Happy Friday.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Real vs. The Imagined

Happy Friday.

There is a war going on in Iraq. No, not the war you read about. Certainly not the war as presented by the neocon idealists (their oxymoronic term) in Washington. And not the Phase 1, "Mission Accomplished" war that lasted a few weeks and sacrificed 140 American lives.

There is a real and escalating war (more than 2,700 Americans lost since Phase 1) which, although it has little impact on our daily lives outside of politics, is possibly the worst foreign policy disaster in the history of our nation. And, in light of the 21st century symmetry between foreign and domestic, global and national, terrorist and ally, is sure to have devastating consequences long after our national focus turns elsewhere and we hope for forgiveness (or at least forgetfulness) from the Iraqis and most of the world.

Mark Danner offers a sobering description of the current catastrophe in IRAQ: The War of the Imagination. The theme of the article is captured by one of the last century's most prescient, and revered, foreign policy analysts, George F. Kennan:

Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.[1]

And, of course, the plan for reaching an "end" in Iraq remains enigmatically undefined. It signifies the extraordinary failure of a president who has been unable to lead his government when electing to exercise the most grave of all presidential powers: taking the nation to war.

The results of this failure to consider an "end" are striking:

  • In the first year of the war Iraq saw 109 "terror related bombings"; in the second year 613; in the third year, 1,037; in the last six months, 1,002.[2]
  • The number of daily attacks on US forces at each of the Iraq war's purported "turning points":

    July 2003: Bremer Appoints Iraqi Governing Council; sixteen attacks per day.

    December 2003: Saddam Hussein captured; nineteen attacks per day.

    June 2004: Handover of sovereignty to Iraqis; forty-five attacks per day.

    January 2005: Elections for Transitional Government; sixty-one attacks per day.

    June 2006: Death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; ninety attacks per day.[3]
  • 6,599 Iraqis were murdered in July and August 2006 alone. Estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the war range from a conservative 52,000[4] to 655,000,[5] with the Iraqi Health Minister recently announcing a cumulative total of 150,000. The current rate of killing of one hundred Iraqis a day would be the equivalent, adjusting for population, of 1,100 Americans a day, or 33,000 dead a month. (In the decade-long Vietnam War, about 58,000 Americans died.)

Only the week before the November 2006 election, President Bush warned an interviewer about the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq:

The terrorists...have clearly said they want a safe haven from which to launch attacks against America, a safe haven from which to topple moderate governments in the Middle East, a safe haven from which to spread their jihadist point of view, which is that there are no freedoms in the world; we will dictate to you how you think....[6]

We have given them just that. Today's Iraq is a war torn hell ruled by war lords and their militias; just like Afghanistan today, and in the years leading up to 9/11. Purple fingers do not a democracy make. "Stay the course" and other platitudes do not appease a war weary nation (neither ours nor the Iraqis').

Worse still, the current political landscape focuses on an "exit strategy" reduced to the withdrawal of troops and the establishment of a "sovereign" Iraqi government. But this too is not a plan. It is an escape.

In the end, the problem is not just that the president is locked into an imaginary vision of Iraq far better than the reality. It's that the reality is far worse then he had the capacity to imagine.

[1] See Albert Eisele, "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq," The Hill, September 26, 2002.

[2] See "The Geography of War," Newsweek, November 6, 2006. These numbers do not include attacks on American troops with improvised explosive devices, of which there were 2,625 in July alone (nearly double the 1,454 IED attacks in January). See Michael R. Gordon, Mark Mazzetti, and Thom Shanker, "Insurgent Bombs Directed at GI's in Iraq Increase," The New York Times, August 17, 2006.

[3] See Anthony Cordesman, Iraqi Force Development: Summer 2006 Update(CSIS, 2006), p. 7.

[4] Iraq Body Count.

[5] The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

[6] See This Week with George Stephanopoulos, ABC News, October 22, 2006.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Morning in America

Happy Wednesday.

Finally. The news is all good including the following Senate victories:

  • Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
  • Jim Webb (Virginia)
  • Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island)
  • Bob Casey, Jr. (Pennslyvania)
  • Bob Menendez (New Jersey)
  • Ben Cardin (Maryland)
  • Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)

      (DS'06 went three for three!) Perhaps more importantly, Democrats captured six new state houses for a total of 28. Included in the mix is Ohio which bodes well for 2008. It will be nice to have the good guys counting the votes.

      Voters in 37 states weighed in on 205 ballot measures many of which attempted to promote a radically conservative agenda already ruled unconstitutional by the courts. Most of these efforts failed.

      I am still shocked that the races were so close confirming that the Democratic Party has an extraordinary amount of work to do over the next two years. Specifically, the gloves must come off to confront the racism and hatred endemic to the republican party.

      Of course, the Dems also now have to govern. Nancy Pelosi is reported to have a Speaker's style akin to that of a majority whip which is necessary to keep an historically rambunctious group in line. Fortunately, as this video montage confirms, they can't do worse...it's morning again in America.

    • Friday, February 17, 2006

      The End

      Happy Friday.

      It has been a year since Happy Friday began. Remember "Extraordinary Rendition" whereby the current administration ships individuals to other countries where they are interrogated through torture?

      It is still happening.

      A lot has been discussed over the past year: lies about North Korea; the destruction of American families; the truth about the estate tax; lies about the war on terror; the massive corruption within the republican party; and the promise of what lies ahead, among much else.

      But, alas, it is time to move on. The midterms are on the horizon and I am focusing my attention there--among other places.

      Of course the ugly will continue for another two years. "This administration will go down as the worst in history." Accordingly, I anticipate some egregious conduct that will mandate a reappearance by HF. I also welcome your contributions.

      Please continue to pay attention, talk about the issues, and vote.

      Take America back.

      Friday, February 10, 2006

      The Big Question

      Happy Friday.

      Last week we learned that socially liberal and fiscally conservative supporters of the republican party obtained neither for their vote.

      The GOP imposes its conservative dogma on our heretofore democratic society attacking those who refuse to compromise their identities or sacrifice their individual rights to conform to an anachronistic doctrine. It is not socially liberal.

      The GOP's so-called conservative economic policies have generated a massive deficit totaling $929 billion, unprecedented debt, a 30% increase in spending, and tremendous wealth disparity. It is not fiscally conservative.

      While these facts speak for themselves, there is another problem with the false construct of a socially liberal, fiscally conservative republican. It is a paradox. Economics impacts upon the social landscape, and vice-versa. The desire for a "conservative" laissez-faire economy clashes with socially "liberal" concerns like the ability to find a decent paying job, a good school, and affordable healthcare.

      The GOP does not stand for a socially liberal, fiscally conservative America because it can't. A socially liberal and fiscally conservative vote is a myth.

      As the below statistics from the Economic Policy Institute reveal, the average American is far worse off today than five years ago. Because social and economic issues are intertwined, Americans suffer in both arenas.

      If the number one reason people voted for Dubya is national security, it's time to ask: At what cost is it worth protecting our nation from a foreign threat when the real threat to our lives, our values, and our families is at home?

      1. Profits are up, but the wages and the incomes of average Americans are down.

      • Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. Yet, productivity—the growth of the economic pie—is up by 13.5%.[1]
      • Wage growth has been shortchanged because 35% of the growth of total income in the corporate sector has been distributed as corporate profits, far more than the 22% in previous periods.[2]
      • Consequently, median household income (inflation-adjusted) has fallen five years in a row and was 4% lower in 2004 than in 1999, falling from $46,129 to $44,389.[3]

      2. More and more people are deeper and deeper in debt.

      • The indebtedness of U.S. households, after adjusting for inflation, has risen 35.7% over the last four years.[4]
      • The level of debt as a percent of after-tax income is the highest ever measured in our history. Mortgage and consumer debt is now 115% of after-tax income, twice the level of 30 years ago.[5]
      • The debt-service ratio (the percent of after-tax income that goes to pay off debts) is at an all-time high of 13.6%.[6]
      • The personal savings rate is negative for the first time since WWII.[7]

      3. Job creation has not kept up with population growth, and the employment rate has fallen sharply.

      • The United States has only 1.3% more jobs today (excluding the effects of Hurricane Katrina) than in March 2001 (the start of the recession). Private sector jobs are up only 0.8%. At this stage of previous business cycles, jobs had grown by an average of 8.8% and never less than 6.0%.[8]
      • The unemployment rate is relatively low at 5%, but still higher than the 4% in 2000. Plus, the percent of the population that has a job has never recovered since the recession and is still 1.3% lower than in March 2001. If the employment rate had returned to pre-recession levels, 3 million more people would be employed.[9]
      • More than 3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since January 2000.[10]

      4. Poverty is on the rise, and so is wealth concentration.

      • The poverty rate rose from 11.3% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2004.[11]
      • The number of people living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million since 2000.[12]
      • More children are living in poverty: the child poverty rate increased from 16.2% in 2000 to 17.8% in 2004.[13]
      • At the same time, the richest one percent's share of taxes (those earning $400,000 or more) is less than that of the 56 million Americans commonly refered to as the middle class (those earning between $45,000 and $400,000).[14]

      5. Rising health care costs are eroding families' already declining income.

      • Households are spending more on health care. Family health costs rose 43-45% for married couples with children, single mothers, and young singles from 2000 to 2003.[15]
      • Employers are cutting back on health insurance. Last year, the percent of people with employer-provided health insurance fell for the fourth year in a row. Nearly 3.7 million fewer people had employer-provided insurance in 2004 than in 2000. Taking population growth into account, 11 million more people would have had employer-provided health insurance in 2004 if the coverage rate had remained at the 2000 level.[16]


      [1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics Survey. BLS, Labor Productivity and Costs. Productivity is non-farm business output per hour.

      [2] Bureau of Economic Analysis. NIPA Table 1.14.

      [3] Census Bureau. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004.

      [4] Flow of Funds Accounts in the United States. Total household liabilities, Federal Reserve Flow of Fund's Balance Sheet tables. Deflated using CPI-U from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

      [5] Flow of Funds Accounts in the United States. For Disposable Income, Bureau of Economic Analysis Table 2.1. Mortgage and consumer debt from the Federal Reserve Flow of Fund's Balance Sheet tables.

      [6] Federal Reserve: Household Debt Service and Financial Obligations Ratios.

      [7] Flow of Funds Accounts in the United States. NIPA Table 2.1, adjusted using the price index for Personal Consumption Expenditures (Table 2.3.4).

      [8] Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. For methodology see Price, Lee (2005) The Boom That Wasn't, EPI Briefing Paper #168.

      [9] Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. For methodology see Bernstein, Jared and Lee Price (2005) An Off-Kilter Expansion, EPI Briefing Paper #164.

      [10] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics Survey. See also Bivens, Josh (2005) "Trade deficits and manufacturing employment," Economic Snapshot, November 20, 2005.

      [11] Census Bureau. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004.

      [12] Census Bureau. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004.

      [13] Census Bureau. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004.

      [14] New York Times. The Wealthiest Benefit More from the Recent Tax Cuts: June 2005.

      [15] See Mishel, Lawrence et al. (2004) Less Cash in Their Pockets, Briefing Paper #154.

      [16] See Mishel, Lawrence et al. (2004) Less Cash in Their Pockets, Briefing Paper #154.

      Friday, February 03, 2006

      See the Light

      Happy Friday.

      Some of my favorite people are those who vote republican because they claim to be "fiscally conservative" although "socially liberal." It's a great excuse for what can only amount to one of two things: greed or bigotry (maybe both, in same cases).

      The election of the new House Majority Leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), by the GOP caucus eviscerates such thinking. Rep. Boehner consistently has voted in favor of a socially conservative agenda imposing, for example, his personal religion on the nation (see below). There goes that argument.

      How about fiscal conservatism, the hallmark of which is controlled spending and budget surpluses? Spending has increased 30% over the five years of Dubbya's tyrannical reign. The current national debt totals $8,202,381,905,119.75 , or $27,485.59 for every man, woman, and child. For those who could stomach the State of the Union, the L.A. Times presents the actual facts underlying Tuesday night's spin (lies?) that the economy is "robust." There goes that argument.

      The GOP agenda is not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It is fiscally classist and socially draconian. These are the facts. It's time to see the light.
      • For School Prayer and Amending the Constitution: Rep. Boehner supported a school prayer amendment to the United States Constitution in 1997 (H.J.Res. 78), 1999 (H.J.Res 66), and 2001 (H.J.Res. 52); voted to permit school prayer "during this time of struggle against the forces of international terrorism" (House Roll Call Vote 445, Nov. 15, 2001); and voted to only allow federal aid to schools that allow prayer (House Roll Call Vote 85, March 23, 1994).
      • For Forced Religion in Anti-Poverty Programs: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs to require aid recipients to join in religious activities. (House Roll Call Votes 16 and 17, Feb. 4, 2004)
      • 100% Against a Woman's Right to Choose: Rep. Boehner received a "0%" pro-choice score from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005.
      • For Religious Employment Discrimination: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs to engage in federally-funded employment discrimination. (House Roll Call Votes 15 and 17, Feb. 4, 2004)
      • Against the Rule of Law in Ten Commandments Case: Rep. Boehner voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing a court order to remove a 5,000 pound Ten Commandments monument from Alabama's state supreme court. (House Roll Call Vote 419, July 23, 2003)
      • Against Common-Sense Environmental Safeguards: Rep. Boehner voted for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (House Roll Call Vote 122, April 20, 2005); voted to gut the Endangered Species Act (House Roll Call Vote 506, September 29, 2005); and voted to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (House Roll Call Vote 242, June 15, 2004).
      • For More Religious Employment Discrimination: Rep. Boehner voted to permit taxpayer-funded job training programs to engage in religious discrimination when hiring and firing employees with federal funds. (House Roll Call Vote 46, March 2, 2005)
      • Against Confronting Proselytizing at the Air Force Academy: Rep. Boehner voted against an amendment to squarely address religious coercion and proselytizing at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. The amendment criticized "coercive and abusive religious proselytizing" of cadets at the Academy while observing that "_expression of personal religious faith is welcome" throughout the military. (House Roll Call Vote 283, June 20, 2005)
      • Led the Effort to Inject Religious Employment Discrimination into Head Start: Rep. Boehner added a controversial amendment in September to a previously bipartisan School Readiness Act which would "allow federally funded early-child-care providers to discriminate on religious grounds."
      • Pushed Ohio Schools to Embrace "Intelligent Design:" People For the American Way reports that Rep. Boehner and fellow Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot wrote to the Ohio school board claiming that legislative language required that references to "Intelligent Design" be included in Ohio's science standards. In fact, such language was removed from the relevant education bill before it became final.

      Friday, January 27, 2006

      Fighting the War at Home

      Happy Friday.

      In 1971, after years entrenched in Vietnam, more than 72 percent of Congress had served in the military. World War II generated seven presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush). Today, less than 20 percent of Congress is composed of war veterans.

      Of course, Dubbya was AWOL during Vietnam and Cheney "had other priorities than military service." Other notable administration officials Andrew Card, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, and Karl Rove all came of age during the Vietnam war. As did prominent republicans Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey, Tom Delay, Roy Blunt, Bill Frist, and Rick Santorum. Each and every single one of them found a way to avoid service. Each of these men have gone out of their way to push hard for military solutions to political problems.

      Today, a new breed of "veteran" politicians is emerging from the Iraqi quagmire. Notably, these men and women are running as Democrats.

      A common theme of their campaigns is a frustration with the current administration, its lies about Iraq, and their courage and determination to lead America in a new direction. Their convictions are strengthened in the face of the ongoing illegal and unethical misconduct plaguing the GOP.

      Unfortunately, their service does not inoculate them from attack by the republicans; as the vicious smear campaign against Max Cleland in 2002 made clear. Cleland, who lost both legs and part of one arm in Vietnam, was called a coward by the GOP which ran ads equating him to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

      Of course, the current administration will be hard pressed to challenge veterans of a war it started. Especially as it continues to pretend that all is well "over there." (2,238 Americans have died in Iraq and 16,548 have been wounded there as of yesterday.)

      As the mid-term elections approach, it's time to recognize these men and women and their continued resolve to fight for our country--at home and abroad:

      Chris Carney, 46, is a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve and was called up in late 2003 to serve as a special Pentagon adviser on intelligence and terrorism. The Democrat is running unopposed for his party's nomination in a northeast Pennsylvania district. He will face Republican Rep. Don Sherwood, whose recent settlement of a lawsuit by his mistress could prove a factor in the race.

      Andrew Duck, 43, is a former Army intelligence officer in Iraq who currently works as a Pentagon contractor. The Democrat is running in rural Maryland for the seat held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a House Armed Services Committee member. The district voted 65% for President Bush in 2004.

      Tammy Duckworth, 37, is a former lieutenant in the Army National Guard who lost both her legs and had her arm crushed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cockpit of her aircraft and exploded over Baghdad.

      Tim Dunn, 45, is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves who served in Baghdad in 2004 as a legal adviser to the Iraqi Special Tribunal trying Saddam Hussein. If the Democrat wins a party primary, he would face GOP Rep. Robin Hayes in a North Carolina district with a strong military presence that leans Republican.

      Patrick Murphy, 32, is a former West Point professor who deployed to Iraq as an Army lawyer in 2003. If he wins a Democratic primary in suburban Philadelphia, Murphy would face GOP freshman Michael Fitzpatrick in the fall. The district backed Democrat John Kerry for president in 2004.

      Tim Walz, 51, is a former command sergeant major in the Army National Guard who was depolyed to Iraq in 2003. If he wins the Democratic primary in southern Minnesota, Walz will face republican Gil Gutknecht.

      Friday, January 20, 2006

      Déjà Vu All Over Again

      Happy Friday.

      I recently finished George F. Kennan's memoirs. As many know, in his capacity as a career member of the Foreign Service, Kennan authored two of the most famous documents in modern-day diplomacy: the Long Telegram and the X-Article. He also participated peripherally in the development of the Truman Doctrine (with which he disagreed) and substantively in the development of the Marshall Plan (he chaired the Policy Planning Staff which developed the initiative).

      A prolific writer and perspicacious observer, Kennan rarely failed to share his thinking with his superiors. In reading his thoughts on the post-hostilities treatment of Germany after the Second World War, I was struck by how they resonated sixty years later.

      Kennan was concerned about the Allies' policy:

      that, assuming it to be our duty to insure that Germans employed in administrative capacities are not enemies of democratic reconstruction, we should endeavor to eliminate from the administrative machinery of the German state all persons belonging to certain broad categories which comprise at least three million individuals.

      Kennan's objections to this view are below (the emphasis is my own). Generally, Kennan feared that the political and cultural destruction of Germany by an occupying foreign power would incite a violent nationalist insurgency. He suggested, in the alternative, an approach by which the ruling elite was forced to recognize the futility of their aggression. Having already been defeated militarily, the "logic of history" and "organic development of German political life" would lead to their ultimate demise in the face of democratic ideals as determined and adopted by Germans' own "national experiences"; not as imposed by a foreign occupier.

      Please feel free to substitute “Iraq” for “Germany” at every opportunity.


      Memoirs: 1925-1950
      by George F. Kennan

      [First] there is no thornier or more thankless task in the field of foreign affairs than that of trying to probe into the political records and motives of masses of individuals in a foreign country. It is impossible to avoid injustices, errors, and resentment. It involves the maintenance of a huge, and necessarily unpopular, investigative apparatus. I should place the proposed program for Germany clearly beyond the capacity of our own intelligence agencies. ...

      If we attempt to carry out the program indicated, we will not succeed. People will either escape notice entirely; or they will prove their indispensability on technical grounds; or they will disappear and pop up elsewhere under other names; or they will see that records are destroyed ... We will eventually get caught up in a round of denunciation, confusion, and disunity from which none but the Germans would stand to profit.

      Second, the project, even if it could be successfully carried out, would not serve the purpose for which it is designed. We would not find any other class of people competent to assume the burdens of those we had eliminated. Whether we like it or not, nine-tenths of what is strong, able, and respected in Germany has been poured into those very categories we have in mind. To remove these categories would mean to saddle some alternative regime – presumably composed of our occupying forces and such liberal Germans as could be found and commonly accepted by the [occupiers] -- with a task far beyond its power, and simultaneously with an embittered, irresponsible opposition of unparalleled strength and prestige. The only result would be the final discrediting in Germany of all that the Western powers stand for, the assumption of the cloak of martyrdom by the nationalist elements, and the eventual triumphant return of the latter in the role of the liberators of Germany from a bungling, pseudodemocratic puppet regime. We must never forget that the forces of liberalism in Germany are pitifully weak. To place upon them the strain of major responsibility before their shoulders are broad enough to bear it may easily lead to their final destruction.

      Finally, I should like to plead that the elimination of nationalist elements by action on our part is not only impracticable and inefficacious, but also unnecessary. The main purpose of our post-hostilities action on Germany is, as I take it, to assure that that country will not again become the seat of a program of military aggression which might threaten our security. For this, we all agree, it must be demonstrated to Germany that aggression does not pay. But I do not see that this involves the artificial removal of any given class in Germany from its position in public life. Let us rather assume – for there is ample justification for doing so – that nationalist Germany is Germany; and let us then set about to not to relieve that nationalist Germany of the very responsibilities it might justly be required to bear, but to hold it strictly to its tasks and to teach it the lessons we wish it to learn. The best treatment of the present ruling class in Germany is not an obliging removal from office at the very moment when the exercise has become an ugly burden, but a firm demonstration that Germany is not strong enough to threaten the interests of other great powers with impunity and that any unsuccessful attempt in this direction will inevitably lead to catastrophe. It is precisely the strong nationalistic ruling caste which must become convinced of this. Once they realize it, the realization will soon take the guts out of their own nationalism. It will probably eventually lead to their own political demise, for they have no program, in reality, but the greatness and power of Germany. But if they then go, it will be through the logic of history and through organic development of German political life, not through the premature, and unavoidably inept, interference of foreign powers. The political development of great peoples is conditioned and determined by their national experiences, but never by the manipulations of foreign powers in their internal affairs.