Tuesday, 23 August 2005
Rearranging the Deck Chairs
A bit of environmental news:
Government Proposes New SUV Fuel Standards
Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer - Tuesday, August 23, 2005 - (08-23) 16:59 PDT WASHINGTON (AP)
That goes like this:
So what good does this do?
With gas prices continuing to rise, the Bush administration on Tuesday proposed new rules to compel auto manufacturers to make pickup trucks, minivans and some sport utility vehicles more fuel-efficient. Environmentalists said the plan would do little to wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil.
The proposal would require the auto industry to raise standards for most vehicles other than cars beginning in 2008. All automakers would have to comply with the new system by 2011.
"This is a plan that will save gas and result in less pain at the pump for motorists without sacrificing safety," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.
Mineta, speaking at news conferences in Atlanta and Los Angeles, said the program was expected to save about 10 billion gallons of gasoline over the life of vehicles built from 2008 through 2011. The U.S. currently consumes about 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year, according to Energy Department statistics.
But the plan would not apply to the largest SUVs, such as the Hummer H2. Passenger cars, already required to maintain an average of 27.5 miles per gallon, also would not be covered by the changes. ...
AP quotes Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program - "At a time when Americans are paying record prices for gas, the Bush administration has sided with its cronies in the auto industry and rejected real solutions." John Kerry (yes, he's still alive and somewhere or other) calls this big news "backward looking" and "another lost opportunity to help our security, economy and environment."
The government claims the new plan will save more fuel than any previous rulemaking in the history of the light-truck CAFE program – the average mileage of manufacturers' entire fleet of light trucks - but that's a low standard. The new things here is we now would divide light trucks into six categories based on size. Smaller vehicles would have to get better gas mileage than larger trucks and so on, except for the Hummer, which is exempt from all that for some reason. But the manufacturers could earn credits for exceeding the minimum in certain categories and apply them to a category where they don't meet the standard. Whatever.
Still, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing nine automakers, said the "higher fuel economy standards will be a challenge, even with all of the new fuel-efficient technologies that are offered for sale today."
Why bother? Consider this:
How to Escape the Oil Trap
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are now awash in oil money, and no matter what the controls, some is surely getting to unsavory groups.
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue
The idea? The way to fix our foreign policy problems is to do something about our need for so much oil.
And he goes on to make a convincing argument that our energy efficiency may be the key to getting out of any number of problems with terrorism, with the difficulties with any number of pesky governments and all the rest - rising oil prices are helping to finance the terror masters in Tehran, Saudi Arabia and so on. It's our demand for oil that gets us all messed up.
If I could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be? The answer is easy, but it's not something most of us think of as foreign policy. I would adopt a serious national program geared toward energy efficiency and independence. Reducing our dependence on oil would be the single greatest multiplier of American power in the world. I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy. "Everything we're trying to do in the world is made much more difficult in the current environment of rising oil prices," says Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."
But what catches one's attention is this:
The man said fifty-four percent. What? Well, a drive down any street in America will bear that out.
Rising oil prices are the result of many different forces coming together. We have little control over some of them, like China's growth rate. But America remains the 800-pound gorilla of petroleum demand. In 2004, China consumed 6.5 million barrels of oil per day. The United States consumed 20.4 million barrels, and demand is rising. That is because of strong growth, but also because American cars - which guzzle the bulk of oil imports - are much less efficient than they used to be. This is the only area of the American economy in which we have become less energy-efficient than we were 20 years ago, and we are the only industrialized country to have slid backward in this way. There's one reason: SUVs. They made up 5 percent of the American fleet in 1990. They make up almost 54 percent today.
How did THAT happen?
The last time that issue came up in these pages was January 11, 2004 in Automotive Psychology: If someone's going to die, let it be someone else. Is it possible to limit the damage an obsession does to others?
Malcolm Gladwell with his long piece in the New Yorker on those SUV things - these luxury, top-heavy, truck-based transport vehicles just about everyone drives - prompted the item. And at the that time my nephew's wife out in Barstow was urging her husband to trade their nearly new Ford Excursion - the largest and heaviest passenger vehicle manufactured in American - for a Hummer - a bit more brutal and it looks bigger and safer, or maybe more "invincible and impenetrable."
Gladwell explained how we got into this SUV obsession in an interview about his New Yorker piece - Road Killers.
Why the obsession?
Maybe so, but you don't tell people what they "ought" to buy. That just makes them angry.
One school of thought says that SUV buyers harbor a kind of outdoorsy fantasy. But I suspect that it's more basic than that: this is a vehicle that can flourish in the most extreme environment imaginable. If it can ford streams and climb over boulders, just think how safe and protected you'll be on the trip to Wal-Mart! Of course, the logic behind that argument is backward: the trip to Wal-Mart is a good deal more hazardous than fording a stream in the wilderness, and we ought to be buying cars optimized for the conditions we actually drive in.
There's a bit on how market research shows that SUVs tend to be purchased by people who are "insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills." No kidding.
Then there's the marketing:
Of course Gladwell adds that "the most important other issue" is the question of fashion: certain kinds of SUVs (like the Cadillac Escalade) are simply considered cool, in the way that Corvettes were cool twenty-five years ago.
There's a television commercial for an SUV in which a woman is driving the SUV and a rock rolls onto the road in front of her, and she swerves around it at the last minute. That ad claims that SUVs are nimble, and suggests that the key variable in avoiding the rock was the vehicle. That is an attempt, it seems to me, to play to the driver who lacks confidence in his or her skills. The most dominant image in SUV commercials and ads is still the SUV mastering some off-road obstacle: fording streams, cutting through snowbanks, racing across virgin wilderness. Obviously, almost no SUV driver is ever going to use his or her car in those environments (in large part, of course, because racing across virgin wilderness in an SUV is, for the most part, illegal). Another interesting thing about SUV advertisements, along these lines, is how rarely children appear in them. Keith Bradsher makes this point in his book, High and Mighty. Minivans are advertised in family-centric ways. The SUV, on the other hand, is supposed to allow the buyer to pretend that he or she doesn't have a family, that he or she is still a kind of rugged loner without suburban entrapments.
Them there's safety and its costs:
The irony here is that my nephew's wife did get her Hummer, and I got a new Mini Cooper. Here they are side by side:
If every car on the road was a Mini, then the cost of an accident would be quite small: if you are in a Mini and you hit a Mini, you aren't going to be that bad off. So, in the old days, the premium on active safety wasn't so large. On the other hand, if every car on the road is an SUV, the cost of an accident grows substantially. When a Ford Explorer hits a Chevy TrailBlazer, both parties suffer enormously. And, if a Ford Explorer hits a Mini, the Mini driver is a dead man. ... As a non-SUV owner, I simply cannot afford to get into any accident at all these days.
She feels safe. And oddly enough, I do too - the Mini is nimble enough to get out of the way of most trouble.
Of course, I am delusional and she is in the careful mainstream. They want these things, and that's not going to change. It's a bit of an obsession:
But Gladwell was only talking about engineering changes. When Fareed Zakaria limiting the damage caused by our obsession with big SUV's he's talking about something else entirely.
I don't think we can easily cure people of their desire to feel safe - even if that desire does not correlate with actual safety. But what we can do - and ought to do - is limit the damage that that obsession does to others.
Slightly off topic is this from June 13, 2004 - Hollywood and Paris, Back and Forth. From Paris, Reuters has just reported this:
Click on the link and see what Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, had to say about that!
Bulky four-by-fours could be banned from clogging up the chic streets of Paris after a top official in the capital's left-wing government described them as a polluting "caricature of a car" unsuited to city life.
An anti-sports utility vehicle (SUV) resolution passed by the city council could lead to a ban on the popular vehicles in about 18 months if it is included in an overall project to improve traffic flow in the city, Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin said Wednesday.
"You have to wonder why people want to drive around in SUVs," Baupin, a Greens party member, said on Europe 1 radio.
"We have no interest in having SUVs in the city. They're dangerous to others and take up too much space."
Back on topic - the topic of limiting the damage SUV's do - there's this from Andrew Sullivan, who lives in Provincetown, out at far end of Cape Cod. Reading this got me stared on this whole business:
Probably not. Somehow driving the largest possible SUV or truck has come to be seen as patriotic. "No Arabs are going change this guy's lifestyle." That sort of thing. Makes no sense - the bad guys with the oil just get richer and richer, and less likely to do anything we suggest - but that's the way it is. And shaming people about their latest hyper-expensive purchase? That never works. They will just assume that you're a powerless loser, with a tiny penis, who envies them.
Some kind of move toward greater energy efficiency is essential in the war on terror. But what I didn't realize is how the curse of the SUV is so damaging. Fareed writes that 54 percent of today's U.S. fleet of cars are made up by these ugly, behemoth tanks that guzzle gas, and make life miserable for everyone not in them.
My anti-SUV ire always goes up in the summer, when I see these vast, bloated symbols of excess bulldozing down the narrow streets of Provincetown, pushing every bicyclist, pedestrian or small child out of their way. My only solace is thinking of how many of these SUV owners are pouring money away to keep their mobile homes on the road. Pity that same money goes to finance Islamist terror. And please don't give me all this guff about how I don't have a car (hey, I'm not indirectly donating to al Qaeda), having to take kids here, there and everywhere, with all their stuff and the dogs and suburbs and soccer practices and on and on. All of this took place before SUVs; kids were just packed into back seats and trunks were stuffed full if necessary. Parents coped. Kids thrived.
If all else failed, people could even have less stuff. Imagine that: less stuff.
As readers know, I'd gladly put a dollar of extra tax on gas, insist on higher fuel standards for cars, make SUVs comply with the fuel standards of other cars and put a tax on SUVs on top of all that. We are in a war. As far as I'm concerned, those people driving SUVs are aiding and abetting the enemy, and helping to finance the terrorists that want to kill us all. I'm well aware that the notion that the Bush administration has any interest in energy independence or taxing gas or deterring SUVs is about as likely as their demanding subsidies for sex-changes, but I might as well vent. We can always stigmatize these SUV-terror-enablers. How about bumper-stickers for non-SUVs that simply say: MY CAR DOESN'T SUBSIDIZE SAUDI TERROR. Would that help?
Still Sullivan proposes a bumper sticker contest:
No. And the irony here? The Hummer, below, proudly driven all over my nephew's wife, is what she drives while her husband, a Major in the Army, spends his days in Baghdad, in the Green Zone, doing what he does, which I ought not mention here. Is she making it harder for him, or keeping the kids safe on the road, or making a "no one changes my lifestyle" statement? Who knows?
How's this for an idea: send me your best ideas for anti-SUV bumper stickers. One reader already suggested: "How Many Soldiers-Per-Gallon Does Your SUV Get?" Another offering: "Osama Loves Your SUV."
Got a better one?
Something Sullivan and Fareed Zakaria don't mention is another little problem with more than half the drivers here in the SUV things.
Arctic melt likely to worsen, scientists warn
No natural process seen to curb trend towards ice-free waters
The Associated Press - Updated: 3:50 p.m. ET Aug. 23, 2005
The link has satellite photos - before and after.
WASHINGTON - The rate of ice melting in the Arctic is increasing and a panel of researchers says it sees no natural process that is likely to change that trend.
Within a century the melting could lead to summertime ice-free ocean conditions not seen in the area in a million years, the group said Tuesday.
Melting of land-based glaciers could take much longer but could raise the sea levels, potentially affecting coastal regions worldwide. ...
Just another SUV thing - conditions not seen in a million years.
Topic: God and US
Avenging, Angry Christians, and the End of the Enlightenment Confirmed
Iraq wasn't the only thing in the news Monday the 22nd - although the abortive constitution business did suck up a lot of commentary, so much that you might have missed Power cut halts Iraqi oil exports: Oil exports from southern Iraq have stopped after a power cut left much of the country without electricity - which isn't good. AP later reported pumping resumed - "on a limited basis at Iraq's only functioning oil terminals Monday afternoon following a shut down for much of the day because of a power cut that darkened parts of central and southern Iraq, an official of the South Oil Company said." The pipelines to Turkey, to the west, have been offline for many months, as they get blown up too easily. Basra is the only way to export oil these days. One more detail.
Outside Iraq? You might have missed this: "JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Hundreds of looters battled police all weekend at the site of a beer train wreck in violence that left one woman dead, South African police said on Monday as they kept a heavy guard on the remaining alcohol. …" Curious.
The most curious off-topic items, oddly enough, seem to center on religion.
The Reverend Pat Robertson - the evangelical Christian leader who may be the de facto leader of the Republican Party's core believers in all things Bush - called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. It's not often a Christian leader, who accepts Jesus Christ as his savior, calls for a team to be assembled to assassinate the pesky.
But that's what he said. Jesus would want that.
We all know Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is a pain.
Rod reminds us of why:You might also recall that a few years ago the Bush administration hailed the coup that removed Chávez from power and recognized the new government - the generals who took over – then Chávez shows up still in power, and we… well, it was embarrassing. (That was in 2002 and mention in these pages here two years ago.)
He is a problem. And he has all that oil - thirteen percent of what we import.
Pat Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, has the answer, in this from the August 22 broadcast of The 700 Club:
The emphases, in bold, are from the source, Media Matters - watching The 700 Club so you don't have to. By Tuesday, August 23, the majors had picked up the story, CNN and MSNBC and all the papers. MSNBC ran a viewer's poll - "Has Pat Robertson gone too far?" There's reaction all over.
ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.
You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
A bit of chiding from the quite conservative American Daily in Phoenix - Pat, You Have Strayed -
Yeah, whatever. He thinks not.
Pat, when you say things like the President of Venezuela should be assassinated, you are not following in the footsteps of Jesus. You have strayed.
As a Christian you have failed. Your focus on the Old Testament has skewed you away from Jesus' message of peace and love in the New Testament. Your message of hate and revenge borders on something that the Antichrist might say and do.
You need to step down from your position as spokesman for God and collector of his tithing. You cannot lead when you have lost your moral compass.
I wondered about you when you came out in support of torture. Jesus would not have done so. I mused about when you suggested that we should start the war in Iraq in the first place. Your use of God as justification seemed fantastic.
I have no more doubts. Your words have indicted you.
... I beg to differ with you Pat. It is, in fact, a whole lot more expensive. It costs you your soul.
One comment from the left: "Excuse me for a second while I peruse my Bible. Was there a part I missed where Jesus taught the parable about killing people who make trouble for you?"
Times have changed. Pat Robertson is the new face of Christianity - or the face of the new Christianity (What Would Jesus Do? Version 2.0).
To keep up with the times, you might take a look at this graphic - available on t-shirts and mugs. (It's satire.)
Not satire, Sunday the 21st the New York Times published a long article by Jodi Wilgoren - Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive - everything you ever wanted to know about the Discovery Institute, the organization that put the patina of attentive scholarship on the science-doesn't-know-everything-but-God-does crew, the folks fighting teaching evolution and, pretty much, scientific inquiry, in public schools.
That opens with this:
The article implies the science folks, those stuck in the old Enlightenment values of scientific inquiry and finding facts, are now on the defensive. No one has those values anymore - and the billionaire banker from Pittsburgh, Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who almost brought down Bill Clinton by financing The Arkansas Project from his own funds, now controls the terms of all the arguments. And it's not just the right wing it's-all-still-Bill-Clinton's-fault people. The article notes other underwriters of the Discovery Institute - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Verizon Foundation. And add Bill Bennett. Mainstream, no?
When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying, "both sides ought to be properly taught," he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank here that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation's culture wars.
After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.
Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."
Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design.
Together, they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive.
Like a well-tooled electoral campaign, the Discovery Institute has a carefully crafted, poll-tested message, lively Web logs - and millions of dollars from foundations run by prominent conservatives like Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Philip F. Anschutz and Richard Mellon Scaife. The institute opened an office in Washington last fall and in January hired the same Beltway public relations firm that promoted the Contract With America in 1994.
"We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the center's director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor's being punished for criticizing Darwin in class. "We want to have an effect on the dominant view of our culture."
The Discovery Institute may be the institutional love child of Ayn Rand and Jerry Falwell - but they seem to rule this America now. In a few weeks you'll be able to read a new book by Chris Mooney The Republican War on Science - but don't look for it in the Current Events section at Borders. Try the shelves in the American History section.
You might want to check out the Discovery Institute's basic plan - what they refer to as their Wedge Document. It's a long discussion of the whole effort and contains this:
Five Year Goals
- To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
- To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
- To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.
Twenty Year Goals
- To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
- To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
- To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.
Compare and contrast:
H. L. Mencken died a long time ago. Those beliefs are becoming quaint history.
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty.
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech.
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
Senate leader Bill Frist - a doctor, a heart surgeon (who also makes made a neurological diagnoses on the basis of home movies) - this month goes with the flow:
Well, there may be some other stuff going on here. As suggested by Gary Bauer in Reverend Moon's Washington Times, Frist ruined his chances of ever hoping for the Republican presidential nomination next time around when he broke with the president and angered the religious right, the core of the Republican Party, and came out for stem cell research - condemning all those little lumps of cell-citizens to death without any charges or a fair trial and all the rest. Gary Bauer says this statement about intelligent design is an attempt to win back the heart of the Party - but it just isn't enough. Too little too late - that man has joined the murderous sons of the Enlightenment? Something like that. Mark Kleiman of UCLA points out that the Republicans pretty much have to nominate "a bio-Luddite for President in 2008."
"I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.
Frist, a doctor who graduated from Harvard Medical School, said exposing children to both evolution and intelligent design "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone. I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."
Of course they want to win, and that's the ticket.
A final note on religion is that this has being going around the web again:
From Urban Legends see this:
The item has been on the net here and there since September 2001. That it resurfaced this last weekend again is no surprise. The devote and pure Christians - not those United Church of Christ wimps - are on a roll.
I consulted Dr. Frank E. Vandiver, professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of "Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing," to find out if there's any truth to the above, and he responded via email that in his opinion the story is apocryphal. "I never found any indication that it was true in extensive research on his Moro experiences," he wrote. "This kind of thing would have run completely against his character."
Similarly, I been unable to find any evidence corroborating the claim that Muslims believe that "eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise and doomed to hell." It is true that Islamic dietary restrictions, like those of Judaism, forbid the eating or handling of pork because pigs are considered unclean. But according to Raeed Tayeh of the American Muslim Association in North America, the notion that a Muslim would be denied entrance to heaven for touching a pig is "ridiculous." A statement
from the Anti-Defamation League characterized the claim as an "offensive caricature of Muslim beliefs."
Sources and further reading: U.S. Senator's Insults Upset Muslims
Aljazeera.net, 29 June 2003ADL Calls for Apology from MA State Senator For Distributing Anti-Muslim Flier
Anti-Defamation League press release, 27 June 2003Gen. John J. Pershing Biography
Pershing Rifles C-12 (ABN) Web site
Monday, 22 August 2005
As Expected, Nothing Happened - or Things Got Worse
No news is just, well, no news - not good news, and then again, not bad news. One can discuss the efforts to write a satisfactory constitution in Iraq at great length - the deadline loomed and there was a bit of drama in it all. But on Monday nothing happened:
Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote
Qassim Abdul-Zahra with correspondents Bassem Mroue, Sameer N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan, Associated Press, Monday August 22, 2005 11:01 PM London (UK)
AP reports that all the remaining issues "cast doubt whether the Iraqis would be able to finish the document within a few days since the various groups have widely differing positions" - and that the repeated delays are "a deep embarrassment for the Bush administration at a time of growing doubts within the United States over the mission in Iraq."
In another dramatic last-minute standoff, Iraqi leaders put off a vote on a draft constitution late Monday, adjourning Parliament at a midnight deadline in a bid for more time to win over the Sunni Arab minority whose support is key to stopping the insurgency.
The Shiite-Kurdish faction that submitted the draft constitution expressed optimism that a deal was still possible within a few days. But top Sunni Arab leaders said flatly that compromise was far off.
More than 20 issues still divide the sides, said Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of four top Sunni Arab negotiators. Those issues include federalism, power sharing and even how the constitution should speak about Islam.
"This constitution is full of land mines that would explode on Iraqis. This constitution will divide the country,'' al-Mutlaq said.
They also report we lost two more of our guys Monday to a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, and two more in a military operation near Tal Afar. The AP count is now at least 1,870 lost since the war started in 2003 - and that Bush defended the war Monday, saying "a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety'' - from terrorism.
Who was suggesting that? I though the ideas presented had to do fighting smarter, and maybe elsewhere, and by different means, and had to do with involving a lot of other nations instead of telling them they're all fools. The man has a Jones for Iraq - and Iraq may not be the problem at all. And the "new Iraq" we're about to get is, anyway, not what we wanted in the first place. All that was said by all those people was in the vein of "work smarter - not harder" and that sort of thing.
As for the draft (or daft) constitution that emerged late Monday, it was a Shiite-Kurdish thing, and, as noted by AP and most everyone else, this thing "would fundamentally transform Iraq from the highly centralized state of Saddam Hussein into a loose federation of Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs." The Sunnis lose. They ran the place under Saddam. Is it any wonder they oppose decentralization? That cuts them out of all the oil revenues and leaves them just about powerless. They're not signing on to that. The Shiite-Kurdish draft actually was finished up on Monday, and was formally submitted it to parliament just before a midnight deadline. "But the negotiators quickly withdrew the draft because of the fierce Sunni Arab resistance."
This is not looking good.
It seems the Sunnis also objected to the draft because it called Iraq "an Islamic country" and not "an Islamic and Arab" country. Well, yes, the Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims and they are not Arab. Are they being too picky? Down the road that could make a difference - "Hey, you don't belong here - you may be Muslim, but you're not any kind of Arab - so get your sorry ass out of here or die." Well, it's possible.
It seems too that there were fifteen Sunni Arab members of the drafting committee - and they said the other two groups just didn't play by the rules. They issued a statement early Tuesday about that - the government and the committee did not abide by the previous agreement for consensus. Sunni delegate Nasser al-Janabi - "We reject the draft constitution that was submitted because we did not have an accord on it."
But is this a big deal? The Democrats got over the Florida 2000 thing and that Harris woman and all the rest - or most did - so does this matter? Sometimes you get steamrolled. It happens.
The AP makes a lot of this Tuesday statement, however:
Yep, blocking any accord messes things up, big time, as Dick Cheney would say.
Although the statement was issued after parliament had deferred a decision, it was significant because it indicates the Sunnis may try to block any accord, if they do not agree with it entirely.
That could severely complicate negotiations in coming days.
Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, who is a Sunni Arab, said there was strong interest in reaching unanimity on the draft "so that the constitution pleases everyone.''
Everyone? The AP tells us this fellow later ticked off the remaining issues: federalism, the formation of federal units, problems related to mentioning the Baath Party in the constitution, and the division of powers between the president, the parliament and the Cabinet. Geez.
But the bottom line is the Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for any sort of draft constitution they'd like - without the Sunni guys. On the other hand this Sunni minority could blow that constitution away when voters decide whether to ratify it - that would be October 15 referendum. If it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in any three of the eighteen Iraq provinces it's toast, and the Sunni Arabs hold the majority in at least four provinces. And if the Shiites and Kurds do win ratification of this hypothetical constitution, there are always car bombs and assassinations, and our guys don't come home any time soon.
Worst part? They can't even take this to the US Supreme Count and let Scalia and Thomas and the rest decide matters.
It's a mess. Do we just walk away - do we just get out now? We took care of the bad guy, Saddam, so let them solve they own problems? Bring the troops home and let them squabble.
No. See Juan Cole here -
You could click on the link and read his suggestions. None of them suggest jumping ship, even if our global strategies and policies have jumped the shark.
Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76 ?.
People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.
All it would take would be for Sunni Arab guerrillas to assassinate Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And, boom. If there is a civil war now that kills a million people, with ethnic cleansing and millions of displaced persons, it will be our fault, or at least the fault of the 75% of Americans who supported the war. (Such a scenario is entirely plausible. Look at Afghanistan. It was a similar-sized country with similar ethnic and ideological divisions. One million died 1979-1992, and five million were displaced. Moreover, all this helped get New York and the Pentagon blown up.)
I mean, we are always complaining, and rightly so, about the genocide in Darfur and the inattention to genocides in Rwanda and the Congo earlier. Can we really live with ourselves if we cast Iraqis into such a maelstrom deliberately?
And as I have argued before, an Iraq civil war will likely become a regional war, drawing in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. If a regional guerrilla war breaks out among Kurds, Turks, Shiites and Sunni Arabs, the guerrillas could well apply the technique of oil pipeline sabotage to Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as they do now to the Kirkuk pipeline in Iraq. If 20% of the world's petroleum production were taken off-line by such sabotage, the poor of the world would be badly hurt, and the whole world would risk another Great Depression.
People on the left often don't like it when I bring this scenario up, because they dislike oil; they read it as a variant of the "war for oil" thesis and reject it. But working people, whom we on the left are supposed to be supporting, get to work on buses, and buses burn gasoline. If the bus ticket doubles or triples, people who make $10,000 a year feel it. Moreover, if there is a depression, the janitors and other workers will be the first to be fired. As for the poor of the global South, this scenario would mean they are stuck in dire poverty for an extra generation. Do you know how expensive everything would be for Jamaicans, who import much of what they use and therefore are sensitive to the price of shipping fuel? It would be highly irresponsible to walk away from Iraq and let it fall into a genocidal civil war that left the Oil Gulf in flames.
On the other hand, the gradual radicalization of the entire Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq stands as testimony to the miserable failure of US military counter-insurgency tactics. It seems to me indisputable that US tactics have progressively made things worse in that part of Iraq, contributing to the destabilization of the country.
So those who want the troops out also do have a point.
So they cannot agree on the New Iraq (does that get a ® or a ™ or a ©?) - not even close - and we shouldn't stay and we really can't leave.
Sunday, 21 August 2005
Topic: For policy wonks...
Down to the Wire: "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?"
Late on Sunday, August 21, the Associated Press was reporting that the day before the deadline for the new Iraq constitution, Sunni Arabs were asking the United States to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq. The final talks? Monday morning. Kamal Hamdoun, one of the negotiators for the Sunni minority - "I am not optimistic. We either reach unanimity or not."
AP puts it dryly -
Well, Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet the new, second deadline - they will present a final document to the National Assembly, but that is dominated by Shiites and Kurds. The Sunni folks don't get much say - they may be twenty percent of the population but they hold only 17 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly. That's what happens when you boycott an election, isn't it? The Shiites and Kurds have more than enough seats in parliament to push thought this draft constitution without the Sunni folks getting any say - but that just looks bad.
A Sunni Arab backlash could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.
So now the chief government spokesman is "suggesting" another delay may be necessary. This is not easy. They have to amend the interim constitution one more time to extend the deadline, or they have to dissolve the government and start over - new elections and all that, and more purple fingers.
The AP summary of the issues: federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power-sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.
The Jordanian government had no immediate comment, but their police have detained a few Iraqis and other foreign suspects regarding that rocket attack Friday the 19th - the one that barely missed one of our ships docked in Aqaba
- Some radical groups within the insurgency, notably al-Qaida's wing led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, oppose any constitution as an affront to Islam and have vowed to kill anyone who votes in the referendum. Sunni clerics, however, have urged their followers to register to vote.
- Also Sunday, the Iraqi government said neighboring Jordan has allowed Saddam's family to fund a network seeking to destabilize Iraq and re-establish the banned Baath Party.
Things seem a tad unstable.
But one thing about the Iraqi constitution has been settled. We're getting a theocracy of sorts according to this from Reuters:
Maybe, and maybe not. So we get a fundamentalist theocracy with limited rights for women. It's a little concession. Heck, the evangelical right in this country want just that here, for Jesus, so what's wrong with one over there, for Allah?
U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S. pressure.
U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.
But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam "the", not "a", main source of law - changing current wording - and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."
Bill Montgomery here:
That item has a rather complete analysis of the details of the law as it will be in Iraq.
Actually, if it staves off civil war long enough for the Pentagon to withdraw the bulk of the troops from Iraq, then I'd say it's precisely what the American people want.
Outside the neocon and neoliberal elites (plus the Republican true believers, who support whatever they're told to support) the American public never has shown much enthusiasm for Bush's revolutionary aspirations in the Middle East, and it has even less of an appetite for grand historical transformations now that it has a better idea of how much they cost. Which means the firm of Democracy Unlimited, Inc. ("Shouldering the White Man's Burden Since 2003") is going into liquidation. And, as always, the least valuable assets are being discarded first, meaning women's rights in the Iraq are bound for the bottom of the scrap heap.
... It is increasingly clear, though, that whatever the original face value of Bush's promises of liberation, the American public is no longer willing to pay the price to redeem them. The enterprise is busted - as broke as Arbusto Energy and Spectrum 7 ever were. All that's left in the corporate till now are the lies that will now be used to obscure the birth (in all but name) of the Islamic Republic of Iraq.
Juan Cole, that professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan adds this - "... the idea that Americans in Iraq aren't just giving up on women's rights, but actively participating in the elimination of those rights is stunning. The only thing worse than Americans thinking they can control other people is an American ambassador encouraging the abuse of more than half the people in the country."
Well, he kind of did that. But we need them to meet the deadline. How else are we getting out?
The curious reaction to this compromise on the right comes in the National Review from Andrew McCarthy. Something is changing in the conservative ranks when he, there, says this is where I get off the bus -
But that seems to be just where we find ourselves.
For what it's worth, this is where I get off the bus. The principal mission of the so-called "war on terror" - which is actually a war on militant Islam - is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.
... Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution - which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana - the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.
... But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm's way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace.
Digby, on the left, over at Hullabaloo
, is in alignment
, sort of -
His argument is that establishing an Islamic theocracy in Iraq furthers the goals of the violent Islamic fundamentalists, which is a big "no shit." But, of course, the war itself, from the very beginning, has furthered the goals of violent Islamic fundamentalists. This is just frosting on the whole fetid cakewalk.
What this really does is put the coda to the last phony cassus belli - that by bringing freedom and democracy to a country in the heart of the middle east we would plant the seeds for a thousand flowers to grow. Now, along with the other rationales, we can throw this one on the "no longer operative" pile.
I got an e-mail from someone I respect asking me why I made such a big deal out of women's rights being denied when there are so many other freedoms at stake. It's a legitimate question I suppose, but I think the question answers itself. The fact is that under Saddam, in their everyday lives, one half of the population had more real, tangible freedom than they have now and that they will have under some form of Shar'ia. The sheer numbers of people whose freedom are affected make it the most glaring and tragic symbol of our failed "noble cause."
Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than forty years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman - which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have "liberated" millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.
This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians - or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.
And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.
It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.
It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.
Yes, the emphases, in bold, are mine. The right and the left have suddenly agreed on something? Well, this is just one conservative, one Republican who stood behind Bush. Chuck Hegel was always a maverick and you expect him to say things like the longer we spend time in Iraq, the more that conflict starts looking like the Vietnam War
, as he did on national television Sunday, August 21 - he got his two Purple Hearts there and a few other medals and he remembers too much. One wouldn't expect a big conservative bailout on Bush over this.
Still there is Stephen Bainbridge saying this
It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly five decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority?
... if Iraq's alleged WMD programs were the casus belli, why aren't we at war with Iran and North Korea? Not to mention Pakistan, which remains the odds-on favorite to supply the Islamofascists with a working nuke. If Saddam's cruelty to his own people was the casus belli, why aren't we taking out Kim Jong Il or any number of other nasty dictators? Indeed, what happened to the W of 2000, who correctly proclaimed nation building a failed cause and an inappropriate use of American military might? And why are we apparently going to allow the Islamists to write a more significant role for Islamic law into the new Iraqi constitution? If throwing a scare into the Saudis was the policy, so as to get them to rethink their deals with the jihadists, which has always struck me as the best rationale for the war, have things really improved on that front?
... While we remain bogged down in Iraq, of course, Osama bin Laden remains at large somewhere. Multi-tasking is all the rage these days, but whatever happened to finishing a job you started? It strikes me that catching Osama would have done a lot more to discourage the jihadists than anything we've done in Iraq.
... In sum, I am not a happy camper. I'm very afraid that one hundred years from now historians will look back at W's term and ask "what might have been?"
Make that another Bush guy bailing out.
On the other hand, on the same Sunday morning Chuck Hegel was invoking Vietnam, Reuel Marc Gerecht was on Meet the Press
- a spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and one of the fellows from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Heck, you don't get any more Cheney-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Bush neoconservative use-the-military-to-change-the-world than that. And he says this issue with women's rights is no big deal. Check the transcript
In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective.
In his words, "Actually, I'm not terribly worried about this."
Well, an Iraqi Susan B. Anthony could come along in a decade or two and force matters. It happened here, and Iraqi women could then get back to where they were back in 1955 or so. Of course there is this account of the constitutional agreement
from the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat
An agreement was reached that Islam is the religion of state, and that no law shall be enacted that contradicts the agreed-upon essential verities of Islam. Likewise, the inviolability of the highest [Shiite] religious authorities in the land is safeguarded, without any allusion to a detailed description ... A Higher Council will be formed to review new legislation to ensure it does not contravene the essential verities of the Islamic religion.
Think about that. Osama hated Saddam because Saddam's Iraq was a secular state and just insufficiently fundamentalist - that's why there was little if any cooperation between them that anyone could, eventually, find - and now?
So who won this war?
And what do we do now?
Here Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly asks the questions
Is it time to announce a withdrawal plan for Iraq? Or is there still a chance that an open-ended commitment there will eventually create a semi-stable, semi-liberal, semi-democratic state?
I don't think there's any question that we owed the Iraqi people a sustained and intense effort to rebuild their country. We are, after all, the ones who invaded and occupied it in a war of choice. But several months ago I concluded that we were chasing a lost cause in Iraq, and that's why I started talking openly about withdrawal back in June.
This is followed by a long story of his life in software development, his previous career, where sometimes after a lot of time, money and effort, you had to abandon a project, because it just wasn't worth it. Good managers know this, and accept the obvious.
... One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide.
So: we can wait until things get even worse and withdrawal becomes even more painful, or we can announce a plan now that makes the best of a bad situation and encourages the best outcome still plausibly open to us. We can put specific goals and specific timetables in place, do our level best to meet them, and then leave. Or we can wait until disaster forces us out. But don't let minor events fool you. One way or another, we'll be gone soon. Shouldn't we do it on our terms?
Maybe so. The trends are against us.
Drum cites many experts saying we should publicly announce a firm plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Why? The open-ended presence of American troops is helping to fuel the very insurgency that we're trying to fight. Well, duh
None of these people is suggesting that we should withdraw immediately. Neither am I. But if we announce a plan for withdrawal based partly on hard objectives - not vague "when the job is done" pronouncements - and partly on a hard end date of, say, 2007, that would mean that we had spent nearly five years occupying Iraq and three years training Iraqi security forces. Quite aside from operational issues that will require us to start drawing down our troops before then anyway, let's face it: if we haven't achieved success in five years, we're never going to achieve it.
That being the case, why not give ourselves a leg up by announcing our plans now? Not only would it put us in control of our own destiny, but there's a good chance that it would also splinter apart a substantial fraction of the insurgents and their supporters, some of whom are motivated by a belief that we plan to be a permanent occupying force. A firm, credible plan for withdrawal would at least partially pull the fangs of the insurgency and probably increase our chance of eventual success in Iraq. Why not take it?
Why not? Here's why.Refusal to See Sheehan Is Second-Guessed
A Decision Characteristic of Bush Has the Potential to Be a Consequential Act
Mike Allen, The Washington Post
, Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page A05
Off topic? After a review of all the Sheehan business:
Bush aides said that, beginning on Monday, he will try to bolster support for his Iraq policy by giving three speeches in military settings over the next two weeks. They said he will argue that just as "the greatest generation" saw World War II through to victory, the nation must be patient while today's military combats terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citing the approaching fourth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush will contend that the ideology of terrorism and the willingness to kill innocents link the insurgency in Iraq to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and to last month's bombings in London.
Some of Bush's aides acknowledge now that they did not anticipate the reaction to turning Sheehan away, but they also are not expressing any regrets about it. These aides maintain that one of the strengths of this White House is a willingness to resist "what appears to be the easy PR route," as one aide put it, and to have the discipline to stick to long-laid plans.
"One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide."
Is facing the facts - every reason for this war has, one by one, turned to dust, and we're getting a mini-Iran for all our efforts, and our being there makes things worse by the day, and leaving is an awful choice too - are those facts worth considering? Or would that too be bowing to PR pressure, and you can't do that?
In response to an accusation of inconsistency, John Maynard Keynes is often reported to have said, "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?" It seems the administration prefers to ignore the facts.