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Entries tagged as ‘bush’

Must Read

July 1, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Seymour Hersh – “Annals of National Security:  Preparing the Battlefield”

Here are some gems:

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.”

Scary stuff, especially when you consider where Cheney’s priorities lie:

Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz…The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region[...]   But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. A former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

Cheney is looking for his Gulf of Tonkin.  How does the brass feel about that?

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities.

Like I said, a must-read, and a good primer for the regional conflict.

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June 5, 2008 · 1 Comment

Remember when scholars were calling Bush “Wilsonian,” as if he had some grandiose dedication to letting freedom and democracy reign across the Middle East?

Yeah, not so much.

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

Sir, I’m not sure you have a strong grasp of what the word “vindicated” means.

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That’s a Whole Lot of Money

April 9, 2008 · 1 Comment

Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the cost of the Iraq war to be $3 trillion dollars by 2017.

These cost estimates include:

  1. disability and compensation for veterans (1.7 million troops have been deployed to date, with 70,000 wounded or diseased and 120,000 having already sought mental health care);
  2. replenishing the military to its normal level of soldiers and equipment; and,
  3. repaying the debt (with interest) that was raised to pay for this war, which has been fully funded by borrowing.
  4. lost economic contributions of those who went to war
  5. the withdrawal from the economy of family members who quit work to care for loved ones injured in the war
  6. the cost to allies and to Iraq

Now, projecting cost estimates for a destructive exercise like war over long-term periods (including well into the future) can prove to be a debatable task, especially when you’re accounting for opportunity costs (i.e. the lost economic contributions of those who went to war) and significant unknown variables (price of oil, nature of military commitment).  We can’t even agree on civilian death tolls in that country, which should be a far easier task in simple accounting.   So it’s no surprise when such attempts are dismissed or attacked for their methodologies in arriving at such an absurdly large figure.

Most importantly– and this is where journalism tends to do the public a great disservice, I think– is that the figure of a trillion dollars (let alone three trillion) is an entirely unrelatable figure for our democratic republic, which is financing the operation.  (Note:  credit the New York Times for their efforts… although presenting the figure as “what else could we have spent this money on?”, while useful in explaining scale, widens the scope of the issue beyond “why are we spending this much on this particular effort?”)

$3 trillion may not be an “accurate” figure, but I’m willing to give the former chief economist of the World Bank the benefit of the doubt in his estimates. I haven’t read the report and am not sure if the valuation is in present dollar terms (although I assume it is, including future interest payments).  Keep in mind then, that the following calculations are going to be (very) fast and loose… it’s not intended as an exercise in social science, only one in wrapping your arms around the scale of what has transpired:

Our government spends $16 billion per month on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (excluding incurred interest), putting the annual figure at something around $200 billion.  The IMF estimated the nominal GDP of the World’s Economy in 2007 to be $53.35 trillion, $13.8 trillion of which is generated by the United States.  This means that as a share of the world’s economy, government spending on Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to 1.5% of the US’ GDP.  And for what?

Some might argue that Keynesian deficit spending is necessary during a recession, but what percentage of the spending are we recapturing in our economy?  How much of that $16.6 billion per month can we actually count toward our own GDP?

What about the premium costs that war and instability have created in the pricing of oil?

What about the costs to our sluggish economy of higher energy prices?  Higher priced commodities (including food), all around?

The Bush administration initially estimated the reconstruction costs of Iraq in the $50-$100 billion dollar range, with only $1.6 billion required to rehabilitate the oil industry.  Oil revenues would help the reconstruction “pay for itself.”  Now projections suggest that this estimate was off by a scale of over 30 to 60 times the actual cost?

Can you imagine investing in a company where the CEO took on an extremely risky project, estimating tremendous (and long-term) returns, and then misses the capital expenditure by 30 to 60 times the projection?  And not only that, but the business model on which he hopes to rely on for future revenues is extremely volatile, and universally accepted as out of date and in dire need of overhaul within the next 10 years?

Now we find ourselves in a situation where on the one hand,  our country should be trying to develop new utility-scale energy sources (other than fossil fuels), and on the other hand, we’re entirely dependent on a global market for oil to recuperate the massive expenditures for the invasion, occupation, and reconstruction of Iraq.

I believe that’s what’s called “between Iraq and a hard place.”

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Dropping Knowledge: Rentier States

October 15, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Dropping Knowledge”… where I laymenize an important aspect of social science.

A rentier state is a government that derives all or a significant portion of its national revenue from the rent of its indigenous resources to external clients.  It is a term most commonly applied to oil rich countries (such as Saudi Arabia), which grant access and management of its petroleum deposits to the United States (or the UK, Russia, etc.) in return for a “rent.”

Rentier states are inherently undemocratic.  You see, the geo-political distribution of natural resources makes certain areas extremely profitable, by random chance.  If the states themselves lack the privately developed technology and infrastructure to efficiently extract and distribute their resources, they must (or are otherwise coerced to) outsource such activities.

The thing is, democratic societies detest foreign management of domestic resources (see: Venezuela, Bolivia), and will take steps to “socialize” their industries, directly tax the exports instead of charging rent to foreign entities, and redistribute the wealth domestically, for a much bigger return.  But democratic management of a single resource economy naturally entails a heck of a lot of fighting over “who gets what, and why.”  And government industries are never as efficient as private industries in terms of production, so global trade organizations (OPEC) get antsy when a member state isn’t hitting its productive capacity.

The most efficient governmental arrangement for single-resource economies is therefore the rentier model… small, authoritarian leaderships (Saudi royal family) that placate domestic population by subsidizing EVERYTHING (except, generally, higher education, since educated elites tend to challenge authority).  The tax costs “flow” through the rent charged to Americans for pumping out oil and establishing military bases in the region for security purposes, and no taxes are levied domestically.  The royal family invests the majority of its staggering financial resources back into US securities, which solidifies the dollar and keeps oil demand and prices high.

This brings up a couple important issues:

1)  Some “experts” like to state that Islam is incompatible with democracy.  Bush is actually right when he says this is false (just look at Indonesia).  It’s actually more likely that democracy cannot exist without a diversified economy.  The less access there is to economic opportunity, the less people are involved in the management of the economy.

2)  Democracy is about sovereignty, about the population making decisions based on the Wilsonian principles of self-determination.  If you look at Iraq, you have two major obstacles:  the first is the introduction of a political power struggle between rival populations (Sunni and Shia).  Sunnis are keenly aware of their minority position in Iraq and refuse to participate in a political framework that is illegitimately stacked against their interests.   Shias are a minority within the greater Muslim world and subscribe to a cultural narrative based on resistance to oppression and illegitimate authority.  Even if Shia leadership wanted to achieve stability under the watchful eyes (and guns) of the US, they would continue to be undermined by Iran, which has no interest in seeing a successful secular Shia-dominated democracy as a neighbor, because that would intensify domestic pressures for reform.

The second obstacle to self-determination is that clearly, the preferred interest of Iraqis is American withdrawal, if not now (in the short-term), certainly in the medium- and long-terms.  Iraqis are well aware that the Persian Gulf war resulted in the construction of permanent bases in Saudi Arabia.  And Secretary of Defense Gates has stated publicly that the US “has historically had a strong presence in the region, and we will continue to have a strong presence in the region, and it’s important for our friends, and those who might consider themselves our adversaries, to recognize that.”

The US would prefer for the political outcomes of Iraqi democratic elections to be friendly governments that actively engage in rentier relationships to assuage the masses and ensure their positions of power.   But the Iraqi population will never recognize a pro-US business government as legitimate.  We live in an Age of Information where covert regime changes or puppet governments are really, really hard to achieve.  In the meantime, as instability and civil war rage on in Iraq, the US is quietly consolidating four major bases around the strategic oil regions in the country.

3)  That last point is the most telling.  For all of the gum flapping that goes on about “the principals of liberal democracy” and “freedom,” we tend to get distracted from the realist perspective — that control of Iraq means control over the second largest oil reserve in the world.  Always keep in mind that oil is a finite resource whose price rises with scarcity.  It’s one thing for Saudi Arabia to sell oil at (relatively) competitive prices now… it’s another thing entirely for the US to be rationing the last drops of oil in 20 years, at monopoly prices (don’t forget about Alaska!).  That means the potential for wealth and global power… power over everyone who is addicted to oil… is assured to whomever controls Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to some, but that means the business and military pressures are too great on the executive branch of the US government to expect a withdrawal anytime soon, unless Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul magically win their primaries.  The US army/state department did not spend billions of dollars on bases and the world’s largest embassy to come home any time soon.

4)  With all of this in perspective, it’s important to recognize why Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The real “Inconvenient Truth” isn’t necessarily that global warming is a real threat per se… I mean, that was already pretty obvious.  It’s that oil consumption is behind global warming, and that oil demand makes actions like the war in Iraq profitable.  By raising awareness about an ancillary (but still primary concern) of global climate change, Gore is indirectly calling for the necessity to research and develop alternative sources of sustainable energy that would compete with coal, oil and natural gas, making those resources’ price demands more flexible, and reducing the profit incentive of military control and domination of them.  Hence the “Peace” rationale in the Nobel Peace Prize.

The thing is, alternative energy sources are nowhere nearly as profitable as oil, even given the tremendous extraneous costs of financing strategic military bases around the world to protect the investments.  And the transition costs to adopting alternative energy sources would be tremendous in every sector, so oil companies can continue to pass the costs incurred from political instability and deeper, harder to get to reserves (i.e. the melting North Pole) onto the consumers.  I’ve read somewhere that the McKinsey Global Institute did an analysis of gasoline consumption in America, and found that demand wouldn’t significantly falter until the price went past $5.00 per gallon.  (I’m couldn’t find the exact report via a Google search, but hey, it’s midterms… give me a break).

The key of course is then electing leaders who are seriously committed to implementing policies of consumer regulation that prevent us from letting our aggregate demand get the better of us.  Individual conscience in the US is (generally) against empire, against war, against destruction of the environment, against global injustice.  But we speak with our wallets, we make demands through our purchases and consumption, and global suppliers react accordingly, even if the outcomes violate our individual consciences.

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Do My Tears Surprise You Sir? Strong Men Also Cry…

September 5, 2007 · 2 Comments

I’m always quietly amused whenever I check my Yahoo! account (strictly for fantasy football purposes) and the homepage is some news story (in the loosest definition of that term) that gives just enough information to pique the interest of a readership which is only two rungs higher on the evolutionary ladder than that of the New York Post.

Yesterday the headline was so utterly hilarious that I admit I rubbernecked into a click-through… “Bush Tells Biographer: ‘I Do Tears’”.

Here’s exactly how this “biography” came to pass:

[Advisor]: Sir, you have historically low approval ratings, lower than any president in history.
[Bush]: Wapner.
[Advisor]: Sir, we’re going to have to do some intense public relations to make you a more sympathetic person, without having to reveal your dimensia.
[Bush]: (Wookie noise)

The ridiculously transparent and pathetic nature of this public image makeover attempt got me thinking: where does this rate on the “Ridiculously Transparent and Pathetic Public Image Makeover” scale???

The Ridiculously Transparent and Pathetic Public Image Makeover Scale

(Note: Ratings are from 1 to 10, 1 being “understandable and necessary” and 10 being “you’re making me uncomfortable and embarrassed just watching you trying to sell yourself in a new light.”)

1. Ellen Degeneres buys Converse, wears bed head pomade and white dress-suits with pants to reenter public sphere as “spunky funny lesbian” and not “emo Melissa Etheridge lesbian.”

2. Isiaah Washington goes on Larry King to say “I HAD A FREAKING GAG ORDER AND THEY STILL FIRED ME,” which he can’t actually say, because ABC would sue him.

3. Jason Giambi “apologizes” to the New York media, without actually saying what he was apologizing for. You know, just that he was sorry. For the wink wink nudge nudge. And the flick flick poke plunge lift recover pick your bacne.
4. Kobe apologizing for getting caught… er, cheating on his wife.
5. Vanilla Ice goes on “The Surreal Life,” because his “agent” (i.e. his boy Lil’ Dookey) told him the best way to stop people from making fun of him for being a wigger idiot 15 years ago is to establish his relative sanity in an environment of washed and boozed up D-list celebrities (on camera).

6. Paula Abdul launches a reality TV show so that the world can see the “real” her… only to discover that the “real” her is just as we all expected… a rich crack-whore on valium, 24/7.

7. Dave Chappelle goes on “Inside the Actors Studio” and “Oprah” to try to explain how he gets really, really high so much that he thinks crazy thoughts that nobody else could possibly relate to, and while we all think it’s hilarious, he is racked with inexplicable guilt and self-doubt.

8. Bush admits to crying, abandoning his tough cowboy demeanor as a pre-emptive application of vaseline for the wide loaded girth historians will leave behind while discussing his “legacy” for the next 18 months.

9. Clint Eastwood REALLY cries in “Million Dollar Baby,” instantly losing 7 decades’ worth of respect and admiration, so that he could win an Oscar. End of Western genre is officially demarcated shortly thereafter with the release of “Brokeback Mountain.”

10. Tom Cruise jumps up and down on Oprah’s couch, yelling “I’m in love!” If you could see beyond his widely set grin and squinting eyes, you’d find a self-loathing homosexual alien-robot.

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Learning from Your Elders

August 13, 2007 · Leave a Comment

My grandma hates sports.

More specifically, she hates sports fanatics. She hates men who paint their faces. She hates tribal affiliations to symbols, colors and mascots. And she hates irrational hooliganism.

You see, my grandma lived through Nazi Germany. She witnessed her friends and family irrationally buy into the political fervor of social democracy. She chaffed at the nationalistic pride, later deemed facism, that was embodied by Nazi propoganda.

To put it bluntly, sports fanatics remind my grandmother of her shame for being part of a society that could exterminate 6 million Jews. The face painters and obscenity yellers remind her of a time when her individual voice, her conscience, was drowned out by irrational group-think.

In this context, social identity theory would classify my grandmother as a CORFer : Cutting Off of Reflective Failure. She has lived the second half of her life– the part as a German-American immigrant– distancing herself from her portion of the collective shame of WWII.

It’s fascinating to me how huge of an impact the experience of Nazi Germany had on my grandmother’s self-esteem, and really, the self-esteem of all Germans. The historical embarassment and shame of a failed and despicable facist state is deeply damaging to one’s personal narrative; so much so, in fact, that my grandmother was compelled to write her memoirs about how powerless she felt during that period of time.

The American narrative, of course, is spun in a much more positive light (Basking in Reflected Glory), despite Manzanar and the two atomic bombs we dropped on Japan. We constantly hear about how “history has judged Harry Truman much more favorably” than his popularity would’ve indicated at the time he left office; and this is presumably how George W. Bush contextualizes his own legacy.

So in today’s context, it seems the contemporary role of the American president has become advancing a foreign policy agenda abroad while managing the collective ego of the American public at home. That is to say, we can tolerate being duped into supporting a war, if it means replacing a dictator and promoting freedom/democracy in the Middle East.

However, as the success of a stable democracy becomes increasingly unlikely, are we strong enough as a society to accept and sustain the blow to our collective ego of a reflective failure? Or will we blast the Iraqis for their inability to manage the fledgling democracy we “provided” for them?

…if America were a sports team, we would all be Yankee fans.

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The "Pirannah Swarm" and the Media Cycle

July 28, 2007 · 1 Comment

Yet another product of our ever changing media landscape is what I like to call the “Pirannah Swarm.”

The Pirannah Swarm is the media’s tendency to swarm a juicy story as soon as it breaks, analyzing the story to death in a matter of days (or hours). Lacking fresh meat, the swarm will then proceed to cannibalize itself, attacking its own members for their vapid over-consumption of banal stories that amount to dry filler.

The cause of the Pirannah Swarm is easily divined: newsertainment demands “breaking” stories. To grab eyeballs, news must be new. In a long tail consumer environment like cable television, network and cable news outlets cannot risk dwelling on stories for too long lest they risk tedium and lost viewers.

The risk of the Pirannah Swarm is that the production of news now falls into a framework such that SOMETHING must be the daily “lead-story,” even if the nature of the news doesn’t warrant the attention. When CNN calls everything “breaking news” or a “crisis situtation,” it collectively desensitizes its audience from recognizing true breaking news or real crisis situations. A classic “boy who cried wolf” paradigm.

Without a proper scale of news evaluation, all events become muddled. Politicians engage in historionic theatrics… and get away with it… because we have been dulled to consider rational conversation. We become suspicious of all moral indignation- even legitimate moral indignation– as political theater. And we pass on “breaking stories” until they’ve survived the gauntlet for more than a few days in the public’s consciousness.

Newsertainment weakens our democracy. It allows for creep of authoritarianism because the free press passively allows itself to be wagged or distracted by those in power. When editors and producers are making decisions to run or bury stories based upon their popular appeal instead of their political importance, we all suffer.

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Fun with Math!

July 16, 2007 · Leave a Comment


Lebron James
+Bill Russell
Greg Oden





Oversized Sunglasses

Sack of Hammers

Paris Hilton


Bill O’Reilly
His Mask

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Dobbsian theory

July 6, 2007 · 1 Comment reports that CNN’s Lou Dobbs reaped a ratings bonanza during his coverage of the proposed Immigration Bill that was browbeaten to death in Congress last week.

In the last three months, from April 1-June 29, Dobbs devoted more than a quarter (26%) of the airtime on his nightly show to immigration. (That’s almost twice as much attention as he gave to the next leading subject, the Iraq war policy debate.)

A quick autopsy on the life and death of Kennedy’s Immigration Bill will tell you that the talking heads on the political right (led by Dobbs) singled out the “amnesty” portion of the bill, and gave marching orders to its minions of letter-writers to shoot the bill down.

Once a watchdog of corporate malpractice, Dobbs has remade his career the old-fashioned way… exploiting xenophobia. (It’s easy to pick on people who have no legal rights). At the same time, Dobbs has managed to maintain his “populist” “war on the middle-class” position, hammering domestic manufacturing industries for shipping jobs over-seas.

Lou Dobbs is the embodiment of Dani Rodrik’s impossibility theorem, which states that “democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.”

Dobbs wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is, he wants to be a small “d” democrat, a nationalist, and a populist at the same time. He sells his brand of snake-oil to an audience eager to believe its feasible for Americans to win-win-win on every front in the face of global competition, without sacrificing on any level.

Does this mean we’ve completely departed from an era where our leaders ask us to sacrifice for the sake of our collective best interests? Is the only acceptable brand of rhetorical politicking now class war-fare, taxing the wealthiest and denying benefits from the poorest? What happened to Roosevelt’s “Call for Sacrifice” or Kennedy’s “Ask Not…” premises?

You know what happened? It went out the window post 9/11, when we asked our president what we could do to help, and he advised: “Keep spending…the American economy will be open for business.”

Color me inspired.

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Oh, Libby Me Scooter! Libbymetimbers!

July 3, 2007 · 2 Comments

There’s a TON of reaction out there to the use of executive clemency for Scooter Libby. Reading through all of it, I just feel kinda numb.

You know how there are five stages of grief? I propose that there have been five stages of “Reactions to the Bush Administration.”

Stage 1. Denial – The first stage is, “nah, they wouldn’t really do that.” It seems too far-fetched, too underhanded to believe. Would the Vice-President really leak the name of an under-cover agent as retaliation against her diplomat husband, just because he was the first to publicly discredit the thread-bare justification for rushing to war in Iraq? Would the country really go to war based on that “evidence”?

Bush is the decision maker! He makes the decisions! We’re at war, it’s a tough job, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Stage 2. Dejection – The second stage is, “OK, I guess they would do that. Wow. I can’t wait for 2008.”

Stage 3. Humor – In the court of public opinion, it’s the court jester who most articulately encapsulates the melancholy dejection of the disenfranchised. Stephen Colbert’s White House Correspondence speech was the pinnacle of this stage– ridiculing the administration for its pomposity, foolhardiness and overall arrogance.

Stage 4. Anger - “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Very true.

Actually, I have a go-to joke whenever one of my friends is losing money in Vegas: “I’d like you to take a look at some reading material… it’s called ‘When the Fun Stops.’” (That’s a brochure produced by Gamblers-Anonymous made mandatory to be provided in casinos by the Nevada Gaming Commission).

Well, the fun has stopped. Bush lied, people died.

Stage 5. Depression – I guess that’s where we’re all headed. At the end of the day, after the anger subsides, after all of the hand-wringing and calls for impeachment, and after all of the lamenting over how this administration has made a mockery of the Constitution (even going as far to proclaim a “fourth branch of government,” aka the Cheney corollary to the Montesquieu doctrine)… nothing happens.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

All in the name of “executive privilege,” which sounds like something Stalin would write on his own birthday cake.

The most depressing part? Here’s what our president had to say on the matter:

Others point out that a jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice. They argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable.

Loyal readers may recall a post written previously about how basketball is no fun unless everyone competes. As soon as one of the parties involved stops abiding by the unspoken rules of the game (i.e. compete), the game itself disintegrates.

It works the same way in politics. The strength of our system is in its fundamental laws, and in the trust and faith we place in the Constitution. The strength of our system does not stem from the men and women who assume the offices constructed by those laws. When men and women act outside of the boundaries of the rules, both spoken and unspoken, the system disintegrates.

That’s something to think about this 4th of July. And on the first Tuesday in November, 2008.

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