Saturday, January 01, 2005

Reaching out to others who share your goals 

From the AP:

The radical Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups issued a statement Thursday warning that democracy was un-Islamic. Democracy could lead to passing un-Islamic laws, such as permitting homosexual marriage...

Boy, how ironic would it be if the same fear of gay marriage which helped propel Bush to electoral victory in the U.S. was used by extremists to defeat his commitment to democratic elections in Iraq?

The answer is: "So Very!"

Luckily, I know of a Louisianan who could help. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, should directly address Ansar al-Sunnah and calm their fears about gay marriage's chances at the ballot box. It's the activist liberal courts that are the real threat. Perkins could reassure these insurgents that appeals to bigotry still win big in conservative democracies. They needn't be alarmed; progressivism can be curtailed with good marketing. Perkins is clearly the one to make this argument because both he (and his flock) have also been chosen by the God of Abraham to win this important fight against gays. To wit:
This is our hour. By God's sovereign design He has chosen this generation to defend His institution of marriage, to save a nation, to preserve civilization. He has chosen you and He has chosen me for such a time as this.

Jeff Crouere has more about Perkins' political prospects in New Orleans CityBusiness (sub req):
Looking ahead: In Louisiana, 2005 will be a year of political preparation for Congressional elections in 2006 and statewide elections in 2007. Republicans are already targeting Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of New Orleans, who faces re-election in 2008. Across the state, billboards have started appearing with Landrieu's picture and the warning, "You're next."

Of course, there is a political eternity between now and 2008. Some Republicans hope Jindal will run against Landrieu while others in the religious right are convinced the best candidate is former Rep. Tony Perkins, who is now president of the Family Research Council.

I'll maintain a discerning eye on Mr. Perkins in coming months. Today I think his expertise is urgently needed in Baghdad.
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Best news I've read all year 

A hearty congratulations to President Bush for increasing the United States' initial tsunami disaster relief pledge from $15 million up to $350 million. Now that's what I'm talking about! Well done. It's the appropriate response and will save and rebuild thousands of lives.

Keep giving, folks! This is a great example to follow.

Thanks, George, for making the compassionate, smart choice. I'll be curious to see what your supporters (who viewed the paltry initial amounts as mega-generous) will say.

Also, it appears the massive earthquake wobbled the earth's orbit, making the next four years slightly shorter than the previous four.... Wonder if it will feel that way.
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Friday, December 31, 2004

In the time of Chimpanzee I was a donkey  

In many ways 2004... could've been better, I would say. Political disappointments... uhm... occurred. Let's not dwell on those and instead hit the ground running for 2005 by re-consecrating ourselves to our personal stoa. Thereby we can better affect the (political) changes we desire.

Your faithful bivalve always attempts to incorporate truth into life whenever possible. What is truth, though? (Or if you prefer, the "truth of untruth".) Well, who the hell knows? My guiding assumption is that it's not so simple or easy. That's why I like to say "No friction, no thought". The ascension to higher levels of confusion is not a painless journey, in my experience. Twice-borns or neocons or presidents or even liberals who've long ago decided to replace thoughtful inquiry with rigid conclusions, well... I find that rather unphilosophical.

So, how can we pursue our goals while remaining clear-eyed about life's nastier and more brutish truths? Once again, I don't know. Love, humor and an appreciation of art helps. Giving to others is also an enviable way to travel. Beyond that, if the search for truth still overwhelms and paralyzes you, say the following: "This, too, shall pass" followed with "Press On!". Those phrases can get you through a lot.

That's basically what Your Right Hand Thief is about. Sure, it descends into liberal political screeds all too often, but it also tries to inspire with dry wit, personal anecdotes, and insights about this unique corner of the "Gret Stet". In some small way, YRHT wants to be there for its readers, on as many levels as possible.

I'm loathe to close down interpretations of my blog's title, but one possible reading seems to fit where this post is headed. First, here's a lovely quote to make you feel tingly:

...for your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be.
(UM, Ntz)

Why not be bolder, more confident, more persistent in 2005? Perhaps you must grow into someone infinitely more noble and god-like to realize your true essence. Has that occurred to you? Like the philosopher- queen Judy Tenuta exhorts, "It could happen!"

As you know, one day long ago the Nazarene was in a tough spot, feeling forsaken, alone... doubtful. A nearby criminal saw that he was going through a difficult "midnight of the soul", and decided to pile on. He hurled insults and mocked the Nazarene, but was suddenly rebuked from an unexpected corner. A thief on the right spoke up for the Nazarene, and defended him against those base attacks. (Luke 23:40-1) I always thought that was an especially honorable, redeeming effort. Good timing, too!

So, in this way, when you come to visit, I'd like to be your right-hand thief... but who does that make you?

Here's hoping we discover ourselves anew in 2005.

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Cirque de realite 

Below is a selection from "Middle East Democracy", an article in the Nov/Dec issue of Foreign Policy. It's not intended to be funny, but I was rolling when I read this paragraph.

Promoting democracy throughout the Middle East will require doing away with fantasies of a sudden U.S.-led transformation of the region and taking seriously the challenge of building credibility with Arab societies. Moreover, if the United States is to play a constructive supporting role, it must seriously revise its cozy relations with autocratic regimes, show a sustained ability to apply nuanced diplomatic pressure for political change at key junctures, and back up this pressure with well-crafted and well-funded assistance. Washington must prepare to accept emboldened political forces, and eventually new governments, that are uninterested in doing the United States' bidding.

Ok. Let's review a few of those select phrases, shall we? [warning: sarcasm slathered extra thick]

"IF the U.S. is to play a constructive supporting role"-- Yes I'm sure that's what Bushco has in mind for Iraq, especially after already "investing" the real dollar equivalent of WWI. It's easy to imagine Bush playing the supplicant: "Yes, Messrs Chalabi and Sadr, how may the U.S. support and assist you in your country's march to freedom?"

"Revise its cozy relations with autocratic regimes"-- we've seen how Russia and Uzbhekistan, or Saudi Arabia and Pakistan bend like spoons under Bush's mighty stare.

"Well-crafted"-- the architects of this clusterf*ck, er, I mean, endeavour are nothing if not effective promoters of democratic reform. They sow the land like Johnny Freedumseeds... and I've no doubt Rummy and Wolfie's seeds are especially potent.

"show a sustained ability to apply nuanced diplomatic pressure for political change at key junctures"-- nobody nuances like the Bushies. Nobody.

"Well-funded"-- yes, billions have been distributed. None has been delayed due to security concerns or diverted in order to disguise the true cost of this noble experiment.

"accept emboldened political forces"-- I can't imagine a time when the administration has used the word "emboldened" when describing evil-doers, insurgents, terrorists, freedom-haters, Democrats or other opponents. Bushco welcomes all things emboldened.

"New governments that are uninterested in doing the U.S.'s bidding"-- I really don't see how this phrase applies. Once the forces of democracy are unleashed, we can pack our big tent and go home. There clearly is no need for, say, long-term military bases. Certainly not any like the ones in Saudi Arabia which so energized Osama (after our common path diverged in the woods).

Seriously, folks, how can the authors submit this with a straight face? Have you ever seen so much pressure dumped on so few words? I swear, the turtle at the bottom of it all has less of a burden.

Here. I wanna try it out. For maximum effect, read the following paragraph aloud in a sincere voice-- as if it seamlessly corresponds to reality-- and with the earnest conviction that your audience will nod in spirited approval:

If the New Orleans Saints are to become a football dynasty for the next two decades, they will require consistently excellent results from their ownership, management, coaching, offense, defense and special teams. The owner, Tom Benson, should maintain a constructive, supporting role as the city and state design a well-crafted and well-funded new stadium for the team. Harmony and unity on all fronts must be the order of the day.

Saints fans should revise their cozy relationship to bad luck and fatalism, and open themselves to the possibility of annual championships on a sustained basis. But in the event of a rare home loss, they must remember to accept the taunts and jeers from emboldened visiting fans with grace and good humor. Mocking or confrontational responses lack class, and are to be eschewed.

Next time you're at a show, and someone passes you the cheeba, why not return the favor and hand them a highlighted copy of this article?
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Win a coveted guest spot on a well-designed blog! 

... no, not YRHT.

I'm talking about Chepooka's charity challenge for tsunami victims (originated by Tas of Loaded Mouth). She's promoting a good idea and I'd like to direct my mass audience over to her. It's sad that as late as I am in mentioning this disaster of biblical proportions, I'm only slightly less tardy than our compassionate, workaholic president. We need four days to "study" how $35 million in disaster assistance will be distibuted; the same amount of money evaporating every four additional hours we spend in Iraq.

Update: for context, let's all remember that the Bush administration decided to cut aid to charities like Save Our Children and Catholic Relief Services to the tune of $100 million dollars this winter. The cuts eliminated CRS programs in Indonesia where 45,000+ people have been confirmed dead, and estimates of the total number of victims are now 400k+!! The decision to brutally squeeze the budgets of charity organizations this November and December seems horrendously ill-timed and shortsighted, if not outright cruel. To then dawdle and indignantly defend an allotment of $35 million after such an overwhelming catastrophe is beyond the pale. This is precisely the time for America to flex her economic muscle and go beyond herself, and make a long-lasting, worldwide, freedom-enhancing impact in a time of immense need... but, then again, brush needs to be cleared on Texas ranches.

(On a personal note, I recently learned the correct pronunciation of Phuket, Thailand. Much closer to "Poo-quette" than what I originally assumed.)
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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

"You only play [the ethnic card] when you're losing and by playing it, you simply speed up the process of losing" 

Michael has the story and link.

Yes, it's about Iraq.
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CNBC's Bob Pisani reported the results of his annual traders' survey regarding market performance expectations for the upcoming year. As usual, most traders are overly bullish with an average 7% prediction to the upside for the Dow. However, interestingly, 50% of hedge fund traders believe the Dow will end next year flat or down. I'm with the hedgies, though I've had all my money out of equities for some time now, and I might only return if/when we see Dow 8000 again. I've no training as a chartist, a fundamentalist or anything else involving stockpicking. My loose working model of the Dow vacillating between 7000-12,000 for the coming decade is only a simplistic transferral of the market history from 1967-82, when the Dow stayed between 700-1200.

But what do I know? I spent a couple of years gambling on 19 year-old athletes for a living... in twelve months investors may be crooning to Sinatra's "It was a Very Good Year". Treat anything I say here as little more than entertainment.

Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture predicts a rollercoaster ride: midyear 11,700, yearend 9700. His 2004 call was almost perfect.

Wallstreetjackass admirably resists talking shop at his site, and James Picerno prudently understands that the prediction game is rather fraught with downside risks. But if you want rainbows and gumdrops, go see the wizards at Forbes (among others) who seem to predict +20% each and every year.

Persuade me that America's credit bubble is nonexistent and that Stephen Roach is wrong about current global imbalances, and I'll turn more bullish about the near term (thru 2009).

Update: An analyst compares the Dow to Social Security over a 45 year period. Guess which investment had the better "performance"?-- excluding fees! Article here.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I believe the Iraq war was an immense, strategic blunder and am largely sympathetic to Wes Clark and Bob Graham's criticisms of the misadventure. I've recently become more concerned about how their (devastating) critiques are being ignored and collapsed into the much smaller debate about Paul Bremer's early decision to disband the Iraqi army-- as if that's the primary reason for the mess we're in now.

In a brutal paper recently released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anthony Cordesman delivers a sober, forceful criticism that nails the neocons (among others) for pre and post war "planning". I'd love for many more analysts to be as fearlessly direct as Cordesman is in the following excerpt.

The Initial Ideological Approach to Reality

The US did not plan for an effective effort to secure the country or to develop effective Iraqi forces before or during the invasion. It failed to deal with the risk, and then with the reality, of a growing insurgency effort for nearly a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein. This is in many ways due to the fact that a relatively small group of "neoconservatives," rather than the Interagency process, dominated planning for the stability and nation building phases following the fall of Saddam Hussein, and that the Department of Defense was put in charge of the operation.

The problem of dealing with the Iraqi Army and security forces was handled largely by ideologues that had an unrealistic grand strategy for transforming Iraq and the Middle East. Their strategic assessments of Iraq were wrong in far more important ways than their assessment of the potential threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They were fundamentally wrong about how the Iraqi people would view the US invasion. They were wrong about the problems in establishing effective governance, and they underestimated the difficulties in creating a new government that was legitimate in Iraqi eyes. They greatly exaggerated the relevance and influence of Iraqi exiles, and greatly underestimated the scale of Iraq's economic, ethnic, and demographic problems. They did not foresee the impact of the war on America's overall structure of alliances and world opinion. They fundamentally misread the linkages between the invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israel conflict, and the fighting in Afghanistan. They did not foresee its impact on the Middle East and the Islamic world, the resulting decline in support for the war on terrorism, or the risks that Islamists inside and outside Iraq could become part of an insurgent threat. They failed to see that Iraqi Shi'ites might welcome the Coalition as liberators, but not as occupiers, were almost certain to divide into factions, and could present another insurgent risk.

They saw military action by the Department of Defense as a workable substitute for effective coordination and action by all the agencies of government. Above all, they failed to see the importance of serious stability operations and nation building; they did not plan effectively for the risk of insurgency; and they assumed that they were so right that America's allies and the world would soon be forced to follow their lead. The end result was that they had no practical grand strategy beyond Saddam's fall, and their strategic assessments were slow to improve thereafter. Many "neoconservatives" wasted a year after the Coalition's apparent military victory, living in a state of ideological denial. The US effectively occupied Iraq as proconsuls, rather than rushing to create a legitimate government and effective Iraqi military and security forces. US aid efforts faltered in a mix of uncoordinated, ideologically driven plans to make the Iraqi economy "American," and bureaucratic fumbling. They failed to rush aid in where it might have bought acceptance and stability – a fault only partially corrected by the fact the US military did implement effective emergency aid as part of its Commander's Emergency Relief Program (CERP).

No analysis of the successes and failures in creating effective Iraqi forces can ignore this. What realism there is in the present US approach to the "war after the war" in Iraq has been thrust upon "neoconservatives" after the fact. To the extent we may be evolving a workable approach to a grand strategy, that evolution has been shaped largely by the people that "neoconservatives" chose to ignore in going to war in the first place. The adaptation to the political and military facts in Iraq has come from military, State Department, and intelligence professionals.

Oh, and Phil Carter asserts that (controlling for variables like improvements in medical treatment and better armor) the "intensity on the ground [in Iraq] matches that of previous American wars."

Who was the first to call this a "slow motion trainwreck"?
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