2008 - %3, September

Troop Shift From Iraq to Afghanistan: Just Window Dressing?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

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We've known for a while now that President Bush has every intention of leaving the Iraq mess for his successor to clean up, but today he made it official. At a speech this morning at the National Defense University in Washington, Bush announced the withdrawal of 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by January 2009, leaving 138,000 troops still in-country. Specifically, 3,400 combat support personnel will leave Iraq after their tours conclude over the next couple months; a Marine battalion will return to the States in November; and an Army brigade will come home in January. The reductions, says Bush, have been made possible by the success of the "surge."

The troop reduction in Iraq will occur amidst a build-up of forces in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has gained continued strength in recent years. According to Bush's plan, an additional 4,500 troops will head for Afghanistan in the next few months, including some units that had been scheduled for Iraq deployments. The war in Afghanistan is more popular among Americans than the Iraq conflict, and Bush stands to gain from focusing more of his efforts there in the twilight of his presidency. But since U.S. commanders have said that a "surge" in Afghanistan would likely require at least 12,000 more boots on the ground, Bush's offering seems as slim as it does late.

So agrees the National Security Network, which observed today in a press release that "the redeployment is so modest and will take so long to arrive that, effectively, the President remains fixated on Iraq—regardless of the larger implications for U.S. national security." Military expert Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress called Bush's announcement "much ado about nothing," adding that the Iraq surge that Bush hailed this morning "has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated central government with close ties to Iran, and these ruling parties in Iraq have shown few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other Iraqis."

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The Spin Within

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:32 PM EDT

THE SPIN WITHIN....I haven't yet read The War Within, Bob Woodward's "secret White House history," but I've read the excerpts in the Washington Post and my reaction so far is pretty similar to Derek Chollet's. Far from being a critical account of George Bush's management of the war, it reinforces exactly the narrative of himself that Bush himself is so fond of:

Beneath the surface, the core of Woodward's account actually seems to reinforce the narrative that Bush is trying to spin about Iraq — that against mighty resistance inside and outside the government, a small group made the gutsy decision to double-down with the surge. As with every Woodward book, there's a story within the story. His sources share their tales (or in some cases, secret papers) to settle a score or shape the historical narrative. And here we see National Security Adviser Steve Hadley taking over Iraq decision-making and guiding Bush as he stared down leery Generals and worried political advisers to push the 2007 surge.

....Now, former White House aides and loyal Bush defenders like Peter Wehner are using Woodward as Exhibit A to support their depiction of a heroic President. But perhaps the happiest reader will be John McCain. After all, he has as much at stake as Bush in having this "surge victory" narrative take hold. Woodward's story also enables McCain to have it both ways, distancing himself from the chaos of the Bush Administration's internal battles, while associating with the core message of defying conventional wisdom to support the surge. Woodward's account of McCain is exactly as McCain's campaign wants it to be.

That seems about right. Woodward has a pretty standard m.o. on these books, and it looks to me like the White House has finally figured out how to make that work for them instead of against them. Hadley looks good because he drove the planning of the surge, Bush looks good because he stayed out of the muck but nonetheless stood by his principles, and in the end, the mythology of the surge being solely responsible for the security improvements in Iraq gets a big boost. The White House must be pretty happy with Woodward right about now.

The Bridge to Somewhere

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:18 PM EDT

THE BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE....ThinkProgress reports that the McCain campaign has now repeated the lie about Sarah Palin opposing the Bridge to Nowhere 23 times since Friday last. That's as of an hour ago, though, so the total might be higher by now.

And not to get too sanctimonious about this, but this really is a test of some kind for the press. This lie is unusually egregious given the plain facts of the situation (Palin was eagerly supportive of the bridge until after Congress pulled the earmark, at which point she reluctantly decided to take the money but use it for other projects), and if the media allows the McCain campaign to get away with this — if they relegate it to occasional closing paragraphs and page A9 fact checks — well, that means McCain knows he can pretty much get away with anything. The press will be writing its own declaration of irrelevance. Interesting times indeed.

Wasilla Paper: Under Mayor Palin, Rape Victims Charged for Own Forensic Tests

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

An interesting catch by the folks over at AMERICAblog. They found an article from the Wasilla newspaper dated May 23, 2000, that notes the city of Wasilla was one of a few Alaskan municipalities that charged women claiming to have been raped for their own forensic tests. As you probably know by now, Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla from 1996-2002.

[Governor Tony Knowles] signed House Bill 270... The new law makes it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims or victims insurance companies for the costs of examinations that take place to collect evidence of a sexual assault or determine if a sexual assault did occur...
While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.
Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
"In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer," Fannon said.

In the article, Fannon admits that halting the practice of charging alleged rape victims for their own tests would cost the city... wait for it... $5,000 to $14,000 a year.

Does Sarah Palin Not Read the Newspaper?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 11:49 AM EDT

cartoon_pork.gif Over the last couple days, every newspaper and network in America has disproven Sarah Palin's claim that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Yet just moments ago at a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, she repeated her familiar refrain on the bridge, claiming she told the federal government, "Thanks, but no thanks."

There appears to be no accountability here; the McCain campaign will trot out Palin to repeat her talking points no matter how many times the press reports that Palin campaigned for governor as a supporter of the bridge and only opposed it when it became obvious the federal government was going to cancel its funding.

Today she went on to say, "If our state wanted a bridge we would build it ourselves." Palin seemed to be suggesting that she had no interest in federal support for infrastructure projects. That, too, is not true. As Kevin has noted, small towns in Alaska never sought federal earmarks until Palin pioneered the tactic, even using an Abramoff-connected lobbyist to get them.

And as governor, Palin continued the trend. Today, states receive roughly $50 per person in earmark funds from the federal government. Alaska gets a stunning $506 per person. For fiscal year 2009, Palin has submitted 31 earmark requests totaling $197 million. According to the Seattle Times, that is "more, per person, than any other state." And, for what it's worth, there are a "road to nowhere" and a second bridge to nowhere that Palin is decidedly less upset about.

Let's be real. The fact that Sarah Palin is not an anti-pork crusader has been reported. Repeatedly. Sarah Palin just seems to be the last to hear the news.

Quote of the Day

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:39 AM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From David Brooks, commenting on our current political environment:

"The Republicans are intellectually unfit to govern right now...."

OK, I'll buy that. But how about expanding on this theme a bit, David? I'd like to hear more — much, much more — about it.

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Computers V. The Human Mind

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 10:06 PM EDT

800px-Columbia_Supercomputer_-_NASA_Advanced_Supercomputing_Facility.jpg The race is on. Will computers able to make 1 quadrillion calculations per second convince us to make up our minds and do something about climate change?

Four of the brainiest centers on Earth* have received a $1.4 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to generate new climate models using new "petascale" computers that make ordinary supercomputers look like 90-pound weaklings.

"The limiting factor to more reliable climate predictions at higher resolution is not scientific ideas, but computational capacity to implement those ideas," said Jay Fein, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences.

Climate Crisis Needs Brilliant Minds

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 9:05 PM EDT

Aktivitaethinten.jpg The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth's greatest challenges. So says Sir David King, former UK chief scientist, in remarks to the British Association Science Festival. He suggests we spend less time and money on space exploration and particle physics and more on climate change, reports the BBC.

"The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we've had to face up to before," he said. "This requires a rethink of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society's inner attitudes towards science and technology."

His remarks come just as the UK is celebrating the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest physics experiment, deigned to understand why matter has mass. The UK has contributed $900 million to the LHC, the most ever invested by that country in a single science project. "I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial," he said.

A Liberal's Confession on Sarah Palin

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 8:32 PM EDT

After spending two days sheepishly defending the Lipstick Pitbull to women less liberal than myself, it's time to 'fess up: I kinda like Sarah Palin.

It's a shameful admission to be sure, far worse than an abiding love of Miracle Whip in the Slow Food Nation foodie heartland. But how can you not like a woman who calls herself a pitbull and makes it sound charming?

I'd been baffled by the drinkers of 2000, who for some reason thought W would be a fun guy to get a beer with, and that that was reason enough for the ill-prepared guv to lead.

But Palin's the Mommy Track'd equivalent, and I get it now. The woman has five kids, a full time job, and a sense of humor. Really? You don't want to at least sit down with her for a cup of tea?

Yes, I disagree with her on every issue I care about (and several I don't). No, I don't like her policy, her history, or her hairstyle—and I don't want her running my country. But I wouldn't mind her in my moms' group.

The Dems would be wise to make her look less charismatic somehow, and fast. Or at least stop yammering on about her parenting choices, so I can stop defending them.

Gaffe Watch

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 6:39 PM EDT

GAFFE WATCH....Sarah Palin, peeking out from a thicket of pre-scripted talking points in Colorado Springs, goes off message briefly and explains what went wrong in the home mortgage market:

The fact is, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they've gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.

A gaffe! But how does it measure up? On a technical basis, I'd say it's impressive. Until now, Fannie and Freddie haven't cost the taxpayers a dime and their current problems aren't really related to their size either. This leaves only a few conjunctions and proper names as sensible parts of this sentence.

On artistic merit, however, the judges have to score this one for Palin. Nobody cares about the minutiae of how GSEs work, after all, and liberal attacks on this score are almost certain to backfire because (a) we're obviously harrassing her unfairly over trivia because she's a small town mom and (b) we're just trying to show off how smart we are. Besides, as Palin said, John McCain is in favor of "reforming things," so he's obviously the right guy to tackle whatever problem it is that Fannie and Freddie suffer from. For liberal critics, then, there's no there there.

Actually, what's really impressive about this is that even though Palin obviously didn't know what she was talking about, she managed to dig smoothly into the standard movement conservative playbook to say something pleasing to the base anyway. Got a problem? It must be government's fault! Something somewhere got too big and too expensive and conservatives need to rein it in. Nice work.

Anyway, I'm sure more like this will crop up soon. In the meantime, though, I'll be a little quiet for the rest of the afternoon because the U.S. Open is um, I mean, because I have some important research to do for an upcoming article. Yeah. That's what I meant.