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«  November 2004  |   Main   |  January 2005  »


»  December 31, 2004

Politics  

Updated Ratios of Aid: Given the increased amount of aid promised by the US government to the tsunami victims, I felt it was time to update my earlier post about the ratio of government spending in Iraq versus relief for the Indian Ocean disaster.

Both operations are -- ostensibly -- to aid afflicted peoples (given the fact that no WMDs or al Qaeda ties were found in Iraq). See my previous post for how the numbers of (pre-invasion) dead in Iraq are derived.

This comparison assumes $200 billion in expenditures (so far) in Iraq and $350 million pledged for the tsunami victims; 3,000,000 dead in Iraq and 135,000 (today's number) in the tsunami; and a population of 23,374,691 for Iraq (from the CIA World Factbook) and 5,000,000 homeless in the tsunami (from the Yahoo story above and one which I didn't have previously).

That's a per capita expenditure per death of $66,667 in Iraq and $2,593 for the tsunami, a 26:1 ratio.

Or (after all, we can't save the dead) $8,556 for each Iraqi made "safe" from Saddam and $70 for each homeless tsunami victim. A 122:1 ratio.

Happy New Year! Remember MLK Day!

 


»  December 29, 2004

Politics  

Another Comparison of the Aid "Package": Many commentators have noted the Bush Administration's apparent stinginess in the wake of the the tsunami by comparing the $35 million in government funds pledged for relief efforts to the estimated $40 million in public and private funds being spent for the upcoming inagural. But what if we compare it to another foreign relief effort; specifically a relief effort initiated and administered by the Bush team?

I'm speaking, of course, of the invasion of Iraq, which, since the WMDs apparently never existed, was a mission to free Iraq's citizens of a "brutal man", who vanished "hundreds of thousands of men and women and children" into the sands of Iraq (quotes from the 2004 State of the Union). That's just about the only time you'll hear an estimate of the number of Iraqis killed by Saddam from anyone in the administration. The Iran-Iraq war killed an estimated 1.5 million on both sides. The horrible, unarmed "human wave" attacks mounted against the Iraqis were the idea of the Iranians, but Saddam started the war and used poison gas, so let's drop those at his feet, just to be on the cautious side. Add in Kuwaiti and Iraqi civilian and military casualties, an Israeli civilian killed by a Scud missile, plus coalition force losses during the Gulf War in 1991 -- let's say 200,000 to be on the high side. If you take "hundreds of thousands" to mean a million; add the Iran-Iraq 1.5 million, and the Gulf War casualties, then top it off, you have 3 million dead piled around Saddam's feet. Compared with the 60,000 reported dead from the tsunami (a figure that's still rising, of course) and that's a 50:1 ratio between people Saddam could easily be blamed for killing and those dead from the tsunami. But we're spending thousands of times more money in Iraq.

Spending on the Iraq war has reached $200 billion and is still rising. That's about $67,000 for each of Saddam's dead. The $35 million pledge of aid to the Indian Ocean countries affected by the tsunami comes to $583. We're spending 115 times more per casualty (death) to do whatever we're actually doing in Iraq (as well as killing approximately as many people as the tsunami did) than we're offering for relief to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the other nations affected by the wave.

 


»  December 28, 2004

Politics  

The War On MLK Day:

The War On MLK Day

O'REILLY: All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, [caller], is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] -- if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel live in some skinhead compound then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo -- and that's your guys' -- Christian, that's my guys' philosophy the principle "All men are created equal". But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.

And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the majority can be insulted, too. And that's what this anti-ChristmasMLK Day thing is all about.

January 17, 2005 is the third Monday of January, a day nationally-recognized as the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. King -- as you may be aware -- was a minister who rose to prominence in the late 1950s and 1960s during the struggle for African-American civil rights. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This year's observance will be a day off of work for some senior politicians who opposed his cause of racial justice when he was alive. They and many more younger lawmakers later opposed the establishment of the MLK holiday, which was first proposed by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) four days after the assassination and resubmitted by Conyers and Representative Shirley Chisolm (D-NY) repeatedly over the next decade and a half.

Although President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation authorizing the holiday in 1983, and it went into effect in 1986, several states refused to honor King. Arizona approved it only after a threatened tourist boycott in the early 1990s.

As a slap at the very ideals King was honored for by his Nobel Peace Prize, Arkansas, for instance, chose to make the day a combined tribute to King and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man who did his professional best to preserve a nation in which civil rights were not a goal. So did Mississippi. Georgia, at least, being King's home state, shifts the observance of Lee's birthday to November this year, although this almost makes the fact that it's being observed at all more of a travesty.

Considering the fuss people like Bill O'Reilly have made about Christmas this year, and how it deserves more attention (is that possible) because it is, after all, a national holiday, I'm ready to hear him make the above declaration.

And I'm ready to see everyone urge their local newscasters, national networks, magazines, and -- yes, especially FOX News and Bill O'Reilly -- to do something more than a 30-second retrospective of King's life. I'm ready to see some build-up over the next three weeks, as everyone joins in the conversation about what King stood for, what he did, and how people today can honor his goals. Don't let the bigots and neo-segregationists pretend it's just a second-rate holiday; another day off for federal workers; or a bone thrown to African-Americans to keep them quiet. Make sure people know why MLK deserved this type of recognition.

Links:

MLK Day of Service

The King Center: "The Meaning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday"

Infoplease: The History of Martin Luther King Day

 

Politics  

Fill-In-the-Blanks Travelogue Sixty Years Out: I'm not even going to comment on this, apart from adding some highlights to the following excerpt from the script for the "Budapest: The Best of Hungary" episode from the Rick Steves' Europe series, which I watched with my folks at lunch today.

To keep dissent to a minimum, the secret police of both the Nazis and Communists imprisoned, deported or executed anyone suspected of being an enemy of the state. Rooms feature the many bleak dimensions of life in Hungary before freedom. Gulag life — countless writers, artists and dissidents spent their best years breaking rocks in quarries. Propaganda preached wave the flag, trust your leaders…and you’ll enjoy the material fruits of your obedience.

Both Nazism and Communism celebrated a sham justice… and a sham democracy. Behind the banners were all the domestic spy tools governments use to keep a people in line. Joining the Church was a way to express dissent, and a people’s faith was one thing the totalitarian governments could not control. The basement was the grim scene of torture and executions.

At Statue Park, you'll see the Communist All-Stars: Marx, local wannabe Stalins and Lenin in his favorite "hailing a cab" pose. In a kind demagogue’s hell, they’re left with no one to preach to but each other and stony Socialist symbols — the heroic soldier, the obedient worker, the tireless mother.

Under Soviet Communism, censorship was taken to extremes. Art was acceptable only if it promoted the ideology. The only sanctioned art form in the Eastern Block was Social Realism.

This is Social Realism. Leaders were portrayed with unquestioned authority. Individuals were idealized as cogs in the machine — strong, stoic, doing their job well and proudly for the good of the people. Distinguishing features were unimportant. People all looked the same. Unquestioning patriots trusting and serving their nation.

 


»  December 27, 2004

Politics  

The Web: Homeland Security Style: My friend's planning to take his wife and son up to do some skiiing in Canada next week -- celebrate the New Year, a new job -- their first vacation after several years of penury. He hasn't been across the border in a while, so he asks me if I know what you need to get across and back. Do they need passports these days? I don't think so, but I haven't been to Canada myself since a lovely trip to Toronto for newmedia '98, and I can't offer any real advice in this post-9/11 era. I decided to look things up.

Naturally, since my friend and his family (all US citizens) are entering Canada first, that's my first stop. I vaguely remember running across the Canadian Tourism site some years ago, checking out a Flash movie that won an award, so I Google "Canadian Tourism" and right at the top is the Travel Canada site. Marked clearly on the left of the page under "Helpful Information" is a link for "Entry Requirements (Visa)", where I find what my friend will need to get to the slopes. Pretty simple so far.

I don't remember ever hearing about any equivalent "United States Tourism" site, but I try Googling it nonetheless. The first site is a link to the tourism pages of each of the states. There are commercial sites. The US Virgin Island Tourism page. A site called FirstGov.gov, which looks like it might have the right info, but which apparently also has the right info about many, many other things.

The second site listed, WorldWeb.com, has corresponding information to the Tourism Canada site two levels down from the main page, but nothing about US citizens re-entering (admittedly, Tourism Canada doesn't say anything about Canadians returning home, either).

Of course, I say to myself, the place I need to check is the Department of Homeland Security, the über-department containing the folks in the Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization, etc. They'll have the info my friend needs.

An integral knowledge of the organization of DHS is helpful to finding anything on the DHS website. For instance, if you choose "Travel & Transportation" instead of "Immigration & Borders" when you're looking for what documents you need to re-enter the country from Canada, you might spend a bit of time in a personal Tora Bora of useless documentation.

However, if you start off with "Immigration and Borders", read all the way through a bunch of jabbering explanatory text with inline links all the way to the bottom of the page, you might think that "Border Management" might be the place to go for the right info.

By this level the web people at DHS must have gotten tired, because it's almost a model of clarity. Headings, sub-headings, bullet point links. And there, under "Inspections at U.S. Borders" might just be the pertinent link: "How Will I Be Inspected When I Come to a U.S. Port of Entry?"

Except. Except...

404 - Requested Page Not Found on Site

The page you requested, http://uscis.gov/graphics/howdoi.htm, is not on our site.

 Please look for related information at  /graphics/index.htm.

 You may also find related information by starting at  the USCIS Home Page.

Sure, these things happen. And like a good web citizen, I report items like this, by clicking on, say, the "Feedback" button on the top of the 404 page. What really boggled my mind was this:

For feedback about the USCIS Website only, you may send a letter to the USCIS Web Unit:
          U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
          Office of Communications, Web Unit
          20 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Rm. 4026
          Washington, DC 20529

There's no other option to report any problems with the site.

Of course, as a good friend and a cranky citizen, I did find the information I was looking for on the Citizenship and Immigration Services site, but -- wow -- send a letter to them to get them to update their web page?

 


»  December 17, 2004

Politics  

Shattered Brains of Glass at TNR: The New Republic editor Peter Beinart continues to protest that he's not an idiot in "Lesson Plan" this week, responding to criticism of his call for a non-totalitarian liberalism (apparently he thinks those of us who were opposed to the Iraq War are totalitarian liberals).

Beinart has two points regarding his (and TNR's) credibility. First, he asks: "...there is a second critique, which focuses less on my argument than on my credibility--and the credibility of other liberals who supported the Iraq war. What authority do we have to propose a national security direction for our fellow liberals when we urged them to follow the Bush administration into Iraq?"

He follows this up by saying that "liberal hawks" like himself were "blinded" by the "widespread conventional wisdom" (is there ever CW that's not widespread?). They sucked up the administration line like it was a Stephen Glass-like story, only more dangerous.

His second admission is that he made a mistake in thinking "the Bush administration would take postwar nation-building seriously".

What world were "liberal hawks" living in? Bush and his cronies were obviously bat-shit drunk with power after they managed to scuzz their way into office in 2001. And their ramp-up for all-out conservative jihad after 9/11 wasn't exactly a secret (see: PATRIOT Act, plans for extraordinary rendition, evasion of Geneva Accords). It was all being reported on during the eighteen-month interval between the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in early 2003. Did Beinart and his buddies think someone new was going to be running the show?

It's the "Yeah, I wanted Fast Freddy dead, see, so I gave the gat to Rocco the Retard. How was I gonna know he was gonna shoot all those people with it?" defense. Beinart's got no credibility.

Thanks to a late-night diary on Beinart's new piece by Descrates for riling me up.

 


»  December 15, 2004

Politics  

Proposed New Alert System -- Already Withdrawn: Before he gave up the ghost as the designated Homeland Security chief last Friday, a team looked into updating the color-coded alert system Tom Ridge spent months working on. Apparently, they needn't have rushed to finish this off, but they were proud enough of their hard work last week that they felt DHS should get some cred for being on the ball about something.

 

Politics  

Something About Petards: At the end of an anti-Michael Moore screed in The American Spectator, Barbara Bernstein writes:

How can anything he states as truth be accepted with this manner of gathering facts? Yet, he was entertaining in his position as a Leninist masquerading as a man of the people He reminds me of an essay my son Danny wrote in first year French in high school, in which the question was, "Which type of government is best?" His answer was, "A tyranny, as long as I am the tyrant."

Which, of course begs the question: "You got a problem with that, Barbara?"

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."
    Describing what it's like to be governor of Texas.
    (Governing Magazine 7/98)
    From Paul Begala's "Is Our Children Learning?"

"I told all four that there are going to be some times where we don't agree with each other, but that's OK. If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator," Bush joked.
    -- CNN.com, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it, " [Bush] said.
    -- Business Week, July 30, 2001

From "If Only I Were A Dictator, by George W. Bush", a Buzzflash news analysis

 


»  December 14, 2004

Politics  

Rush Swings Both Ways: The "Rush said 'dick'" threads have been hot and heavy, and I'll do my part to get my letter out (although I'm tempted to use the PTC complaint form, as suggested by one Atrios commenter). But I noticed (as have others) that Rush's own listings for Oregon stations subvert his listeners. It correctly lists KEX as the Portland station's call letters, but gives the signal frequency as 620, which (coincidentally?) is the frequency of KPOJ, the Portland Air America station.

 

Politics  

Novak vs. Hooley: Wow. I didn't know Oregon Representative Darlene Hooley was a "knee-jerk liberal." But Media Matters quotes Robert Novak in a story today:

Novak wrong on Rep. Hooley's record, wrongly accused her of hypocrisy

Syndicated columnist and CNN host Robert D. Novak accused Representative Darlene Hooley (D-OR) of hypocrisy for expressing concern about the lack of armor for U.S. troops in Iraq after -- as he claimed falsely -- she voted against funding the war. On the December 11 edition of CNN's The Capital Gang, regular panel member Novak called Hooley "a knee-jerk liberal and professional politician" and stated: "It's a definition of hypocrisy to complain about lack of armor on trucks after voting against giving the troops any trucks at all." But Novak was wrong on Hooley's record.

 

Politics  

Faux Canadians: In the Oregonian on Saturday (11 December 2004), a teacher from the American International School in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Erik Ortman, wrote an essay about how Americans abroad are posing as Canadians rather than defend their own country's foreign policies. Then he made a startling assertion. My letter to the editor below.

I haven't spent any time outside of the country since early 2001, but I do participate in a number of online professional forums with an international (largely European) membership, many of whom have no compunction about sharing their opinions on U.S. foreign policy when the topic strays to world events. So it surprises me that Erik W. Ortman's Dec. 11 "In My Opinion" makes its case that Americans abroad should provide "a few more clear voices explaining U.S. foreign policy and a few less assumed identities" solely on the basis of protecting themselves from citizens of other countries who "suggest the invasion of Afghanistan was anything other than an imperialist power grab."

Ortman's disingenuous thesis -- that Americans are pretending to be Canadians when they're away from home because they're trying to avoid conflict over Afghanistan -- somehow glosses over the entire Iraq conflict, which is the only foreign policy issue over which I've witnessed harsh words between my colleagues for the past two-and-a-half years. To pretend -- as Ortman does by not even mentioning Iraq in his piece -- that the invasion of Afghanistan is the primary issue an American is likely to be asked to defend abroad is simply misleading.

 


»  December 9, 2004

Politics  

Donkeys vs. Morons at TNR: Peter Beinart's advocating for a "terrorism-based" agenda for the Democrats in "A Fighting Faith," the December 13 cover story for The New Republic. But aside from making a dumb argument, could the editors have chosen a stupider-looking donkey -- complete with armor and buckteeth -- than their cover image (detail below)? Shades of Dukakis in a tank! Save us from Beinart and company!

 

Politics  

Peter Beinart is Soft -- In the Head.: Josh Marshall responds to Peter Beinart's shriek about Islamic fundamentalists coming to take our women with some agreement and disagreement. But I must admit I'm puzzled by one comment Marshall makes: "The problem is not principally dovishness but rather --- as Peter notes -- that Democrats are by and large simply not sufficiently interested in national security policy, as such."

Anyone who was against the war in Iraq was expressing an interest in national security. More importantly, those of us who were informed enough about the global security situation and didn't find the administration claims of WMD production and stockpiles to be credible were -- unlike Beinart and the editorial staff at TNR -- correct in our assessment.

That's not a "dovish" (or as Beinart terms it, "soft") viewpoint, it was just common sense. Sure, there are wacko peaceniks in the Democratic party, but there are Republicans advocating dropping nuclear weapons on Iraq and the French on the other side. For every Democratic lawmaker Beinart could point to who might be uninformed about national security, I bet you can find a Republican who is just as ill-informed, starting right at the top.

Personally, given how many things he's been wrong about in his tenure at TNR, I'm astounded that Beinart has the chutzpah to lecture anyone about how Democrats can rebound. He's the Condoleeza Rice of the the Democratic party.

 

Politics  

War Planning: Compare and Contrast: In their feeble attempts to bolster Donald Rumsfeld, Glenn Reynolds (no, I won't link to him) and his ilk are trying to make the case that soldiers have always had to "uparmor" with whatever they could scrounge, and that anyway, a heavily armored vehicle just makes you slower (apparently they think that, like in the movies, you can outrun explosions from things like IEDs). Rummy says:

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.  They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. 
In his radio speech of May 26, 1940 -- when France fell, a year-and-a-half before Pearl Harbor -- here's what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said:
Within the past year the productive capacity of the aviation industry to produce military planes has been tremendously increased. In the past year the capacity more than doubled, but that capacity is still inadequate. But the Government, working with industry is determined to increase that capacity to meet our needs. We intend to harness the efficient machinery of these manufacturers to the Government's program of being able to get 50,000 planes a year.

That represented a more than ten-fold increase from previous levels. And it was in aviation, one of the most expensive and technologically-advanced industries.

 


»  December 6, 2004

Politics  

Kissing Up to Hollywood: People like Sen. Joe Lieberman (D/R-CT) have been joining in the general discourse to denounce Hollywood for years as a moral snakepit. Too violent. Too flaky. Too promiscuous. In the wake of the 2004 "moral victory" of George Bush, more and more Democrats are wondering publicly if it's not time to blow up the likes of Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, and the rest of the Tinseltown crowd a lá "Team America: World Police." (Never mind that Moore's not based in Hollywood.) No more kissing up to Hollywood.

Kiss up to Hollywood? Why not kiss up to Hollywood? There are some very pretty people there (not necessarily in the actual Hollywood -- that seems to be full of drug addicts and prositutes -- but in Hollywood the industry) whatever your persuasion.

The whole Hollywood distancing thing smacks to me of allowing Republicans to define the media as "liberal." After all, Ronald Reagan, the most popular Republican president in recent history was an actor with a problematic family life. Their rising star, Arnie, has made some of the most violent popular movies of all time. Staunchly conservative Catholic Mel Gibson: ditto. Dennis Miller: unfunny comic, conservative talk show host, and the "star" of "Bordello of Blood." Need I mention Charlton Heston?

American Movie Classics ran a special before election day about conservatives in Tinseltown called "Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood", whic repeats at the end of December.

The more Democrats pretend Hollywood has nothing to do with them, the more Republicans are going to own that turf, too. The more Democrats think they have to turn their backs or at least pretend they turn their backs, the more Republicans can make inroads into the ranks of actors and writers and producers. It's not like they're not already there, people in Hollywood are just like people all across the country. If Democrats can be persuaded to repudiate the movie industry, it won't be more than an election cycle before they find out that Republicans are more than happy to use Hollywood publicity juggernauts in their own favor to win elections and aren't ashamed to exert pressure to make sure the only outspoken voices are on their own side.

 

What the...?  

St. Nicholas Day!: St. Nicholas Day is sort of a special day here in the Moshofsky/Plant household. It's my birthday, it's Barbara and my wedding anniversary, and we decided by fiat that it's the birthday of our over-the-fence boy kitty, Jackie Chan.

Happy Holidays!

 

Politics  

Annan Should Resign: Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is demanding that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan should resign over the Iraq Oil for Food "scandal" that's had the panties of everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Rush Limbaugh in a wad for months.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Annan should step down.

Annan's involvement with the Oil for Food program was at a greater remove than George W. Bush's involvement in the Iraq war. So I'd encourage Mr. Annan to take this opportunity to offer Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and their coterie his promise to quit as soon as they've resigned themselves. It'd be a great way to open discussion about why they should step down, and a major step for world peace! Nobels all around!