Jefferson Must Step Down

This is going to be brief. Representative William Jefferson (D) has been filmed taking bribes, and someone has pled guilty to bribing him. He is corrupt. He must resign immediately because he has disgraced himself, his constituents, and our government.

I don’t give a damn about his excuses, that the FBI shouldn’t be allowed to search his office, or that his lawyers have advised him not to comment. He is dirty. He should go home.

Corruption in our government must not be tolerated.

UPDATE: The Congressional Black Caucus has rallied around Jefferson, and has decried Pelosi’s call for him to step down. I am usually a big fan of the CBC, but in this case I think they ought to reexamine the situation. Jefferson is corrupt, if not technically in the eyes of the law, certainly in the eyes of the public. He cannot be allowed to continue as a Representative if he may be corrupt. If he is cleared of all charges I will be the first to call for his reinstatement.

Our Decentralized Enemy

The Washington Post today included a piece about “Mustafa Setmariam Nasar,” an “Architect of New War on the West.” While it was interesting as a biographical sketch of a jihadist, the key point had more to do with the tactics he advocated:

From secret hideouts in South Asia, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaeda strategist published thousands of pages of Internet tracts on how small teams of Islamic extremists could wage a decentralized global war against the United States and its allies.

With the Afghanistan base lost, he argued, radicals would need to shift their approach and work primarily on their own, though sometimes with guidance from roving operatives acting on behalf of the broader movement.

This is the enemy we will be facing more and more in the future. Small groups of seemingly unremarkable people, united in hate of the United States and commitment to jihad against it. How do we fight this enemy?

I think it is clear that waging long, expensive wars against individual states is not the answer. This decentralization has emerged as a response to the U.S.’s ability to destroy almost any country on earth, like Afghanistan, if we think we should. Invading more countries won’t help. We have spent a huge amount of money and lives in Iraq, which was only peripherally (if that) affiliated with any Islamic terror groups. We have little to show for it. Contrary to the President’s assertions that we are “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” it is probably more a case that, if we put some Americans nearer to their territory, they are happy to kill those Americans while also learning military techniques. It is, at best, a delaying tactic–unless we plan to send human sacrifices into the middle east forever.
Nasar himself provides a clue as to a better way to fight these enemies:

“Let the American people — those who voted for killing, destruction, the looting of other nations’ wealth, megalomania and the desire to control others — be contaminated with radiation,” he wrote.

This statement shows us what it is that unites and motivates these decentralized groups to kill themselves for their cause. They blame the American people for a whole bunch of problems that exist in their homelands. Recognizing this motivation presents the opportunity to change it.

We cannot fight a traditional war against a miniscule fraction of the world’s population spread throughout its nations. We must combat their ideology of hate with our own extremely potent ideology of freedom and opportunity for all.

This would involve greatly increased foreign aid to the middle east, greatly increased involvement with and respect for the United Nations, expanded intelligence and diplomatic efforts toward the middle east, and a reduced role for the military.

Republicans Promote Gore’s Movie

I was delighted this morning when I read this piece by Sebastian Mallaby at the Washington Post website. I have criticized him in the past, but here he makes a very good point about the relationship between current Republican policies and the growing interest in Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth:

Ordinarily this film would never have been made, let alone scheduled for release in hundreds of theaters. But President Bush and the congressional Republicans have created a Ross Perot moment: a hunger for a leader with diagrams and charts, for a nerd who lays out basic facts ignored by blinkered government. By their contempt for expert opinion on everything from Iraqi reconstruction to the cost of their tax cuts, Republicans have turned Diagram Gore into a hero.

Everyone is getting tired of the factual relativism. People are getting tired of GOP delay tactics, like calling for more research, or making ever more bizarre claims about the ulterior motives of Americans who want to protect the environment. We want our government to face reality with creativity and confidence, not dithering and doublespeak.

Mallaby also nails the CEI ads I wrote about earlier:

In other words, the ads are nonsense. So are some of the assertions on the CEI Web site. The group suggests, for example, that polar bears have nothing to fear from the melting of their habitat. But the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment , a top-notch peer-reviewed source on this subject, has something different to say: “the reduction in sea ice is very likely to have devastating consequences for polar bears.”

The piece is full of references to actual scientific resources, and is worth reading in full. The Republicans are going to have to figure out a better way to face the challenges of global climate change than pretending it isn’t real. It’s real. Evidence will only continue to accumulate.

Brave Soldiers Still Dying

Just spent some time analyzing the most recent casualty figures in the Iraq War. Our brave soldiers are still dying, and my analysis revealed that, despite what pundits and politicians are saying, things don’t seem to be getting better–at least, not according to this metric.

Iraq Casualties May 2006

That thick red line is the linear trendline of the data points. As you can see, it has a slight upward slope, which means that, if we were predicting casualties into the future, we would predict steadily increasing U.S. solider deaths.

Meanwhile, this Washington Post story makes it clear that the situation in Iraq isn’t getting any simpler for our soldiers. Intensifying violence between Iraq’s different ethnic groups:

On Sunday, however, bombs apparently placed by Sunni insurgents claimed the greatest toll. In the largely Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-packed vest killed at least 18 people in a restaurant during lunchtime

. . .

“I saw burning pesh merga bodies thrown up in the air,” said taxi driver Kareem Khalaf, a witness, using the term for Kurdish militia members.

This is not the sort of situation that our soldiers are trained to fix. We should be having a conversation about why, specifically, these young people are dying, and whether it is sensible to stay the course when the course leads to ever-growing death.

We Call it Life

Ridiculous though they may be, there is something to be learned from these Pro-CO2 advertisements from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The ads make a simple logical claim:

  1. Premise: CO2 emissions result from all kinds of processes on Earth, like animals exhaling and the burning of fossil fuels for energy, which shows that CO2 is healthy, natural, and safe
  2. Premise: The burning of fossil fuels for energy has “freed us from backbreaking labor” by changing the way humans perform labor
  3. Conclusion: Curbing CO2 emissions would impose a burden on humanity (Premise 2) for no good reason (Premise 1)

This conclusion leads to a hilarious tagline: “They call it pollution. We call it life.”

Before I get into eviscerating this logical argument, it’s worth noting that the Competitive Enterprise Institute receives a portion of its funding from ExxonMobil and other companies, as described here.

Here is how the Washington Post describes the advertisements:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group that reflects the Bush administration’s free-market approach, unveiled a TV ad campaign this week that denounced efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions as unwarranted.

The Post’s phrasing conceals the true inanity of the CEI ads. The logical argument fails because Premise 1, above, is not true. It sidesteps the matter of atmospheric chemistry by making the childish assertion that anything we breathe out must be good for the planet. An atmosphere composed entirely of CO2 would kill all animals on the planet’s surface immediately. This fact alone refutes Premise 1.

Obviously, the CEI is being disingenuous here. Their argument is really more like, “It would be hard and unpleasant to change the way we produce energy, so let’s not do it” Call it the argument from laziness. If this is the best the polluting industries of the world can do, maybe there is hope for comprehensive environmental action yet.

[tags]Environment, Global Warming[/tags]

The Iranian Letter

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush, and it presents a somewhat perplexing question. Let me frame it by quoting from the Washington Post story about it. First:

“This letter isn’t it,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Associated Press. “This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort. It isn’t addressing the issues that we’re dealing with in a concrete way. . . . It is most assuredly not a proposal.”


[John R.] Bolton [the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] dismissed the prospects of U.S. negotiations with Iran, saying a slew of diplomatic initiatives by other countries aimed at stalling Iran’s nuclear advances over the past three years had failed to bear fruit.

Now, I’ve read the letter, and Condi is basically correct in that the letter does not offer any specific bargaining terms or even starting points for dialogue. It meanders from point to point, mainly accusing the U.S. of being bad and/or evil, and extolling the virtues of Islam as a way of guiding one’s life.

At the same time, I don’t see any justification for Bolton’s defeatist attitude about diplomacy. So what if other countries haven’t been able to solve the problem? We’re the United States, and we should be able to apply our unique strengths and ingenuity to find a good solution.

So Ahmadinejad’s letter isn’t the starting point. Let’s make one. I am assuming everyone understands that a war with Iran is a very, very bad idea. There are lots of ways to approach the question that do not include war. Let’s debate those ideas.

My jaded side can’t help but acknowledge that Bush must see the opportunity to raise his approval by starting a war. We ought not let that happen. Why should American troops die for his political needs?

People’s Republic of America

I was amazed at the level of deference and respect our President offered the President of the People’s Republic of China today. Aren’t we supposedly against authoritarian regimes. Isn’t the Chinese government, you know, Communist? Of course we ought to be polite, and of course China is a huge nation with a huge military and huge trade with us. I don’t mean to say that we should try to worsen relations at all. But a 21-gun salute? Come on.

Or, as the Washington Post puts it:

With annoying questions excluded, the focus today is likely to be just where Mr. Hu wants it, on his discussion of strategic issues with Mr. Bush; the visual will be his 21-gun salute. Never mind that according to Mr. Bush’s doctrine, respect for human rights is directly connected to the ability of states to be strategic partners of the United States. “Governments that brutalize their people,” says the president’s new national security strategy, “also threaten the peace and stability of other nations.” News conference question for Mr. Bush: Does that logic not apply to China?

China is a systematic abuser of human rights and civil liberties, for heaven’s sake. What does a 21-gun salute–from the United States!–say to imprisoned journalists in China? We are supposed to stand up and tell the communists, fascists, totalitiarians, and dictators of the world that their systems are evil, and that they must be changed. John F. Kennedy knew that, and so did Ronald Reagan, as Larry Johnson of TPMCafe points out:

Years ago we watched in amazement as a small Chinese man stood in the path of a tank in Tinamen Square to protest abuses by the Chinese Communist state. Today we saw our President apologize to the Chinese for allowing a protester to speak her mind. What next George? Will you help the Chinese run over demonstrators in a tank?

President Reagan spoke of a City on a Hill. That City was to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to the people of the world who yearned for freedom. George Bush has now torched that vision. Mr. President, I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Mr. President, you are no Reagan.

Practically, we must retain good relations with China, because we’re deep, deep in the hole to them financially, our citizens can’t get enough of their cheap goods, and they have lots of big weapons. Fine. Let’s be nice to them. Let’s be civil. But let’s not give them all this deference and congratulation until they’ve done something to earn it. Not torturing prisoners would be a good start, as would releasing imprisoned journalists.

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth

I have been looking forward to An Inconvenient Truth ever since I heard it was being made. Al Gore’s book, Earth in the Balanceamazon, had a huge impact on me when I first read it during the runup to the 2000 election, and I have always admired his tenacious advocacy for the environment whether it was politically popular or not.

It was heartening, therefore, to see this column from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post, in which Cohen correctly highlights the importance of the film:

I promise, you will be captivated, and then riveted and then scared out of your wits. Our Earth is going to hell in a handbasket.

Those of us who have been paying attention to global warming are already terrified, of course, but for most Americans climate change has never attained the sense of urgency that would allow the necessary societal changes. There are two reasons for this. First, climate change is not simple or instantaneous, so that the many small changes over time don’t seem to be alarming. Second, groups who make money in industries that cause climate change have been busy spreading disinformation so that the climate issues will seem awfully confusing, thus supposedly justifying endless spurious debates as a technique to maintain the status quo.

The film answers these two challenges with a wonderfully American solution: a movie with vivid, horrifying images:

You will see the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps melting. You will see Greenland oozing into the sea. You will see the atmosphere polluted with greenhouse gases that block heat from escaping. You will see photos from space of what the ice caps looked like once and what they look like now and, in animation, you will see how high the oceans might rise. Shanghai and Calcutta swamped. Much of Florida, too. The water takes a hunk of New York. The fuss about what to do with Ground Zero will turn to naught. It will be underwater.

We will see what kind of impact the film has, but I suspect that these images will be enough to impel people who haven’t been sure to make up their minds. Another interesting point that Cohen makes in his piece has to do with science and politics:

But it is the thought that matters — the application of intellect to an intellectual problem. Bush has been studiously anti-science, a man of applied ignorance who has undernourished his mind with the empty calories of comfy dogma. For instance, his insistence on abstinence as the preferred method of birth control would be laughable were it not so reckless. It is similar to Bush’s initial approach to global warming and his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol — ideology trumping science. It may be that Gore will do more good for his country and the world with this movie than Bush ever did by beating him in 2000.

Truly, one of Bush’s most long-lasting legacies will be the damage he has done to science and intellectual pursuits in our nation. I am happy that Gore is out there, speaking about a real problem that faces us all, and encouraging the use of ingenuity, ethics, and responsibility to solve it.

Our Civilian-Run Military

This opinion piece in the Washington Post really caught my attention. The writer asserts that soldiers currently serving in Iraq have high morale, but that their optimism and commitment to success are rarely reported by the media. For example, writing about Congressman John Murtha:

In view of his distinguished military career, John Murtha has been the subject of much attention from the media and is a sought-after spokesman for opponents of the Iraq war. He has earned the right to speak. But his comments supposedly expressing the negative views of those who have and are now serving in the Middle East run counter to what I and others know and hear from our own colleagues — from junior officers to the enlisted backbone of our fighting force.

On the surface this is a convincing point: who knows better what is going on in Iraq than the soldiers who are there? This is really the wrong question. The author claims that he and others know things from their own colleagues, while Murtha’s point comes from people he has spoken with. It is impossible to know which person, if either, has spoken with more soldiers, or knows better how things are going.

The next paragraph contains a statement that makes it clear why it may not be a good idea to rely heavily on soldier’s opinions in a decision like this:

Murtha undoubtedly knows full well that the greatest single thing that drags on morale in war is the loss of a buddy. But second to that is politicians questioning, in amplified tones, the validity of that loss to our families, colleagues, the nation and the world.

The claim here is that politicians drag on morale when they question the validity of the loss of a buddy. What in the world is the “validity” of a loss? It seems clear that this is a strain of the standard right wing talking point, that questioning the wisdom of any military action is basically treason, because it demoralizes the troops, because it implies that what they are doing is wrong, and that this demoralization helps the enemy. Unfortunately for the simpletons who use this argument, it is true that sometimes, some military actions really are a bad idea.

The writer of this article clearly feels that the War in Iraq is going great, and he is entitled to that opinion. Elected officials must use a more demanding system when deciding what is a good use of our military forces. If they see young Americans dying for a cause that is unworthy of their sacrifice, then they ought to say so. Of course soldiers on the ground believe they are doing a good thing–who would ever tell themselves what they are doing is bad? It is the abuse of these soldiers’ bravery, by decision makers who, in his opinion, do not respect their courage enough, that Murtha seeks to end.

War with Iran: The Worst Option

Via Matt Yglesias of TPM Cafe, we find this short but sweet article in The Atlantic, by James Fallows. It describes a War Game session The Atlantic held two years ago to explore the possible outcomes of an escalating conflict between Iran and the United States.

The article is worth a full read, and it is brief. The group concluded back then that a military strike on Iran was the worst option. As Fallows describes, all the factors that make this so have increased over the intervening years.

How did we get to this point? Fallows tells it like it is:

The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices, and all of them are bad. The United States can’t keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, for obvious reasons. It can’t withdraw them, because of the chaos that would ensue. The United States can’t keep prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (and other overseas facilities) indefinitely, because of international and domestic challenges. But it can’t hastily release them, since many were and more have become terrorists. And it can’t even bring them to trial, because of procedural abuses that have already occurred. Similarly, the United States can’t accept Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means, unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war.

President Bush and the failure of both his vision and his execution have brought us to a point where we have no good options. I hope people will remember that in November.