Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The BEST CASE scenario in Iraq: a Pyrrhic victory

In 281 B.C., king Pyrrhus of Epirus (an island off the coast of Greece) landed in Tarentum with an army of about 30,000 men and 20 elephants. He was trying to defeat Rome, which was then threatening to conquer the southeastern end of the Italian peninsula, which had been colonized by Greek settlers. In 280 B.C., he won the battle of Heroclea, but according to the historian Dionysus at the cost of about 13,000 men including many of his best soldiers. The next year, he invaded Apulia and defeated the Romans in the battle of Asculum. He lost another 3,500 soldiers, including many of his best officers, from his already depleted army. After winning the battle, Pyrrhus is reputed to have said, "One more such victory will undo me!" In fact, after an unsuccessful foray into Sicily, Pyrrhus' army was no longer strong enough to even administer what he had conquered in Italy and he was forced to return to Epirus. He had simply taken too many casualties to be worth the relatively small tactical victories they had produced.

A victory of this type, in which the costs outweigh the gains has ever since been known as a 'Pyrrhic victory.' It is not limited to military battles (though the Germans won one famously in the Second World War, when they sacrificed their most dangerous unit, their airborne unit, in return for capturing the island of Crete from the British and the Greeks.) Other examples of what might be considered a Pyrrhic victory could be a football team that wins a regular season game but does so at the cost of an injury to a star quarterback who will be sorely missed come playoff time, a businessman who irretrievably damages his reputation by lying in order to close a business deal or perhaps a bidder at an auction who outbids his or her rivals but soon finds that the article is not worth at all what has been paid for it.

Lately we've heard the right claiming that the recent downturn in violence in Iraq portends some great 'victory.'

First, I'm not a bit convinced that the downturn is more than a temporary lull. We've seen downturns in violence there several times in the past, such as after the early 2005 offensive that retook Fallujah, and in the end it has proven a fleeting moment of relief. Other than al-Qaeda (which has however proven resilient in the past) all the other major players in Iraq-- Iran, the Shiite and Sunni militias, are still present and armed, and the Iraqi government has done absolutely nothing during the present 'breather' to make a breakthrough that will prevent a future civil war.

But let's even entertain for a moment the possibility that the right is right (I know, I know, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.) Suppose that in fact, everything does work out, that the Shiites and Sunnis do figure out their problems and that Iraq becomes stable. Let's even imagine a situation in which the Iraqi government comes together exactly as the Bush administration hopes it will.

Then let's consider what in this best case scenario the U.S. will have gained and lost from the Iraq war:


* Saddam Hussein is gone. He would be seventy years old right now if we hadn't invaded.

* We inflict a military defeat on Al-Qaeda and reduce their numbers to maybe just a handful hiding out in a country where there only were a handful hiding out in 2003 anyway.

* American companies make a lot of money rebuilding Iraq and from exploiting Iraqi oil.

* We know for sure that there are no WMD in Iraq, and we didn't even need Hans Blix to finish looking for them to find that out.

* After a five year struggle, we can say that we won.


* About 4,000 American troops dead, tens of thousands injured.

* $1.6 - 2 trillion (depending on the estimate) in combined actual outlays for the war and the effect of the cost of the war on our economy.

* Iran has become the most influential power in the region, and they get rid of their archenemy Saddam without firing a shot; an Iraqi government with close ties to Tehran, something the Iranians fought for a decade to achieve in the 1980's without success.

* Iran has become increasingly belligerent and been able to make substantial progress towards developing real WMD (nukes) while our army is tied down in Iraq and unable to seriously threaten Iran (as it will be for the foreseeable future even if this is a 'win'.)

* The aura of American military invincibility has been cast to the wind, guaranteeing more future challenges from who knows where (but we will be tested, of that you can be sure).

* Al-Qaeda given time and a chance to regroup (together with the Taliban) in the country where they were present before, because we shifted our focus to Iraq before the job was done in Afghanistan.

* The unquestioned international support for America which existed after 9/11 long since gone.

* With torture and other rights abuses practiced, America no longer has the moral authority to lead the world.

* Except for the 2001 tax cuts and the medicare drug giveaway, virtually none of the Bush administration and GOP domestic agenda realized as the administration spent virtually its entire political capital on stampeding into Iraq; for that matter even the tax cuts are still due to expire on schedule after the Republican Congress was unable to make them permanent. Now, granted I am a Democrat and don't mind seeing Republicans fail, but with it having been three quarters of a century since the previous time when the GOP had a majority in both houses of Congress and the White House (the 1952-1954 Senate was 50-50 with the GOP nominally in control by virtue of the Vice Presidency) they clearly sacrificed a great deal for getting us fixated on Iraq. Are you a Republican who voted GOP because you wanted to see Republicans reduce the size of the government for example? Then wait another LIFETIME, Buddy!

In other words, even if conservatives were for a change 100% right, and the reduction in violence we see right now in Iraq is a real 'victory' and not just another temporary lull in a continuing cycle, the best they can claim is a Pyrrhic victory.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The People Voted Howard OUT!!

From Yahoo News:

Labor Party leader
Kevin Rudd swept to power in Australian elections Saturday, ending an 11-year conservative era and promising major changes to policies on global warming and his country's role in the Iraq war.

"Today Australia has looked to the future," Rudd said in a nationally televised victory speech, to wild cheers from supporters. "Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward ... to embrace the future, together to write a new page in our nation's history."

A toast to the Aussies!! Can we be next please?

Friday, November 23, 2007

An Illegal Angel?

A woman and her son while camping in Southern Arizona were travelling on a U.S. Forest Road. The woman lost control of her van and tumbled down a canyon, she was pinned in the car. Her son was unhurt. He became disoriented, crawled out to get help and was found about two hours later by Jesus Manuel Cordova, 26, of Magdalena de Kino in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

Unable to pull the mother out, Jesus comforted the boy while they waited for help. He reassured the boy that everything was going to be all right. As temperatures dropped, Jesus gave the boy a jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him until about 8 a.m. Friday, when hunters passed by and called authorities.

The boy was flown to the University Medical Center in Tuscon. Jesus was taken into custody by Border Patrol agents, who were the first to respond to the call for help. He had been trying to walk into the U.S. when he came across the boy.

Jesus was the boy's angel.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

From our House to your House!

Thanks for the Service, now give us back the $$$

From the Carpetbagger Report:

When Jordan Fox was serving in Iraq, his mother helped organize Operation Pittsburgh Pride, which sends thousands of care packages to U.S. troops from his hometown, which prompted a personal “thank you” from the White House. When Fox was seriously injured in Iraq, the president sent what appeared to be personal note, expressing his concerns to the Fox family.

But more recently, Fox received a different piece of correspondence from the Bush administration.

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back. [more]

Crooks and Liars has the video

How can anyone feel anything but thorough disgust with this government of ours?


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving: As It Is

As It Is

Edgar A. Guest

I might wish the world were better,
I might sit around and sigh
For a water that is wetter
And a bluer sort of sky.
There are times I think the weather
Could be much improved upon,
But when taken altogether
It's a good old world we're on.
I might tell how I would make it,
But when I have had my say
It is still my job to take it
As it is, from day to day.

I might wish that men were kinder,
And less eager after gold;
I might wish that they were blinder
To the faults they now behold.
And I'd try to make them gentle,
And more tolerant in strife
And a bit more sentimental
O'er the finer things of life.
But I am not here to make them,
Or to work in human clay;
It is just my work to take them
As they are, from day to day.

Here's a world that suffers sorrow,
Here are bitterness and pain,
And the joy we plan to-morrow
May be ruined by the rain.
Here are hate and greed and badness,
Here are love and friendship, too,
But the most of it is gladness
When at last we've run it through.
Could we only understand it
As we shall some distant day,
We should see that He who planned it
Knew our needs along the way.

* * * *

Give thanks for the blessings you've already had,
And the unknown blessings already on their way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jena 6

John Amato has the post and the video.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Two of life's simple pleasures -- a glass of wine, a little time in the sun -- may have benefits for women's health.

Ladies, I am ordering my Beaujolais nouveau- a case of it!

John Edwards to announce Veterans Plan

Presidential contender John Edwards is introducing a $400 million plan Monday to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, including those recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I strongly believe we must restore the sacred contract we have with our veterans and their families, and that we must begin by reforming our system for treating PTSD. We also must act to remove the stigma from this disorder," Edwards said in prepared remarks his campaign provided to The Associated Press. "Warriors should never be ashamed to deal with the personal consequences of war."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bay Area Oil Spill

The Marine Spill Response Corporation puts down a boon to protect the beach at
Chrissy Fields from oil contamination this past Thursday in San Francisco, California.

The crash Wednesday ruptured two of the vessel's fuel tanks, which leaked about 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the bay, killing sea birds and spurring the closure of nearly two dozen beaches and piers.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency to help fight the San Francisco oil spill that is threatening wildlife and several miles of pristine coastline.

Nearly 20,000 gallons of oily liquid had been sucked up by Saturday morning, and about 770 workers have taken part in cleanup efforts on the water and along beaches to mop up the damage — a job that is expected to last weeks or possibly months.

Rescue teams raced to save hundreds of seabirds tarred with black shipping fuel. At least 60 birds were found dead while 200 live birds were recovered and sent to a rehabilitation center in Solano County.

Photo by: (AFP/Getty Images/File/Kimberly White)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Legend of the Big Fitz Lives On

When it was launched, the 729 foot Edmund Fitzgerald became the largest "laker" on the Great Lakes – the pride of the American side.

On November 10, 1975, traveling through one of the worst storms ever known on Lake Superior, the Fitz disappeared from the radar of the Arthur M. Anderson and sailed into history.

Forever in our hearts.

Previous Night Bird's Fountain tributes were posted in 2005 and 2006.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Mukasey Approved

Michael B. Mukasey to be Attorney General

Roll Call Votes:

YEAs 53
NAYs 40
Not Voting 7

Every Democrat voted NAY except:

Bayh (D-IN)
Carper (D-DE)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Nelson (D-NE)
Schumer (D-NY)

Democrats who didn't vote:

Biden (D-DE)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Obama (D-IL


House Passes AMT

House Passes AMT Fix, Protects Middle Class:

The House has just passed the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007, H.R. 3996 by a vote of 216-193 which would provide millions of middle-class families with tax cuts and help grow our economy without increasing the national debt. The Temporary Tax Relief Act will provide immediate tax relief for working families by preventing 23 million middle class families from paying higher taxes this April. The legislation also closes unfair tax loopholes that benefit Wall Street millionaires and cost middle class taxpayers billions. The Republican Party had an opportunity to offer a substitute, but declined to do so, having decried the PAYGO rules instituted during this Congress which would have prevented new deficit spending.

Speaker Pelosi: "It enables us as Members of Congress to plant a flag for fiscal responsibility, to plant a flag for the middle class in our country… When we talk about fiscal responsibility, unfortunately, it always seems necessary after listening to my Republican colleagues to set the record straight. The Democratic Party is the party of fiscal responsibility. When president Clinton was president, his four final budgets were in surplus. He left office with our budget on a trajectory of $5.6 trillion in surplus. Sadly, the Bush Administration reversed that, taking us to over $3 trillion in deficit, a swing — now we are about a swing of about $10 trillion, a swing that is greater than anyone has ever seen in history in terms of fiscal irresponsibility."

AMT Debate Highlights True Party of Fiscal Responsibility:

As noted this morning, Democrats passed the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007, H.R. 3996, which would provide millions of middle-class families with tax cuts by protecting them from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and help grow our economy without increasing the national debt. The bill passed without a single Republican vote, and Republicans declined to offer any alternative after denouncing the PAYGO rules.


The Temporary Tax Relief Act:

Today, the House passed the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007, H.R. 3996 which would provide millions of middle-class families with tax cuts and help grow our economy without increasing the national debt. The Temporary Tax Relief Act will provide immediate tax relief for working families by preventing 23 million middle class families from paying higher taxes this April. The legislation also closes unfair tax loopholes that benefit Wall Street millionaires and cost middle class taxpayers billions.


Learn more about the Temporary Tax Relief Act from the House Ways and Means Committee ( pdf )


Thursday, November 08, 2007

John Hall On Fixing AMT

The House will soon consider the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007, H.R. 3996, which would provide millions of middle-class families with tax cuts and help grow our economy without increasing the national debt. The Temporary Tax Relief Act will provide immediate tax relief for working families by preventing 23 million middle class families from paying higher taxes this April. The legislation also closes unfair tax loopholes that benefit Wall Street millionaires and cost middle class taxpayers billions. Rep. John Hall (NY-19) spoke in favor of fixing the AMT this morning on the floor:

Rep. John Hall:
If nothing is done soon, 27 million families across the country will be obligated to pay the alternative minimum tax, the AMT. Over 100,000 of these middle-class families live in New York's 19th district. They will have to go through the tedious process of computing their tax returns twice and they will end up having to pay thousands more than they otherwise would. The AMT is an unfair tax which in 1970, when it first took effect, only affected 155 households in the entire country. The people who pay it lose the opportunity to take many of the deductions and exemptions that makes the tax code friendlier to families. Under the AMT, it doesn't matter what money is spent on health care, on property tax or on education. Everyone pays the same amount of tax regardless. Tomorrow we will consider legislation to allow almost 73,000 — 73,000 of my constituents to escape the AMT. Millions of families today are in danger. Middle-class families being ensnared by a tax that was never intended to affect them.


Monday, November 05, 2007

In Desparation? Call Nana!

Times are tough all around, but I wanted to share the most priceless story with you.

My youngest brother was blessed with 4 boys. They range in age from 3 to 9 years.

The third one is named Will. Will is 6 years old. This past Saturday he was having such a hard time, his brothers were bothering him. So Will decided he was going to call his Nana on the phone. Here is the conversation:

Will: Hi Nana, can I come live with you?

Nana: Will, won't you miss your family?

Will: No! My brothers are bothering me Nana, how much will it cost to live with you?

Nana: (laughing to herself) $100.00

Will: My brother has $100.00 (speaking to his father, while still on the phone) Dad, Nana said it will cost $100.00.

Dad: The banks are closed on Saturday, Will.

Will: Nana, my dad said the banks are closed on Saturday. But we could go to the bank on Monday. Nana? Can I play a radio when I come live with you?

Nana: Do you have a radio to bring?

Will: No, could I borrow one from you?

Nana: Of course.

Will (speaking to his father) Dad, are you sure the banks are closed today, because Nana said I could play the radio when I live with her.

Dad: Yep, the banks are closed today.
Will did not call today to say that the banks were open. Nana was relieved!!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New GOP strategy is to attack Congress for inaction-- but how accurate is it?

Recently the Republicans have begun claiming that this Congress is a 'do-nothing' Congress, in an attempt to undermine the Congressmen and Congresswomen that we have worked very hard to elect.

That is however, absolutely false.

This Congress has passed and the President has signed at least three major pieces of legislation, all on issues that had been languishing and unattended to since the beginning of his administration:

1. Minimum wage increase. This represents the first increase in the minimum wage since 1998. Previous attempts in the GOP Congress had failed every single year.

2. College financial aid bill. With skyrocketing tuition costs and students leaving school tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they even have their first full-time job, this bill cuts interest rates in half and helps school boards with limited budgets recruit qualified teachers by giving college graduates a way to be forgiven of some or all of their debt if they step into the classroom for a few years, and it will cost the local school boards nothing.

3. Ethics reform bill. We saw the 'culture of corruption' last year in Washington, and as we've seen this year some of it still has to be rooted out. So Congress passed the most sweeping ethics reform bill since the Watergate era. Critics like to point out the loopholes that still remain. Sure, but those which remain also remained when the GOP Congress did absolutely nothing about ethics reform (other than DeLay's attempts to 'fix' the problem by packing the ethics oversight committee with his cronies).

There are also three other important pieces of legislation that haven't gotten passed mainly due to the President's veto and/or Republican-led filibusters and opposition in the Senate:

1. An Iraq bill which mandates withdrawal deadlines. The American people are quite bluntly put sick and tired of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars down this rat-hole when there are crying needs to pay for here. And on top of that, we are borrowing money to pay for it, but the GOP members of Congress won't even consider a supplemental tax to pay for Iraq, preferring instead to pass the debt on to future generations (with interest, of course.)

2. A stem-cell funding bill. Our policy restricting research in this area is just one of many examples of the administration's disdain for science and scientific research. Other examples include cuts to alternative fuel programs and backing the teaching of creationism in public schools. The result is that the pace of progress for American science, which had effectively lapped the rest of field by the end of the Cold War, has slowed down considerably so that we are now living on 'borrowed time' until the rest of the world catches up (and they are not so far back anymore.) The stem-cell bill was of course only a piece of this whole but it is the piece where the battleground was drawn with Congress. In fact, even last year's Republican Congress realized how important this was and passed a stem-cell funding bill, but the President, who seems to live in a world of his own where science plays second fiddle to dogma, vetoed it.

3. SCHIP. The GOP has been misleading about this from the get go. SCHIP is not a Federal program except for residents of the District of Columbia, but rather a bunch of 'block grants' to states (recall that is something that the Republican Congress did with many Federal programs in the 1990's). Congress must give some guidelines to make sure the money is being spent appropriately, but it sets intentionally broad parameters as to what those limits are in order to allow the states the flexibility to tailor their programs to the specific needs within their state. Keep in mind this is a Republican reform. But opponents of SCHIP renewal are now implying that it is the federal government that would be paying for it (i.e. 'national' healthcare) and quote the maximum allowable limits for any state (intentionally set high to allow states to cover high-cost of living cities like NY and SF if they exist within the state) and imply that would be the limit for everybody. Of course if you live in most places, $81 thousand for a family of four sounds like a ridiculously high limit and in most places it is, but it would not be in, for example, downtown San Francisco where even small economy apartments can run upwards of $2500 per month plus utilities. In a place like where I live that would be two or three times the typical mortgage, so there is little comparison. But count on Republicans to take a good idea like flexibility to the states which they should be taking credit for and twist it into a way to deny funding for kids health insurance (at current levels, Maine and several other states will soon begin running out of funds as health care costs have continued to accelerate rapidly).

4. Comprehensive immigration reform. We can't get a handle on the problem without including a market based solution that addresses the reason why illegal border crossers keep coming-- our own job market (unemployment is at historic lows, so the idea that they are taking jobs from Americans is just not true.) This was one bill that the President would have signed, but it was blocked primarily by Republicans in the Senate (though with the misguided defections of a handful of Democrats.)

So on these bills, the Democratic Congress passed six out of seven, and three of those were signed. Not good enough, but certainly not the 'do-nothing' title that GOP strategists are claiming (that title would belong to the previous GOP Congress which failed even to pass nine out of eleven spending bills in 2006, virtually guaranteeing that this Congress would get off to a slow start as they had to finish last year's work.*)

What needs to be done now? Well, getting larger Democratic majorities in Congress would be a very good start, especially in the Senate where the balance of power hangs by a thread. A veto-proof majority would be nice but probably a very high hill to climb (but not absolutely impossible-- on SCHIP 44 Republicans voted to override, leaving about fifteen short.) And this should make it absolutely clear that we will need a Democratic President next year, someone who will sign these bills if Congress passes them.

*-- the more conspiratorially minded among us might even wonder, given the current assault on Congress in the right-wing media, whether this was actually part of a grand strategy that began last year to gum up the works and lay the foundation for the kinds of charges we are now seeing.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Waterboarding AG

TPM has an important post:

A Last Thought Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Confirms Judge Mukasey
By John W. Dean

As the Senate Democrats complete another sad concession to President Bush, and confirms a nominee who refuses to declare “water-boarding” torture, allow me to offer a brief historical reminder: the Senate Judiciary Committee has conspicuously forgotten that there are direct situational and historical parallels with Judge Mukasey’s nomination to be Attorney General and that of President Richard Nixon nominating Elliot Richardson to be Attorney General during Watergate. [Read more]

Even more compelling:
If the Democrats in the Senate refuse to demand any such requirement, it will be act that should send chills down the spine of every thinking American.

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