Friday, August 29, 2008

Putin Says Bush Pushed Georgia To Attack for McCain

Putin obliquely accused Bush of encouraging or helping Georgia attack South Ossetia in order to help John McCain get elected, according to a CNN interview reported in the NYT. I was already worried in an earlier blog that McCain had helped foment the war in Georgia.

Putin seemed to imply that an American military or CIA officer was directly involved. I doubt this. If a CIA officer was involved, it was probably some rogue agent like those who worked in the Watergate break-in, not one working in a CIA operation. I think there is no love lost between the CIA and Bush. Bush has made the CIA's failures the scapegoat for his failure on 9/11, and by reorganizing the intelligence community has weakened the CIA significantly. It's unlikely that the career leadership of the CIA would undertake an operation mainly to support McCain's candidacy. It's also unlikely that SecDef Gates would risk starting a war for partisan politics, although I'm not so sure about some of the wild men in the special forces command; I just don't know enough about them.

Although I'm dubious that the US government would have encouraged Georgia to start a war to help McCain, I think the USG probably encouraged Georgia to tweak Russia's nose for its own foreign policy reasons, however stupid they may be. And I think that McCain used is own foreign policy contacts to encourage Georgia to be aggressive, particularly his chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Schuenemann, who is a lobbyist for Georgia. He basically gets paid to foment a war that advances McCain's campaign. McCain's connections are obvious; he and Saakashvili claim to talk several times a day, with Schuenemann's lobbying firm picking up a little commission every time they do. Plus, McCain has sent his own envoys to buck up Georgia's aggressiveness -- Sen. Graham, Sen. Lieberman, and his wife, Cindy McCain. No doubt they all said something like, "Don't give up," but the questions is how far they went in promising military aid either now or after "President McCain" is elected.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain Hides Behind POW Experience

I've had it with McCain's touting of his POW experience as the answer to every question, particularly to how many houses he has. Jay Leno was the final chapter for me, when McCain said he wasn't concerned about how many houses he had because he didn't have a house while he was a POW. Maybe not, but he had a wife, and he dumped her for Cindy not long after he got back. Cindy was the Paris Hilton of her day, an heiress with a hot body. McCain latched on to her pretty fast, before he got around to divorcing his first wife.

But what about being a POW? It's honorable, but several levels below the highest sacrifice for one's country. Obviously the greatest sacrifice is to die for your country. Why doesn't McCain talk about the pilots who died when they were shot down over North Vietnam? Maybe because that makes him look bad. Then there are those who don't surrender. They don't end up as POWs. They probably end up dead, too. Finally there are the POWs who try to escape. Maybe it was impossible from McCain's prison, but it should have been an objective. Being a POW is not an option for most Army soldiers and Marines who are face to face with the enemy, as opposed to flying miles above it. For most of them surrender is not an option. What about Gen. McAuliffe's reply to the German demand for surrender at Bastogne during World War II? "Nuts." Becoming a POW was not an option. While many Army Air Corps troops became POWs during WW II, many also escaped and worked with the resistance in France and other occupied countries.

McCain's father and grandfather were four-star admirals. By their standards, McCain's Navy career was a failure. He became a senator after he took over Cindy's money, but he couldn't cut it in the Navy. Maybe he sees becoming commander-in-chief as a way to redeem himself in the eyes of his father and grandfather.

McCain might be the first president to have surrendered in combat.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is McCain Just Another Worthless Vietnam Veteran?

This article by a fellow POW of McCain's on why he will not vote for McCain gives me conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it's good to know that you don't have to fall down and worship McCain because he was a POW. On the other, it's disappointing that no one seems to have come out of Vietnam with a good reputation. The war tends to destroy those who served in it whether they were a "hero" like McCain or a poor grunt just trying to survive long enough to get back home. At least part of this is because the American elite did not serve and in order to make themselves feel better about avoiding service, they belittle the service of those who went to Vietnam.

As a Vietnam veteran, I am disappointed at veterans denigrating other veterans, whether it's "Swift Boat Veterans" running down John Kerry, or another POW running down McCain. When I came back, all any civilian wanted to hear was whether you killed any babies or committed some other atrocity in Vietnam. One book I remember reading was called "No Victory Parades." One problem for John McCain is that he missed all that. He came back praised as a hero rather than reviled as a criminal for his service. His tour of duty was a lot tougher than most, but his reception was a lot better than most. That may be one reason he is so ready to go to war, whether against Iraq, Iran or Russia. I liked him in 2000, but that was before he became such a warmonger. I think his defeat by Bush changed him for the worse. This article at least raises questions about how much people should bow down to McCain's POW experience. He uses it for everything, most recently defending himself for not knowing how many houses he has. His spokesman said something like, "He lived in only one house for five and half years, in prison" Maybe he should cool it on the POW stuff for a while.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Are We Winning in Iraq?

John McCain is hyping the line that the surge was successful in Iraq because violence has gone down drastically. It's good that violence has gone down, but does that mean we are winning? Basically we have set up al-Maliki and a few others as successors to Saddam Hussein. Are they our friends, or Iran's? Or, are they just in it for the money, like Ahmed Chalabi? Maliki has opened up to the Sunnis who are fighting for us, but is that going to be a lasting alliance? The Iraqis and Iranians in general don't like each other, but some dislike each other more than others. Where does Maliki fall on this spectrum?

Some Americans who are well plugged in to the Iraqi scene probably know the answers to these questions or have educated guesses, but if so, they are not talking. Basically all we know is that violence is down. Much of that seems to be due to the decreasing threat from al-Sadr's militia. But again, is that due to his being defeated by forces friendly to the US and to the westernization of Iraq, or is simply a tactical move intended to get the Americans to expedite their withdrawal.

We misjudged Iraq so badly during the invasion, expecting to be welcomed with flowers and candy, that it's unlikely that even the best analysts know exactly what will happen when we leave, although hopefully they are better informed than they were before the war. Of course, one problem is that many of the "experts" sent to Iraq by the Bush administration were just Republican political hacks who didn't speak Arabic and who had no knowledge of Iraqi society. Their time was largely wasted, although they made good money paid by American taxpayers.

My bottom line is that despite the drop in violence, we don't really know whether we are winning, and we probably won't know until after we leave Iraq and it's too late to do anything about it. I have a gut feeling that Maliki and his cronies are a lot friendlier with Iran than Saddam Hussein was, and that we are likely to see Iraq pulled into the Iran/Shiite orbit when we leave.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Supreme Court Problems

Rick Warren asked the two candidates which Supreme Court justices they would like to get rid of. Obama said he would get rid of Clarence Thomas, my choice exactly. The problem with Thomas is not his political philosophy, although I disagree with it. The problem is that he is a second rate lawyer. He's not smart enough, hard working enough, or something enough to be on the Supreme Court. The justices should at least come from the first rank of lawyers and judges. Clarence Thomas would be okay on a state appeals court or something, but not on the US Supreme Court. He's just not up to the job.

Thomas is an example of the fact that Republicans like stupid people in government. Exhibit 1 - George W. Bush. Exhibit 2 - John Bolton. Exhibit 3 - Ronald Reagan. Reagan? I think he was somewhat senile for the latter part of his time in office. He thought things were true that weren't, e.g., Cadillac driving welfare moms. It might have been true, but it wasn't. He couldn't name names. Republicans don't like law. They don't like treaties because treaties assume that nations have some respect for international law, and Republicans don't. They don't like to pay taxes. They don't like anything that hinders their options. This is not new. It's basically how the warlords in Afghanistan operate and how despots have operated for years. The West moved beyond this, but now we're going back to the Middle Ages, led by George W. Bush and Clarence Thomas.

When McCain was asked which justices he would get rid of, he just named all the liberal justices. He showed no real thought, and that's what Republicans like. They like McCain better in 2008 than in 2000 because he's more senile. He won't stand in the way of their unbounded greed and selfishness.

Did McCain Encourage War to Advance His Campaign

John McCain's main foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheuneman, was (and maybe is) a paid lobbyist for the nation of Georgia. Did McCain get paid for promoting Georgia? Did he get special access to the President Saakashvili because of the lobbyists on his campaign staff? During one of the many visits and phone calls that he has touted on the campaign trail, did he encourage Saakashvili to invade South Ossetia, resulting in many deaths, as described in today's NYT by Mikail Gorbachev.

McCain probably didn't do anything unethical regarding Georgia to promote his campaign, but having a lobbyist for Georgia on his staff certainly raises ethical questions. It certainly gave him better access to Saakashvili than Obama had, if only because of Scheuneman's rolodex.

The Rich Are Different From You and Me

F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous line, "The rich are different from you and me," was met by Hemingway's rejoinder, "Yes, they have more money." Today, the rejoinder could be changed to say, "Yes, they don't pay taxes."

Included in an LA Times article on Rodeo Drive, is the following:
An Internal Revenue Service report obtained by the Wall Street Journal in March showed that the 400 richest Americans -- those with incomes of at least $100 million -- controlled 1.15% of the nation's wealth as of 2005, or twice the amount of a decade earlier.

Thanks to President Bush's tax cuts, though, the average income tax rate for the mega-wealthy fell to 18% from nearly 30% over the same period.
The Wall Street Journal often complains that the rich pay too much in taxes, that a small number of taxpayers pay a high percentage of the total taxes collected. However, the reason is that those taxpayers receive a high percentage of all the income received in America, and for the amount of income they receive, their taxes are relatively low. Although the dates don't exactly match up, one study says that in 2005 the top 1% of taxpayers received 21.8% of all income. A Treasury press release says that in 2002 the top 1% paid 33.7% of all taxes. This doesn't seem disproportionately high.

Much of their income is taxed at a low rate, such as the taxes on dividends and other "investments." One argument for low taxes on dividends is that the company paying the dividend has already paid taxes on its income. But an article in the NYT recently said that two-thirds of businesses do not pay income tax.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russia 1, US 0

Surprisingly (given its conservative bias), the Wall Street Journal says that Russia "gave the U.S. a bloody nose" in the Georgia dust up. But if Bush got a bloody nose, then John McCain got a broken nose and lost a few teeth as the most conspicuous friend and promoter of Georgia, as I noted previously.

Of course, Condi Rice didn't come out too well either. The NYT reports that in a recent visit to Georgia, Condi's public stance was one of "defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure," while she claims that privately she warned Saakashvili "not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win." Maybe Condi should not have been so shy about publicly warning Georgia not to get into a fight with Russia.

Did McCain Start the Russia-Georgia War?

According to the Washington Post, John McCain's principal foreign affairs adviser, Randy Scheuneman, is a lobbyist for the country of Georgia. On the one hand, McCain is well briefed on Georgia, on the other, has he been too hawkish in encouraging Georgia to tweak Russia's nose? Thanks to his lobbyist/adviser, he has talked to the Saakashvili numerous times, but what has he told him? The neocon Republicans hate Russia and want to bring it down. Did they see Georgia as a tool in their attempt to destroy Russia? Will Georgia be destroyed as a result? Is John McCain the leader of the use-Georgia-to-destroy-Russia bloc of neocon Republicans?

Republicans Hate America

CNN reports that the US is using contractors in Iraq more than any previous administration in any previous war. It's because Republicans don't like the government, and they love to give money to their political contributors, like Halliburton. But it you hate the government, you hate the basis on which the country was founded. Republicans would prefer that their wars be fought by Blackwater, paying over $100,000 per combatant, rather than by the US military, who would be $30,000-$50,000 per combatant And the people getting $100,000+ would be firmly Republican.

Republicans will fight for money, but not for the flag. When a country relies on mercenaries to defend itself, it's on shaky ground.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What's Up Between Russia and Georgia

No doubt what Russia did in fighting Georgia was bad, but to offset the hue and cry of "Let's go to war against Russia to save Georgia," remember the following:

-- Georgia started the war by sending troops into South Ossetia, which admittedly is part of Georgia, but there was no shooting until Georgian troops started shooting;

-- In spite of George Bush's professed love for Vladimir Putin, he has stuck his finger in Putin's eye on numerous occasions, such as:
-- Abrogating the ABM treaty with Moscow,
-- Encouraging former Soviet states to join NATO, including Georgia,
-- Encouraging pro-Western, anti-Russian, political movements in former Soviet states, such as the failed Orange Revolution in Ukraine,
-- Forcing the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, viewed as an insult by the (pro-Russian) Slavs,
-- Proposing to install ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Arguably, Bush never liked or trusted Putin and the Russians and thus he decided to make hay while the sun was shining on the US, encouraging more and more former Soviet citizens to be pro-West and anti-Russian. The question is, did these anti-Russian policies produce the current Russian belligerence, or was Russia going to do this in any case? I think Russia's belligerence is due at least in part to the anti-Russian policies pursued by the US. If Condi Rice had managed her Russian portfolio better the world might be a safer place today. But there is the argument that Russia was always evil and that Condi was right to continue the cold war policies she grew up with.

Pickens Looking for Government Handout

Just to follow up on my previous blog, an article in the Denver Post points out that Boone Pickens is counting on government subsidies for his share of the natural gas part of his wind/gas energy plan. Like every other businessman he's looking for corporate welfare.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The turmoil around Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is emblematic of the greed and corruption that permeate the American government and business community. If we were to let the Republicans' beloved free market system operate normally, their likely failure could destroy the national or possibly the world economy. So, in the short term a bailout is probably necessary. But Harvard's Larry Summers summed up the situation in an interview the other day saying that we may privatize Fannie's gains and socialize its losses, transferring the losses to the taxpayer. Of course, because the Republicans do not pay taxes, the actual losses will be transferred to our children and grandchildren. But we'll take care of them by letting inflation run wild, so that a trillion dollars will be nothing to them, just like it is in Zimbabwe's currency.

It's interesting that when the legislation dealing with the mortgage/housing crisis starting moving through Congress, it dealt mainly with a bailout for people who were being foreclosed, but when it finally passed the big winners were the financiers on Wall Street, in the form of the Fannie and Freddie bailout. The financiers get trillions, the homeowners only get billions.

More Tax Cheats

The latest example of rich Americans betraying the troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq is the report that they avoided $100 billion annually by hiding income and assets off shore. The most recently exposed hiding place is Lichtenstein. The Financial Times plays up the German connection, but many Americans were caught in the operation as well, many of them working through the Swiss bank UBS.

It would be interesting to know how many of these rich people who hate America are Republicans and how many Democrats. I would guess most of them are Republicans, since rich people tend to be Republican, and since rich Democrats tend to be more willing to pay taxes to support do-gooder stuff like education and health care, if not to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republicans have their shills like George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Fox News, who rail at the government and shout for free enterprise, which really means, "Let me keep all of my obscene wealth to myself! Let my neighbor starve and freeze in the dark!"

The Republicans say they love America but hate the government -- the petty, little bureaucrats who do the everyday stuff like monitor statistics, send out policy notices, etc. Reagan's famous statement was something like, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" But if you hate the people who work for the government, you essentially hate the government. The Republicans have tried to get around this by hiring private-sector contractors to do as much as possible. They pay their buddies in these private firms much, much more than a bureaucrat would make, and their buddies in return make generous political contributions to Republicans. See Sen. Ted Stevens, or Cong. Tom Delay, or Cong. Duke Cunningham, or Jack Abramoff, or many other corrupt examples! It's a nasty, unethical, little arrangement.

Boone Pickens, Windmills and Swift Boats

In his proposal to build windmills, Boone Pickens does not have have America's best interests at heart. He cares about Boone Pickens and nobody else. I don't know what his scheme is, but it's not to help America. He epitomizes selfishness and greed. By supporting the Swift Boat veterans who attacked John Kerry for serving his country in Vietnam, he showed his contempt for America and for military service. His bio in Wikipedia does not mention any military service by him, although he would have been of draft age back when they had the draft.