Saturday, April 15, 2006

Building Vatican City in Baghdad

Now under construction and otherwise shrouded in secrecy, the new American Embassy in Baghdad. Conjure an image of a sedate but solid white building, surrounded by a high wrought iron fence, a guard at the gate?

Not exactly. The so-called Embassy is a compound composed of 21 separate buildings on 104 acres in the heart of Baghdad. It will be six times larger than the United Nations in NYC, roughly the size of Vatican City, with its own power supply and water.

This is separate from several new military bases that have the same scale, size and sense of permanence. The AP report on them began:

The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

The Embassy and the bases are more than huge: they are permanent. Why else would they be going up when the Bushites say the Americans are turning things over to the Iraqis, and will leave when asked ? What does this say about what the Bushites are really doing in Iraq? What does the secrecy itself tell us?

The Bushites have masked their operations in melodrama, the fighters for freedom against the evil-doers, both for political gain in American elections, and to cover their operations in Iraq. Apart from enriching Halliburton and other crony corporations, they are establishing a corporate base in the Middle East, and the waning American middle class as well as the poor, plus several unborn generations, are paying for it all.

A political key is not creating more of a fuss at home over cost. That's where the tax cuts for the wealthy come in. Bush has provided the wealthiest Americans with four successive tax cuts and is now promoting their permanence. He is enriching the rich at the expense of everyone else, and is investing what's left of our money in seeing that his wealthy cronies get wealthier.

This is the future that the Bushites are building.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Oxtongue Lake by Nancy Rotenberg at Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

James Madison
The Real Looters of Katrina

This morning's Washington Post puts the numbers to the sad story we saw in the making months ago, when Bushcorps sold off pieces of the Katrina tragedy to its corporate cronies, who have already proven themselves more than adept at sucking up and squandering tax money at the expense of the welfare of American soldiers and the people of Iraq. Now they've done it again to the people of New Orleans, with our money. Like wasting a billion of it.

...a hastily improvised $10 billion effort by the federal government has produced vast sums of waste and misspent funds, an array of government audits and outside analysts have concluded....the toll of false starts and missed opportunities appears likely to top $1 billion and perhaps much more...

Some of the findings:

FEMA spent $900 million to buy 25,000 manufactured homes and 1,300 modular homes, most of which cannot be used because agency rules say they are too big or unsafe in flood zones.

· The agency spent $632 million to subsidize hotel rooms for tens of thousands of families at an average cost of $2,400 a month, three times what it later paid families to rent two-bedroom apartments.

· The agency spent $249 million to secure 8,136 cruise-ship cabins for six months, at a cost that Inspector General Richard L. Skinner estimated at $5,100 a month per passenger. That is six times the cost of renting two-bedroom apartments.

So far the story is incompetence, but it won't stop there. This is probably only the beginning of this story, as it becomes clearer who got the money to do what.

As for whether FEMA and Homeland Security screwed up in the first place by being unprepared for Katrina, the Inspector General's report to be issued today says, you bet, bigtime. While it's tempting to call this another vast waste of money, the report has detailed reccommendations for change. The basic one will have to wait: regime change. It just took Homeland Security too much time to figure out how to make as much money for corporate cronies from hurricane disasters as it was doing for so-called terrorism prevention, which as other reports have shown, has been all about political payouts and crony high tech contracts.
General Revolt

First it was one, then two, then four, and Thursday it became six: recently retired generals of the U.S. armed forces who are publicly calling for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign or be fired for his conduct of the Iraq war.

Their indictments emphasize different aspects, but the overall pattern is clear. As Reuters reports: The spreading challenge to the Pentagon's civilian leadership included criticism from some recently retired senior officers directly involved in the Iraq war and its planning.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni told CNN Rumsfeld should be held responsible for a series of blunders, starting with "throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq."

Retired Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld had helped create an atmosphere of "arrogance" among the Pentagon's top civilian leadership. "They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that's a mistake, and that's why I think he should resign," Riggs said.

And according to the New York Times , at least one--Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold of the Marine Corps-- says the whole war, beginning with the American invasion was unnecessary.

But generally, these scathing critiques don't even address the lies that convinced Congress and much of the American people that the war was warranted. Nor does any of these officers criticize the soldiers in the field. In fact, it is what the soldiers in the field have had to endure because of arrogance in Washington that prompted them to speak.

There are other reasons. As the Times said, they are looking to the future. "Are the floodgates opening?" asked one retired Army general, who drew a connection between the complaints and the fact that President Bush's second term ends in less than three years. "The tide is changing, and folks are seeing the end of this administration."

But they may also be looking at the already repeating pattern in this administration that sounds like the drumbeat to war with Iran. This is a vote of no confidence in the leaders of such a mission.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

NGC 3603 Cluster of young stars, from ESO in Chile. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

Denise Levertov
Nuke News Roundup

Iran announced that it has enriched a small amount of uranium to nuclear fuel grade, a thumb of the nose at Bushite saber-rattling as well as the UN. The Iranians claim it is a step towards peaceful use of nuclear power. An expert on the PBS News Hour said that this milestone was expected at about this time, and that it doesn't really accelerate the estimate of 5 to 10 years until Iran could develop and build nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, responses continue to the weekend stories in the New Yorker and the Washington Post (as well as other papers in England and elsewhere) that the Bushites are planning air attacks on Iran, including the use of nuclear bombs. Senator Kerry called it unacceptable, Jack Straw in London called it nuts, but others are wondering how seriously to take it.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times however looks at recent history and current politics, and finds the Bushite bombing entirely credible. His column ends:

As Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently pointed out, the administration seems to be following exactly the same script on Iran that it used on Iraq: "The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of state tells Congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on U.S. troops."

Why might Mr. Bush want another war? For one thing, Mr. Bush, whose presidency is increasingly defined by the quagmire in Iraq, may believe that he can redeem himself with a new Mission Accomplished moment.

And it's not just Mr. Bush's legacy that's at risk. Current polls suggest that the Democrats could take one or both houses of Congress this November, acquiring the ability to launch investigations backed by subpoena power. This could blow the lid off multiple Bush administration scandals. Political analysts openly suggest that an attack on Iran offers Mr. Bush a way to head off this danger, that an appropriately timed military strike could change the domestic political dynamics.

Does this sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. Given the combination of recklessness and dishonesty Mr. Bush displayed in launching the Iraq war, why should we assume that he wouldn't do it again?

William Rivers Pitt begins his rumination arguing that the Bushites won't do it, but admits:

Things have come to a pretty pass in the United States of America when the first question you have to ask yourself on matters of war and death is, "Just how crazy are these people?" Every cogent estimate sees Iran's nuclear capabilities not becoming any kind of reality for another ten years, leaving open a dozen diplomatic and economic options for dealing with the situation. There is no good reason for attacking that country, but there are a few bad reasons to be found.

Jim Lobe at Tom provides a good round-up of the "will/won't" arguments, including a variation on the Nixonian "Let them think I'm a Madman" strategy. The idea is to leak these stories, hoping the Iranians will believe the Bushites are crazy enough to do it, even though they aren't. Why would they believe it? Well, because the Bushites have proven themselves to be crazy enough to do it. Which sort of blunts the argument, don't you think?

A New York Times editorial wanders through the same speculations, adding that if these stories were "psychological warfare" as Iran said, the smart thing would have been to leak word of the plans only to the Iranians, through their spies and allies. Making it public doesn't help much, so either the Bushites are acting stupidly or they really are crazy enough to do it.

The Times pretty much ignores the New Yorker piece and the nuclear option. That's a mistake. The folly and consequences of nuclear war must be kept in public consciousness constantly, especially now.

Meanwhile, the Bushites want to create the largest non-nuclear explosion on U.S. soil this summer as part of its "bunkerbuster" program, on land claimed by the Shoshone. The feds have already allegedly dumped nuclear waste and perhaps conducted secret nuclear explosions in the area, and the Shoshone have had enough.

As for the role of nuclear power generation in the future, to help lessen fossil fuel burning and global heating, check out this post and comments at World Changing.

Springtime in Washington: Thousands march in Washington (and some 2 million nationally) against Repub immigration bill, Cheney is booed loudly as he throws out the first pitch at a baseball game, new polls show Bush at all time low, with 60% disapproval, more than that believe his intel leaks were illegal or unethical, and most Americans surveyed believe he's a liar. John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and Wm. Buckley Jr. say Iraq is a tragic mistake, 3 retired generals call on him to fire Rumsfeld, and his aide nabbed for petty theft has been joined by a Homeland Security press officer arrested for propositioning a police officer he thought was a 14 year old girl. His right hand in the House resigned under indictment and the likelihood of electoral defeat---and the potentially really bad stuff hasn't even happened yet. But the flowers sure are purdy. Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 10, 2006

The West Winger

Imagining the Santos Administration

In an election that may predict future voting patterns more than it reflects current ones, Matt Santos became President of the Alternate Reality United States on The West Wing last night.

But according to this article in the New York Times, the writers originally intended that it go the other way: Alan Alda's Republican Senator Arnold Vinnick was going to win. The difference, the Times says, was John Spencer's death, and the fear that viewers could not handle the death of Santos' v.p. and the election loss as well. So Santos wins, in a squeaker (when Arizona goes Democratic, thanks presumably to the new Latino vote.)

So our Alternate Reality might have included a West Wing next season in which Alan Alda was the star. Now there will be no West Wing next year (talk about your instant lame duck), and we'll have to imagine a Santos presidency, with universal health care, a sane foreign policy, urgent attention to the climate crisis, voting reform and a renewed industrial economy based on innovation in non-oil renewable and sustainable clean energy. As we search for a candidate who will bring all this to the real reality in 2008.

In coming episodes, we'll probably see the outlines of the Santos administration, including who stays and goes from the Bartlett crew (although even this isn't consequential; nobody has to worry about conflicting committments next season, because nobody is actually coming back.) Then we're free to imagine the Santos administration. And use it to help us clarify what we want in 08. As the Times article points out, real issues were discussed with more sense, analysis and wit on this fictional TV series than in the news media of the so-called real world. It's the major irony of losing this series---we've lost not only our alternate reality, but a place where the real discussions took place about the important political issues of our shared reality.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Rebels Within

Clearly a number of high ranking military types in Washington are upset enough with the Bushite plans for world domination that they are talking about their concerns to reporters like Sy Hersh of the New Yorker and several at the Washington Post. Earlier in the week, a number of State Department people in Washington and Iraq were talking to columnist Sidney Blumenthal about the delusions being enforced by Condi Rice and the Bushites.

"Delusion" is not my word. Blumenthal writes that while State Department people in Iraq were doing their jobs and reporting back their best information and analyses of what really is going on, the Bushites in Washington were not only refusing to deal with these reports, but in at least some cases, were killing the messengers by "reassigning" them elsewhere:

The Bush administration's preferred response to increasing disintegration is to act as if it has a strategy that is succeeding. "More delusion as a solution in the absence of a solution," said a senior state department official.

These professional diplomats have further tarnished their reputations with the Bushites by being right in the past, especially where the Bushwhackers have been tragically wrong. But it is the people who were and are right who pay the price.

"Foreign service officers, as a rule, are self-abnegating in serving any administration. The state department's Intelligence and Research Bureau was correct in its scepticism before the war about Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs, but was ignored. The department was correct in its assessment in its 17-volume Future of Iraq project about the immense effort required for reconstruction after the war, but it was disregarded. Now its reports from Iraq are correct, but their authors are being punished. Foreign service officers are to be sent out like tethered goats to the killing fields. When these misbegotten projects inevitably fail, the department will be blamed. Passive resistance to these assignments reflects anticipation of impending disaster, including the likely murder of diplomats."

An additional result is that the brand new Secretary of State has already detached herself from the department she supposedly heads:

" Amid this internal crisis of credibility, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has washed her hands of her department. Her management skills are minimal. Now she has left coercing people to fill the PRTs to her counsellor, Philip Zelikow, who, by doing the dirty work, is trying to keep her reputation clean. "