Wednesday, December 27, 2006

We lost a very good man today

We lost Gerald Ford today.

A good, kind, genuine, honest and decent person. How many politicians can you say those things about today.

Who put his country ahead of his own ambitions (his pardon of Nixon surely cost him the 1976 election).

After Richard Nixon we really needed Gerald Ford in the White House.

As Ford put it: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over"

Thank you Gerald Ford for being the man who woke us from it.

Godspeed Mr. President.

Thank you for saving our country.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on the surge

Well perhaps this won't be as easy as the Bush administration thinks (in as much as they actually think about things). Seems the joint chiefs have a problem with the surge as reported by the Post.

This seems to really hit home:

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

Gee imagine the Bush administration not having a clearly defined mission. After all they haven't had one up until now why start.

Also a great opinion piece from Eugene Robinson. I agree completely with what he says.

It should be really interesting to see how Bush sells this to the public.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Best Christmas Special Ever

Tonight ABC will broadcast A Charlie Brown Christmas (actually this will be ABC's second broadcast). This is the best Christmas special ever. A long long time ago when there were only three networks it was teamed with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch went first and then Charlie Brown. They were usually shown the Sunday before Christmas.

Over time the shows were not shown together. Parts of Charlie Brown were lost to make way for commericals. I remember my parents bought me the VHS tape. My friend Stuart and I eagerly watched and were surprised to see scenes on the tape that we'd not seen on TV for years.

Thankfully, when ABC got the rights to all the specials, they are now shown in their entirety. If you have a chance tune in tonight and watch. If not get the DVD and watch it.

A story on the special from last year in USA Today:

The Christmas classic that almost wasn't
When CBS bigwigs saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in November 1965, they hated it.

"They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: There was no laugh track, real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.

"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,' " Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.' "

Good grief, were they wrong. The first broadcast was watched by almost 50% of the nation's viewers. "When I started reading the reviews, I was absolutely shocked," says Melendez, 89. "They actually liked it!"

And when the program airs today at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, it will mark its 40th anniversary — a run that has made it a staple of family holiday traditions and an icon of American pop culture. The show won an Emmy and a Peabody award and began a string of more than two dozen Peanuts specials.

Last year, 13.6 million people watched it, making it the 18th-most-popular show on television the week it aired; CSI was first. One advertiser on the show, financial services giant MetLife, has contracted to use Peanuts characters in its advertising since 1985 and will continue through at least 2012.

Schulz, who died in 2000, never doubted the power of his tale of Charlie Brown's quest for the true meaning of Christmas amid the garish trappings of a commercialized holiday. "It comes across in the voice of a child," says Jeannie Schulz, the wife of the cartoonist, whose friends called him Sparky. "Sparky used to say there will always be a market for innocence."

Peter Robbins, now 49, was the voice of Charlie Brown. "This show poses a question that I don't think had been asked before on television: Does anybody know the meaning of Christmas?"

Parents like Molly Kremidas, 39, who grew up adoring A Charlie Brown Christmas, watch it with their kids. "It's the values in the story," says Kremidas, of Winston-Salem, N.C. She'll watch tonight with daughter Sofia, 6. "Would there be any programs for children on today that could get away with talking about the real meaning of Christmas? I don't think so."

Erin Kane, 36, is eager for her 3-year-old son Tommy to watch the program for the first time tonight in their Boston home. "The Christmas season doesn't start," Kane says, "until Charlie Brown is on."

Hip but wholesome

On paper, the show's bare-bones script would seem to offer few clues to its enduring popularity. Mendelson says the show was written in several weeks, after Coca-Cola called him just six months before the program aired to ask if Schulz could come up with a Peanuts Christmas special.

Charlie Brown, depressed as always, can't seem to get into the Christmas spirit. His friend and nemesis Lucy suggests that he direct the gang's Christmas play. But the Peanuts crew is focused on how many presents they're going to get, not on putting on a show.

"Just send money. How about tens and twenties?" says Charlie's sister Sally as she dictates a letter to Santa Claus.

Charlie goes to find a Christmas tree to set the mood. He returns with a scrawny specimen that prompts his cohorts to mock him as a blockhead. In desperation, Charlie asks if anyone can explain to him what Christmas is all about.

"Sure, I can," says his friend Linus, who proceeds to recite the story of the birth of Jesus from the book of Luke in the King James Version of the Bible. "And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men,' " Linus says. "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Scholars of pop culture say that shining through the program's skeletal plot is the quirky and sophisticated genius that fueled the phenomenal popularity of Schulz's work, still carried by 2,400 newspapers worldwide even though it's repeating old comic strips.

The Christmas special epitomizes the nostalgic appeal of holiday television classics for baby boomers raised as that medium gained prominence, says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Thompson notes that other Christmas specials made during the same era — such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman - also air each year to strong ratings.

"This is the only time in the year when TV programs from the LBJ years play on network television and do very, very well," he says. "For millions of baby boomers, these things became as much a holiday tradition as hanging a stocking or putting up a tree."

What makes A Charlie Brown Christmas the "gold standard" in Thompson's view is that it somehow manages to convey an old-fashioned, overtly religious holiday theme that's coupled with Schulz's trademark sardonic, even hip, sense of humor.

While Schulz centers the piece on verses from the Bible, laced throughout are biting references to the modern materialism of the Christmas season. Lucy complains to Charlie that she never gets wants she really wants. "What is it you want?" Charlie asks. "Real estate," she answers.

"A key element in all of Schulz's work is his sense of man's place in the scheme of things in a theological sense as well as a psychological sense," says Thomas Inge, an English and humanities professor at Randolph-Macon College who edited a series of interviews with Schulz released in 2000. "Then there's this slightly cynical attitude that makes everything work."

Parents say the combination of humor and bedrock values is what draws them and their children to the show. "It does provide a balance, but it's a balance that we as a society have forgotten about," says Patrick Lemp, 43, of West Hartford, Conn. He'll watch tonight with son Brendan, 13.

"This is one of the last shows that actually comes out and talks about the meaning of Christmas. As a society, we're taking religion out of a lot of the trappings of the holiday. This one is different."

A cultural footprint

Much about A Charlie Brown Christmas was revolutionary for network TV, even beyond its religious themes.

The voices of children had not been used before in animation, a technique Mendelson, Melendez and Schulz all wanted to try.

"Lee didn't want to use Hollywood kids. He wanted the sound of kids who didn't have training," says Sally Dryer, 48, who did the voice of Violet — the little girl who mocks Charlie Brown for not getting any Christmas cards. In later specials, she was Lucy's voice.

Mendelson sent tape recorders home with all his employees in Burlingame, Calif. Dryer, then 8, was chosen because her sister worked for the Mendelson crew. Robbins and Christopher Shea, the voice of Linus, were the only children with professional acting experience in the cast.

The show was also novel in that it used no laugh track, an omnipresent device in animated and live-action comedies of the era. Schulz strongly believed that his audience could figure out when to laugh.

Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the show has been its score — a piano-driven jazz suite that was absolutely unheard-of for children's programming in 1965.

Guaraldi, the composer and pianist, was best known for a 1962 hit called Cast Your Fate To the Wind. Mendelson liked it so much that he hired Guaraldi to score a documentary about Schulz that never aired. When the Christmas program was sold, parts of that music were incorporated.

The driving tune that the Peanuts children keep dancing to in the special, called Linus and Lucy, has become a pop staple that's been recorded countless time in the intervening decades.

A new version of the soundtrack was released last month for the 40th anniversary. It features Vanessa Williams, Christian McBride, David Benoit and others.

The song that opens the program, Christmas Time is Here, was written only for piano by Guaraldi, but Mendelson decided to add words to appease other network concerns. When he found his songwriter friends in California were all tied up, Mendelson wrote the words himself on the back of an envelope.

"So now it's a standard," says Mendelson, now 72. "Who knew? I tell people that I'm old and I'm lucky."

Jazz pianist George Winston, recorded a 1996 tribute album to Guaraldi, who died in 1976. He says that when he plays Guaraldi tunes at concerts, young children come up later and say, "Hey, that's the Peanuts music!"

Says Winston: "Vince made a stamp on our popular culture that will never go away. For an artist, that's the ultimate tribute."

A sweet memory

The Christmas special has become a key part of the Peanuts marketing empire, which racks up $1.2 billion in annual retail sales, $350 million of which come in the USA. Millions of VCR tapes and DVDs of the program are in circulation worldwide.

The 40th anniversary has spawned a long list of spinoff products, including a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" at Urban Outfitters and a paperback version of a book Mendelson wrote, The Making of a Tradition: A Charlie Brown Christmas. And the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., where Schulz lived, plans a special commemoration on Dec. 17 with Mendelson and several cast members. The museum also has an exhibit on the Christmas show that runs through Jan. 9.

"It's a tradition, along with White Christmas, A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life," says Marion Hull, 77, who toured the exhibit on Friday. "It's simple, it tells a simple story, and it's something that both adults and children can get something out of."

For those who worked to make the program — as well as fans who watch it — its material success seems ancillary. The word that keeps coming up is "sweet."

Robbins, who is single, has no children and manages an apartment building in Encino, Calif., loves that kids of friends squeal with delight each Christmas that "Uncle Pete used to be Charlie Brown."

Jeannie Schulz, who was the artist's second wife when they married in 1973, says their five children, 25 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren see the show as a holiday tradition as well.

"The reason it's endured is because of its simplicity and its very basic honesty to real life," she says. "Who would have thought this would last 40 years? How did that happen?"

For many viewers, it is the speech by Linus from Luke near the end that packs the biggest emotional wallop.

Christopher Shea was just 7 when he did the part and credits Melendez's coaching and his mom's doctorate in 17th-century British literature for Linus' lilting eloquence with a Biblical text.

Shea, who now lives in Eureka, Calif., with two daughters, 11 and 16, answers quickly when asked why the special has proved so enduring. "It's the words," he says.

Shea says that for years, in his teens and 20s, he didn't quite understand his soliloquy's impact.

"People kept coming up to me and saying, 'Every time I watch that, I cry,' " he says. "But as I got older, I understood the words more, and I understood the power of what was going on. Now I cry, too."

Contributing: Editor's note: USA TODAY reporter Bill Nichols first watched A Charlie Brown Christmas on Dec. 9, 1965. He was 7. This Thanksgiving, he watched a tape of it with his son, Charlie, 3, for the first time.

Reactions to the surge

Here's a story from USA Today about the reaction to the idea of a surge in troops.

I happen to agree with what Senator Reid said:

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that if it were a short-term increase, "won't our adversaries simply adjust their tactics, wait us out and wait until we reduce again? So I think you'd have to ask very serious questions about the utility of this."

I think it is a very valid point. They can easily wait us out. Also who's to take over once the troops leave. I hope Democrats and Republicans raise some really hard questions. I hope they don't roll over like they did when Bush lead us into this war. Most important the legislative branch needs to act like an actual branch of the federal government instead of the executive branch's door mat.

It will be interesting to see when Bush announces his new strategy if he briefs Congress on it. It will also be interesting to see the reaction of the American people. I don't think sending in more troops is what they had in mind when they votes in November.


Got your Wii? Taken steps to make sure that the wrist remote doesn't end up embedded in your TV?

Now I can understand if this was a Microsoft product. Microsoft releases something and in the first 5 minutes that it is out they usually have four or five updates to it.

I think this is a very funny story. Don't people test these things? Here's a story from the Post about it.

For Wii Players, a Swing and an Unexpected Hit

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006; Page D01

Nintendo's new game console has been flying off the shelves at retail stores across the country this season. And some game fans are reporting that the Wii's controller has been flying, somewhat unexpectedly, across their living rooms.

The company offered this week to replace a wrist strap included with the new console after reports that Wii controllers had slipped from players' hands and, in some cases, into TV screens and windows.

Released last month, Wii uses an innovative controller that lets people replicate the actual motion of hitting a ball when playing, for example, a tennis or baseball game.

The strap is designed to keep the controller anchored to a player's wrist, but some users have reported that it's too fragile and can break after a few vigorous sessions.

Reports of broken windows and cracked TV screens have filled gamer blogs, but the stories already have earned a certain mythic status on the Web. When one site posted a picture this week of a player with a Wii-related black eye, another site debunked it as a work of Photoshop fakery.

One game fan, Jim Walsh of Akron, Ohio, has launched a site -- to chronicle the injuries. If he gets his own Wii for Christmas, "maybe I'll put some Plexiglass in front of my TV or something," he said.

Wii owners can find information about the replacement strap at

The temporary surge

From what I’ve been reading the new way forward for the Bush administration is a temporary surge in American troops. They would be concentrated in Baghdad. They would be there to take on Sadr’s army.

Supposedly there is intense political effort going on to realign the Maliki government so as to include those members of parliament loyal to Sadr. With the Sadr representatives out of the way it is thought Maliki would be able to support the American effort to crush Sadr’s army. Maliki has shown that he is very much beholden to Sadr. It was orders from Maliki which removed the road blocks from around Sadr City in Baghdad. Almost immediately after those road blocks were removed there were attacks in Sadr City.

How is this surge to be accomplished. By keeping American forces in Iraq that were supposed to be leaving and sending in the next rotation early. The plan is to increase the number of troops anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000. Further straining the military’s capability. It is also just unfair to the troops that were promised that they could go home. This is not the first time this has been pulled. I have to believe that this would be devastating to morale. Once again because of the incompetency of the Bush administration the armed forces are paying the price.

It should also be pointed out that this was tried early this year with Operation Together Forward II. It was a failure. Why should this time around be any different? What is to say that the maneuvers to get Sadr out of the government will work. Should Sadr’s influence be removed the government what is to say that Maliki will be any more cooperative this time around.

How long will the surge last? Perhaps more to the point once it is over will the Iraqi forces be ready to take up the slack. This was a point Prime Minister Blair made. What happens after the surge? Does anyone really think there will be enough time to bring the Iraqis up to speed. The problem throughout this was has been the lack of manpower. American forces have been able to go into areas and clear out the bad guys. However, there have never been enough troops in Iraq to hold the ground. So once the Americans leave the bad guys come back.

Why will this time be any different?

Staying the Course

It was a thumpin’ he said. The American people had spoken. He was going to listen. There would be a change in course in Iraq. He was open to all sorts of new ideas. Ideas were being considered in the White House that had never been contemplated before. Rumsfeld was forced out. Gates came in. Gates was his own man. Going to speak his mind. Senators fell all over themselves in their praise. The Iraq Study Group Report had good ideas. Bush would look at them all. He’d listen to all viewpoints.

What happened?

Bush did listen to all sorts of viewpoints. However, any viewpoint that did not mirror his own was rejected. To paraphrase Bush there are a lot of plans and ideas out there but they would lead to defeat. Bush will only endorse plans that lead to victory in Iraq. In other words the Iraq Study Group Report is dead. Except for the recommendation about a surge in troops for a limited time.

There’s an article in the Post today about Bush being stubborn or stalwart. Many of Bush’s defenders say he does listen to other points of view more often then people think.

Bush may be listening but the problem is he doesn’t hear what people are saying.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Rumsfeld's exit

As Donald Rumsfeld exits as Secretary of Defense more evidence of the strain his policies has put on the military. The idea of the lean mean fighting machine so greatly advocated by Rumsfeld has come back to haunt the military. This man cannot leave too soon.

And yet someone even in the end anyone who dares to oppose his idea is somehow a traitor. Rumsfeld had this to say: “It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and, indeed, the ugliness of combat,” Rumsfeld said, choking up slightly as he capped a roster of speakers at his pomp-filled goodbye ceremony. “But the enemy thinks differently.”

Gee Don how about an actual plan on what to do once you’ve taken over a country? How about some sort of recognition that the policies you are pursuing are not getting the job done? How about checking your ego at the door and coming up with plans that will make Iraq work?

There are those who for a very long time said we shouldn’t be there and we should just get out. But there were also people who thought what we were doing was the right thing but believed the plans in place were not working. Neither group are traitors; neither group is pro-terrorist. They have just different ideas on what should be done. It’s called a democracy.

And it was your job Mr.. Secretary to see what was going wrong and try and fix it. Not continue to say that Iraq was coming up roses. Not blame the press for only reporting the bad news when it was obvious the plan in place was not working.

However, anyone taking heart from Rumsfeld leaving should be warned. The person who approved all the policies and supported all the policies is still in place. And Bush it seems has decided not to listen to anyone. There will be no change in course. Mr. Gates openess and frankness are meaningless unless he can change Bush’s mind.

The Iraq Study Group Report is DOA.

What we are going to have is stay the course on steroids.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The other costs of the war

Iraq continues to take its toll. This story from the Washington Post about the army and marines asking for an increase in the number or troops.

The Army and Marine Corps are planning to ask incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Congress to approve permanent increases in personnel, as senior officials in both services assert that the nation’s global military strategy has outstripped their resources.

Although the numbers talked about in the article don’t rally seem all that large but I suppose it is a start. It’s been obvious for awhile the toll the Iraq war has taken on the armed forces. To be specific the army and marines. The costs of replacing all the equipment lost will be huge. The costs of the army equipping the national guard units it plans to use for rotations will be $36 billion. I have to assume that that is a best case guess of the total cost.

The toll on personnel seems to be equally devastating. Some units will be starting their third tour of duty. This is a great deal to expect of the army and marines. At some point without some sort of relief, a breaking point could be reached. The additional troops won’t be available for a few years . The army is planning to have 70 active-duty and National Guard combat brigades available for rotations by 2011. But that’s three year away.

I worry about what happens in the meantime. I guess we hope nothing else bad happens in the world.

Lost in the shuffle

Lost in the shuffle of the Iraq Study Group Report being released was another report. This one from the House ethics committee on Mark Foley. The conclusion: no House rules were broken by any of the lawmakers or staffers who had ample warning of Foley's problem and failed to do anywhere near enough to stop him.

Here's a column from Ruth Marcus on the subject.

All I can say is another scandal swept under the rug. If this was in any large corporation and this sort of thing had happened heads would have rolled. But what can you expect from Congress. More of this crap. Maybe it will change in January.

Friday, December 08, 2006

And now for something completely different

My brother sent this to me and I decided to pass it along (I apologize in advance for the pun).

Plane forced to land after passenger passes gas, lights match to cover

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It is considered polite to light a match after
passing gas. Not while on a plane.

An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing
Monday morning after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of
flatulence, authorities said.

The Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Nashville after several
passengers reported smelling burning sulfur from the matches, said
Lynne Lowrance, spokeswoman for the Nashville International Airport
Authority. All 99 passengers and five crew members were taken off and
screened while the plane was searched and luggage was screened.

The FBI questioned a passenger who admitted she struck the matches in
an attempt to conceal a “body odor,” Lowrance said. She had an
unspecified medical condition, authorities said.

“It’s humorous in a way but you feel sorry for the individual, as
well,” she said. “It’s unusual that someone would go to those measures
to cover it up.”

The flight took off again, but the woman was not allowed back on the
plane. The woman, who was not identified, was not charged in the

Now as funny as this is I'd like to ask how did someone get matches on a plane. Wouldn't that be an item people would be prevented from taking on a plane?

Baker-Hamilton part two

Baker-Hamilton Part II

Well there’s already been a reaction from the Bush administration. It seems very unlikely there will be any talking to Syria or Iran regarding Iraq. From his news conference with Tony Blair, Bush called himself “disappointed by the pace of success” and said that “we’ll change it if we want to succeed.” He was then challenged by a British reporter that who essential said that that statement made Bush seem out of touch with what is going on in Iraq. Bush seems unable to admit that things in Iraq are really really going badly and unless he does this how is there ever going to be a change in strategy.

Well back to the report. This time around text from the report will be in italics the blockqoute route didn’t work all that well.

The next section of the report deals with the consequences of Iraq falling apart.

Ambassadors from neighboring countries told us that they fear the distinct possibility of Sunni-Shia clashes across the Islamic world. Many expressed a fear of Shia insurrections—perhaps fomented by Iran—in Sunni-ruled states.

Terrorism could grow. As one Iraqi official told us, “Al Qaeda is now a franchise in Iraq, like McDonald’s.” Left unchecked, al Qaeda in Iraq could continue to incite violence between Sunnis and Shia.

What a sad comment. Al Qaeda is now a franchise. Once again a little bit of planning by the Bush administration as to what to do after the war would have been great. I realized we were in trouble from this following story. The marines were sending soldiers to train Iraqi MPs. This unit was still in the US when the war ended. They were going to go to Germany and then on to Iraq. They wouldn’t actually be in Iraq fro several months. My reaction was what the hell’s going to happen in the mean time. This unit should have been forward deployed in Germany before the start of the war. It then should have been in Iraq days not months after the war was “over.” You can find example after example of this type of planning or lack thereof. This is the reason we are in the mess that we are in Iraq.

If Iraqis continue to perceive Americans as repre-senting an occupying force, the United States could become its own worst enemy in a land it liberated from tyranny.

I can’t see how this changes unless by some miracle the violence can be stopped or significantly reduced.

The next section deals with the three choice in what to do in Iraq. They boil down to (and this is nothing new): 1. getting out right away (cut and run as the Republicans would say); 2. staying the course which was the administration’s plan until right before the election when it said it never advocated staying the course; 3. more troops (which I have to believe at this point in time will never happen); 4. breaking Iraq apart. All of these are rejected. The report then says the following:

We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the President: an Iraq that can “govern itself, sustain itself, and de-fend itself.” In our view, this definition entails an Iraq with a broadly representative government that maintains its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorism a sanc-tuary, and doesn’t brutalize its own people. Given the current situation in Iraq, achieving this goal will require much time and will depend primarily on the actions of the Iraqi people. In our judgment, there is a new way forward for the United States to support this objective, and it will offer people of Iraq a reasonable opportunity to lead a better life than they did under Saddam Hussein. Our recommended course has shortcomings, as does each of the policy alternatives we have reviewed. We firmly believe, however, that it includes the best strategies and tactics available to us to positively influence the outcome in Iraq and the region. We believe that it could enable a responsible transition that will give the Iraqi people a chance to pursue a better future, as well as serving America’s interests and values in the years ahead.

There are then 79 recommendations in creating a new approach to Iraq. Here are the ones that I think are important some which stand of change of being implemented and others that have none.

There are a number or recommendations for engaging the countries around Iraq in helping to solve the problems in Iraq. The report says:

The United States must build a new international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. In order to foster such consensus, the United States should embark on a robust diplomatic effort to establish an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region. This support structure should in-clude every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors—Iran and Syria among them. Despite the well-known differences between many of these countries, they all share an interest in avoiding the horrific consequences that would flow from a chaotic Iraq, particularly a humanitarian catastrophe and regional destabilization.

To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked.

This is very obvious and very hard to do much about. But it should be tried. In fact it should have been tried once the was in Lebanon was over. I read yesterday that Secretary Rice will head to the region next year. Why not now? The one thing about all of this is time is running out. Doesn’t anyone get that? The president is going to read these reports and then make a decision on what the new policy will be before Christmas. We need to get our collective asses in gear. My feeling is it is only going to take one more big event like what happened on Thanksgiving and it’s over. All our plans will be meaningless than. MOVE MOVE MOVE NOW!!

The main upshot of this is this:

Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differ-ences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Sup-port Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.

There are four different recommendations on this. Bush’s response comes from the Washington Post: [Bush] repeated his refusal to talk with Iran and Syria unless Tehran suspends its uranium-enrichment program, Damascus stops interfering in Lebanon and both drop their support for terrorist groups. “The truth of the matter is that these countries have now got the choice to make,” Bush said. “If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it’s easy: Just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict.”

There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 com-mitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and particularly Syria—which is the principal transit point for shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, and which sup-ports radical Palestinian groups.

Can Iraq be solved without dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yes you might be able to do that. But effort has to made to solve the situation in that other part of the middle east. If an effort is made and hopefully some progress made it can help show that the US is an honest broker in the are. Most importantly that it didn’t invade Iraq just for the oil.

RECOMMENDATION 18: It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military sup-port for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq.

The forgotten war. The taliban is coming back. The poppy trade is on the rise. We seem to have forgotten the first war we started in the region. The war that most of the world thought the US had a right to wage.

The next section deals with helping the Iraqis themselves:

The most important issues facing Iraq's future are now the responsibility of Iraq’s elected leaders. Because of the security and assistance it provides, the United States has a significant role to play. Yet only the government and people of Iraq can make and sustain certain decisions critical to Iraq’s future.

It should be unambiguous that continued U.S. political, military, and economic support for Iraq depends on the Iraqi government’s demonstrating political will and making substantial progress toward the achievement of mile-stones on national reconciliation, security, and governance. The transfer of command and control over Iraqi security forces units from the United States to Iraq should be influenced by Iraq’s performance on milestones.

RECOMMENDATION 21: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of mile-stones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or eco-nomic support for the Iraqi government.

Ok how does this one work. If you don’t make progress we'll reduce our aid to Iraq. Then what? There’s a laundry list of goals: approval of the de-baathification law, approval of the militia law, approval of amnesty agreement etc. There are also deadlines associated with each of these. I just don’t see what pulling our aid gets us. Let’s say the Iraqi government just doesn’t want to do these things or can’t do these things. Maliki has had little interest in taking on Sadr. In fact it almost looks like Sadr is calling the shots. Like I said I don’t see how this one gets us anywhere.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

This should never have happened in the first place. The US should have determined who the real bad guys were and gotten them out of the government and the armed forces. Those that were left could have been used to stabilize the country. But from the genius of Ambassador Bremer we got rid of all those people. Once again a little historical perspective would have been helpful. After World War II we dealt with many Nazi in Germany. We needed them to keep the country going. And we dealt with some pretty bad Nazi. We could have done the same thing in Iraq. In the government a huge amount of institutional knowledge was lost because of this stupid stupid policy.

RECOMMENDATION 35: The United States must make ac-tive efforts to engage all parties in Iraq, with the exception of al Qaeda. The United States must find a way to talk to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and militia and insurgent leaders.

RECOMMENDATION 36: The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities, as outlined in the New Diplomatic Offensive above. It should press religious leaders inside and outside Iraq to speak out on behalf of peace and reconciliation.

This seems a little pie in the sky. Sistani seems to have washed his hands of the whole mess and Sadr is well a terrorist. I suppose at this point in time it is worth trying anything. But will they have any influence to control what’s happening on the ground in Iraq. It almost seems that events now have a life of their own.

The report then details how outside organizations can help with the internal situation in Iraq specifically in the need to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate militia members into society (now doesn’t that sound like a fun job to have). The international community has shown little or no interest in helping out. The main thing they point out that it is not safe for them to be there. But if these organizations were there they might help improve the overall security in the country. Again a chicken and egg proposition. You can’t blame these organizations for not wanting to send their people into harms way especially now since the country looks like it is falling apart. Also this would have been a good strategy say a year ago. Part of the problem is the start up time involved in getting people on the ground; it might just take too long.

Section 3 deals with security and military forces. Here are some excerpts from the report on the subject

The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations.

One of the most important elements of our support would be the imbedding of substantially more U.S. military personnel in all Iraqi Army battalions and brigades, as well as within Iraqi companies.

While these efforts are building up, and as additional Iraqi brigades are being deployed, U.S. combat brigades could begin to move out of Iraq. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

I have a great many questions on this. Who protects those Americans embedded in the Iraqi units? Do we trust the Iraqis? There have been a couple of reports on the news about American troops saying they don’t trust the Iraqi troops. That they are not really ready to pull their full weight. How does having more trainers make the Iraqis any more ready? It also seems a rather short period of time to bring them up to speed. But of course it would be in time for the presidential election.

Section 4 deals with the police.

The problems in the Iraqi police and criminal justice system are profound. The ethos and training of Iraqi police forces must support the mission to “protect and serve” all Iraqis. Today, far too many Iraqi police do not embrace that mission, in part because of problems in how reforms were organized and implemented by the Iraqi and U.S. governments.

The United States has been more successful in training the Iraqi Army than it has the police.

I don’t even know where to start on this one. That is scary on just so many levels. The main point here is the training of the police has been done by the wrong people. The Defense Department has been doing the training of the police. The recommendation is for the US Department of Justice to take over the training. Why wasn’t this done a long time ago.

The final sections deal with the oil sector, US economic assistance and budge prepartion and review. One of the thing the report mentions is : Experts estimate that 150,000 to 200,000—and perhaps as many as 500,000—barrels of oil per day are being stolen. Wow.

So what to think of this 96 page document.

I’m going to mull it some but here are a quick few impressions.

What took so long? I know the answer to this the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize what was really going on in Iraq as opposed to it Pollyanna approach.

Why wasn’t something like this done before the invasion with scenarios from best to worse case.

The options presented on what to do in Iraq are not all that new. The options have just been all gathered and put into one place.

Is this the panacea it was presented as in some places? No it is not.

It does essential say the Bush approach has failed and that something new must be done. The options are not all that rosy. I fear that the time for Washington to influence what is going on on the ground in Iraq may have passed. Passed because of the terrible decisions made by the Bush administration.

Before anything else can happen before anything can be move forward, Bush and his administration has to really admit that they screwed up in Iraq. So far that does not seem to be the case.

We’ll see what happens in the following weeks. But the most important thing that must be realized no matter what course is taken that time is very very short.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First observations of Baker-Hamilton

I figured the easiest way to do this was to comment as I went along. So I’m going to read sections and then comment on them. Here’s my take on the first part of the report. Those parts of the report I’m reproducing will be block quote text.

However, the ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing.

The problem as I see it is that it already may be too late to influence anything on the ground. The word is Bush will read this report and one being prepared by the Joint Chiefs and another I think by the State Department. Bush will then make some decisions and make a speech to the country before Christmas. Do we have a couple of weeks to take to decide on what to do. I think literally every second counts especially if we have an event in Iraq like we did on Thanksgiving.

Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.

As much as I would like to see us out of Iraq as soon as possible, there are people there who believed that we would make their country better. They have helped the Americans out and the new government and have put their lives and the lives of their friends and family at risk. It is simple not right to just plain leave. The American government said we would make life for Iraqis better and we sure as hell have to do our best to make sure that happens. I reminded of one interview where I guy said he picked his route to work based on where car bombs had not gone off.

Some 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month.

The sentence speaks for itself.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is now largely Iraqi-run and composed of Sunni Arabs. Foreign fighters—numbering an estimated 1,300—play a supporting role or carry out suicide operations. Al Qaeda’s goals include instigating a wider sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia, and driving the United States out of Iraq.

This was made possible by the inability of the US to restore order in Iraq. It was made possible by not having enough troops after “Mission Accomplished” to make sure we could secure the peace. It was made possible by a total lack of historical knowledge of the history of Iraq.

Some criminal gangs cooperate with, finance, or purport to be part of the Sunni insurgency or a Shiite militia in order to gain legitimacy. As one knowledgeable American official put it, "If there were foreign forces in New Jersey, Tony Soprano would be an insurgent leader."

Once again this was made possible by not having enough forces to restore and maintain order after Saddam fell. Instead we get the attitude from the Secretary of Defense that stuff happens and you have to expect a little looting. Yes, you can expect a little looting but it should never have been tolerated. By turning a blind eye to it, American encouraged it.

Currently, the U.S. military rarely engages in large-scale combat operations. Instead, counterinsurgency efforts focus on a strategy of “clear, hold, and build"—"clearing" areas of insurgents and death squads, "holding" those areas with Iraqi security forces, and "building" areas with quick-impact reconstruction projects.

This policy clearly is not working or at least not working well. The problem again was the decision to go lean on the number of forces sent to Iraq. One does have to wonder if there had been 50,000 more American troops in Iraq what that would have stopped. They could have been used to protect the infrastructure. Also one has to wonder if the incredibly stupid idea of disbanding the Iraqi army (thank you Ambassador Bremer) had not been done. The rational was that they all were Sunnis. Well maybe you wouldn’t have hired them all back at the same time. Maybe you could have called up 5,000 or so a month. This would have greatly increased the ability to secure the nation. It would have also made those who came back have an active stake in the success of the government. And most importantly they would be employed. Getting a paycheck makes one more likely to support the place where the money is coming from.

Nearly every U.S. Army and Marine combat unit, and several National Guard and Reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once.

Many military units are under significant strain. Because the harsh conditions in Iraq are wearing out equipment more quickly than anticipated, many units do not have fully functional equipment for training when they redeploy to the United States.

In many cases units are going back to Iraq for the third time. How may times does one tempt fate. There have been numerous articles on the vast toll the war is taking on the equipment and how the Department of Defense can not keep up with what has to be replaced.

On to the Iraqi army:

Although the Army is one of the more professional Iraqi institutions, its performance has been uneven. The training numbers are impressive, but they represent only part of the story.

Units lack equipment. They cannot carry out their missions without adequate equipment. Congress has been generous in funding requests for U.S. troops, but it has resisted fully funding Iraqi forces. The entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces for FY 2006 ($3 billion) is less than the United States currently spends in Iraq every two weeks.

On the ABC news tonight they were talking to US troops about the Iraqi troops. When they had missions to go on, the Americans would tell the Iraqis where to show up but not what the mission was about. A soldier was asked point blank if he trusted the Iraqi troops and he said no. How does one train and equip and have any confidence in the Iraqi army if you don't trust them. I have to believe that this is not the only US soldier to feel this way.

In a major effort to quell the violence in Iraq, U.S. military forces joined with Iraqi forces to establish security in Baghdad with an operation called "Operation Together Forward II," which began in August 2006.

The results of Operation Together Forward II are disheartening. Violence in Baghdad—already at high levels—jumped more than 43 percent between the summer and October 2006.

The reason for the failure is answered in the report itself.

U.S. forces can "clear" any neighborhood, but there are neither enough U.S. troops present nor enough support from Iraqi security forces to “hold” neighbor-hoods so cleared.

Not enough boots on the ground. Something that the arrogant Bush administration would never and even now barely admits to.

Moqtada al-sadr: Sadr has a large following among impoverished Shia, particularly in Baghdad. He has joined Maliki's governing coalition, but his Mahdi Army has clashed with the Badr Brigades, as well as with Iraqi, U.S.,and U.K. forces. Sadr claims to be an Iraqi nationalist.Several observers remarked to us that Sadr was following the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon: building a political party that controls basic services within the government and an armed militia outside of the government.

I know it is wrong to go around and kill people but I do have to say why the hell isn’t this guy dead. Why didn't the US take him out a couple of years ago instead of playing footsie with the guy. Newsweek had a great picture of Sadr on the cover where he looked like the devil incarnate. Does anyone think that if he was not on the scene things would not be better. He has an army that’s almost as big as the current Iraqi one. Where's some extra polonium 210 when you need it. Maybe we can ask Mr. Putin for some help on this one.

National reconciliation. There is a whole section dedicated to this in the book and the problems with it. One of the reasons:

Because Iraq's energy resources are in the Kurdish and Shia regions, there is no economically feasible "Sunni region." Particularly contentious is a provision in the constitution that shares revenues nationally from current oil re-serves, while allowing revenues from reserves discovered in the future to go to the regions.

One of the solutions put forth is to divide the country into three parts. I don’t see how this works. The Kurds would have oil. The Shiites would have oil. The Sunnis would have none. The state would collapse.

Iraq's leaders often claim that they do not want a division of the country, but we found that key Shia and Kurdish leaders have little commitment to national reconciliation.

Yet many of Iraq’s most powerful and well-positioned leaders are not working toward a united Iraq.

A main problem going in to Iraq was the idea that there was a sense of an Iraqi nation. Well there really isn’t one. Iraq came into being after World War I from some of the Ottoman territories. European diplomats spread maps on the floor and got down on their hands and knees and decided the boundaries of countries. They took in little or no consideration for what groups of people were where. This is still a very tribal area. You stick with your tribe or your religious sect. The country you happen to be in gets your allegiance last. We need to think of Iraq as a feudal state and then the divisions make much more sense.

On to the militias:

Though Prime Minister Maliki has said he will address the problem of militias, he has taken little meaningful action to curb their influence. He owes his office in large part to Sadr and has shown little willingness to take on him or his Mahdi Army.

Sunni politicians told us that the U.S. military has to take on the militias; Shia politicians told us that the U.S. military has to help them take out the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda. Each side watches the other. Sunni insurgents will not lay down arms unless the Shia militias are disarmed. Shia militias will not disarm until the Sunni insurgency is destroyed. To put it simply: there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms.

Again don't think of this in the sense of a modern state think of it as a feudal society. Lip service is paid to the central government and then the lords go off and do what they want. Henry II of England paid homage for his lands in France to the king of France but Henry was much more powerful. The situation is very similar in Iraq. There is talk of support for the central government but when push comes to shove.

There is also very much the chicken or egg scenario. The Sunnis won't disarm until the Shia do. And it’s the same thing from the Shia perspective. I’m not sure how you get over that. The way to have prevented this was to have had enough troops in Iraq in the first place.

Despite the positive signs, many leading economic indicators are negative. Instead of meeting a target of 10 percent, growth in Iraq is at roughly 4 percent this year. Inflation is above 50 percent. Unemployment estimates range widely from 20 to 60 percent. The investment climate is bleak, with foreign direct investment under 1 percent of GDP. Too many Iraqis do not see tangible improvements in their daily economic situation.

Does anyone think with the Iraqi economy in this situation that a democracy is going to take hold? This is the type of an economy that breeds a dictator.

There is then a section on Iraq’s neighbors. I particularly like this section on our "great good friend and ally" Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. These countries for the most part have been passive and disengaged. They have de-clined to provide debt relief or substantial economic assistance to the Iraqi government. Several Iraqi Sunni Arab politicians complained that Saudi Arabia has not provided political sup-port for their fellow Sunnis within Iraq.

Gee with friends like that . . .

The conclusion to this section (which is where I’m going to stop for tonight) I’m just going to reprint. The words speak for themselves. I sure hope when the President of the United States reads them he actually gets what they mean.

The United States has made a massive commitment to the future of Iraq in both blood and treasure. As of December 2006, nearly 2,900 Americans have lost their lives serving in Iraq. An-other 21,000 Americans have been wounded, many severely. To date, the United States has spent roughly $400 billion on the Iraq War, and costs are running about $8 billion per month. In addition, the United States must expect significant “tail costs” to come. Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Es-timates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. in-volvement in Iraq. Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The Iraqi government cannot now govern, sustain, and defend itself without the support of the United States. Iraqis have not been convinced that they must take responsibility for their own future. Iraq’s neighbors and much of the international community have not been per-suaded to play an active and constructive role in supporting Iraq. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is di-minishing. Time is running out.

Iraq Study Group handoff

Here's an interesting take on whether Bush really means what he says about taking into consideration what's in the report. I think it is a very valid point with Cheney and ROve in place if the president will be willing to do some of the more radical suggestions in the report. Like talking to Iran and Syria. I think the answer to that is no.

I've gone through the first few pages and have highlighted what I think is important. I'll be sharing my thoughts on it soon.

Baker-Hamilton arrives

There is no guarantee for success in Iraq. The situation in Baghdad and several provinces is dire. Saddam Hussein has been removed from power and the Iraqi people have a demo-cratically elected government that is broadly representative of Iraq’s population, yet the government is not adequately ad-vancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or de-livering essential services. The level of violence is high and growing. There is great suffering, and the daily lives of many Iraqis show little or no improvement. Pessimism is pervasive.

This is the opening paragraph of the report. I’ll be commenting on it as I read through it.

Perhaps the Bush administration will be able to come up with some ideas, from this report and the others to be finished soon, to make the situation in Iraq better or at least not let it get worse. I fear the ability of any outside power to influence what’s going on on the ground may have passed. I hope on this one I’m wrong.

Funny story about pizza

I meant to link to this early.

This is a funny promotion that a pizza chain in New Zealand did.

My friend Arthur wrote about it. It seems to promote their Lust pizza the Hell pizza chain (yes this is all true the names have not been change to protect the innocent) included a condom in the delivery order. Here's the first mention of it. And here's a follow up post where the complaint against the company is upheld.

It makes me feel a little better to know that America is not the only place where there are right wing nuts. Then again I guess it really shouldn't make me feel better.


Congrats go out to Arthur in New Zealand for finally pursuading Apple to open an iTunes store in that country.

I was surprised when I was in New Zealand that there wasn't an Apple store especially in Auckland which I think is more than big enough to support one. But I was really surprised that they couldn't even get on iTunes.

Download away.

Christmas time is here

The Friday after Thanksgiving I start playing Christmas music. It's the only type of music I listen to until after New Years. For some reason this year I've been buying many Christmas CDs. One I got yesterday was by the Manhattan Transfer it's called An Acapella Christmas. It is just fantastic.

But so far my favorite this year is Better Midler's Cool Yule. Here are the lyrics from the title song:

"Cool Yule"

From Coney Island to The Sunset Strip
Somebody's gonna make a happy trip
Tonight, while the moon is bright

He's gonna have a bag of crazy toys
To give the groanies of the boys and girls
So dig, Santa comes on big

He'll come a callin' when the snows the most
When all you cats are sleepin' warm as toast
And you gonna flip when Old Saint Nick
Takes a lick on the peppernint stick

He'll come a flyin' from a higher place
And fill the stocking by the fire place
So you'll, have a yule that's cool

Yeah, from Coney Island to The Sunset Strip
Somebody's gonna make a happy trip
Tonight, while the moon is bright

He's gonna have a bag of crazy toys
To give the groanies of the boys and girls
So dig, Santa comes on big

He'll come a callin' when the snows the most
When all you cats are sleepin' warm as toast
And you gonna flip when the Old Saint Nick
Takes a lick on the peppernint stick

He'll come a flyin' from a higher place
And fill the stocking by the fire place
So you'll, have a yule that's cool

Have a yule that's cool
Yeah, cool yule

You should really get this CD.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

At the end of my street

Four blocks from my house is a shopping complex. There is a Home Depot. There is a Giant Foods. The Home Depot opened first just before I moved into my house. The Giant Foods came a few months later. There was one additional parcel of land. K-mart was supposed to be there but it went into bankruptcy. Over this summer the final area was developed. It’s a variety of stores.

There is needless to say a large parking lot. The Home Depot is on one side and the Giant and other stores are on the other.

Something else new has been added to the shopping area. It has suddenly become a magnet for day laborers. This past Saturday I was getting a Christmas wreath and couldn’t help but notice the number of men hanging out. While I was driving out of the parking lot, I counted at least 60 guys hanging out.

Less than a year ago no one was hanging out at all. Now 60 or more. When a car or truck looking for workers shows up it is mobbed.

One day I saw fifteen or more guys surrounding a truck that was already full. The driver was explaining that he had enough people for the job.

I have to assume that a large portion of these guys are illegal immigrants. My feeling on solving the problem is this: if you fined the employers for hiring illegals the problem would go away over night. Consumers would then be crying bloody murder because they would have to paying the going rate say for construction. Costs to employers would go up and those would be passed along.

But my point of this is how did the Home Depot parking lot turn into the day labor center. Like I said, less than a year ago there was no one hanging out. Around April or so guys started showing up. How did this happen? How does word spread to the laborers to start going there? How do employers know to go there?

I’m just curious as to the answer.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Well, it almost seems that it's not necessary to publish the report at all so much of it has been leaked to the Washington Post. It also seems that there is not going to be all that much new in it. Then again how many new ideas can there be for solving the mess in Iraq.

The one recommendation that of talking with Iran and Syria has already been rejected by the Bush administration so I guess we're back to stay the course.

This just shows that getting rid of Rumsfeld made very little difference because the thinking at the top hasn't changed any. And now there is talking of adding more troops for a short period of time and concentrating them in Baghdad. How will they do this? They accomplish this by extending the stay of troops that have already been there a year and were supposed to come home. At what point does the ability of the armed forces to do their jobs is imperiled by this sort of a policy.

Decorations phase II

Here is the second phase of lights. I'm hoping to do the last tomorrow that is if it is not too cold out. Friday it was in the 70s today it made it just into the 40s but then again it is December.