Tuesday, December 13, 2005

America's Failing Grades on Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers, not known for being especially radical in outlook, has released its report card on the condition of America's infrastructure: our roads, bridges, energy grid, schools, etc. The grades are extremely low and falling. If the U.S. infrastructure were a student, the flunk out notice would already have been delivered.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless...also very clever

Harold Pinter's lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics," presented by video
link as he received the Nobel Prize for literature, is well worth reading.

Here's an excerpt from the middle section of his talk.

* * * * * * * * * *

"The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right
wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second
World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay,
Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course,
Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can
never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries.
Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US
foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are
attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it
wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of
the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless,
but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it
to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power
worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a
brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show
on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it
is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most
saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American
presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the
sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend
the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust
their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the
American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep
thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly
voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie
back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence
and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not
apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line
and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons,
which extends across the US."

* * * * * * *
The text and video of the lecture can be found here.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Members of the American public ponder George W. Bush's latest defense of his "policy" on the Iraq war.

Hey, this guy makes Richard Nixon look good, says a New York Times editorial, 12/01/05.


We've seen it before: an embattled president so swathed in his inner circle that he completely loses touch with the public and wanders around among small knots of people who agree with him. There was Lyndon Johnson in the 1960's, Richard Nixon in the 1970's, and George H. W. Bush in the 1990's. Now it's his son's turn.

It has been obvious for months that Americans don't believe the war is going just fine, and they needed to hear that President Bush gets that. They wanted to see that he had learned from his mistakes and adjusted his course, and that he had a measurable and realistic plan for making Iraq safe enough to withdraw United States troops. Americans didn't need to be convinced of Mr. Bush's commitment to his idealized version of the war. They needed to be reassured that he recognized the reality of the war.

Instead, Mr. Bush traveled 32 miles from the White House to the Naval Academy and spoke to yet another of the well-behaved, uniformed audiences that have screened him from the rest of America lately. If you do not happen to be a midshipman, you'd have to have been watching cable news at midmorning on a weekday to catch him.

The address was accompanied by a voluminous handout entitled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which the White House grandly calls the newly declassified version of the plan that has been driving the war. If there was something secret about that plan, we can't figure out what it was. The document, and Mr. Bush's speech, were almost entirely a rehash of the same tired argument that everything's going just fine. Mr. Bush also offered the usual false choice between sticking to his policy and beating a hasty and cowardly retreat.

On the critical question of the progress of the Iraqi military, the president was particularly optimistic, and misleading. He said, for instance, that Iraqi security forces control major areas, including the northern and southern provinces and cities like Najaf. That's true if you believe a nation can be built out of a change of clothing: these forces are based on party and sectarian militias that have controlled many of these same areas since the fall of Saddam Hussein but now wear Iraqi Army uniforms. In other regions, the most powerful Iraqi security forces are rogue militias that refuse to disarm and have on occasion turned their guns against American troops, like Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Mr. Bush's vision of the next big step is equally troubling: training Iraqi forces well enough to free American forces for more of the bloody and ineffective search-and-destroy sweeps that accomplish little beyond alienating the populace.

What Americans wanted to hear was a genuine counterinsurgency plan, perhaps like one proposed by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., a leading writer on military strategy: find the most secure areas with capable Iraqi forces. Embed American trainers with those forces and make the region safe enough to spend money on reconstruction, thus making friends and draining the insurgency. Then slowly expand those zones and withdraw American forces.

Americans have been clamoring for believable goals in Iraq, but Mr. Bush stuck to his notion of staying until "total victory." His strategy document defines that as an Iraq that "has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency"; is "peaceful, united, stable, democratic and secure"; and is a partner in the war on terror, an integral part of the international community, and "an engine for regional economic growth and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region."

That may be the most grandiose set of ambitions for the region since the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, who saw the hand writing on the wall. Mr. Bush hates comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. But after watching the president, we couldn't resist reading Richard Nixon's 1969 Vietnamization speech. Substitute the Iraqi constitutional process for the Paris peace talks, and Mr. Bush's ideas about the Iraqi Army are not much different from Nixon's plans - except Nixon admitted the war was going very badly (which was easier for him to do because he didn't start it), and he was very clear about the risks and huge sacrifices ahead.

A president who seems less in touch with reality than Richard Nixon needs to get out more.