Prague Twin

Sunday, December 31, 2006

"Ding, Dong...."

Now that Saddam Hussein is dead and buried, I wanted to express just a couple thoughts on Iraq. I've been avoiding Iraq in general mostly because people like Mike, and Reality-based Educator do such a good job covering it, rarely do I feel I have something to add. But Iraq is still in my mind day in and day out as much as ever.

So now that this "milestone" (as Bush calls it) has come and gone, I wonder if it actually means anything. As Mike pointed out, it was supposedly a milestone when Saddam was captured. Here is what Bush said on that day:

In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq.

Bush is not so optimistic this time this time saying:

Saddam Hussein's execution is an important milestone for Iraq, but will not stop the violence there.

This, then, is another of those rare occasions where I agree with George Bush (at least about the violence). Another milestone will most likely occur today, when American Military fatalities reach 3,000. The fact that this happens on the last day of the year, and on the day that Saddam is buried probably will not escape media scrutiny. Also, December is now the deadliest month of 2006 for American forces, the third deadliest month of the war, and it also marks the end of a four-month period that will be the second deadliest four-month period since October 2004-January 2005, the latter just marginally edging out the former.

Looking back at my first post on the subject, I assumed that we would see troop drawdowns because the admininstration would not have the political will to change the structure of the military or pull troops from other arenas. I was completely wrong. One assumption I made that was completely right was that it is illogical to go down the same road in terms of troop deployment as we could expect no change in the situation on the ground. I argued that there should either be a major escalation or a drawdown, but that if the same number of troops (roughly 150,000) were to remain in Iraq, we could expect about 2.3 per day to be killed and the situation on the ground to be largely unchanged.

That was a year ago. Now we have the essentially unchanged situation, although by all accounts, the slaughter of Iraqis is on the increase. American troops are being killed in roughly the same numbers (although right now they are suffering more losses, but not unprecidented levels in this war).

So the most illogical thing in the world to me is this idea that 15,000 more troops is going to make a damn bit of difference. That will bring the troop level back up to the levels that we saw earlier in the war that did not prevent the looting, did not quell the insurgency, did not prevent the sectarian violence, and did not prevent the suicide and car bombings that have been devestating to the Iraq people.

Why does anyone think that things are going to change? Operation "Together Forward" was a total failure. I had hoped that sending the Stryker units into Baghdad would have some effect. As we know know, it did not. So why would 15,000 troops have any effect now?

I've said it over and over again, and I will say it again now: the numbers can be tweaked, the leaders can be killed, surges can be made, but without a major change in strategy (either a withdrawl or an escalation in orders of magnitude), the insurgency will continue, and Amercians will continue to lose about 2.3 soldiers per day.

Great strategy.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Prague Twin

Some of you have wondered what the hell Prague Twin means. I had meant to explain much earlier in this whole blogging process but have never found the courage to explain. Now that I'm a year into blogging, I figure I just have to give it a shot. Disclaimer: I'll really only be able to scratch the surface of what I'm trying to say as this is quite an elusive concept.

Ever since I was little, I have felt as though there are two people living inside my head. I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but crazy people don't spend time wondering if they are crazy, so I figure I must be okay. Also, from what I have been reading about the brain lately, this doesn't seem out of the ordinary at all. If you consider Jung's principle of the shadow for a moment, you might know what I mean. I think the difference for me is that instead of having one conscious side, and one unconscious, I'm keenly aware of both sides of my personality. It is only in the last few years that I am starting to come to terms with it.

Ok, let me see if I can come up with some concrete examples. I remember when I was about 5 years old, I was thinking about crossing the sidewalk. I hesitated just for a second and then realized that I would have to convince myself to actually do it. I realized that the part of my personality that hesitated could completely freeze me and this terrified me and I stood frozen for about a minute. Finally, the part of me that wanted to cross the sidewalk took control and across I went. What a relief!

It was at this point that I realized there was more to me than just me. There were competing forces in my head that I would have to deal with. Everything I do involves some negotiation, yet there are times when one side takes charge, and the other takes a back seat throwing in disgruntled comment here and there.

One side of my personality is confrontational, mean, violent, and unsympathetic to others. I have learned over time to reel this side in as much as possible, and channel that energy into things like sports and talking politics with people I disagree with. However, from time to time, I lose complete control of this guy, and all hell breaks loose. My terrible-twos were terrible indeed. I've been in plenty of fist-fights and I've ended some with acts of brutality that are indeed shocking.

However, I've also been known to be quite generous and sympathetic. I'm the type of friend that you can call when your car breaks down, or at 3 in the morning because you just need to talk. I'm very protective of my friends and family. If you harm my friends or family, I'll let the other guy loose on you.

This is the simplest way that I can describe the two basic parts of my personality. I think that everyone has them, but usually one is more dominant than the other. I seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle, oscillating between best-friend and worst enenmy on a daily basis.

The reason I named my blog after these twins is that these two sides battle in my politics as well, leaving me for the most part completely confused.


I was brought up to believe in peace. My parents were hippies actually. I participated in anti-nuclear activism as a child. However, like most boys, I was facinated with war. I decided at an early age I would defend my country from invation, but I wouldn't go off and fight abroad. So when Gulf war one came up, although I had no intention of participating, I found myself wanting to see things blown up. CNN coverage was fantastic, and I was glued to the screen. Yet I knew in my heart that this was wrong: this was the violent side of me getting satisfaction from the visceral thrill of the violence. I remember seeing a truck absolutely covered in flags around the time of the invation and something just clicked: people liked war. It was fun for some. That nationalistic pride that wells up in your chest when you think about the greatness of America (or any other country) is the same feeling that I get just before I punch some asshole in the face that desperately deserves it. Nationalism is pride, ego, aggresiveness, and latent violence all wrapped together.... and it is wrong. But I understand.

After the horrors of what happened in Iraq the first time around became apparent, after I saw the pictures of the charred families, and the people washing thier clothes in the sewage-laden water, after the scale of human suffering became evident, I became distraught. On the one hand, I had wanted to see the distruction. I had never lived through a proper war (born in 1970) and I was fascinated by it and wanted to see it happen. The Iraqi's deserved it, I figured, so let's go! But once it was over, the sympathy that I normally have returned. I felt for the people who had been killed and injured and put myself into their position.

The conflict I felt within myself was immense and I vowed not to support war again unless it was absolutely necessary, and if it was, I would not get any pleasure from it. More or less I've been successful in keeping this vow, although I still love to watch things get blown up.... at least part of me does.

So all you peace-niks out there, I totally understand and I think you are right. All you hawks out there, I totally understand, but logic and decency tells me you are wrong.


Again, because of my upbringing, I have a keen awareness of the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. But I have never been a big fan of socialism for one basic reason: it isn't fair. I started working from a very early age and I saw that people generally got what they earned. Those who worked hard, made more money, and that seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

However, capitalism has it's downfalls as well. If we base everything on competition, that means that the disadvantaged will always be disadvantaged. Crazy people with no family walk the streets all over the United States, scavenging for food and barely surviving. I think this is dispicable and downright sad. Having said that, I don't understand why the government should give a penny to an able-bodied, able-minded person in the United States. I've had horrible, low-paying jobs that allowed me just to survive, but by that I mean having food, a car, and a place to live. Most people in the world have much less than that, so the complaints I hear from Americans about pay fall on deaf ears here.

But again, on the filp side, those who have the resources through family to go to school and get good jobs should bear a larger share of the burden to help the old, the sick, and the mentally challenged. To claim we don't have a responsibility to do this is anti-social at best. However, if someone breaks into my house and trys to steal from me, I'd shoot them dead and feel no remorse.

So where do I stand? I try to balance my sympathy for the truly needy, with my belief in competition and reward, and my utter hate and disgust for the leaches who steal and who milk the system just because they are lazy.

Essentially, I'm lost.

I could go on and on, but as I said, I was only going to scratch the surface. For every issue, I see both sides. On some, I see a third or fourth side that normal people say is completely nuts. But suffice to say, I continue to argue with myself about these things, as well as every other thing I do from brushing my teeth, to getting married. I may make the wrong decision, but I certainly have had a debate with myself about it before I reach a decision.

I try to be critical of everything, while still giving the things I don't believe in a chance. My goal is to understand people, even if I disagree with them. Once I truly understand myself, maybe that will be possible.

Friday, December 22, 2006

One Year On

So it has been one year since I posted my first post so I guess this makes it my first anniversary. In one year I've put up a total of 237 posts, which isn't that bad considering most of my posts are actully some effort at writing. Hey, let's look at what I wrote a year ago and see what it looks like through year-old blogger eyes.

Hello everyone, if anyone is out there.

I've started a blog in the interest of open discussion. If somehow I can contribute to someone's understanding of the world or challenge them to better understand it for themselves, or if someone can do the same for me, then I think it will have been a worthwhile venture.

I welcome all comments so long as they have some serious thought behind them. No one is wrong, we are all learning.

Lets see what we can teach each other.


Well, I don't know about all of you, but certainly you are "out there". I know for myself I have learned a lot in the last year so I figure it is definately worth it, and I am going to carry on.

Big shout out goes to Roger at XDA who inspired me to start blogging without even knowing it, and with whom I almost always disagree. It is a pleasure knowing you Roger, even if only from afar.

Another big shout out to Reality-based educator who was the first to read my blog regularly.

One last shout out to The Gun-Toting Liberal who really struck a nerve with me and is still an inspiration.

Oh hell, and while I'm at it, David, Stephanie, Cartledge et. al. and you all know damn well why so I'm not going to get in to it.

Arch, you get a special mention even though I can't link you (what a pity). And the rest of you, all of you, who visit and comment, you have made it all worth my while. You know who you are, and I'm not listing everyone. Sorry, I have a special place in my heart for the few who read my blog when no one else did. I'm sure you bloggers understand what I mean.

Coming soon.... an explaination of what Praguetwin means. In case anyone cares!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Right of Return?

Every once in a while, you see the same theme repeated by extremely diverse sources in a short period of time. If that theme is something you think about often, and there is no particular reason for it to be coming from all sides, as it were, you might feel compelled to post about it. So here we go.

The issue is somewhat complex, and I urge my dear reader to give me some latitude in exploring it. The issue is a two-part question, at least.

The first question is this: if certain people which belong to a religious and/or ethnic group present a threat to the established order, can the whole of that group be collectively punished in the interests of protecting the citizens of the more powerful local ethnic and/or religious group? If you answer yes, then the second part is irrelevant. If you answer no, the you must consider the second question.

The second question is this: if a minority, or less powerful religious and/or ethic group is persecuted and deprived of their property and/or state and/or significant percentage of their living members, do they deserve to be compensated at a later time? If so, to what extent and how long is the statue of limitations valid on such a claim?

Maybe it is clear where I am going with this, but in case it is not, let me explain.

The first post I saw that got me thinking about this recently was this one by my conservative friend Roger Fraley at XDA. He argues that the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was a "sad necessity to prevent sabotage" that deserved reperations be paid. As usual, I totally disagree with Roger, but he is consistent in his opinions. I have to wonder what he would think about issue of the Sudeten Germans. The Czechs are feeling less and less confident about the Benes decree as time goes on, which you can read about in the link here.

Many of you may be aware that millions of German speaking people living in an area of the Czech Republic called the "Sudetenland" were expelled after WWII for being traders. Now, most of course were not, but many were. Using the typical better-safe-than-sorry logic, millions of Germans were stripped of their rightful property. They were given a couple of days of food and a train ticket and were exiled. It is estimated that at least 250,000 died as a result. Was this necessary? Was it just? Do the Sudeten Germans deserve to be compensated for their losses?

Finally, I saw something at a blog I've been checking out lately called The Dissillusioned kid. He posts here about a radio talk show host who played a prank on his listeners.

When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

What did his listeners have to say? Well, some were rightfully horrified, but what horrified me were these types of comments..

Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us.

Or this comment which, when I read it, really got the synapses firing.

What good is identifying them? You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans.

So I guess Roger is not alone. It should be worth noting before I go on, that Mr. Klein ended the show with this comment....

I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said.

Well Jerry, not only do many agree, but they would take it several steps further. I'm sure plenty of people would just round up all the Muslims, put them against the wall and open fire, you know, just in case.

When I think about these things, I can't help but to think about Osama Bin Laden's stated goal of "transforming America into a shell of it's former self." It is just this kind of reaction that Bin Laden wants so desperately. He wants us to abandon our goals of equality under the law, tolerance, and forgiveness and turn us into savage animals that would kill innocents because they are the same race, or follow the same religion as the guilty. Essentially, he wants us to be more like him.

Well it looks like we are on our way.

Before I leave this post, I just want to present one more piece to the puzzle here. How does this thinking apply to the Israeli/Arab issue? The Israelis were forced from their country some 2000 years ago. No one can say for sure why, and it isn't like there really were countries back then anyway. But it is likely that certain people had wronged others, and the whole lot of them were abolished. Palestinians now find themselves in a similar position. They collectively pay the price for the transgressions of the few and of the past.

Do they have a right of return? Did the Israelis? Do the Sudeten Germans? What about the Kurds? Do they have a right to have their own country after the genocide they suffered? Should the Armenians be compensated (they lost at least a million)? Should all the Muslims in America be rounded up and interned until this whole thing blows over? If so, should they be compensated at a later date? Should native Americans be given at least Oklahoma back? What about 40 acres and a mule for the emancipated slaves?

Honestly, I don't have any answers here. My opinion is that there is no right to return, but then that means that Israel should never have got their state. Having said that, now that they have it and can defend it, I suppose we should just let it be. Compensate those who lost property and move on.

There are no easy answers here, and it is very hard to have a consistent stance that is both fair and plausible in today's world.

I'd love to hear what all you think.

Monday, December 18, 2006

As Promised

I quit smoking dope about 4 weeks ago (it was exactly 4 weeks yesterday) and as I promised, I'm writing an update on how things are going.


At first I had some bad dreams and some trouble sleeping. It still is somewhat harder to get to sleep, but I seem to be sleeping fine now. The only real difference in sleeping is that I remember a lot of my dreams whereas before I didn't really remember many. So I spend longer in the shower now asking myself questions like, "what the hell was THAT all about?"


Although you might hear a lot about decreased productivity due to marijuana use, or the mystery "Firestone Study", in fact it doesn't exist. Much of the hype that one hears about marijuana use is just that. I can't find any information that shows any link to lost productivity due to marijuana use, although those who are in prison for it certainly count.

Personally, I don't seem to be any more productive at work or on my blog since I quit. Am I surprised? No, not really. Am I disappointed? A bit. I guess I was hoping that I would be full of energy and motivation, but actually, I am doing exactly what I was doing before, just without the weed.


I haven't suffered from any mood swings, good or bad. I feel somewhat more peaceful, but I am lacking those moments of excitement that I would get when I was high. Essentially, I'm bored. I feel like an adult now, and it is about as boring as I always thought it would be: very. I've suffered from depression off and on my whole life, and I haven't slipped into one since I quit. I suppose it could happen, but I don't think pot has anything to do with it.


I haven't been sick since last Christmas, but since I quit I feel like I'm fighting something. I may be on my way to a cold, but I usually get one about this time of year anyway so who knows. I hope I don't get sick. I hate being sick.


Ha! That's funny! Withdrawls. Anyone who thinks they are having withdrawls from pot has never been addicted to anything hard. When I quit doing speed, now that was what I would call withdrawls: 14 hours sleep per day, violent mood swings, delirium. The only thing that has been tough is that I always smoked with tobacco so now I find myself wanting cigarettes. If I'm out having beers with my friends and everyone is smoking, I usually endulge. I really shouldn't but it sure is easy to justify.


Basically, I don't find anything noticably different other than a lack of feeling high, which I really enjoyed. However, something tells me this was the right thing to do. My wife says it is nice when she doesn't have to wait 10 seconds for me to answer her, and things do seem to be less complicated, but really quite boring. I guess this is how it is for "normal" people.

Quitting is easy once you make the decision. It is making the decision that is hard.I still have pot in my house, but I'm not tempted to smoke it. I'll give it away the next time a friend who smokes comes over. The idea that you have to change your friends and start fresh and all that stuff is just silly. If you don't want to smoke pot, just don't smoke it. It works for me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bill of Rights Day

Celebrate 'em while you still got 'em, all ten of 'em. It looks like the Democrats have quit attacking the Second, but the First, Fourth, and Ninth are still under serious pressure from the executive.

Please visit A Republic, if you can keep it for a list of events around the country, and I suspect later today, a thoughtful piece on the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Unfit for Service

Copy Editor has a post up regarding the incoming Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

From the Reuters article:

Is al Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shi'ite?

The question proved nettlesome for Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, incoming Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," he said in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, a periodical that covers political and legislative issues in Congress.

I'm sure he is not the first or the last to make such an absolutely idiotic mistake. I'm sure there are plenty of keyboard kommandos out there who think Iran supports al-Qaeda, but they don't lead the freaking HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE.

This is unacceptable.

Update: Be sure to read the original aritcle here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Thoughts on the ISG

Now that I have had some time to think about the ISG report (and have my mind corrupted with the views at large) I thought I would say just a couple of more things about it.

First of all, I've noticed that no one liked it. Left, right, and center, the blogosphere has been truly unkind to the findings of the report.

Kvatch says they layed an egg. Nothing in the report that we didn't already know.

A similar comment is made by Crazy Politico, a righty. He argues that, "The Baker Hamilton Iraq Study (contained), well, nothing that hasn't been suggested by others already." When I asked if he had any better ideas, he responded with this gem...

PT, small thermonuclear weapons come to mind, but the world is so touch about those. The thing is, we've shown it only takes kilotons to get folks attention.

So although no one else has any better ideas what to do, everyone seems ready to bury the members of the ISG report. Relax everyone, those guys are so old, they will all be underground soon enough.

But all kidding aside, what occurs to me is that this report, if nothing else, highlights the actual problems that exist and puts to rest any lingering doubts as to the desperation of the situation in Iraq. The failed policy and the failure of the overall plan to invade are both clear as day to anyone who actually bothers to read it.

If nothing else, those who were against the invation in the first place and who spend a lot of time criticising the Administration for their decision and the poor management that followed (like Reality-based Educator) should at least acknowledge that this reports verifies everything we have been thinking and saying since the beginning.

Perhaps the whole thing is sort of a parody, or at least the recommendations are. The plan itself is completely unworkable. It calls for Iran, Syria, and Israel to all get on board, make sacrifices, and try to help. It also expects that president Bush is going to listen, make changes, and actually hire professionals to do important jobs instead of his political cronies to whom he owes favors. None of this is going to happen in the real world, and Baker et. al. are intelligent enought to know this.

Therefore, what they are saying in a very round about way is this: "we have already screwed the pooch folks, and there isn't a damn thing we can do to fix it now. We might as well start making moves to exit, because at least then we could fight some battles that we have a chance of winning."

People think that this report was a joke, but that is only half true. The report itself, the first half, is deadly serious. But perhaps the recommendations are actully intentionally a joke. It is kind of like telling a little boy who is too short to ride on the roller coaster, "sure, you can ride it, just grow a foot in the next five minutes and you are in there!"

Get it?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blood Diamond (controversy put to rest)

In a libelous article by the New York Post, it was claimed that Warner Brothers reneged on their promise to provide the amputee extras in the film with prosthetics. It was claimed that Warner Brothers was delaying the process in order to garner more publicity for this weekend's opening.

The truth is that Warner Brothers never promised them anything. There is, however, a private charity organization created by the cast and crew, and run by the production manager Joao Ribeiro. This "Blood Diamond Fund", was created voluntarily, and the studio was asked to match the funds that the cast and crew donated, which they have.

So far, the Blood Diamond Fund has been responsible for building a well, fixing some roads, and repairing some schoolrooms in the impoverished areas of Mozambique and South Africa where the film was shot. The project is ongoing and the delivering of prosthetic limbs is on the list of goals for the organization.

The film's director, Ed Zwick, was quite vocal in discrediting the report. It is clear that opposition to this film exists, and certain forces are doing what they can to damage it.

Rumor on the set was that De Beers Group was pressuring Warner Brothers to delay the release of the film until after Christmas so that it would not affect diamond sales.

This film should open some eyes, and those who have produced it have done some important work, not only by raising awareness, but by acting locally on the ground where the film was shot.

Those who are trying to discredit and shame the very people who are doing this important work are amongst the lowest forms of human life.

Shame on you New York Post. You have reached a new low.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

That Didn't Take Long

I note in the post below that Iran, Syria, and Israel (and a host of other countries) all have the ability to play spoiler.

Want to guess who is bucking the report first?

Go figure.

(hat tip: Mikevotes)

Iraq Study Group

I've finished reading the entire report, and I took fairly good notes. I've avoided the media and all you bloggers because I wanted to have my own opinion on it. So here we go.

Generally, I think the panel has it right. It isn't perfect, but the situation doesn't really allow for a perfect solution. The one thing I did pick up from the media by accident was that the report was "scathing" in it's assesment of the performance of the executive. I'd agree with that.

The main thrust of the plan is to increase diplomatic efforts internationally, scale down U.S. combat troops while increasing U.S. support for Iraqi troops and the Iraqi government in addressing the internal problems with thier own people. Iraqis must take a more active roll in rebuilding their country, with U.S. suppport.

Iran and Syria will have to be approached for help, according to the plan, and a timetable must be made. Iraq must understand that the committment is not open ended. These two basic points are in direct conflict with the Bush administration's policies to date, and will probably cause the most conflict on Capitol Hill.

The study points out that this is a comprehensive plan and the recommendations within "should not be seperated or carried out in isolation."

The first half of the report is a sober assesment of the situation on the ground. They paint quite a different picture than the one the White House and their minions have professed.


Arms and financing are being supplied primarily from within Iraq.

This is the exact opposite of what the White House has been saying.

al-Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence, although more of the most spectacular acts.

Again, the White House has blamed nearly everything on al-Qaeda which is clearly a mistake. Although al-Qaeda is perhaps the most horrific of the bombers, they represent only a very small portion of the problem. The idea that al-Qaeda is pulling all the strings in the insurgency is thouroughly discredited here.

They note that there are 1.6 million refugees inside Iraq and another 1.8 million refugees that have fled the country. That means that almost 15% of the population has refugee status.

They note that only 4 of the 18 provinces are affected by extremem violence, however those four represent 40% of the population. I couldn't help but to remember when the administration claimed that 14 out of 18 provinces were relatively secure and how misleading that rhetoric was. Years later those same four provinces are in worse shape than they were then, and as goes these four provinces, so goes the country.

They note that the entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces in FY2006 is $3 billion, which is less than what the U.S. is spending every 2 weeks. This will have to change.

Regarding the "Facilities Protection Services" it is noted that al-Sadr controls the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Transportation and the armed units that protect them. Thus, al-Sadr must be brought into the political fold. Should he not, the members of these groups will simply assimilate into the wider insurgency.


The focus on Baghdad is deemed as a total failure in that violence in the capital has increased by 43% since it started. They note a lack of vision and a failure to change tactics.

Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseable end.

They note the splitting of the Shia movement, both that al-Sistani is losing his ability to curb the violence and that al-Sadr's Mehdi army seems to be fracturing which makes it more difficult to control. Time, thus, is of the essence.

They note Maliki's public rejection of U.S. imposed benchmarks.

1. He ordered to remove blockades around Sadr city
2. He sought more control over Iraqi security forces
3. He resisted U.S. requests to disband militias

Maliki is praised for trying but is questioned largely for his lack of ability and committment in normalizing the militias.


The issue of Kirkut is very important to the ISG noting that the mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen present a barrier to reconciliation. The Arabs and Turks do not want Kirkuk to be incorporated into the Kurdish zone.

They note that key leaders from both the Kurdish and Shia zones have shown little commitment to national reconciliation.

They paint a bleak picture of the oil infrastructure, and highlight the rampant corruption endemic in Iraq.

They call for an "International Compact" on Iraq. The goal is to provide greater debt relief from the gulf states (especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) as was given by the Paris club. In return for the debt relief, Iraq would work on anti-corruption measures and develop a fair legal framework for foreign investors. Perhaps then they could reach economic self-sufficiency by 2012.

This timeframe comes in stark contrast to the rosy scenario presented by Paul Wolfowitz who said that Iraq would be able to fund it's own reconstruction virtually immediately. We are now looking at 10 years in the best-case scenario for economic independence. Way to go Paul.


The panel gave very low marks to the neighboring countries who should be helping but are actually hurting Iraq. Iran and Syria top the list of trouble makers, but they also note that, for instance, Isreal's bombing of Lebanon undermined U.S. support in Iraq.

Having noted Iranian interference, they are given some credit for getting involved at least. Compare the fact that Iran has an ambassador in Iraq, to the fact that Saudi Arabia didn't even send a letter when the Iraqi government was formed.

They note that Jordan and Egypt have particularly good records in helping with the process and that should be built on. Jordan currently has 700,000 refugees (equal to 10% of their population). Neither country wants to see the flood of refugees (and possible insurgents) continue. These countries have a great interest in reconcilliation.

Turkey is mentioned with regards to the problems they are having with the PKK and the potential for conflict with an autonomous Kurdish region. They too have it in their best interests to participate in the reconciliation.


They note that the current level of commitment cannot be sustained especially when progress is not being made.

1. Nearly 100 killed per month
2. Nearly $2 Billion spent per week.

This rules out the "Go Big" option. The military is stretched to the limit and further strain will jeopardize America's security.

They discredit the notion of splitting up the country for two major reasons. First, the mixed population makes this unfeasable as "regional boundries cannot be easily drawn." They note Kirkuk as particularly troublesome in this regard. Secondly, such a division would confirm suspicions that the U.S. invaded to break up a strong arab nation.

Essentially the panel agrees with President's rhetoric about a stable, united Iraq. They strongly disagree with the way the President has been acting to achieve that goal.

So what needs to be done?

First, a domestic and international consensus must be built and that means that the President must go on a "diplomatic offensive." This starts with Iran and Syria.

They favor the creation of a "Support Group" for Iraq, which would include all bordering countries, with Iran and Syria being key members. Permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would also be members as well as Germany, and also other Gulf States like Egypt and Libya. All of these countries have an interest in having a secure and stable Iraq, and thus their cooperation should be sought.

They highlight Iranian co-operation with the U.S. on Afghanistan and use that as proof that Iranian co-operation could possibly be enlisted on Iraq as well, especially if tied to other international issues that Iran wants discussed.

This leads to a very important point that is reiterated throughout. That is that the region must be addressed as a whole. You cannot address Iraq without addressing the Israeli/Arab conflict. So for instance, there is a laundry list of demands on Syria, but they are tied to Syria getting Golan Heights back from the Israelis and the Israelis being offered international support for security in that area once the handover is made. They note that there is no military solution to this problem and that Bush's two state proposal must be brought back to the table.

This is where the problems will likely start. Israel, Syria, Iran, (and a host of others) all have the ability to play spoiler here. Let us see who refuses to act first, should the recommendations even be taken seriously by the President and the Congress.

Looking at some of the specific recommendations, I found the following very interesting...

#34: Talk to everyone. Not just those in the government, but those who wield power which include al-Sistani and al-Sadr. So far the administration has refused to do this.

#35: A caveat on #34 is that al-Qaeda should not be negotiated with. Now I find this a little strange in that they are a force (although a minor one with only 1,300 members). I suppose the idea is to isolate them away from everyone.

#36: Amnesty. They favor amnesty for everyone except Saddam's top leaders. This will be a bitter pill for everyone to swallow, but it must happen if national reconciliation is to occur.

#37: Amnesty. Reiterates that neither the executive nor Congress shall undercut these efforts. I guess they are serious about this one. This is one of the few times that U.S. government is admonished directly.


#38 and #39: Call on the U.S. to support the U.N. and NGOs like the "Organization for Migration" so that they can more effectively do what they do best: help the population at large, something the military is severely limited in doing according to its skill set.

#40: The United states should not make an open ended commitment to keep large numbers of troops deployed in Iraq for three compelling reasons.


1. No troops for Afghanistan and elsewhere.

2. Less than a third of U.S. troops are in a state of rediness.

3. So as not to break the compact made with the National Gaurd and Army Reserves.

#42: Timeline. All combat troops should be out by Q1 of 2008. Coincidently this is the date I have been talking about. 5 years is the limit of American patience in my view.

#43: Accelerate the training of Iraqi troops and police. Isn't this what Kerry said in the debates? I just had to notice.

#44: Pay the professionals to imbed themselves with Iraqi troops. They need to throw some serious money around here, perhaps hiring retired special forces soldiers from around the world.

#45: More equipment for Iraqi troops. This has likely not happened as the administration fears the equipment will end up in the wrong hands. This is a big risk as is the whole set of recommendations.

#46: Focus on rebuilding trust and respect between the military and the civilian leadership. This is a direct attack on Rumsfeld and hightlights the damage that has been done. If my readers think I am off on this one, just go to the document and read this one.

#50 and #51: Calls for the Border Police and the National Police to be incorporated into the Mininstry of Defense.

#53: Calls for the Ministry of the Interior to take complete control of the local police forces.

#55: Calls for the U.S. DoD to continue traning the Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi Border Patrol.


#56: Calls for the U.S. DoJ to direct the training of the local police.

#57: Calls for international civilian police experts to take over the training of Iraqi local police forces from the U.S. Military Police. This is again, a pragmatic and logical approach and a departure from the current policy.


The panel calls for the privitization of the oil industry, but earlier had sad that all Iraqis should share the wealth. I see a conflict here. They stress that Iraqis should pay market prices for gasoline otherwise fuel shortages will continue. However, this could increase crime, black market activity, and general dissatisfaction. I think this is one of the weakest parts of the document.

The panel calls for the interest rate to be raise to 20% and the value of the currency to be increased by 10% to combat rapid inflation. This is good for stabilizing the economy but won't exactly thrill consumers.


As was pointed out by Kaplan and others, reconstruction efforts are seriously lacking. The panel calls for less actual U.S. involvement but more funding for reconstruction efforts. I.E. the United States should be funding local reconstruction projects by domestic players and assisting those players with the process of contracting, auditing and accounting.

Here one of the harshest assesments of the level of expertise and accountablility for reconstruction efforts is put forth. I couldn't help but to remember an article I read a while back that focused on the players in this field: young republicans with no experience but with great track records of supporting the president and his policies. These kids are to be replaced with experts.

#67: Calls for the position of "Senior Advisor for economic reconstruction in Iraq".

#68: Calls for the support of the Cheif of Mission for Iraq.

#69: Calls for the support of the Special Inspector General for Iraq: Mr. Stuart Brown. If the panel's recomendations are taken seriously, I think we will be hearing quite a lot from Mr. Brown in the months ahead.

Again, the focus is on paying and supporting the real experts. There are a few on the ground, like Mr. Brown, but there will need to be many more if we are to have any hope for success.

#72: This is a beauty, so I'm going to transcribe it.

Costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the President's annual budget request, starting FY 2008: the war is in its fourth year, and the normal budget process should not be circumvented. Funding requests for the war in Iraq should be presented clearly to Congress and the American people. Congress must carry out its constitutional responsibility to review budget requests for the war in Iraq carefully and to conduct oversight.

Ahmen! So much for those of you who live in the fantasy world that Bush is doing a great job with the budget. Give me a tax cut and fight a war and damn the grandchildren no more! It is about time that the budget figures get some credibility.


The lack of effective intelligence is again harshly criticized. While they give good marks for intelligence on al-Qaeda, they give very poor marks on insurgents and militias. Apparently there are only 10 people working on intelligence relating directly to the insurgency with at least 2 years of experience. I found this to be quite troubling.

#73-#76: These deal with personnel and assistance. Reading through these you will see that the panel views the current personnel as under-trained and inadequate for the task at hand. Earlier they highlighted that out of 1,000 embassy personnel only 6 were fluent in Arabic and only 33 spoke Arabic at all. I bet they all raised lots of money for Bush/Cheney 04 though!

#79: Calls for the CIA to train Iraqi intelligence agents.


As we have all know (those rational ones among us) the problems in Iraq are much greater than fighting al-Qaeda. International support for an Iraqi National Reconciliation is essential and that includes Iran and Syria. A much greater effort to help Iraqis help themselves must be embarked upon and soon. Much time has already been wasted. The current cronies in the U.S. embassy must be replaced with highly qualified, highly trained professionals. All of the major players in Iraq must be brought to the negotiating table except for al-Qaeda in an effort to build understanding amongst the various groups and power structures and to further isolate al-Qaeda.

Domestic reconstruction should be favored over the current (but waning) multi-national corporate reconstruction. Huge investments in the oil infrastructure especially and infrastructure in general must be made if Iraq is to have a chance. Corruption must be combatted with an effective judicial system and accountability in government. The United States should be taking the lead in supporting the Iraqis to undertake these very serious challenges.

If if works in Iraq, we might just try the same thing at home.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An Aside

I'm reading the Iraq Study Group Report in it's entirety, taking notes along the way, but it is long, so I'm going to avoid blogging and corrupting my opinions on it with others until I finish.

So until then, I leave you with a headline that really made me laugh (and a story that is shocking for this little country). Enjoy!

Male nurse murdered eight, not seven patients, his lawyer says

Don't you wish you had a lawyer with those kind of skills?

ISG Report in Hand

"Okay, I've got it. Now, what am I supposed to do with it?"

Or, "You must be joking me! Talk with Iran and Syria?"

Or, "I didn't have time to read the whole thing, so I just read the back cover."

UPDATE: Now that I have seen the press conference, or at least most of it, there were two things that struck me as very significant.

First, the idea that this is a comprehensive and realistic assesment and series of recomendations. Viable goals are outlined, but picking and choosing probably won't acheive success.

Second, the idea of talking to your enemies was defended by James Baker III in the following way. He said that we talked to the Soviet Union when they were clearly committed to wiping us off the face of the planet. You could see that he took great satisfaction in making this point. I'm sure he didn't much enjoy talking to those "commie bastards", leaders of the "evil empire" back in the 80s, but he is pragmatic enough to understand that it was in the nation's best interest.

If nothing else, President Bush has been quite childish in this regard. Even the most novice diplomat knows that you talk to your friends as well as your enemies.

ISG Report

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

St. Mikuláš

Old St. Nick is out and about in the streets of the Czech Republic, but as with most things over here, he has his own eastern European style. First of all, he isn't St. Nicholas at all, but rather St. Mikuláš (please let me know if czech symbols cause problems on your computer... they look good from here, but I have Czech language on mine). Secondly, he comes out on the 5th of December instead of the 25th. Baby Jesus has the honors on Christmas (which is the 24th here) Mikuláš cruises around with an angel and a devil and when he finds little children he askes them if they have been good or bad and then he asks them to recite a poem or a song.

If the child does well, he or she gets candy (from the devil), and if not, the devil puts the kid into his sack and takes him to hell. Usually the kids do well and Mikuláš is pretty forgiving. The Angel tries to comfort the child while the devil scares the living hell out of them. Mikuláš remains the neutral judge.

I have seen kids crying, terrified. But in the end, when they get through it, they have a real sense of accomplishment.

This is just one more example of how kids have it a little harder over here than in the states.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Terrorists Like Aisle Seats

"Oh mon, I and I tink me should have paid with credit card!"

By now I'm sure you have all heard about a previously secret government program that screens passengers based on such things as meal preference, seating preference, method of payment, previous one-way travel, and previous destinations amongst other things. Passengers receive a score and are not allowed to either see or challenge that score.

At least now I know why I get twenty questions every time I come to the states. My Czech wife actually gets through faster than I do. I've traveled to Arab countries and Russia, I prefer the aisle (because I like to get up a lot and because I have long legs), and I have paid cash plenty of times since I have bought tickets in the Czech Republic when I didn't have more than $20 in my account (but plenty of Czech Koruna), and my first two times traveling to Europe I traveled one way (There is a Belgian company that offered cheap one-ways). Unwittingly, I have probably racked up a pretty decent score. Also, being a resident of a foreign country with no obvious financial benefit probably doesn't help (no one likes a defector). Hey, at least I'm not a vegetarian!

So now I am just waiting for the day when I get to the front gate of my home country and I am turned back because I pose too great a risk. If they have put two and two together (which I'm assuming they have) and they know who writes this blog, that probably will add a couple points to my nearly perfect score. Sooner or later I will be banished to Europe forever. If not, well then the screening system doesn't make much sense. That is to say, if they don't banish me with my astronomical score, what is the point of the system? So I imagine it is just a matter of time before I make my last trip home.

I'm torn as to how I feel about this. On the one hand, who wants to go to a country that would banish one of their citizens for such innocuous behavior as sitting in the aisle? On the other hand, I sure do like to see my Mom at least once every couple of years (and my Dad, and my Sister, and yes, you too Uncle Jeff... damn, I just gave them another clue!)

Of course, only 25% of Americans have a passport so I don't suppose there will be much public outcry over expatriates being banished or international travelers being scrutinized. I've found people like me don't represent much of a voting block.

Once again the authorities are enganging in activities that do little to prevent terrorism, but do plenty to invade our privacy and subject us to Kafka-like jurisprudence.

This is the freedom our ancestors died for?

I prefer the local brand.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The reason I got into blogging was in the interest of open and honest discussion. The first blogger that I developed a relationship with is Roger Fraley who writes at XDA. As the name indicates, Roger is a former district attorney. He is smart, strongly opinionated, and conservative. We disagree on almost everything, but I have had a great time sparring with him. More importantly, he defends his positions in a consistent and meaningful way. I have a lot of respect for Roger, even though we mostly disagree. If it weren't for Roger, I probably never would have gotten into blogging myself, so I consider him my blogfather.

After I started blogging myself, I started looking around for others that were like minded in that they favored open debate and were willing to defend their positions. People like Reality-based Educator and Cartledge are notable in their willingness and ability to defend their positions to whomever might oppose them. They have my respect for that reason more so than the fact that we are quite like-minded.

I've tried to keep my blogroll limited to those who were willing to engage me and others. I have respect for the people on my blogroll, and that is why they are there. As far as I know, the people on my blogroll do not delete comments other than spam and comments loaded with F-bombs. I certainly would never delete a comment so long as it meets the requirements of being from a person and not being profane. So in the interests of being consistent, I'm going to have to remove someone from my blogroll. I don't imagine anyone actually cares, least of all the person being removed, but I felt I had to explain myself, and I thought it might be interesting to explore the issue of blogging and commenting in the process.

Anyone who deletes comments because they don't like what is being said, or because they cannot defend their positions is a hypocrit and engages in childish behaviour that is not consistent with what I think blogging is all about.

So without further adieu, goodbye Elizabeth. You are a phony and a hypocrit. But I still won't delete your comments so long as they aren't loaded with F-bombs. After all, I believe in open and honest discussion.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Institute for Supply Management


The numbers speak for themselves, but if you look at the chart you will see a fairly disturbing trend. The ISM survey broke the 50 barier which is considered a neutral read. This is the first time we have seen a reading below 50 since early 2003. Foreign demand for U.S. goods remained strong at 56.9 and as the dollar continues to nosedive, (EUR/USD breached $1.33 on the news) I expect U.S. exports to benefit.

However, stocks turned down finishing a lack-luster week that started with a big drop on Monday and treaded water Tuesday through Thursday. Fidary saw a sharp drop on the ISM news, but a 100 point rally in the Dow in the last hour and a half left the down down only 27 points on the day. But more interesting to me is what is going on in the bond market. The 10-year yield is now holding well below 4.5% leaving the inversion on the curve at nearly 80 basis points.

So the Fed's job just got harder. Expectations for a rate cut are increasing, but inflation is not showing any signs of going away. Oil is creaping back up, holding above $63 a barrel, which means that inflation pressures remain. Borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages might be wise to lock in these low mortgage rates now (but don't come to me if it doesn't work out: I am not a professional), because the Fed is still unlikely to reduce rates anytime soon. Eventually, the bond market will have to recognize this and adjust.

It seems unlikely that the Fed will cut rates for an even simpler reason than inflation expectations and that is the fact that there is probably more liquidity in this market than in any market in the world....ever. This is what leading economists have said anyway.

So those of you who think that low interest rates and tax cuts which provide liquidity are the dual holy grails for a strong economy are about to find out if you are right or not.

I still say it is a house of cards.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday that his country's forces would be able to assume security command by June 2007

Bush dismisses calls for Iraq withdrawal

No wonder they look so uncomfortable together. I wonder if we will ever see another picture like this one? I think Maliki's days are numbered.