Saturday, September 30, 2006

"I met Bill Clinton once but he didn't really talk -- he was hitting on my wife."

-- Ashton Kutcher

A rival alliance to the U.S. ?

Venezuela/Bolivia/Equador (anti-U.S. South American oil producers)

+ Iran/southern Iraq (anti-U.S. Shiite superstate with nukes and the world's largest oil reserves)

+ Russia (anti-U.S. oil producer with world's second largest cache of nukes and a permanent seat of on the U.N. Security Council)

+ China (world's largest population, quickly growing economy and military, nukes, permanent seat of on the U.N. Security Council, chokehold on the U.S. by financing the Bush budget deficits)

Code words

From Political Wire
In a recent CNN interview, President Bush suggested history would judge the Iraq war as "just a comma." He repeated the statement today in Alabama. While it seems an odd thing to say, a Political Wire reader suggests it's designed to speak to the religious right while not unnecessarily alarming others. In other words, it's a classic example of "dog whistle politics" used to energize his base.

The Christian proverb Bush was evidently referring to is "Never put a period where God has put a comma." In essence, trust in God to make a bad situation better.

Book notes: State of Denial

From State of Denial by Bob Woodward
  • The president met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs. Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw the situation through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out. In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress.
  • George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black met with Condi Rice on July 10, 2001 and went over top-secret intelligence pointing to an impending attack and “sounded the loudest warning” to the White House of a likely attack on the U.S. by Bin Laden. Rice was polite, but, “They felt the brushoff.” The meeting was never disclosed to the 911 commision.
  • Rumsfeld and Bush's father, the former president, couldn't stand each other. Bush Senior didn't trust Rumsfeld and thought he was arrogant, self-important, too sure of himself and Machiavellian. Rumsfeld had also made nasty private remarks that the elder Bush was a lightweight. Card could see that overcoming the former president's skepticism about Rumsfeld added to the president-elect's excitement. It was a chance to prove his father wrong.
  • At times Rumsfeld would not return Rice's phone calls when she had questions about war planning or troop deployments. She complained to Rumsfeld, who reminded her that the chain of command did not include the national security adviser.
  • Sometimes there would be a handout for the president with 140 pages, and the lesser beings like Miller would be allowed to see only 40 of them. On one occasion, Rumsfeld came to a meeting without enough briefing packets for all the principals, so Rice wound up looking on with the person next to her.
  • At times Rumsfeld would not return Rice's phone calls when she had questions about war planning or troop deployments. She complained to Rumsfeld, who reminded her that the chain of command did not include the national security adviser.
  • In the days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with devastating effect, Bush decided more troops were needed and asked Card to relay the message to Rumsfeld. "You know I don't report to you," Rumsfeld said. "I know you don't report to me," Card replied. "You report to the president. But believe me, he would like you to do this." "I'm not going to do it unless the president tells me."
  • Every six weeks or so, Card tried to have a private, candid session with first lady Laura Bush to hear her concerns. [Gary thinks Card wanted to make sure George was staying off the booze]

Dirty IM's

Wow, no wonder that Florida congressman resigned so quickly. Here's the transcript of IM's between him and a underage Congressional page. And this guy voted for the "Defense" of Marriage Act. And the Republican leadership knew about this stuff for almost one year and didn't do anything about it.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Kids getting cardboard cutouts of their dads in Iraq

Book notes: The End of Faith

The End of Faith by Sam Harris

  • To my thought that people just use religion as a justification to commit violence that they wanted to do anyway, Harris says, that "ordinary people cannot be moved to burn genial old scholars alive for blaspheming the Koran, or celebrate the violent deaths of their children, unless they believe some improbable things about the nature of the universe."
  • Relious moderates are, in large part, responisble for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptual literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.
  • Our waking and dreaming brains are engaged in substantially the same activity; it is just that while dreaming, our brains are far less constrained by sensory information.
  • Whenever a man imagines that he need only believe the truth of a proposition, without evidence -- that unbelievers will go to Hell, that Jews drink the blood of infants -- he becomes capable of anything.
  • On almost every page the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers. On almost every page, it prepares the ground for religious war.
  • Spain translates more foreign books into Spanish in one year than have been translated into Arabic since the Ninth Century.
  • Religious violence is with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith.
  • The litmus test for reasonableness should be obvious: anyone who wants to know how the world is, whether in physical or spiritual terms, will be open to new evidence.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Book notes

Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks

  • While Bremer's order to dissolve the Iraqi Army is widely seen as the seed of the insurgency, the firing of as many as 85,000 government bureaucrats for being "senior" members of the Baath Party probably did more to create the insurgency. It both paralyzed social services and provided the insurgency with a management class.
  • De-Baathification was ordered by Bremer (CPA Order No. 1) as soon as he arrived, and he did so over the objections of the CPA senior staff. The origins of Bremer's order are unclear, but they appear to have been engineered by Chabali as a way to clean out the government so that he could take over.
  • The Bagdad police chief in 2003, Col. Spain, says he did not understand the command structure he was working in and didn't know how to resolve conflicting orders from the U.S. military and the CPA. Even in Washington, Rice and Rumsfeld argued over whom Bremer reports to.
  • The bible of how to conduct a counterinsurgency, "Counterinsurgency Warfare," says that there must be a uniform strategy that is administered by a single top commander, a civilian to whom the military is subordinate. Ricks says that you can almost open a page of "Counterinsurgency Warfare" and find a rule that the U.S. was breaking.
  • The strategic confusion about why the U.S. was in Iraq, such as the Bush Administration's insistence that the war was part of a counterattack against al Qaeda-style terrorism and was somehow a reponse to the 911 attacks, may have led some American soldiers to treat ordinary Iraqis as if they were terrorists. Some indeed were, But many -- certainly the majority of those raided and detained -- were just average Iraqis, not necessarily sympathetic to the U.S. presense but actually not taking up arms against it, at least before they were humiliated on ircarcerated.

Offending the devil

“Calling Bush the devil is offending the devil. The devil is evil, but intelligent. I believe Bush is a tremendously dimwitted president who has done great damage to his country and to the world.”

-- Rafael Correa, Equador's front-running presidential candidate.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"We call them faggots"

Bishop Wellington Boone at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit", one hour and a half after opening remaks by White House spokesman Tony Snow:

This matter of gay — I want the gays mad at me. I’m not on enough of their hit lists. [Applause] Bless God. I want to tell you something, and I’m gonna get [inaudible] here, and I hope I don’t embarass anybody about this here. But I want to say something to you, that I’m not afraid of these people. And they do play dirty tricks, and they do try to, you know, you know, do stuff with your mailing lists, and they’re really nasty about trying to stop us from, you know, taking away their perversion.

But I want to tell you something is, they don’t know, we’re driven by God to deal with this stuff, and I want to say to you that, in this regard, I’m not playing with you. That when it comes to the matter of this gay stuff, I know that a family is not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It’s a man and a woman. That’s the creative order, and I’m not backing down. I’m standing flat-footed on that right there. [Applause]

Everywhere I get to speak, I am guarded by the grace of God, being strong on it. Now they’re fussing on it, they’re saying a few things, but they don’t have me, you know, in their, you know, on their web sites. They’re not coming at me strong, and I would say this. Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don’t stand strong on principle, we call them “faggots.” A punk is — and our people, I’m from the ghetto, so sometimes it does come out a little bit. I got another one I’m gonna say in a minute — [laughter] — that don’t stand up for what’s right, we say, “You’re sissified out!” “You’re a sissy!” That means you don’t stand up for principles.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book notes

From The Prince of Marshes by Rory Stewart

  • In Afghanistan or Sierra Leone, where there had been decades of civil war and no functioning state, a Coalition [like the CPA] could easily improve things. But Saddam's huge centralized bureaucracy had run almost every detail of society and the economy. Such a system was difficult to jeep, replicate, or replace. Iraqis believed that the Coalition and Western technology could create immediate improvement in their lives. They couldn't.
  • I had never believed that mankind, unless overawed by a strong government, would fall inevitably into violent chaos. Societies were orderly. . .But Maysan made me reconsider.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."

-- Sinclair Lewis.

"If I catch anyone who leaks in my government. I would like to string them up by the thumbs -- the same way we do with prisoners in Guantanamo." -- George Bush to Candian Prime Monister Chrétien in March, 2002

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NPR interview with T. Christian Miller of The Los Angeles Times about his new book, "Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence"

-- Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


From Tom Friedman

Any time that OPEC got a little too overzealous in pushing up oil prices back in the 1970’s, the legendary Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani was fond of telling his colleagues: Remember, the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.


A breakthrough is expected within five years, and when that happens it will be possible to extract “more than double” the amount of ethanol from each sugar stalk, said José Luiz Oliverio, a senior V.P. at Dedini, the Brazilian industrial giant, which has a pilot cellulosic ethanol project.

Queen of Denial

"I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions."

-- George Bush

Days earlier, the Wash Post reported:

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dick Armey

Where in the hell did this Terri Schiavo thing come from? There’s not a conservative, Constitution-loving, separation-of-powers guy alive in the world that could have wanted that bill on the floor. That was pure, blatant pandering to [Focus on the Family President] James Dobson. That's all that was. It was silly, stupid, and irresponsible. Nobody serious about the Constitution would do that. But the question was will this energize our Christian conservative base for the next election.
-- '94 Republican majority leader of the House, Dick Armey, who called Barney Frank Barney Fag.


Fidel Castro has cancer and will be dead within one year.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep."

-- Lee Siegel writing anonomously about. . .Lee Siegel, in his former TNR blog's comment section.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism and extremism has risen to the level we never have seen before in the region."

-- Mohammad Khatami, president of Iran from from 1997 to 2005, at the University of Virginia.
"There are some people, and I'm one of them, that believe George Bush was placed where he is by the Lord. I don't care how he governs, I will support him. I'm a Republican through and through."

-- Clydeen Tomanio of Georgia to the Associated Press [emphasis mine]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

From Wash Post

To get a sense of the danger hovering over Mexican democracy, consider these numbers: In the 681 years between the founding of the Aztec empire in 1325 and the present day, Mexico has lived for 196 years under an indigenous theocracy, 289 years under the absolute monarchy of Spain, 106 years under personal or party dictatorships, 68 years embroiled in civil wars or revolutions, and only 22 years in democracy.

This modest democratic 3 percent of Mexico's history is divided over three periods, far separated in time: 11 years in the second half of the 19th century, 11 months at the beginning of the 20th century, and the past 10 years. In the first two instances, the constitutional order was overturned by military coups.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Famous BFF's

After Rumsfeld compared today's foes of the Iraq war to the Hitler appeasers of the 1930's, Frank Rich noted the similar obsequiousness of Rumsfeld greeting Hussein and Chamberlain greeting Hilter-- in the years 1983 and 1938, respectively.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Zero Tolerance questioned

From Malcolm Gladwell
Somewhere along the way—perhaps in response to Columbine—we forgot the value of discretion in disciplining the young. “Ultimately, they have to make right decisions,” the Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, said of his players, after jettisoning his quarterback. “When they do not, the consequences are serious.” Open and shut: he sounded as if he were talking about a senior executive of Enron, rather than a college sophomore whose primary obligation at Oklahoma was to throw a football in the direction of young men in helmets. You might think that if the University of Oklahoma was so touchy about its quarterback being “overpaid” it ought to have kept closer track of his work habits with an on-campus job. But making a fetish of personal accountability conveniently removes the need for institutional accountability. (We court-martial the grunts who abuse prisoners, not the commanding officers who let the abuse happen.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Global warming: solution denial

From Gregg Easterbrook in The Atlantic
One reason the global-warming problem seems so daunting is that the success of previous antipollution efforts remains something of a secret. Polls show that Americans think the air is getting dirtier, not cleaner, perhaps because media coverage of the environment rarely if ever mentions improvements. For instance, did you know that smog and acid rain have continued to diminish throughout George W. Bush’s presidency?

One might expect Democrats to trumpet the decline of air pollution, which stands as one of government’s leading postwar achievements. But just as Republicans have found they can bash Democrats by falsely accusing them of being soft on defense, Democrats have found they can bash Republicans by falsely accusing them of destroying the environment.


Some of these problems once seemed scary and intractable, just as greenhouse gases seem today. About forty years ago urban smog was increasing so fast that President Lyndon Johnson warned, “Either we stop poisoning our air or we become a nation [in] gas masks groping our way through dying cities.” During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, emissions of chlorofluoro­carbons, or CFCs, threatened to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. As recently as George H. W. Bush’s administration, acid rain was said to threaten a “new silent spring” of dead Appalachian forests.

But in each case, strong regulations were enacted, and what happened? Since 1970, smog-forming air pollution has declined by a third to a half. Emissions of CFCs have been nearly eliminated, and studies suggest that ozone-layer replenishment is beginning. Acid rain, meanwhile, has declined by a third since 1990, while Appalachian forest health has improved sharply.


Yet a paralyzing negativism dominates global-warming politics. Environmentalists depict climate change as nearly unstoppable; skeptics speak of the problem as either imaginary (the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated,” in the words of Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate’s environment committee) or ruinously expensive to address.

Two thoughts:

-- One the problems now is that technology fixes have been so fantastically effective in the past. People heard about air pollution, ozone depletion, and acid rain. They don't understand the fixes to these problems, so they think the warnings were false scarces to begin with. It's no wonder that the big denial book on global warming was written by Michael Crichton, whose whole schtick is that the "experts" don't know nearly as much as you and me.

This could be a classic law of unintended consequences. Perhaps if technology hadn't been so good at heading off these previous problems -- if the
Appalachian forests really did die and spawn massive forest fires -- people wouldn't be so fatuous to environmental warnings.

-- Air pollution, acid rain. and ozone depletion were problems that could be fixed quickly after physical detection. People could see (or see on TV) the effects of air pollution and acid rain. They could be presented with incontrovertible facts on oxone depletion. Once these problems were accepted and the solutions implemented, the problems were quicklt solved.

Perhaps this will be true with CO2 and methane build up in the atmosphere as well. But Co2 and methane seem a lot more like an oil tanker than a sail boat -- it will take century, not a decade or less, to turn it around once the problem is manifest.
"This truck could be more politically incorrect only if it ran on whale oil and panda tears. "

-- NYT reviewer EZRA DYER on 2007 Dodge Ram SRT10, which gets 7 MPG.

World is more overweight than malnourished

From Slate

Friday, September 01, 2006


The conflict with Iran will go on the back burner, gas prices will plummet after Labor Day weekend, and Bush's approval ratings will climb. Below is a chart of how Bush's approval ratings (red) track recipocal gas prices (blue, with up meaning cheaper).