Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Krugman

Bullet Points Over Baghdad

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to provide the world with a demonstration of American power. It didn't work out that way. But the Bush administration has come up with the next best thing: a demonstration of American PowerPoint. Bullets haven't subdued the insurgents in Iraq, but the administration hopes that bullet points will subdue the critics at home.

The National Security Council document released this week under the grandiose title "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" is neither an analytical report nor a policy statement. It's simply the same old talking points - "victory in Iraq is a vital U.S. interest"; "failure is not an option" - repackaged in the style of a slide presentation for a business meeting.

It's an embarrassing piece of work. Yet it's also an important test for the news media. The Bush administration has lost none of its confidence that it can get away with fuzzy math and fuzzy facts - that it won't be called to account for obvious efforts to mislead the public. It's up to journalists to prove that confidence wrong.

Here's an example of how the White House attempts to mislead: the new document assures us that Iraq's economy is doing really well. "Oil production increased from an average of 1.58 million barrels per day in 2003, to an average of 2.25 million barrels per day in 2004." The document goes on to concede a "slight decrease" in production since then.

We're not expected to realize that the daily average for 2003 includes the months just before, during and just after the invasion of Iraq, when its oil industry was basically shut down. As a result, we're not supposed to understand that the real story of Iraq's oil industry is one of unexpected failure: instead of achieving the surge predicted by some of the war's advocates, Iraqi production has rarely matched its prewar level, and has been on a downward trend for the past year.

What about the security situation? During much of 2004, the document tells us: "Fallujah, Najaf, and Samara were under enemy control. Today, these cities are under Iraqi government control."

Najaf was never controlled by the "enemy," if that means the people we're currently fighting. It was briefly controlled by Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The United States once vowed to destroy that militia, but these days it's as strong as ever. And according to The New York Times, Mr. Sadr has now become a "kingmaker in Iraqi politics." So what sort of victory did we win, exactly, in Najaf?

Moreover, in what sense is Najaf now under government control? According to The Christian Science Monitor, "Sadr supporters and many Najaf residents say an armed Badr Brigade" - the militia of a Shiite group that opposes Mr. Sadr and his supporters - "still exists as the Najaf police force."

Meanwhile, this is the third time that coalition forces have driven the insurgents out of Samara. On the two previous occasions, the insurgents came back after the Americans left. And there, too, it's stretching things to say that the city is under Iraqi government control: according to The Associated Press, only 100 of the city's 700 policemen show up for work on most days.

There's a lot more like that in the document. Refuting some of the upbeat assertions about Iraq requires specialized knowledge, but many of them can be quickly debunked by anyone with an Internet connection.

The point isn't just that the administration is trying, yet again, to deceive the public. It's the fact that this attempt at deception shows such contempt - contempt for the public, and especially contempt for the news media. And why not? The truth is that the level of misrepresentation in this new document is no worse than that in a typical speech by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet for much of the past five years, many major news organizations failed to provide the public with effective fact-checking.

So Mr. Bush's new public relations offensive on Iraq is a test. Are the news media still too cowed, too addicted to articles that contain little more than dueling quotes to tell the public when the administration is saying things that aren't true? Or has the worm finally turned?

There have been encouraging signs, notably a thorough front-page fact-checking article - which even included charts showing the stagnation of oil production and electricity generation! - in USA Today. But the next few days will tell.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Remembering Oscar Romero

The first of two Pope John Paul II movies aired last night, the next will air soon.

Amid what will continue to be the popularization of the recently deceased pope, I'll invite you to remember and reverance another name, a Roman Catholic who was much more of a hero than JPII.

His name was Oscar Romero. You can read more about him here.

The short version is, Romero labored as Archbishop in El Salvador during the John Negroponte days of death squads, disappearings, and military juntas. He was first thought of as a conservative, meaning he would obediently support the established order. But after observing the human rights violations of the U.S.-backed El Salvadorian regime, he began to take more of an assertive role in challenging the abuses and inequities of the Latin American country's government. He was gunned down for his troubles in 1980--IN A CHURCH, WHILE PERFORMING MASS no less--by militants affiliated with the dictatorial government.

His story is moving not only for the troubling intersection of human rights abuses and U.S. support for a corrupt, murderous regime, but also because the then new Pope, John Paul II, "scolded" Romero for allegedly advocating "liberation theology", conservative theology-speak for helping the poor and challenging inequitable corporatist government policies, particularly those involving land distribution.

So, when the poor Catholics of Latin America most needed him, the former Pope criticized their bishop and passively or directly, aligned himself with the most abusive of the region's regimes.

Fortunately, Romero's assassination helped draw attention to the abuses going on in El Salvador, served to highlight the U.S. role in that country, and Romero has been treated more favorably after his death by the Catholic hierarchy that spurned him while he was alive. But as we're invited to consider the life of JPII, remember instead, Oscar Romero, and how the Pope treated him and his people, and who the Pope aligned himself with. While JPII's backing of Solidarity in Poland is admirable, turning his back on Latin America was inexcusable.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yeah, OK, Whatever

Meet the new "strategery". Just like the old "strategery".

Thanks to Atrios for the link and the Washington Note for the doc.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blame Fox

With the president's tanking poll numbers, and the indictments, plea bargains and resignations of white house officials and congressperson's of the Republican variety spoiling the conservative's parade, the wing-nuts are left with only the public's falling support for the Iraq war and the need to blame the MSM for the public's change of mood to harp on. Ezra Klein and James Wolcott have picked up some of these whinings, but the question I have is, how can the MSM be at fault for the public's increasingly negative view of the war when, as conservatives have been so fondly telling us for the past several years, Roger Ailes' Fox "News" is kicking CNN's and MSNBC's asses in the ratings? And the NYTimes? C'mon. Only political geeks like me get or read the NYT.

You mean to tell me that with all the water-carrying the Fox "News" crews have been doing for the Bush Administration, that someone else is still responsible for the hostility of public opinion and the legal shenanigans Republicans have been finding themselves in? How can CNN and MSNBC (and the NYT) be duping the public and hurting our troops' "morale" if ain't nobody watching them stations or reading print anymore?

So I blame Fox "News". By so shamelessly parroting the administration's rhetoric, policies and attacks on its opposition, the most watched cable TV "news" network has been hurting our troops and hurting America. They've enabled the nation's enemies in Iraq to mount an insurgency against our very rightful rule of that country. They've aided and abetted the evil-doers in Iraq who want our troops to go back where then came from. So next time, when you hear tales of flagging troop morale, the triumph of those pinko liberal anti-American hippies in making over half the country not trust our president, and another Republican party official indicted, do what I do, blame Fox "News". You'll feel better. I promise.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Another One Bites The Dust

Duke was the most obnoxious member of a very obnoxious party, which should tell you something. And he had his hand in the cookie jar, too. What about that.

Good riddance.

5-128, 4-59

Chargers 23
Skins 17

A little math. Add 5-128 to 4-59 and you get 23-17. How? The Chargers received 5 Redskin kickoffs and returned them for 128 friggin yards. The Skins received 4 Chargers kickoffs and returned then a stinking 59 yards. When you stink up the joint on special teams, like the Skins did yesterday, this is what happens. When you allow the other team 128 yards on kickoff returns, especially a good offensive team like the Chargers, they're going to score. And when you only get 59 yards on kickoff returns you're going to forced to make long drives, which for a feeble offensive team like the Skins, means you're going to have trouble scoring. And when you add the 3 yards of punt returns the Skins got yesterday, you get two long LT TD runs and a
23-17 overtime loss.

Rams 33
Texans 27

Somebody named Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 310 yards and 3 TD's for the Rams. The Texans are 1-10. And the Rams are next for the Redskins.

Da Bears 13
Tampa 10

Da Bears are 8-3!! And they have a rookie QB. How did this happen?

Brownies 12
Vikings 24

Brad Johnson has helped Minnesota come back from the dead.

Broncos 27
Cowboys 21

I know they lost, but can you imagine what the Cowboys and Bill Parcells would be doing this year without Drew Bledsoe? Over the last couple of years, here have been the Cowboys QB's--41 year old Vinnie, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson, Tony Romo, and Quincy Carter. Cowboy fans, say your lucky prayers. Nice comeback for Ron Dayne with the big run in OT.

Atlanta 27
Lions 7

How much of this game was played on the Detroit side of the field? What's happened in Motown? Do the Redskins play there when they aren't at FedEx? They have all those wideouts and can't get them the ball. Bad O-line, QB's can't get the thing down the field. Rumors Mooch was going to get sacked on Friday, which doesn't make any sense at this time of the year and given Dick Jauron is waiting in the wings.

Saints 21
Jets 19

More interesting game than the teams' records would have predicted. Brooks Bollinger is coming along, and I wonder if the Jets can start thinking about whether he can be a serious alternative at QB if Chad Pennington can't come back.

Pats 16
KC 26

Glad to see the Pats getting their comeuppance. Even if injuries have been largely responsible. But they're still likely to win their division and thus get a playoff bye, so don't count them out yet. Seriously.

College special

Nebraska 30
Colorado 3

A Huskers fan from NJ (don't ask) I was getting ready to launch but then they go into Boulder and totally blow up the Buffs, who because Iowa State lost Saturday in Lawrence, will still be going to the Big 12 title game next week against Texas (yeah, good luck). That Zack Taylor is some QB. Is he a senior?

Walk The Line

I went to this movie yesterday. I was experiencing movie-popcorn-hot-dog-withdrawal symptoms, didn't particularly care to watch the Skins game (more about this below), and didn't know what else to plop my seven dollars down for. I didn't know much about Cash, although I did like a couple of songs of his that had been featured in One Night at McCool's (Wanted Man) and Dawn of the Dead (When The Man Comes Around). I have one of his most recent albums,w which has some other good songs on it. So I thought, why not. But I wasn't expecting much.

But it was great. Really great. It was a little longer than I expected. But thoroughly entertaining. And the soundtrack just kills. Joaquin Phoenix can really belt out the Johnny Cash tunes. Unfortunately, the CD doesn't have the live recordings in the movie. Nonetheless, a really great movie and story. Afterwards I went to two stores looking for the CD, and I picked up two other Johnny Cash albums. I imagine the movie will have a similar effect on other movie-goers, so the Johnny Cash albums are probably going to be flying out of the stores for awhile.