June 01, 2006

U.S. Role in Iraq confused by military killing everybody

Baghdad, June 2 (UPI) -

Tensions in Iraq continued to escalate today with further news the U.S. military may be involved in the routine shooting, bombing and running over of ordinary Iraqi citizens.

"It's not just Haditha," said Mr. Maliki, current prime minister of Iraq and leader of the unity government, interviewed within the reinforced blast walls of his Green Zone redoubt. "It's a nationwide phenomenon. Women and children are being crushed under the wheels of U.S. military vehicles every day, or shot at routine checkpoints when they don't respond immediately to demands to stop. Ordinary Iraqis are afraid to stop because they become easier targets for rogue American elements."

American commanders in Iraq, speaking on a blanket grant of anonymity for everything they might ever say to anyone about anything at all, considered the situation problematic. "Obviously, the hostility of the government we're supporting presents an additional challenge to completing the mission in Iraq," said General Smith (not his real name) about Maliki's criticisms and several others he heard shouted at him while traveling in a fully armored Humvee across 25 feet of sandbagged terrain between his sleeping quarters and his bunker office in the Green Zone. "For one thing, we've got to re-invade Haditha and the Anbar area in general because of the growing strength of the Sunni insurgency there, but the resistance from Sunni elements within the unity government to our invasion of Sunni territory because of a fear ordinary Sunnis will be massacred by coalition forces attempting to root out the Sunni insurgency attempting to destabilize the unity government...I'm sorry, where was I?"

Reports from Basra, once considered a stable and functioning area in Iraq, were also discouraging, as British forces were charged with unjustified killing of Shiite citizens in this populous and increasingly anarchic zone. American reinforcements were ordered to Basra to re-stabilize the area and to raise the siege on British forces under increasing attack from Shia militias now almost fully in control of the streets. American forces were dogged here as well by rumors of American atrocities in the north and continued bad feelings engendered by routine American torture of Iraqis under detention, many of whom were considered by the local populace to be ordinary citizens rather than combatants.

General Joe Jones (not his real name, rank or sex), speaking from the relative privacy of the adjoining toilet stall within an underground Green Zone bathroom, attempted to place some of the difficulties on the length of the Iraqi conflict and the unrelieved nature of the strains placed upon the military. "By the third or fourth tour of duty by some of these marine and army units, a hair-trigger mentality sets in where they just shoot anything that moves, or run it over with their cars. On a net/net basis, facing a half-hearted criminal unit investigation which whitewashes the thing usually beats a bad guess which gets you blown into the next world when that pregnant woman turns out to be an unemployed Republican Guard vet with Semtex under his dishdasha."

Mr. Maliki stated that the growing concern among himself and those Cabinet positions in his government for which he has been able to find volunteers about the routine killing of ordinary Iraqis could definitely affect the "time line" for retention of American forces to stabilize the situation in Iraq. "At a certain point," Mr. Maliki said gravely, "keeping the coalition forces here to kill ordinary Iraqis or to kill insurgents before they can be killed by Shia militias, or to protect either of those groups from al-Qaeda terrorists, or any of those three from Iranian or Syrian infiltrators, becomes a matter of close judgment, and I do not want to get involved in cynical calculations of relative good where the stability of my government is concerned."

Colonel Anthony Jones (not his real rank or name, and concealing his civilian status) spoke for the coalition by video phone from a secure location in St. Tropez. "The current schedule for invading Anbar to root out Sunni insurgents may have to be accelerated in keeping with a growing sense the unity government may force our hand and require us to cut short our efforts to keep the insurgency from toppling the unity government," Col. Jones said. "We feel if we can stabilize Anbar again, while minimizing the killing of ordinary Iraqis, we can assure the unity government of a reprieve from insurgent pressure and prop it up against the pressures exerted by militia infiltration of Iraqi police units in Basra and the Iraqi south generally."

The U.S. military's stabilization efforts took place today against a backdrop of numerous car bomb explosions in and around Baghdad and the discovery of the bodies of 125 ordinary Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, who had been kidnapped, tortured and shot execution style, their bodies then dumped in open fields.

Summing up the situation, General Smith admitted that a lot of work still remained to produce a stable and functioning democracy in Iraq. "The new time pressures obviously won't help," he concluded.

I think I've heard this song before

So what is the real reason for Condoleezza Rice's "stunning" reversal on talks with Iran to resolve the "nuclear crisis?" The known facts are few, but include:

1. A "condition" of multi-lateral talks in which the United States would participate includes the cessation of nuclear enrichment by Iran.

2. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (to which Iran is a signatory, but India, for example, is not) allows enrichment of uranium for civilian, peaceful purposes, primarily power generation. To wit,

Article IV

"1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty."

3. Despite the "inalienable" nature of the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Condi contends that Iran succeeded in alienating its own right by conducting a clandestine weapons program; thus, an inalienable right of a signatory can be alienated if we need, for other purposes, to declare it alienated.

This is about all we know at this point. The Bush Administration, with its mania for opacity, rarely tells anyone, including decision-makers who need the information in order to make informed decisions, anything about anything directly relevant to the issue in question. Or at least, it never tells anyone anything true.

I would defy anyone with a security clearance lower than "Top Secret" to say a single incontrovertible thing about the "Iranian nuclear crisis." While various go-to experts, such as the ubiquitous Robert Baer, show up on "Hardball" and lay out the insider's take on what Iran "must" be doing, and the clear need to "take out" their nuclear capability, in fact, everything we hear is second, third or fourth-hand stuff that cannot be verified, or at least won't be by anyone who might really know.

Despite recent history in Iraq, the Bush Administration still persists, infuriatingly, in insisting it knows what it's doing and we should simply trust them. Here's what we know, based on the experience in Iraq:

1. They don't know what they're doing.

2. You can't trust them.

Indeed, if the intelligence on WMD in Iraq is any guide to the state of American foreign spying in general, the actual data on Iran is probably a dossier full of inconsistencies, fragmentary clues, confessions from drunks and pathological liars, political screeds from self-interested Iranian politicos, and rough drafts of screenplays written by Robert Baer and Richard Clarke. All of this rubble makes its way into the President's Daily Briefing (the PDB), which he stuffs into a briefcase and then uses as a coaster in Crawford while he plows through the latest Kinky Friedman opus.

I think that's how our foreign policy is actually conducted these days. Inconvenient truths, such as inalienable rights to enrich uranium to 3% U-235 for use in a reactor, are waved away through murky legalisms. The American people are told nothing substantive. Talks are "offered" on a "condition" the Administration knows won't be accepted, because the Persians think they haven't alienated the inalienable. The Bush Administration makes plans to test bunker busters in Nevada.

Yep, we've heard it all before. Bush has no plans to leave office without starting a war with Iran. He hasn't been "chastened" by events in Iraq, because he's unchastenable. He hasn't "learned" anything, because he's ineducable. And "Congress" is not going to do anything about it, because they're a collection of pathetic hacks and fakers.

So GWB, running out of time to fulfill his grandest of belligerent wetdreams, the use of a nuclear weapon in a preemptive strike, counts again on that One True Thing upon which he always relies: No one can stop him.

May 30, 2006

Is this any way to run a railroad?

According to the National Priorities Project, Congress has so far appropriated $285 billion for the Iraq war. There is no end in sight. The war appears to cost about $90 billion a year, or approximately $1.7 billion per week.

Not so long ago, Norman Mineta, Transportation Secretary and apparently nonpartisan water carrier for whichever administration is in power, scolded Amtrak by explaining,
"We cannot save intercity passenger rail service by burying our heads in the sand and simply shoveling more money into a system that cannot help but fail." Doubtless, the Bush crowd, who like spending money only on war and the rumors of wars to come, were pleased at Mineta's fine sense of selective budget restraint.

In 2002, David Gunn, a railroad enthusiast by inclination and successor to the otherwise thankless job of running Amtrak, surveyed the decrepit rail system, the worn-out rolling stock, and the company's chronic shortage of credit, and told Congress he needed $2 billion to bring Amtrak into profitable operations, to modernize the system (to at least Third World standards, that is) and to place it on a secure financial footing. The Bush Admin grudgingly conceded they could cut loose with $900 million, which Congress subsequently increased to $1.2 billion. Predictably, Amtrak has continued to languish, and the day may not be far off when passenger rail service in the United States is confined to a few favored corridors near New York and Washington D.C.

Amtrak, obviously, is just the wrong thing to shovel money into. Granted, rail transportation, in part because of its superior coefficients of friction (steel on steel versus rubber on asphalt), and its capacity (when optimally run, that is, like they do in Germany and France) to maintain steady speeds over long distances because of a dedicated road, is far more efficient and less insane-making than driving cars and trucks. Further, railroads can be electrified and offer this additional possibility of reducing greenhouse emissions, for example, by running them on nuclear generated electricity or carbon-sequestered, coal-fired plants. There is a future in railroads, in other words, which cannot be said with the same certainty about automobiles. Railroads are a great investment opportunity for the United States, as they were once before, in the 1800's, when America (yes, this country) had more total miles of railroad, more railroad miles per capita, and even more railroad miles per land area than any other nation on Earth.

But we don't think that way
. It's one of the many ways that Congress and the American two-party system have simply ceased to help. It's wrong to say they're "irrelevant," as is often done, because they do spend a lot of money. If you work for (or better yet, own) a defense contractor, their spending habits may please you. If you wish they would do something, anything, that would be of some tangible, material, discernible benefit for the mass of the American people -- well, the Swimmer hates to disabuse you of this cherished fantasy, seeing as how it maintains your interest in Congress's brave tackling of crucial issues like enabling Visa to hound you into bankruptcy court, but you're going to have to be patient, and like the refugees in the opening scenes of "Casablanca" who want to board that plane for Lisbon -- wait. And wait. And wait.

May 28, 2006

The Immigration Battle, Deconstructed

Before we get too far along doing really ugly and unnecessary things, like building "3-phase" walls and starting a run on the concertina wire market, let us pause and consider the nature of the immigration problem in realistic terms.

1. The Liberal Position. Liberals have a terrifying fear of ever doing anything which seems mean, such as sending 11 million people "home" or denying anyone American citizenship, especially neighbors who have violated the law and have waited patiently for the inevitable American response, which is an admission we can never do anything mean.

2. The Conservative Position, Variation 1. The first variation of the conservative position is to supply America's businesses, including agri-business with non-organized, cheap labor which can be mercilessly exploited.

3. The Conservative Position, Variation 2. The second variation of the conservative position is simpler than the first. This position is that if we're going to have a lot of additional, highly fecund people living in the Southwest and elsewhere, we don't want them to be brown and poorly educated.

In support of the various "positions," the usual chestnuts are tossed on the fire. Such as, we're a "nation of immigrants." While true, this is a quality we share with virtually every country on Earth, other than perhaps a small region in what is now modern day Ethiopia. This conclusion seems compelled by the remarkable genetic science discussed in Spencer Wells's The Journey of Man, which recounts the haplogroup markers found in female mitochondria, and lead back to African Eve, great-grandmother (to the nth) of us all.

Or: raise the minimum wage, and Americans will do the work the Mexicans and Guatemalans do now. First - no we won't. Second - the illegals make easy multiples of the existing minimum wage.

Finally: we have to seal the border, because terrorists are pouring across the border all day long. We have to know "who these people are, and bring them in from the shadows." The terrorists are not pouring across the Mexican border. They're flying into U.S. airports using visitor's visas, just like the good old days. And no terrorist we need to worry about is going to come in "out of the shadows" so he can be an American citizen for the week or two he's alive before blowing himself up.

The one solution which neatly addresses all legitimate concerns with the least expense is obvious. Do nothing. Don't build an ugly wall, and don't grant citizenship to people who did not enter the U.S. through the existing immigration system.

The beauty of this system is that it's a proven winner for everyone. Businesses still hold their exploitative leverage, since the workers have no rights. The labor is cheap and abundant, and obviously satisfactory to the illegals who flock here to find it. The numbers are self-regulating, since only those who can find work will sneak in and stay. It's a "comprehensive" solution, and easy to administer, since it isn't. It frees up the Senate to take on more pressing matters, such as flag burning and gay marriage. Indeed, the farther away we keep Congress from matters of real consequence, the better for everyone.