Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, March 11th, 2006.


Body and Soul

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Iraq War

Jeanne d’Arc has a couple of commendable posts up. This one is about the death of Tom Fox of Christian Peacemaker Teams. The CPT opposes the Iraq war and has criticized treatment of detainees in U.S. and Iraqi jails. Fox and three other CPT members were kidnapped in Iraq in November. Fox’s body was found in Baghdad Thursday morning.

Jeanne writes,

We hear so much about the horrible things Americans are doing in Iraq, and most of us respond with anger at what’s being done in our name. All of us, those who think everything can be solved with more killing, and those who know it can’t, but don’t know what else to do, desperately need to learn more about a man who didn’t just believe that violence was the wrong way, but that peacemaking was an active — and dangerous — pursuit.

As Jeanne says, most of the blog commentary on Fox’s death has come from the Right, and most of it that I saw dripped with hate and derision for Fox and everything he was trying to do. Truth be told, I started a post on Fox this morning but couldn’t finish it because the rightie commentary was too upsetting. No good can come of that much hatefulness.

The other commentary is about Ali Shalal Qaissi — the hooded man with wires attached to his body in the now iconic Abu Ghraib photo. Jeanne comments on the importance of seeing his face.

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Talking the Talk

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Bush Administration, Iraq War

Michael A. Fletcher writes in today’s Washington Post,

President Bush plans to begin a series of speeches next week again explaining the administration’s strategy for winning the war in Iraq, as the White House returns to a familiar tactic to allay growing public pessimism about the war that has helped keep the president’s approval rating near its historic low.

After previewing the upcoming speech in his radio address today, the president is scheduled to make remarks on the war at George Washington University on Monday. The appearance, which will be followed weekly by as many as four other speeches, marks the start of the White House’s latest effort to convince skeptical Americans that it has a coherent plan for victory as the war nears its third anniversary later this month.

Um, didn’t we do this before? Listen to Bush give a series of four speeches to explain the administration’s strategy for winning the war in Iraq? Like, less than four months ago? Yeah, let’s see — I live blogged the first one, and provided more commentary here, here, here, here, and probably some more places.

Does he have some new strategies, or can I just re-run the old posts? I guess we’ll find out. And why four more speeches?

President Bush claims to not be concerned about dismal poll numbers, but the White House is feeling intense concern.

The public relations offensive is being launched amid intense concern in the White House about polls showing that a growing majority of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war and harbor growing doubts about the prospects for success. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that four in five Americans believe that the ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq will mushroom into civil war. Also, more than half of those surveyed believe the United States should begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, the poll found.

Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating remains at 41 percent, virtually unchanged since January and among the lowest in his presidency.

Seriously, what do the Bushies hope to accomplish by making speeches? For that matter, what do they hope to accomplish by running Dubya around New Orleans wearing a bleeping toolbelt?

Fact is, there is something that could make a difference; something that Bush could do that might turn the bad numbers around and send them going up again.

He has to bleeping accomplish something.

It doesn’t even have to be a finished accomplishment. It can be an accomplishment in progress, but it has to be something that is undeniably actually happening. Talk and trick photography ain’t cuttin’ it no more.

For example, nobody expects New Orleans to be rebuilt in only six months. But by now we should see a coherent plan of action underway, and we should have a sense that somebody is in charge who knows what he or she is doing.

Without that, it doesn’t much matter how many times the President gets his picture taken with his sleeves rolled up. Nobody’s buying it.

Now we’re approaching the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And it doesn’t matter how many five-star generals the Bushies trot in front of a camera to say that everything’s fine. Only those with a gallon-a-day Kool-Aid habit haven’t noticed the situation in Iraq is becoming more unstable every day.

If the reverse were true, and Iraq were becoming measurably more stable, and U.S. troops withdrawals were around the corner, Bush wouldn’t need to make speeches. But without visible improvement in the situation in Iraq, all the speeches in the world won’t make any difference.

The Bushies don’t get this. In this post from December 12 I quoted a Time magazine story by Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen — no longer free content —

The plan is to make January a critical month in what the President’s aides hope will be a turning-point year. The White House expects a quick victory on Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, and the State of the Union speech will nod to big goals. But when it comes to fresh and concrete ideas, the list of what Bush will actually try to accomplish in 2006 is so modest that one bewildered Republican adviser calls it “an insult to incrementalism.”

Iraq is hemorrhaging, New Orleans is moldering, and the Bushies can’t think of anything in particular that needs to be accomplished. Excuse me while I go bang my head on the floor and howl.

On the bright side — considering that Bush’s approval numbers dropped after the last four speeches, another four should pretty much finish him off. Bring it on …

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Naked Planet

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Bush Administration, economy

In today’s Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner writes

The Dubai ports affair invites a closer examination of the premise that the freest possible commerce in goods and services is all benefit and no cost. Let’s see whether we are ready to take a serious look at complications of globalism.

Kuttner first places globalization in the context of national security:

There have long been national-security exceptions to the supposed ideal of free trade. The effort to contain proliferation of nuclear technologies and materials is one, but hardly the only one. The Defense Department and the corporate community regularly joust over which exports of advanced technologies should be constrained because of potential military uses.

The United States has an entirely schizophrenic view of trade in other weapons. It is the largest exporter of arms; this is presumably good for both business and for the project of knitting together other countries’ military establishments with ours. Then US intelligence officials worry about these weapons falling into the wrong hands, which they often do.

But at least in the area of defense, there is a serious conversation about the limitations of free trade.

Elsewhere, nobody seems to be talking — “Anyone who raises the complications of globalism is dismissed as an economic imbecile,” Kuttner writes.

The American Right as well as “neoliberals” like Thomas Friedman and much of the Democratic Leadership Council have been pushing us toward utterly unfettered and unregulated global “free markets” as fast as they can, selling it as the ultimate win/win — more goodies for everyone. And last week saw President Bush in India praising outsourcing

“It’s true that a number of Americans have lost jobs because companies have shifted operations to India,” he said in a speech previewing his trip to India and Pakistan next week. “We must also recognize that India’s growth is creating new opportunities for our businesses and farmers and workers.

“India’s middle class is now estimated at 300 million people,” he said. “That’s greater than the entire population of the United States.”

Bush continues by picturing all those Indians buying American goods — “McCurry Meals from McDonald’s, home appliances from Whirlpool” — and you can almost hear those cash registers go ka-CHINK.

I suspect Whirlpool was chosen as an example because Whirlpool washing machines are still manufactured in Ohio. Most other major appliance manufacturers have moved manufacturing operations to Mexico or China. But on closer inspection Whirlpool may not be such a great example, either. From the trade journal Modern Plastics Worldwide (February 1, 2006):

Whirlpool (Benton Harbor, MI) said it will open a new refrigerator facility in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, a $100 million investment scheduled to start production in mid-2006. The first phase of the new facility will produce about 250,000 units annually, with production gradually increased to reach 500,000 units annually.

Whirlpool, considered one of the two largest OEMs in this market along with Sweden’s Electrolux, already is a major manufacturer in Mexico, with five plants and 7500 employees. And the company isn’t done yet. Between 2004 and this year, Whirlpool will invest about $250 million in Whirlpool Mexico, allowing the company to double both sales and its labor force there, and almost triple supply purchases in Mexico, according to a report in MexicoNow. The company’s new washing machine plant in Monterrey started operating last summer, and initial production is meant for export.

Oops! I guess not all Whirlpool washing machines are built in Ohio.

So maybe I’m an economic imbecile but I can’t see how “opportunities” are being created for American workers when appliances are built in Mexico and sold in India. And whenever I have asked this of righties, I’m told a little pain is the price of progress — once upon a time horse-drawn carriage manufacturers went out of business, too.

Yes, but as I understand it people stopped buying horse-drawn carriages because they were buying automobiles instead — automobiles mostly manufactured in Detroit. So automobile manufacturing replaced carriage manufacturing; when one door closed, another was already open. Electric lights replaced candles. Home computers replaced typewriters. One kind of manufacturing was shoved aside as another took its place. Yes this was stressful on individuals who lost jobs, but technological innovations do create many new opportunities.

But outsourcing is different. What new opportunities will be created for workers by outsourcing manufacturing overseas? Please spell it out for me. I can’t see it. Yes, American-owned businesses might make more money, but there’s no law that says that money will be used to create more jobs for American workers. It’s more likely to create more jobs for Mexican workers. How can American labor compete other than by pricing itself down?

I see that annoying yellow happy face from the Wal-Mart TV ads merrily flitting about, cutting wages everywhere. And not just wages.

Kuttner continues,

As Americans, for instance, we have benefited from a social compact of protections enacted by our democratically elected representatives — minimum wage laws, safety and health laws, social insurance, consumer safeguards, the right of workers to unionize, and so on. When we trade with nations that have no such protections, we run the risk of importing the absence of a social compact along with the products. That doesn’t mean we should seal up our borders, but it does mean we should look harder at the terms of engagement.

Shouldn’t we insist on certain social minimums in nations that want to trade freely with us? Should we allow the exploitation of foreign labor to lead to the battering down of wages and standards at home?

It’s an article of faith among righties that, somehow, this will not happen. But they can’t explain why it wouldn’t. Don’t tell me about the horse-drawn carriage guys; that example doesn’t apply.

Righties tell us that when American companies make lots of money, it trickles down to workers, somehow. But the Dubai port episode reminds us that ownership of business is increasingly global and multinational. Last year a consortium of China’s Qindao Haier Ltd. and two U.S. equity partners attempted a takeover of Iowa-based Maytag. This takeover failed; at the moment the FTC is looking at a merger between Maytag and Whirlpool. But consider — had the takeover gone through I assume Maytag would have become a subsidiary of a Chinese company that manufactures in Mexico. And this provides opportunities for American workers, how?

We need to have a serious and honest national discussion about the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. We need to find a realistic middle way between knee-jerk protectionism and knee-jerk globalism. I’m not sure what that way might be, but Bush’s happy talk and assurances that, somehow, it’s all going to turn out just fine is not workin’ for me.

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Bitter and Sweet II

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Bush Administration, criminal justice

Another “I told you so” item —

Via Digby — Sixteen months after President Bush had nominated Claude Alexander Allen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, conservative C. Boyden Gray blasted Senate Democrats for blocking Allen’s nomination:

Given their paucity of evidence, the Left’s objection cannot really be that Allen’s record suggests he would write his own views into law. The true basis for their opposition is not that he will act to implement his own agenda, but rather — given his traditional values, belief in family, and ideals of personal conservatism — that he might not warmly and enthusiastically embrace theirs. It is their political agenda that drives their animus against not only Claude Allen’s jurisprudence, but against his person — for them there is no difference. …

… Claude Allen promises not to advance a political agenda from the federal bench he has been nominated to, but to be the type of judge who buttresses the foundation of American government — by applying the rule of law however he finds it. President Bush, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, could do much worse than Allen. By the grace of democratic principles overriding a minority in the Senate, let us hope they do not have to.

From today’s Washington Post, by Ernesto Londoño and Michael A. Fletcher:

Claude A. Allen, who resigned last month as President Bush’s top domestic policy adviser, was arrested this week in Montgomery County for allegedly swindling Target and Hecht’s stores out of more than $5,000 in a refund scheme, police said.

Heh. Is Claude Allen’s criminal record one with his “person,” too?

Allen’s appointment to the bench was blocked, but until a month ago he was President Bush’s top domestic policy adviser, with a salary equal to Karl Rove’s. He resigned in February to “spend more time with his family.” I hope his family visits him in the Big House.

Allen was observed shoplifting on January 2, but police were able to determine (from credit card records and surveillance tape) that he’d pulled the same scam on other occasions.

Allen would purchase an item, take it to his car, return to the store, select the same item, take it to the counter and get a refund based on the receipt for the merchandise in his car, Burnett said. “He would get the money back or the credit” on his credit cards.

This guy made $160,000 a year and shoplifted at Target. How pathetic is that?

Allen is a former deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, where he became a strong advocate for abstinence-only AIDS prevention programs. He is a self-described born-again Christian who got his start in politics working for Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. He later worked for the Virginia state attorney general’s office and as state health and human resources secretary. “In that job,” Londoño and Fletcher write, “once he kept Medicaid funds from an impoverished rape victim who wanted an abortion.”

Allen also ran the White House Katrina task force for a short time immediately after the storm. Josh Marshall noted it had been an “odd choice” — “he’s basically the social policy czar, big into abstinence only education, stem-cell restrictions, stuff like that.” But Allen was also the White House’s highest-ranking African American aide; maybe they thought New Orleans was mostly a “black” problem.

Next time a rightie whines about Dems obstructing President Bush’s court nominees — shove Allen in his face.

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