Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bush & Cheney: A Case of Folie à Deux?

Folie à deux is a rare psychiatric syndrome that means "a madness shared by two." A symptom of this psychosis is a delusional belief transmitted from one individual to another.

This syndrome is most often diagnosed in cases where two people live in close proximity and may be socially or physically isolated and have little interaction with other people.

According to the Wikipedia, folie à deux is a psychiatric curiosity:

"The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that a person cannot be diagnosed as being delusional if the belief in question is one 'ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture.'

"It is not clear at what point a belief considered to be delusional escapes from the folie à . . . diagnostic category and becomes legitimate because of the number of people holding it. When a large number of people may come to believe obviously false and potentially distressing things based purely on hearsay, these beliefs are not considered to be clinical delusions by the psychiatric profession and are labelled instead as mass hysteria."

When Is a Wound Not a Wound?

When the Department of Veterans Affairs says it isn't.

That explains the precipitous drop – from 50,508 to 21,649 – for the number of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan on the VA’s website earlier this month.

The VA says that it no longer considers injuries from accidents and mental and physical illnesses that developed in a war zone to be wounds, while injuries inflicted by the enemy are.
About 1.4 million troops have served in
Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than 205,000 have sought care from the VA, including more than 73,000 who sought treatment for mental problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
So you flip out because of the stresses of combat and . . . sorry, Charlie, you're not wounded.

Funny how those non-hostile injuries have a way of being serious.

Of the more than 3,000 deaths that U.S. troops have suffered in Iraq, 600 are considered non-hostile.

More here.

It's Miller Time!

I’m having difficulty staying focused on the Scooter Libby perjury trial. Trouble is, it has quickly descended into a battle of liars, and I just don’t find that particularly interesting.

And so we have the spectacle of disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller going head to head with one of Libby’s lawyers over who is a better liar.

What Miller says or doesn’t remember is incidental. With the long knives out for Libby at the White House, he probably will be convicted. And if convicted, be pardoned.

I will leave to others blow-by-blow accounts of the trial. What I suggest that they not lose sight of is the biggest lie of all and the reason for this legal circus to begin with:

The Big Lie that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the region and the world because, as Miller breathlessly told us in a series of Times stories unchallenged by her editors, he had WMDs, as well as a nascent nuclear program and ties to the terrorists who launched the 9/11 attacks. It was that Big Lie that has resulted in a catastrophic war without end, which makes the Libby trial seem like even smaller potatoes, no?

And that they not lose sight of this:

When Dame Judith takes the stand again today, the Times also will be on trial. This is the great “newspaper of record” which resisted looking into her reckless fabrications about WMDs, which were based on the pap fed her by White House insiders in the service of perpetuating the Big Lie.

The Home Team Finally Gets One Right

I have said early and often that the Bush administration's prosecution of suspected terrorists has been puh-thetic. So it is nice to acknowledge an instance in which it seems to have gotten it right.
That would be the case of Iraqi-born Dutch citizen Wesam al-Delaema. Following a two-year battle over his extradition to the U.S., Dealaema has arrived stateside to face charges that he and his pals in a group they callled the Mujahideen from Fallujah conspired to kill Americans abroad.

The evidence seems kind of overwhelming: They videotaped themselves planting bombs on a road used by American forces in Iraq, and the videotape was aired widely on television in the Arab world.
More here.

Iran: Have We Got an Incident For You

"Our Iran intelligence shows that the threat to the U.S. is this big"
That naughty but prescient Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo is engaging readers on what he terms "prospective journalism," in this case an "Iran incident" that provokes a U.S. military attack.

Asks Josh:
"Will it be a real incident in Iraq for which the Iranians are blamed? Or will it be a complete bogus incident, something that never happened, that they're blamed for? Will we receive the news in manufactured evidence? Or will it all come through unnamed leaks and Richard Perle appearances on CNN?"

Here are some key requirements:

* Despite being fake, the incident must seem reasonably credible.

* It must appear serious enough that discounting its importance would be feckless.

* It must place most Americans in the position of approving of a war against Iran at the time and place of his choosing.

* Finally, it will take quite a while for the incident to be revealed as bogus.

Sounds terribly familiar, does it?
More here.

Quote du Jour on the Middle East

"We seem to have created quite a mess of the Middle East. Beyond the literal disfigurement of Iraq take a moment to survey the dead and dying remnants of our geopolitical interests in the region, not least typified by the staggering degree to which we have set ourselves back and pushed forward the interests of Iran."Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

"Where is
Iran’s regional competitor? Gone, hung by a Sadrist mob. Rather than shoring up its western front Iran now concerns itself with establishing banks and augmenting their already-strong relationship with the new leaders through guns and training. Whether or not those Iranian IEDs have any basis in reality it appears that Iran has every intention of filling the power vacuum when American troops leave. The alliance doesn’t even need to be clandestine or hidden like our administration alleges, just an out-in-the-open, chummy military partnership between friends. Israel will no doubt be thrilled.

"The sad part is the utter non-inevitability of all of this. No reason in the world compelled us to invade Iraq. Even then the Iranians made unambiguous efforts to normalize relations with the U.S., apparently in perfectly good faith, which the U.S. adamantly rejected. Why negotiate away, the thinking seems to have gone, what we can take by force? Except as it turns out, we don’t have a force anymore and our regional credibility is shot.

"Brilliant minds. When you add it all together Iranian agents would have a hard time crafting a more favorable series of policies on our part. Maybe the saddest of all is watching a president who oversaw the dumbest foreign policy since Syracuse try to recover his past glory with still more brinksmanship.

"As they say, if brute force isn’t working."


Say, Old Chap, Isn't That My Spare Part?

When you're the largest arms supplier in the world, sh*t happens. Like selling vital fighter jet components that end up in the hands of your adversaries.

With that unpleasant likelihood in mind, the Pentagon has suspended sales of spare parts from its recently retired Tomcat F-14 fighter jet fleet pending a comprehensive review.
As in looking into whether buyers for Iran, which still flies the F-14 from the days when Washington and Teheran were buddy buddy, are exploiting gaps in sales security to get their hands on parts in order to keep their fleet in the air.
More here.

Is It Time to Lower the Minimum Wage?

Congressional Republicans are driving the Democrats bonkers in their effort to raise the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 an hour since Christ was a corporal.

Jon Swift has a solution: Lower the minimum wage.
Explains Jon:
"Keeping the minimum wage at the inflated rate of $5.15 an hour for a decade has been a terrible drag on our economy. The number of millionaires in the United States, for example, grew only 11% from 2004 to 2005, to 8.9 million. It now takes an entire day for a CEO to earn what the average worker earns in a year. Many small businesses cannot afford to pay any wages at all let alone the artificially high minimum wage and America's bottom-heavy wages are making it increasingly difficult for us to compete in the global economy.

"Compared with most countries in the world the U.S. minimum wage is extremely high. Of course, there are some worker-coddling welfare states that have higher minimum wages. In France, Great Britain and Australia, the minimum wage is more that $10 an hour. But when compared with countries like Botswana, Latvia and Papua New Guinea, we are significantly overpaying our workers."
Amen, Jon. More here.

Why Is This Car Worth $12 Million?

Click here to find out why.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iraq: The Same War Over and Over

Groundhog Day is the delightfully dark comedy in which Bill Murray, who plays a TV weatherman, finds himself living the same day over and over again.

Well, the war in Iraq ain't delightful, but it has taken on the same mondo bizzarro feel for this correspondent.
There is a White House announcement that a new strategy is being deployed in Iraq. The strategy is actually a new tactic, because there are no more new strategies to be deployed. Critics of the new strategy-tactic are accused of attacking the troops and aiding the enemy by the vice president and his parrots in the conservative news media. The death toll ticks upward and the carnage increases as the new strategy-tactic crashes and burns, while the White House denies there are any problems.

There is a White House announcement that a new strategy is being deployed in Iraq. The strategy is actually a new tactic, because there are no more new strategies to be deployed. Critics of the new strategy-tactic are accused of attacking the troops and aiding the enemy by the vice president and his parrots in the conservative news media. The death toll ticks upward and the carnage increases as the new strategy-tactic crashes and burns, while the White House denies there are any problems.

There then is a White House announcement that a new strategy is being deployed in Iraq. The strategy is actually a new tactic . . .
Okay. You get the idea.
No one, of course, would confuse George Bush for Bill Murray, nor would they compare the president to Winston Churchill, except that they both had/have massive egos.

That so noted, Glenn Greenwald has a lengthy (as always) post over at Unclaimed Territory in which he says Bush could be Churchillian with respect to the manifold failures of the Iraq war.

Glenn takes us back to the dark days of 1942, nearly three years into World War II, when Britain had suffered a series of crushing defeats and failures, a number of which Churchill candidly acknowledged were of his own doing in a speech before the House of Commons. What's more, the prime minister insisted that there be a public debate on whether he still was the man to lead the nation.

Glenn's conclusion:
"Churchill accomplished exactly that which Bush cannot manage -- namely, he convinced his country that the war he was leading was legitimate and necessary and that confidence in his war leadership was warranted. It's precisely because Bush is incapable of achieving that that he and his followers are now insisting that democratic debate itself over the Leader and the war is illegitimate and unpatriotic. One can call that many things. 'Churchillian' isn't one of them. Nor, for that matter, is American.' "
And so we live George Bush's war over and over and over again.

There is a desperation these days to the attacks on critics of the war by Bush loyalistas. (Except for the veep, whom I am beginning to believe is certifiably crazy.)

How else to explain a genuine war hero like John McCain being branded a "traitor" for speaking out against the war by a knuckle dragger attending the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit? More here.

Dick Polman, who belives that the tide has turned and antiwar dissent is now well out in the open, reaches back at American Debate for admonition from that great Republican icon and McCain favorite, Teddy Roosevelt:
"The president is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."
And finally, Austin Cline goes to the heart of the matter at Jesus' General:
"One of the most curious ideological contradictions to be produced (or perhaps merely revealed) by the Republican War in Iraq involves the expressed need to stifle liberty at home in order to spread liberty abroad. If you look around, you'll find this contradiction arising time after time in a variety of situations. The failure of all other stated reasons for invading and occupying Iraq has generally forced Republicans to rely almost exclusively on 'fighting terrorists' by spreading the values of liberty and democracy abroad. Many of these same Republicans, however, have never been good friends of liberty at home, and they see their war as a means for reinforcing their power over others' liberties in America."

The Najaf Siege: Onward Through the Fog

Man identified as sect leader (foreground) lies dead after siege
Now that the dust has settled from the weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf, we learn that Iraqi forces were nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of the Soldiers of Heaven, a hitherto obscure apocalyptic sect, and needed far more help from American forces than had been previously disclosed.

Beyond that troubling but not surprisingly relevation is the fact that hundreds of armed men were able to set up an elaborate encampment -- which which included tunnels, trenches and was defended by heavy machine guns and antiaircraft weapons -- right under the noses of the Iraqis.

A roundup of comments on the siege, which left at least 260 insurgents dead and nearly as many wounded:

Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters:

"The post-battle assessments should be interesting. Intelligence forces must be wondering why insurgents would attempt a straight-up fight against the Iraqis, and whether that indicates overconfidence or desperation."
Dave Schuler at Outside the Beltway:

"Aren't large pitched battles like this characteristic of insurgencies that believe they are on the upswing? Not particularly good news."
Bill Roggio at The Third Rail:

"News reports indicate a significant involvement of foreign fighters . . . Our intelligence source warns us that the Shia cult did have an international following, however the belief is some of the foreign fighters were indeed members of al-Qaeda's Omar Brigade. . . .Iraqi officials in Najaf are convinced al-Qaeda had a hand in the fighting. . . .The fog of war is still thick in Najaf, and time will tell if this narrative proves accurate."

Zeyad at Healing Iraq:

"So let me get this straight. The Iraqi officials can't agree on who they were fighting or who their leader was, so how did they figure out all these colourful details about 'brainwashed women and children' and the intentions of killing all clerics or bombing the shrine or taking over the shrine, etc.? . . . Also, alleged eyewitnesses said they saw fighters in 'Afghan robes.' What is an Afghan robe, anyway? I doubt someone from Kufa would know an Afghan robe when they see it. Also, why doesn't the government produce the evidence that foreign fighters have been captured?"

And finally, President Bush at his dim-witted best on National Public Radio:

"The government knew that the Soldiers of Heaven had set up camp in the area, but officials said they thought they were there to worship together."

Photograph by AFP

'The Consequences of Massive Failure'

In yet another important report that the White House will ignore, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution has made public a 140-page analysis titled "Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War."

Co-authors Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack are, for want of a better term, in a scholarly panic as the opening paragraphs of the report's preface made clear:

"With each passing day, Iraq sinks deeper into the abyss of civil war. The history of such wars is that they are disastrous for all involved. Asking who won most civil wars is a bit like asking who "won" the San Francisco earthquake. Unfortunately, we may soon be forced to confront how best we can avoid "losing" an Iraqi civil war.

"Starting to answer that question is the purpose of this study. We hope that the leaders of the United States and Iraq will find a way to stop what seems to be an irrevocable slide into all-out civil war. Given their repeated failures to do so, and how badly the situation had deteriorated by the time this report went to press, however, we believe that the United States and its allies must begin thinking about how to deal with the consequences of massive failure in Iraq."

Marc Shulman has posted the entire preface at American Future, as well as a link to the report.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come

A perversely interesting aspect of the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, is that the further you get from the scene of the crime the more people think he is innocent.

I happened to have known Abu-Jamal. And while the criminal justice system did not exactly cover itself in glory in prosecuting him, he is as guilty as sin, period.
But in the 25-plus years since the murder, Abu-Jamal has become a jailhouse pundit and international cause célèbre, a darling of Amensty International and lightning rod for opponents and proponents of the death penalty. He enjoys little support in Philadelphia, but the further one gets from there the more people consider him to be the victim of political prosecution.
Harlem is a mere 120 miles or so from Philadelphia, but it might as well be on another planet. This is because some well intentioned but clueless folks want to have a street there renamed for Abu-Jamal. You can bet they don't want it called Cop Killer Boulevard.

An incensed Tony Allen, a former member of MOVE, a Philly-based anti-everything cult group that supports Abu-Jamal, has it exacty right when he says:
"To name a street after a confirmed killer, cult apologist, and virulent anti-American fanatic like Jamal would be a vile testament to the power of propaganda and an ugly reminder that ignorance has again triumphed over common sense and human decency."
If you're not hindered by the facts and want to sign an online street renaming petition, click here. If you oppose the street renaming, you can sign an online petition here. (FYI, the anti-renaming petition had about six times as many signatures the last time I checked.)

If you want to know more about MOVE and what Allen is all about, click here. MOVE, of course, has its own website. Click here.

Hat tip to Dan Rubin at Blinq

'And Here Comes Barbaro'

Barbaro is gone, but his historic victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby lives on. Click here for a pole-to-pole video of that great race.

Notes author and horse lover Jane Smiley in a beautifully nuanced WaPo commentary:
"Did he want to survive? It seemed as though he did.

"In a great racehorse, the heart and mind do the running, and the body tries to hold up."

Asks the New York Times in an editorial:

"Why should we feel so much grief at the loss of one horse? After all, this is a world in which horses are sacrificed again and again for the sport of humans. . . .

"Barbaro was exceptional because he won the Kentucky Derby and looked as if he might have a chance at the Triple Crown. But nearly everyone who met him also talked of the life he displayed, a vivid presence that was so much more visible to us because it happened to belong to a winner.

"Humans are not especially good at noticing horses, but Barbaro was easy to notice. And if his life caused us to pay attention to the possibilities of all horses, his death should cause us to pay attention to the tragedy inherent in the end of so many horses. Barbaro’s death was tragic not because it was measured against the races he might have won or even against the effort to save his life. It was tragic because of what every horse is.

"You would have to look a long, long time to find a dishonest or cruel horse. And the odds are that if you did find one, it was made cruel or dishonest by the company it kept with humans. It is no exaggeration to say that nearly every horse — Barbaro included — is pure of heart. Some are faster, some slower. Some wind up in the winner’s circle. But they should all evoke in us the generosity of conscience — a human quality, after all — that was expended in the effort to save this one horse."

Congratulations to David Goldblatt

(Top) Township mayor, 2004 (Bottom) Farmer’s son with his nursemaid, 1964
David Goldblatt has won the prestigious Hasselblad Foundation International Award, which is considered the Nobel Prize for photography.

The South African shooter has some pretty high-powered company. Previous award winners have included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams.

More here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Barbaro: The Horse That Wouldn't Quit

Barbaro, who captured America's heart when he won the 2006 Kentucky Derby and then broke it when he suffered a catastrophic leg injury at the Preakness Stakes, was put down today after making a recovery that had been nothing short of miraculous.

The colt had undergone successful post-race surgery on his right hind leg to insert a titanium plate and screws into three broken bones and the pastern joint, as well as three more follow-up operations. But he had developed a severe case of laminitis, a painful disease caused by uneven weight distribution in the limbs that almost always is life ending.

The three-year-old had been on a death watch for several weeks after the Preakness at The New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the world famous veterinary hospital in Southeastern Pennsylvania where he was taken after the accident.
Although Barbaro's shattered leg was healing well, the laminitis had all but destroyed the hoof on his uninjured left hind leg, leaving him with splints on both rear legs and necessitating considerable time in a sling each day.

He took longer to recover from anesthesia after his last recent surgery and had a fever. The end seemed to be near. Having written many a before-the-fact obituary in my newspaper career (for Jacqueline Onassis and Frank Sinatra, among others), I wrote a draft of Barbaro's obituary on the evening of July 1 of last year.

Based on what I was hearing from New Bolton I expected to post it at Kiko's House sooner rather than later. How remarkable that it was later -- so much later.
Barbaro's story was inspiring.

His sire was Dynamformer and his dam La Ville Rouge, both horses of middling achievement, but he won his first five races by an average seven lengths before winning the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths. He was expected to make a run at the Triple Crown, which has been captured by a mere 11 horses in 76 years and was last won by Affirmed in 1978.

After an initial false start at the Preakness on May 20 of last year, Barbaro broke well from the No. 6 position at the starting gate and was up to speed when jockey Edgar Prado heard a sickening pop and his mount stumbled badly. It is likely that Barbaro would have had to been destroyed had Prado not expertly brought him to a halt.

The winner, Bernardini, crossed the finish line almost unnoticed, while Jazil won the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the crown.

Barbaro underwent five hours of surgery at New Bolton the day after the Preakness.

Chief surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson said at the time that Barbaro's chances of survival were 50-50. He later improved those odds to 51-49, but never pretended that the long-term prognosis was rosy.

To use my favorite horse analogy, thoroughbreds are creatures with 1,200 pound bodies atop ballerina's legs.

Knowing a thing or two about horse flesh, I was well aware that while Barbaro's recupperation seemed to be going well, his survival still was a long shot because of the possibility of complications like laminitis, which typically appears six to eight weeks after an injury like Barabo's, and in his case did exactly that.

The most famous victim of laminitis was Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, who had to be euthanized in 1989.

The extreme and extremely expensive efforts to save Barbaro were not typical, and there has been criticism over the lavish news coverage from people who thought the media should be more focused on news -- all bad, of course -- in the U.S. and abroad. Fair enough.

There also are people who say that thoroughbreds are rushed into racing and that the typical training regimen is too much for barely developed three year olds. I cannot disagree.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who bred and owned the colt and are former neighbors of mine, vowed to keep Barbaro alive so long as he had a chance of living a comfortable life at pasture.

Despite Barbaro's will to live, it had become obvious that was no longer possible, prompting me to rev up my obit machine. And then miracle of miracles, his fever broke, his left hoof began to regrow, there is no sign of infection and he apparently was well on his way to recovery when he left New Bolton.

But the complications that had dogged his recovery returned and he had to be euthanized.

Said Roy Jackson:
"We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for him to go on without pain. It was the right decision, it was the right thing to do. We said all along if there was a situation where it would become more difficult for him then it would be time."
Still, Barbaro was indeed the horse who wouldn't quit.

The Armed Robbery of Iraqi Childhoods

Five dead in mortar attack on Baghdad girls school. More here.
My parents told me stories of how they had to walk miles through rain and snow to get to school when they were children. What will today's generation of young Iraqi's tell their children about their own treks during the war?
That they had to walk past corpses and hulks of blown-up buses?

Down streets running with blood?

Between cordons of U.S. troops and sectarian militias?

That they had to stay home because it was too dangerous to venture outside?

That their school had to close because there were too few students and teachers?

That they eventually put away their school books and toys and joined the insurgency?
Millions of Iraqi children are being robbed of their childhoods. You might called it armed robbery.

The Iraqi Ministry of Education estimates that only 30 percent of the 3.5 million Iraqi elementary-age children are attending school now, down from 75 percent last year.

Jonathan Powers, manager of the War Kids Relief Program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, addresses this crises in an article, "Iraq's Youth in a Time of War," in an issue of the John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies Review Journal.

Powers argues that the U.S. and international community should increase their support for efforts to engage Iraqi youth in their country’s state-building efforts, which he believes is crucial for increasing the stability of the country and region.

He concludes that:
"Iraqi youth face a difficult challenge in the months and years to come, as they strive to overcome childhoods plagued by violence. Along the way, they will face numerous decisions about where to place their allegiance as their country struggles to rebuild itself after decades of tyranny and now occupation. Extremists have a head start in enabling these youths to be part of the current struggle, but it is not too late to change this pattern. The future of Iraq, and of the region, depends to a large degree on the opportunities that young men and women will have to shape their countries' development."
Newsweek recently wrote about this lost generation, while UNICEF provides a by-the-numbers portrait of Iraqi children here.

For a blast from the past, check out the now inactive website of Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq. Remember those U.N. sanctions, which did more to harm ordinary Iraqis that Saddam's regime?

The website cited a U.N. document prepared during the run-up to the 2003 invasion that predicted:
" . . . 30 percent of children under 5 in Iraq, or 1.26 million, 'would be at risk of death from malnutrition' in the event of war."
Has this come to pass? Damned if I know.

* * * * *
Meanwhile, Operation Iraqi Children raises funds to send school supply kits to Iraq. Click here for more info. (Please note that this is not an endorsement of this group.)

Portions of this post originally appeared in October 2006
Photograph by The Associated Press

Quotes du Jour on the War

A U.S. soldier conforts roommate of a trooper killed by a roadside bomb
"I find myself in email conversations with various readers, attempting to explain why I remain a skeptic about the ability of even the most gifted general to turn around an already far-gone sectarian civil war in Iraq. My pessimism is greeted by the argument that we have to plow on anyway - or give in to terrorists. But this begs a further question: which terrorists? The Shiites? Or the Sunnis? Al Qaeda or Iranian-backed death squads? The metric is no longer Iraq versus terror; it's Shia terror versus Sunni terror versus al Qaeda terror. In those circumstances, the most relevant question to ask anyone supporting Plus Up is simply: who do you want to win? Since we are engaged in a civil war, and since wars are designed to defeat one side, which side are we trying to defeat? The first question in wartime is: whose side are you on? The fact that no one can currently answer that question is the best reason to cut our losses."

"[I]t seemed to me -- and I hope I'm not playing the role of clumsy Kremlinologist here -- to suggest that the Bush administration has reduced its definition of 'victory' in Iraq to an almost comically-low level. (It would be comical, but for the tragedy.) And that perhaps the Administration now believes that a helicopters-leaving-from-the-embassy-rooftop defeat is all but inevitable, and that their hopes are now pinned on the long view of history - sure, just like in Vietnam, we'll have 'lost,' but in the fullness of time, we'll actually win."

" . . . we have a deeply unpopular president, who’s sitting somewhere around 30 percent in the polls, and the purportedly co-equal branch of government is not only incapable of taking any real action, it’s essentially tongue-tied as well. The polls also show that, by roughly 30-point margins, most Americans want Congress – not Bush – to take the lead on Iraq policy. But the Bush war team knows full well that this will never happen."

Photography by Erik de Castro/Reuters

The Overweaning Hubris of Dick Cheney

From an interview with Vice President Cheney by Newsweek's Richard Wolffe:
Wolffe: Bob Woodward reported that President Ford thought you had justified the war wrongly, and that Ford agreed with Colin Powell that you developed a fever about Saddam Hussein, about terrorism. Did you feel that was accurate?

Cheney: I've never heard that from anybody but Bob Woodward.

Wolffe: And other comments—criticism from [Brent] Scowcroft about not knowing you anymore. People have gotten quite personal, people you worked with before. You wouldn't be human if you didn't have some reaction.

Cheney: Well, I'm vice president and they're not.

More here.

And this bon mot from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times:

"Delusional doesn’t begin to capture the profound, transcendental one-flew-over daftness of the man.

"Has anyone in the history of the United States ever been so singularly wrong and misguided about such phenomenally important events and continued to insist he’s right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?"

Hat tip to The BooMan at the Booman Tribune

Iran & Diplomacy At Point of Gun

It seems like deja vu all over again: The Bush administration claims that it is not trying to pick a fight with a Middle Eastern country with a significant oil industry that it claims has nuclear ambitions and harbors terrorists.
This time, of course, it's Iran.
Color me naïve, but I cannot believe that the White House would be so stupid as to provoke a war with Iran when it is neck deep in one next door that is an ongoing disaster and it seems like the region is one ill-tossed match away from a conflagration.

But I have to wonder given recent developments, including a warning to Iran by the president on Friday that it must halt "killing our soldiers" and stop its nuclear program coupled with an inane statement by the leading Iran specialist in the State Department that Washington was committed to "a diplomatic path." It, of course, is committed to no such thing.

David E. Sanger sums things up well in the New York Times:
"Some see an attempt [by the administration] to create a diversion, focusing the country’s attention away from a war gone bad in Iraq, and toward a country that has exploited America’s troubles to expand its influence. Others suspect an effort to shift the blame for the spiraling chaos in Iraq, as a steady flow of officials, from the CIA director to the new secretary of defense, cite intelligence that Iranians are smuggling into Iraq sophisticated explosive devices and detailed plans to wipe out Sunni neighborhoods. So far, they have disclosed no evidence. Next week, American military officials are expected to make their most comprehensive case — based on materials seized in recent raids — that Iran’s elite Quds force is behind many of the most lethal attacks.

"But as they present their evidence, some Bush administration officials concede they are confronting the bitter legacy of their prewar distortions of the intelligence in Iraq. When speaking under the condition of anonymity, they say the administration’s credibility has been deeply damaged, which would cast doubt on any attempt by Mr. Bush, for example, to back up his claim that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is intended for bomb production."

The administration's tactic is what is known as "coercive diplomacy," which Jeb Koogler, a new co-blogger at The Moderate Voice, sums up nicely at his Foreign Policy Watch as "the threat of force to achieve political goals."

Jeb notes that such "diplomacy" can be effective and Iran has indicated it might change some of its more bellicose policies so that it does not end up being another Iraq. I must have been doing laundry or something and missed that development, but Jeff does know what he's talking about.

That is reinforced by his caveat:

" . . . while coercive diplomacy may sometimes prove effective in the short term, it undermines the possibility of peace in the long run. Relying on threats and unilateral military posturing to achieve one's political goals, as we are currently doing with regards to Iran, discourages international cooperation and downplays the importance of genuine diplomacy."
Amen, Brother Jeb.

The Rev. Robert Drinnan (1920-2007)

The Rev. Robert Drinan, an internationally known human-rights advocate who became the first Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress, has died.

He was 86.

Drinan represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House for 10 years during the turbulent 1970s, and he stepped down only after a worldwide directive from Pope John Paul II barring priests from holding public office.

The Jesuit considered politics a natural extension of his work in public affairs and human rights.

His run for office came a year after he returned from a trip to Vietnam, where he said he discovered that the number of political prisoners being held in South Vietnam was rapidly increasing, contrary to State Department reports. And in a book the next year, he urged the Catholic Church to condemn the war as "morally objectionable."

He ran for Congress on an anti-Vietnam war platform. During his Congressional tenure, Drinan continued to dress in the robes of his clerical order and lived in a simple room in the Jesuit community at Georgetown.

But Drinan wore his liberal views more prominently. He opposed the draft, worked to abolish mandatory retirement and raised eyebrows with his more moderate views on abortion and birth control.

And he became the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon -- although the call wasn't related to the Watergate scandal, but what Drinan viewed as the administration's undeclared war against Cambodia.
More here.

Quote du Jour: Capitalism Takes a Crap

"When I see what the top dogs at all too many corporations are now doing to that trust, I feel queasy. Outrageous — yes, obscene — pay. Greedy backdating of stock options, which in my opinion is straight-up theft. Managers buying assets from their trustors, the stockholders, at pennies on the dollar, then forestalling competing bids with lockups and insane breakup fees.

"These misdeeds and many, many more are hammer blows at the granite foundation of trust we built in the 1940s and ’50s. How long democratic capitalism can survive these blows before it gives in and gives birth to revolution or to an out-and-out aristocracy, I am not sure.

"Empires come and go. Economic systems come and go. There is no heavenly guarantee that capitalism will last forever as we know it.

"It’s built on man’s notion that he can trust his neighbor with his money, and that if the neighbor misbehaves, the law will chase him and catch him, and that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom, that even the nobles get properly handled (Bob Dylan again) once they have been caught.

"If that trust disappears — if the system is no longer a system for the ordinary citizen but only for the tough guys — how much longer can the miracle last?

"Each day’s newspaper, it seems, brings more tidings of unrestrained selfishness and self-dealing and rafts of powerful people saying it’s good for us to be robbed if only we truly understood the system.

"The problem is, we’re getting to understand it all too well.

"And there is no one in Washington — absolutely no one — to help."


Update On a Garden State of MInd

As regular readers know, going after New Jersey (aka "The Garden State") is blood sport at Kiko's House. There is no state more corrupt and nowhere in the state a place where affluence and poverty coexist check to jowl than Atlantic City.
So it came as no shock to read that a state agency created to redirect a small portion of revenues from that city's casinos to blighted areas has shoveled about $400 million back to the casinos themselves.

This represents more than 20 percent of the money the agency has "committed" to trying to pull Atlantic City up by its bootstraps since its inception in 1985.
More here.

Review: 'My Family and Other Animals'

Two very different family films were featured in between the Australian Open tennis finals this past weekend at the Kiko's House living room cinema -- Little Miss Sunshine and My Family and Other Animals.

was a box office hit and has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. This madcap comedy delivered, but it was My Family that charmed.

Based on the 1956 autobiographical work by naturalist Gerald Durrell, this 2006 Masterpiece Theater production opens with recently widowed Mother Durrell (Imedla Staunton) contemplating a fresh start for her family.

With the drumbeat of war barely discernible in 1935 Europe, they leave dreary Bournemouth, England, for beautiful and sunny Corfu in the Greek isles.
The brood includes 12-year-old Gerry (Eugene Simon), who is nature obsessed, boy-crazy Margot (Tamzin Merchant), gun-happy Leslie (Russell Tovey), and literature-loving Larry (Matthew Goode).

Upon their arrival, a taxi driver named Spiro (Omid Djalili) takes the family under his wing and finds them a villa. Soon Gerald is collecting all sorts of animals, including turtles, beetles, rabbits and birds, while the other Durrells embark on adventures of their own.
The wildlife and fauna in this 90-minute-long gem are intoxicating and the jazzy score delightful. My Family is not rated, but except for some slightly colorful language and mild sexual innuendo, it is appropriate for children of all ages -- including my own.

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Gerald Durrell is famous in his own right, but is not to be confused with his brother, Lawrence Durrell, the novelist and playright whose "Alexandria Quartet" had a deep impact on me and is a personal favorite.

Guest Blog: Country Polikarpovs


As near as dammit 10 percent of 2007 has already passed, and the speed at which this happens every year is starting to be a bit of a worry. Not that there’s much to be done to slow time down, but I could find it in my heart to wish it would. As a special favour. From someone. Anyone!

Summer having finally become established after a very late start (global warming? Ha!!!!) I could no longer put off refurbishing the bedroom window frames. And so I dutifully went down to the paint store to get in supplies at outrageous cost (a litre of paint costs 30 times a litre of gasoline, more or less), and on a fine warm day began work. Readers with long memories will remember near the beginning of these chronicles, my account of the sound of music drifting across from the school over the road, on a calm late January summer’s day.

Well, they were back again this year and an assortment of players with an assortment of skills entertained me with the sounds of Mozart and Schubert as I sanded, played on pianos and violins and as always it was a delight no matter the state of the artist’s learning. This summer, though, there was an extra sound in the air — quite literally — namely, the sounds of antique aircraft. It was show-time again: Wings Over Wairarapa, no less, which is a biennial event growing more popular and bigger every time it is held. Vintage aircraft come from all over the world for it, and it rivals the older and bigger festival held at Wanaka in Central Otago, and in my opinion will soon overtake it in popularity.

And so, the sound of music was occasionally drowned by World War II Russian fighters like the Polikarpov, circling over our house in a holding pattern until it was their turn to fly down to the airport to perform their magic. Prokoviev and Polikarpov — how harmonious!

(On the last night, it was folk dancing time, out of doors. “Turkey In The Straw” and “Little Brown Jug”, and a caller and a fiddler and a banjo. Sheer bliss!)

The second day of the air show also attracted maybe 25,000 patrons, many of whom had come from Wellington. Sonia and I did the opposite and drove over the Rimutakas to lunch with friends, and then to the city to say goodbye to our grandson, who is leaving tomorrow to spend a year in Israel. So there was the situation; thousands of Wellingtonians in the Wairarapa, and us in Wellington. That’s when a large truck and trailer toppled over on to a car, killing the unfortunate driver, and the Rimutaka Road was closed. For 10 hours!

Returning home around 6pm we found the police blocking the mountain road, and decided there was nothing for it but to go the long way. That meant heading west to joining congested Highway 1, north to the Manawatu Gorge, then east and south and home — about 3 hours if all went smoothly. So, we did that. And arrived home at just about the time the mountain road was re-opening. It was rather a pleasant drive, actually, our first up that stretch of Highway 1 for a number of years, in the misty rain and slowly closing dusk.

But one of these days, there’ll be a real disaster. Try not to think about it.

Since I last wrote we have discovered what I assert to be the world’s Number One household luxury. Building on a long history of buying coffee makers, because we have perfected the art of breaking them or wearing them out, sometimes several times a year, we went that extra mile this time and bought one with a clock. Now, when we wake and totter into the kitchen in the morning, there’s the freshly made coffee ready to pour, having announced itself by sending its aroma out along the hallway. Can you think of anything more beautiful than that?

Evidence continues to mount that country districts like this are growing much faster than the cities, as people evacuate in favour of a more relaxed lifestyle. Slowly and somewhat painfully, local government bodies are beginning to react by recognising the new kinds of economic activity which this movement of population brings with it. The authorities are very keen to consult with residents, to their credit, because the consequences of failing to consult are almost too painful to think about. New Zealanders love to be consulted!

In the latest 10-year plan for this district, the District Council has gone so far as to print some of the submissions made by civic-minded residents. Someone must have been watching TV about the time “Come Dancing” took Sunday evening audiences by the throat, because among the more original proposals for our development and prosperity was:

“Make Masterton a compulsory ballroom/tango dancing zone, with compulsory weekly lessons for all people aged 15–75 years.”

Why can’t more people come up with brilliant ideas like this?

We’ve been violated. Hanging at the front of our house since we arrived here almost four-and-a-half years ago was a garden hose. One afternoon we arrived home from somewhere to find it gone. People have suggested that such merchandise is attractive to persons who siphon gasoline from the tanks of cars not their own, and this is plausible since it’s hard to imagine why anyone would steal a hose to water their garden. But hey, what do I know?

The new hose is stored out of harm’s way. Good grief!

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Country Bumpkin is a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand. Among his other guest blogs are Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gratuitous Kitty Shot of the Week

Regular visitors to Kiko’s House are accustomed to seeing domestic kitties in this space on Sundays, but we’re making a big exception for a lion named Jupiter, who is seen giving Ana Julia Torres a hug and a kiss.

Jupiter was rescued six years ago from a life of abuse and malnutrition in a traveling circus, and Torres has nursed him back to health at her Villa Lorena shelter for injured and mistreated animals in the southern Colombian city of Cali.

Says Torres:

"Here we have animals that are lame, missing limbs, blind, cross-eyed, disabled. They come to us malnourished, wounded, burned, stabbed, with gunshots."

We recently featured blogger Kevin Drum’s new kitty. Kevin solicited names from his readers and has finally chosen one.

Click here for more.

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Would you like to make your kitty world famous?
Send us a photograph in the form of a .jpg attachment in an email to

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Iraq I: Photograph du Jour on the War

Soldier’s boots and a flag-draped coffin on the stage at an rally against President Bush's Iraq war "surge" plan on the National Mall in Washington today. More here.
Photograph by Jay Westcott/Getty Images