Saturday, December 25, 2004
Friday, December 24, 2004
Quote of the Day
—reporter Seymour Hersh, as quoted in Editor & Publisher.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
WaPo notices assault on Christmas
The subject is so important that it ran on page 4 of the paper. The announcement this week of the Iraq airlift only made it to page 28.
U.S. assumptions continue to be dashed on the I-rock of reality
On the PBS NewsHour, as a tip to the Mosul bombing, Gwen Ifill interviewed Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution and Ralph Peters, a retired lieutenant-colonel.
Peters turned rapturous about the election—
But they do... they are different organizations with different people, different long-term goals, but the one thing they do share in common is they want to derail the January elections in Iraq any way they can because while even a partial success, a badly flawed election is a serious defeat for the terrorists and for the Sunni and Arab insurgents because it just proves [sic] the idea that America is only there to conquer and we're only there for the oil.
And by the way, this will be... no matter how flawed that election is in January, no matter how flawed, that will be the first outside of Israel, the first free election between the Nile and the Euphrates.
And there are plenty of people who don't want it to happen.
This may be true—that many insurgents don't want the election—but it is also either of minor significance or irrelevant. I would suggest that holding an election will not curtail this insurgency nor is the prevention of an election the primary motivation of the insurgents.
It is convenient for the Bushies to hold out the election as the impetus for the increasing violence, as a smokescreen for their ineptitude, just as they previously held out Saddam's continued liberty as the cause.
Pollack got it right—
I think that the administration's characterization of who the principal groups within the insurgency is dead wrong.
Calling these guys Baathist dead-enders is ridiculous. First, there probably hasn't been a real Baathist in Iraq since about 1958. Baathism is not a political philosophy that guided Saddam Hussein's regime or anyone in Iraq for that matter.
There is the truth in the sense that many of these people were former members of the regime but they're not fighting us because they were former members of the regime or because they were Baathists.
They're homegrown Sunni and Shia fundamentalists like Muqtada al-Sadr. There are a whole range of groups; the one thing they have in common is they all hate us and they all want us out.
An election will not change the insurgents' hatred of the U.S. presence one whit, nor will it lessen the violence.
Peters continued to speak of the insurgency in strategic terms—
They know they've lost the Kurdish North. And they're looking even beyond the election to a possible break up of Iraq, maybe to seizing power again.
But they don't want to lose Mosul. That was a traditional Kurdish city. Saddam Arab-ized it. And they're determined that at a minimum, Mosul will be retained as a frontier outpost for the Sunni Arabs.
And Pollack rejoined with a socio-political perspective—
I don't know if Ralph would agree or disagree with this. But when I think about the center of gravity in this insurgency, I'm very concerned that we've not focused ourselves on the right center of gravity.
This is a true insurgency. My reading of history is that the true insurgency, the center of gravity is not a physical location; it's not even a military issue.
It is the political and economic wellbeing of the country. It is the political and economic grievances of the population.
We have alienated the Sunni tribesmen of Iraq. They are perhaps only 8-10 percent of Iraq's population but they do control a big chunk of territory.
As long as the population feels dispossessed, they're going to continue to allow the insurgency to thrive.
And historically the only way that you defeat an insurgency is by removing the underlying political and economic grievances that give rise to it.
If you don't do that, it doesn't matter how many insurgents you kill.
Lt.-Col. Peters was a good stand-in for Rumsfeld—
In real life there are sometimes losers. But I do agree with Ken that the center of gravity shifts and ultimately for me the center of gravity is the will.
Can you break their will? That's a big question, Gwen.
If that's the question, we've lost. The American people will not and cannot continue to support an invasion of another country when it means continued loss of American life. It is only the Bushies' insistence that we're there to "fight terrorism" that keeps the public addled, but the rationale is beginning to wear thin. Eventually people notice that we're losing more people to "fighting terrorism" than we are to terrorism.
The idea that the military could outsource some logistical functions to the private sector was promoted by Cheney during the administration of Bush Sr. and allowed to continue during the Clinton era, but it was the Neo-Cons who coupled the idea to their fantasies and their greed and really went bonkers. The fantasy was that our high-tech marvel of a military would be fighting "clean" wars from now on, wars that would allow the contractors in at their convenience. The greed came from their association, both now and in some hoped-for lucrative future, with Halliburton and a host of "security" firms.
It is here that Lt.-Col. Peters had a devastating comment to offer—
Well, what mystified me when I heard about this, Gwen, was that even in maneuvers back in the Cold War days when you were just playing war, you got your chow and you dispersed because in war if an artillery shell would hit you wanted them to kill two or three or four soldiers at most, not forty or fifty or sixty or eighty.
And what's clearly happened in Iraq is we violated our own rules about troop dispersion in wartime. I suspect it has to do with outsourcing. This mess hall, mess facility, chow hall was run by a contractor.
And, instead of security, what we saw was convenience and efficiency.But it just baffled me that this base and this chow hall specifically, dining facility as we term it now, PC version, it had been attacked before with rocket fire, with mortars.
And we were still crowding these troops not even staggering the schedules. It just astonished me.
This is the first bleep on the media radar, at least of which I'm aware, that outsourcing has actually caused deaths. But I believe there is a chain of logic that shows that many more deaths—perhaps our very presence in Iraq—may be laid at the feet of this policy.
We have to ask why soldiers are being asked to transport supplies in unarmored vehicles and killed for want of armor. Why wasn't the need for armored transport vehicles anticipated? The answer, it seems to me, has to do with outsourcing.
Rumsfeld and Cheney waved their fairy wands and said "Halliburton will take care of that." This is what was known as "planning." Hence no need for armored transports was anticipated. What this privatization of many logistical functions did was allow the Neo-Con idiots to assume that they didn't have to think about them at all. If they had thought about them, they might have concluded that we were not adequately equipped for this war and either delayed the invasion or sought other means to their goals. (Perhaps I exaggerate by suggesting that the Neo-Cons might have come to some other conclusion, but I do not believe it an exaggeration to say that the Pentagon generals might have been more forceful in presenting their caveats to the war.)
The rebuilding of Iraq, such a plum for many an American firm, has turned into a prune. Now the first American company has withdrawn. According to the AP,
Contrack International led a coalition of firms working on a $325 million contract to rebuild Iraq's roads, bridges and railways. Contrack withdrew from that contract last month after a surge in attacks on reconstruction efforts, said Lt. Col. Eric Schnaible of the Pentagon's project and contract office in Baghdad.
"It's hard to do construction in a place where people are shooting at you or intimidating your work force," Schnaible said by phone. "It's a challenge across the country."
And who's taking over their role? Why the military!
The office has taken over management of about 18 subcontractors working on transportation projects, Schnaible said.
And what might this bode?
[Schnaible] said Contrack's pullout was "a mutually agreed-to separation" and did not signal a larger movement by U.S. companies to abandon Iraq.
Of course it doesn't.
But NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports that "up to 60% of funds spent on some projects was going into security." Then there's the overhead of the delays. Basically, it's hard for these guys to make the money they had anticipated.
Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution is quoted as saying—
It's pretty bad news.... This is certainly the largest American firm to pull out. And in the past a lot of these companies have been afraid to do so for fear of being blackballed, for fear of seeming disloyal, abandoning the effort, etc. and that it would harm their future contracts. So by doing this, in a sense, the worry is that it opens the floodgates for other companies to pull out.
Kathleen Schalch concludes—
Singer predicts that Contrack's experience could push reconstruction costs even higher as other contractors demand more money to compensate for problems and risks they're likely to face.
Note that Contrack actually withdrew last month. The military has been keeping it under wraps. Contrack's withdrawal has just now been "confirmed" to the media.
The NewsHour opened its segment last night with film-clips of Bush, Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers and Lt. Gen. John Sattler. The tenor of the message was that things are getting better but that we shouldn't hold our breath. But Sattler was positive. He said of Fallujah—
We feel right now that we have, as I mentioned, broken the back of the insurgency and we have taken away this safe haven.
But Nick Wadhams of Newsday begins his Iraq update today with this—
U.S. Marines battled insurgents in Fallujah on Thursday with warplanes dropping bombs and tanks shelling suspected guerrilla positions, causing deaths on both sides, as the first 200 residents returned to the battered city.
Fallujans lined up in cars and on foot at checkpoints, brandishing documents to Iraqi police to show they had the right to re-enter the city. Once inside, they returned to the remains of bombed-out and looted homes, some with bodies still inside from weeks of fighting.
Sounds like we've got matters well in hand there.
Wadhams' account moves from the tragic to the downright comic—
Authorities had planned on Thursday to allow the return of 2,000 residents -- the first wave of tens of thousands who want to come back after being displaced by last month's bloody U.S.-led offensive to retake the rebel stronghold. But by the afternoon, only about 200 actually made the trip, some on foot, officials said Thursday.
Officials said the slow start was probably because people didn't know they were allowed in. More were expected after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.
"Most of them get their information from the mosques so we think that tomorrow they'll get the word out more," he said.
That must surely be the explanation.
Meanwhile in Mosul...
According to Newsweek's Wadhams,
Early Thursday, hundreds of U.S. troops, Iraqi National Guards and Kurdish militiamen were seen in the streets of Mosul moving around in Bradley Fighting vehicles. In some eastern neighborhoods they searched homes for weapons. One of the city's five bridges over the Tigris River reopened Thursday, after all were blocked off by U.S. troops a day earlier.
One little trick currently being played by the administration is to speak of relatively unpopulated areas of Iraq as equivalent to the populated sectors. Here is Rumsfeld at his press briefing this past Wednesday—
We know that in terms of the totality of the country, some 18 provinces, that somewhere between 12 and 14 of them have relatively low levels of violence -- the north, the south -- and we know that four provinces have relatively high levels of violence. And the task is to have the violence reduced in those remaining four provinces. And I should add that those four provinces have higher population, one of them being Baghdad.
Shorter version: We're only having problems where the people are.
The point to be noted here is that Mosul is from three to four times the size of Fallujah and has a population of over a million. If Mosul goes the way of Fallujah, will they destroy it too?
Will kidnappings alter the Iraqi employment situation? (updated)
Iraqi insurgents now extending their targets
No court martial for recalcitrant troops
The Iraq airlift has begun
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Washington Supremes say uncounted votes may be counted
In an amazingly speedy decision the Washington Supreme Court has decided to allow 723 ballots from King county that had been erroneously set aside to be counted. They had been removed from the count because election officials did not find the signatures in a computer database. I watched the arguments on C-Span just this afternoon!
Republicans argued against including the ballots. ABCNews reports—
Up until Wednesday, the 723 King County ballots had not been included in the hand recount, because a lower-court judge granted a Republican request to temporarily block the counting of those votes.
During arguments in front of the state Supreme Court, a lawyer for the secretary of state's office argued that state law allows canvassing boards to fix errors made by elections staff.
"The recount process is to secure a prompt, accurate closure to close elections," lawyer Thomas Ahearne said. "Correcting errors by election officials makes the results more accurate."
But Harry Korrell, a lawyer for the Republican Party, countered that state law does not grant King County the right to add new ballots to the recount seven weeks after the election.
"A recount is limited to a retabulation of the ballots that were already determined to be valid," Korrell said.
When Korrell argued that counting those votes would cause irreparable harm, the justices questioned who would be hurt.
"You're looking at it from the point of view of the winner or the loser shouldn't we be looking at it from the point of view of the voter?" asked Justice Susan Owens.
All of the brouhaha, of course, is about who is to be the governor. The ballots in question are from a Democratic-leaning area and are presumed to favor Dem candidate Christine Gregoire.
ABCNews suggests that the case will be appealed further. So the U.S. Supreme Court may yet determine who is to be the Governor of Washington.
It appears that Republicans do not trust our electoral system—
State GOP spokesman Chris Vance called [the ballots'] discovery weeks after the election "very suspicious." And some Washington state residents who had calmly been watching the recount with confidence in their state's reputation for clean politics were starting to have their doubts.
While the ABCNews report says nothing of this, I believe from watching the arguments that the ruling gives permission for King County elections officials to canvass the votes, which means that they will be scrutinized to determine their validity. Only those that are demonstrably valid may be counted, so the actual number of new votes may be less than the 723 ballots.
Democrats claim Gregoire has won Washington State
Posting late today
Democrats claim Gregoire has won Washington State
Democrats have claimed victory in the race for Washington governor by a razor-thin margin of eight votes, citing preliminary results of a hand recount they say puts Christine Gregoire in front for the first time. Republicans maintained the race was still too close to call.
This doesn't include the 700 or so votes that were wrongly rejected because the signatures weren't in the computer database. Whether they will be counted is to be decided by the Washington State Supreme Court.
We haven't heard the end of this, but the important thing to note is that the margin of the win, however it is ultimately determined, is much smaller than the error rates in any machine voting system. Can we say all together "Bring back paper ballots!"?
Voters' rights organizations questioned
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Bush's education legacy in Texas: More cheating and lying
Rod Paige, the outgoing Secretary of Education, was Superintendent of the Houston school district when Bush was wreaking his "Texas Miracle" as Governor of Texas. After the "No Child Left Behind" Act was passed, the story broke that the dropout rates in Houston had been seriously doctored. As factcheck.org summarized,
In Houston, investigators found 3,000 students who should have been listed as dropouts but weren't. A local television station, KHOU-TV, called citywide dropout statistics a "lesson in lies." The station found one former student working at a Wendy's fast-food restaurant after her public high school reported that she had left to attend private school. The Washington Post later found another high school that reported an unbelievably low 0.3 percent dropuout rate when in fact up to half its students failed to graduate. The CBS program "60 Minutes II" reported that Houston's entire school system reported a city-wide dropout rate of 1.5 percent when the true dropout rate was somewhere between 25 and 50 percent, according to educators and experts checked by CBS News. [emphasis added]
Yes, but all that is last year's news. And besides, it said nothing about the accomplishments of the students who actually did remain in school. The "Texas Miracle"—based on nothing more profound than testing and punishment for failure—would have been well understood by 19th century educators, with the important difference that in the Bush system, punishment is collective. The sanctions are applied to the entire school, including the educators, rather than to individual students.
But who can argue with success? Texas children were doing well—at least until the Dallas Morning News decided to take a look at the test data—
A Dallas Morning News data analysis has uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills] test in dozens of Texas schools – and suspicious scores in hundreds more.
The analysis found a poor urban school where third- and fifth-graders are among the state's weakest readers – but the fourth-graders beat out the state's most elite schools. That's despite the fact that many of its students have trouble speaking English.
It found a desperately impoverished school where the fourth-graders have trouble adding and subtracting – but nearly all the fifth-graders got perfect scores on the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
And it found schools where in one year's time – if the scores are to be believed – children devolved from top students to barely being able to read.
The News' findings have led to cheating inquiries in three Texas school districts, including the state's two largest, Dallas and Houston. One of the schools under investigation is a National Blue Ribbon School that a year ago was touted by federal officials as an example of top academic achievement.
And this may be only the tip of the iceberg—
The News' method of looking for unusual test scores does not catch all cheaters. It does not, for instance, detect schools that cheat consistently across multiple grades and multiple subjects.
It also doesn't catch more subtle cheaters. A teacher who gives students a few correct answers on test day could raise her students' scores enough for them to pass, but not enough for a huge score increase that might draw attention.
"You're catching the dumb cheaters," Dr. Haladyna said of the analysis. "The smart cheaters you're not going to be able to detect."
If it's that bad in Texas, what must it be like in the other Red states? I've always maintained that anyone who thought that George Bush, either père or fils, truly supported education simply had to be dumber than they looked, because an educated populace would not put up with their crap. And of the few things that the Bushes know, that is one of them.
Dumb your child down the Republican way
Voters' rights organizations questioned
Lynn Landes, a former TV reporter and commentator and "journalist on voting technology," raises a number of interesting points and questions about voters' rights groups.
So much for a free and fair exchange of ideas. At conferences and hearings across the country, traditional voting rights organizations have successfully blocked any serious debate on machine-free, paper-only elections. It appears that our well-entrenched so-called 'voting rights' organizations, including the NAACP and ACLU, haven't absorbed the lesson from America's election debacles. They would rather invite the industry-funded National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) to speak at their conferences, than invite researchers and activists who will argue that the machines must go.
Landes attended the Dec. 7 conference in Washington, DC on "Voting 2004: A Report to the Nation on America's Election Process." It did not live up to her expectations—
Instead of fighting for the peoples' right to a paper ballot and a hand count, the conference adopted the VerifiedVoting.org and Congressman Rush Holt's (D-NJ) prescription for voting integrity. It is beyond worthless.
It gives people false hope, instead of a sensible solution. Holt's legislation calls for ballot printers and audits. First, that leaves the machines in the voting process - ready, willing, and able to malfunction, break down, or not show up - causing chaos and confusion. Ballot printers won't fix that. Second, it proposes spot audits, which leaves the counting of ballots in the hands of the very election officials who prove with each new election how truly inept or completely evil they really are. And third, the only time paper ballots will be counted is in case of a "close" election, ensuring that perpetrators of vote fraud will steal a sufficient number of votes to avoid triggering a recount.
I'm not familiar with Landes' previous work, but the issues she raises are issues at which I took a poke recently. In fact, after writing "Bev Harris vs. Keith Olbermann" in which I discussed my doubts about electionline.org, I came upon a story at verifiedvoting.org that reinforced my skepticism.
On Dec. 16, the last time any news regarding voting irregularities has been deemed worthy of linking by Verified Voting, they ran an article "Analysis of Election 2004 Finds Reason for Concern" that opens—
A new report from electionline.org, the nation’s leading source for nonpartisan and non-advocacy research and analysis on election reform, finds that the November 2 vote just barely cleared the “margin of litigation.”
This is an odd lede: high praise for electionline.org—"the nation's leading source"—coupled with the declaration that the past election "just barely cleared the 'margin of litigation'" when in fact the situation in Ohio alone is sufficient to disprove such an assertion. There is plenty of litigation in process as I write. Is this an oblique way of saying that they don't believe the litigation is appropriate?
So today I toddled over to the Verified Voting site to look at their organization. What I found is that both its founder David Dill and its executive director William Doherty are ass over elbow into computer science. Nothing wrong with that, but it can certainly skew one's perception of what is necessary to hold a free and fair election. It also may heighten the receptiveness to "industry input."
It seems not to occur to these groups that the electronic-voting machine manufacturers have no interest in free and fair elections. If we take them as "pure" capitalists, without any political ax to grind, their interest can only be in selling more machines and services. But of course we already know from any number of investigations that the electronic-voting industry is in fact tied both to the Republican party and to extreme right-wingers.
When I asked Ms. Moulder why the conference was not discussing the machine-free/paper-only election option, she said that people just weren't "there" yet. I surmised she meant that people weren't ready to consider that option. But judging from the reaction to my articles and speeches, I suggested to her that a growing number of people are already "there". And more people might be "there" if the issue was allowed to be on the agenda at these conferences. She smiled and walked away.
Read Landes' article, by all means.
Bev Harris vs. Keith Olbermann (See "PBS News Hour")
Word of the Day
monopsony: (1) A situation in which demand comes from only one customer, a demand-side monopoly. (2) Wal-Mart.
synonym: buyer's monopoly
A common theoretical implication is that the price of the good is pushed down near the cost of production. The price is not predicted to go to zero because if it went below where the suppliers are willing to produce, they won't produce.
A not-so-theoretical implication is that production will be pushed overseas. For an interesting discussion of the effects of Wal-Mart's monopsony, read Charles Fishman's "The Wal-Mart You Don't Know."
Quote of the Day
—Al Zack, former United Food and Commercial Workers' vice president for strategic programs as quoted in Liza Featherstone's "Down and Out in Discount America"
Monday, December 20, 2004
Apologies to all
I've been disconnected for almost 24 hours now.
I live in a household of funky devices. I have a computer that will only boot in normal humidity. One of the TVs acts the same way. And the electronic organ will turn on but won't play. So when I accidentally shut down the computer yesterday with the heat going full blast, I knew I was in trouble.
Of course, there's a tiny silver lining to this cloud. The fluorescent lights, which take up to 30 minutes to come on in normal humidity, now blink on like incandescents.
More to come, but only after I've finished flailing the machines.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Quote of the Day
—Marie Woolf, in her lede to "Ruth Kelly: Brown ally takes over Education"