Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

My Photo
Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE WAR -- The Money [Part 20]

That Was Then, This Is Now . . .

In March of 2003, the war in Iraq loomed. Oriana Fallaci, the much honored Italian journalist who died at 77 in 2006, published in English a scathing essay later turned into a book, The Rage and the Pride.

Fallaci was contemptuous of Islamic culture. Any compromise, nod or lean in the direction of understanding and conciliation with the followers of Mohamed was weakness and betrayal of the West. Her view (often called “Islamophobic”) was a tireless indictment (often called a rant) against Islamic fundamentalism.The book questioned the stated tenets of Islam and its practice, condemned totalitarian forces bent on destroying liberal Western society and civilization, and railed against apathy regarding the immediate threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism. In the United States, she was supported by the Ayn Rand Institute and a number of other right wing foundations.

Here is smattering from that March 2003 essay, “The Rage, the Pride and the Doubt--Thoughts on the eve of battle in Iraq.” Appearing just before the Iraq war began, this essay showed her unleavened contempt for any and all who might give Iraq a hearing, insist on more UN arms inspections, exhaust diplomatic channels. Be they communists or the Holy Father of the Catholic Church, Bush should and must have his war.

“They [anyone taking a pacifist or delay the war position] are in Rome where the communists left by the door and re-entered through the window like the birds of the Hitchcock movie. And where, pestering the world with his ecumenism, his pietism, his Thirdworldism, Pope Wojtyla receives Tariq Aziz as a dove or a martyr who is about to be eaten by lions. (Then he sends him to Assisi where the friars escort him to the tomb of St. Francis.)”

Tariq Aziz is the memory trace of importance in this pro-war diatribe. You might just recall this guy appearing regularly on TV. He always had a good word for Saddam; a straight-faced lie in service to his protector tyrant. Fallaci would no doubt rejoice with the news that this Chaldean Christian is facing post-Saddam justice in Iraq. But her smug joy at the prospect of Aziz going on trial would probably be tempered by her sneer at hearing the word justice in conjunction with a court made up of Muslims. Her war, much like Bush’s, was a Crusade, righteously pursued but lacking a clear, obtainable object. That kind of playing with people’s and nation’s lives is the essence of arrogance.

So it may be clear to all today that Tariq Aziz’s crimes as Saddam’s diplomatic and administrative henchman were brutal and tyrannical. What is not clear is what we should call the forces of brutality and chaotic tyranny we unleashed in an Iraq that no longer has a Tariq Aziz to bring to justice. One wonders if Oriana Fallaci could speak to that question with her cold reason today.

(Sometimes The Money is not about millions, billions and trillions. In this case it’s about what $15,000 could not buy in today’s war disabled Iraq.)
The New York Times, April 30, 2008
Trial Opens for Former Hussein Aide

BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, who for years was the public diplomatic face of Saddam Hussein’s government, went on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday, facing charges over the execution of Iraqi merchants during the Baathist era. . . .

Elsewhere in Baghdad on Tuesday, heavy fighting erupted in the Shiite district of Sadr City as American and Iraqi troops continued efforts to curb rocket and mortar attacks on the capital’s fortified Green Zone. Many of these are launched from nearby Sadr City, a stronghold of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The American military said it killed 28 gunmen during one prolonged clash on Tuesday morning, after a patrol was attacked with small arms, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. A military statement said American troops had fought back, using rocket launchers.

Doctors in Sadr City hospitals said they had received the bodies of 21 people, including women and children, Reuters reported.

In the central province of Diyala, the police in Balad Ruz said they had found the bullet-riddled corpses of six academics who were kidnapped last week. Their families had paid $15,000 each, but the kidnappers still executed the hostages, Iraqi security officials said.

Trial Opens for Former Hussein Aide


Sunday, April 27, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 19]

This is what happens when you have a get along, go along Congress in place during five years of deadly, costly war. Let's see if John McBush makes getting the defense contractors to pay the $3 billion they are in arrears in taxes part of his "end the waste" campaign. Or will he turn his head, avoid the inconsistency, and just keep shoveling the money at the defense budget pirate profiteers as the war goes on, and on, and on . . .

April 27, 2008
Tracking the Spoils of the Private Sector

There are so many barn doors to be closed on the Bush administration’s wasteful, murky world of government contractors that Congress barely knows where to begin. The House has made a start in plugging the multibillion-dollar loophole that the White House let slip into its promised crackdown on fraudulent contractors.

An executive mandate that contracted companies report misuse of taxpayers’ dollars to the Justice Department somehow managed to exempt work performed overseas. A drafting error, says the White House. But one, of course, that would further insulate the administration’s favored war contractors from ever answering for waste and fraud. There have been dozens of offenses, including kickbacks and bribes in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than $102 billion has been spent on contracts. The Senate must approve the loophole closer.

The House voted as well to address another long-running boondoggle: the brazen failure of contractors to pay federal taxes, even as they are enriched by taxpayers in winning government business. More than 60,000 federal contractors owe $7.7 billion in back taxes, according to the Government Accountability Office. Almost half of the deadbeats are defense contractors who owe the Treasury $3 billion. Anyone shocked? . . .
Go HERE for full editorial.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 18]

Is our mission in Iraq garbage detail? If this is the case, and if it will lead to some relief for the suffering Iraqi people, so be it. But after five long years and 100s of billions of dollars, it is fair to expect that we would be beyond these kinds of efforts. We entered this unplanned, ideologically driven war with nothing but an airy dream of “democratizing the middle-east.” Now we appear ready to spend months, or years, and billions more, picking up the garbage. There has to be a better plan for using our brave military personnel and our “put it on the national debt tab” dollars.

April 22, 2008
In Sadr City, Basic Services Are Faltering

BAGHDAD — Even as American and Iraqi troops are fighting to establish control of the Sadr City section of this capital, the Iraqi government’s program to restore basic services like electricity, sewage and trash collection is lagging, jeopardizing the effort to win over the area’s wary residents.

For weeks, there have been reports that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is preparing to move ahead with a multimillion-dollar program to rebuild the southern swath of Sadr City, which is currently occupied by Iraqi and American troops.

But almost a month after American and Iraqi forces pushed into the area, there are no signs of reconstruction. Instead, the streets are filled with mounds of trash and bubbling pools of sewage. Many neighborhoods are still without electricity, and many residents are too afraid to brave the cross-fire to seek medical care. Iraqi public works officials, apparently fearful of the fighting, rarely seem to show up at work, and the Iraqi government insists the area is not safe enough for repairs to begin. . . .

Residents have repeatedly asked American troops during patrols why the garbage cannot be removed and basic repairs made in the areas the Americans control, especially since the most intense fighting appears to be over in these sectors. . . .

As a stopgap, the Americans are undertaking a $400,000 program to distribute large trash bins and employ up to 200 local Iraqis. More than 90 have been hired, but some of the workers have failed to show up and some of the results, Captain Carter acknowledged, have been poor.

The trash collectors are outfitted with yellow vests. On Monday morning, a soldier asked for an “eyes on” report over the tactical radio on how many workers were picking up trash along a major thoroughfare.

The reply over the radio was not encouraging: “They started at 20, but are down to 4.”

HERE for The New York Times article


Sunday, April 20, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 17]

There is a natural inclination among the American people to want to trust their leaders and believe the experts reporting in the media. Presidents may come and go, but so-and-so is still “our President.” And the experts, especially when they are in uniform, or have worn a military uniform through a long career, are particularly easy to defer to. After all, they’ve seen this war business from the inside. They read all those big fat reports, those detailed manuals, those intricate maps. And they know our enemies. They can even pronounce their names.

But long wars, helped along by an economic recession and a hot political campaign, do serve to slap the people in the face, arouse them from their apathetic stupor in regard to Presidents and military experts and the shaping of the news by the media.

And now we have a detailed 7500 word report (this post is 900 words long) demonstrating to all how the administration’s Defense Department, select military experts and naive, lazy or inept network TV news producers over the past five years worked together to support the Iraq war. This crime happened in the pursuit of dreamy ideological foreign policy goals, personal and business connection interests, and by simply failing to uphold and practice basic standards of journalistic practice. We should all feel embarrassed by our gullibility. We have every right to feel anger about the betrayal of our trust. And we should remember our outrage at the non-performance of so-called professional journalists.

Below are some choice parts from this damning expose. Please read the full story HERE:

The New York Times

You will be reading a piece of investigative journalism that is a shoo-in for a Pulitzer Prize.


The New York Times
April 20, 2008
Message Machine Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

. . . To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, . . .

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air. . . .

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings [for TV military analysts], trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated. . . .

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. . . . [these talking points were emphasized for the use by the military TV analysts]

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said. . . .

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC , said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.”


These brief excerpts only scratch the surface of this report.
Again, read the full report, complete with names and pictures of your favorite TV Majors, Colonels and Generals (retired, and usually working in the lucrative military contracts business) Go here:
The New York Times


Saturday, April 19, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 16]

The economy of Iraq is in ruins. Reading this story about a brave and very persistent Iraqi businessman is bitter sweet. His life is changed forever, nothing the United States does or doesn’t do can change that. Our contribution to change in Iraq has already been made. It has been a disaster. China sees the writing on the wall. The Bush/McCain war, with its no end-game strategy, remains a policy of arrogant blindness.

The New York Times
April 15, 2008
Devising Survival at Factory in Iraq

BAGHDAD — Before April 2003, when the maze of crooked lanes that branch away from Rasheed Street downtown were crammed with hundreds of small leather goods factories, Hassan Attiya, now 43, designed fancy women’s shoes under his signature “Cowboy” label. And his workers manufactured and sold them by the thousands.

Now Mr. Attiya, humbled by security fears, the shuttering of Iraqi tanning factories that provided his raw materials and an avalanche of cheap imports from China and Syria since the invasion, hangs on in a crumbling former dentist’s office with a handful of workers.

If all that were not crushing enough, as widespread violence generated by fighting in the south last month forced Mr. Attiya to close his factory, policemen in Baghdad stopped a car carrying goods he had ordered from Syria. The policemen said they were looking for weaponry, but when the search was over a package containing good-quality faux diamonds for his shoes had vanished. It was worth $1,200, perhaps a quarter of Mr. Attiya’s working capital.

“Wallahi,” Mr. Attiya said in an Arabic expression of woe. “The business is not as it used to be. It is like the survival of the fittest.” . . .

The hard realities of the shoe business have forced some former factory owners to adapt in a way that pains even themselves: turning to the import trade. One of them is Haider H. Jawad al-Madamgha, 46, who shut his factory when the cost for generator fuel became too high and who now makes regular trips to China to order the shoes that sit atop boxes behind the plate-glass windows of his Rasheed Street shop. He does not deny that many of his former colleagues regard him as something of a turncoat.

“That is right,” Mr. Madamgha said of the influence of his trade. “By importing Chinese shoes, in a way we are destroying the Iraqi industry.”

But Mr. Madamgha noted that everyone needs shoes, and that Iraqi factories are no longer capable of keeping up with that demand, even if they all work at full capacity. And he called upon another market truism to justify his move.

“If I stop importing Chinese shoes, then Iraqi shoes would be $100 a pair,” Mr. Madamgha said, before offering a visitor tea.

HERE for full article.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 15]

As stated a number of times in these reports on "The Money," there is no real way to draw a firm line between the human costs and the dollar costs of this war. Lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan are beyond replacing. The dollars that we throw into the bottomless pit of national debt are only dollars. But there is no denying that those lives and those dollars could do and pay for much of what life in America and the world needs desperately. It's a form of double waste and it's enormous in size.

This breaking story brings together the tragic human cost of the war with a possible price tag (probably under-estimated) tied to it. What it does not spell out in detail are the human and material costs to a nation when so many of your finest and their families are tied to pain and suffering for years, possibly lifetimes. What is lost due to these injuries can never be added up on a spread sheet. Angry artists--poets, novelists, musicians, film makers and others--will be trying to provide an understanding of these losses and costs for decades to come.


Nearly 1 in 5 Iraq Vets Reports Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
April 17, 2008

The first large-scale, nongovernmental assessment of the psychological needs of U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past six years finds that 20 percent of military troops who have returned from war—some 300,000 total—report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Slightly more than half have sought treatment, according to the study by Rand.

Rand researchers estimate that PTSD and depression among returning U.S. troops will cost America some $5.2 billion in the first two years after their return. Since 2001, about 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

According to the study, early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of the deployments may be disproportionately high compared with the physical injuries.

Researchers surveyed 1,965 U.S. troops across the country. Half said they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed, 45 percent said they saw dead or seriously injured civilians, and over 10 percent said they were personally injured and required hospitalization.

—Anna Mulrine

U. S. News


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 14]

Now the economists are debating links between the Iraq war and the U. S. economy? Somehow after the last Power Point slide is projected against the back of my skull, I’m still going with the gut feeling that dollars spent in Iraq are not dollars spent in the United States.

Economists Debate Link Between War, Credit Crisis

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008; A03

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the connection between the Iraq conflict and the U.S. economic downturn is simple: "The president has taken us into a failed war," the California Democrat said recently. "He's taken us deeply into debt, and that debt is taking us into recession."

This assessment was put to powerful political effect in the latest congressional hearings on the war, when Democrats and Republicans alike told Army Gen. David H. Petraeus that the oil-rich Iraqi government should relieve the United States of the conflict's financial burdens. And Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) echoed the theme yesterday at a manufacturing forum in Pittsburgh.

"If we can spend $10 billion a month rebuilding Iraq," the Democratic presidential contender declared, "we can spend $15 billion a year in our own country to put Americans back to work and strengthen the long-term competitiveness of our economy."

But this logic may have more political salience than economic validity, according to many economists, who say that the assertions linking the five-year-old conflict in Iraq to the domestic economic slide have been oversimplified. . . .

The analysis is politically powerful because people believe it. A CNN poll last month found that 71 percent of Americans say government spending in Iraq is a factor in the economic downturn.

"When you're spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you're paying a price for this war," Obama told an audience last month at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. "When Iraq is costing each household about $100 a month, you're paying a price for this war."

The analysis will drive the debate on the $108 billion in additional war spending that President Bush is now requesting. Congress is set to begin debate on war funding before the end of the month.

"I think there is a connection between the state of our economy and Iraq, and what we're spending over there," said Rep. Baron P. Hill (Ind.), a leading Democratic budget hawk. "We're limited as to what we can do to stimulate the economy. We're limited as to what we can do on health care or any other program. We need to spend more money on infrastructure, on roads and bridges that would have a stimulative effect on the economy, and we're not doing those things because of all the money we're spending in Iraq."

Go HERE for full Washington Post story.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 13]

In an earlier post, I mentioned how hard it is to conceive of the number 3 trillion. It is even harder to imagine how much stuff $3 trillion can buy, from private yachts to health care for all Americans. Many charts and graphs have been created to try to get at the size of what the Iraq war is costing us. Here’s an amusing video that takes a stab at it. Needless to say, viewing this comes with a “Please Laugh to Keep from Crying” warning.

Go HERE for the $3 Trillion Shopping Spree

Then it’s back to reality.

The New York Times
April 14, 2008
Views on Money for Iraq War, and What Else Could Be Done With It

WASHINGTON — With long-term estimates of the cost of the Iraq war ranging from $1 trillion to $3 trillion or more, the question naturally arises of what else the country could have done with the money.

The issue occasionally crops up on the campaign trail and in public debate. Senator Barack Obama , Democrat of Illinois, told voters in West Virginia last month that the war was costing each American household $100 a month. “Just think about what battles we could be fighting instead of fighting this misguided war,” Mr. Obama said.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Indiana recently that the war was costing $12 billion a month and was crowding out urgent national needs. “We’ve got to begin not only to withdraw our troops,” said Mrs. Clinton, Democrat of New York, “but bring that money back home.”

On the other hand, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee, says repeatedly that success in Iraq justifies any cost and that overspending in other areas is causing the strain on the federal budget. He says the government can afford whatever the war costs as well as a big corporate tax cut if it reins in wasteful federal spending. . . .

But the war in Iraq is largely being paid for off the books, with emergency and supplemental spending rather than from the Pentagon’s operating budget, so Mr. Bush’s figures are a low estimate of the relative cost of the war, analysts have observed . And growing entitlement costs today make such comparisons with previous eras questionable. . . .

Full article is here

Monday, April 14, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 12]

Lame duck is the label for an elected official whose term in office is coming to an end. Power and influence wanes during the lame duck period. It’s not a time for new initiatives. Solidifying a legacy is the usual pattern Presidents follow. What is Bush’s legacy? What is Bush solidifying? He’s a short-timer asking us to believe all the good he has done in Iraq will pay off in fifty years or so. Bush should check in with John McCain every now and then. (If McCain will let him get anywhere near him before the November election.) By one McCain estimate, in fifty years we’ll only be half way home from Iraq. Only a short fifty years away from the good stuff the Bush legacy is supposed to yield.

The lameness of the duck that is George W. Bush will be crippling this nation for the rest of the century.

New York Times April 13, 2008
All the Time He Needs

President Bush said last week that he told his Iraq war commander, Gen. David Petraeus, that “he’ll have all the time he needs.” We know what that means. It means that the general, like the Iraqi government, should feel no pressure to figure a way out of this disastrous war. It means that even after 20,000 troops come home there will be nearly 140,000 American troops still fighting there — with no plan for further withdrawals and no plan for leading them to victory.

It means, as we’ve always suspected, that Mr. Bush’s only real strategy for Iraq has been to hand the mess off to his successor. Mr. Bush gave himself all the time he needs to walk away from one of the biggest strategic failures in American history. . . . As they say in the military, Mr. Bush is a short-timer, so why should he worry?

The faltering American economy also cannot afford this never-ending war. Mr. Bush’s description of his latest emergency spending request as a “reasonable $108 billion” proves just how out of touch he is with fiscal reality. His attempt to justify the overall $600 billion cost so far by comparing his war to the cold war and the need to stop “Soviet expansion” shows that he is even more out of touch with strategic reality.

Make the Iraqis Pick Up the Check
Even some of the war’s most enthusiastic G.O.P. backers on Capitol Hill are joining the Democrats to demand that the Iraqis start paying for military training and the fuel bill for American soldiers. We suspect that has a lot to do with voters’ fury over high gasoline prices, the mortgage crisis and the lagging economy.

The Iraqi government is estimated to keep $27 billion in reserves in its central bank, $30 billion more in American banks and tens of billions of dollars elsewhere. If they have to pick up more of the check, Iraqi leaders may be more eager to focus on political reform and improved military training.

Full article HERE.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 11]

It seems the word “bitter” is coming up a lot lately. I say it’s about time to be bitter about the massive waste of our money in Iraq. The article below goes on for paragraph after paragraph and not a bit of news that can help anyone feel the Iraqi government is nearly ready to “Stand Up So We Can Stand Down.” Our guys in Iraq are taking very large gulps at the American money spigot in the Green Zone, freshly piped in thanks to Bush/Petraeus/Crocker policies, and approved by a solid block of Republicans and a squishy block of Democrats in Congress.

So, yeah, I’m bitter.

Secret Iraqi Deal Shows Problems in Arms Orders

New York Times April 13, 2008

BAGHDAD — An $833 million Iraqi arms deal secretly negotiated with Serbia has underscored Iraq’s continuing problems equipping its armed forces, a process that has long been plagued by corruption and inefficiency.

The deal was struck in September without competitive bidding and it sidestepped anti-corruption safeguards, including the approval of senior uniformed Iraqi Army officers and an Iraqi contract approval committee. Instead, it was negotiated by a delegation of 22 high-ranking Iraqi officials, without the knowledge of American commanders or many senior Iraqi leaders. [only 22!]

The deal drew enough criticism that Iraqi officials later limited the purchase to $236 million. And much of that equipment, American commanders said, turned out to be either shoddy or inappropriate for the military’s mission. . . .

A high-ranking Iraqi government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals against him and others in his office, said, “We have no confidence in the Iraqi contracting process.” . . .
Full article at:

Friday, April 11, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 10]

As the April 15 tax deadline approaches, it's hoped that people will pay more attention to where their tax dollars are being spent. The Iraq war is essentially being paid for through debt, debt we and our children and children's children will be paying on long after this blog continues to exist. The servicing of this debt will mean (and here you can add or subtract items according to your own preferences) less support for human services, infra-structure repair and maintenance, alternative energy programs, national park support, low cost housing initiatives, true homeland security, and on and on.

George W. Bush has a long life in front of him after he is finally flushed out of office. His lack of intellectual curiosity and human empathy will not allow him to envision the havoc he has wreaked on this country. As he rides his bike toward his last tomorrow, what will this man be thinking? All speculations welcomed.

Inheriting President Bush's war
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington 10 April 2008

Hillary Clinton called for the start of an "orderly" withdrawal from Iraq, Mr Obama suggested a diplomatic surge that would involve talking to Iran and John McCain warned against a withdrawal that would lead to "genocide". . . .

"We are stuck in a twilight zone in Iraq," said Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. "When violence is up, the president says we cannot bring our troops home.

"When violence dips, the president says we cannot bring our troops home. With 160,000 courageous American troops serving in Iraq, President Bush has an exit strategy for just one man - himself on 20 January, 2009."

A lot of the questions during the hearing were related to the cost of the war - currently estimated at $10bn (£5bn) a month - and the burden this constitutes for the American taxpayer.
The reconstruction of Iraq also relies heavily on US money, while Iraqi oil revenues are growing, with a surplus estimated at $30bn in US banks according to Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and chairman of the armed services committee.

Democrats want to try to push legislation that would force Iraq to spend those revenues on reconstruction and in that there seems to be unusual bi-partisan agreement. Republican senators also asked why the Iraqis were not using more of their own money.

Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming said: "We're a generous people but our patience is not unlimited."

Go HERE for full article:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 9]

Senator Bayh mildly (his only level of emotional intensity) vented his frustrations at the Senate hearings with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. He said: ‘We’ll know when we get there, and we don’t know when we’re going to get there.”

Let’s leave aside that this pretty much describes the stance Bayh took when he enthusiastically voted to enter this nightmare of a war. It’s past time that he, the Congress, and the tail-enders among the American people who continue to support the war by masking their apathy in hollow “Support the Troops” sloganeering, should put a stop to this war by refusing to fund it. Another supplemental funding bill is coming up, just say no.

Good and bad things will follow. Only bad things happen by “staying the course” when we don’t know the course or where that phantom course is leading.

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Washington Post Blog, April 10, 2008

. . . The White House will announce today that soldiers deploying will in the future have 12-month combat tours instead of the current 15. The decision, administration officials say, is meant to repair a damaged military stressed to the breaking point by long and repeated tours of duty.

What's really happening is that a White House that has no other plan for Iraq is trying to demonstrate its sensitivity to the soldiers and hoping to influence public opinion by showing its support for the troops.But the troops and their families know that real respite won't come until the war is over altogether, that the military is too small for the missions asked of it.

For the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the debate has become as much about what the "cost" has been to the military itself as it is about the wars' importance to U.S. national security. This is the ultimate proof of the Bush administration's inability to articulate the continuing national security value of the fight for America's interests: The American public doesn't want to make the sacrifices because it is not persuaded of the value of the cause.

But the military and the national security community don't necessarily want to make the sacrifice, either. . . .

Spend any amount of time with military guys these days, and you discover that they know more clearly than anyone in Congress that the Iraq war is being deferred to the next administration. As the permanent cadre of the military waits for the new crop of politicians to take office, it will passive-aggressively delay a whole slew of decisions about procurement and policy.

Go HERE for full article.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 8]

After listening for hours and reading umpteen accounts and analyses of the Iraq hearings held yesterday, I expect to get a phone call from Joe Biden thanking me for my service. Take away what you want from your impressions and research of these hearings, I guarantee that this war is still going to cost us a boodle of dough. I’ve marked in bold the clear signals that the direction we’re going matches a teenager with a credit card and not a clue as to what those three letters, “APR” mean.

And for the record, does anyone in the Senate or in the Saratoga really believe that Maliki is going to start paying his private army while Uncle Sam is still hanging around? He knows that Ambassador Crocker lives in a place called the Green Zone (Spigot).

Frustrated Senators See No Exit Signs

By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 9, 2008; A01

Asked repeatedly yesterday what "conditions" he is looking for to begin substantial U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq after this summer's scheduled drawdown, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said he will know them when he sees them. For frustrated lawmakers, it was not enough.

"A year ago, the president said we couldn't withdraw because there was too much violence," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "Now he says we can't afford to withdraw because violence is down." Asked Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): "Where do we go from here?"

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said: "I think people want a sense of what the end is going to look like."

But the bottom line was that there was no bottom line. . . .

But after hours of questions, they acknowledged that they had gotten at least part of the message. The United States was still funding the roughly 90,000 Sunni security volunteers who Maliki's Shiite-dominated government is reluctant to put on its payroll, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Petraeus. "I'm just asking you why you would object to asking [Iraq] to pay for that entire program, given all we are giving them in blood and everything else."

"It is a very fair question," Petraeus responded, "and I think that if there's anything that the ambassador and I will take back to Iraq candidly after this morning's session and this afternoon's is, in fact, to ask those kinds of questions more directly."

Go HERE for full article.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 7]

Basra Assault Exposed U.S., Iraqi Limits

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 4, 2008

. . . The [recent Basra] offensive, which triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad that left about 600 people dead, unveiled the weaknesses of Maliki's U.S.-backed government and his brash style of leadership. On many levels, the offensive strengthened the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The United States has spent more than $22 billion to build up Iraq's security forces, but they were unable to quell the militias. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting, a senior Iraqi military official said. Maliki had to call on U.S. and British commanders for support. In some areas, such as Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, U.S. forces took the lead in fighting the cleric's Mahdi Army militiamen.

And it was Iran that helped broker an end to the clashes, enhancing its image and illustrating its influence over Iraq's political players.

"It was ill-advised and ill-timed," said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman. "I think Maliki had a setback and America had a setback because Iran and Moqtada al-Sadr were victorious."

But other Iraqi politicians, including many who are wary of Sadr's growing influence or consider Maliki too pro-Shiite, said they admired the prime minister's decisiveness and courage. "For the first time, I felt that Maliki is now stronger than he was in the last two years," said Hussein Shuku Falluji, a legislator with the largest Sunni bloc in parliament.

Senior American officials put a positive face on the offensive and its aftermath. Crocker, in a briefing Thursday with journalists, said the Basra violence was not a setback for the United States in Iraq and did not "erase the significant progress" in improving security in recent months. "This is a positive development for Iraq," he said, adding that Maliki had emerged stronger.

But Crocker also acknowledged the tenuousness of recent reductions in violence more than a year after the launch of a temporary buildup of American troops. "Gains are fragile," he said. "This episode demonstrates it."
Five years and $22 billion and we get this from, Ambassador Crocker, our man in the center of the Green Zone (Which was bombarded again today!): "Gains are fragile," he said. "This episode demonstrates it."

Should we try ten more years and $44 more billion? How many years and how many American dollars does it take to solve the problems between religious groups and family factions that have gone on for 1300 years? Can John McCain count that high?

I often use the word “arrogance” to describe our “regime change” and “build a democracy in the desert” dream turned nightmare. And this is why. What other word describes a policy which ignores a long history and the people created by that history? Can we intelligently operate on the assumption that an outside force, us, however well-meaning, can grab that history, those people, by the scruff of the neck and turn it whichever way we please? Is this not the very essence of a self-destructive arrogance that we are and will be paying for for decades to come?

For full article go HERE.

Monday, April 07, 2008

WAR - The Money [Part 6]

Of the many war slogans Bush has thrown at a naive public over the past five years, the one that offers trickles of hope for many is: “When they step up, we’ll step down.” There's the usual vagueness here, allowing some to insert their own hoped for end to the madness that is the Iraq War. On the other hand, it might just as well be the basis for McCain’s “100 years in Iraq” pronouncement. General Petraeus will report to Congress this week. (But not to us, American citizens and voters. In their usual arrogant style, the administration is keeping the full report under wraps.)

Perhaps General Petraeus will clarify how the following report represents a “stepping up.” Or does it point to something else, something McCain is ready to live with.
New York Times April 4, 2008
More Than 1,000 in Iraq’s Forces Quit Basra Fight

BAGHDAD — More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.

The desertions in the heat of a major battle cast fresh doubt on the effectiveness of the American-trained Iraqi security forces. The White House has conditioned further withdrawals of American troops on the readiness of the Iraqi military and police.

The crisis created by the desertions and other problems with the Basra operation was serious enough that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki hastily began funneling some 10,000 recruits from local Shiite tribes into his armed forces. That move has already generated anger among Sunni tribesmen whom Mr. Maliki has been much less eager to recruit despite their cooperation with the government in its fight against Sunni insurgents and criminal gangs. . . .

Mr. Maliki also announced $100 million in economic assistance to Basra, to be administered by the central government in partnership with the provincial government, and said the government would create 25,000 jobs in the city over the coming year.

Citing that promise of assistance and the tribal discussions, Mr. Crocker said, “Were there deals? Like everything else, that is not an engagement you win purely by military means. The prime minister is employing the economic dimension of power right now, and good on him, I think. Money is in many respects his most important weapon and he is using it.”

Mr. Maliki said that the tribal recruits would be carefully vetted.

Full article HERE.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 5]

In 2004, a billboard in Times Square counted the cost of the Iraq war at a rate of $177M per day, $7.4M per hour and $122,820 per minute.

The best estimate of that cost today is up to $200M per day.

Now read this report the New York Times, March 12, 2008:

“Senator John McCain loves to present himself as a fighter against waste and pork-barrel spending. His fusillades against the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska and other such projects were well justified. But his jabs at a study of grizzly bears in Montana are way off the mark.

“To hear Mr. McCain tell it in his presidential stump speech and campaign ads, the government has squandered $3 million (actually more like $5 million) to study the DNA of bears in Montana. “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal,” he jokes, “but it was a waste of money.”

“A report by Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post makes clear, however, that this was not really a study of bear DNA but a study that used bear DNA to determine whether the grizzly bear was still a threatened species or had rebounded. Mr. McCain and his staff either failed to realize that or chose to distort the facts for political effect. Either choice is not encouraging.”

Why is the American public so penny wise and so pound foolish? Long diatribes on blogs and editorial pages are written every day proclaiming government waste of MY TAX MONEY. And it is a good thing when citizens take the spending of tax dollars seriously, examining for themselves the value received for government expenditures.

It's just too bad this close attention is not applied to the bloated and often secretive defense budget and the humongous, no returns forthcoming, additions to our national debt due to fighting a tragic failed gamble of a war in Iraq.

John McCain won't tell you how many grizzly bear studies would have to be canceled to pay for the 100 years he foresees us hanging around Iraq.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 4]

The New York Times
December 2, 2007
Nonstop Theft and Bribery Stagger Iraq

BAGHDAD, Dec. 1 — Jobless men pay $500 bribes to join the police. Families build houses illegally on government land, carwashes steal water from public pipes, and nearly everything the government buys or sells can now be found on the black market.

Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged.

“Everyone is stealing from the state,” said Adel Adel al-Subihawi, a prominent Shiite tribal leader in Sadr City, throwing up his hands in disgust. “It’s a very large meal, and everyone wants to eat.”

GO HERE for full article.
Corruption and theft are not new to Iraq. Government officials have promised to address the problem. But as Iraqis and American officials assess the effects of this year’s American troop increase, there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved, Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness.

One recent independent analysis ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. Of 180 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar were worse, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based group that publishes the index annually. . . .

And the extent of the theft is staggering. Some American officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias. In addition, Iraq’s top anticorruption official estimated this fall — before resigning and fleeing the country after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period — that $18 billion in Iraqi government money had been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004.

Friday, April 04, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 3]

The Money (continued from London Review of Books article)
Adam Shatz

"The US government isn’t keen on providing benefits to veterans – or, for that matter, to the families of dead soldiers. In January 2005 David Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the Wall Street Journal that benefits were becoming ‘hurtful. They are taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself.’ The US doesn’t make it easy for veterans to collect. Once they apply to the Veterans Benefits Administration, they face an intimidating amount of paperwork, the loss of their military income and an average wait of six months for their claim to be processed – from 99 days in Salt Lake City to 237 in Honolulu. (If a claim is rejected, an appeal takes two years to process.) The money that severely disabled veterans receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security doesn’t begin to cover their care, a ‘social cost’ that someone else has to bear.

"Soldiers injured in battle have also been chased by the Pentagon for ‘payment of non-existent military debts’: Stiglitz and Bilmes [authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict) cite the case of an Army Reserve staff sergeant who, after returning from Iraq with his right leg cut off at the knee, was ‘forced to spend eighteen months disputing an erroneously recorded debt of $2231’. This vigilance is especially striking when you consider that the Pentagon recently failed its financial audit for the tenth year in a row – and that the US government isn’t even spending its own money on the war. As Stiglitz and Bilmes point out, the war has been ‘financed entirely by borrowing’, since Bush has refused to raise taxes and has actually reduced those on the rich. That money – almost a trillion dollars so far, a tenth of the national deficit – will have to be paid back with interest: ‘There are three amounts to consider: interest we have already paid on money we have already borrowed; interest we will have to pay in the future on what has already been borrowed; and interest payments on future borrowings.’"
So we waste railroad cars full of cash on this war but we cheat, squeeze and dishonor the honorable men and women who courageously did their duty in service to a misguided policy they did not make but the president and timid Senators like Evan Bayh signed off on-- and continue to support.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 2]

As they say, let's keep it real. Comparing Jimmy Carter to Warren Harding or any other president is not what dumping Bush and his insanely disastrous war is all about. It's about coming to our senses in regard to the waste of money needed at home and, even more importantly, the loss of brave lives in service to a flawed and failed war policy.

But because the election is on, and because the economy has become the main issue, here's more on the monetary costs of the war from a recent issue of the London Review of Books .


The Money
Adam Shatz

"Shortly before the invasion of Iraq, George Bush’s economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, estimated that the war would cost $200 billion. ‘Baloney,’ Donald Rumsfeld fumed, offering a figure of $50-60 billion, some of which he said would be supplied by America’s friends. Andrew Natsios, the head of the Agency for International Development, told Ted Koppel on Nightline that postwar Iraq could be rebuilt for $1.7 billion. Koppel was astonished: ‘No more than that?’ ‘For the reconstruction,’ Natsios replied. ‘And then there’s $700 million in the supplemental budget for humanitarian relief, which we don’t competitively bid because it’s charities that get that money.’ According to Paul Wolfowitz, the reconstruction would be financed by increased oil revenue in Iraq. The war had nothing to do with oil, of course, but the country’s vast reserves happily ensured that postwar ‘nation-building’ would be cheap, if not free."

And now estimated costs of the Iraq tragedy are placed around $2 TRILLION! And why aren't the editorial pages of every newspaper filled with denunciations, why aren't citizens, Republicans and Democrats, demanding, marching, writing, blogging, calling their representatives to stop the war now?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WAR -- The Money [Part 1]

Citizens of Indiana's 8th Congressional District have spent $772 million so far for just the Iraq War. This could have paid for 240,586 people to have health care.

Those are your children's and grand children's dollars being scattered across the bloody sands of Iraq and the dusty, dangerous streets of Baghdad. (The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war.) Bush and his nightmare dreamers chose, unlike all other wars America has entered into, to cut taxes while (and ask any Iraq vet who feels free to speak on this), we paid Black Water mercenaries to ruin our reputation in the world and profiteering arms corporations to supply defective body armor and inadequate equipment to our brave troops.

Experts call this the $3 Trillion war. The costs continue to skyrocket and one candidate for president in 2009 doesn't blink when talking about a one-hundred year commitment in the region.

Is it crass to speak of dollars when our fighting men and women are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? Can mere dollars ever begin to measure their sacrifices, the physical and emotional scars so many will carry the rest of their lives?

Of course not. But the American people were lied into the war in Iraq. Those lies have been verified and publicized for years. And still anti-war groups plead with Americans in this community to stand up and speak out against the Bush policy atrocity. So truth telling doesn't work. Perhaps self-interest will.

How would you choose to spend trillions in this country, for our people?

Here's a brief list of what we didn't spend those debt dollars on. It's from a column by Bob Herbert in the March 4, 2008, New York Times.

"On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

"Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

"Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put “on a more sustainable basis.” And he cited the committee’s own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers."

This is all part of the horrendous George Bush legacy. And the American people to a large degree are complicit. This blood splattered, opportunities lost, reputation tarnished war adventurism is also our legacy. The question now is will we sit by complacently, silently, and allow it to continue.