how wrong Have they gotten it?

An Amazon reviewer lambasts Larry Diamond's new book, Squandered Victory : The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq. The book itself is a fierce criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the occupation. This reviewer shows how not even the critics know how wrong the American approach has been.
Larry Diamond's Squandering Victory stands out as the best evidence on why America found itself in an Iraqi quagmire. If this is the best analysis of the Iraqi situation a Stanford professor deployed to Iraq could come up with, then it is perfectly understandable how the United States was never able to grasp what's going on there.
Read the book's description: "America's leading expert on democracy delivers the first insider's account of the U.S. occupation of Iraq." The leading expert on democracy is not an Arabic speaker and his background on the Middle East seems minimal. His knowledge on the Arab world, like his expertise on democracy, comes mainly from Western media and secondary English sources rather than from primary Arabic texts or sources.

As for the "the first insider's account of the U.S. occupation of Iraq," well, the account was of such an insider that during his stay in Baghdad, he spent all of his time inside the heavily fortified Green Zone - according to his own account - save for a single trip that he made to Babylon in an armored SUV.

Put all of this given together and here's what you get: A Stanford professor and fellow at one of Washington's prestigious think tanks, National Endowment for Democracy, received a call from his personal friend, then National Security Advisor and today's Secretary of State Condi Rice, seeking his participation in salvaging America's attempt to establish democracy in Iraq. With no Arabic and minimum knowledge about Iraq and the Arab world that were apparent in the form of factual mistakes in his book, Diamond joined the American-made Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

His interpretation of what went wrong there came through his observation of the head of CPA Paul Bremer instead of trying to understand the behavior of Iraqis.

And if that's not enough, Diamond even came up with some recommendations that he thought could rectify the situation there. Why not send UN envoy Algerian (Arab) Lakhdar brahimi, who is Sunni, to patch things up in Iraq? After all, he succeeded in a similar mission in Afghanistan. For those who don't know, the majority of the population in Iraq is Arab-speaking Iraqi Shiites. The majority in Afghanistan is Urdu-speaking Pashtun Sunnis. Does the cultural and ethnic difference ring any bell? To the majority in Afghanistan, Brahimi was an impartial Arab UN envoy, Sunni like they are. To the majority of Iraqis, this Sunni Arab was an official of the Arab League which Iraqi Shiites abhorr. He had good links with the toppled Saddam Hussein who oppressed these Shiites. He sumpathized with the agenda of the region's Arab Sunnis, which was in conflict with that of the Arab Shiites. Does he look impartial at all to Iraqi Shiites? Of course not. To many Americans, he does.

I cited this one example to illustrate how shallow and superficial the knowledge of this expert on Iraq is... and he still has the guts to criticize the administration for squandering a chance in Iraq. His book is the best example of why America lost an opportunity there in the first place, not a guide on how it could have been avoided.


everybody's watching

A Korean girl's dog pooped in the subway car and she didn't clean it up (and basically told the old people who chided her to Fuck Off). Someone took digi photos of her and posted them on the internet. A nationwide witchunt ensued. Soon , her personality and past was discovered (based on her bag, dog, and watch, all clear in the photo) and posted. All comments about her privacy were shouted down. A debate has ensued as to whether the original photo blogger should have blurred her face, and whether the frenzied netzien response was over the top. In one discussion, I found some comments that I thought were particularly intriguing:
The previously conjured, sci-fi 'police state'[1] is the current state - where anyone can monitor anyone else - doing thier 'thang (if you care). So if you are makin a public poopie, jaywalking, passing the dutchie, or media|boinkin (just ask Paris) - anyone else can make it a story. The more sensational/emotional the better - as MsM has known for years.

So I think the elephant in the blog-o-media-tele-pod-o-sphere may get larger - who's surveilling who? And what/how many 'longer-tail' segments are 'tuning-in'? What do you care a about? You have a voice now.

And where can the medium take it? As predicticed for years as a leveling of the playing field - is now a pedestrian reality. Now anyone any "any-cast".

The airwaves are open. Its up to humanity to decide.

Who is surveilling who?
Thanks to technology, we are able to build a better society in which citizens are the police, prosecutors, and judges.

Surveillance a la Foucault and Bentham's panopticon, it seems. Here's another comment, a la Matrix:
This is not punishment. This is personality hacking. She is an error in the social program, which happens to be open source. We all contribute. The socially conscious "hacker" that posted the error, is merely attempting to utilize the net to affect a correction for this faulty code. I would say that this error would not occur again. This was an effective patch for the error in the program. I would like to see more patches of this type. In fact, a worldwide error reporting system should be initiated.

And another, noting that increased access to information has a village making effect;
In the old days, people conformed to societal expectations and norms based on the feedback they got from those around them. These days, especially in large urban areas where anonymity prevails, most people seem to be afraid to cricitize anyone for anything. Maybe now technology will provide a way to reinstate that societal feedback. I doubt this epsiode would have occured in a small town where everyone knows everyone and such actions would have resulted in immediate consequences.

However, unlike a physical village, the digital village has a one way gate for quick exchanges of information. Subway girl's explanation of her behavior would be unlikely to get a ton of play;
The problem with some kind of electronic mob descending upon this woman is that they have no idea why she behaved so badly. They just assume that she's a bad person and project the image of all the bad people they'd like to punish but can't onto her.

Maybe she's mentally ill. Maybe she just got the crap kicked out of her by her husband or boyfriend. Maybe she was upset about something and just wanted to go home. Maybe it's her mother's dog and her mother is cruel to her and she hates the dog because of it and didn't even want to take it on the stupid train but had to. Nobody knows.


too republican for republicans

A long term republican writes about his decision to leave the party. Worth quoting in full:
Guest Viewpoint: The party's over for betrayed Republican
By James Chaney

As of today, after 25 years, I am no longer a Republican.

I take this step with deep regret, and with a deep sense of betrayal.

I still believe in the vast power of markets to inspire ideas, motivate solutions and eliminate waste. I still believe in international vigilance and a strong defense, because this world will always be home to people who will avidly seek to take or destroy what we have built as a nation. I still believe in the protection of individuals and businesses from the influence and expense of an over-involved government. I still believe in the hand-in-hand concepts of separation of church and state and absolute freedom to worship, in the rights of the states to govern themselves without undo federal interference, and in the host of other things that defined me as a Republican.

My problem is this: I believe in principles and ideals which my party has systematically discarded in the last 10 years.

My Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, and George H.W. Bush. It was a party of honesty and accountability. It was a party of tolerance, and practicality and honor. It was a party that faced facts and dealt with reality, and that crafted common-sense solutions to problems based on the facts as they were, not as we wished them to be, or even worse, as we made them up. It was a party that told the truth, even when the truth came hard. And now, it is none of those things.

Fifty years from now, the Republican Party of this era will be judged by how we provided for the nation's future on three core issues: how we led the world on the environment, how we minded the business of running our country in such a way that we didn't go bankrupt, and whether we gracefully accepted our place on the world's stage as its only superpower. Sadly, we have built the foundation for dismal failure on all three counts. And we've done it in such a way that we shouldn't be surprised if neither the American people nor the world ever trusts us again.

My party has repeatedly ignored, discarded and even invented science to suit its needs, most spectacularly as to global warming. We have an opportunity and the responsibility to lead the world on this issue, but instead we've chosen greed, shortsightedness and deliberate ignorance.

We have mortgaged the country's fiscal future in a way that no Democratic Congress or administration ever did, and to justify the tax cuts that brought us here, we've simply changed the rules. I matured as a Republican believing that uncontrolled deficit spending is harmful and irresponsible; I still do. But the party has yet to explain to me why it's a good thing now, other than to say "... because we say so."

Our greatest failure, though, has been in our role as superpower. This world needs justice, democracy and compassion, and as the keystone of those things, it needs one thing above all else: truth.

Republican decisions made in 2002 and 2003 have killed almost 2,000 of the most capable patriots our country has to offer - volunteers, every one. Support for those decisions was gathered through what appeared at the time to be spin and marketing, but which now turns out to have been deliberate planning and falsehood. The Blair government's internal documentation only confirms what has been suspected for years: Americans are dying every day for Republican lies first crafted in 2002, expanded and embellished upon in 2003, and which continue to this day. This calculated deception is now burned into the legacy of the party, every bit as much as Reagan's triumph in the Cold War, or Nixon's disgrace over Watergate.

I could go on and on - about how we have compromised our international integrity by sanctioning torture, about how we are systematically dismantling the civil liberties that it took us two centuries to define and preserve, and about how we have substituted bullying, brinksmanship and "staying on message" for real political discourse - but those three issues are enough.

We're poisoning our planet through gluttony and ignorance.

We're teetering on the brink of self-inflicted insolvency.

We're selfishly and needlessly sacrificing the best of a generation.

And we're lying about it.

While it has compiled this record of failure and deception, the party which I'm leaving today has spent its time, energy and political capital trying to save Terri Schiavo, battling the threat of single-sex unions, fighting medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, manufacturing political crises over presidential nominees, and selling privatized Social Security to an America that isn't buying. We fiddle while Rome burns.

Enough is enough. I quit.


public space

This article from the Seattle Times describes how England is working hard to transform and retain public space through a slew of housing, transportation and development initiatives.

I have been thinking a lot lately about transportation, and how poor people are often forced to take the worst jobs because they can't afford transportation to better paying jobs. Here in Jackson, there is an area of town where few people have cars (meaning they are Really poor, as everyone here drives). Since there is virtually no public transportation in this town, the shopping district in that neighborhood jacks the prices *up*, since the people can't drive to lower prices. Another example is in Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickle and Dimed, where she lives on minimum wage for a year in four different areas of the country. In Florida, she describes how her job options were severely limited by her lack of transportation.

All of this makes me wonder what a real transportation system would look like, and how it might do a lot to enable poor people in this country to achieve a better living situation. It seems like one of those problems that can be tackled both nationally and locally, where good results could be achieved through focused work in a short time. Now if I only had a few spare busses lying around...

[update] a friend of mine who works in urban planning had this response:

So the sad short answer to a transportation system which improves access and equity is help people buy cars. Guh . . I'm not a fan of this idea myself as I would like to see fewer cars, but studies show that access to a personal vehicle improves one's job prospects and earning potential.

One of my professors, Bob Cervero a huge champion of mass transit, did a study on Welfare to Work particpants in CA and sadly found that access to a car had a siginifcant impact on one's ability to locate and maintain a job. These findings echo those of similar studies and hod enough weight that there are now pilot programs where municipalities help low income families to purchase cars. It seems that the cities are helping families to purchase old beaters
which have lower purchase prices, but high maintenance costs. Grrr . . .?

This is clearly a short run solution both for environmental and economic reasons. In adidition to the increase pollution generated, the need for a parking space adds $20-60K to the purchase price of a house. I don't have the figures for rental, but this trickles downto renters as well. So if our policy is to help people buy into the auto-centric
transportation system we have established in the US, we are ultimately increasing their housing costs as
well as increasing demand for oil.

There is no easy answer, but there is an interesting report on transportation and social exclusion in the
G7 countries. http://www.fiafoundation.com/resources/documents/1061486349__se_high_res.pdf

Sadly, I think that we missed our chance at a "real transportation system" when Eisenhower decieded he
wanted to make a name for himself with the Interstate system and would do that at the cost of losing much of
the existing mass transit infrastructure. These funding decisions prioritized emerging suburbs and
rural areas over urban areas. While people recognize many of the mistakes, no one is quite sure how to
handle it.

---and later the friend continued:-----

as far as public transport vs. cars. there was a big power battle in mid 60's re: transportation funding. the general consensus was that public transportation should be privately funded (originally most street car lines were privately held, usually by real estate speculators who were trying to shuttle people out to the edges of the city wehere they owned land and could make bank when people bought. i.e. the green line in boston) then when cars came around the car/tire/oil companies pusheed for fed. ggovt to fun major roadbuilsing projects. while we poured tons of money into the interstate system, which was cut through cities and neighborhoods, usally poor ones, to the deteriment of transit systems, there was very very little $ given to invest in transit infrastructure. cities like ny, boston, and chicago made a stink and begged for some help because car congestion was killing the cities and transit was dying. bones were thrown, but it was too little to protect the streetcar systems in many smaller cities. they all switched to buses, which most middle class folks associate with 'the poor" and aren't inclined to take. it is very interesting to read perceptions of different types of transit.

anyway, today many people think of buses/ public transit as something for the poor and you know how we
feel about funding things for lower income peoples.

as far as minivan systems [private transportation companies], they are refered to as jitneys, and are not employed n teh US nearly as much as other countries, because we have many layers of hassle regulations on them. in fact, in many cities, informal jitney services are prohibited.

i think the most promising solution on the table these days is car sharing. have you heard of it? zip car or citycarcshare. you end up paying a fraction of cost of owning a car and have the convenience of access when necessary. [i have a feeling that poor people are not really tapped into the zip car market. maybe that could change though]

on a positive note, there is a new trend which is putting child care centers in or around transit stations with the recognition that many parents will be better able to use transit ot go to work if they can drop their children in proximity.

Abortion. Know your facts.

I have found an excellent article on abortion that answers many longstanding questions of mine, like how abortion relates to socioeconomic status. The article is only available thorugh subscription, so I can only give a citation and quotes. I hope that all of you who care about this topic will take a minute to read this, so that you have a few facts at hand when thinking about what's at stake. I think this data directly contradicts the pernicious view that most women seek abortions after engaging in irresponsible behavior, and that it would be safer for women to carry their pregnancies to term.

The most important pieces of information for me in this article were the following statistics:
- "The risk of death from childbirth is 11 times greater than the risk of death from abortion."
- "The authors concluded that up to 87% of deaths in women having abortions may have been avoided if the pregnancy had been terminated before 8 weeks gestation."

The article is: Harper CC, Henderson JT, Darney PD. Abortion in the United States. Annu Rev Public Health. 2005;26:501-12.

Women who are unmarried (single or cohabitating) are more likely to have abortions than are married women. Low-income women also have more abortions because they have far more unintended pregnancies than do high-income women. Abortion rates in the year 2000 among low-income women were 44 per 1000 compared with 10 per 1000 among high income. Abortion rates fell for high- and middle-income women from the mid-nineties to the year 2000, but they increased among low-income and Medicaid recipients, including low-income teenagers. Black women are more likely to have unintended pregnancies than are women in other racial/ethnic groups, and thus they are more likely to have abortions. The abortion rate is 49 per 1000 for blacks, 33 per 1000 for Hispanics, 31 per 1000 for Asians, and 13 per 1000 for whites.


After legalization, deaths and morbidity caused by abortion experienced a steep and rapid decline. Data from the Abortion Mortality Surveillance System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the risk of death associated with abortion is low, at 0.6 per 100,000 abortions. The risk of death from childbirth is 11 times greater than the risk of death from abortion. The causes of death from abortion are equally distributed among hemorrhage, infection, embolism, and anesthesia complications. The risk of major complications is less than 1%, and there is no evidence of subsequent childbearing problems among women who have had abortions.

Early procedures are extremely safe. Most deaths result from abortion during more advanced gestational periods. Bartlett et al. estimated the relative risk of abortion-related mortality at higher gestations compared with abortions at 8 weeks or less. The relative risk was 14.7 at 13-15 weeks gestation, 29.5 at 16-20 weeks, and 76.6 at 20+ weeks (95% CI 32.5, 180.8). The authors concluded that up to 87% of deaths in women having abortions may have been avoided if the pregnancy had been terminated before 8 weeks gestation. Increased access to abortion services, and particularly early abortion services, may help to decrease abortion-related deaths.


Many women in need of an abortion face obstacles to services. For example, women encounter bureaucratic barriers such as state laws requiring waiting periods and parental consent prior to obtaining an abortion. Another barrier to access is the absence of physicians who do abortions. The number of abortion providers has declined substantially since rising to a peak level in 1982 (24). The percentage of counties without an abortion provider has remained high since 1973. Yet more counties than ever lack an abortion provider: 87% of counties had no abortion provider as of the year 2000, and these counties contain over one third of the population of women aged 15-44 (19). Consequently, nearly one quarter (24%) of women seeking an abortion travel 50 miles or more to find a capable physician (24). Long travel distances, along with mandatory wait periods, can delay services (28).


A recent nationally representative study of contraceptive use among women obtaining abortions found that more than half of women were using some kind of contraceptive (either consistently or inconsistently) in the month they became pregnant. Low-income women were more likely to report difficulty accessing contraceptive services as one reason for their nonuse or inconsistency. Reductions in Medicaid health insurance coverage and stagnating Title X funding for reproductive health services and supplies are undoubtedly decreasing access to contraceptives in many states. Women and couples need a range of contraceptive options and comprehensive information to help them select and use a method that suits their needs.

Sixteen percent of all women obtaining abortions became pregnant because they were not expecting to have sex. Research suggests that increased emphasis on abstinence as a method of contraception may result in increased demand for abortion; although theoretical effectiveness is high, use effectiveness is low. Emergency contraception use may be responsible for some of the decline in the abortion rate during the nineties.


Public health researchers and policy makers are increasingly attentive to social disparities in health and health care access in the United States (43). But little attention is paid to trends in abortion and how they are affecting women differently by race and class. In recent years, the rate of abortion has risen among low-income women (those living below 200% of the federal poverty line) so that these women account for over half of all abortions obtained in the United States, although they comprise only 15% of the population. Abortion rates among black and Hispanic women have risen in recent years, whereas rates fell for white women. Access to information, education, quality health care, and contraceptive methods and services may contribute to the disparity in rates. Policies and programs that help women avoid unintended pregnancy are important public health measures, but maintaining access to abortion services is also critical to the lives of women with limited resources.

Other articles cited:

Bartlett LA, Berg CJ, Shulman HB, Zane SB, Green CA, et al. 2004. Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States. Obstet. Gynecol. 103:729-37.

Elam-Evans L, Strauss LT, Herndon J, Parker WY, Bowens SV, et al. 2003. Abortion Surveillance, United States, 2000. MMWR 52:1-32

Jones RK, Darroch JE, Henshaw S. 2002. Patterns in the socioeconomic characteristics of women obtaining abortions in 2000-2001. Perspect. Sex. Reprod. Health 34:226-35

Jones RK, Darroch JE, Henshaw SK. 2002. Contraceptive use among U.S. women having abortions in 2000-2001. Perspect. Sex. Reprod. Health 34:294-303

in short

Junk DNA (supposedly useless) keeps male voles devoted.

A follow up article on the man who was beaten the point of brain damage by five soldiers at Guantanamo during a training exercise, during which he wore a prisoner's jumpsuit. The soldiers were told he was a detainee who was misbehaving. No soldiers have been disciplined.

privacy shmivacy

The AP has discovered that, *shockingly*, TSA has been gathering data on passengers after Congress expressly told it not to. And when I say shockingly, I mean, in an entirely unshocking fashion.
The federal agency in charge of aviation security collected extensive personal information about airline passengers even though Congress forbade it and officials said they wouldn't do it, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press...

The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the government from keeping a secret database. It also requires agencies to make official statements on the impact of their record keeping on privacy.

The TSA revealed its use of commercial data in a revised Privacy Act statement to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register.

"This is like creating an FBI file, not just some simple check, and then they're storing the data," said Sparapani, the ACLU attorney.

TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the program was being developed with a commitment to privacy, and that it was routine to change Privacy Act statements during testing.


napalm in iraq

The US lied to Britain about its use of Napalm in Iraq.
Despite persistent rumours of injuries among Iraqis consistent with the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, Adam Ingram, the Defence minister, assured Labour MPs in January that US forces had not used a new generation of incendiary weapons, codenamed MK77, in Iraq.

But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position."

I have no words to describe my shame and disgust.

a moderate Christian speaks out

This op-ed from John Danforth (former Republican senator from Missouri) is worth printing in full:
Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers

It would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.


in short

The junk food lobby is going strong in Connecticut, where the governor has blocked a law that would have limited the availability of soda and junk food in schools. For context, we note that child violence has been linked to malnutrition. You may also remember from Super Size Me that a school for 'bad kids' in Oregon that switched to nutritious foods only (no junk food or foods prepared off site allowed) experienced a huge improvement in student behavior.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer, has written an very thorough and damning Salon article on mercury based vaccines and their link to autism (whih now appears strong).

Adrian Lomax has a gripping piece on torture by withholding medical treatment in American prisons. I have preivously I have previously read disturbing accounts about this in the abstract, but this article's accounts sharpen the horror.

question time

Witness Terry Moran's dogged but unsuccessful attempt to get an answer out of Scott McClellan:
Q Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its 'last throes'?

McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that's why we're doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward....

Q But the insurgency is in its last throes?

McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day -- you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.

Q But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?

McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians. And it doesn't take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you're willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car and go and attack innocent civilians. That's the kind of people that we're dealing with. That's what I say when we're talking about a determined enemy.

Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?

McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.

Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?

McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements. You're seeing Iraqis now playing more of a role in addressing the security threats that they face. They're working side by side with our coalition forces. They're working on their own. There are a lot of special forces in Iraq that are taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq. And so this is a period when they are in a desperate mode.

Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.

McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.

Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a 'last throe' lasts for?

McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve....


tables turned

It's a dog eat dog world in Iraq, where 17 contractors (including at least two former marines) were taken captive by the marines for supposedly firing on civilians and the marines, according to the LA Times. The contractors claimed that they were stripped naked and threatened with weapons and dogs while the marines took pictures. Their lawyer also claims that the families of the contractors were called and threatened to kill the contractors if they talked to the media. The marines deny the story, and claim that the contractors were treated humanely, just like everyone else. Choice quotes:
"I never in my career have treated anybody so inhumane," one of the contractors, Rick Blanchard, a former Florida state trooper, wrote in an e-mail message. "They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed us, called us names."

"How does it feel to be a big, rich contractor now?" the Marines shouted at the men, Schopper said, in an apparent reference to the large salaries security contractors can make in Iraq.

"Two years into the [Iraq war], and there's still a hole when it comes to a legal structure," said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written extensively on private military contractors.

Something tells me the contractors aren't going to let this story go... unless they get paid off of course. It should be amusing to watch these two bullies fighting.

in brief

Der Spiegel ("the Mirror") has a trenchant article on the billions being wasted on useless gadgets on in the name of Homeland Security.

Anthiny Shahid, the only fluent speaker of Arabic in the mainstream press, has written a great article detailing the serious problems surrounding US training of Iraqi police forces. via common dreams.

Monbiot at the Guardian writes a scathing column on "debt relief", otherwise known as extortion, where poor countries are told their debts will be forgiven if they remove all impediments to private corporations ravaging their countries.

raped and silenced

Kristof writes in the times today that Mukhtaran Bibi, the Pakistani woman who was sentenced to be gang raped in her village for an infraction committed by her brother, and who instead of committing suicide after the atrocity became a voice for women in her community, is now under house arrest and being prevented from speaking to anyone. She was on her way to the US to come to speak about her experiences when she was kidnapped and detained by the police. Airports are forbidden to allow her to leave the country. The group that invited her has a site with updates.


Bill Moyers gave an excellent speech on the state of America at a conference in Washington over the weekend. He quoted the Economist as saying that "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society." He went on to say,
It wasn't supposed to be this way. America was not meant to be a country where the winner takes all. Through a system of checks and balances we were going to maintain a decent equilibrium in how democracy works so that it didn't just work for the powerful and privileged (If you don't believe me, I'll send you my copy of The Federalist Papers). The economist Jeffrey Madrick put it well: Because equitable access to public resources is the lifeblood of any democracy, Americans made primary schooling free to all. Because everyone deserves a second chance, debtors - especially the relative poor - were protected by state laws against their rich creditors. Charters to establish corporations were open to most if not all (white) comers, rather than held for elites. Government encouraged Americans to own their own piece of land and even supported squatters' rights. The old hope for equal access to opportunity became a reality for millions. Including yours truly.

Unfortunately, most people seem to have bought Milton Friedman and his ilk's line that there is no free lunch. People seem to think that it is just impossible to live in an economically equitable society (wilfully ignoring our neighbors across the Atlantic). It seems that the possibility of equity (not equality mind you, just Equity), is just too horrifying to people, because that would mean that we are Choosing to live like this, with a shameful healthcare system, single mothers slaving away at sweatshops to support their children who don't learn to read in schools, and huge corporations riding their enormous subsidies to the bank. And so cognitive dissonance comes to the rescue -- it is Freedom that requires that we ignore the suffering of the poor and middle class, Freedom that says companies can mercilessly enforce contracts and kill people to meet the bottom line, Freedom that says people should not be able to sue for their harm. The American dream has always been somewhat of an illusion it seems, but it is now being actually redefined to mean its opposite. Everything that makes us a backwards country compared to Europe (lack of education and social services) is suddenly that which makes us American -- because the American dream is now the right to struggle and struggle until you drop dead. That is your right as an American.

It is difficult for me to see how the vast majority of this country is going to survive economically through this generation -- no bankruptcy, predatory lending, exorberant credit rates, slashed welfare, massive medical bills, huge gas prices, funding a war -- I am at a loss to understand how people are even doing it now.

So things look bleak. On one hopeful note, however, I am writing this post from Jackson, Mississippi, which I expected to be a horror, and which has proven to be a pretty nice town. I haven't seen too much of it, but I have seen a black judge presiding in court. Fifty years ago that probably would have been inconceivable -- so maybe things can turn around economically in this country... or maybe we all are just going to have to adapt to being a third world economy.

children see better

There's a guy who turns children's drawings into paintings. I think he does a pretty great job (and I'm not a ginormous fan of representational art).
(via boing boing)

strait talker?

According to a close advisor, Governor Romney of Massachusetts has been lying his whole political career about being pro-choice. Apparently, he's preparing himself for a presidential bid, where being anti-choice, anti-women and anti-truth is becoming a requirement.

in brief

In Kansas, a state senator who once said that the 19th amendment was a bad idea now wants to be Kansas' top election official. The insipid Kay O'Connor:
"I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of," she said at the time. "The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family."

The military has delayed the release of its recruiting data for May.

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