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

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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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bush Plays Through, America in Sand Trap

The Terre Haute Tribune-Star

Tuning out grim news about war

President Bush gave up golf in 2003. He says he didn’t want Americans to see him enjoying himself on the links in wartime. And who can argue with this president? It would be unseemly to see the commander in chief floundering about in a sand bunker of a posh country club while he continues to send brave women and men into the blood spattered sand trap of Iraq.

The year 2007 was a particularly bloody year in this five years and counting war in Iraq — more than 900 dead, the bloodiest year of the war. While we were having a particularly beautiful spring in Vigo County this April, 52 of our finest were dying in Iraq. This month — 18 dead so far.

The Bush golf story is one that may make it into the papers or be a short filler comment of 15 seconds or so on the nightly TV news. But probably not. We don’t hear much about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars these days. It’s reported that coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news as of last week, falling from 25 percent as recently as last September.

Pictures of death and suffering in the Iraq war are rare. Fewer and fewer photojournalists are sent into the field by news organizations. We now reach toward six years and five thousand dead in Iraq. We’ve wasted a trillion dollars on this war. But whose counting? “People have,” as Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says, “made up their minds about this war.” We’ve chosen to ignore it. Move on.

Memorial Day, since 1971, is now a convenient Monday holiday allowing us all to stretch our weekends into three days of leisured indifference. With only a scattering of admirable exceptions, most choose to watch the weather report then cook out, go on picnics, attend the Indy 500, mow the lawn, kick back. Remembering those who died in service to our country in the past? They’re sadly ignored. And those serving and dying right now, and tomorrow? They will be briefly honored by a portion of the public, mourned for a lifetime by their loved ones, lost to memory in next year’s long Memorial Day weekend activities.

Bush might as well play golf. No one is watching.

Friday, May 23, 2008

THE WAR -- The Money [Part 25]

Writing about “The Money,” I often use phrases like “floating billions on the desert winds” and “pounding American dollars into a bloody, sandy abyss.” These flights of rhetoric are a way to personally express outrage and relieve frustration. But as I have tried to show in these "The Money" posts my angry words are sourced in the deeds and actions of our government. The evidence is grounded in years of Bush incompetence, Congressional lockstep faux patriotism, a failure of the press to do its job, and public indifference.

And now, with a shift of party control in Congress, with a “change” election looming, elected officials, Democratic and Republican, are scrambling or sulking toward a degree of accountability. Even part of the press is ready to help the public in understanding the depths of the waste that accompanied the ignorance and arrogance which spawned the disaster that is America in Iraq.

Hunkering down in the White House bunker of denial, only Bush and McBush refuse to face the mountain of evidence that has been growing, looming for years. They still talk about “Victory.” They still try to use flag lapel pins and hollow “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers to cover the crimes, large and small, bloody and venial, that they, and so many others have committed.

New York Times May 23, 2008
Iraq Spending Ignored Rules, Pentagon Says

A Pentagon audit of $8.2 billion in American taxpayer money spent by the United States Army on contractors in Iraq has found that almost none of the payments followed federal rules and that in some cases, contracts worth millions of dollars were paid for despite little or no record of what, if anything, was received.

The audit also found a sometimes stunning lack of accountability in the way the United States military spent some $1.8 billion in seized or frozen Iraqi assets, which in the early phases of the conflict were often doled out in stacks or pallets of cash. The audit was released Thursday in tandem with a Congressional hearing on the payments.

In one case, according to documents displayed by Pentagon auditors at the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a cash payment of $320.8 million in Iraqi money was authorized on the basis of a single signature and the words “Iraqi Salary Payment” on an invoice. In another, $11.1 million of taxpayer money was paid to IAP, an American contractor, on the basis of a voucher with no indication of what was delivered. . . .

Examples of the paperwork for some of those payments, displayed at the hearing, depict a system that became accustomed to making huge payments on the fly, with little oversight or attention to detail. In one instance, a United States Treasury check for $5,674,075.00 was written to pay a company called Al Kasid Specialized Vehicles Trading Company in Baghdad for items that a voucher does not even describe.

In another case, $6,268,320.07 went to the contractor Combat Support Associates with even less explanation. And a scrawl on another piece of paper says only that $8 million had been paid out as “Funds for the Benefit of the Iraqi People.”

But perhaps the masterpiece of elliptic paperwork is the document identified at the top as a “Public Voucher for Purchases and Services Other Than Personal.” It indicates that $320.8 million went for “Iraqi Salary Payment,” with no explanation of what the Iraqis were paid to do.

Whatever it was, the document suggests, each of those Iraqis was handsomely compensated. Under the “quantity” column is the number 1,000, presumably indicating the number of people who were to be paid — to the tune of $320,800 apiece — if the paperwork is to be trusted.

These excerpts are from a long and detailed article. If you have the stomach for it, go to:

Iraq Spending Ignored Rules, Pentagon Says


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

THE WAR -- The Money [Part 24]

Sometimes “The Money” is not about the endless bundles of death cash we snake through the alleys of Baghdad, or send out into the desert never to be seen again, or line the pockets of the few, the well-placed and the brutally powerful.

Sometimes it’s about:

“Omar, a 69-year-old refugee from Baghdad, interviewed by UNHCR, said that he will die a “slow death” if assistance is stopped. His family has depended on food and medical aid since arriving in Syria in 2006, and pay rent out of remittances from Iraq which he described as “our only way to survive.”

And it’s about “The Money” we refuse to spend.

Money running out for Iraqi refugee crisis, warns UN agency

9 May 2008 –The United Nations refugee said today that it could soon be forced to reduce or even halt assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees unless donors provide more funds.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said there was a $127 shortfall for health, education and food assistance for Iraqi refugees. “We will not be able to help hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees and internally displaced if we do not receive funding for the remainder of 2008,” said High Commissioner António Guterres. “Without this support, the humanitarian crisis we have faced over the past two years may grow even larger,” he added.

A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in their country. Of these over 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – mostly Syria and Jordan – while 2.7 million are internally displaced inside Iraq. . . .


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

THE WAR -- The Money [Part 23]

Frederick Kagan (author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, 2007) stood firm on “Mission Accomplished” day. In a nutshell, victory in Iraq remains within reach, all that is good and true will follow.

The many who pushed this disastrous war, true believers and deceivers from the start, are now reduced to turning their past lies into future truths. The madness of all this was presciently, if inadvertently, skewered by Lewis Carroll in the 19th century. His “When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” is probably one of the most quoted lines in contemporary political analysis. In Kagan’s case, it catches the authoritarian logic and tone of one who led us into the dark wood of war without even the bread crumbs provided Hansel and Gretel.

Here’s Kagan’s latest rickety prop to a war that could never be “won.” One senses in it the laying of the groundwork for the Right Wing Warrior nonsense that will come with our final withdrawal. The blustering spouts of how the left “lost” Iraq, plunged that country into chaos, and upset a smoothly running plan to create a democratic and peaceful middle-east. It will all flow with the darkness and force of the oil profits of Exon.

For five long years the United States presence in Iraq has attempted to build dreamy sand castles without the aid of reason and ignoring the weight of reality. Here’s Kagan’s Op-Ed in full. Lewis Carroll responds in bold type. Ridicule can never replace the pointed labor of reason or the careful sifting of reality, but it does provide a respite from the madness.

The New York Times, May 4, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Don’t Drain Iraq’s Cash

THE way forward in Iraq must proceed from the recognition that the surge, of which I was an early proponent, has stabilized central Iraq, reduced violence overall and provided space for the Iraqi government to undertake important reconciliation efforts.

[“What I tell you three times is true.”]

Continuing along this path to success requires maintaining our counterinsurgency strategy and committing to see Iraq through its democratic transformation, with parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2009.

[“I think I could, if I only knew how to begin. For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”]

There is one obstacle to success, however, that we must avoid. Having failed to legislate retreat, some members of Congress are exploiting Americans’ economic anxieties and insisting that the Iraqi government help defray our costs in fighting our common enemies.

[“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”]

Yes, the war in Iraq is expensive (though hardly the hyperbolic $3 trillion some have suggested), and the desire to reduce that expense is reasonable. Iraq has a lot of money from oil, and we should do what we can to help and encourage the Iraqis to spend their money on rebuilding their country whenever possible.

[“His answer trickled through my head - Like water through a sieve”]

But a dangerous note has crept into the discussion, a tinge of imperialism, in fact. The argument that Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay the United States sounds like the ultimate proof that we invaded Iraq for mercenary reasons.

[“'But I don’t want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked. 'Oh, you can’t help that,' said the Cat. 'We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.' 'How do you know I’m mad?' said Alice. 'You must be,” said the Cat. 'or you wouldn’t have come here.'”]

If it insists that Iraq underwrite American military forces, Congress would do catastrophic damage to our image in the world, particularly the Muslim world. America does not go to war for profit — ever. We should not make it appear as if we do.

[“Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”]

FREDERICK KAGAN is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
[“Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”]


Monday, May 05, 2008

THE WAR -- The Money [Part 22]

There was a term in the military back when the weapons of war (as compared with the high tech, micro-destroyers of life used in the present) were akin to medieval siege machines and uniforms were without a square inch of Velcro. Enlistees served three year hitches, draftees, two. And then there were the “6 monthers.” After their 180 days it was back home to the Guard and Reserves. Fairly or unfairly, they were not much admired when I served.

Thomas Friedman has served most of the Iraq war as a 6 monther. (There are many of these among the pundits even today.) He’s always managed to almost get one foot out the door. For some reason though, he’s never quite able to pull the other one clear. Instead, on a regular basis he has solemnly informed his many readers that “in 6 months we will know if it’s time to leave Iraq.” He’s redeployed himself so many times I've lost count.

Lately he’s taken a new approach. The energy crisis, always a main concern with this 6 monther, is not going to be eased through any form of “victory” in Iraq. He doesn’t say this in so many words. Now he finesses the withdrawal issue by discovering the need for "nation building," at home. So there’s work to be done at home. Friedman makes like a modern day Paul Revere. If Paul had taken side trips to Canada, Ireland and the Bahamas, he still would have aroused the countryside as fast as stuck-in-Iraq-Friedman.

Many have been saying the same thing Friedman is saying about our crumbling infrastructure, pitiful research initiatives, and failing educational system since before “Mission Accomplished.” The costs of the Iraq war come in many forms. It’s irritating to see Friedman wring his hands and act as if he has to be the bearer of this bad news. If he had started with this line after the first 6 months of this disaster of a war, we might be getting out within six months after Bush leaves office. Barring, of course, the election of McBush. If that tragedy is heaped upon the last five year fiasco, Friedman will need a new supply of calendars.

The Money [Part 22]

The New York Times May 4, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Who Will Tell the People?

Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil. . . .

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country. . . .

Who Will Tell the People?


Thursday, May 01, 2008


Can you count to five?

Five Years After 'Mission Accomplished'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, May 1, 2008; 12:56 PM

Much has happened in the five years since President Bush flew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in "Top Gun" style, stood under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" and proudly declared: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Five years ago, 139 American troops had died in Iraq. Now that number is 4,064. Five years ago, 542 American troops had been wounded in Iraq. Now that number is 29,395.

Five years ago, the national debt was $6.5 trillion. Now it's $9.3 trillion. Five years ago, your average gallon of gas cost $1.44. Now it costs $3.57. Five years ago, Bush's job-approval rating was at 70 percent. Now it's at 28.

Five years ago, Bush's appearance on the carrier was widely hailed as a brilliant PR move, imbuing the president with the aura of a conquering hero. Now, it's possibly the single most potent image of Bush's hubris.

One thing that's not so different: Five years ago, there were about 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Now there are slightly more. . . .

Full article: Five Years After 'Mission Accomplished'