Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, September 5th, 2007.


Iraq is Just a Comma

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East, War on Terror

When the final history is written on Iraq, it will look just like a comma.

– George W. Bush

You can hear it among the troops. The following email is from the political humor site BartCop, with the not-very-funny title We Are Going To Hit Iran…Bigtime:

[Update from maha: Per commenter PB, this was crossposted on Daily Kos and then taken down after its authenticity was questioned. I don’t know about its authenticity, but I confirmed that it was taken off DK. Read with a big grain of salt.]

I have a friend who is an LSO on a carrier attack group that is planning and staging a strike group deployment into the Gulf of Hormuz. (LSO: Landing Signal Officer- she directs carrier aircraft while landing) She told me we are going to attack Iran. She said that all the Air Operation Planning and Asset Tasking are finished. That means that all the targets have been chosen, prioritized, and tasked to specific aircraft, bases, carriers, missile cruisers and so forth.

I asked her why she is telling me this. Her answer was really amazing…

She started in the Marines and after 8 years her term was up… She…successfully changed from the Marines to the Navy. Her role is still aligned with the Marines since she generally is assigned to liaison with the Marine units deploying off her carrier group.

Like most Marines and former Marines, she is largely apolitical. The fact is, most Marines are trigger pullers and most trigger pullers couldn’t care less who the President is. They simply want to be the tip of the sword when it comes to defending the country. She voted once in her life and otherwise was always in some forward post on the water during election season.

Something is wrong with the Navy and the Marines in her view. Always ready to go in harms way, Marines rarely ever question unless it’s a matter of tactics or honor. But something seems awry. Junior and senior officers are starting to grumble, roll their eyes in the hallways. The strain of deployments is beginning to hit every jot and tittle of the Marines and it’s beginning to seep into the daily conversation of Marines and Naval officers in command decision.

"I know this will sound crazy coming from a Naval officer", she said. "But we’re all just waiting for this administration to end. Things that happen at the senior officer level seem more and more to happen outside of the purview of XOs and other officers who typically have a say-so in daily combat and flight operations. Today, orders just come down from the mountaintop and there’s no questioning. In fact, there is no discussing it. I have seen more than one senior commander disappear and then three weeks later we find out that he has been replaced. That’s really weird. It’s also really weird because everyone who has disappeared has questioned whether or not we should be staging a massive attack on Iran."

"We’re not stupid. Most of the members of the fleet read well enough to know what is going on world-wise. We also realize that anyone who has any doubts is in danger of having a long military career yanked out from under them. Keep in mind that most of the people I serve with are happy to be a part of the global war on terror. It’s just that the touch points are what we see since we are the ones out here who are supposedly implementing this grand strategy. But when you liaison with administration officials who don’t know that Iranians don’t speak Arabic and have no idea what Iranians live like, then you start having second thoughts about whether these Administration officials are even competent."

I asked her about the attack, how limited and so forth.

"I don’t think it’s limited at all. We are shipping in and assigning every damn Tomahawk we have in inventory. I think this is going to be massive and sudden, like thousands of targets. I believe that no American will know when it happens until after it happens. And the consequences… whatever the consequences… they will have to be lived with. Something inside me tells me to tell it anyway."

I asked her why she was suddenly so cynical.

"I have become cynical only recently. I also don’t believe anyone will be able to stop this. Bush has become something of an Emperor. He will give the command, and cruise missiles will fly and aircraft will fly and people will die, and yet few of us here are really able to cobble together a great explanation of why this is a good idea….

"That’s what’s missing. A real sense of purpose. What’s missing is the answer to what the hell are we doing out here threatening this country with all this power? Last night in the galley, an ensign asked what right do we have to tell a sovereign nation that they can’t build a nuke. I mean the table got EF Hutton quiet. Not so much because the man was asking a question that was off culture. But that he was asking a good question. In fact, the discussion actually followed afterwards topside where someone in our group had to smoke a cigarette. The discussion was intelligent but also in lowered voices. It’s like we aren’t allowed to ask the questions that we always ask before combat. It’s almost as if the average seaman or soldier is doing all the policy work."

She had to hang up. She left by telling me that she believes the attack is a done deal. "It’s only a matter of time before their orders come and they will be sent to station and told to go to Red Alert. She said they were already practicing traps, FARP and FAST." (Trapping is the act of catching the tension wires when landing on the carrier, FARP is Fleet Air Combat Maneuvering Readiness Program- practice dogfighting- and FAST is Fleet Air Superiority Training).

She seemed lost. The first time in my life I have ever heard her sound off rhythm, or unsure of why she is doing something. She knows that there is something rotten in the Naval Command and she, like many of her associates are just hoping that the election brings in someone new, some new situation, or something.

"Yes. We’re gong to hit Iran, bigtime. Whatever political discussions that are going on is window dressing and perhaps even a red herring. I see what’s going on below deck here in the hangars and weapons bays. And I have a sick feeling about how it’s all going to turn out."

You can hear it among the intelligentsia. From Chris Floyd’s Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock: Countdown to Midnight in Persia:

…Juan Cole points us to the story by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane, who reported on the study by two respected British academics on the likely course of the coming war. According to Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, former Director of the British American Security Information Council, the war preparations now being made by the Bush Administration bespeak something far beyond a quick punitive strike on Iranian Guards positions or lightning raid on Iran’s nuclear power facilities. Instead, what the Bush-Cheney junta envision is the complete destruction of the Iranian state in an aerial blitzkrieg aimed at up to 10,000 targets inside Iran.

The goal, says Plesch and Butcher, is to:

"destroy Iran’s WMD [capabilities], nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days if not hours of President George W. Bush giving the order…Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact. US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours. US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice."

Chris continues:

The assault will most likely be made with conventional weapons, the authors say, as the political and environmental effects of a nuclear strike on Iran would not be worth the limited military value of such an attack. After all, the Bushists want to control Iran and milk it dry after they destroy the regime and slaughter a vast number of innocent people. Halliburton and Exxon wouldn’t be able to move right in and start gobbling up loot in a radiated land.

This is what is coming. This is what the Bushists will be selling to us soon. (Glenn Greenwald has a useful roundup of the growing madness here.) One sees comments here and there to the effect that "the American people will never accept this," that "Bush can’t get away with this kind of thing after Iraq," or that "this isn’t 2002, with everyone still raw and dazed after 9/11," etc., etc. But such declarations are pipe-dreams, foolish hopes. As we have pointed out here many times, Bush and Cheney are not interested in obtaining the "consent of the governed" for their militarist agenda — nor do they need it.

Congress has already given its overwhelming approval to the specious reasons for war that Bush and his minions have advanced. The corporate media is doing its part again too…..

Earlier this summer, I highlighted Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free, which details how Nazism slowly took over Germany in the 30s and 40s. It came up so slowly that the masses of people simply adapted, and life went on. We Americans have been going through something very similar under Bush. All of us have been watching our country, as we knew it, slowly slip away.

There comes a point in this process where a discontinuity appears, where it becomes unmistakably clear to everyone that Things Have Irreversibly Changed and There is No Going Back. For Nazi Germany, this point of no return probably happened when it invaded Poland, and the Allies declared war. Attacking Iran, if it happens as described, IMO will be this point of no return for America. It will unleash unprecedented consequences both at home and abroad. Bush will be proven correct: Iraq was just a comma, a stop on the way to what they were really after.

Countdown to Midnight in Persia concludes:

But let us bear witness to the truth while we can still speak the truth: This is murder. And all those who do not speak out against it — and against all those in high places who do nothing to stop it — are fully complicit in this abomination. No excuses, no mitigation, not this time. Speak out — or be damned with the criminals who thrive on your silence.

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Police Story

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Terrorism

Kevin’s headline tells the whole story —

German terror plot thwarted without David Addington

Three Muslims who allegedly were planning attacks on U.S. facilities in Germany were picked up by German authorities after what appears to have been a police-type investigation. It’s possible these guys are real, undiluted terrorists, as opposed to the watered-down ones the Bushies like to entertain us with from time to time.

Andrew Sullivan:

Some obvious points: these men are educated, two of three are German nationals, all seem to have been trained not in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, a putative ally. It is hard to see how the Iraq war – whether a failure or a success – would have any impact on this tiny cell’s attempt at mass murder in the name of God. This is simply the religious violence we have to contend with for the indefinite future. All we can do is what the Germans did: keep up surveillance (with protections against abuse), and run as many to ground as we can.

Oh, but that sounds like police work. That will never satisfy the Right, even if it’s effective.

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Unrepentant

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elections, News Media

Although I don’t believe it tells us much we didn’t already know, this Vanity Fair article by Evgenia Peretz (child of Martin, but I’m trying not to hold that against her) is worth a look. Peretz looks back at the way the media covered the 2000 presidential campaigns and recalls how the press corps turned into the high school Kewl Kids Claque who treated Al Gore like the chess club nerd.

In 2000, the media seemed to focus on a personality contest between Bush, the folksy Texas rogue, and, as The New York Times referred to Gore, “Eddie Haskell,” the insincere brownnoser from Leave It to Beaver. ABC anchor Claire Shipman, who covered the 2000 campaign for NBC, says, “It was almost a drama that was cast before anyone even took a good look at who the candidates were.” …

…A study conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 76 percent of stories about Gore in early 2000 focused on either the theme of his alleged lying or that he was marred by scandal, while the most common theme about Bush was that he was “a different kind of Republican.”

Peretz provides plenty of examples and names names. She also gets reaction from Al and Tipper Gore. She repeats the famous quote by Margaret Carlson: “You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get into the weeds and get out your calculator, or look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us.” And be sure to read the section on page 5, “Running the Gauntlet.” Here’s just a taste:

The Washington Post‘s David Broder later found Gore too focused in his convention speech on what he’d do as president. “But, my, how he went on about what he wants to do as president,” wrote Broder. “I almost nodded off.” As for the environment, while Gore was persuaded by his consultants not to talk about it as much as he would have liked, whenever he did, many in the media ignored it or treated it as comedy. Dowd wrote in one column that “Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he’s practically lactating.” In another, referring to his consideration of putting a Webcam in the Oval Office, she wrote, “I have zero desire to see President Gore round the clock, putting comely interns to sleep with charts and lectures on gaseous reduction.”

Dowd’s column in the New York Times today, btw, is a catty little screed about Barack Obama called “The 46-Year-Old Virgin.” Let it stay behind the NYT subscription firewall.

Peretz doesn’t mention another New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, who wrote one column after another pointing to the big, glaring absurdities in Bush’s economic promises. Here’s one, from September 24, 2000:

George W. Bush is still using the four-dollar routine in his public appearances — the one where he pulls out four dollar bills to represent the projected budget surplus, then says that he plans to use only one of those bills, one-quarter of the surplus, for tax cuts. Anyone who has looked at his campaign’s own numbers (or who read this column a week and a half ago) knows that this isn’t right — that the tax cut would actually use up more than a third of the surplus. But most commentators seem to think that this is a minor detail — a quarter, a third, what’s the difference? (About $450 billion, but who’s counting?)

Meanwhile, Al Gore got a pummeling from some commentators — and, of course, Mr. Bush’s campaign — over the dog story, in which he told an anecdote about an expensive human drug that costs only one-third as much if prescribed by a vet. It turns out that he was looking at wholesale prices; when you look at retail prices the number is more than one-third, though less than one-half. My God! Does this man have the integrity to be president?

Although both cases involve misstated fractions, they are very different in other ways. Mr. Gore’s numbers were off, but the thrust of his story — that drug companies engage in price discrimination, charging what the traffic will bear — is true. On the other hand, the intended moral of Mr. Bush’s story — that the budget will easily accommodate his tax cut, that it leaves plenty of money with which to secure the future of retirees, rebuild the military, and all that — isn’t at all true.

I heard Paul Krugman speak a couple of years later. He said the New York Times editors wouldn’t let him use the word “lie” to explain Bush’s campaign promises. So instead of saying “Bush is lying” — which is what he wanted to say — he had to write that what Bush said “isn’t at all true.”

Krugman continued,

Just to revisit the arithmetic one more time: Let one dollar bill represent $100 billion of projected surplus. If we put Social Security and Medicare in ”lock boxes,” the remaining surplus amounts to $18 — of which $16 will be used up by Mr. Bush’s tax cut. And Mr. Bush has promised new spending that is more than twice, though less than three times — hey, I don’t want to be inaccurate! — as much as the money he actually has left.

So Mr. Gore got the details wrong but represented the basic situation correctly; Mr. Bush also got the details wrong but fundamentally misrepresented the situation. And that’s not the only difference. Mr. Gore told his story once, and didn’t repeat it after the details were questioned. Mr. Bush continues to tell his story even though it is demonstrably inconsistent with the numbers his own campaign has put out.

Alas, in mainstream media Paul Krugman was just about the lone voice crying in the wilderness in 2000. The Kewl Kids ignored him and made fun of Gore’s earth-tone suits.

Peretz leaves out the role of right-wing media infrastructure in this mess; see, for example, Eric Boehlert on David Brock (Salon, May 11, 2004):

The right-wing media warfare naturally is most visible during presidential election years. “I’ve been saying for six months, no matter who was running for office this year, the right has a system in place to caricature that person,” says Brock. “This is what I realized after 2000 — that what happened to the Clintons during the ’90s really had very little to do with the Clintons because the same thing happened to Gore in 2000. And then it happened to [Sen. Tom] Daschle when the Senate changed hands in 2001, and it happened to the mourners of [the late Sen.] Paul Wellstone in 2002. It goes on and on.” After witnessing how this Republican “noise machine” again worked so well in shaping the caustic and undermining press coverage of Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, Brock is trying to awaken the public from slumber about these techniques. …

… Catching Rush Limbaugh or contributors to Fox News spreading misinformation may sound like “shooting fish in a barrel,” but Brock says the right-wing noise machine’s effect on the mainstream press poses a large danger to rational debate and coverage of issues. Too often, he says, what the right concocts ends up — often within hours — percolating in mainstream press outlets, which, rather than debunk the Republican spin, uncritically adopt it as their own. “If the mainstream media were doing their job, Media Matters would not have to exist,” Brock told Salon.

After this interview, the “system” successfully turned John Kerry into a cartoon. Has anything changed? Does the VRWC still have what it takes to dominate media next year? And have the Kewl Kids learned anything? I fear the answers are no, yes, and no.

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Not Owning Up to the Ownership Society

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Health Care

Tony Snow is, by all accounts, a likable guy who is gravely ill, and I have no personal animosity toward him. But what Daniel Gross writes about him in Slate is aggravating.

Snow has also been a chief spokesman for the Bush administration’s domestic agenda, forced to argue continually that the typical American is doing just fine, and bravely pushing the unpopular elements of Bush’s vaunted “ownership society”: privatizing social security, eliminating defined-benefit pensions in favor of 401(k)s; and replacing insurance with health savings accounts, high-deductible policies, and other consumer-driven health-care initiatives.

And yet Snow’s own life in many ways symbolizes the downside of the ownership society—and suggests how much a government role in health and retirement benefits is necessary.

For one thing, Snow never bothered to establish a 401k account, and he gets no pension from Fox News. He’ll get a pension through AFTRA (a union) and Social Security, and whatever he might have squirreled away to live on after retirement. And the “squirreled away” part can’t be much.

Snow admitted to feeling pinched on his salary of $168,000, which is about 3.5 times the median U.S. income. “We took out a loan when I came to the White House, and that loan is now gone,” he said. “So I’m going to have to pay the bills.”

And then there’s his cancer treatment. He’s getting regular CAT scans and MRIs and chemotherapy. Daniel Gross writes,

But such treatment is enormously expensive and only available to people who have good insurance—like the kind taxpayers fund for public employees such as Snow. If Snow had owned his own benefits, or approached health care as a consumer, as the administration wants people to do, he’d certainly be singing a different tune. Had Snow stashed a few thousand dollars in a health savings account, which is one of the administration’s chief proposals to reduce the rising number of the uninsured, he likely wouldn’t have enough cash to afford chemotherapy. According to the Census Bureau, there were 47 million Americans without insurance in 2006, up from 41.2 million in 2001, when Bush entered office. Were any of them to be afflicted with cancer as Snow has been, they’d be largely out of luck—unable to pay the bills for all those scans and chemo doses, and unable to find an insurer willing to cover such a pre-existing condition.

One wonders if this ever flickers through Tony Snow’s mind.

Of course, when it comes to health care, Republicans generally seem a tad out of the loop. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an editorial that begins this way (emphasis added):

As Congress returns, so does the health-care debate, including an important intramural squabble among Republicans. To wit, what is the better way to move to an individual based insurance system — via a tax credit, or a tax deduction?

That’s the extent of the Republican debate?

We think the tax deduction has the better argument, especially as a matter of tax policy. Tax credit proponents tout their reform as “budget neutral,” meaning that it neither raises nor lowers overall federal revenues. But that masks the enormous shift in the tax burden that it would require, including a big tax increase on large portions of the middle class.

Congress’s Joint Tax Committee has estimated that, among families earning adjusted gross income of $75,000 a year, more would lose more tax benefits than they’d gain under the tax credit by 2009. By 2018, some 60.7 million filers — or two-thirds of today’s taxpayers — would face a net tax increase. Most of those happen to be Republican voters.

Meanwhile, the “refundable” tax credit would require some $800 billion over 10 years in new health-care spending for those who don’t pay any income taxes. In other words, a “universal” tax credit would mean a major redistribution of wealth from middle- and upper-middle-income families to subsidize health care for lower earners. Once embedded in the tax code, this would become a new “entitlement” that would be nearly impossible to repeal.

The horror.

WSJ doesn’t like the tax credit idea because, as it’s currently being proposed, the credit would go even to people who pay no income taxes at all. And this would amoun to “a government handout to buy individual insurance.”

The real argument for the tax credit idea is political — namely, that it can be called “universal” and thus claim to cover all Americans the way a government-run system would. Senators DeMint and Coburn believe this is a better strategy to counter HillaryCare and its variations. But we think they’re selling short the appeal of the deduction to most tax-paying voters.

HillaryCare = all non-rightie health care reform proposals, whether they even remotely resemble the former First Lady’s 1993 plan or not.

The Treasury Department estimates the Bush proposal would add at least five million Americans to the ranks of the insured, and that’s before the tax change led to a far more robust and affordable individual insurance market than we have currently.

Ooo, five million. That only leaves us, what? 42 million to go? And will the “more robust” individual insurance market sell insurance to people who can’t get it now because they have pre-existing conditions?

Here’s another article about “innovative” health care proposals, from Forbes, which include such breakthrough ideas as “greater transparency.” It’s all band-aids, in other words. Here’s the best part:

Duke Law School professor Clark C. Havighurst, believes that consumers are given the choice “between a Lexus, Mercedes or BMW” in health coverage. “You don’t have the choice of buying coverage that isn’t outlandishly expensive,” giving people an incentive to find lower cost health plans. “The old managed competition idea from the Clinton years is still a pretty good one,” he says.

Do these people live on the same planet we do, I wonder?

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