2007 - %3, February

Iraqi Oil Agreement Reveals the True Winners in Iraq

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 10:48 AM EST

The Iraqi oil deal, which now goes before the country's parliament, spells the end of the country as a nation state, and signals a great Bush victory in the war.

The Byzantine, nearly incomprehensible scheme for dividing up oil revenues on the basis of population is little more than a sick joke, a façade for the biggest rip off of resources since the British first barged into Mesopotamia over a century ago. The distribution of the money by population in reality provides a means why which the U.S. can pay for the arms and troops it hopes will control those populations.

This law sanctions contracts between regions and foreign oil companies. It effectively puts an end to a nationalized petroleum industry that provides most of the revenue to sustain the country. Oil revenue divvied up among three regions effectively ends Iraq's viability as a nation. Over time, the oil revenues might sustain some sort of Kurdistan, along with a Shia state, and a Sunni state, albeit a small one. The Sunnis don't have much oil — as of now.

While the deal, on its face, splits up control of Iraq's oil among Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, the real power of course is in the hands of the international companies that will strike contracts with one or another of the different entities, put up most or all of the money for exploration, development of infrastructure, and actual production through "device of production" agreements. These agreements, infrequently used in the business, mean that oil revenue will first go to the companies to recoup their expenses and exploration costs. They will be considerable since the industrial infrastructure will have to be rebuilt in many areas and because much of the country has not been mapped. Arguments among the parties will be settled in courts outside the country.

Iraq currently has the second or third largest known reserves in the world. It may well turn out to have the biggest reserves when the nation is completely mapped. These reserves will become more important over time because Saudi Arabia's vast pool of untapped oil is widely believed to be beginning a decline and anyway has been overstated by the Saudis. This deal presents a serious challenge to whatever control OPEC still has over prices and production.

Much of the Iraqi oil goes down through the Persian Gulf. During the war between Iraq and Iran, the U.S. was engaged in supporting Saddam with naval protection for Iraqi tankers, ready to reflag them if necessary, so they might appear to be our own. Now we don't have to reflag them. Our companies will own them.

As for Iran, our interests in the Persian Gulf, that is, the West's interests — the big oil companies are American and British — become ever more important. There is no question that, if challenged, we will fight Iran for that oil. After all, it will increasingly become the key source of supply for us and probably much of Europe.

People who say the U.S. lost the war are wrong. Bush and the oil companies won.

-- James Ridgeway

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One More Thing about the Oscars...Lesbian Attire

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 4:40 PM EST

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What is a butch (albeit soft butch) dyke to wear to host the Oscars? A dress with lots of makeup, like Jodie Foster (whose walk totally gives it away, anyway)? Or a tux? I'm sure Ellen would rather have worn a full-on tux, but would America really have stood for a dyke in drag, bowtie and all?

I swear, I am no fan of Ellen (on my personal blog I refer to her as Ellen DeRidiculous—let that serve as evidence). But give the dyke a break. I thought her first two outfits were pretty sharp. The last one, not so much. (A butch-on-butch critique: Too clingy in the thighs.) But the MSM has harshed on her again and again. I'm calling homophobia on it—that's right, I'm pulling the gay card.

First of all, this whole armchair fashion critique, not just of the Oscars but also the State of the Union address, is inherently sexist. I mean, guys pull a tux off the rack and voilà. I challenge you to find me a critique of a man in a normal tux.

But here are some jabs at Ellen from places who apparently could have used a memo from the National Center for Lesbian Rights about the butch lesbian's impossible fashion situation (not to pimp my own work, but I think it's fair to say that I hold a significant place in the writing-about-butch-fashion genre, so check here and here).

Salon (teaser line: Ellen was 'Ellish in her tacky leisure suits): Ellen took a contrary approach and went for a casual feel ... too casual. Her red velour leisure suit would have looked right at home playing the Wurlitzer for the State Farm Senior Golf Classic. It appears that hosting daytime TV, in some cases, retards the part of the brain responsible for selecting eveningwear. It was a relief when Ellen changed, midway through, into a slightly more upscale, all white, Usher-esque ensemble, but her third and final outfit of the evening looked like she'd bribed it off of one of the busboys at Musso & Frank's. With bigger mutton chops, she'd have been a dead ringer for Isaac from "The Love Boat."

The mutton chops really exposes the anti-butch agenda here.

Washington Post: New host DeGeneres appeared in a velvet suit with pants and shoes that looked suspiciously like sneakers.

They were white (men's!) dress shoes, I believe.

New York Times: [Ellen] was dressed semiformally in an open collar and red velvet suit on a night that usually commands black tie or white.

Time: Dressed in a too-casual velvet pantsuit, [Ellen] could rouse no more than a few lazy jokes on tired tinseltown subjects…Most pointless politically correct zinger: "If there weren't blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars." Even Whoopi did better.

I would hardly call her comment pointless, especially in the mouth of the first openly gay host, despite the rather pronounced role of homosexuals in all of the workings of Hollywood.

I'll say it again, I'm no fan of her comedy, but was it really that bad? Especially when she had allegedly been asked to steer clear of politics. And that gay reference was the only gay reference she made all night. (Melissa Etheridge, on the other hand, kissed her wife for which I am so proud that I won't even mention her really, really bad fashion.)

The local rag, the Los Angeles Times, seems to have grasped Ellen's situation:

Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, the last two experimental hosts, came with a little danger, armed with male writers who hate Hollywood; Ellen comes bearing tolerance and yuks, trailing a whiff of patchouli. She's not a mean spirit, she's America's lesbian — a uniter where Rosie O'Donnell (Was she asked to host? Just wondering) is a divider. Give her credit: DeGeneres was hounded off ABC a decade ago amid hard feelings all around that her sexuality had blocked out her comedy, and now here she was back on the network, on its biggest ratings platform of the year.

When is the media going to learn how to handle the L Word? Lesbians are two-plus decades behind gay men...and counting.

Highlights and Lowlights of the Oscars and the Oscars Reviews

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 1:48 PM EST

Did the reviewer over at Time watch the same Oscars I did? I've never been a huge fan of Ellen DeGeneres, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not so over at Time, where Ellen's performance earned a D. Even the absurdly stupid and time-wasting "Comedian at the Oscars" earned better. The A was reserved for Jerry Seinfeld's totally unoriginal trash-in-the-theaters jokes. Must be a guy thing.

Another clue to their rating system: British accent = "classy." That's what they have to say about Helen Mirren's rather unmemorable presentation with Tom Hanks. Let's not confuse her winning performance with her presentation, mmkay?

The only assessment I agree with is Jennifer Hudson: D. This isn't reality TV where blubbering is warranted. (And what about that costume malfunction during her performance? Close call.) Strangely, the Washington Post review, which is pretty relentless about everything else—notably, and justifiably, the length—singles Hudson out as a highlight. Maybe it was the near breast-sighting.

(Lamest and most transparently sexist remark in the Post review: "DeGeneres didn't seem to have quite the stature of the legendary Oscar hosts of the distant past -- namely Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.")

Can we just get back to the awards please? The people who are genuinely touched to win carry the show, and those expensive montages are the turkey.

Bob Kuttner Has Tasted the Obama Kool-Aid, and it is Sweet

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 1:13 PM EST

Kuttner is co-editor of the American Prospect, and we know who he's supporting in 2008.

I have followed politics far too long to fall in love, but I have to say that Barack Obama is like nothing we have seen since Bobby Kennedy and maybe since FDR. If you haven't read his first book, Dreams From My Father, you owe it to yourself.
Obama wrote the book when he was 33, having spent nearly three years as an organizer on Chicago's South Side, and then three years at Harvard Law School where he was elected president of the Law Review. From there he went to Kenya, to come to terms with the African side of his family.
Reading this work, you think: no 33-year-old has the right to such uncommon wisdom and humanity. The comparisons that come to mind are the young Martin Luther King, or Vaclav Havel, or maybe Jefferson.

I think a lot of hard-boiled politicos are softies at heart, just waiting to be inspired. The Obamania 2008 National Tour continues!

Debating the End of the Vilsack Era

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 12:33 PM EST

There's a mini-debate going on over at the American Prospect blog TAPPED about the reasons Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack dropped out of the running for the Democratic nomination.

Ben Adler chimed in first with the conventional wisdom: Vilsack simply couldn't find any loose dollars hanging around Democratic circles, because high-powered candidates with fully-formed fundraising machines have already taken them all. This is really two explanations in one. First, the campaigns are starting earlier and earlier with only independently wealthy and/or celebrity candidates able to generate enough early buzz to stay in the race. Second, Vilsack didn't have the qualities needed to compete in a Democratic race in which the bar is set very, very, very high.

The blogosphere's best Klein responded with characteristic astuteness:

...the roster of candidates who've already dropped out is instructive. Mark Warner and Evan Bayh, two deeply credible, DLC-type moderates, exited early into the race, and not for lack of funds. Rather, they realized this wasn't a year that could support moderate technocrats. Democratic voters are looking for progressive vision and assertiveness, not small promises and managerial acumen. Vilsack, I'd bet, realized the same thing.

My only contribution here is this. It's not that this year is bad for governors; politics are changing in fundamental ways that make the future bad for governors. Matt Yglesias wrote an article for the Prospect online (that was kind of the inspiration for the debate) in which he decried the inability of Bill Richardson, New Mexico Gov. and second-tier presidential candidate, to get any traction. In the end Matt reasoned that today's political atmosphere only takes "famous" candidates seriously; if you aren't a celebrity, you aren't a contender. This is undoubtably true, and what no one has said yet is that this likely means the end of governor-presidents.

Everyone (including Richardson) says that Richardson's strongest characteristic is that he's a governor, and Americans love electing governors to the presidency. Not any more. If you're governor of California, New York, or Virginia, you can get famous. Otherwise, it'll be real tough. And if you can't get famous, you can't run. And besides, in an era of near constant campaigning, only senators have enough breaks in their work schedule to travel the country; governors have to actually, you know, run things.

The only thing that could resurrect governors' chances nationwide is if the primary schedule is completely redrawn -- which it likely will be -- and states that were previously off the map become extremely important. California, for example, is moving it's primary up to February 5, making the nation's biggest state much more relevant and the man or woman who runs it a much bigger figure.

Your Weekend "Are You Ready for War With Iran?" News Roundup

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 12:20 PM EST

It was all Iran, all the time over the weekend.

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh wrote about the United States' increasingly developed and sophisticated plans to attack Iran, and how the Bush Administration is augmenting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a regional push against expanding Shiite influence, an effort that has led it to join forces with al Qaeda-linked groups.

The UK's Times reported that "up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign" if Bush asks the military to strike Iran.

And the LA Times reported that 2007 is groundhog year, with the Bush Administration pushing the same phony intelligence on Iran that it did with Iraq, and the same U.N. agencies doing their best to debunk it all. Says the Times, "most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran."

It's just a matter of time until Dick Cheney tells us all to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting. Happy apocalypse!

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Doodie-Head David Brooks vs. Hipster Parents

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 11:42 AM EST
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I know, I should just ignore David Brooks, especially when he does his grumpy old man routine. But his latest "kids these days" schtick is unusually misguided. (Sorry, no link, the column is behind the NYT content wall.) Yesterday, Brooks tackled the scourge of hipster parents, decrying the "Park Slope alternative Stepford Moms" who are "fascistically turning their children into miniature reproductions of their hipper-than-thou selves." Their sins: Giving their kids pretentious names like Anouschka, making them listen to Radiohead, and dressing them in annoyingly precocious t-shirts. All because they "refuse to face that their days of chaotic, unscheduled moshing are over." (Not to be confused with the orderly, scheduled kind.) This is serious stuff: "The hipster parent trend has been going on too long and it's got to stop."

I'm actually sympathetic to some of Brooks' ranting. I'm a new, un-hip parent who wants my kid to be a sheltered, uncoordinated nerd like I was. I think it's dumb to name your baby Kal-El (unless it's a family name), give him a fauxhawk, and stick him in a Che onesie or a "Boob Man" t-shirt. But I'm not too worried that the progeny of young bobos are being turned into what Brooks calls "deceptive edginess badges"—whatever that means. The trappings of hipster parenting are pretty superficial. New parents are naturally self-absorbed, but behind the impulse to be a cool parent with a stylish kid lurk big questions about mortgages and mortality. I'm with Slate's Michael Agger (also an occasional contributor to Mother Jones), who concludes after reading Neil Pollack's parenting memoir Alternadad, "The difference between an alternadad, a banker dad, and a soccer dad is ultimately aesthetic and pointless. Sure, Pollack is psyched when [his son] Eli develops a love of the Ramones and Spider-Man, but most of his book recounts his struggle to find what America used to offer easily: a solid house, a living wage, a decent public school." Child rearing in the U.S. has always been faddish and consumeristic, but the bottom line hasn't changed much: Parents—even the ones with tattoos—want what's best for their kids. Brooks should put on some Dan Zanes and chill for a couple of years. By then, the hipsters will have gotten the hang of this post-adolescent parenting thing and will be buying minivans. Now that's scary.

The American People Badly Underestimate Iraqi Death Toll

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 9:09 AM EST

A new AP-Ipsos poll finds that Americans can accurately identify the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq, but badly miss the mark on the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

When the poll was conducted, the number of Americans killed was just over 3,100. Poll respondents guessed 3,000, on average. The number of Iraqis killed is a difficult question, but what we do know is that it's really, really high. From the AP story on the poll: "Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone."

What do Americans guess? 9,890. Yikes.

But apparently even that badly inaccurate number is too high for an increasingly war-weary country. "Whatever their understanding of the respective death tolls," writes the AP, "three-quarters of those polled said the numbers of both Americans and Iraqis who have been killed are 'unacceptable.'" For an explanation for why the American public doesn't know how many Iraqis have been killed, look no further than the Bush Administration, which was exposed as systematically undercounting Iraqi dead by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Hit this link to read the obvious but damning allegation.

Mother Jones content on counting the Iraqi dead here and here.

Disabled Iraq Vets Shortchanged, Already

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 1:40 AM EST

On Saturday the Army announced that its Inspector Generals Office has found 87 problems with the service's medical retirement system, including inconsistent training for counselors, inadequate record keeping and a failure to follow Defense Department policy. The announcement came after a yearlong probe where the IG's office talked with 650 soldiers and employees at 32 posts around the world.

Also this weekend we hear, via Army Times, that the Army is holding back disability retirement ratings to cut costs.

"These people are being systematically underrated," said Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. "It's a bureaucratic game to preserve the budget, and it's having an adverse affect on service members."

Turns out that the number of approvals for disability retirement have remained steady for the other branches—Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force—since 2001 but in the Army, where we are seeing the majority of casualties and the bulk of our 23,000 injured, "the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a GAO report from last year.

The Army Times also points out that:

While the number of soldiers placed on permanent disability retirement has declined in the past five years, the number placed on temporary disability retirement — with medical conditions that officials rule might improve so they can return to work over time or worsen to the point that they must be permanently retired — has increased more than fourfold, from 165 in 2001 to 837 in 2005.

Compared to the overall size of the defense budget, disability retirement costs are relatively small, compared to what we are spending in theater. In 2004, the military paid more than $1.2 billion in permanent and temporary disability benefits to 90,000 people, the GAO said.

More on the hits our men and women in uniform are taking in Iraq, and everything else you might want to know about the Iraq War, in our Iraq 101 guide, here, and on newsstands later this week.

Al Gore Wins! And This Time Gets To Keep the Prize

| Mon Feb. 26, 2007 12:22 AM EST

Okay, so I get that awards shows are going political. First the Dixie Chicks run the table for standing up to Bush, then tonight's Al Gore show at the Oscars.

To sum up:

-Leonardo DiCaprio with Al early on, together they announce that the Oscars has gone totally green, carbon neutral, pats on the back all around.

-Leo then turns to Al in appreciation, asks him if he doesn't have any sort of announcement to share with his international audience. Gore pulls out a paper and starts to lead into an "I've decided to..." when the Oscar score interrupts him, all part of the script.

-Melissa Etheridge wins for best song ("I Need to Wake Up") for Inconvenient Truth, thanks her wife, tells us how it's not about Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, that we are all green and says what a hero Gore is.

-Minutes later Inconvenient Truth wins for best documentary and the director thanks Gore for (and I am paraphrasing here, didn't have the reporters notebook handy) "letting us do this film 30 years in the making." Gore grabs the statue, feels quite at home on the Hollywood stage and uses his time wisely, tells America that its not too late, that we can change the course of our planet's future, but not without action from a passive administration. Something like that.

So, like I said, I get that Hollywood likes to reach out and grab their courageous ones by the tie, or in last year's case by the cowboy hat, but then they have to go all soft and give The Departed the best motion picture nod? (They had already given the oft-snubbed Scorsese the Best Director win, so that's not an excuse.) I may be in the minority here but in my opinion Little Miss Sunshine and Babel (the only other two I saw) both ran circles around the mob film propped up by a ridiculously-flush cast. Maybe it was Alec Baldwin's line about unwarranted wiretapping that grabbed the academy? When his police team is listening in on a deal going down he squeals, "The Patriot Act! I love it, I love the Patriot Act!"

Yeah, probably not.

I know these award shows matter little, and it's Hollywood so what do I expect, but it irks me that they take a serious tone, responsible tone, all political and progressive by theme, and then throw it all down the Charles River before the night is through.