCo. have treated the rest of the world during the past four years. They don't want the rest of the world to like us, they only want them to either respect us or fear us.

And so, Condoleeza Rice is the perfect "face" for this administration. You can tell just by looking at her that Condi has no time for the niceties of diplomacy. She's the perfect hit-woman to present the "your-with-us-or-your-against-us" foreign policy that is sure to be expanded during this second term.

It's like meeting company at the front door with a shotgun.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mencken Nails It

It probably took longer than he thought, though...

Via Saintperle (emphasis is mine):

"[W]hen a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental--men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... [A]ll the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre--the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

H. L. Mencken, in the Baltimore Sun,
July 26, 1920
I hope he doesn't mind that I quoted the whole thing - it was just too good to pass up. Go check out Saintperle.

Scott Peterson!!

While Bush drones on about how well things are going in Iraq, the media fills the airwaves with stories about some half-wit in California offing his pregnant wife. You could almost forgive most Americans thinking that things are going just swimmingly all around the world.

Here's what MSNBC has to say - in between Scott Peterson stories;

U.S. and Iraqi forces found themselves fighting in Baghdad, Mosul, Baqouba and other regions on Monday while in Fallujah diehard insurgents held out to the last in the week-long battle.
Can't somebody in Washington tell the empty flight suit what's really going on in Iraq? We know he doesn't read the papers, and he regularly ignores Presidential Daily Briefings that don't have pictures. So, can't the CIA send somebody over to the Oval Office and give him the real news?

Oh, wait. Porter Goss is firing everyone who doesn't wear the rose-colored BushCo. glasses or who refuses to drink the neocon Kool-Aid.

Never mind.

Another One Bites the Dust

Colin Powell, according to MSNBC, has submitted his resignation.

I had no doubt that he would, only the timing remained in doubt. With Iraq on the brink of returning to chaos, with the world still reeling in disbelief that we'd return the empty flight suit to the throne, who can blame him?

I'd say he'd be missed, but he sold his soul long ago - and really, BushCo. has been ignoring him for so long and had him hidden for so long that it would be a lie.

Those Who Do Not Learn From History...

...Are bound to repeat it.

There was an interesting piece on NPR this Saturday where Annas Shallal, a Sunni Muslim who is founder of the group Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, discussed the history of Fallujah. The things he spoke of, while well known to historians of the area, seem to be exactly those things which BushCo. either are ignorant of or have ignored.

The name Fallujah itself does not bode well for anyone thinking of subduing it; it is derived from an old local dialect and means "divided." For millennia, this area has been ruled by warlords and strongmen and has vigorously resisted outside authority. The British learned this lesson the hard way in the 1920s when insurgents in the Fallujah area were instrumental in driving them out of Iraq.

We're already hearing from "embedded reporters" and administration sources that Fallujah is occupied and nearly "pacified." Nobody's used that exact word, but you just know it's right on the tips of their tongues. But these Iraqi fighters have hundreds, if not thousands, of years of experience driving out foreigners. They have the kind of patience we cannot imagine.

During the next four years, Bush will rightly be judged on, among other things, what he does to clean up the mess he's created in Iraq. He has just the next 48 months to prepare and polish his "legacy." But compared to the centuries of history in this area 48 months passes in the blink of an eye. The insurgents will move from town to town, avoiding our grasp, melting into the local population. They will wait out whatever this short-sighted and historically blind administration does, they will scheme against the US installed government. And when Bush is long retired to his ranch, when Iyad Allawi is retired or assassinated, they will still be in Fallujah.