Friday, December 29, 2006

More on Nigeria Oil Crisis

I got an Email from someone who read my post on the deaths in Nigeria from that oil explosion.  My understanding was that there was a leak, and that the poor from the area were trying to get some oil in order to survive.

The reader pointed to this fine article from the Virginia Quarterly Review by John Ghazvinian who took a trip to Nigeria and details exactly what’s going on with the oil industry and the locals who get no benefit from the vast oil reserves lying beneath them.

      The Niger Delta is made up of nine states, 185 local government areas, and a population of 27 million. It has 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects spread across 5,000 to 6,000 communities and covers an area of 27,000 square miles. This makes for one the highest population densities in the world, with annual population growth estimated at 3 percent. About 1,500 of those communities play host to oil company operations of one kind or another. Thousands of miles of pipelines crisscross the mangrove creeks of the Delta, broken up by occasional gas flares that send roaring orange flames into the already hot, humid air. Modern, air-conditioned facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with primitive fishing villages made of mud and straw, surrounded with razor wire and armed guards trained to be on the lookout for local troublemakers. It is, and always has been, a recipe for disaster.

      The problem, in a nutshell, is that for fifty years, foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations, using millions of dollars’ worth of imported ultramodern equipment, against a backdrop of Stone Age squalor. They have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, which have sold on the international market for hundreds of billions of dollars, but the people of the Niger Delta have seen virtually none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja, many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago—in hand-built huts of mud and straw. And though the Delta produces 100 percent of the nation’s oil and gas, its people survive with no electricity or clean running water. Seeing a doctor can mean traveling for hours by boat through the creeks.

If you’re interested, and you’ve got the time (it’s pretty long) I recommend this article for an in depth look at oil in Nigeria.

Invasion trouble

In the news this week, we have a country that has an unstable government, recognized but over run by Islamic extremists, who are trying to expel the recognized government. Another country decided to come in and help, so provided troops to fight the terrorists back so that the official government could re-take the capital city. The foreign troops are not exactly loved by the population, in fact they hurl rocks and insult them. However the foreign country maintains that it will leave as soon as the problem is averted and the Islamic extremists are sent packing.
Sounds familiar, right?
Somalia's prime minister promised thousands of war-weary Somalis peace and stability Friday as he formally took control of the battle-scarred capital for the first time since his government was formed two years ago.

Ali Mohamed Gedi drove through the streets of Mogadishu in a heavily armed convoy a day after Islamic fighters fled and his Ethiopian-backed troops seized the city.

Recall that Ethiopian and Somalian peoples hate each other with Hatfield and McCoy-like angst, due to frequent conflict over border disputes. Yet Ethiopia was more afraid of the Islamics than anything, especially since the Islamic Court (what they call themselves) vowed that after setting up a Taliban-like government they were going after Ethiopia next.
Some people are downplaying this apparent victory by the recognized government over terrorism and Islamic Extremism, and it might be. But as America has discovered, it's not over until people accept the new government and terrorists decide to take their business elsewhere.

With an Outrageous Accent

One has barely to go a couple of days before we get the pleasure of hearing another set of outrageous statements from the President of Iran. 

      The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) said in an editorial on Tuesday: " On the eve of the auspicious birthday of Jesus Christ when all Muslim and Christian believers extend best wishes to each other on the onset of the new year, leaders of Christian states took an unacceptable action toward Iranians by passing a resolution against (Iran's) national nuclear program which surprised every individual in Iran."

      The IRIB described the sanctions as "surprising," as "the Islamic Republic of Iran has designed the national nuclear program for civilian use and all Iranian nuclear sites are under (the) supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

      The statement continued: "(The) IAEA has installed cameras on all Iranian nuclear sites monitoring them 24 hours and (the) Islamic Republic of Iran regards (the) nuclear bomb as forbidden in accordance with the lofty teachings of Islam."

So Iran is saying that the UN ruined Christmas for them.  Boo hoo.  The UN certainly can’t be accused of caring about religious holidays, so this certainly doesn’t surprise me, and considering the actions of Iran lately, I’m sure there are many people inside Iran who are only surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

And considering they’ve been threatening it for some time, Ahmadinejad can’t really say he’s surprised, unless the surprise is because he thought the UN would never be brave enough to defy him.

I love the twisting of truth in the second couple of paragraphs above.  I can see the logic that Iran believes it needs nuclear power in the future, as reports are now coming in that the oil industry there is going to come to a crashing halt within a decade or so.  Perhaps they feel they need this to compensate for that.  However, within a nation so rich in oil, it’s not like they use tremendous amounts for general use by the public.  Like most oil dictatorships, the money travels to the top.

However, the design of a nuclear program in Iran has historically included producing weapons, and the whole reason that we have a UN action is because Iran has made supervision by the IAEA all but impossible.  They have cameras installed everywhere?  Right.  That makes me feel all warm and safe.

I also hardly see why anyone should buy that nuclear bombs are somehow forbidden by the “lofty teachings of Islam” either, when every other weapon of war seems to be just okey dokey with Shiite leaders.  What makes nukes so different?

Ahmadinejad spends considerable rhetoric on the religious tenet that Jesus will return with the Imam Mahdi to usher in a new kingdom, a nice take on the Christian doctrine of the 2nd coming.

      "God willing, Jesus would return to the world along with the emergence of the descendant of the Islam's Holy Prophet, Imam Mahdi and wipe away every tinge of oppression, pain and agony from the face of the world," Ahmadinejad said.

Oh, good gracious.  If the Mahdi comes back to wipe away all oppression, what, pray tell, will they say about your treatment of your own people?  You mean like the pain and agony felt by the Israelis and Lebanese by your continued support of Hezbollah?  They pain and agony felt by Iraqis from your support of insurgents and Shiite radicals? 

Stay tuned for more outrageous statements.

Ding Dong...

Saddam Hussein was executed at 2:43pm, Iraqi time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nigerian corruption

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, due to its location in western Africa along the coast with tons of fertile land due to the last stretch of the Niger River, which crosses the country before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  It also enjoys a rich deposit of crude oil, making it one of the world’s leading exporters of the substance. 

Early Tuesday a gasoline line ruptured in the capital city of Lagos.  As is the case in countries where poverty is rampant, there were hundreds of people by the rupture stealing gasoline, but sometime this morning the rupture burst into flames, killing at least 200 people.  A recent explosion also killed 150 people in Lagos.

For such a country rich in oil, for there to be people desperate enough to steal gas from a dangerous break in a pipeline can only mean that the government is corrupt in some way, and the article implies that.

However, another pointer to corruption in that country isn’t getting much press in this country, but is of high importance to Nigerians.  This article by our local Willamette Week breaks a story about a high ranking council at Portland General Electric, who was apparently has been laundering money to Nigeria for a while now.

      News about Mabinton and Uba's relationship with Obasanjo and the expenditure of some of the mysterious cash directly for the president's benefit proved explosive in Nigeria, generating such headlines as "Obasanjo's Aide in Money Laundering Mess," "Corruption Scandal in Aso Rock [the presidential seat]" and "Andy Uba: The Face of a Fraud."

      When they put all the pieces together, the agents investigating Mabinton believed she was helping launder funds for a top official of the Nigerian government.

      While such conduct might be unusual for utility lawyers, it wouldn't have shocked those who follow Nigerian politics. According to Transparency International, a German nonprofit that compiles an annual assessment of more than 150 countries, Nigeria's government is among the most corrupt in the world.

      "In Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission estimates that over the years $350 billion in oil money has simply disappeared," says Daniel Smith, a professor at Brown University and author of the recently published book A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria. "One former president allegedly took $10 to $12 billion himself."

Loretta Mabinton is the PGE worker.  Emmanuel “Andy” Uba is like Karl Rove to the Nigerian Presidency and Olusegun Obasanjo is the President of Nigeria currently.

The author of the article speculates that prosecution and investigation has been difficult in part because the US government does not want a rocky relationship with one of the countries that we buy oil from.  What with rocky relationships we’ve got with pretty much ALL the world’s oil generating countries, complications with another would strain our oil imports.  Which is true, but doesn’t justify curtailing justice, and in this case I think that Nigerians would happily have us nail their President to the wall if he indeed was guilty.

But, admittedly, the list of oil exporting countries that are friendly and not corrupt is small.  The U.S. (do we export any?), Iraq (only just), Russia (do they count as not corrupt and friendly?).  Anyone else?  Doesn’t this just scream, “develop gas alternatives!” at the top of your lungs?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I've never read the Koran. However I've read the Bible many times, and can tell you that extracting meaning out of the text can be a challenge. There's the translation issues, the cultural issues and the application issues to deal with before you come to the truth behind the words.
The truth behind the words is the issue at hand for Rachid Benzine, a French Morrocan, who is stirring things up by proclaiming a fresh way to interpret the Koran.
In debates about Islam, he says, the Koran has become "a text of slogans, a supermarket" for adversaries to choose quotes to impose what they think is the only valid reading.

"No interpretation can pretend to be the only right one," insists Benzine, whose 2004 book "The New Thinkers of Islam" highlights the work of Muslim reformers. He plans to publish a book on interpreting the Koran in 2008.

It's not unheard of for Christians to do this sort of thing. Pulling out verses to justify behavior or tradition is an age old flaw in the human psyche. Biblical scholars are taught to read verses from scripture in the context in which they were given, which clears up a whole lot of bad theology.

Benzine refuses to give a ready answer when asked if the Koran requires the headscarf for women, asking instead whether fixed rules for such issues can be based on a religious text.

"Rules must be put into historical context. A rabbi once said tradition has a right to vote but not to veto," he said.

Religious rhetoric is often used in Muslim countries today to mobilise people for political purposes, he added.

Politicizing religion is the best way to destroy it. Like Christianity, Islam is a religion that should be respected by its followers. However, using that religion as a political force to mandate edicts, even if consistent with the religious doctrine, is wrong. Religion is, above all things, a personal thing, in that it defines the relationship you have with your maker.
Saying that you or I are wrong about what we believe is fine, and debate should happen so the truth can be discerned. However, forcing your views on doctrine upon those who disagree will foster hatred, and eventually religion loses the very thing it needs: willing belief.

More troops?

There's been plenty in the news lately about Bush possibly sending more troops to Iraq, as opposed to the general complaint that we should be reducing troop levels, i.e. bring them home and such.
I feel for President Bush at this point. For years he's had to deal with many different voices in the public square. Many are pointing out that we've never had enough troops and certain generals have been calling for more troops, but at the same time calling for re-deployment, i.e. up and quitting.
But at the same time, here come the generals again stating that we don't need any more troops, and that adding more won't help the situation.
And care of Instapundit, here's Bill Roggio with some very sensible ideas for the future of our military engagements.
I thing that it's constructive, or would be, to have a civil debate on what the troop needs in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently. It's not like the answer is obvious, and partisan bickering isn't going to help.
And neither is crap like this:
Additionally, Mr Bush's critics have seized on such a plan as more evidence that the President is out of touch with both the reality in Iraq and the mood of the country. "Bush does not seem to have understood the message of mid-term elections," said Andrew Burgin, spokesman of the Stop the War Coalition. "It's a fantasy to believe that the American people will agree to increased numbers of American troops being killed in Iraq .It's the same with [Tony] Blair and people like Margaret Beckett. The whole political class appears to be out of touch with how this war started, what is happening in Iraq now and what the future holds."
No, I think that Bush isn't any more out of touch than Mr. Burgin. Noted that this article didn't even attempt to find a view supporting the administration, or even one that sounded even handed. But also note how Burgin worded it: "will agree to increased numbers of American troops being killed in Iraq." Is that what we're discussing here? Bush is trying to debate whether or not to increase the number of US troop deaths? Is this what I was referring to as civil debate? Try again.

Difficulties, tech and non-tech

Been soft on the blog lately. It's been a combination of things. Sometimes there's nothing I feel like blogging, although that's rare. Other times I'm just too busy, which is more common. Also, lately, the server has been rejecting many of my posts, and I'm too frustrated to want to re-write them. So if you see giant lags in the time between posts, that's probably why.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Victoria Cross bravery

What a great piece of wartime news!  Read the story of a man who won the British Victoria Cross, which is their highest medal of honor in the military.

      In order to regain the initiative, Corporal Budd decided to assault the enemy and ordered his men to follow him. As they moved forward the section came under a withering fire that incapacitated three of his men. The continued enemy fire and these losses forced the section to take cover. But, Corporal Budd continued the assault on his own, knowing full well the likely consequences of doing so without the close support of his remaining men. He was wounded but continued to move forward, attacking and killing the enemy as he rushed their position.

      Inspired by Corporal Budd's example, the rest of the platoon reorganized and pushed forward their attack, eliminating more of the enemy and eventually forcing their withdrawal. Corporal Budd subsequently died of his wounds, and when his body was later recovered it was found surrounded by three dead Taliban.

There’s more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

World Events - Monday

What’s going on in the world today?  Without going into a  huge investigation of all the news sources out there, I read a bit about these topics.

Chile:  Augusto Pinochet, the fascist dictator of yesteryear, finally cashed it all in, dying of old age this week.  Of a heart attack.  Some mourned with tears, but I suspect most citizens of Chile celebrated the ex-general who escaped ever being prosecuted, jailed or otherwise brought to justice for his brutal reign.

      Pinochet took power on Sept. 11, 1973, demanding an unconditional surrender from President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.

      The U.S. had been working to destabilize Allende's Marxist government and keep Chile from exporting communism, but the world reacted in horror as Santiago's main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners to be tortured, killed or forced into exile after Pinochet came into power.

      Although his dictatorship laid the groundwork for South America's most stable economy, Pinochet will be remembered as the archetype of the era's repressive rulers who proliferated throughout Latin America and, in many cases, were secretly supported by the United States.

Nice.  Good to know we were on the right side there (sarcasm).  That’s one difference between Republican administrations of the past and Bush.  Our current president is less likely to side with a dictator just for the sake of curbing some greater evil.

Iran is sponsoring a conference discussing the reality of the Holocaust, inciting Jews everywhere.  The article says that no one is disputing that Jews were killed, but there’s some dispute as to whether they were really gassed.  Which seems to me like a stupid point.  Either 6 million Jews were held in prison camps until they became emaciated and then brutally killed or they weren’t.  I’m not sure why anyone thinks that arguing that the gassings didn’t occur makes it NOT a holocaust, but this is, of course, all political in some attempt to discredit Israel.

      "The aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in a welcome address. "Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust."

This also might be some play on Ahmadinejad’s part to slap the United State’s face on an issue of free speech.  Question, if this sort of thing were held in the US, would it be tolerated?  It certainly is anyone’s right to speak their mind, even when they’re horribly misguided, but what would the obviously visceral reaction be?

By the by, check out this report of a student protest of a speech made by Ahmadinejad at a university in Iran.

      As Ahmadinejad approached the podium to speech, the members of the Islamic Students Association -- a banned group -- began booing and chanting, while some even burned pictures of the Iranian president, ADWAR reported.
      , according to ADWAR. He added that he loved each one of them and said, "You insult me but I will respond to you calmly."

And Ahmadinejad responds:

      "A small number of who claim there is suppression here are themselves creating a suppressive atmosphere and will not allow the majority to listen," FARS quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Another play by the Iranian leader at claiming free speech as his own.  Clever, and ironic to the last. 
An interesting point to take from this is one of the things that the students were chanting.  We often think it’s just extremists and extreme Islam that displays fanatics chanting “Death to America” or “Death to whoever”, but when the opposition to the theocracy is chanting “Death to the dictator” it kind of makes you wonder.  

Turkey has been trying for some time now to get into the European Union.  It’s a long and arduous process and involves a lot of demands on Europe’s part.  It seems now that Europe wants Turkey to open relations with Greek Cyprus, which is Turkey’s Achilles Heel, for sure.

      From the beginning, Turkey's path to the European Union was a diplomatic minefield. The country is large, 99 percent Muslim, prone to military coups and economic crises, and developed to European levels only in small pockets. It has problems with torture, violence, freedom of expression, corruption and minority rights. The vast majority of its land mass is in Asia Minor, where battles against Kurdish separatists have killed some 37,000 people. Most pressingly, it has 40,000 soldiers occupying part of another EU member country, Cyprus, which it invaded more than three decades ago.

Turkey has claimed Cyprus for it’s own forever now, and the country is still divided, with a DMZ like strip of no-man’s-land dividing much of the country.  Despite the quote from above, Turkey has been a secular government for all it’s existence (80 years or so) and while the country is prone to moving in an Islamic direction, they are usually rescued from becoming theocratic by the secular military.  It’s an interesting process, and most of their problems, like the Kurds and Cyprus, are nationalistic problems, not religious problems.

It’ll be interesting to see how Turkey ends up responding to this latest demand of the EU.  Will they soften on the Cyprus issue, or will this break the camel’s back, ending Turkey’s quest for EU membership, and all the benefits that it brings?

Kofi Annan delivered his farewell address to the UN, since he’s on his way out.  He decided it was time to get a little tough with the US.

I don’t really have the time to go into this in detail.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  However I have one thing to say about leadership.  Mr. Annan criticizes the US on leadership issues, urging us to go back to the type of leadership that Truman exhibited in the 1940s.  What Annan is referring to here is Truman’s instrumental role in creating the UN and allowing the UN to be the instrument in Korea, instead of going in without the UN’s permission.

But I think that Kofi suffers from a vast misunderstanding of what true leadership is.  Would the UN have gone into Korea without the US’s urging and support?  Was the US following the UN, or was the UN following the lead of the US on that point?  

Was it easier for the US to make the case to enter Korea in 1950 than it was for us to make the case for Iraq now?  Sure, but why?  I don’t think that Korea was any more or less a compelling case for the world to demand action, but the politics are different now.  And I would argue that true leadership is knowing that something HAS to be done, even when that something is difficult and especially when political opposition demands that you not do it. 

It seems to me that the leadership in the UN has been very flaccid as of late, especially in regards to Islamic terrorism and fascist dictatorships.  Kofi Annan and the bureaucrats in Geneva have stood by and watched while one genocide after another crosses in front of their ivory tower and did nothing.  Is that leadership?  Kofi turns a blind eye when important committees, like human rights committee, are populated by documented human rights violators.  Is that leadership?  Kofi has presided, and it’s debatable that he did or didn’t know what was going on, over the largest corruption scandals the world has ever known; engineered by people working for the UN.  Is that leadership, Mr. Annan?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Truckin' along

I was having a discussion with another parent at a boy scout campout about the war in Iraq and generally all things foreign policy, and the discussion fell to a particular point of fact and where those facts were coming from.  When I asked where he got his ideas from on the point, he declared that he read it in the paper (or saw it on the TV news, I forget exactly).  At this stage I pointed out that his error was listening to the news. 

He ridiculed me that I was disputing his point because he read the news and, apparently, I did not.  Ordinarily you would think that he’d have me on this point, but I begged to differ.  It’s not that I don’t read the news, it’s just that the TV news and the local paper is most definitely NOT the only source of information I get. 

Today’s traditional media formulates it’s news gathering around a central theme and that theme is money.  Shocking, you say.  How can this be so, you ask.  Typically people have no problem criticizing the actions of the President as motivated by oil or economic advantage, or criticizing big industry for the same reasons.  It’s all about money.  Which is true, it’s how our society works.  Money, or just compensation for effort, is the pillar of capitalism and has allowed our society to progress at a faster rate than any other in history and allowed us to live in comfort no known in the history of the world.

However, you can’t really insulate any part of industry from that, unless you get a tight group of high minded people working for a non-profit, which most media outlets are not.

Part of the underlying problem with news today is that it is supported by multinational conglomerates who only really have to answer to stockholders and not to you and me, the consumer of that product.  Actually, that’s not totally true, as when the value of their news gathering diminishes (i.e. people start figuring out that the news they see is deficient in some way) they’ll stop consuming the product and the media company will lose money.

But until that happens, news organizations are under almost no compulsion to give us all the information we need to be adequately informed on any given topic.  It seems that, short of outright libel that a judge could identify and prosecute, they’re not under any obligation to tell the truth either.

      In Baghdad, the local AP team has been using a man who calls himself Police Captain Jamil Hussein for more than a year. AP claims he works in the Yarmouk police station on the west side of Baghdad - and he's been a source for several stories on killings of Sunni civilians over the past two years. He was AP's main source for a Thanksgiving-week report that four mosques had been attacked and burned and/or blown up, with six Sunni worshippers burned alive.

      But the Iraqi government and the U.S. Army have long warned the AP about its use of "spokesmen" who don't exist. Indeed this time it appears that there is no such officer in the Iraqi police force in Baghdad. More, they could find no evidence of such an attack (though they did see that one mosque had been hit with some gasoline and had some smoke and scorching damage in the entryway).

      Did the AP retract or reinvestigate? Nah. Instead, in a follow-up story a few days later, it simply noted the old (2005) news about efforts to plant Coalition press releases in the Iraqi media, accused the Iraqis of censorship and claimed that it had found three more (anonymous, naturally) witnesses. In effect, AP said that, no matter what the Iraqi police headquarters said, Hussein is one of its spokesmen after all.

This is certainly not the only case of media outlets modifying or falsifying information meant for the general public.  There seems to be no true repercussions for agencies like this short of consumer dissatisfaction and reaction.   But that won’t happen until people generally understand that what they get from mass media isn’t unbiased journalism all the time, and that we as a nation of people need to digest the news we get with a grain of salt and a discerning eye.

Because the paper and TV media just keeps on truckin’ as long as they’re making money, and the most surefire way to make money in the news business is not to sell the truth, but to sell an over-glamorized distortion of the truth designed to shock us into staring at the boob tube.

Certainly there are many journalists working for the AP and the NY Times and Reuters that have integrity and desire to tell the truth as best as they can, but they all aren’t, as well as their editors.  Think about what you’re reading, and make sure that you are getting your news and commentary from more than one source.

Reversing secularization

Interesting “letter” the Bogster posted on his site.  I haven’t seen this one in Email form yet, but I imagine I will.  I’ve been pretty irritated by the PC attitude surrounding Christmas lately, but I have to give credit to the person who wrote this letter (in lieu of Jesus), in their attempt to get us back on point.

      (Jesus talking…) How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate my birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that, let me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting my birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all my followers did that, there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Panel says: as you were

Of all that I’ve read recently and over the last few years involving our mission in Iraq and the President’s responses and actions, I’ve come to the conclusion that not many people really have a grasp of events and the big picture.  This is not a ringing endorsement of Republicans, who can be just as short term in their thinking as anyone, but a repudiation of critics of the Bush administration who are demanding that he change his stance on withdrawal of troops.

This is also not to say that Bush shouldn’t face certain amounts of criticism for his actions home and abroad.  However, we, as a nation of peoples, need to be honest with the facts and wider in our vision of what’s going on in the world.  It’s a fact that gets lost that Iraq is a smaller part of a greater struggle, and that accepting a certain amount of chaos there might be necessary for the larger struggle.  I.E. we’re losing a battle, not the war itself.  Don't quit now!

So now there’s this panel of folks intending to drive our policy in Iraq consisting, among others, of James Baker and Lee Hamilton.  They’ve come up with some recommendations going forward.  The President and Tony Blair have been reviewing them, and are correctly saying that they might implement some of them or many of them, but probably not all of them.  I don’t think that we can pretend that the Baker/Hamilton commission is a non-political one and that some of the recommendations it made are going to be sound and non-politicized. 

One of the things that struck me during this process was the Democratic realization (or, if they didn’t get this during the hearings I don’t know what it’ll take) that Bush is in fact listening to his military leaders and commanders in Iraq on what troop requirements they need.    Bush later said as much, that he didn’t want to make scheduled troop reductions and instead would listen to the advice of commanders in charge of Iraq related objectives.

Which makes sense, if you think about it.  What political advantage does Bush have in not reducing troop levels in the Middle East?  Really, if he didn’t think he needed the troops over there, he could start bringing some home and build some political capital with the moderates here in the States. 

      The president said he would take the recommendations seriously. But he noted, "Congress is not going to accept every recommendation in the report and neither is the administration."

      Asked specifically whether U.S. combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2008, Bush said that "we'd like our troops out as fast as possible," but that "our commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether we can achieve our objectives."

      Asked bluntly if he was still in denial about the situation in Iraq, Bush grew emotional. "I talk to the families who die," he said. "I also understand how brave our men and women who wear the uniform are. I understand how hard it is on wives and families, especially as we come into the holiday season." Still, Bush said, he believes U.S. and British forces will prevail.

      "Our job is to help the forces of moderation," he said. Calling Sept. 11 "a wake-up call for the American people," he said that "a threat overseas can come home to hurt us here.… I wouldn't have our troops in harm's way if didn't believe that."

I think the President, while not a perfect human being, gets the big picture still.  As the leader of this nation who makes the tough decisions, I would hope that he listens to advice and decides what makes sense in light of the global situation and what doesn’t.  Some of what the commission above recommends might make good sense.

But it’s still apparent that the press doesn’t get the global aspect to what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq.  I don’t know what purpose asking the President if he’s in denial about the situation in Iraq is supposed to accomplish other than to try and rankle the President and get some sound bite that can be used against him later.  Indeed, the President, by virtue of his position and security clearance, is much more in touch with reality than the press.  If the press people are truly wondering why the President talks in such positive terms about a tough situation, perhaps they should all take a course in positive thinking.  People in positions of leadership commonly talk in positive terms when managing a project or mission that must succeed.  Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t also grappling with the difficulties on the ground.

  It’s apparent that DC press and media people are, in fact, out of touch with reality, just as it’s apparent that congress-people are increasingly out of touch in their insular Washington environment.

Jonah Goldberg on the Corner:

      I've been thinking. As many have noted, the ISG's recommendations are mostly nothing new. The draw down of troops, the imbedding, the training, the pressure on the Iraqis etc, etc: all of these things are either already being tried, have been tried or are about to be tried. The report undercuts the Murtha crowd by delegitimizing the quick bug-out (AKA redeployment) option and makes staying in Iraq at least until '08 the "conventional" or "mainstream" point of view.

      For Bush, isn't this the only part of the ISG report that matters? And when it comes to the actual situation in Iraq, the report basically confirms established policies of the White House and the Pentagon. So, in effect, doesn't the heralded bipartisan commission in effect give Bush the leeway to — ahem — stay the course?

      Of course, the ISGers want Bush to endorse the entire report, hence all of that boilerplate about how everything reinforces everything else etc etc. They could never contemplate that such Olympian wisdom might be dissected. Could it be that this was the price Baker had to pay to Panenta and others to get agreement? Because it seems to me that Bush is perfectly at liberty, politically speaking, to cherry pick policies from  the report that  he likes and disregard the rest. And when he does so he can say he is following the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Critics can complain he's not buying all of them, but that's hardly going to be a devastating complaint. Indeed, what are critics going to say? That he can't follow the ISG's advice on increasing troops for training without also haggling with Syria over Israel?  I doubt it.

My emphasis.  This should all be a real wake up call to those who insist that Bush can do nothing right, but I’m sure they’ll find some way to spin this in the other direction.

More from Instapundit:

      COMMENTS ON THE ISG REPORT, from Sgt. T.F. Boggs, back from his second deployment in Iraq. Excerpt: "I thought old people were supposed to be more patient than a 24 year old but apparently I have more patience for our victory to unfold in Iraq than 99.9 percent of Americans. Iraq isn’t fast food--you can’t have what you want and have it now."

On another political note, please pay attention to the heroics of two Senators, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.  They’ve engineered a continuing resolution that effectively prevents over 10,000 of the earmarks from the remaining appropriations bills for the year. 

      Because of the courageous work of a few senators, led by Coburn and DeMint, taxpayers will save billions. And, from all indications, the fireworks will continue. Armed with a bagful of wrenches, you can expect Coburn and DeMint to shut down the liberals' big-government machine if (or more likely when) it starts up next year in the 110th Congress.

There are many of us out there with actual conservative values that believe that the federal government should not be used in the callous cash-cow way that Senators have treated it for decades now.  But since both Republicans and Democrats have been treating it so, what hope did we have that the chain would be broken and someone courageous would stop the bleeding.

I see a light up ahead.

Geography in 2006

I’m back, after a long family trip that I can’t possibly describe in one post.  Needless to say that I am not well rested, physically, but well rested mentally.  And we had a great time.

In the mean time, as I love all things geography, here’s a list of the best of 2006 from Ben Keene, who is the editor of the Oxford Atlas of the World.  This is a list of things that had the greatest geographic impact, according to Ben.  Note this one.

    Over the summer in the United States, President Bush designated roughly 140,000 square miles of Pacific reefs and atolls as a National Monument. This act makes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands—which cover more surface area than 46 of the 50 states—the single largest protected marine sanctuary on Earth, just edging out the 133,000 square miles of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Bet you didn't read about that in the paper.