Friday, August 03, 2007

There is an answer for the 35W bridge. It ain't W.

AP reports:

"US President George W. Bush on Saturday will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to visit the site of the bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi river, the White House announced Thursday."

Great, I'm sure that's what the people of Minneapolis need, right now. I guess, though, there's nothing like a disaster to buck up a president's plummeting poll numbers. No fly over for W. this time around, get right in there and start emoting.

In a statement Bush said, "We in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible."

Yeah right, like he rebuilt New Orleans.

In any case, we all sort of knew deep down that our infrastructure was crumbling, there was that steam pipe blast just last week in NY to remind us, but it looks like things are even worse than we though tye were. Luckily, there's the American Society of Civil Engineers keeping an eye on the problem.

At their web site they write:

"With each passing day, aging and overburdened infrastructure threatens the economy and quality of life in every state, city and town in the nation. . . ASCE estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to a good condition. Establishing a long-term development and maintenance plan must become a national priority."

They announced in March of this year that Senators George V. Voinovich (R– Ohio), Thomas Carper (D – Del.), Hillary R. Clinton (D – N.Y.) and. Norm Coleman (R – Minn.) had introduced new to deal with our deteriorating infrastructure. The proposed legislation is called the National Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2007.

"The legislation, if enacted, would establish the National Commission on Infrastructure of the United States, marking a critical step in addressing the deteriorating conditions of the roads, drinking water systems, dams and other public works that support our nation's economy and quality of life." [ASCE]

Just in a nick of time I would say. Now, the question is whether W. is just going to go down to he bridge and mug for the cameras, or will he support this very sensible legislation?

Nicholas Sarkosy: The shame of the French people.

AP reports:

"A Libyan official said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi's long-isolated country has signed contracts worth $405 million with French companies for missiles and communications equipment. . . The first contract, worth $230 million, is for Milan missiles, and the second, totaling $175 million, is for advanced Tetra communications and surveillance equipment for the police, said the Libyan official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He did not reveal the names of the French companies."

Wow. what a grand moment for the French people. It's good to see Nicholas Sarkosy hasn't wasted any time getting into bed with Moammar Gadhafi, well known terrorist/dictator and murderer.

The lesson here is all you have to do to get the Western world's attention is to either, take hostages or blow up a passenger jet.

Oh and, by the way, have lot's of oil and gas.

Congratulations France, you have just elected your next Marshal Pétain!

You must be very proud.

The guy is a hell of a jogger, though. Reminds me of someone else . . .

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rummy doesn't know much, does he?

So, I see Rummy is back in the news, we haven't seen him around lately. I thought he might have grown a beard and moved to Argentina to hang out with all those other war criminals, but apparently, he's still around town. He testified in front of Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday about the death of Pat Tillman and the cover up involving his dead in 2004.

Oh, pardon me, Rummy says, "It was badly handled, and errors were made, but . . . I know that I would not engage in a cover up." Right, if Rummy says there wasn't a cover up, you know there was a cover up." [WaPo]

The story nowadays about Tillman's death is that he was killed in a friendly fire incident, which differs from the original story that he died under friendly fire, which differs from the story documents the AP got. The AP found evidence that army doctors suspected he may have been murdered by three bullets to the head from only ten ft. away.

Not any of that matters, the point is who knew what and when did they know it? For his part even though he told his people to "keep an eye" Tillman,Rummy claims "I don't recall when I was told and I don't recall who told me."

Is it possible that Rummy couldn't have known what was going on right under his nose for so long, on an issue like this? My God, they gave went as far as to give this guy a Silver Star with a totally fabricated citation! And Rummy, like Sargent Schultz on Hogan's Hero's "Knows Noothink!.

It's entirely possible, I guess. I mean, back on August 6, 2002, Rummy held one of his most infamous Town Hall Meetings for the employees of the Pentagon where he extolled the accomplishments of the military one year after 9/11 etc. -- and then we found out he didn't know that the DC Metro actually runs underneath the Pentagon. [Possibly a security issue]

After telling his captive audience that, "Our enemies, without question, are sharpening their swords. They are plotting even greater destruction, let there be no doubt. To prevent that, we have to be stronger, more alert, quicker on our feet. . ."

He then took some questions. This was the very first one:

"Q: My name is Dennis Stephens (sp). I work for the Air Force in the Finance Department. I'm curious and concerned about what's going on here for us, the people that work in the Pentagon, as far as the security is going, and especially because the Metro runs right under our building.

Rumsfeld: Well, you are doing exactly what the president suggested, and that is that all of us go about our normal lives but have a heightened sense of awareness. And clearly you do.

I thought the Metro did not currently run under the building. Am I wrong? Is it currently under --

Not distinguishable: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: The answer's yes. Is that right?

Not distinguishable: Yes.

Rumsfeld: Yes. And I will talk to some folks who are involved in that, the chief and others who have set up, as you can see, around the department a whole host of new security activities. But I just was not aware that that's still happening, and I'll ask why.

Q: It goes right underneath the East Wing. In fact, I ride it every day.

Rumsfeld: I see. Fair -- are you looking around you when you're riding? (Laughter.)

Q: To be sure, sir.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Thank you. I'll check.


As you see, Rummy didn't even know what was going on right under his nose at the Pentagon, so maybe he didn't know what was going on with Tillman, but the rest of those generals, those "men of enormous integrity" who he just knows "would not participate in something like that," they knew. How could they not have known?

Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that great big blob of jelly fish, he blamed it on the Army. "This is the responsibility of the United States Army, not of the office of the chairman, so I regret that the Army did not do their duty here and follow their own policy."

Mistakes were made, they made themselves. Once again no is held responsible for anything. A man is dead, but Rummy and his generals are living quite comfortably, like the boys of Brazil, on their fat pensions.

Life is good for Rummy!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Saudis don't need the cash?

Why are we sending these guys $20 billion?

Oil and Global adjustment

"The current account surplus of the world’s major oil exporting economies – defined as the IMF’s fuel-exporting emerging economies plus Norway – increased from $110b to about $500b between 2002 and 2006. In 2006, the current account surplus of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (population 40-45 million) rivaled the currentaccount surplus of China (population 1,300 million). A fall in the external surplus of oilexporting economies – whether from a fall in the price of oil or a rise in domesticspending and investment -- is consequently a necessary condition for global adjustment.

The initial response of the oil exporting economies to the surge in oil prices from roughly$25 a barrel in 2002 to an average of close to $65 a barrel in 2006 was quite onservative. Government spending did not increase immediately. Even once the government spending did begin to move up, the overall increase was more subdued than in previous oil booms. The initial increase in oil prices also coincided with a sharp fall in the dollar, reducing the external purchasing power of the currencies of those oil exporters that pegged to thedollar. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 a very large share of the increase in oil export revenues was saved rather than spent. Up to three quarters of the oil windfall went toward building up the external assets of the oil-exporting economies.

If, as is likely, oil exporting economies held the majority of their assets in dollars, the rapid growth in their dollar holdings helped to finance the deterioration of the US external account deficit. The oil exporting economies – setting Mexico and Venezuela aside – tend to be far more inclined to hold US dollars in their reserve portfolio than to buy US goods."

--- Brad Setser

The immutable by-laws of business:

The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today!

There is only IBM and ITT and A T and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state -- Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies . . .

The world is a college of corporations, inexorably deter- mined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business . . . It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality -- one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused."

- - - Paddy Chayefsky

Kenneth Pollack and Pax Petraeus:

Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon write in an Op-Ed in the NYT that things are really looking up in Iraq. "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms," they claim. And wonders of wonders, “today, morale is high," amongst our troops. After spending eight days in Iraq, Pollack an early cheerleader for going after the menace of Saddam's vast arsenal of WMD, now says "the soldiers and Marines told us they feel they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they're confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers they need to make a real difference."

Why am I having a difficult time believing any of this? I'm kind of wondering whether O'Hanlon and Pollack talked to all these supposedly giddy troops when their CO's were around. I mean, even when things are going well grunts aren't exactly that effusive about the situation they're in. Someone really said Petraeus was a "superb" commander? Common', really! I think they might be laying it on a little thick. To buy the notion that these poor bastards over there are all of a sudden happy to be having to spend another 15 months with their new allies, the same bunch of people who were just a month ago planting IEDs, is a bit much.

The main thrust of their argument, though, is that General Petraeus has finally, after four years, found the knife to cut the Gordian’s Knot of Iraq's sectarian morass. Pollack and O’Hanlon write that as a result of Marine and Army units everywhere being "focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements . . . civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began."

Really? AP reported on July 27:

"With five days to go in July, an Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war- related violence through yesterday, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June.”

I'm curious to find out where they're getting their information from because it looks like all this great success they witnessed from their zone of embedded safety might be slightly skewed.

In any case, as another example of the "significant changes taking place" in Iraq they cite their visit to Anbar Province where they talked to "an outstanding Marine captain" whose unit was "living in harmony with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police unit and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. There, this Marine captain "met with the local Sunni sheiks -- all formerly allies Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups -- who were now competing to secure his friendship."

Wow, that's amazing, how pathetically naive. Has either of these guys ever heard of the Roman General Aelius Gallus, who also thought the Arabs were his friends, too? The minute these guys feel they've got al-Qaeda out of Anbar, they're going to turn on us like there's no tomorrow. "Harmony" indeed!

Then, after basking in that miraculous achievement of Anbar, they moved on to Tal Afar, where the reports of peace and brotherly love are always greatly exaggerated. After that they then sojourned to Mosul, in Nineveh Province, where they say "the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate" and "reliable police officers man the checkpoints into the cities and Iraqi Army troops cover the country-side."

Nineveh is a model of Pax Petreaus.

They should have probably done a little more homework before declaring "mission accomplished" in Nineveh because only a month ago the NYT reported the violence in Nineveh "against the Kurds and other minorities is vicious and unrelenting . . . More than 1,000 Kurdish civilians have recently been killed in Mosul." James Knight, the head of the States Department's PRT, says "The intimidation of the people is one of the dramatic ongoing problems we have." [I guess, they didn't get around to talking to him.] Knight gave a ballpark figure of 70,000 civilians having recently fled Mosul, though he couldn't tell how many of those were Kurds.

The problem in Nineveh is that since the Sunnis boycotted the elections in 2005, they only have 10 of the 41 seats on the provincial council and, according to the NYT, all the Kurds hold the "top executive positions, even though Kurds make up only 35 percent of the province." An additional point of contention among the Arabs and Kurds is that the Kurds are looking to incorporate more than third of Nineveh -- and the northern portions of Diyala province -- into their autonomous enclave in the north. These areas they call the "disputed territories" and a little noticed provision of the Iraqi constitution allows them to do it, too.

There were supposed to be local elections to more accurately represent the Sunnis -- a move the American military considers to be legitimate -- but despite the "reliable police officers" no one thinks there's any possibility of that happening any time soon. Our tragic tourists write that "a local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American withdrawal from Iraq." Of course, what he should have been more worried about was an overly rapid withdrawal from Nineveh, which is what the Americans have just announced.

The US military says they'll be shortly turning over Nineveh to the Iraqis because things there are going so swimmingly. According to the military the 40,000 or so Iraqi security forces in Nineveh are ready to step up to the plate. reports: "Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told the Associated Press that if current trends hold, he would like to begin this troop reduction and change in mission in Ninevah province, where he said Iraqi army forces already are operating nearly independently. He has proposed shifting the province to Iraqi government control as early as August."

The problem with the theory of all those "reliable police officers" in Nineveh is that they are the same Sunni cops who quit enmass when the insurgents who had "fled" Fallujah in November 2004, before the American onslaught, redeployed to Mosul running rampant through the streets killing everyone in sight and burning down police stations. The deputy governor of Nineveh, Khasro Goran estimates, according to the Times that, "a third to half of the existing police force still aids or sympathizes with the insurgency."

And although it’s great that the Kurds in the two Iraqi Army divisions in Nineveh are working well with Sunni General Moutaa Jassim Habeeb, the Sunni politicians in Baghdad are trying to replace him with a hardliner more to their liking. Deputy governor Goran tells the NYT that is this happens "no Kurdish soldier will remain in the division."

Pollack and O'Hanlon write that because of the additional troops available to General Petraeus in the surge, he can "hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole." Except in Nineveh, I guess, where we're leaving and many of the al-Qaeda types have reappeared to fight the Kurds and their ambitions for taking parts of Diyala and other "disputed territories."

The key is, really, how much force do you need." -- Gen. David Petraeus

We may or may not be finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least militarily, but when you see the latest report from OXFAM that says, "Seventy percent of Iraqi residents lack adequate water supplies, compared with 50 percent in 2003, while more than 4 million people have been displaced during that time. Yet funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq has declined precipitously, from $453 million in 2005 to $95 million in 2006,"[WaPo] you have to wonder what the point is.

Are we going to drop a smart bomb on the sewage running down the streets or kick in the door of hunger? How many more troops do we need to put 4 million Iraqis back in their homes. How long will that take? Have you signed up you 8 year old yet for ROTC?

Monday, July 30, 2007

The high cost of supporting the very rich:

Our good friends the Saudis are in the news again. It seems W. wants to give them and the other Gulf nations some $20 billion worth of weapons to supposedly counter the threat from Iran. Included in W.'s laundry list of death, according the WaPo, are "air-to-air missiles as well as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn standard bombs into 'smart' precision-guided bombs." The NYT reports the deal includes also "new naval vessels." [The Saudi navy? Give me a freakin' break!]

Now beyond ensuring the good people in the U.S. defense industry continue to be lavished with another decade of tax-payer largess, what else is going on here? It's not as if the Saudis or the Emirates will ever use any of this weaponry; when have they ever so much as fired a shot in anger? Besides, I thought the agreement was that they sold their oil in petrol-dollars and we paid the butcher's bill to maintain the life-style they've become accustomed to. If anyone really believes the Saudis are ever going to risk their royal hides to defend themselves or our interests in the Middle East, I have some property in Florida I'd like to sell. The very notion is absurd!

And if the Saudi royal family is really that worried about the growing threat of Iran in the Gulf, they can just forgo building a palace or two and maybe cut out a few trips to Monte Carlo and pony up the bucks themselves. Why should we have to foot the bill to defend a small number of insanely rich oil tycoons who are already getting a dollar of every gallon of gas we pump into our tanks?

Already there are some rumblings in the Congress about this deal, New York representatives Anthony Weiner and Jerrod Nadler have already said they'll present legislation to block the deal "the minute Congress is officially notified." Of course, they're opposition has more to do with protecting the interests of Israel than their stated concerns about the Saudis not being "a true ally in furthering the U.S.' interest in the Middle East," meaning their support for Sunni insurgents most likely involved in killing US troops and the unchecked flow of suicide bombers they've been turning a blind eye to every since the war began.

Amazingly, according to the NYT, the administration hasn't tied the money to the Saudis cutting out their shenanigans Iraq, although they are apparently attempting to quietly pressure them to play ball. [Yeah, that'll work] An article in the NYT on Friday featured many "senior administration officials" expressing their frustrations with the Saudi government's active support in undermining the al-Maliki government. Zalmay Khalilzad, the former ambassador to Iraq wrote an Op-Ed in the NYT last week hinting that "several of Iraq's neighbors -- not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States -- are pursuing destabilizing policies." On Sunday he clarified this by admitting he was talking about Saudi Arabia. [well, duh!] And now Condi and SecDef Robert Gates are off to see the Saudis about their no so clandestine support for Iraqi insurgents.

I'm afraid I'm at a loss to understand what W. & Co. are playing at here. They're finally publicly discussing what many of us have known all along, that the Saudis are thwarting us at every turn in Iraq, yet they're attempting at the same time to convince the American tax-payer to give them $20 billion? [And, lest we forget, the Saudis not only supported Osama Bin Laden for years but also provided nine of the fourteen 9/11 attackers.]

What is the plan here? Are they thinking by embarrassing the Saudis in the press that this will cause them to change their policies in Iraq? If that's what their thinking, then I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like them to see. It's all very puzzling.

Of course, along with the 20 billion for the Saudis Condi Rice says, "We will move soon to conclude a new ten-year military assistance agreement with Israel. This agreement will provide a total of $30 billion to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself." [Yeah right, so poor little helpless Israel can defend itself.] Congress can't say 'no' to Israel no matter how ridiculous the excuse, so maybe that's the game they're playing.

And the money to Israel would be receiving is an incredible 25% increase from what they've gotten in the past 10 years!

The NYT:

"A senior administration official said the sizable increase was the result of Israel's need to replace equipment expended in its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, as well as to maintain its advantage in advanced weaponry as other countries in the region."

So, in other words, not only are we putting a big "Made in America" sign on the leveling of half of Lebanon and 1000 dead Lebanese, we're also going to subsidize a gigantic arms race in the Middle East. That sounds like a great policy to me.

Again I would ask, just as in the case of the Saudis, why are we footing the bill for Israel's defense? According to the Economist, Israel's economy is roaring along at "a robust 5% a year, barely slowing even after last year's war in Lebanon. The Shekel is strong, the ratio to debt to GDP is down, the budget in surplus and foreign investment at record levels. GDP a head is about six times higher than that of Greece or Portugal."

Add that to the fact that, according to David Hirst in the Gun and the Olive Branch:

"Most Americans are almost certainly blithely unaware of the extreme munificence, the nec plus ultra of financial altruism, that their government lends itself to in their name. Since Israel gets its whole annual aid appropriation during the first month of the fiscal year, instead of the quarterly installment that every other recipient has to contend with, it can promptly invest any surplus finds in American Treasury notes,. And, since, on the other hand, the American government has to borrow the money to finance these donations, it pays interest on the self same funds on which Israel earns it. Taking such factors into account, economist Thomas Stauffer calculates that, since 1973, the actual cost, to the American tax-payer, of American aid to Israel added up to a whopping $240 billion."

[christian science monitor 9 december 2002; richard curtiss, daily star beirut, november 1999; washington report on middle east affairs, march 1997, september 1999, january 2001]

So what's another $30 billion or so among friends, right? It's not like there are 39 million Americans living in poverty or we lost an entire city a few years back or tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan vets are being neglected by the VA or anything like that. Hell, we'll just ask the Chinese for another loan, no problemo!

If Congress goes along with this scam they're even more gullible than I thought they were. Any Congressman who votes for this boondoggle should be tossed out of office for being dumber than a five year old.

And the crowd went wild!

Will wonders never cease? There's actually some good news out of Iraq this morning; well, Jakarta really, but nonetheless . . . The Iraqi "Lions of the Two Rovers" beat their cross-border rivals Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the Asia Cup yesterday in Indonesia off the header of Younis Mahmoud in the 71st minute. The resulting celebration killed at least four people unlucky enough to be standing under the falling fusillade -- or "happy fire" -- which erupted as the clock ran out.

The story of the Iraqi team is one for the ages. The Saudis, naturally, fielded the best team money could buy -- sort of like the New York Yankees of soccer -- and they got crushed by a team of players, representing all the various ethnic and religious divisions of Iraq, who had just been cobbled together two months ago under the leadership of a Brazilian coach. It really doesn't get any better than that.

If only a football game could re-unite the fractious Iraqi people after so much death and destruction. The NYT quotes an Iraqi celebrant saying, "Our happiness depends on these guys who playing in Asia; I wish they would come and take over parliament, for they are the ones who really represent us."

Amen brother, but alas, it seems unlikely many of the players will even be able to make it back to Iraq. The man who made the winning header said after the game, "I don't want the Iraqi people to be angry with me [but] if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me." Younis Mahmoud is a Sunni from Kirkuk, so I can see why he might be apprehensive about returning home (and those shorts he was wearing could get him killed in a heartbeat).

What a shame it is that the people of Iraq will undoubtedly be crashing back down to reality soon enough after such a positive national achievement, a rare event in the past five years. It's almost impossible to fathom the scale of the disaster W.'s perfect little war has inflicted on Iraq: Not only is Iraq # 2 on the list of failed nations of the world, a new UN report issued today says about 8 million Iraqis, a third of the population, is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster due to lack of food, clean water and medical care. And this is to say nothing of the 2 million displaced Iraqis inside the country and the 2 million, who were lucky enough to get out, yet are still barely surviving in stateless limbo in Jordan and Syria.

It's a real tragedy that the only thing the Iraqis have left of their once great nation is a football team that will never play together again. One thing I'm sure all Iraqis can agree on, if nothing else was expressed by their new national hero Younis Mahoud after the victory: "I want the Americans out of Iraq."
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