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saturday, january 29, 2005

Sunday, No Funnies
 
Mo Dowd's column is going to be talked about.

A former American Army sergeant who worked as an Arabic interpreter at Gitmo has written a book pulling back the veil on the astounding ways female interrogators used a toxic combination of sex and religion to try to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba. It's not merely disgusting. It's beyond belief.

Also in the Times, "Corporate Welfare Run Amok."

There was one other point in The Vegetable's Saturday column that deserves comment.

The new mood has also brought a resurgence of soft-power thinking. Administration officials are trying to think big about what institutions can be used to implement the freedom agenda the president sketched out in his Inaugural Address.

When you ask exactly which institutions need to be created, they get more than a little vague, but you get a clear sense of their preferences. Bush folks have not developed any new love for the Security Council. Instead, they are much more interested in working with regional groups, like the Organization of American States.

Their favorite kinds of institutions are the kinds they created in response to the tsunami disaster: the kind with no permanent offices and no permanent staff, the kind that is created to address a discrete problem and then disappear when the problem is over.

I haven't heard much about Bush's not-the-UN tsunami relief coalition and whether it is doing an effective job. I agree with this Arab News analysis that the Bush coalition was created primarily to snub the United Nations. In other words, it was all grandstanding on Bush's part. From what I can gather from the news, the United Nations is still leading the relief effort, whether Bush likes it or not.

davidbrooks.jpgBut it strikes me that such an organization, with "no permanent offices and no permanent staff, the kind that is created to address a discrete problem and then disappear when the problem is over," is the sort of damn fool idea that someone with absolutely no management experience would think up.

I've coordinated and managed some fairly complex projects -- nothing on the scale of tsunami relief, but complex, as in requiring a zillion little parts to come together. I've managed projects that require coordinating the work of several departments and diverse vendors and associates scattered about the country, all handling different pieces of the whole project, while keeping track of costs and a multi-million dollar budget. And big, complex projects require a core management staff with established working relationships, decision making processes, and procedures. Otherwise, you've got weeks or months of people flailing around trying to figure out what they're doing and how they're supposed to work together before any real work gets done. I've seen staffs (not mine) that wasted time re-inventing the wheel every bleeping day for weeks until they began to form procedures and a work flow process.

I've said this before, but Bush and his administration are bad managers.

Last week Jim Hoagland wrote a column in the Washington Post called "Leading vs. Managing." He makes the point that the Bushies may be leaders, but they are not managers.

The Bush team came to Washington with a self-cultivated reputation for CEO-like managerial efficiency. ...

The gap between goals and results has been so glaring in the occupation of Iraq and in the administration's efforts at global alliance management that Bush and Rice should concentrate now on bringing their aspirations in line with U.S. capabilities. ...

The rhetoric in Bush's inaugural address and in Rice's testimony at Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to be secretary of state was genuinely stirring and appropriately visionary. ... Bush's words defined the reasoning behind the Marshall Plan, NATO and other institutions that implemented the doctrine of containment. But the administration still lacks convincing institutional and programmatic frameworks for achieving the Bush doctrine of "expansion of freedom in all the world."

Hoagland's article is kind to the Bushies, suggesting that they could manage but that circumstances (September 11) got in the way. I don't see any evidence that they can manage, but let's go on ... one of the differences between "red" and "blue" America, Hoagland suggests, is that the "reds" are inspired by Bush's leadership, but the "blues" castigate his abilities and motives. And, I would add, results.

 
 
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10:43 pm | link

The Turning Point
 
In today's New York Times, the Vegetable writes that the Bushies are brimming with confidence and looking forward to great accomplishments.

The Bush administration has started its second act, and it is striking how different this one feels. When you ask senior officials to remember the first term, they remember it as a time of war. There was the attack of Sept. 11. There were invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. There was the political war of the 2004 campaign.

That was a time when pieces of things were cast asunder. Senior Bush officials talk about this term as a time when pieces of things will be put back together. There's almost a springlike, postwar mood.

The campaign is over. Afghanistan had its election. Even in Iraq, there will probably not be any more big military assaults like the one in Falluja. ...

Compare/contrast with James Wolcott's observation from Thursday...

At NRO's Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez is impressed by the endorphin surge President Bush displayed during his press conference today.

"I only saw parts of it so I'm not going to be particularly helpful in relaying specifics--but, wow was he in a good mood. You almost get the impression he enjoys doing these now.
Posted at 11:14 AM"

Scroll down a bit and you'll see two earlier entries from the gal they call K'Lo.

"31 DIE [KJL]
in a Marine helicopter crash in Iraq.
Posted at 09:43 AM

"FYI [KJL]
W is holding a press conference at 10 a.m.
Posted at 09:39 AM"

Ponder that a moment. The White House announces a press conference in the morning. After the announcement comes the news that 31 Americans died in a chopper crash in Iraq (6 others died today in seperate incidents). The president takes the podium fresh with the knowledge of that tragedy--and radiates a cheerful disposition bantering with the press about senior citizens and their faulty memories. She can't see something scarily wrong with that? She doesn't spot some sort of emotional disturbance or disconnect? ...

Be sure to read all of James Wolcott's post; he makes a lot of good points.

Dan Froomkin also described the press conference in yesterday's Washington Post.

When Bush strode out before the press corps on Wednesday morning, his cheerful opening statement contained no recognition of the tragic overnight death of 31 Americans in the crash of a Marine helicopter in Iraq, the largest single-incident death toll since the war began. When he was asked about it, he addressed it tersely.

Bush almost never mentions specific incidents in the war, but I think it's safe to say that most people expected him to express some sorrow -- and to do so on his own.

In Wolcott's description of the press conference, as Bush spoke of the dead Marines, his "hand was flatly smacking downwards for emphasis, as if he were pounding the table during the business meeting, refusing to pay a lot for a muffler."

Dan Froomkin again:

National Journal media columnist William Powers observes that Bush appears to have lost any trace of humility. "He's CEO of the world, and he walks and talks as if he's about to fire everybody. His indifference to tone is mesmerizing, like a work of conceptual art designed to provoke and madden his audience. He's the Marcel Duchamp of American politics."

Bush is intoxicated with power. He's ready to charge ahead with his schemes and agendas, and little details like 31 dead Marines are beneath is concern.

Iraqis are about to go to the polls, as Bush ordered. Today a rocket struck the U.S. embassy inside the Baghdad Green Zone, killing two Americans. Reuters says one other American and 17 Iraqis were killed by insurgents today. The insurgents threaten a bloodbath on election day.

I hope that Iraqis can vote safely, and I hope the election brings Iraq some stability. But I don't know what will happen. I will make one not-so-bold prediction: Whatever happens, Bush will call the elections a "great success" in his State of the Union speech next week.  He will say this no matter if innocent voters lose their lives. He will say this if all Sunnis boycott, or if entire regions are unable to hold elections at all. Whatever. It will all be a great success. And the righties will believe him.

He will also claim that once an elected government is functioning, the insurgency will fade away. Of course, the Bushies said the same thing after the "transfer of sovereignty," and before that after the capture of Saddam. And after the "Mission Impossible" strut. And after the fall of Baghdad. Bush draws another line in the sand, and once again the insurgents step over it. Same old, same old.

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes, "The White House is keenly watching the Iraqi election because it could affect U.S. military action there and sap President Bush's political strength here and abroad if the balloting doesn't lead to stability." I've heard that one before, too. No matter how badly the Chimp screws up, somehow he keeps going -- the Energizer Chimp -- and the true believers keep believing, and Congress grovels, and the Dems play dead.

Yet what else can we do but struggle on? The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales will be voted on by the full Senate soon, probably this week. This is going to be a vital test for the Democrats. The number of Democrats who vote no will show us if the party has any relevance at all. It's way past time for the Dems to start drawing their own lines in the sand, but maybe they'll do it this time. (Write your Senator if you haven't already done so, btw.)

The fight to save Social Security is also critical, but some Republicans will break ranks, so this should be a winnable fight. Josh Marshall writes,

As this and other articles make clear, the president will hit the road right after the State of the Union, with the avowed aim of breaking through the biggest obstacle standing in the way of his efforts to begin phasing-out Social Security. As the Times puts it,"the trip next week will be in part an effort to crack the Democratic wall" of opposition.

In fact, that probably understates how central that aim is, since breaking free some Democrats loosens up everything else.

So there it is. The Democrats have built a solid wall of opposition to phasing out Social Security. And it's there -- in many ways more than in his own party -- that his plan has been momentarily stopped in its tracks. He knows it. The Dems know it. Everybody knows it.

The Dems have built it up. And next week we get to see if the president can knock it down.

I am fearful of predicting turning points, because it seems to me we should have had several by now. Mike Allen writes in WaPo that Bush and Republicans in Congress are not necessarily on the same page. I believe I've heard that one before, too. 

But if The Vegetable believes that it's all blue skies and clear sailing ahead for the Bushies -- that means there isn't. So maybe there's hope.

 
 
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6:47 pm | link

friday, january 28, 2005

Robespierre
 
Paul Brooks brought up Robespierre and the Committee (of Public Safety) in the comments. In many ways the Jacobins and others were a way different group from the Bushies, since the Bushies act more like King Louie and Marie Antoinette. And Robespierre, although he must have been nuts, was smart. But reading Seymour Hersh's recent comments -- "We've been taken over by a cult" -- does bring the Committee to mind.
 
Right now my brain is too fried to take this anywhere, but feel free to expand on it if you feel up to it.
 
 
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9:17 pm | link

The Children's Hour
 
I wasn't sure I was going to post tonight, as I'm quite tired, but then I ran into the Washington Post article on Dick the Dick's inappropriate dress at the Auschwitz memorial (via Running Scared, via Kos).  
 
Robin Givhan writes for WaPo,
Would he have dared to take the oath of office with a ski cap on? People would have justifiably considered that an insult to the office, the day, the country.
In my experience, when people do something socially inapproriate it's either out of ignorance/bad upbringing, or they're acting out something. Dick's been in public life forever. Surely he knew that this was an occasion requiring solemn dress. I'd never thought of Dick being the passive-aggressive type, but IMO this little stunt has passive-aggressive resistance written all over it. Weird.
 
Update: And faster than you can say faux pas, the righties are making excuses.
 
 
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8:11 pm | link

Your Turn
 
I've got a busy day planned and won't be here to blog until this evening, so I'm turning the blog over to YOU.
 
Here's a suggested topic: I found this rightie blog post on The Daou Report. It caught my attention because the blogger says Bush has a "liberal fiscal philosophy." To which I said, WTF?
 
At first I assumed the blogger has been so throughly saturated with rightie talking points that he actually thinks liberal in the political sense means "someone who spends taxpayer money like a drunken sailor." But when I read it more closely, I realized (cue organ music, glissando in minor key) that the blogger believes our growing deficit is mostly caused by Bush's profligate spending on "non-military, non-Homeland Security costs," by which the blogger means domestic social programs.
 
The comments are choice, too. Some of the commenters still believe in the Laffer curve.
 
Note: Please don't post nasty comments on the rightie blog, because I hate it when trolls leave nasty comments here. I know you are a classy bunch who will behave like adults, right?
 
You have to read the blog post to pick up the logic of the "liberal fiscal philosophy" and why the blogger thinks spending on the war in Iraq is not to blame for the deficit. I can see where the blogger is going wrong, but I have to leave for the day and don't have time to write about it. So please do your best with Holoscan and leave comments here on The Mahablog. If what you have to say won't fit into Holoscan you can email me, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to respond to email.
 
If there's anything else you want to comment on, feel free, but be nice. As always, a no troll policy is in effect, but as I won't be here to delete troll posts, just don't let them bother you.
 
 
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8:37 am | link

thursday, january 27, 2005

Amen
 
A war against Iraq will be expensive. It will cost you, the taxpayer, about $300 billion over five years. I know Wolfowitz is telling you Iraq's oil revenues will pay for it all, but that's ridiculous. Iraq only pumps about $10 billion a year worth of oil, and it's going to need that just to run the new government we're putting in. No, we're going to have to pay for it, ourselves. I'm going to ask you for $25 billion, then $80 billion, then another $80 billion. And so on. I'm going to be back to you for money more often than that unemployed relative that you don't like. The cost of the war is going to drive up my already massive budget deficits from about $370 billion to more like $450 billion a year. Just so you understand, I'm going to cut taxes on rich people at the same time that I fight this war. Then I'm going to borrow the money to fight it, and to pay for much of what the government does. And you and your children will be paying off that debt for decades. In the meantime, your dollar isn't going to go as far when you buy something made overseas, since running those kinds of deficits will weaken our currency. (And I've set things up so that most things you buy will be made overseas.) We'll have to keep interest rates higher than they would otherwise have been and keep the economy in the doldrums, because otherwise my war deficits would cause massive inflation. ...
 
Of course, also in 2002, the righties thought being against the war in Iraq was "evading reality."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update: After you read all of Juan Cole's post, read the new Frank Rich column.

... television's ceremonial coverage of the Inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, made a dutiful show out of the White House's claim that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops. The only commentator to rudely call attention to the disconnect between that fictional pretense and the reality was Judy Bachrach, a writer for Vanity Fair, who dared say on Fox News that the inaugural's military ball and prayer service would not keep troops "safe and warm" in their "flimsy" Humvees in Iraq. She was promptly given the hook. (The riveting three-minute clip, labeled "Fair and Balanced Inauguration," can be found at ifilm.com, where it has seized the "most popular" slot once owned by Jon Stewart's slapdown of Tucker Carlson.)

Alas, there were no Fox News cameras to capture what may have been the week's most surreal "salute" to the troops, the "Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball" attended by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The event's celebrity stars included the Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who had been booted from Iraq at the start of the war for compromising "operational security" by telling his viewers the position of the American troops he loves so much. He joked to the crowd that his deployment as an "overpaid" reporter was tantamount to that of an "underpaid hero" in battle. The attendees from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital, some of whose long-term care must be picked up by private foundations because of government stinginess, responded with "deafening silence," reported Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post. Ms. Roberts understandably left the party after the night's big act: Nile Rodgers and Chic sang the lyrics "Clap your hands, hoo!" and "Dance to the beat" to "a group of soldiers missing hands and legs."

Last April, rightie blogger James Lileks wondered why there were no movies being made about the Iraq War. Frank Rich says there is such a movie, to be released to theaters in March. However, it's a documentary, not an action-adventure thriller. And Rich indicates it tells the truth, which means Lileks won't like it.
 
 
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12:55 pm | link

The Real Entitlement Culture
 
Regarding "entitlement culture," which the Wall Street Journal seems to think is rampant in New York City (see previous post), it strikes me that nobody on earth has a bigger sense of entitlement than righties.
 
It struck me this morning when I stumbled on a column in the Los Angeles Times, in which Max Boot foams at the mouth over Seymour Hersh and his most recent New Yorker article. "It's hard to know why anyone would take seriously a 'reporter' whose writings are so full of, in Ted Kennedy's words, 'maliciousness and innuendo,'"  Boot rants.
 
Now, if I had a few hours to kill, I could write a detailed commentary on all the maliciousness and innuendo that Boot packs into the twelve paragraphs of this morning's column. But to save time I'll just link to Ari Berman at The Nation, who explains why the Pentagon and the rightie punditocracy owe Hersh an apology. Boot is several news cycles behind.
 
But I say Boot's real problem is a sense of entitlement. The Right thinks it is entitled to news stories that tell them what they want to hear. Bill O'Reilly and his temper tantrums are Exhibit A. Another recent example is the Right Blogosphere's near-worship of the Iraq the Model web site, which I blogged about here and here. As Juan Cole wrote, "Looking for token pro-American Iraqis to say nice things while ignoring all the evidence of US failure is pitiful." Yes, but typical.
 
And what about Bush's recent coronation, a four-day wallow in extravagence the GOP felt entitled to in spite of war and the tsunami disaster?
 
And I was struck by the way the Bushie crowd treated John Kerry at the swearing-in ceremony. Dana Milbank wrote in WaPo, "every time they flashed his picture on the Jumbotron, the crowd -- full of wealthy Republicans -- jeered." Although I never attended a presidential swearing-in personally, I've been reading about 'em and watching 'em on television since Eisenhower. And I have never heard of such behavior before. People in the past were gracious and respectful of the loser.
 
But this crowd feels entitled to act like six-year-olds: We won. Kerry stinks. Nyah nyay nyah.
 
Granted, brattiness spreads itself across the political spectrum. There are selfish and ungracious lefties. I actually knew a liberal sociopath once. But on the whole, liberals don't feel entitled to special treatment, which is why the righties so often get away with beating us up. And when the righties claim victory and go merrily on their prepubescent way, we lefties slump into a neurotic wallow of self-blame. We've got to stop doing that.  
 
But then, how does an adult deal with a spoiled six-year-old who has more power than the adult? If we can come up with an answer to that, then we'll know how to deal with the Right.
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Comedy writer Lonny Ross: "President Bush said the word 'free' about 25 times in his inauguration speech. However, he wasn't talking about the war; he was talking about the ride he'd gotten growing up." [Link]
 
Update: As if sanitizing the news to fit their political agenda weren't enough, the righties are also rewriting history. Of course, Lynn Cheney has been working on the history revision project for a while.
 
See also "When Wingers Predict Media Bias" by Dwight at Wampum.

 
 
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7:56 am | link

wednesday, january 26, 2005

WSJ = Whopping Stupid Journalism
 
A fire in a New York City subway control room has wreaked havoc upon New York commuters. The C line will be out of service and the A line severely compromised for the next six to  nine months. It's believed the fire was set by one of the many homeless people who seek shelter in the subway system, or maybe not.
 
Now, this is very sad. The New York Times editorializes about how sad it is, here. But that's not what I want to blog about right now.
 
Another issue that comes to mind is terrorism. If a homeless person can accidentally do this kind of damage, what might a terrorist do? But I'm not going to blog about that, either.
 
No, I'm going to blog about why the Wall Street Journal editorial staff is a pack of flaming idiots.
 
The WSJ editorial on the subway fire is available to subscribers only, but Eric Alterman writes about it today (emphasis added).
We have a beautiful example of this phenomenon [flaming idiocy] this morning in this Wall Street Journal editorial in which its journalistically cavalier ideologues blame New York City’s homeless policies for a subway fire that it says will put the C train out of action for “perhaps as much as three to five years.  The rest of the country should think of this as the perfect liberal storm.”  They add “only in Manhattan could a burned-out switching system take years to repair,” and blame “distributional politics and entitlement culture.” 
How the hell do these people get from a subway fire to  "entitlement culture," whatever that is?
 
To be a rightie is to harbor a sick, irrational hatred all manner of random things -- France, strong women, endangered species, the environment in general, and New York City, among other things. My hypothesis is that righties fear anything they can't control, and they hate whatever it is they fear.
 
Regarding the "perfect liberal storm," the fact is that the subway system is managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the people who run the MTA are appointees of Governor George Pataki. The Republican Governor George Pataki. And as the New York Times editorial points out, Pataki's "proposed budget skimps on the kind of maintenance and infrastructure upgrading" needed to prevent disruptions of service caused by accidental fires.
 
Eric Alterman continues,
It is the Wall Street Journal editors who seek to starve the public sector in general and mass transit in particular, and then they complain, using discredited information, about the results of that starvation.  Call it “chutzpah.”  Call it “ideological fanaticism.”  Just don’t call it journalism.
The WSJ editorialists, not bothering to check facts, just blames liberals. Or spotted owls, or Spongebob. Anybody but Republicans, or themselves.
 
 
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10:24 pm | link

The 13th Senator?
 
Today the Senate voted, 85-13, to confirm Condi Rice as Secretary of State. According to this Washington Post article, twelve of the 13 (in no particular order) are:
 
James Jeffords, Vermont
Barbara Boxer, California
Robert Byrd, West Virginia
Mark Dayton, Minnesota
Carl M. Levin, Michigan
Tom Harkin, Iowa 
Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii
Richard J. Durbin, Illinois
Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts
John F. Kerry, Massachusetts 
Jack Reed, Rhode Island
Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey
 
Massachusetts gets a perfect score. And, of course, the senators are Democrats except for Sen. Jeffords, an Independent.
 
If you find out who the 13th Senator is, please leave the name in the comments. The article suggests it's Evan Bayh of Indiana, but doesn't say for sure.
 
Democrat weasles who actually spoke in support of Rice included Lieberman (of course; Connecticut), Feinstein (California), and Salazar (Colorado).
 
Update: According to this Kos diary post, the 13th Senator is Evan Bayh of Indiana. The diarist, PsiFighter37, provides links to make it easy to write the 13 senators and thank them.
 
Update update: Also according to Kos, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 on party lines to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. The eight Democrats on the committee are:
 
Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts
Joe Biden, Delaware
Herb Kohl, Wisconsin
Richard Durbin, Illinois
Diane Feinstein, California
Russ Feingold, Wisconsin
Charles Schumer, New York
 
 
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1:40 pm | link

Billions and Billions Plus 31
 
I have a new blog post up at American Street. It's an elaboration on yesterday's "Billions and Billions" post. Thanks all for your suggestions regarding numbers.
 
By now you've probably heard that 31 Marines perished this morning when their helicopter went down in Iraq. As I write, bad weather is being blamed for the crash. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count page says five other U.S. troops have been killed today in Iraq, for a total of 36 so far.
 
 
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11:21 am | link

tuesday, january 25, 2005

Take Two Aspirin ...
 
The cover story of the current issue of U.S. News and World Report provides a preview of the glorious future of the U.S. health care system.
 
And in that glorious future, you may or may not actually get to see doctors.
 
These days, doctors are overworked and burned out and just can't pay attention to all our petty little bodily ills, the magazine says. The problem? " ... reams of time-consuming paperwork that is out of proportion to time spent caring for patients, declining reimbursements from insurers, a loss of autonomy from managed care, and fear of malpractice lawsuits." [Link]
 
So I'm reading this article and remembering that, back in the 1980s, the news mags were telling us that problems with the U.S. health care system would be solved by managed care. Now that managed care itself is a big part of the problem, the next Great Idea is to re-distribute the work load to health practitioners who are not doctors.
 
In the glorious future, instead of taking your bodily ills to someone who's gone to medical school, you'll see a "nonphysician provider." These providers may be registered nurses, or maybe not. In any event, this magazine goes on for a big chunk of the issue about why doctors aren't doctoring the way they used to, and these nonphysician providers will be just as good. Maybe better.
 
I say we're looking at a scam.
 
Fact is, our costly and inefficient system is breaking apart under the strain of rising costs and the aging of the baby boomers (you're welcome). This report from the University of Maine shows how we're spending more per capita than any other nation on the planet, yet the results are getting less and less impressive. According to this report, nations with single payer systems get much more bang for the buck -- higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates, etc. The single payer systems are under a strain also, but they're able to distribute health care to more people for a lot less money.
 
But, somehow, this U.S. News and World Report special issue manages not to discuss a single payer plan at all. Instead, we're being prepared to accept less qualified providers.  If U.S. News were to learn lots of Americans can't afford to buy shoes, I bet they'd do a special issue on the benefits of going barefoot.
 
Please note that my late mother was a registered nurse who became a teacher of nursing after several years experience in hospitals, and I have enormous respect for registered nurses. Also, the nurse practioner idea discussed in this article is not new. I remember much ballyhoo about nurse practitioners in the early 1970s. I don't know why the idea didn't catch on then. Considering how hard physicians have worked to keep midwives out of business, I suspect the doctors resisted nurse practioners also. It could be a workable idea.
 
But my point is that I don't like being hustled.
 
Further, over the past decades the nursing profession has also been under enormous pressure to re-distribute the work load. Tasks that, 40 years ago, would have been done by a nurse with a bachelor's degree or equivalent are now being done by people with just a few months or weeks of instruction, if that.
 
Pretty soon we'll skip the health care system altogether and just go to barbers. And U.S. News will do a special issue on leeches and bloodletting. Just like the good old days.
 
 
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9:05 pm | link

No to Gonzales
"Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him." -- Armando, Daily kos
Without hesitation, The Mahablog endorses this petition.
 
 
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4:38 pm | link

Billions and Billions
 
I'm losing track. Is the additional $80 billion dollars the Bushies plan to request today part of or in addition to the $50 billion the Bush's deliberately left out of the 2005 budget last year even though they knew they were going to ask for it anyway? 
 
If you forgot about the $50 billion, here it is from the February 2, 2004, Mahablog ("Budget Boobs") 
This [2005] budget, to go into effect October 1, calls for a 7 percent increase in military spending but does not provide for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the New York Times.  An Associated Press story adds, "Officials said a supplemental request for these funds [for Iraq and Afghanistan] will be sent to Congress but not until after the November elections."
 
Um, excuse me, but, if you already know you're going to ask for the money within the 2005 fiscal year, isn't it kind of dishonest not to budget it now? Doesn't this amount to pre-planned budget busting? Do businesses let managers get away with this (none that I've worked for)?
 
Now, in this Associated Press story, the ubiquitous White House Officials say they plan to ask for a $50 billion supplement spendng bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, but not in this calendar year. However, keep in mind that the fiscal year goes from October to October.
 
If a business manager were to submit a budget for a fiscal year and deliberately leave out a $50 billion item for that fiscal year, thinking that he could wait until three or four months into the fiscal year and then ask for the money then, he would no doubt meet with much disfavor from his superiors. Wouldn't you think?
So, I ask again -- is the $80 billion the same appropriation they were planning to ask for a year ago, plus $30 billion or so, or is it an additional $80 billion? I honestly don't know. If it is the same appropriation, the news media guys are very carefully not mentioning it in the stories I've read. But surely they must remember, if they wrote the stories I read a year ago. 
 
Remember Carl Sagan? He used to talk about "billions and billions" of things when explaining the vastness of the cosmos. Now we talk about "billions and billions" to talk about the Bush budget. And, like the cosmos, there's no end in sight.
 
Update: Mr. Bill writes in the comments that "billion" is a real big number that's very hard to comprehend. Well, don't look at me. I do simple addition and subtraction on my fingers, when I can't find a calculator.
 
Reuters reports that the $80 billion is in addition to $25 billion in emergency spending already approved for this fiscal year, which just started October 1. This means we're up to $105 billion for fiscal 2005.  But the total for Afghanistan and Iraq combined is getting close to $300 billion, Reuters says, so who's counting? Not the Bushies, apparently.
 
Get this:

The administration is also considering including $1 billion to $2 billion to construct a new U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad ...  Bush has so far pledged $350 million in tsunami aid. The new package is expected to include up to $650 million ...

In other words, the cost of building one bleeping embassy is way more (like, twice? help me out here) than the projected total amount of tsunami aid money.

Of the two (one bleeping embassy v. tsunami aid) which, do you think, will have a bigger long-term impact on U.S. foreign relations? And what is the point of an embassy, anyway, but to facilitate foreign relations?

The Reuters article cleared one point up for me, which is that the $80 billion is, in fact, the $50 billion the Bushies were going to ask for anyway, plus a bunch:

Administration and congressional officials had initially expected this year's supplemental spending to total closer to $50 billion. But cost estimates skyrocketed to as much as $100 billion as the Iraq insurgency intensified.

Now, remember, this is all supplemental spending that was not budgeted, even though the Bushies knew they were going to need at least some of it when they drew up the budget. (If you haven't already done so, be sure to read the "Wizard of Oz Budgeting" article from yesterday's New York Newsday.)

Reuters reminds us that, before the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz told Congress "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."   

Now let's skip to the last paragraph in the Reuters article.

Yet only a fraction of the $18.4 billion set aside for rebuilding Iraq has been spent. The White House blames the insurgency for the slow pace of reconstruction.

What do you bet that money's been siphoned off and used elsewhere?

Laugh (bitterly) here.  

 
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8:13 am | link

monday, january 24, 2005

Terry Schiavo Update
 
Today SCOTUS refused to hear Jeb Bush's appeal of a court decision to allow doctors to remove Terry Schiavo's feeding tube. This is not the end of the Schiavo case, as her parents have actions pending in two Florida courts. And her husband is trying to unblock an order to keep the feeding tube in place. And Jeb Bush and other Florida politicians will no doubt continue to use Schiavo for their own purposes. But maybe sometime this year there will be resolution.
 
For the historical and legal background of this very sad case, I recommend highly this page maintained by a Florida lawyer and blogger.  
 
Last year I offered an opinion that it was time to let Schiavo go, based on news reports that her cerebral cortex was gone. I'm sure a lot of bright and reasonable people disagree. Real-world moral problems tend to be messy, and the closer you get to them, the messier they look.
 
But this very messiness is why, IMO, the maintenance or removal of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube is less important than keeping these decisions out of the hands of government officials as much as possible. Intervention by courts may be necessary when family members disagree, as in this case. But when politicians or other strangers with axes to grind are allowed to interfere with a private family decision, we might as well call in Big Brother.
 
Related Links:
 
 
 
 
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3:29 pm | link

Wizard of Oz Budgeting
 
Gordon Adams, director of security policy studies at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, former (pre Dubya) White House senior budget official for national security, writes in New York Newsday:
In its new budget proposal, the Pentagon is finally confronting a reality that had been hidden since the morning of Sept. 11, 2001: There is not enough money to pay for the wars on terror and in Iraq, fund long-term defense strategy and the forces needed to carry it out, pay for military benefits, and buy future defense technology - all at the same time - especially with a growing federal deficit.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced this problem in 2001, but al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein saved his bacon. For three years, supplemental budgets have let him fund his technology cake and consume large forces at the same time. But, beneath the surface, the resource stress was growing.

The wars on terror and in Iraq were the first big problem. Although these are said to cost "only" $5 billion a month, and are being funded by supplemental appropriations, this is a "Wizard of Oz" view.

Behind the screen, taxpayers are spending twice as much on these wars. The additional costs are being funded out of military hide - reduced training, exercises and operating tempo, slowdowns in maintenance, delays on maintaining facilities. We are already mortgaging the military future through "back-door" budgeting for the wars.
Read remainder, and weep.
 
 
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9:52 am | link

Betraying Our Troops
 
Be sure to read "Abuse of Trust" by John Norton Moore at Slate.   
Our POWs have been brutally tortured at command direction in war after war, including the Korean, Vietnam, and most recently, the Gulf War; and it's clear that we need to do whatever we can to break this pattern. Yet when 17 of our tortured Gulf War POWs and 37 of their family members said "enough" and joined together to bring a historic civil action to hold their Iraqi torturers liable, they were shocked—having won their case in federal court—to find the Department of Justice seeking to erase their judgment and "absolve" their torturers.
In brief -- the Gulf War POWs endured horrific brutality at the hands of Saddam Hussein's secret service agents. After the Gulf War, and after failed attempts to bring the matter to international arbitration, some of the POWs and their families brought suit against Saddam Hussein and the Republic of Iraq in federal district court. In awarding the judgment, the judge said, "POWs are uniquely disadvantaged and deterring torture of POWs should be of the highest priority."
 
The Bush Regime, however, decided it needed the POW's judgment money for the reconstruction of Iraq. (Lots of big, no-bid contracts to pay, of course.) So, even though the U.S. is still paying money to Kuwait for Gulf War damage, the Bushies went to court to overturn the award to the American POWs. This was done even though Article 131 of the Geneva Convention provides that no state may "absolve" a torturing state of "any liability" for their torture.
 
I guess the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to American POWs, either, in Bushie World.
 
I did a quickie google for more information on this case, and turned up the written text of a judgment (PDF) from July 2003. The suit against the POWs was brought by John Snow, Secretary of the Treasury. It says that the President could have allowed the POWs to receive their judgment money, but chose not to do so. John Norton Moore writes,
The Iraq-blocked assets initially available to pay the judgment had already been seized by the government. Indeed, when it seized those blocked assets the government made special provision to pay $100 million on a judgment won by former hostages in Iraq, while ignoring a plea from 20 distinguished American former national security officials, including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to set aside an escrow to pay the POW judgment. And Iraqi oil revenues were protected from execution by executive order. Moreover, 19 months after the decision to set aside our treaty obligations and stiff the POWs, most of the funds earmarked for reconstruction still are unspent, whereas many other claims against Iraq are being honored—including billions still being paid to Kuwait from Iraqi oil revenues.
It's bad enough that justice was denied the Gulf War POWs. But also, as Moore points out, "Future tyrants will hear the message, like a fire bell in the night, that the United States has little concern for its own POWs."
 
And I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for someone on the Right Blogosphere to pay attention to this issue. The case is going to the SCOTUS, however, so more may come to light.
 
 
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8:09 am | link

sunday, january 23, 2005

Rhetoric v. Reality II
 
This post relates to my last post, which was about the hot air in the "Freedom" speech -- Thomas Oliphant writes in today's Boston Globe that Condi's testimony at her confirmation hearing "belied President Bush's focus on freedom as convincingly as they demonstrated what a diversion from the war on terror the mess in Iraq has become."

According to US officials, there are significant terrorist organizations operating today with virtual impunity in northern, western, and southern Africa. ...

[Sen. Russ] Feingold had just returned from one of his regular trips to the continent when he pressed Rice on the subject (he voted for her eventually). "We are not denying terrorist elements those territories," he said pointedly. "When it comes to Somalia, Algeria, or the activities that have occurred in Kenya, our focus on Iraq has been so single-minded. In fact I was told by some of our own officials in the region this past week that a lot of things have been waiting, because of the demands of Iraq in terms of dealing with this issue in northern Africa and East Africa."

In her typically lame response, Rice myopically gave no ground. She and Bush, Rice said, believe the "ultimate antidote" is the "freedom deficit," which requires "a different kind of Middle East."

"That is why we do see Iraq as being part of that war on terrorism," Rice said.

Another commendable attempt to see just how global the administration's freedom and terrorism concerns really are was made by Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island who inquired why the United States is so selectively passionate about freedom. He cited tolerance of humans rights abusers and authoritarians in Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan -- US pals all; he might have added China and Saudi Arabia for a more global perspective.

Rice took refuge in process babble. Different direction for different societies, she said, pledging to "keep this item on the agenda." In the classic explanation for inaction, she added that "some of this is a matter of trend lines and where countries have been and where they are now going."

In other words, when Bush said, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors," he didn't mean "all" to mean all people who live in tyranny, etc., and by "tyranny and hopelessness" he didn't mean, um, tyranny and hopelessness, exactly. 
 
What the "Freedom Speech" signifies is that it takes a whole lotta hifalutin' rhetoric to cover the huge, bare-naked butt known as the "Iraq war."
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
A rightie blogger at Power Line found this WaPo article "hilarious." I don't see the humor.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Update: I don't find this story humorous, either, but maybe on Rightie World it's a knee-slapper.  
 
 
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6:31 pm | link

Rhetoric v. Reality
 
From President Bush's second inaugural speech:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

From today's news (Associated Press)

About 2,000 people marched in downtown Hong Kong on Sunday to demand full democracy and social justice in the Chinese territory, police and organizers said.

Opposition leaders led the protesters, who chanted: "Direct elections in 2007 and 2008'' _ the years in which Hong Kong is due to get a new leader and legislature.

So, Mr. President, when are we going to stand with the oppressed people of Hong Kong?

And (speaking of China) what about Tibet?

Update: More on rhetoric v. reality at Body and Soul.

 

 
 
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8:59 am | link


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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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