It’s Always Something

Fareed Zakaria said something remarkably stupid on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He was embellishing his usual theme that the insurgents are fueled mostly by the forces of disaffected youth:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What is behind these young people going, in several countries, now in the heart of Europe, joining the Islamic jihad? What is motivating them? Is it the occupation? Is it Islam? Or are these the kind of people who at the turn of the last century would have been Marxist-Lenninists?

FAREED ZAKARIA: I think it is more that; radical ideologies feed on disaffected youth, disaffected young men in general. A hundred years ago they would have been radical anarchists or Marxists; fifty years ago they would have been followers of Che.

I think the reality is there will always be a cause. You know, if it weren’t Iraq, it was, remember, Bin Laden’s original demand was that we get out of Saudi Arabia; well, we’re out of Saudi Arabia, and now we’re on to Iraq.

What??  I mean, Jesus H. Christ, we didn’t even announce that we were planning to leave Saudi Arabia until six weeks after we invaded Iraq in 2003. It’s incredibly disingenuous to say, “Well, hell, we got out of Saudi Arabia, like you wanted, and now you’re complaining again, this time about Iraq? It’s always going to be something with you!”

(I don’t doubt that alienated young men are easy prey for terror organizations; but his example is idiotic.)

O, Canadian RAV4!

Princeton economist Paul Krugman had a great column in The New York Times the other day about Toyota’s recent decision to build their new RAV4 factory in Ontario.

On the face of it, it’s a mystery: if a company were going to build a factory, with its large number of good middle-class jobs, anywhere in North America, why wouldn’t it pick the country that is tripping over itself to roll back taxes, corporate regulations, and indeed, the entire 20th century? Southern states like Alabama offered Toyota incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars. So why choose The Great White North over Cleetus the Slack-Jawed Yokel?

Toyota said the main reason was the quality of Ontario’s work force. Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association snickered that Japanese trainers in existing Alabama plants had had to produce “pictorials” to instruct illiterate workers on the correct operation of complicated equipment.

The thing that is so wonderfully ironic about this is that Alabama voters resoundingly rejected a plan by their governor, two years ago, to increase taxes on the wealthy so that the state could afford to improve its crappy public schools. I remember this from when it was in the news at the time; he was making desperate, desperate pleas to voters to enact the tax. But, as usual, the cynical right wing convinced voters that the tax “would cost the state jobs.” Ha ha!

BUT EVEN MORE INTERESTING is Mr. Krugman’s discussion of the impact of Canada’s well-known national health care system on the decision. For one thing, Canada’s system produces better outcomes, for [much] less money per patient, than the American system, so all other things being equal, it costs Toyota less to pay for employees’ health care (through payroll taxes) in the G.W.N. than it does for them to provide equivalent benefits to American workers.

So, good factory jobs, the kind that come with benefits, are comparatively cheaper up North, while crappy service jobs (e.g. Wal*Mart Greeter) that don’t come with health benefits in the U.S., are comparatively more expensive up there, since all workers, and even the unemployed, are covered under Canada’s plan.

Meanwhile, what’s our situation? It’s the worst of both worlds: our system encourages the creation of countless low-wage no-benefit jobs, leaving taxpayers to pick up health care costs for the low-skilled semi-employed, as well as for the unemployed who are left over when companies flee.

This isn’t even counting the lives that are destroyed through lack of health care, or by its enormous cost here — roughly half of the bankruptcies in this country are due to medical expenses. (But I’m told that to change our system would be horribly, horribly wrong.)

Full Column at The New York Times

Force Protection Is Job 1

One big difference between the U.S. and British troops in Iraq has been the U.S. focus on “force protection” — the British troops there have been slower to fire, to avoid alienating the Iraqi civilians that they are there to protect, while the U.S., knowing that Americans really don’t like to see soldiers coming home in body bags, have made protection of troops their absolute, number one priority, leading to hundreds of innocent civilian deaths at the hands of American soldiers and private contractors.

The Los Angeles Times has a good story on this today, but I’ve also seen articles in The Economist and elsewhere; it’s common knowledge, to be sure.

BAGHDAD — Three men in an unmarked sedan pulled up near the headquarters of the national police major crimes unit. The two passengers, wearing traditional Arab dishdasha gowns, stepped from the car.

At the same moment, a U.S. military convoy emerged from an underpass. Apparently believing the men were staging an ambush, the Americans fired, killing one passenger and wounding the other. The sedan’s driver was hit in the head by two bullet fragments.

The soldiers drove on without stopping.

This kind of shooting is far from rare in Baghdad, but the driver of the car was no ordinary casualty. He was Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Majeed Farraji, chief of the major crimes unit. His passengers were unarmed hitchhikers whom he was dropping off on his way to work.”The reason they shot us is just because the Americans are reckless,” the general said from his hospital bed hours after the July 6 shooting, his head wrapped in a white bandage. “Nobody punishes them or blames them…”

The continued shooting of civilians is fueling a growing dislike of the United States and undermining efforts to convince the public that American soldiers are here to help. The victims have included doctors, journalists [recently, three journalists in a single week, in three separate incidents — TC], a professor — the kind of people the U.S. is counting on to help build an open and democratic society.

“Of course the shootings will increase support for the opposition,” said Farraji, 49, who was named a police general with U.S. approval. “The hatred of the Americans has increased. I myself hate them.”

Full Story at The Los Angeles Times

The Truth About Valerie

Former CIA agent and current registered Republican Larry C. Johnson delivered the rebuttal to the President’s radio address this morning. He was a CIA classmate of Valerie Plame (now Valerie Wilson), the CIA agent whose cover was blown by traitors (and Bush/Cheney staff chiefs) Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and God knows who else.

You can read the transcript below, or listen to the audio here.

“Good morning. I’m Larry Johnson, an American, a registered Republican, a former intelligence official at the CIA, and a friend of Valerie Plame.

I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985 with Valerie. We were members of the Career Trainee Program. Senator Orin Hatch wrote the letter of recommendation for me which I believe helped open the doors to me at the CIA.

From the first day we walked into the building, all members of my training class were undercover, including Valerie. In other words, we had to lie to our family and friends about where we worked. We could only tell those who had an absolute need to know where we worked. In my case, I told my wife.

I knew the wife of Ambassador Wilson, Valerie, as “Valerie P.” Even though all of us in the training class held Top Secret Clearances, we were asked to limit our knowledge of our other classmates to the first initial of their last name.

So, Larry J. knew Val P. rather than Valerie Plame. I really didn’t realize what her last name was until her cover was betrayed by the Government officials who gave columnist Robert Novak her true name.

I am stunned that government officials at the highest level have such ignorance about a matter so basic to the national security structure of this nation.

Robert Novak’s compromise of Valerie led to scrutiny of CIA officers that worked with her. This not only compromised her cover company but potentially every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company or with her.

We must put to bed the lie that she was not undercover. For starters, if she had not been undercover then the CIA would not have referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Val only told those with a need to know about her status in order to safeguard her cover, not compromise it. She was content with being known as an energy consultant married to Ambassador Joe Wilson and the mother of twins.

I voted for George Bush in November of 2000 because I was promised a President who would bring a new tone and a new ethical standard to Washington.

So where are we? The President has flip-flopped on his promise to fire anyone at the White House implicated in a leak. We now know from press reports that at least Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are implicated in these leaks and may have lied during the investigation.

Instead of a President concerned first and foremost with protecting this country and the intelligence officers who serve it, we are confronted with a President who is willing to sit by while political operatives savage the reputations of good Americans like Valerie and Joe Wilson.

This is wrong and this is shameful.

We deserve people who work in the White House who are committed to protecting classified information, telling the truth to the American people, and living by example the idea that a country at war with Islamic extremists cannot focus its efforts on attacking other American citizens who simply tried to tell the truth.

I am Larry Johnson.

Thank you for listening.”

Original Link at the Democratic Party’s web site.

Iraq’s War On Women

So, what are we over there for? If it’s just a question of a cynical grab for as much of the world’s resources as we can control, that’s one thing. But don’t try to tell me that it’s a wonderful new day, especially for women. This is a country that, prior to our intervention, was comparatively secular, but let’s look at it now:

Just as Iraqi women were anticipating a new era of democracy and freedom, a wave of intimidation by extremist groups has arisen to crush their hopes. Violent oppression of women is spreading across Iraq, a weapon of mass mental and physical destruction. And yet there is silence from world leaders, religious leaders, politicians and the media.

Insurgents and religious extremists use rape, acid and assassination to force Iraqi women to wear the veil – the symbol of submission, first signal of further repression to come. Many Iraqi women have never worn the scarf. Now, dead bodies of girls and women are found in rivers and on waste ground with a veil tied around the head, as a message.

As well as unveiled women, key targets are those who wear make-up, who are well educated and in the professions, and who work with organisations connected with the coalition forces.

Political Islamists target universities in particular. A male university professor told me about a bright, highly intelligent young student from Babylon University, Hilla, south of Baghdad. She had never worn the scarf. Despite death threats to compel her to wear it, she refused to do so and continued to attend university. She was raped and murdered. The professor spoke of the mess made of her body. He has since told his daughter she must either wear a scarf or leave university. He doesn’t want her to wear the scarf nor does he want her to leave university, but he is terrified for her life.

Full Story at

Even Worse

[Backgrounder] It’s really, really simple: George Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby denied (for two years!) that they had had anything to do with blowing the cover of (until then) undercover CIA agent Valerie Wilson, that they ruined her career and endangered national security just to get back at her husband, critic and former G.H.W. Bush ambassador Joe Wilson, and now it turns out that they were lying all the time. Bush himself has gone from promising to fire anyone involved with the leak to, as of yesterday, promising to fire anyone convicted of a crime, (quite a high bar of conduct indeed).

BUT NOW, there is this, which is much, much more disturbing:

On August 1st, 2004, the United States royally pissed off Britain and Pakistan by leaking the news that the British had evidence about a plot against U.S. financial centers and British Underground rail, and thereby leaving an ongoing undercover operation in shambles. The British had arrested an Al Qaeda operative, a Mr. Noor Khan, and had turned him into a double agent, and had been doing a great job of collecting information about his contacts and getting the goods on them, but as soon as the U.S. broke the news, all of the other Al Qaeda contacts that Mr. Khan was involved with dropped out of sight. The British arrested as many as they could, about a dozen, actually, but they didn’t get them all — about five slipped away.

Probably not a big deal, unless you, or anyone you knew, was in the London mass transit system on 7/7/05.

So, a U.S. leak blew an ongoing anti-terror operation. Dopey, surely, but evil? Well, you might ask yourself, what else was going on on August 1st, 2004? Was there any reason that the administration would want to announce an important terror threat early? Oh, I don’t know, how about the…Democratic National Convention? For that matter, if you think back you’ll remember a hell of a lot of multicolored terror alerts in 2004, leading up to the election, and how many since then? (Answer: not too damn many).

So, again, just as in the Valerie Wilson affair, we see the Bush Administration subverting National Security concerns to the needs of the domestic political agenda. That’s twice. Probably, those were the only two times. (Or: no, not at all).

Read the full story at:

Juan Cole
ABC News
The Washington Post


Catching up on my reading this weekend, I found a pretty great column by Johnathon Schell in The Nation, itself an analysis of an article in The Washington Post by Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru, who spent some time with a company of Iraqi solidiers out of earshot of their U.S. minders.

…the soldiers of Charlie Company told Shadid and Fainaru that seventeen of them had quit in recent days. They added that every one of them planned to do the same as soon as possible. Their reasons were simple. They were bitter at the United States. “Look at the homes of the Iraqis,” one soldier remarked. “The people have been destroyed.” When asked by whom, he answered, “Them” — and pointed to the Americans leading the patrol. The Iraqis had enlisted in the new army only for the salary — $340 per month, an enviable sum in today’s ruined Iraq. But the money had come at the price of self-respect. The new recruits had been bought off and hated themselves for it. One said that after they had all quit, “We’ll live by God, but we’ll have our respect.”

One might wonder whether the reporters had deliberately or unknowingly picked an exceptionally rebellious unit. But in fact, Charlie Company was selected by the U.S. Army itself, presumably eager to put its best foot forward.

The American officers’ response to their sullen recruits is of a piece with the entire American effort in Iraq. The officers treat their charges as if, owing to certain mysterious personal defects, they somehow are not quite up to the job they have been given. After a typical episode in which the unit was attacked and ran away (four hailed taxis to make their escape), Sgt. Rick McGovern, who leads the unit, dressed them down. “You are all cowards,” he informed them. He went on, “My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom.” The tongue-lashing assumed that the Iraqis and the American shared a cause that, as the story shows, was actually 100 percent missing. Iraqi men who hate the American occupation are not cowards if they decline to shoot other men who are fighting the occupation…

“The Exception Is the Rule”
Jonathan Schell
The Nation
July 4, 2005

“Building Iraq’s Army: Mission Improbable”
Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 10, 2005; A01

Meat is Cool!

Yes, a pathetic industry web site once actually existed, attempting to spread the gospel: Meat is Cool! I have seen it with my own eyes — it had games and activities for the kids! (it was targeted at the kids).

Alas, it has disappeared (because of being lame and all).

But there’s still the Center for Consumer Freedom — that’s right, “Obesity is Hype!” I’d include a link to their web site, but if you can’t find it on your own, you might be gullible enough to fall for their propoganda, so you’ll have to find it for yourself if you want to scoff. In the meantime, keep in mind that a recent study showed that at a cellular level (i.e. telomere length), obesity is about twice as harmful as smoking, on average.

See the Wikipedia article on this horrible group (which includes about 100 of their top donors, including Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Armour, and, sadly, beloved Chart House and Ruth’s Chris restaurants).

Isn’t Wikipedia cool? It even notes, in its entry, that “The neutrality of this article is disputed!”