Saturday, January 31, 2009

Posted on a Bear site under the title: "is this self-defense or sex education?"

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Calling a Time Out



by George McGovern
Thursday, January 22, 2009

As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. There is reason to believe some of our top military commanders privately share this view. And so does a broad and growing swath of your party and your supporters.

True, the United States is the world's greatest power -- but so was the British Empire a century ago when it tried to pacify the warlords and tribes of Afghanistan, only to be forced out after excruciating losses. For that matter, the Soviet Union was also a superpower when it poured some 100,000 troops into Afghanistan in 1979. They limped home, broken and defeated, a decade later, having helped pave the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is logical to conclude that our massive military dominance and supposedly good motives should let us work our will in Afghanistan. But logic does not always prevail in South Asia. With belligerent Afghan warlords sitting atop each mountain glowering at one another, the one factor that could unite them is the invasion of their country by a foreign power, whether British, Russian or American.

I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East -- our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel -- that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment.

We cannot evade this reckoning. The British thought they could extend their control over Iraq even while pulling out their ground forces by creating a string of bases in remote parts of the country, away from the observation of most Iraqis. It didn't work. No people that desires independence and self-determination wishes to have another nation's military bases in its country. In 1776, remember, 13 little colonies drove the mighty British Empire from American soil.

In 2003, the Bush administration ordered an invasion of Iraq, supposedly to reduce terrorism. But six years later, there is more terrorism and civil strife in Iraq, not less. The same outcome may occur in Afghanistan if we make it the next American military conflict.

Mr. President, the bright promise of your brilliant campaign for the White House and the high hopes of the millions who thronged the Mall on Tuesday to watch you be sworn in could easily be lost in the mountains and wastelands of Afghanistan.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has estimated that the war in Iraq will have a total cost of more than $3 trillion. That war has clearly weakened our economy and our armed forces even as it has made the national debt soar. The Bush administration committed itself to Iraq before the recession. Today, with our economy teetering, does the Obama administration believe that it is time for yet another costly war in yet another Muslim country?

I'm aware that some of my fellow Americans regard me as too idealistic. But sometimes idealism is the best realism. And at a minimum, realism and idealism need not be contradictory. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not only angered Iraqis who have lost family members, neighbors or homes; it has also increased the level of anger throughout the Muslim world and thrown up obstacles to our political leadership in that deeply important part of the planet.

Like you, Mr. President, I don't oppose all wars. I risked my life in World War II to protect our country against genuine danger. But it is the vivid memory of my fellow airmen being shot out of the sky on all sides of me in a war that I believe we had to fight that makes me cautious about sending our youth into needless conflicts that weaken us at home and abroad, and may even weaken us in the eyes of God.

As you have noted, Mr. President, we take pride in our soldiers who conduct themselves bravely. But as you have also said, some of these soldiers have served two, three and even four tours in dangerous combat. Many of them have come home with enduring brain and nerve damage and without arms and legs. These troops need rest, rehabilitation and reunions with their families.

So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?

During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. Such a program is now underway in several countries approved by Congress and the United Nations, under the auspices of the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act. (Forgive the self-serving title.) Although the measure remains painfully underfunded, with the help of other countries, we are reaching millions of children. We could supplement these efforts with nutritional packages for low-income pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants from birth through the age of 5, as is done here at home by WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Is this proposal pie-in-the-sky? I don't think so. It's food in the stomachs of hungry kids. It would draw them to school and enable them to learn and grow into better citizens. It would cost a small fraction of warfare's cost, but it might well be a stronger antidote to terrorism. There will always be time for another war. But hunger can't wait.

George McGovern, a former senator from South Dakota, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The director and screenwriters of Valkyrie have managed to make a film about the attempted assassination of Hitler that leaves you entirely indifferent to whether or not the plot succeeds.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eight Years of Madoffs



By FRANK RICH
Published: January 10, 2009

THREE days after the world learned that $50 billion may have disappeared in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, The Times led its front page of Dec. 14 with the revelation of another $50 billion rip-off. This time the vanished loot belonged to American taxpayers. That was our collective contribution to the $117 billion spent (as of mid-2008) on Iraq reconstruction — a sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad.

The source for this news was a near-final draft of an as-yet-unpublished 513-page federal history of this nation-building fiasco. The document was assembled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction — led by a Bush appointee, no less. It pinpoints, among other transgressions, a governmental Ponzi scheme concocted to bamboozle Americans into believing they were accruing steady dividends on their investment in a “new” Iraq.

The report quotes no less an authority than Colin Powell on how the scam worked. Back in 2003, Powell said, the Defense Department just “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’ ” Those of us who questioned these astonishing numbers were dismissed as fools, much like those who begged in vain to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to challenge Madoff’s math.

What’s most remarkable about the Times article, however, is how little stir it caused. When, in 1971, The Times got its hands on the Pentagon Papers, the internal federal history of the Vietnam disaster, the revelations caused a national uproar. But after eight years of battering by Bush, the nation has been rendered half-catatonic. The Iraq Pentagon Papers sank with barely a trace.

After all, next to big-ticket administration horrors like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and the politicized hiring and firing at Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department, the wreckage of Iraq reconstruction is what Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” would dismiss as “a mere bag of shells.” The $50 billion also pales next to other sums that remain unaccounted for in the Bush era, from the $345 billion in lost tax revenue due to unpoliced offshore corporate tax havens to the far-from-transparent disposition of some $350 billion in Wall Street bailout money. In the old Pat Moynihan phrase, the Bush years have “defined deviancy down” in terms of how low a standard of ethical behavior we now tolerate as the norm from public officials.

Not even a good old-fashioned sex scandal could get our outrage going again. Indeed, a juicy one erupted last year in the Interior Department, where the inspector general found that officials “had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” Two officials tasked with marketing oil on behalf of American taxpayers got so blotto at a daytime golf event sponsored by Shell that they became too incapacitated to drive and had to be put up by the oil company.

Back in the day, an oil-fueled scandal in that one department alone could mesmerize a nation and earn Warren Harding a permanent ranking among our all-time worst presidents. But while the scandals at Bush’s Interior resemble Teapot Dome — and also encompass millions of dollars in lost federal oil and gas royalties — they barely registered beyond the Beltway. Even late-night comics yawned when The Washington Post administered a coup de grâce last week, reporting that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne spent $235,000 from taxpayers to redo his office bathroom (monogrammed towels included).

It took 110 pages for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan research organization, to compile the CliffsNotes inventory of the Bush wreckage last month. It found “125 systematic failures across the breadth of the federal government.” That accounting is conservative. There are still too many unanswered questions.

Just a short list is staggering. Who put that bogus “uranium from Africa” into the crucial prewar State of the Union address after the C.I.A. removed it from previous Bush speeches? How high up were the authorities who ordered and condoned torture and then let the “rotten apples” at the bottom of the military heap take the fall? Who orchestrated the Pentagon’s elaborate P.R. efforts to cover up Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan?

And, for extra credit, whatever did happen to Bush’s records from the Texas Air National Guard?

The biggest question hovering over all this history, however, concerns the future more than the past. If we get bogged down in adjudicating every Bush White House wrong, how will we have the energy, time or focus to deal with the all-hands-on-deck crises that this administration’s malfeasance and ineptitude have bequeathed us? The president-elect himself struck this note last spring. “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Barack Obama said. “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

Henry Waxman, the California congressman who has been our most tireless inquisitor into Bush scandals, essentially agreed when I spoke to him last week. Though he remains outraged about both the chicanery used to sell the Iraq war and the administration’s overall abuse of power, he adds: “I don’t see Congress pursuing it. We’ve got to move on to other issues.” He would rather see any prosecutions augmented by an independent investigation that fills in the historical record. “We need to depoliticize it,” he says. “If a Democratic Congress or administration pursues it, it will be seen as partisan.”

We could certainly do worse than another 9/11 Commission. Among those Americans still enraged about the Bush years, there are also calls for truth and reconciliation commissions, war crimes trials and, in a petition movement on Obama’s transition Web site, a special prosecutor in the Patrick Fitzgerald mode. One of the sharpest appointments yet made by the incoming president may support decisive action: Dawn Johnsen, a law professor and former Clinton administration official who last week was chosen to run the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice.

This is the same office where the Bush apparatchik John Yoo produced his infamous memos justifying torture. Johnsen is a fierce critic of such constitutional abuses. In articles for Slate last year, she wondered “where is the outrage, the public outcry” over a government that has acted lawlessly and that “does not respect the legal and moral bounds of human decency.” She asked, “How do we save our country’s honor, and our own?”

The last is not a rhetorical question. While our new president indeed must move on and address the urgent crises that cannot wait, Bush administration malfeasance can’t be merely forgotten or finessed. A new Justice Department must enforce the law; Congress must press outstanding subpoenas to smoke out potential criminal activity; every legal effort must be made to stop what seems like a wholesale effort by the outgoing White House to withhold, hide and possibly destroy huge chunks of its electronic and paper trail. As Johnsen wrote last March, we must also “resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists.”

As if to anticipate the current debate, she added that “we must avoid any temptation simply to move on,” because the national honor cannot be restored “without full disclosure.” She was talking about America regaining its international reputation in the aftermath of our government’s descent into the dark side of torture and “extraordinary rendition.” But I would add that we need full disclosure of the more prosaic governmental corruption of the Bush years, too, for pragmatic domestic reasons. To make the policy decisions ahead of us in the economic meltdown, we must know what went wrong along the way in the executive and legislative branches alike.

As the financial historian Ron Chernow wrote in the Times last week, we could desperately use a Ferdinand Pecora, the investigator who illuminated the history of the 1929 meltdown in Senate hearings on the eve of the New Deal. The terrain to be mined would include not just the usual Wall Street suspects and their Congressional and regulatory enablers but also the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a strangely neglected ground zero in the foreclosure meltdown. The department’s secretary, Alphonso Jackson, resigned in March amid still-unresolved investigations over whether he enriched himself and friends with government contracts.

The tentative and amorphous $800 billion stimulus proposed by Obama last week sounds like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket when set against the damage it must help counteract: more than $10 trillion in new debt and new obligations piled up by the Bush administration in eight years, as calculated by the economists Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz in the current Harper’s Magazine.

If Bernie Madoff, at least, can still revive what remains of our deadened capacity for outrage, so can those who pulled off Washington’s Ponzi schemes. The more we learn about where all the bodies and billions were buried on our path to ruin, the easier it may be for our new president to make the case for a bold, whatever-it-takes New Deal.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wouldn't it be great if it turned out that "yummy" is Chinese for "This tastes bad"?