Saturday, October 19, 2002

The Myth of Republican Competence

Joshua Mocah Marshall wrote recently for the Washington Monthly an article entitled Confidence Men about how the Republicans bluster their way through situations which they aren't prepared to handle or in which reality interferes with their plans:
This unfamiliarity and heightened expectation, matched with the trappings of competence, gave potency to what has turned out to be the Bush administration's signature political tactic: the confidence game. The confidence man is a stock figure in American culture, originating--perhaps not coincidentally--in the boomtowns of the Old Southwest. He's the snake-oil salesman, the wildcat land speculator who mixes boundless optimism with quick talk, bluff, and bluster. The administration is led by such men.
Bush was supremely confident and appropriately indifferent to complexities that might have distracted a more thoughtful, but less resolute, individual. But mostly, what the Bushies call "leadership" is just a confidence game. And over time, that kind of leadership will get its butt kicked by reality every time.

There's no better example than the Bush administration's bungling in the Middle East.
The White House considered the Clintonites fools for expending political capital on intractable issues like the peace process, opting instead for a cold-eyed disengagement. It seemed shrewd--until the West Bank exploded and scrambled the administration's plans for invading Iraq, something the new team apparently hadn't figured on.

What's struck me is the complete inability of the Bush administration to adapt to changing circumstances.

They came into office with a big budget surplus and jammed through a top-heavy tax cut (just ahead of projections that the surplus was vanishing). Now we're sunk in a deficit with billions in unanticipated expenditures, but don't expect the Bushies to acknowledge that things have changed.

They came into office with deposing Saddam Hussein as their main foreign policy goal, and it still is. The fact that we're now at war with international fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who still retain the ability to strike at us, that Israel and the Palestinians are essentially at war, and that North Korea may get the bomb any month now won't dissuade them. No way, no how. They'll just keep pushing us towards Baghdad while ignoring everything else that's become more important.

They may be CEO's, but they're shitty CEO's. People haven't seemed to have figured out that the Bushies are incompetent They remind me of the Detroit CEO's who kept churning out gas-guzzling crap while we started buying Toyotas and Hondas or the dot-com shysters who burned through investors' money while praying that a bigger fool would come along to bail them out. They may be CEO's, but they're sure as hell not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They're much more Ken Lay or Roger Smith.

Someone please tell these idiots that as circumstances change, your actions should adapt to the changes. You don't keep plugging along your predetermined path when it's leading into a sinkhole, or when a fire rages out of control along it. You change fucking paths. If the driver won't change paths, of course, you can always change drivers.

Follow the Money

Via UnGodlyPolitics

From April:
The US Government has announced that it will release $95m to North Korea as part of an agreement to replace the Stalinist country's own nuclear programme, which the US suspected was being misused.
Under the 1994 Agreed Framework an international consortium is building two proliferation-proof nuclear reactors and providing fuel oil for North Korea while the reactors are being built.

In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors.

Who is building the reactors?
Zurich, Switzerland, January 20, 2000 – ABB, the global technology group, said today it has signed contracts to deliver equipment and services for two nuclear power stations at Kumho, on the east coast of North Korea.

Who was on the Board of ABB?
The company said that Donald Rumsfeld has resigned his membership on the Board as a result of his recent appointment as U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Can't let a little nuclear proliferation get in the way of making a dollar.

Note the difference in Bush's behavior towards North Korea's refusal to allow weapons inspections and the possibility of Hussein interfering with inspections. In the first case, Bush gives North Korea money that was supposed to be predicated upon those inspections. In the second, Off with his head!.

Agoniste describes what it was like to live in Korea during the last war scare in 1994.

One afternoon before my last class started, myself and the rest of the teachers were watching TV. I didn't really understand what they were saying when all of a sudden everyone got up and said it was time to go home.

"What?" I said. Our director said, "you go home, get some food and no come back to work until situation changes. You call family in America and maybe find way to go home, very soon."
He stayed.

Friday, October 18, 2002

War Now!

Earlier (scroll down to the picture of Bush with a smiling Saudi asshole) I concurred with Ara Rubyan that George Bush should be held accountable for not following his own Bush Doctrine with regards to Saudi support for terrorism. I'd like to add to that by wondering why the fuck are we gearing up for an invasion of Iraq (which is years off from having nuclear weapons) when North Korea is apparently on the verge of having nukes itself.

Didn't Bush make North Korea a charter member of his Axis of Evil?
Hasn't North Korea proven that it can't be trusted?
Isn't it lead by a murderous, possibly psychotic xenophobe?
Doesn't the prospect of North Korea with nuclear weapons just scare the living shit out of anyone with a lick of sense?

Why the fuck aren't we massing troops in South Korea right fucking now?
Why aren't we twisting every fucking arm and bribing every bit player to ramp up an invasion of North Korea, which is a danger to us right fucking now rather than Iraq, which might be a danger some time down the road?
Why don't we have carrier battlegroups steaming towards Korea right fucking now?

Attacking Iraq is a luxury that we can afford to put off for a while if we need to, getting nukes away from North Korea is a fucking necessity that we need to take care of right fucking now.

I've changed my mind on Iraq, it can wait. North Korea cannot wait. We must stop them from getting nukes now. Waiting would be a disaster. If it takes a war, so be it. I wouldn't volunteer for duty in Iraq, but if the Navy needs me again, I'd gladly spend a few hundred more sleepless nights off the Korean coast (including the associated risk of life). It's that big a deal.

War Now!

If it sounds like I'm panicked, I am. A nuclear North Korea scares me as much or more than a nuclear Iraq. I'm also much more disgusted with George Bush and his people than at any point in the past (and that's saying a hell of a lot).

More Bush Lying

Apparently, the Bush administration got confirmation of North Korea's nuclear program six days before the vote to allow the use of military force against Iraq, then sat on the information until after the vote. How is this anything but the most cynical, treacherous crap that can be possibly pulled?

George Bush tells us that Iraq is an immediate danger to the United States because it might one day have nuclear weapons, while at the same time hiding the fact that North Korea either currently has or is on the verge of having nukes itself. It, of course, also has much better missiles than Iraq and a leader who is just as much if not more of a lunatic than is Saddam Hussein. Bush lied to the American people by saying he needed authorization to deal with Hussein right fucking now, even though he knew that North Korea is much closer to having nukes.

This is the worst sort of cynical bullshit, and makes it increasingly obvious that George Bush has nothing but contempt for the American people, for Congress, and for the basic principles of our nation.

I'd like any Bush supporter to please explain how he's anything but a lying piece of shit.
Bonus points if you can explain how lying about oral sex is a bigger deal than lying about national security

Thursday, October 17, 2002

The Glass is Half Full

Amid widespread dissatisfaction among the Left with the Democratic response to George Bush's warmongering, I thought I'd take a minute to point out that the Democrats and principled Republicans who stood up to Bush actually accomplished quite a lot.

Four months ago, the official administration position was that they were going to invade Iraq no matter what. It didn't matter if Hussein submitted to weapons inspections, it didn't matter if the UN agreed, it didn't even matter if we had allies on our side. We were going to invade, period.

Now, the official administration position is that we are going to build an international coalition (with UN support if at all possible) and invade Iraq only if Hussein doesn't submit to full weapons inspections. This is a big, big change. Instead of commitment to a bloody war regardless of how circumstances changed, we now have a clear way for Hussein to avoid war if he so chooses. If Hussein chooses otherwise, then so be it.

One of my biggest gripes about warbloggers and the mainstream press is their refusal to differentiate between people who would never support war with Iraq (many of whom would never support a war with anyone) and those who would support war but only under vastly different circumstances than the Bush administration wanted. The former group will continue to be pissed at the leadership of the Democratic Party, the latter should be happy with the way things have changed.

In my opinion, as stated previously, we cannot afford to let Saddam Hussein get nuclear weapons. If that means war right now, so be it. But I don't think that's the only choice.

If Hussein is forced to accept weapons inspectors who can determine that he isn't developing nukes, that's good enough for me. There are a lot of evil bastards in the world, and I don't think we're in a position to get rid of all of them. If he won't accept weapons inspectors or it becomes obvious that he's hiding a nuclear program from them, then we need to take out Saddam before he gets those nukes. Peace at all costs is just as stupid a position as war at all costs.

The compromise position (try for inspections first, get allies before we go in) that has been forced on Bush (and it was forced on him), is actually my true position. I don't want to go to war if we can help it, but I also accept that we can't always help it. I wouldn't have the US abdicate responsibility for keeping nukes out of the hands of lunatics any more than I would have it abdicate responsibility for stopping genocide. We have the power to do immense good in this world as well as bad, and refusing to use that power is no mark of distinction. It should be a mark of shame.

The Democratic Party (with a few exceptions) and some principled Republicans (Hagel, Lugar, Scowcroft, et al) have forced George Bush to accept that preemptive war is a shitty idea unless all other options have been exhausted. They have also faced the difficult reality that, should those options be exhausted, there may be no other acceptible choice. For this, they should be commended.

Note: I think George Bush is quite capable of ignoring his previous statements to the contrary and invading Iraq with no pretext, I just don't think he will. His own words in responding to criticism over the last few months have painted him into a corner. He'll stick by them just to keep from looking like a lying bastard.


A poster at Free Republic has an enemies list of anti-American leftists, and dammit I didn't make it. Listen guys, if you promise to put me on your list, I won't say anything good about guns for a week and I'll call Freepers fascist scum in every post for the same week. Deal?

Congrats to Micah Holmquist and Douglas Anders, who did make the enemies list. Bastards.

After all I've done for the anti-American leftist movement, this is the thanks I get........

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Why Civil Service Matters

Dwight Meredith of PLA has commented a couple times on the Bush adminitstration's demand that the new Department of Homeland Security not be subject to Civil Service rules. He's pointed out the dangers of employees being pressured for political support and the principle that we should design things to be as abuse-proof as possible, because sooner or later someone will come along to abuse them.

I'll go Dwight one better, to point out that political patronage is the whole point of this little tussle between Bush and the Senate. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I noticed a little something in the society section of the NY Times (don't worry, reading the wedding announcements isn't a regular habit). There was a young woman (whose name I can't remember) getting married, she'd just graduated college, her father was a small time Republican functionary, and she was an employee of the Office of Homeland Defense. Now, she may be an exemplary employee, but that's not why she was hired. Like all political appointees, she got the job through political patronage, because of her father's position with the Republican Party.

If the Department of Homeland Defense is created without civil service rules in place (even if they are added later) we can expect it to be stocked with virtually nothing but patronage employees. Evey contributor to the Republican Party, every Republican officeholder anywhere in America, everyone with the ability to do favors to Republicans will be sending their ne're-do-well sons, their underemployed cousins, and their fresh out of college daughters to staff this new department. Some of these employees will be competent, some won't, but their competence will have nothing to do with them being hired. It will be purely a matter of who they know.

Once the Department is staffed, the situation will get worse. An employee hired because of his political connections will be almost impossible to fire, since doing so would presumably anger the politically connected. In fact, supervisors would find it impossible to do their jobs, since they themselves would be subject to dismissal at any time and could be pressured out by the friends and relatives of the employees they were supposed to be overseeing. Even promotions would be subject to political calculations, as more deserving candidates are passed over for those with more powerful patrons. These are the very abuses that the Civil Service was created to stop.

When Democrats finally took back the White House (as they will eventually, be it 2004, 2008, or later), they would find it politically impossible to clean out all the dead wood in the now fully staffed Department of Homeland Security. Trying to fire an entire Department full of political employees would not only bring the work of the Department to a screeching halt, but it would provoke howls of protest from the Press and Republicans in office. The higher the number of incompetent employees, the harder it would be to get rid of them all. In effect, the new Department would become a sinecure for those who were lucky enough to have political connections right now. Giving the Department Civil Service protection after it was fully staffed would simply extend further protections to those who should never have been hired in the first place.

There is no choice but to fight Bush on this issue now. Waiting until after the Department is created and fully staffed is just too damed late. If Bush is given what he wants, we'll be paying for it years after he's gone.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

How Jeb Got Rich

Thought you Florida folks might like a little blast from the past (link originally from Joshua Mich Marshall):
Make the Money and Run (St Petersburg Times 10/20/98)
Bush's network is far-reaching and lucrative. The 27-year-old who arrived in Miami in 1980 so broke that he used his American Express card to pay his MasterCard bill is now worth $2.4-million.

The son of former President George Bush has followed the family's patrician play book: Hurry up and get rich, then go into public service.

Trading on the famous family name, Bush gained entry to exclusive business ventures courtesy of wealthy Republicans.

But Bush's hurried quest for financial success also reveals a naive reliance on his benefactors and a lack of scrutiny of those around him. He tapped his father's Washington connections to recruit help for some questionable businessmen, including one felon who remains a fugitive wanted by the FBI. He embraced business deals that have prompted lawsuits alleging mismanagement, stock manipulation and special treatment.
One Miami real estate deal is typical of the privileged pattern of Bush's wealth-building: invest little but reap lots. In 1984, Bush put just $1,000 in an office building called Museum Tower. By 1990, he sold out for about $346,000. Similar deals followed. Who made it possible? Armando Codina.

Bush's political connections have intersected nicely with his business ventures. In one of the biggest real estate deals in South Florida, IBM Corp. hired Bush's company to sell its massive Boca Raton office park. Bush found a buyer: a group that included Mark Guzzetta, a key fund-raiser for former President Bush. Guzzetta is now finance co-chairman of Jeb Bush's campaign for governor.

And when Bush and Codina needed to unload Deering Bay, an upscale golf community that had lost millions, they found a buyer in Florida developer Al Hoffman. Today, Hoffman is the primary finance chairman of the Bush campaign.
At times, some clients asked Jeb Bush to do more than find office space. They wanted his influence in Washington. When Bush didn't do his homework on who was asking him to open doors, his inattention got him in trouble.

One example occurred in George Bush's second term as vice president. Jeb Bush was approached in 1985 by Miguel Recarey Jr., owner of Miami-based International Medical Centers, a large health maintenance organization. Recarey said he needed an office building, but he also complained to Bush about the Department of Health and Human Services' tightening Medicare rules, which threatened to cut into IMC's profits.

Recarey asked Jeb Bush to call a Medicare official who had worked on George Bush's campaigns. Jeb Bush agreed to call to urge "fair treatment" for Recarey, but denies seeking special favors. Recarey paid Bush's real estate company $75,000, a fee some say was payment for Bush's intervention. Bush says it was for his real estate work. IMC never picked a building shown by Bush. (Bush has since said he wasn't aware that Recarey already had an arrest record and spent 30 days in jail in 1973 for income tax evasion.)

IMC was shut down by regulators in 1987 because it was insolvent. At least $200-million in Medicare money was missing. Recarey was convicted on various charges, but he fled the country. More than 10 years later, Recarey remains on the FBI's list of international fugitives wanted for fraud and bribery.
There's a hugeamount of detail in this story. Let's just say that Jeb was really, really good at cashing in on his political connections and didn't really care who he dealt with.

Buy it here


Well, that Iraq resolution sure was an emergency and had nothing to do with politics:President set for long days of campaigning
President Bush will spend nearly every day until the election on the campaign trail at fund-raisers and get-out-the-vote events for Republican candidates, White House officials said Thursday.

Bush will be at the White House just two days next week. After that, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "the president will be on the road every day until Election Day."
Wasn't it Republicans who disparagingly called President Clinton the Fundraiser in Chief?

Monday, October 14, 2002

More Meddling

From a Houston Chronicle article:
While President Bush marshals congressional and international support for invading Iraq, a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration's double-time march toward war.

These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses -- including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network -- have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.

They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House's argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.

"Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If intelligence analysts aren't free to give honest opinions, we end up with an echo chamber reflecting the biases and preconceived opinions of civilian leaders, many of whom don't know what the fuck they're talking about. If the facts on the ground don't match the plan some neo-cons came up with when they weren't in government and had no access to classified intel, then you change the fucking plan, you don't just ignore the inconvenient intel. The last thing we need is a bunch of yes men surrounding a not particularly involved Chief Executive.

I'm starting to agree with Joshua Micah Marshall and Matthew Yglesias:
War may be a good idea if we knew it would be prosecuted competently and that we were being given an honest assessment of the situation, but it may not be a good idea given the blatant dishonesty and incompetence shown by the people in the White House.

Boys Playing at War

Daily Kos pointed us towards this story by Robert Novak, The Prince of Darkness. Apparently, the Bush Administration is planning the invasion of Iraq using a small circle of men surrounding Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, most of whom have never served in the military. They seem to be planning for a war with a minimum of American troops involved, predicated upon most Iraqis surrendering. Most of the career militray is horrified by the idea of enetering a war with only plans and troops enough for the best case scenario. While that scenario could come to pass, it's fucking stupid to not have a fallback plan and enough troops to put it into operation. Highlights from The Prince of Darkness:
Now that Congress has droned through a week of largely desultory debate to authorize the use of force against Iraq, how will it be exercised? That is properly a military secret, unknown even to members of Congress. More questionable, it is also unknown to senior military officers.

If there is a precise plan for action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, general officers at the Pentagon tell members of Congress that they are in the dark. This may be another example of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld working with a small circle of both official and unofficial advisers, fostering concern among career officers that plans are not being sufficiently reviewed by military experts.
What most bothers the generals, however, is Rumsfeld's preference for outside advice. For example, sources say a frequent consultant with the secretary is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an amateur military expert and member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. There is no distribution through the Pentagon of such advice.

Generally, this advice probably follows the longtime line by Richard Perle, the Policy Board's chairman, that indigenous Shia forces will do most of the fighting to dislodge Saddam. That leads to the internal debate over whether 250,000 U.S. troops are needed for combat in Iraq or, instead, a much smaller number will do.

The professional military thinks that Saddam's Republican Guard will fight, and that substantial U.S. forces will be needed. Contrary to a widespread popular impression, these elite troops did not surrender at the first sign of American troops in 1991. Saddam, displaying his instinct for survival, had brought his Guard back to Baghdad and placed untrained Shia recruits on the front line in the desert.
Officers at the Pentagon cut off from the secretary of defense worry about the Republican Guard conducting a last-ditch defense of Baghdad, using civilians as shields. They ask: What are U.S. plans for conducting this kind of warfare, which would inflict a high casualty rate on both sides?

I asked a senior, well-informed Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who is a strong supporter of President Bush, whether the U.S. military was preparing for war with Iraq with sufficient force to cover all possibilities. ''They better have,'' he replied. When I rephrased the question, he gave exactly the same answer. He does not know, and neither do some gentlemen with four stars on their shoulders.

I've always been a proponent of a simple formula:
Civilians decide when to fight and what the goals are, the military decides how to accomplish those goals.
I don't want the military having complete say over what wars we fight and what wars we don't fight, because those are primarily a question for elected officials. I do want them to having a big say, however, over how to win the wars we're committed to (excepting the use of nukes, torture, and other methods we've decided as a nation not to use).

Why? Because that's their job. Generals have spent their entire adult lives learning how to win wars, we haven't. I don't want a bunch of amateurs attempting to do jobs they're not qualified for and getting American soldiers killed in the process, especially when they seem motivated less by winning the war and more by what would be easiest to sell to the American public and what would be really cool.

Think I'm overly worked up over civilian meddling? Then check out this old article, in which the staff of describes the parts of Norman Schwarzkopf's autobiography that make Dick Cheney look like a complete ass:
Schwarzkopf developed a four-step course of action intended to grind his enemy down into miserable fighting condition before finishing him off with an overwhelming and elaborately staged ground attack. Problem is, all of that grinding and staging took time — and quite a few of the people Schwarzkopf worked for wanted to see the lion eat the fucking gladiator already. Following one White House meeting at which he'd asked for more time and more troops, Stormin' Norman reports, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell called to warn the Desert Storm commander that he was being loudly compared, by a top administration official, to George McClellan. "My God," the official supposedly complained. "He's got all the force he needs. Why won't he just attack?" Schwarzkopf notes that the unnamed official who'd made the comment "was a civilian who knew next to nothing about military affairs, but he'd been watching the Civil War documentary on public television and was now an expert."

And then, twenty pages later, Schwarzkopf casually drops the information that he got an inspirational gift from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney right before the air war finally got under way. Cheney was presenting a gift to a military man, and he chose something with an appropriate theme: "(A) complete set of videotapes of Ken Burns's PBS series, The Civil War."

But that wasn't the only gift that Dick Cheney had for Norman Schwarzkopf. Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq, hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being "as bad as it could possibly be... But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn't die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney's staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait." (Throw in a Pete Rose rookie card?) None of this Walter Mitty posturing especially surprised Schwarzkopf, who points out that he'd already known Cheney as "one of the fiercest cold warriors in Congress."
And who would dare to argue with him? This is after all a man who may someday be named among the champions of the postwar era. Cheney has the old glint in the eye, the arrogance with the lives of others, the wide-legged certainty of the ferocious old cold warrior that he is. The architect of the western excursion is exactly the kind of man who would never allow a mine shaft gap. And so the idea that the political parties have grown toward one another into a muddled center seems accurate in at least one sense: This time around, the roles of Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara have been cast for a Republican. And it's exactly the role the man was born to play.