July 28, 2005


A day of more shuttle news: official tally comes in at $1 billion. Yes, $1 billion, for one launch whose stated purpose was to "test new safety equipment" and deliver "supplies" to the space station. Kind of an expensive test-the-brakes-and-pick-up-some-beer run. For a commentary that's amusingly on the money, check out this segment of Ed Gordon's show.

Here's the part where the centrist-conservative wonk pooh-pooh's space program grumps like Joe Citizen by saying something blisteringly insightful like, Hey, in a budget the size of the US government's, one billion dollars is a drop in the bucket. And maybe he's right. But then how come we can never find what to drink when someone's really thirsty?

I'm sure that if you're a big-shot wonky insider with a fat stipend from Rand or Heritage or the Manhattan Foundation, and you hobnob at swank beltway parties with senators and elite media execs and the directors of major multinationals (parties at which, by the way, neither drugs nor sex of any kind ever make an appearance, ever), then maybe a billion dollars is nothing more to you than the next wire transfer to your offshore shelter in the Caymans. But to Joe Citizen, a billion dollars is still, like, a billion dollars. That buys a lot of potato chips and beer. Or a lot of trips to the doc's office. Or a lot of public transit rides. Or a lot of books for elementary and high school classrooms. (Any of you out there have friends who are teachers? If yes, how much do they spend each year — of their own money, I mean: of their own insultingly measly public-servant salaries — on books for the kids they teach?)

For that matter, I bet it buys a lot of armor plating for personnel carriers in the desert — unless, that is, you're shopping at one of those megamarts of corporate bilk who have relatives at the White House and an army of lobbyists. But even with them you could probably cover 10 or 20 humvees and get back a little change. How many American soldiers might that save?

I know, I know. Joe Citizen sucks at math.

Speaking of corporate bilk and relatives in Washington: the House passed a new energy bill today, and those in the bidness can rejoice. Not only are oil prices at a record high, but our free-market-loving legislators have decided they love the free market so much they'd like to give it a hand. They have thus incentivized deep-water drilling. I guess they just wanted to make double, triple sure no one sits on his ass letting deposits of the most valuable commodity on earth lie untended.

No one's rejoicing quite so much as certain residents of the majority leader's home district, though. At the last minute (no, really), a provision was added to throw $1.5 billion at "drilling research." Apparently there just wasn't enough left over from oil revenues themselves; the bidness needed a goverment handout (just a drop and a half in the bucket, as the wonks would remind). And I'm sure it's completely coincidental, but the primary beneficiary of said handout will be an energy consortium in Tom DeLay's district in Texas.

And you thought socialism was dead.

Sadly, the addition of the DeLay boondoggle so increased the size of the legislation that a number of other provisions had to be left out — purely for reasons of space. Among these were fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks. Yes, it's true: such a provision might have done more to cure our country of its disastrous dependence on foreign oil than all the rest of the bill's measures combined. But adding more pages would have been — well, a waste of energy. Besides, wouldn't you rather keep waging war overseas to secure a steady oil supply? Even when it doesn't work, we get years of great future documentary footage, plus a geography lesson and a stack of new vocab. It almost makes up for those missing school textbooks.

Also this week: the Patriot Act was signed on for a return engagement by — again — your good friends and caretakers in the House. Which means, as far as Joe Citizen is concerned, that Joe Citizen took one more itty bitty step toward becoming Joe Subject.

July 26, 2005

Misery Gets Company

The only trouble with Seymour Hersh's recent exposé in the New Yorker (July 25) is just how unsurprising it really is. Last week, hersh reported on allegations that the United States engaged in a covert operation to funnel money and logistical support to certain candidates' factions during the Iraqi elections last January, thus showing a favoritism it had not only vowed to forego but that might threaten the administration's entire post-invasion project. It's not exactly democracy proper, that's for sure. It would make hypocrites of Bush and any number of subordinates, and it could make them criminals as well. It'd certainly rob them of whatever shreds of credibility they still possess.

The trouble is they're already criminals, and their credibility was shredded and burned a long time ago. In truth, this is exactly the kind of thing we expect from the Bush administration. They've shown themselves to be buffoons and arrogant snobs; they've shown themselves to be cynics and corrupt opportunists. That they should be liars and cheats on top of it all is anything but shocking. I'm glad Hersh did his research, and I'm glad the New Yorker published it. But it's been apparent for a long time that we're governed by thugs and criminals, and the only question that truly puzzles is what's to be done about it. We tried having an election already; you can see where that got us. You can see where it got the Iraqis. No shock could begin to compare with the results last November, and every day that passes in Bush's meandering, ineffectual, insultingly chaotic and destructive second term only makes this more so. Everything that everyone said could go wrong has gone wrong, and not just in Iraq. There is perhaps some cause for relief w/r/t supreme court nominee #1, though that remains largely to be seen — and besides, there will almost surely be another, and he or she will almost certainly be worse. I am more inclined to agree with Hendrick Hertzberg, who, this week, also in the New Yorker, sees Roberts as a sign of Bush's weakness. Bush, Hertzberg theorizes, knows he can't get away with anyone grander. And he also wants to pull the spotlight off Karl Rove and further evidence of corruption, thuggery, and ill-will (and in this the main stream media has been its usual accomodating self: seen Rove's name on the top of the fold in the last five days? Seen any demands for information or release of testimony, even for comment by the relevant parties?).


On another note in the MSM song, what was behind the blanket of space-shuttle-launch coverage on Tuesday? When did everyone drink the space-program kool-aid? (Or should that be "tang"?) According to the Times (which ran picture after picture on its web site — not of the shuttle itself but of people watching the shuttle), the primary purpose of this mission is to test new safety equipment. So in other words, they're spending billions in taxpayer dollars not to locate a cure for cancer or HIV, not to end the war in Iraq or protect our subways, not to find health insurance for the almost fifty million Americans who lack it. They're spending hard-earned cash to test fresh brakes. But don't look for that in the New York Times.

July 20, 2005

One Bad Week

Two fascinating articles in the Times this week which taken together ought to form a solid indictment not only of the execution of this fool's errand (I mean the US excursion in Iraq) but of the theory behind it — namely, that it's a fine idea to attempt the violent imposition of a political culture. In the first article we find a jarring tally of Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from the invasion and its aftermath, known to some as "the occupation" and to others as "the counterinsurgency." Call it what you like; the numbers couldn't care less. 24,865 — that's the number. Nearly 25,000 men, women, and children. Let's break it down farther: 11,281 men; 1,198 women; 1,332 children. More than a third of these were killed by American forces directly. Almost half were lost in Baghdad alone. Put that in perspective. I grew up in a town of slightly less than 5,000; that's as though every man, woman, and child in my hometown had been shot or blown up or stabbed or otherwise murdered — and then the same thing happened four more times in nearby towns of the same size. Think of it: everyone: killed. And you can say, by way of diminishing your sense of responsibility as an American, that only a third of them were killed by our troops. But the truth is that each and every death was a result, direct or indirect, of the US invasion.

The second article concerns the Iraqi constitution — specifically, the most recent draft of the document, in which the role of women in the new Iraqi society is restricted to bring it more fully into compliance with Sh'aria, or Islamic law. If "liberty" in the western tradition is your stated goal, this can hardly be considered a victory. In fact it may be something much worse. Women in post-invasion Iraq could actually end up with fewer rights than they had under Saddam Hussien. This doesn't diminish the brutality of the former regime, but it does cast a grim light on American efforts. Currently Iraq is shaping up not as a bastion of enlightened Middle Eastern democracy but as a second, and more sectarian, Iran — all at a price tag of well over 30,000 lives. Talk about not getting your money's worth. Though I guess at least Haliburton and the Shiite mullahs will go home happy.

Other bad news from Iraq — and it's not easy keeping up — include the assassination of two Sunni members of the constitutional drafting panel and the revelation that the US tampered with the much-lauded "free-and-fair" Iraqi elections (see The New Yorker, July 25, 2005). There are even allegations of ballot stuffing. Once again you have to wonder what the US government means when it says it wants to teach the world democracy. Did anyone caucus the Latin Americans on that?

This is just the latest. It has been a long ugly journey. The road is getting worse, and there's no end in sight. And the worst is that it was all predictable. Not just predictable: predicted. Forecast, even, and with an accuracy weathermen can only envy. Few in the mainstream took any kind of heed at the time. Even fewer take an interest in looking back now. But the information was all there — the assessments of intertribal strife, the seeping religious fundametalism, the predictions of powerplays by factions with ties to Syria and Iran. Some of it came from or own intelligence services. Most if not all of it appeared in readily available English-language media. And if I could read it, then certainly members of Congress and the Administration could read it. Which means that they all could have known. Which means — given who they are, and what they do — that, really, they should have known.

We can all keep playing silly games over this. We can stick to the slogans, we can scratch our heads earnestly. We can punch the well-we-can't-leave-now-with-the-job-half-done clock a few more times. (Even liberals love to punch this particular clock — it spares them from uttering the dirty "withdrawal" word, which will inevitably lead someone to utter the dirty "wimp" word in response.) We can take the David Brooks-slash-John Tierney route, and frown concernedly while holding fast to our highbrow-homespun optimism, and expressing naive faith in the latest baby step, or report of water being turned back on in some remote village. Go ahead: it's all well and good. Just let the rest of us know what number it will take — how much death and chaos, how many failed policies, how many squandered opportunities, how grim the outlook will have to get — before you start having the honest adult conversation about what a collosal fuck-up this entire enterprise has been. Should we check back next year when the number of Iraqi dead has topped 35,000? The following year, when it's almost 50,000? Will it take 100,000? Half a million? Will another Taliban-style regime have to come to power, perhaps even be elected (though perhaps not altogether legitimately — the Iraqis are being trained by us, after all)? Will it take an Arab civil war, pitting Shiite Iran and the new Shiite Iraq against the rest of the Sunni Muslim Arab world, and possibly against the Kurds as well (though by then they may be too busy waging a quiet war at the Turkish border)? Will we have to start drafting young Americans, driving up the domestic death toll as well, and — in all likelihood, giving the steeply declining stomach shown on the home front for this war — start another bitter civil cold war of our own?

Just let us know what it will take.

Or, on the other hand, we could start having the adult conversation now, and maybe spare everyone some grief.