Thursday, September 27, 2007

Administration requests $189 Billion to fund war in 2008

If approved, this appropriation, the largest yet requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will cause the cost for the Iraq War alone to exceed the cost to America of the Vietnam War from 1964-1973 (adjusted to 2007 Dollars.)

In Vietnam, the military waged a massive war involving years of aerial and naval bombardment, massive Marine and Army ground offensives, counterinsurgencies, chemical warfare (spraying the jungles with "Agent Orange"), psychological operations, sabotage in North Vietnam, aerial bombardments in Cambodia and Laos. How is it possible Iraq could cost so much in terms of "national treasure"?

We are witnessing now the privatization of war. We currently have 190,000 contractors in Iraq. (Granted, some are low-wage laborers.) We have 163,000 troops there. War for profit. War as corporate enterprise. War that has no connection to the defense of the nation in whose name it is waged. Contractors earn over $100 an hour driving trucks. "Blackwater" contract mercenaries reportedly earn between $1,000 and nearly $5,000 an hour for their services protecting high level officials, manning roadblocks and other escort services. Equipment is scrapped rather than repaired. "There's always more where that came from." The stories are countless.

Meanwhile, the Administration asks for an increase of $42 Billion to "protect our troops". (He taunts Congress. You wouldn't deny our troops protection, would you?) When the Administration talks about our forces in Iraq, they only refer to the 163,000 troops, never to the true number of individuals we have involved in the conflict.

In 2002, the Pentagon estimated the war would cost America $50 Billon. This new appropriation would bring the cost of the Iraq War to well over $500 Billion in direct costs alone. (The Congressional Budget Office has stated that overall costs of the Iraq War could amount to $2 Trillion!)

And yet our President has stated "the generals on the ground" must decide how long we stay. Generals whose lives are defined by war and the threat of war. The same generals who likely have more than one offer of a lucrative position upon their retirement, a position with a corporation currently profiting from this endless war

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And I thought they just stayed home and watched TV at night

Curious about what this wall climbing was all about, I accompanied Jessica and Sergio to the "Vertex" climbing center in Santa Rosa. There, I discovered a whole new culture, and some amazingly-fit young people.

Sergio plays human fly

Talk about stretchability!

Look at those muscles!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reflection in a bathroom mirror

My favorite subject, on a piece of cardboard. It's the first portrait I've painted since I was 15. (I had more hair on top then.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

A new journey

It has been sixteen months since I've returned from my "Americas Trip". I've thought long and hard about a new direction, one I could "live with" (from the standpoint of conscience.)

Again, I drew on some dreams from the distant past. One had been to be an artist. That notion always evoked a sense of dread, a fear of the unknown, a fear of standing out, and being recognized. Much easier and more comfortable to blend into the backdrop.

But it would be intolerable to die having never tried the path to see if there is some discovery to be made there. So, overcoming a certain fear, I signed up for a beginning painting course at Santa Rosa Junior College. I painted a landscape when I was about 20. Prior to that, pursuit of art had pretty much come to an end at the age of 15, when I was counseled to follow more serious studies - the sciences and math. (I think I was listening to my mother.)

In my 40s, the interest in learning was reignited and I took numerous drawing courses at the JC. That was over ten years ago, and with the move to Mondavi Winery, and a total focus of attention to a demanding job, art was once again put on the shelf.

This may very well lead nowhere, but the process will answer a question I've lived with for forty years: "did I take a wrong turn somewhere???"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"As the Iraqis Stand Down, We'll Stand Up" by NY Times OP-ED columnist Frank Rich

Published: September 9, 2007

It will be all 9/11 all the time this week, as the White House yet again synchronizes its drumbeating for the Iraq war with the anniversary of an attack that had nothing to do with Iraq. Ignore that fog and focus instead on another date whose anniversary passed yesterday without notice: Sept. 8, 2002. What happened on that Sunday five years ago is the Rosetta Stone for the administration's latest scam.

That was the morning when the Bush White House officially rolled out its fraudulent case for the war. The four horsemen of the apocalypse Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice were dispatched en masse to the Washington talk shows, where they eagerly pointed to a front-page New York Times article amplifying subsequently debunked administration claims that Saddam had sought to buy aluminum tubes meant for nuclear weapons. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN, introducing a sales pitch concocted by a White House speechwriter.

What followed was an epic propaganda onslaught of distorted intelligence, fake news, credulous and erroneous reporting by bona fide journalists, presidential playacting and Congressional fecklessness. Much of it had been plotted that summer of 2002 by the then-secret White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a small task force of administration brass charged with the Iraq con job.

Today the spirit of WHIG lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent "nuclear holocaust" has been rebooted in President Bush's arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.

The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information "war room" conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House "facts" about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush's pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.

As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend's precisely timed "surprise" presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success "on the ground here in Anbar" (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base.

A more elaborate example of administration Disneyland can be found in those bubbly Baghdad markets visited by John McCain and other dignitaries whenever the cameras roll. Last week The Washington Post discovered that at least one of them, the Dora market, is a Potemkin village, open only a few hours a day and produced by $2,500 grants (a k a bribes) bestowed on the shopkeepers. "This is General Petraeus's baby," Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell told The Post. "Personally, I think it's a false impression." Another U.S. officer said that even shops that "sell dust" or merely "intend to sell goods" are included in the Pentagon's count of the market's reopened businesses.

One Baghdad visitor left unimpressed was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Chicago, who dined with her delegation in Mr. Crocker's Green Zone residence last month while General Petraeus delivered his spiel. "He's spending an awful lot of time wining and dining members of Congress," she told me last week. Though the menu included that native specialty lobster tortellini, the real bill of fare, Ms. Schakowsky said, was a rigid set of talking points: "Anbar," "bottom up," "decrease in violence" and "success."

In this new White House narrative, victory has been downsized to a successful antiterrorist alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and the American military in Anbar, a single province containing less than 5 percent of Iraq's population. In truth, the surge had little to do with this development, which was already being trumpeted by Mr. Bush in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.
Even if you believe that it's a good idea to bond with former Saddamists who may have American blood on their hands, the chances of this "bottom up" model replicating itself are slim. Anbar's population is almost exclusively Sunni. Much of the rest of Iraq is consumed by the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Shiite civil wars that are M.I.A. in White House talking points.

The "decrease in violence" fable is even more insidious. Though both General Petraeus and a White House fact sheet have recently boasted of a 75 percent decline in sectarian attacks, this number turns out to be as cooked as those tallies of Saddam's weapons sites once peddled by WHIG. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, it excludes Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence. The Government Accountability Office, which rejected that fuzzy math, found overall violence unchanged using the methodology practiced by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

No doubt General Petraeus, like Dick Cheney before him, will say that his own data is "pretty well confirmed" by classified intelligence that can't be divulged without endangering national security. Meanwhile, the White House will ruthlessly undermine any reality-based information that contradicts its propaganda, much as it dismissed the accurate W.M.D. findings of the United Nations weapon experts Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei before the war. General Petraeus intervened to soften last month's harsh National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.

Those benchmarks, the war's dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president's own benchmarks? Remember "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army's training and proclaimed it "on track and increasing in capacity" three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush's former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." On that scorecard, he's batting 0 for 3.

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

Next to such "real" news from CBS, the "fake" news at the network's corporate sibling Comedy Central was, not for the first time, more trustworthy. Rob Riggle, a "Daily Show" correspondent who also serves in the Marine Reserve, invited American troops in Iraq to speak candidly about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation.

When the line separating spin from reality is so effectively blurred, the White House's propaganda mission has once more been accomplished. No wonder President Bush is cocky again. Stopping in Sydney for the economic summit after last weekend's photo op in Iraq, he reportedly told Australia's deputy prime minister that "we're kicking ass." This war has now gone on so long that perhaps he has forgotten the price our troops paid the last time he taunted our adversaries to bring it on, some four years and 3,500 American military fatalities ago

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Project Censored's Top 25 News Stories for 2008

"Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media."

(To link to list, click on "book" above.)