Annotated State of the Union

I'm hoping to get back to regular posting soon. Even if I don't have time for a full analysis, I just couldn't let the SOTU go past without at least a 'documentation' type post...

From ThinkProgress and Click.TV:

Altogether, a rather flat speech, though Bush kinda pulled it together at the end. Of course he had to resort to pointing to a guy that demonstrated courage and concern for his fellow citizen - something completely alien to Bush. I'm not really seeing Bush get much more than a point or two out of this speech. First, with his numbers in the tank, I imagine most people avoided watching it. People who did already had firm opinions on Iraq and the Bush Administration. The speech was unlikely to do anything but reaffirm them.

Anybody who did tune in for the SOTU and didn't stick around for the Democratic response missed what was undoubtedly the better speech of the night. even though it was delivered by a newly elected Senator, my guess is that it will be Jim Webb's (D-VA) speech that will be better remembered 10 years down the road.

Speaking of which...

I'm sure Bush is glad he got to speak before Webb. Pitting a man who can barely form cohesive sentences against a well-regarded novelist is almost unfair...


FoxNews: "Obama = Terrorist"

You knew it was only a matter of time before Fox News did this, but when it happens, it's still makes your head hurt.


Citation du Jour

"He has 24 months left in his presidency. I don't think I'm being mean-spirited by saying [that in] the first six years of his presidency, there's been nothing accomplished except the biggest foreign policy fiasco in the history of our country."
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in Time magazine.

And don't forget curtailing our freedoms, dragging America's reputation through the mud, engaging in torture in America's name, packing courts with right-wing judges, destroying any semblance of fiscal sanity, and forcing the American Public to listen to him say 'new-kyu-lar' over and over again...

America's Failure in Iraq

From Richard Cohen's Op-Ed in the Washington Post:

...I could not imagine being a suicide bomber or a member of a death squad -- or killing someone because he was a Shiite or a Sunni. As there was in Vietnam, there is a piece of Iraq -- its culture, it religions, its history -- that we do not understand. This war has lasted longer than we expected not just because we were inept or understaffed or fired the Baathists or discharged the army -- but because we don't understand the country. For instance, an Iraqi government that reacts lethargically to American proposals moved with surprising alacrity to hang Saddam Hussein. Even late in the game, we didn't see it coming.


I have some questions. When politicians and commentators detail all that the Bush administration did wrong, I wonder whether any of it really matters. Would things have turned out differently if we had done everything right? Was Iraq so "broken" we never could have fixed it? Was Hussein's despotism an avoidable tragedy, or was it, instead, a tragic necessity? I wonder about all these things. I tend to think now we never could have made it work.

Now, of course, everyone looks like an idiot. Bremer was an idiot and Garner was an idiot and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Cheney and all the generals, with the exception of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who called for lots and lots of troops and was sidelined. But these men are not really idiots. They were merely wrong, sometimes on account of arrogance, but they were doing what they thought was the right thing. They simply didn't know what they didn't know. They didn't know a damned thing about Iraq.
"They didn't know a damned thing about Iraq." I would argue that, at least among the civilian leadership, the fault runs even deeper: They didn't care that they didn't know a damned thing about Iraq.

Cohen spends most of his op-ed comparing Iraq to Vietnam. I've learned that as somebody who was born over a decade after the helicopters left the roof-tops, I don't have the expertise to make such comparisons - so I'll only make an observation about Iraq. If you feel it applies to Vietnam as well, feel free to make the connection.

America failed in Iraq because her people and her leaders went into Iraq assuming that the people of Iraq wanted the same things, both personally and geo-politically, that Americans wanted.

This is a monument to ethnocentrism not just because it's true, but because it needed to be pointed out.

After Bush stopped pretending that invading Iraq was about disarming Saddam and/or preventing cooperation between Saddam (the Middle Easts most secular dictator) and terroristic religious extremists, his 'new' goal became turning Iraq into a secular, moderate, pro-western democracy in the middle of the Middle East. Oil conspiracies aside, the CEO president decided that he was going to set up his 'Shining City on the Hilltm' brand in another location.

But this isn't just your run of the mill 'new location to better serve you!' This is the equivalent of CVS building a new store right across the street from a Rite-Aid. This is about putting your competition out of business.

It's a good strategy.

Or rather, it could have been a good strategy. The problem was that BushCo. thought that they knew what the local population wanted without doing any consumer research.

* * * * *

Getting out of a less and less useful metaphor, BushCo. told us (and themselves) that Iraqis wanted a peaceful, unified, inclusive, secular, pro-western democracy without actually finding out if that was true.

Iraqis do want a peaceful and perhaps a democratic Iraq. It turns out that the pro-western, secular, unified and inclusive parts of BushCo's vision might not be shared by a significant portion of the Iraqi population.

While the vast majority of Iraqis aren't blowing themselves up or engaging in Sunni vs. Shiite killings, enough of the population agrees with the ends (if not the means) to perpetuate the chaos.

America is failing in Iraq because the American vision for Iraq is not the same as the Iraqi vision for Iraq.

20,000 more troops won't change that. More money for reconstruction won't change that. Most importantly, training more Iraqi troops won't change that. It's very simple: Most Iraqi Sunnis want a Sunni dominated Iraq. Most Iraqi Shiites want a Shiite dominated Iraq. And Iraqi Kurds don't really want to be part of Iraq.

That should have been obvious before the invasion but the civilian planners of the war "didn't know a damned thing about Iraq." Perhaps the sectarian divides could have been overcome if it had been taken into account from the beginning. We'll never know. Debating that now is pointless. By proceeding with the invasion without addressing that gaping hole in their strategy, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and every other planner of the War in Iraq attempted to build a nation without a foundation - the endorsement of the governed.

After that colossal omission, even if no other mistake was made, the ability of the United States to create an Iraq that even remotely resembled the Iraq it envisioned is, at best, debatable.

Let's not equivocate. After forgetting to see if Iraqis wanted the Iraq we envisioned, 'success' was - and is - impossible.

* * * * *

Mr. Cohen, if in a round-about way, correctly identifies why America is struggling in Iraq. It would be nice, in the face of thousands of American casualties, to see him have the courage to take that realization to its logical conclusion: Anything other than withdrawal will simply be throwing American blood and treasure into a lost cause.


Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

When I stop to think about it, I marvel that despite the fact that the likes of Dick Cheney, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain voted against its creation, there is a national holiday honoring Dr. King - an honor that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln do not share.

* * * * *

For my generation - and any other generation too young to have been there - there is a need to tell ones self that if they had been alive during the Civil Rights movement, they would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King on the side of good.

My generation's attitudes about race are certainly more in line with those of Dr. King than Gov. George Wallace's, but does that mean that if you were there then, a product of those times and that culture rather than our own, that you would stand up for civil rights?

I once read, and forgive me for not remembering where, that a very good indicator of where you would stand on Civil Rights if you were alive in the '60s is your stance of Gay rights right now.

Though that statement seems self evident today. It was a revelation when I read it back when I was in high school in the '90s. Though I would have probably self identified as a Democrat and a liberal then, I was far less interested and far less involved in politics and/or social causes at the time.

People on both sides of the debate would probably point out differences between the struggle that Dr. King embarked upon and the one facing so many Americans today. And yes, there are incidental differences, but at the root, both struggles are the same -to ensure that every American, even those in maligned minority groups, is ensured equality.

Anti-gay forces understand that King's stance was the right stand. That's why they are so vocal in their claims that one struggle for civil rights is so different from the other. A realization by the public that they are the same struggle would lend incredible credence to to the efforts to end discrimination, both personal and governmental, against the LGTB community.

When we remember Dr. King, we do best to remember his struggle for equality for all Americans, period. The specific fronts in his battle are different than fronts we face today. Both are invaluable steps towards fulfilling the promise of America.


I Knew It.

I knew there was a reason I hated Simon Cowell. This is it:

One of the show's judges, Simon Cowell, says he has never bought a Dylan record because he "bores me to tears."

The British pop impresario says in the February issue of Playboy that he would "plug my ears and run in the other direction" if he were to see a 21-year-old Dylan singing "Blowin' in the Wind."


On the other hand, he told Playboy that inaugural champ Kelly Clarkson is "a young Aretha Franklin," and he much preferred her music to Dylan's
If I were Aretha Franklin, I'd sue.

Kelly Clarkson over Bob Dylan? Unbelievable...

The Disaster of Being Unimaginative

I have slowly begun to form a thesis that, at its core, Conservatism's greatest weakness (and fatal flaw) is that it lacks imagination. Illustration:

From Freedom's Power by Paul Starr, via Ezra Klein:

Far from making the United States stronger, Bush’s policies have dissipated American power. In his speech, the president suggested that if the United States failed in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened. But Iran has obviously already been emboldened because its leaders believe that an America mired in Iraq can make only empty threats.

To use power ineffectually is to destroy it. Conservatives may have believed that the unilateral assertion of American military might is the best way to extend American influence abroad and promote democracy. The experience of the past several years, however, show how limited an understanding of power that is. The Bush strategy has undermined not just America’s soft power--its ability to attract support throughout the world--but its hard power as well.
What I take away from this isn't that Bush consciously squandered America's 'soft power' - he never knew that America had it.

Perhaps Bush (and his ideological brethren) couldn't imagine that power, the ability to get other people/parties/nations to do what you want, could come from anything other than the end of rifle. (Or a multi-billion dollar joint tactical strike force.) Perhaps he couldn't imagine himself as someone that is always the one with less power in any given situation.
Examination: Bush is a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant male from an elite, monied and powerful family and the son of a President. Never in his life has he been forced into being the less powerful party in a situation. Apply this mentality to international politics...
If all power flows from strength of arms, why wouldn't every nation in the world roll-over in front of America's clear status as the world's only super-power? Nobody can (militarily) stop America from invading Iraq, why worry about U.N. approval? The other nations need to know their place. Until they're in a position to land an army on America's shores, they have no right to tell America how to use it's military strength.

"Nobody has the right to infringe on our rights as a sovereign nation" is a phrase that only somebody who can't imagine being the leader (or citizen) of a less powerful nation would use.

The 'just send in more troops' approach to salvaging The War in Iraq is an equally viable example of lack of imagination. If a strategy isn't working, doing the same thing 'harder' isn't likely to work - but if you can't imagine any other method to achieve your goal 'more troops' it's the only option you have.

* * * * *

This applies to any number of social issues as well. Conservatives deride us as 'bleeding heart liberals.' We are moved to compassion for others because we can imagine ourselves in 'X' situation.

I know, I know. Fascinating idea, but the theory isn't completely developed. I'm sure with a bit of work, I could find more and better examples and articulate what's bouncing around in my head.

Maybe next week...

A Day Late and a Dollar Short - As Usual

So, yeah, another day with a meager post count. I'm leaving work a bit early today to head out of town to visit friends, so (of course) work's been crazy. My apologies.

Somehow it's escaped my notice that today marks the end of De-Lurking Week. Being a serial lurker myself, I think the idea of people saying 'hi' sounds like a great idea, so if you happen by here regularly, de-lurkerize yourself if the spirit moves you!

Of course De-Lurking Week has a downside.

This post opens me up to the possibility of a confidence crushing realization that nobody reads my blog. Ever. People just end up here due to google searches that turn up some of my posts about the Foley scandel and run away screaming when they realize that my blog isn't, well, stimulating in the way they expected.

Bloggers, or at least this blogger, likes to pretend that they don't care if nobody reads their blog. They say things like 'the writing helps me organize my thoughts.' But they really do want people to read it. Hell, one of the happiest blog-moments I've had is when I had a troll tell me I was going to hell for siding with 'Abortionists' instead of Jesus and little babies. I had my very own troll!

Sadly, it turned out to be a one time thing...

Anyway, thank you to all (any?) of my readers. If no one de-lurks, I'll just figure you're all shy.

Citation du Jour

"I would confess I'm no expert on Iraq" and "no expert on military matters."
- New Defense Secretary Robert Gates in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, as quoted by CBS/AP.


Bush's 'Surge' Isn't Popular

From the AP:

WASHINGTON - Americans overwhelmingly oppose sending more U.S. forces to Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll that serves as a strong repudiation of President Bush's plan to send another 21,500 troops.

The opposition to boosting troop levels in Iraq reflects growing skepticism that the United States made the right decision in going to war in the first place and that a stable, democratic government can be established there. Just 35 percent think it was right for the United States to go to war, a new low in AP polling and a reversal from two years ago, when two-thirds of Americans thought it was the correct move.
Why have half of the people that supported the war 12 months ago turned against it? Because they don't think that a stable, democratic Iraq is possible, no matter how many troops Bush throws in.

Will having seven out of ten Americans on their side be enough for Democrats and a collection of honest Republicans to stand up and resist?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Fifteen Percent?

From Bush's Speech:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life.
There are currently 132,000 U.S. Troops in Iraq. Bush has said he will add an additional 20,000 - a 15% increase.

We are failing in the 'decisive ideological struggle of our time' and Bush only musters a 15% increase?

If Bush really believed that Western Civilization was doomed if Iraq descended into chaos (well, more than it already has) and that committing more troops to was the only way to secure our future as a nation, I would hope that he would be aware enough to do something more than squeeze a 15% increase out of an already exhausted military.

World War II, the last 'decisive ideological struggle,' saw every able bodied person drafted into the army, industry retooled for the war effort, civilians making huge sacrifices including growing their own vegetables and using ration books to get staples like sugar and gasoline.

But we're not doing any of those things.

So either this isn't the 'decisive ideological struggle' that Bush is trying to convince us it is or he's the the most derelict president in the history of the Republic.

Escalation or 'Surge' is a bullshit political gesture that does nothing but ensures that American Forces leave Iraq when somebody else is president.

Not Good. Not Good. Not Good. Not Good.

Yeah, yeah, the President's speech. The only important parts (at least in Bush's mind) were the ones where he laid the groundwork for this:

From the BBC:

US forces storm Iranian consulate

US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized six members of staff.

The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials.
Ok, so if my calculations are correct, if it's 3:00 am in Irbil (GMT +3) when the raid took place then it was 7:00 pm the previous day in Washington (GMT -5) at the time of the raid - just over two hours before George W. Bush gave his speech.

Details are few, but this action changes the forcefulness, if not the nature of a later part of Bush's Speech.
Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.

We will expand intelligence sharing, and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
It also completely changes the way that I read 'The Surge.'

This 'Surge' isn't about securing Baghdad. This (along with the additional carrier group deployed to the gulf) is about showing Iran that despite having both feet firmly stuck in the Iraqi quagmire, we're still willing to bluster and bluff in the hopes of scaring the Iranians into doing what we want.

(More Evidence at Unclaimed Territory.)

Here's the rub - You don't have to be a military expert to know that Iran's standing army isn't the push-over that Iraq's turned out to be. The Iranians know this and aren't likely to just roll over.

Nobody thought that the Neo-cons were this stupid, but it's starting to look that way. Maybe they have decided that the next two years is the last chance they'll get. (The presidential election in 2008 - no matter which party wins - will most likely bring in an executive far less likely to engage in intervention and adventurism.) But then again, maybe they Neo-cons are just unhinged.

Most likely, I think they've realized that they've miscalculated on a grand scale. They selected Iraq as the target instead of Iran back at the beginning. Four years down the road, it's clear that Iraq wasn't a strategic threat to anybody. Iran is. They're trying to turn around a bad situation that Neo-cons themselves made worse by refusing to admit a miscalculation years ago.

They're too proud to admit that they attacked the wrong country. To stubborn to admit that for all the blood and treasure expended, America (and the world) finds itself in a more dangerous position than it was before the invasion not least because it has created an unchecked power, Iran, in the Middle East.

Though the Bush Administration (or at least certain hard-line elements within it) would like to see the next two years shape up as a show down with Iran, my prediction is a show down of a different kind.

Constitutionally, the congress has the means to force a president to curtail a military operation. The congress simply stops allocating money to pay for the guns, fuel, food, and other supplies that the military needs to carry out the campaign while providing money to transport the troops and equipment back to the United States (or anywhere else.)

For congress to do this, exercise the power of the purse to end a war, requires incredible political will. Any congressperson voting to withhold funds will face accusations of a sin second only to Mark Foley's - not 'supporting the troops.'

In the face of these attacks (and you can be sure that BushCo's attacks will be swift and vicious) the only shield is public opinion. There needs to be overwhelming public support for ending the war to allow Senators and Representatives to go back to their constituents with this vote and feel that they can still win reelection.

And because George W. Bush is sure to veto any budget bill that requires he end his Iraqi Adventure, there needs to be a lot of Republicans that are willing to stand up and be counted among those voting to end the war.

Recent polls suggest that the majority of the public is leaning that way:
Most Americans oppose President Bush's call to send additional U.S. military forces to Iraq and just over a third say the new plan makes victory there more likely, an initial public rebuke of the strategy he unveiled last night in a nationally televised address.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted following the President's speech finds broad and strong opposition to his call to send about 21,500 more troops to Iraq: 61 percent oppose the force increase, with 52 percent "strongly" opposing the build-up. Thirty-six percent support the additional troops; only one-quarter of the public is strongly supportive.
That sounds good - but there's a problem. Most of the benchmark numbers - approval of Bush's handling of the war, Bush's approval rating, etc. - are very low, in the 30s, but stable. Among Republicans (and one would think especially among Republican Primary voters) support for the war is still nearly 75%.

As the New York Times notes, Bush has invited an 'epic clash' with congress that could be the most important test of our Constitution since Watergate. Only time will tell how it plays out.

On a separate note, let's examine the timing of this speech.

Democrats have regained power in the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years. They've embarked on a '100 Hour' legislative push to pass many measures wildly popular with the public - enacting recommendations of the 9/11 committee, a minimum wage increase, allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies for better prices, funding for stem cell research, etc. - only to see all their media attention disappear. Bush has again forced Democrats to respond to his actions and forced them to face the most contentious issue in the country and among the Democratic Caucus.

Nobody will be talking to Pelosi or Reid about the stem cell research bill scheduled for a vote today - it will be 'all Iraq, all the time' in Washington.

And all Bush had to do to regain control of the news cycle was send 20,000 Americans into somebody else's civil war...


Tentative Details on 'The Surge'

The AP has a preview of tonight's upcoming escalation speech:

Ahead of the speech, Bush and senior officials briefed journalists Wednesday morning — among them "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, who described the president as "energized" but also recognizing that he faces a tough job in convincing Americans that his strategy is vital to the stability of the entire Middle East.

A breakdown of the additional troops was provided by a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the increase has not been officially announced:
  • Bush is committing 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province.
  • He is committing 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad, equivalent to five combat brigades. The first brigade will arrive by next Monday. The next brigade is to arrive by Feb. 15. The reminder will arrive there in 30-day increments.
  • The Iraqis are committing three brigades for Baghdad, the first to be delivered on Feb. 1. Two more will arrive on Feb. 15th.
So those are the facts. Other parts of the AP story give us clues about the narrative that Bush will use to try to sell this unpopular proposal to a skeptical nation:
President Bush will tell the nation Wednesday night he will send more than 21,500 additional American forces to Iraq, acknowledging that it was a mistake earlier not to have more American and Iraqi troops fighting the war.

Seeking support for a retooled strategy to win support for the unpopular war, the president will acknowledge that the rules of engagement were flawed because certain neighborhoods in Baghdad were put off limits by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said. “Military operations sometimes were handcuffed by political interference by the Iraqi leadership,” he said.
So there you have it.

'Things haven't gone exactly as planned in Iraq - but it wasn't our fault. The Iraqi leadership kept meddling in our business and screwed a bunch of stuff up. We'll fix it, but it'll take 21,500 American troops and 6.8 billion dollars.'

Notably absent was the 'six month deployment' that has quietly dropped out of the Bush Administration's discussions of the not-so-secret plan to 'surge' the way to victory. If the President mentions any time frames at all tonight, I expect that it will be closer to 18 months than six.

Remember, Bush has promised that there would be U.S. Troops in Iraq as long as he's president.

A (world-wide) PR 'surge' will begin sooner than the actual 'surge' itself, starting with an appearance in front of Bush's favorite audience - people in uniform that can be ordered to applaud - in this case at Fort Benning, Ga.

The speech itself is tonight in prime-time. Let's see if Dubya can summon up enough communication skills to sell this one...

That Other Little Detail...

As we (rightly) focus our concern on the human cost, both American and Iraqi, of George W. Bush's proposed 'Surge,' one other detail has escaped discussion - until now.

Think Progress
reports that NBC is putting the cost of the 21,500 addition troops Bush wants to send to Iraq at $6.8 billion.

I'm sure that China would be happy to tack another couple of billion onto what we already owe them...

Citation du Jour

"He was a pro-choice, he's anti-choice, he's multiple choice."

- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), on Hardball, on possible Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R), who ran against Kennedy in 1994

George W. Bush and the Thinking Man's War

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, upon returning to Fort Leavenworth from a tour of duty in Iraq, prepared a new field manual of counterinsurgency warfare. (You can read the whole thing here as a pdf.) After completing the manual without knowing he was headed back to Iraq, Petraeus was chosen by the Bush Administration to command U.S. forces in Iraq.

David Ignatius uses the manual written by the new in-theater commander to evaluate Bush's new "Surge" strategy in his Washington Post Op-Ed.

"Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man's warfare -- it is the graduate level of war," reads a quotation from a Special Forces officer in Iraq that opens the first chapter. And this theme runs throughout the manual: Many of the prescriptions that apply to normal wars don't apply to counterinsurgencies. Indeed, if they are used, they will backfire. In a summary of "unsuccessful practices," here's the No. 1 mistake: "Overemphasize killing and capturing the enemy rather than securing and engaging the populace."

The field manual summarizes some of the lessons that commanders have learned in Iraq: Long-term success "depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule." Killing insurgents "by itself cannot defeat an insurgency." Local commanders "have the best grasp of their situations" and should have the freedom to adapt and react to local conditions. As many officers ruefully admit, the Army is learning these lessons three years late -- but perhaps that's still in time to make a difference.

My favorite part of the manual, which I suspect Petraeus had a big hand in drafting, is a section titled "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency Operations." The headings give the flavor of these unconventional ideas: "Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be." (Green Zone residents, please note: "If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents.") "Sometimes Doing Nothing Is the Best Reaction." "Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot." And this military version of the Zen riddle: "The More Successful the Counterinsurgency Is, the Less Force Can Be Used and the More Risk Must Be Accepted." (As the host nation takes control, "Soldiers and Marines may also have to accept more risk to maintain involvement with the people.")
I've never met President Bush, but his public personae does not appear to be one that revels in paradoxes. His famously clean desk as Governor of Texas belies a man that liked his problems (and solution) to be straight forward. Subtlety and stratagem are not words that come to mind when evaluating Bush in general, but they are particularly out of place when describing Bush's conduct of the War in Iraq.

Ignatious implies, and I agree, that the basic strategy implied in 'Surge' are counter to those that Bush's top Commander in Iraq has prescribed for success.

Petraeus' manual is formed around two themes: "Success in counterinsurgency requires a political strategy as much as a military one" and "broad political support back home -- which buys time on the battlefield -- is the crucial strategic asset in fighting such wars."

Bush's 'Surge' runs counter to both of these. Hitting the insurgency with a larger hammer while making no other real changes to the prosecution of the war will, at best, do nothing and will risk increased resentment of a larger occupying army, increasing both the level of public support for the insurgency and the size of the insurgency itself. Pushing what is a token escalation (14,000 troops for 6 months will not be enough to subdue Iraq.) of an unpopular war in the face of a newly elected congressional majority with deep apprehensions about the War in Iraq will do nothing to unite the country.

Bush would do best to listen to his new General. Given that increasing force size will do nothing to combat an insurgency, using the forces you already have there to better effect is the best way forward.

Imperial President of the American Empire?

From Editor & Publisher:

NEW YORK At his briefing today, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was naturally peppered with questions about President Bush's upcoming speech to the nation about his plans for (it seems to be an open secret) sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. Snow wouldn't quite admit that this was indeed set in stone but sparred with reporters over why the president thinks the public will find this appealing.

Snow held out hope that the Democrats would come to their senses about opposing this but admitted it could even be a battle royal. But what about calls for the Democrats to halt the build up by denying funding? Snow admitted congress had funding control but also pointed out that the president could ultimately do what he wants. "You know, Congress has the power of the purse," Snow said, then added: "The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he thinks Congress has voted the wrong way."
I'm sure Tony Snow is alluding to the veto pen. I mean, Constitutionally speaking, that's the only 'authority' that any president has over a congress that has voted 'the wrong way.'

It seems that the man who was divinely inspired to run for President (and divinely selected as president by various people in Florida and the Supreme Court) has decided that he also has a divine right to rule and is unbound by our Constitution.

Say Congress passes a law requiring the President to come to Congress for approval of any increase in troop levels in Iraq. Bush vetoes the law, but Congress over-rides the veto. Bush orders an increase of troops in Iraq anyway because congress 'voted the wrong way.'

What happens? Do the Generals not order the troops to Iraq? Does the Supreme Court order the Generals not to send the troops? This would be a constitutional crisis far surpassing anything we've seen since the Civil War.

Think my example is too extreme? Try this one:

Congress passes a law requiring the Bush Administration to turn over documents about pre-war intelligence efforts to 'sell' the war. Bush Vetoes. Congress over-rides. From here, you can take your pick. Either Bush just doesn't turn over the documents or he issues a signing statement (when he signs the bill into law) stating that he's not really going to obey this law because it interferes with his divine right to rule power as a unitary executive.

While the public might, might notice if the President over ruled Congress, sending more troops into an unpopular war, they're not likely to notice (or care) that he's withholding documents.

But either way, he's circumvented the Constitution, violated his oath of office and committed an impeachable offense - let alone the fact that he's destroyed a system of government that the United States sees as central to its identity for over 200 years and betrayed the trust and the rights of every American.

* * * * *

Ok, calm down. Tony Snow said this, not the President himself. None of these hypotheticals have yet come to pass. Though deep concern is appropriate, it's not time for hysterics. (Yet.)

The next 24 months will be interesting. Bush and his administration have, for the last six years, been able to operate in any way that they liked without fear of investigation, criticism, oversight, or interference from other branches of government. That has changed. And with a President who is accustomed (since birth) to getting exactly what he wants, when he wants it because 'he's George W. Bush, godddamnit!'

Will, when he's pushed, when he's held accountable, George W. Bush be able to stay within the rules of our Constitution? He's played fast and loose with them before, but will a hostile Congress, an unpopular war, abysmal approval numbers and the looming nightmare of a disastrous legacy be too much for him?

If, when the time comes, will the Democratic Congress have the fortitude to call out Bush's crimes? Will the Republicans in Congress have the decency and honesty to take the necessary measures to restrict a president of their own party, should the need arise?

Only time will tell..


Coalition of the Not as Willing as They Used To Be *

From the Daily Mail:

Blair refuses to match US troop 'surge' in Iraq
Last updated at 16:53pm on 8th January 2007

Tony Blair will make clear this week that Britain is not going to send more troops to Iraq even if the US pushes ahead with a "surge" of 20,000 extra soldiers.

The Prime Minister will insist that the UK will stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army, as it has been doing with success in Basra and the south.
Escalation repackaged as "Surge" was supposed to be a political boost for George W. Bush. According to a Gallup Poll conducted over the weekend, the American public is about as enthusiastic as Tony Blair is:
For all of the talk about the Bush Administration 'creating its own reality' I'm beginning to wonder if they truly believe that they can. While I'm proud to contrast myself with the Bush Administration by being a self-identified member of the Reality-Based Community, I understood that the original statement, that Neocons could 'create their own reality' wasn't as rediculous as it sounded. The unnamed aide that forever put the Bush Administration outside of "what we call the reality-based community" didn't mean that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney stood around telling everybody that Unicorns and Dragons would be the next additions to the Washington Zoo. In my understanding, what the aide meant was that Bush, Cheney, et. al. believed that they could create any reality that they wanted. The aide believed that Democrats (and those like us) were in the 'Reality-Based Community' because we "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." This was in contrast to BushCo, which didn't think it was important to bother with all that 'judicious study' - you just do it.
Want to remake the Middle East into a region full of Democratic, Pro-American governments? Pick a country with an easily defeatable military, an unterly disgusting leader, enough dirty laundry to justify an invasion and go in and start the place over! (Settling old scores and/or securing vast oil reserves is just a nice side benefit.) America is unrivaled as the most powerful nation that the world has ever seen. To not use that power to find weapons of mass destruction, spread freedom and democracy would be a sin!
It's not a good, it's not right, and it's not effective, but it isn't an utter rejection of reality - it's just a rejection of the idea that anything could go wrong when you try to change it.

Well, at least that's what I thought then.

It seems that now it really is about Unicorns and the Toothe Fairy...

* 'Coalition of the Not as Willing as They Used to Be' now Includes the American Public.

Signs of the Apacolypse

George! I have a bit of friendly advice for you. When Nancy Pelosi and Oliver North agree that your plan is a bad idea, it's probably a good time to step back and re-evaluate things.

Just a thought.

Apologies for any scarred retinas, bleeding ears and/or exploding heads that Bill O'Reilly may have caused. Next time I'll remember to put up a warning...

More Thoughts on Religion

Once more, a late start. Damn job getting in the way of blogging! But to the point...

On Faith
in the Washington Post has a fascinating piece up on the religios affilliations of the new Congress:

The new 110th Congress will, for the first time, include a Muslim, two Buddhists, more Jews than Episcopalians, and the highest-ranking Mormon in congressional history, the Religion News Service's Jonathan Tilove reports. Roman Catholics remain the largest single faith group in Congress, accounting for 29 percent of all members of the House and Senate, followed by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews and Episcopalians.

Following are tables showing the religious affiliation of Congress as a whole, as well as the denominations of individual senators and representatives:

Religion.......................House...Senate....% Congress...% Population
AME (v) ............................... 2 ......... 0 ....... 2 ..... 0.4 ......... (u)
Anglican ............................. 1 ......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (w)
Assembly of God ...............4 ......... 0........ 4 ..... 0.7 ......... 0.5
Baptist ................................60 ......... 7...... 67 ... 12.5 ....... 16.3
Buddhist ............................ 2 ......... 0........ 2 ..... 0.4 ........ 0.5
Christian (x) ......................16 ......... 2...... 18 ..... 3.4 ......... 6.8
Christian Reformed ......... 2 ......... 0........ 2 ..... 0.4 .......... (y)
Christian Scientist ........... 5 ......... 0........ 5 ..... 0.9 ......... 0.1
Church of Christ ............... 1 ......... 1........ 2 ..... 0.4 ......... 1.2
Church of God .................. 0 ......... 1........ 1 ..... 0.2 ......... 0.5
Congregationalist ............ 0 ......... 1........ 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (z)
Congregation.-Baptist .... 1 ......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (u)
Disciples of Christ ........... 2 ......... 0........ 2 ..... 0.4 ......... 0.2
Eastern Orthodox ............. 4 .......... 1........ 5 ..... 0.9 ......... 0.3
Episcopalian ................... 27 ....... 10....... 37 ..... 6.9 ......... 1.7
Evangelical ........................ 2 ......... 0......... 2 ..... 0.4 ......... 0.5
Evangelical Lutheran ....... 1 ......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (u)
Evangelical Methodist ..... 1 ......... 0......... 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (u)
Hindu .................................. 0 ......... 0........ 0 ..... 0.0 ......... 0.4
Jewish .............................. 30 ....... 13...... 43 ..... 8.0 ......... 1.3
LDS (Mormon) ............... 10 ......... 5...... 15 ..... 2.8 ......... 1.3
Reorganized LDS ........... 1 ......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 .......... (u)
Lutheran ......................... 14 .......... 3...... 17 ..... 3.2 ......... 4.6
Methodist ....................... 48 ........ 13...... 61 ... 11.4 ......... 6.8
Muslim ............................. 1 .......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 ......... 0.5
(Church of) Nazarene .... 1 .......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 ......... 0.3
Presbyterian ................... 35 .......... 9...... 44 ..... 8.2 ......... 2.7
Protestant (x) .................. 22 .......... 4...... 26 ..... 4.9 ......... 2.2
Quaker ............................... 1 ......... 0........ 1 ..... 0.2 ......... 0.1
Roman Catholic .......... 130 ....... 25.... 155 ... 29.0 ...... 24.5
Seventh-day Adventist ..... 2 ......... 0........ 2 ..... 0.4 ......... 0.3
Unitarian ........................... 1 ......... 1........ 2 ..... 0.4 ......... 0.3
United Church of Christ .. 2 ........ 4........ 6 ...... 1.1 ......... 0.7
unaffiliated ........................ 6 ........ 0........ 6 ...... 1.1 ....... 14.1

(u) no discrete category exists in the American Religious Identification Survey
(v) African Methodist Episcopal
(w) included with Episcopalians
(x) no denomination stated
(y) less than 0.05 percent
(z) included with United Church of Christ

Sources: Count of religious affiliations of members of Congress compiled from self-identification in Congressional Quarterly profiles of each member.
Percent of population by religion comes from American Religious Identification Survey, Self-Described Religious Identification of U.S.Adult Population, 2001.
Notice anything interesting? Yup, that's right, not a single Atheist. Not one! 'Unafiliated' is not the same as 'Atheist,' (or even 'Agnostic') in America. Most people in the United States are theistic, so much so that even if someone is 'unafiliated' with any specific religion, it's assumed that the persond still believes in God. According to Wikipedia, a 2006 CBS poll found that 82% of Americans "believed in God" and another 9% (for a total of 91%) "some other universal spirit or higher power." In the face of numbers like that, not a single Federal Level elected official is willing to say that she or he is an Athiest, and only a scant 1% of elected officials were brave enough to choose the far more pallatable 'unafilliated.'

Of course this can't possibly be true. There are more than 6 people in Congress that don't believe that God exists - they're just not willing to admit it.

Let's look at who the six members of Congress brave enough to declare themselves 'unafilliated.'
6 D, 0 R
Mark Udall, D-CO
Neil Abercrombie, D-HI
John Olver, D-MA
John Tierney, D-MA
Earl Blumenauer, D-OR
Tammy Baldwin, D-WI
WOW! Who would have guessed? They're all Democrats. Both Buddhist Representativess, the one Muslim Reprepsentative, and 39 of the 43 Jewish Congresspersons were also Democrats.

I'm not saying that the Democratic Party has shaken off the yoke of religion (Statistically, 98% of the Congressional Democratic Caucus is self-describingly theistic) but it's nice to know that our party can be broad minded enough to elect non-believrs and/or non-Christians.

Before anybody accuses me of being as intolerant as those on the other side, a strong religious identification, let alone a religious affiliation, does not make someone unfit for Congress. With a few exceptions, the vast majority of religious members of Congress govern responsibly, not letting the various tenets of their religion interfere with their ability to legislate fairly for the entirety of the U.S. population - not just members of their own sect. I just find the fact that a candidate must 'have religion' to get elected a little bit off-putting.

Any thoughts?


Warnings Have Gone Out

I'd like to thank everybody who was thoughtful enough to bring this to my attention. Upon realizing what this meant, I immediately called all of my friends and family members in Pennsylvania and advised them to take appropriate precautions.

They'll all be wearing bright orange and staying indoors because Dick Cheney is duck hunting in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Cheney will be in possession of a firearm within just 20 or 30 miles of where my Aunt and Uncle live. They're taking extra precautions, spending the day in the basement.

The rest of my friends and family, though hundreds of miles removed from 'Dead-Eye Dick's' hunting location will remain vigilant.

You can't be too careful with terrorists Dick Cheney wandering around with a shotgun in his hands.

Surging Opposition

Bush's temporary escalation plan (also known as the 'surge') is drawing a new, powerful wave of opposition from ... everybody.

Gen Wesley Clark had this to say in an op-ed in The Independent on Sunday:

From the administration's perspective, a troop surge of modest size is virtually the only remaining action inside Iraq that will be a visible signal of determination. More economic assistance is likely to be touted, but in the absence of a change in the pattern of violence, infrastructure enhancement simply isn't practical. And if the President announces new Iraqi political efforts - well, that's been tried before, and is there any hope that this time will be different?

As for the US troops, yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would enable more
roadblocks, patrols, neighbourhood clearing operations and overnight presence. But how significant will this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq - in Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops, so adding 20,000 seems too little, too late, even, for Baghdad. Further, in a "clear and hold" strategy, US troops have been shown to lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas can be "held", or even that they are fully "cleared". The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required for a city of more than five million with no reliable police - nor have the Iraqi troops been reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Achieving enhanced protection for the population is going to be problematic at best. Even then, militia fighters in Baghdad could redeploy to other areas and continue the fight there.

What the surge would do, however, is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace. American casualties would probably rise, at least temporarily, as more troops are on the streets; we saw this when the brigade from Alaska was extended and sent into Baghdad last summer. And even if the increased troop presence initially
intimidates or frustrates the contending militias, it won't be long before they find ways to work around the obstacles to movement and neighbourhood searches, if they are still intent on pursuing the conflict. All of this is not much of an endorsement for a troop surge that will impose real pain on the already overstretched US forces.
Collin Powell, according to Robert Novak:
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has gone public with criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy, is caustic in private about the proposed "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops.

Powell noted that the recent congressional delegation to Iraq headed by Sen. John McCain heard from combat officers that they wanted more troops.

"The colonels will always say they need more troops," the retired general says. "That's why we have generals."
Novak also points out opposition within the Republican Party:
President Bush and McCain, the front-runner for the next presidential nomination, in pressing for a surge of 30,000 more troops, will have trouble finding support from more than 12 out of 49 Republican senators. "It's Alice in Wonderland," Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me in describing the proposed surge. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly."

Sen. Susan Collins returned from Baghdad opposing more troops. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the only House member on the trip, is described as skeptical.


Even in Mississippi, the reddest of red states where Bush's approval rating has just inched above 50 percent, Republicans see no public support for more troops. What is happening inside the president's party is reflected by defection from support for his war policy after November's election by two Republican senators who face an uphill race for re-election in 2008: Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Coleman announced his opposition to more troops after returning from a trip to Iraq preceding McCain's.

And it's not like Democrats are going to bend over backwards to help Georgie. The President will give his 'New Way Forward' speech on Wednesday at 9:00pm. Expect plenty of commentary on Thursday morning...


CBS Poll: Bush @ 30%

CBS has a new poll. Key findings include:


***************** 68%
***** 25%


War in Iraq
********* 45%
* 7%
Health care
* 7%
* 6%


** 8%
******************** 82%


**** 20%
*************** 76%


****** 30%
************* 63%


I'm not seeing the Republican minorities in either house jumping up to defend this bum's policies...

Goode To Keep Mouth Shut

Virgil Goode's Press Secretary has told RawStory that Goode won't be commenting on the fact that George W. Bush has appointed Zalmay Khalilzad, a Muslim, as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

This is in sharp contrast to the comments that Virgil Goode made about newly elected Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to be elected to the House of Representatives, placing his hand on a Koran for his ceremonials and non-official swearing in.

I guess he just didn't want this to happen again...

If I ever find out who took the time and money to stencil (in matching gold leaf) "BIGOT" on the window of Rep. Goode's office, she or he will never pay for a drink so long as I'm in the bar.

What Lucky Timing!

It seems that Gen John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has said that he plans to retire - just in time for Bush's 'New Way Forward' ::cough:: Escalation ::cough:: in Iraq. George W. Bush must really be blessed by God. There's no other explanation for the luck he has in getting military leaders who disagree with him to retire!

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire and will leave his post in March, a step likely to make way for a change in military strategy at a time the Bush administration is seeking a new plan for Iraq.

Abizaid has been the primary architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming head of the U.S. Central Command more than three years ago. He has strenuously resisted calls to increase troop levels to quell rising violence in Baghdad, arguing it would increase Iraqi dependence on Americans.

Abizaid's planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January.

These officials said Gates faces a clear choice between generals who have agreed with Abizaid's push to quickly hand over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and a small but increasingly influential coterie of officers backing a more aggressive U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign.
"A small but increasingly influential coterie" you say? I wonder how they came by that new found influence. I'm sure it couldn't be by being sycophantic yes-men willing to tell Bush and/or Cheney exactly what they want to hear. Surely the Bush Administration wouldn't try to 'squeeze out' people who disagree with them or reward kowtowing agreement with increased power and influence.

Admiral William J. Fallon will replace Gen. John Abizaid, US commander in the Middle East, who announced his retirement in December and was expected to leave the post in March. Abizaid was a critic of Bush's efforts to add more troops to Iraq, but the circumstances of his early departure are unclear.


"Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual," ABC reports.

According to a Kansas City Star article published December 24, "Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops. The decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq,

David Petraeus will replace General George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq. Casey originally opposed the President's plan to add troops in Iraq, arguing it could delay "the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world."
I don't know about the rest of the world, but to me it seems like George W. Bush cleared out a bunch of senior military leaders that didn't want any part of his politically motivated 'surge' in troop levels.

All those times that Bush said that he was going to 'listen to his Generals' come flashing into my head. But why would he be telling the truth then when lying about every other subject is permitted? Perhaps in Bush's twisted head, he sees himself as listening to the Generals. He just chooses which generals to listen to.

Kinda like picking the 7 scientists that say Evolution is bunk and ignoring the many thousands that know that it's about as close to fact as anything in the scientific world.

To be honest, replacing Abizaid is a step that's over due. (The LA Times story reported that Abizaid wanted to go earlier but Secretary Rumsfeld was blocking his retirement.) I don't really have a problem with Abizaid's replacement. It's the fact that in looking for a replacement, the Bush Administration wouldn't look at any candidate that had reservations about Bush's plans for escalation.

The Bush Administration's military instincts aren't as good as their political instincts. We won't see any real progress until BushCo. admits that and allows the military to do its job without political interference.


A New Start!

Today is really a momentous occasion, though work has kept me from blogging as much as I'd like. Republicans find themselves in the minority, Bush loses his rubber stamp, and Nancy Pelosi became the first woman elected Speaker of the House and the first woman ever in the direct line of succession for the Presidency, right behind Dick Cheney, who got kicked out of his Capitol office.

From the AP:

WASHINGTON - Jubilant Democrats on Thursday elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the first woman speaker of the House, the crowning celebration of newfound power the party won in the November electoral sweep.

"I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship, and look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people," Pelosi said. "In this House, we may belong to different parties, but we serve one country."

Both Democrats and Republicans pledged cooperation despite years of bitter partisanship and gridlock, to try to get the 110th Congress off on a productive note.

House Democrats also were ready to impose a ban on gifts from lobbyists and a clampdown on travel funded by private interests — measures crafted in response to the ethics scandals that weakened Republicans in last fall's elections.

The first hours of the new Democratic-held House were devoted to Pelosi's election and remarks — for which the Californian received numerous standing ovations, especially from the House's record 71 women lawmakers, thrilled that one of their own had finally ascended to the speakership. Some of the women senators also came to the House side to cheer Pelosi's history-shattering moment.

"This is an historic moment — for the Congress, and for the women of this country," Pelosi said. "It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years."
Harry Reid was also elected Majority Leader in the Senate, also promising bipartisanship - something that will be a necessity in the Senate. With Sen. Johnson recovering in the hospital, our vote margin is tiny. We'll have to have some support from the other side of the aisle on many things, though the most important thing about regaining the majority in both houses is Committee Chairs in the hands of Democrats.

The 'Hundred Hours' (which hopefully turns out better than the 'Hundred Days') may or may not have started. Nobody ever really clarified exactly how the literally timing would work. Look to see wildly popular legislation on the minimum wage, stem cell research, and ethical reforms in government to make it into the news soon.

The last two months were a sort of waiting game, knowing that nothing important was going to change. Now we've reached the threshold. Now change can start. Now the real action begins.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where this new Congress takes us.

War on Science? Not at the Pentagon

The Republican War on Science is well documented. The fact that America's national security is endangered by that war is certainly less widely. The Pentagon has seen a dwindling in interest in science and of scientific expertise - both vital for our military - and has taken some unorthodox steps to preserve our scientific leadership.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

the triumvirate of Messrs. Gundersen, Barker, and Singer is serious about getting science - and scientific heroes - into the movies. In fact, they see it as vital to the health of American technological prowess, to say nothing of national security.

So what they've done for the past three years is convene a three-to-five-day screenwriting class at the venerated American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Called the Catalyst Workshop, it's a lot like other screenwriting classes that have become a cottage industry across the nation. But here's the twist - all participants in this one are actually scientists. Hardcore, PhD-laden, lab-certified scientists. Here's the second twist - the training was all paid for by the Pentagon.

These screenwriting classes are indeed your Department of Defense tax dollars at work. Egregious example of DOD waste? Some bizarre recruiting promise? The cinematic equivalent of $700 toilet seats? Actually, it's the Pentagon's way of trying to enhance the nation's science-and-technology adroitness.


America, it turns out, is suffering from a science and engineering shortage. Students are bypassing the sciences for sexier and more lucrative jobs in law, venture capital, and competitions to be on "American Idol." That means, in addition to national deficits in sleep, fitness, and the federal budget, we have a dearth of particle physicists and electromechanical engineers.
If the Pentagon says we're short on scientists, I'm inclined to believe them. When it comes to engineers, I know we're short on them from personal experience.

I graduated with a degree in Architecture got a good job making a decent salary. Friends of mine, graduating from the same university at the same time with engineering degrees were recruited by multiple companies, and easily make twice as much as I do.

The law of supply and demand doesn't lie.

And, I suppose, it was my choice to pick the sexy profession (architecture) that cost me the money. I never really thought of architecture as sexy, but it really kind of is. Have you ever noticed how many commercials for things completely unrelated to architecture have (physically attractive) architects in high-rise offices with big glass windows locking out over cities? Maybe it's just me...

And being a mechanical engineer is definitely un-sexy. It's like the old joke says: "How can you tell the difference between and architect and an engineer? - The architect's clothes match." The stereotypes aren't flattering.

Anyway, back to the point.

The Republican Party has allowed certain internal elements and interests to degrade science in general (and science education in particular) to such a degree that the Pentagon is sponsoring scientists' screen plays.

Think about that.

I don't think it's a bad idea. It's a sort of 'under the radar' P.R. campaign for science, something many other areas of study and/or professions use all the time.

Of course a sound education and more affordable college educations might be a better way to get similar results...


20,000 More Americans to Risk Lives for Bush Legacy

From NBC News:

In a guest column in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal President Bush addressed a range of issues. On Iraq he said he'll reveal his new strategy in the coming days.

Administration officials tell NBC News it will involve sending some 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.
All the generals, the troops on the ground, all the experts, even Republicans like James Baker have said that escalation isn't going to help. But here we are, testing the limits of our military's capabilities and sending out many thousands of Americans into a lost cause.

For what? Truly, for what?

If escalation was a legitimate plan for victory, it would be one thing, but when escalation is nothing more than a 'political decision' it is an unimaginable horror.

Ellison's Symbolic Response

From the Washington Post:

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.

Ellison will take the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then use the Koran in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself," said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert.
And the real kicker? Thomas Jefferson was born in what is now Virgil Goode's district.

Credit to Shakes for bringing this to my attention.

Karen Armstrong: Why Atheism is in Vouge?

From the Washington Post's On Faith:

And many atheists could be in revolt from a lazy, facile theology that has far too simplistic a notion of the divine. In recent years, we have seen people committing atrocities or starting wars in the belief that "God" told them to do it. In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders went into battle with the cry "God wills it!" when they slaughtered Muslims and Jews. Obviously "God"
willed no such thing; the Crusaders were simply projecting their fear and loathing of these rival faiths onto a deity they had created in their own image.

And we do not have to be Crusaders to fall into this trap. How often we hear preachers, broadcasters and lecturers claiming that "God" wills this and forbids that -- and it is uncanny how often these opinions of the deity coincide with those of the speaker. All too often people forget that God is transcendent and see him as a being like themselves, writ large, and with likes and dislikes similar to their own. Instead of using the concept of God to go beyond themselves, they use it to give a seal of absolute approval to their own prejudices. They have created an idol.

Monotheists have always warned against idolatry. It may be that the atheism that is taking hold is a rejection of a widespread idolatry which has forgotten that any conception of the divine is bound to be inadequate. In a restaurant, when we have had a strong-tasting first course, the waiter often brings a sorbet so that we can cleanse our palette and taste the next course. Today many feel the need to rinse their minds of inadequate ideas of God, and may have to enter into what the mystics used to call the dark night of the soul or the cloud of unknowing, so that we can all move forward.
This blog has, as a sort of tangential side story, documented my drift towards atheism. Ms. Armstrong identifies a number of the factors that have contributed to that move. That I found her article on the same day that I blogged about Pat Buchanan only makes her points more valid.

On Faith is a panel discussion. Here's a smattering of useful things that some of the other panelists had to say about this week's question:

Atheism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Why do you think that is? Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists, and if so over what kinds of issues?

John Shelby Spong, Former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark
Atheism, technically, does not mean a denial of the existence of God. It means literally a denial of the theistic definition of God. That is to say, theism is not what God is; it is what human beings have decided that God is. Human definitions of God can die without God dying. Theism means that we perceive of God as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere external to this world (usually conceived of as above the sky), who periodically invades this world in miraculous ways.”

This is the God who split the Red Sea to rescue the chosen people and who invaded the world in the person of Jesus to rescue the fallen creation. This is also the deity displaced by Galileo, made impotent by Isaac Newton, ridiculed by Freud and relativized by Einstein.

The theological question that needs to be explored in both church and state is this: Can God be understood in some way other than through these infantile and tribal images? Can Jesus be seen in some way other than as the divinely appointed sacrificial victim who paid the price owed to God for our sinfulness? Because I believe that both God and Jesus are so much more than these distorting images suggest, I am confident that a dialogue with those who call themselves “atheists” would not only be good for the church but it would also allow deep and profound truth to emerge.

Among the issues for discussion between atheists and believers would be: What leads human beings to seek to define God in the first place? Is it the human experience of transcendence? Otherness? Divinity? How then do we conceptualize that experience? If the worship of our God leads us to justify our killing religious prejudices that have throughout history created such things as the Inquisition, the Crusades, religious wars and even the current ecclesiastical attack on homosexual persons, can this God really be anything other than a creature of our own making? Will we remain deluded enough to call this creature God? Since that is what the theistic God has so regularly given us, would not the world be better off without such a deity?

The choice between the theism of the church and the atheism of those who reject the God of the church is to me a sterile and lifeless choice. Such a meeting between believers and atheists might lead us to examine what Paul Tillich called “the God beyond the gods of men and women.” If believers cannot have that conversation because it compromises their God definition, then that is a tip-off that the God they serve is in fact an idol and atheism is always a proper response to idolatry.
And Richard Dawkins
Athorism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Can there be a productive conversation between Valhallans and athorists? Naïve literalists apart, sophisticated thoreologians long ago ceased believing in the material substance of Thor's mighty hammer. But the spiritual essence of hammeriness remains a thunderingly enlightened relevation, and hammerological faith retains its special place in the eschatology of neo-Valhallism, while enjoying a productive conversation with the scientific theory of thunder in its non-overlapping magisterium. Militant athorists are their own worst enemy. Ignorant of the finer points of thoreology, they really should desist from their strident and intolerant strawmandering, and treat Thor-faith with the uniquely protected respect it has always received in the past. In any case, they are doomed to failure. People need Thor, and nothing will ever remove him from the culture. What are you going to put in his place?

Atheism means non-belief in the particular cult that happens to pervade the society under discussion. In America that means the cult of Yahweh, the God of the Jews commandeered by the Christians, Muslims and Mormons. Today, everyone takes it for granted that we are all atheists with respect to Thor and Wotan, Zeus and Poseidon, Mithras and Ammon Ra. If asked why you don't believe in Thor's hammer, you would probably say something like "Why is the onus on me to justify my nonbelief in Thor, given that there is not the smallest positive reason for belief?" You might go further and add that thunder, which was at one time attributed to Thor's hammer, now has a better explanation in terms of electric charges in the clouds. While technically agnostic about all those ancient gods, and about fairies and leprechauns too (you can't disprove them either), in practice we don't believe in any of them, and we feel no onus to explain why.

Today, while almost literally everybody is an athorist, nonbelief in the God of Abraham is the most reviled opinion in America. Professor Anthony M Stevens-Arroyo, one of the On Faith regular panellists, begins his answer to the current question as follows: "I never met an atheist I could like. Surely, somewhere on this planet, there is a friendly atheist, but I haven’t bumped into one yet. The atheists who have crossed my path are obnoxious . . ."

As an experiment, try substituting the word 'Jew' or 'woman' for 'atheist', and imagine whether a university professor who said those three sentences would keep his job. Yet in present day America, a professor (of "Latino Studies") can publish such odious remarks about atheists and get away with it.
I know that I cherry picked panelists. I did so because they echo my position. If you want an even handed survey of the answers, go to On Faith's website to read all of the panelists answers.

I do not intend to use this blog to 'evangelize' for Atheism. I will, however, agree with the editor of On Faith that decided to ask a question about the new visibility that Atheism has achieved.

I would say that it's not so much that Atheists are gaining numbers, but that Atheists are no longer staying in the closet. There are a few reasons for this. Authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have gained prominence not only because they've articulated what many already believe, but because the religious community has created an environment which is favorable to their ideas.

For your average non-religious American, the decision to self-identify as 'Atheist' is much easier now than it was 10 years ago. Back then, it was fine just to be 'not very religious.' But now look at the world. It seems all religion promotes is hate. Radical Islamicists hate the west. Radical Christianists hate gays. And sex. And liberals. And civil liberties. People like Fred Phelps, people who use their religion to attack people, have become the most visible face of religion.

The Face of religion is no longer people working in soup kitchens, nor people marching for civil rights, nor people collecting food, money or clothes nor providing any sort of assistance to people in need. The face of religion is hate and exclusiveness.

Why wouldn't somebody choose Atheism?

Historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer gods than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."


Home State Politi - WTF?

From UPI:

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Pennsylvania's House of Representatives, where Democrats have a one-vote majority, elected a Republican as its new speaker Tuesday.

Democrat William DeWeese, a former speaker and more recent minority leader, had hoped to return to the top job. Finding he could not get sufficient support within his own party, he nominated Republican Dennis O'Brien of Philadelphia, preferring him to the departing speaker, John Perzel, also a Philadelphia Republican, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported.

O'Brien defeated Perzel 105-97, getting most of his support from Democrats. There have been persistent rumors that he plans to switch parties, although he denied them last fall.
I'm absolutely dumbfounded.

I'm not really up on Pennsylvania's internal politics anymore, so maybe this O'Brien guy (who seems not to be a Santorum-esque Republican) might be better than John Perzel. Maybe he'll switch parties. Maybe this was good politics.

But I can't help but wonder why a party with the majority couldn't elect one of their own for Speaker. Meet with the caucus, nominate potential speakers, vote. The winner should have Every. Single. Democratic. Vote.

I'm not advocating lock-step party politics. On any legislative issue, a Democrat is free to vote her or his conscience. But on procedural matters, party should always come before personal bickering.

Get it together! You won't be the majority in two years if you can't even manage to do this correctly...