Conservative William Kristol Joins New York Times

The New York Times announced Saturday that William Kristol, “one of the nation’s leading conservative writers and a vigorous supporter of the Iraq war, will become an Op-Ed page columnist for The New York Times.”  The publication acknowledges that Kristol has been a “fierce critic” of The Times.

Interesting twist.  While on the other end of the fence, Kristol has a sharp intellect, and I look forward to reading him.

Will he be sharing an office with Maureen Dowd?

Iraq – Actually Twice As Bad

Leave it to the Republicans to finally let the truth slip out.

Iraq is twice as bad as any of us thought.

For years now — yes, years — I’ve been using the National Priorities  Project as the quintessential barometer for how much the United States is spending in Iraq.  Turns out the NPP was wrong, by half.

No fault of their own.  The NPP says the United States is spending $275 million per day.  The truth is closer to $480 million per day.  That is, if you believe the Republicans.  I have the Bad Astronomer to thank for this woeful news.  Once again, he has “one-upped” the Liberal bloggers.

He cites Senator Ted Stevens in the Washington Post.  Stevens actually used the revised figures to demonstrate the need for more money.  According to Stevens:

The latest estimate of the growing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide battle against terrorism — nearly $15 billion a month — came last week from one of the Senate’s leading proponents of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.

“This cost of this war is approaching $15 billion a month, with the Army spending $4.2 billion of that every month,” Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, said in a little-noticed floor speech Dec. 18. His remarks came in support of adding $70 billion to the omnibus fiscal 2008 spending legislation to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as counterterrorism activities, for the six months from Oct. 1, 2007, through March 31 of next year.

So it’s even worse than we all thought.

So, where does that leave us with the numbers?  Do we actually know how much money we’ve spent in Iraq?

Our national debt right now is estimated to be at $9.127 trillion.  We have lost 3901 American soldiers in Iraq.  At least 80,137 Iraq civilians have been killed, although some estimates put the total much higher than 100,000.  And somewhere between 23,000 and 100,000 American soldiers have been wounded in Iraq.

Are all of these numbers not related to each other?  What possible solution can we count on while many of the most prominent members of Congress are running for President?

Does anybody care about this crisis?  Or is it all just useful for the current campaigns?

The Star of Bethlehem

Every year we listen to a host of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. The story of the star appears only in Matthew’s Gospel, in one of the two Infancy Narratives in the gospels. The other is in the Gospel of Luke. Both of these stories are wonderful tales which are really trying to tell Christians about the adult, risen Christ — according to Christians. These stories are not at all about what really happened. Phil Plait does an excellent job dealing with what may or may not have really happened, and he’s probably right that the tale grew in the telling.

There were no birth certificates. The birth of Christ wasn’t even celebrated in early Christianity. The celebration grew up gradually throughout the Roman Empire, really only taking root after Christianity became a legal religion in 313 C.E. Christians gradually converted the old Roman feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) to a celebration of the birth of the Christ. While the Northern Hemisphere was at it’s darkest, Christians began to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World. The celebration was symbolic from the start, and the Gospel writers were quite comfortable using symbolism to introduce a wider audience to the Risen Christ by telling a rich story of His birth. Did they take some liberties? No doubt.

Theology is my day job. See, some Liberals do appreciate religion.

Why am I giving space here about the famous Star? Call it a preemptive strike against the Christian radicals as we move further into the election season. We are still in the middle of a Holiday Season, and have already endured strange and bizarre claims that there continues to be a “War on Christmas.” We can anticipate equally weird and bizarre claims as we move forward to the 2008 Presidential Election.

What will the weird right have in store for us? How will they work to create God in their image? In anticipation of all of the unholy rhetoric about to spew forth from the conservatives, I can’t help thinking of Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Simple emotion may sway simple people. The weird right has used simplistic and hate-filled quasi-religious arguments before to sway the masses. Whatever they come up over the next 11 months, we must hold them to facts — and science. Otherwise, we haven’t got a prayer.

Benazir Bhutto Buried

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest Friday in Pakistan as unrest continued to spread throughout the country. The government is blaming al-Qaeda and the Taliban, an assertion that is wildly premature. No one from al-Qaeda has come forward to claim responsibility, and al-Qaeda is hardly shy about such admissions. Bhutto supporters allege that President Pervez Musharraf’s government is responsible — an assertion which may also be premature at this point. From this distance, all we can do is speculate.

The larger and more alarming concern is the continued destabilization of Pakistan, a nuclear power. The questions are overwhelming.  Ahmed Rhashid of the Washington Post iterates some of the most compelling:

Her death only exacerbates the problems Pakistan has been grappling with for the past few months: how to find a modicum of political stability through a representative government that the army can accept and will not work to undermine, and how to tackle the extremism spreading in the country.

Was Musharraf responsible? Was al-Qaeda involved? These questions pale in comparison to what may lie ahead for Pakistan. Musharraf does not seem the least bit interested in establishing a democracy, and President Bush should not forget this. Musharraf is no ally — but he must be dealt with. The only route to Afghanistan is through Pakistan, and Musharraf now holds every card in Pakistan.

To his credit, President Bush called on Pakistan to pursue justice in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, and to honor her memory. In a statement, Bush said:

The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice. Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as Prime Minister and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.

We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.

He’s right. Musharraf would do well to bring her murderers to justice. Otherwise, Pakistan will be lost to conspiracy theories forever, and someone even more radical than Musharraf may come closer to controlling the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Thank You, Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton discusses just about anything on his blog, WWdN: In Exile. The one-and-only former Wesley Crusher is a Democrat, and a smart one at that.

I’ve shared before my dissatisfaction with the Democrats in Congress, their incredible failure to lead, and everyone’s dreams of living on Pennsylvania Ave. Too many of them are infatuated with the presidency, and the new Neverending Story is the campaign. Meanwhile, Congress simply cannot lead.

Hats off to Mr. Wheaton for his clarity. I couldn’t have said it better myself:

It is outrageous that Senators Clinton, Obama and Biden are asking for our votes, but are unwilling to provide leadership now. If they won’t stand up for the principles we all hold dear when they’re trying to earn our votes, how can we expect them to do it once they’re in the White House? Leadership is doing the right thing when it’s risky and when it’s unpopular. (And how depressing is it that upholding your oath of office is risky and unpopular? How doubly depressing is it that the only people who think that — and the only people being listened to — are Joe Klein, the DLC consultants, and the rest of the pundit class?)

Well, as a complete idiot once said: Fool me once, can’t get fooled again.

Amen.

Wheaton says he is inspired by John Edwards, and likes Chris Dodd. Even my Republican friends are saying we need a Democrat in ’08. But we need one who wants to work — not one who wants the White House. Showing leadership over the past several months would have been good, instead of having wet dreams about renting out the Lincoln Bedroom.

Prosecuting The Damned

We’ve heard the stories before. Soldiers in Iraq have committed suicide, others have attempted. The Army is prosecuting, according to The Washington Post:

In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside’s superiors considered her mental illness “an excuse” for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside’s lawyer of the risk of using a “psychobabble” defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.

“I’m not here to play legal games,” Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. “I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that’s breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let’s treat her as a human being, for Christ’s sake!”

I can’t even begin to comprehend what is happening here. Our fighting men and women are placed in extreme danger, in Hell. Their time in Iraq is extended. Some are sent back for two or three tours of duty. And some simply cannot take it any more.

This is not at all an article advocating suicide, nor an admission that this is the only alternative for those fighting in Iraq. If any of our veterans or soldiers currently serving read this, I have the utmost respect for you and your service to this country. I cannot imagine what you have gone through, or what you are going through if you are serving now.

This country is far too punitive, in every respect. We can’t build prisons fast enough. We have a problem, and our only solution is, “Lock-em up!” But prisons do not build a healthier society.

We all get one shot at life. Some have chosen to serve the United States of America in the Armed Services, and our Coward-In-Chief has put them in harms way. The Coward-In-Chief has yet to attend a single funeral for one of the fallen. The Coward-In-Chief never served, and neither have his children.

The Coward-In-Chief has damned these young people to Hell-on-Earth.

Those who command should spend more time with those who know something about the so-called “psychobabble”, and realize what they are doing to our young people.

Prosecution for an attempted suicide? This is a solution only for those who have ceased thinking, or those who have given up looking for solutions. We need to ask the big questions, and cease the clichés. Soldiers attempting suicide is a real problem, and these petty, simplistic prosecutions are no solution for those trapped in Hell.

Iraqi Blogs – A Glimpse Inside

Last of the Iraqis

I found this site on the BBC. Mohammed, a 25 year-old dentist, writes about life in Baghdad. According to his profile on Blogger:

i’m a 25 years old dentist i live in iraq (Baghdad) i was born and raised here but unfortunately i’m thinking that the iraqis are going to extinct so i made this blog wishing that i can make a difference or even share my greif with the whole world and give them an idea about what’s happening here from the point of view of a civilian living in the war zone not from the politicians nor people who gets their benefits from the conditions.

According to Mohammed, Al Qaeda is very strong now in Iraq:

Yesterday I heard that al-Qaeda also distributed fliers in Adhamiya, saying they wanted the best for the people, and end to the sectarian violence and getting life back to normal.

They told shop owners to open their shops again and said they would protect them. They even mentioned that Shias shouldn’t be afraid of anything if they had done nothing bad.

It’s a struggle for power and control between the Ba’ath party, al-Qaeda and the Salvation Council, each one trying to prove they are better than the others, were they in charge.

Mohammed writes about the quality of life in Baghdad, including the drinking water – this from a September 25, 2007 entry:

I went to the kitchen and was filling the kettle from the tap water … I decided to fill a glass so I could see it.

What a shock. I immediately brought the camera and took the picture and video.

Is this drinking water or is it rice water? What are those floating things? I know about the cholera, I know it might be epidemic in Baghdad but I’d be so lucky if this water only contained cholera bacteria!

How could they give us this water? Why should I respect, obey or even recognise my government if they are not providing us with electricity, water, or even security?

Each Iraqi house should be a country and have a flag and its own government. I depend on myself for electricity, water and even security. What a farce.

His most recent entry speaks of the prominence of Al Qaeda in American prisons in Iraq:

I was watching TV few days ago when I saw a show that really got my attention, it was on Alarabyia satellite news channel, it was about how AlQaeda had a great influence inside the American jails in Iraq and there was statements from witnesses who were prisoners in these jails, they described how the conditions are, and what is really happening there, it was a real shock to me….. here is a small part of the show…..I’ll write about the important things they mentioned….. I haven’t translated it in the video but I’ll talk about many thing that they said…..they brought four witnesses and they talked about things I didn’t think was possible, and I believe many don’t know these things too.

I don’t know how accurate Mohammed’s information is. His is just one part of the overall reality. This is certainly a perspective I haven’t seen before.

Two Chinese Teachers Sentenced to Death

Wow.

The BBC reports that two Chinese teachers have been sentenced to death for forcing more than 20 young girls — including their own students — into prostitution.

Zhao Qingmei and her husband, Chi Yao, were convicted of running a child-sex ring in the southern Guizhou province.

The girls, aged between 11 and 17, were taken to local hostels and reportedly told that their families would be poisoned if they refused to have sex.

And later:

Bijie Intermediate Court handed down the death sentences last Friday after hearing how the couple forced 23 girls into prostitution between March and June 2006.

Six of the victims were under the age of 14.

The court was told that the child-sex ring made 32,350 yuan.

Chi’s sentence was suspended for two years, and is likely to be commuted to life imprisonment.

The couple have until 24 December to appeal against the sentences.

Wow.