Friday, October 07, 2005

A Weekend Full of Stuff to Do

I think a good Friday night blog entry gives you lots of stuff to look at and consider over the weekend.'s some goodies to get you through Saturday and Sunday.

First, Bush's approval ratings are lower than ever [Via CBS News]

Kirstie Alley explains how she lost 50 pounds in People magazine. First clue: you gotta answer the question, "What kind of life do I want to live?" (She started ou weighing a lot more than 200 pounds -- trust me).

Earlier this week, I saw David Rakoff explain how we Americans fetish-ize everything. Then, I read his buddy David Sedaris' article about how we deal with germs in the New Yorker. It's hilarious.

If you want to make some yummy cupcakes this weekend, here are some awesome recipes. And if you are true cupcake fanatic, here's a blog for you.

And finally, here are the latest columns from Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman in The New York Times for you:

The New York Times
October 7, 2005
A Pig in a Jacket

During the California electricity crisis, Dick Cheney sneered at energy conservation, calling it a mere "sign of personal virtue." But this week Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary - who is widely regarded as Mr. Cheney's proxy - declared that "the main thing that U.S. citizens can do is conserve." Is the Bush administration going green?

No, not really. This administration's idea of encouraging conservation is an ad campaign centered on a cartoon pig. When it comes to substantive energy policy, the administration is still thinking drill-and-burn.

The background to Mr. Bodman's remarks is growing public anger over high energy prices. Most of the focus right now is on the price of gasoline, but the worst is yet to come: just wait until people see their winter heating bills, especially for natural gas, which has roughly doubled in price since last year.

And the political danger to the administration is obvious: polls suggest that many people blame energy companies for high energy prices, and blame the administration for failing to control price gouging.

Funny, isn't it? During the California crisis, some of us deduced from economic evidence that electricity shortages were artificial, the result of market manipulation by energy producers and traders. This deduction was later confirmed by the Enron tapes, but at the time we were voices crying in the wilderness.

Now, much of the public believes that corporate evildoers with close ties to the administration are conspiring to drive prices up. But this time they aren't, at least so far.

Just in case you think I've gone soft on the energy industry, let me say that claims that we're having a crisis because environmentalists wouldn't let oil companies do their job are equally bogus. When you hear someone talk about how no refineries were built for 25 years, remember that until recently, oil companies weren't interested in building refineries, because they had excess capacity and profit margins were thin.

In fact, the current crisis is nobody's fault, except Mother Nature's. Both Katrina and Rita were stronger hurricanes when they plowed through offshore oil and gas fields than when they made landfall. And because damaged refineries and other energy facilities are competing for a limited number of repair crews, it's taking a long time to get those facilities back up and running.

What this means is that a lot of "demand destruction" must take place over the next few months. That is, one way or another, people will have to be persuaded to limit their consumption of natural gas, gasoline and heating oil to match the available supply.

In the absence of an effective conservation policy, prices will do all the persuading: the cost of fuel will rise until people drive less and turn down their thermostats. The problem, of course, is that high prices will impose serious hardship on many families.

And that's why administration officials are sounding vaguely greenish: they hope to limit the price pain by persuading people to curb their energy consumption out of a sense of public duty. Done right, such a campaign really could make a difference. In fact, energy conservation played a significant role in ending California's crisis four years ago.

But as you might expect, the administration's conservation push lacks conviction. President Bush has spoken in favor of conservation, but he seems more interested in trying to justify the Iraq war. And the administration's attempt to promote "Energy Hog," a cartoon pig in a leather jacket, as a conservation mascot verges on the pathetic.

So it's going to be a long, cold winter. But what about the longer term?

The long-term case for energy conservation doesn't have much to do with the current shortages. Instead, it's about national security, broadly defined - reduced dependence on Middle East oil supplies, reduced emission of greenhouse gases. But one might have hoped that the administration's new willingness to use the language of conservation would spill over into long-run policy.

No such luck: when it comes to substantive actions, as opposed to public relations, it's still the same old, same old. Mr. Bush has called for more refineries, but has said nothing about raising mileage requirements and efficiency standards for appliances. And as for a higher gasoline tax, which would be politically possible only with broad bipartisan backing - don't be silly.

Conservation's day will come. But it hasn't happened yet.

The New York Times
October 7, 2005
What Were They Thinking?

When the definitive history of the Iraq war is written, future historians will surely want to ask Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush each one big question. To Saddam, the question would be: What were you thinking? If you had no weapons of mass destruction, why did you keep acting as though you did? For Mr. Bush, the question would be: What were you thinking? If you bet your whole presidency on succeeding in Iraq, why did you let Donald Rumsfeld run the war with just enough troops to lose? Why didn't you establish security inside Iraq and along its borders? How could you ever have thought this would be easy?

The answer to these questions can be found in what was America's greatest intelligence failure in Iraq - and that was not about W.M.D.

Let me explain. While visiting the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr last week, I spent a morning watching the commanders of the Iraqi Navy hold a staff meeting, while their British and U.S. advisers looked on. On the one hand, you felt as if they were doing a pretty good imitation of a British command briefing. On the other hand, the slightly ragged quality left you feeling that if you pulled the British and U.S. advisers out tomorrow, the whole Iraqi Navy would collapse. The human capital and institutional foundation are simply not there yet. "How these guys ever fought the Iranians for eight years, I will never know," a British trainer remarked to me.

After that staff meeting, a British Royal Navy officer who was escorting me suggested that we go to Basra to see the flea market there. He said I could find anything I wanted, because so many Iraqis have had to hock basic household goods - stereos, refrigerators, air-conditioners, cars - to survive the last decade under Saddam.

Message: Failing to find W.M.D. was a big intelligence failure. But the even bigger failure - the one that is the source of all our troubles today - was the failure to understand just how devastated Iraq's society, economy and institutions had become - after eight years of war with Iran, a crushing defeat in Gulf War I and then a decade of U.N. sanctions.

But I think Saddam knew how busted and bankrupt his country and army were. Therefore, he never wanted to completely erase the impression that he had W.M.D. Saddam lived in a den of wolves. The hint of W.M.D. was his only deterrent shield left against his neighbors, his enemies at home and the West. (This was alluded to in the Duelfer W.M.D. report.) So he tried to allow just enough U.N. inspections to clear him on W.M.D., while playing just enough cat and mouse with the U.N. to leave the impression that he still had something dangerous in the closet.

The Bush team, and the C.I.A., not only failed to learn that Saddam had no W.M.D., they failed to appreciate how devastated Iraqi society really was. The Bush team, listening largely to exiles who had not lived in Iraq for years, thought that there were much more of an Iraqi middle class and more institutions than actually existed. So Mr. Bush thought taking over Iraq would be easy. That is the only way I can explain his behavior.

This intelligence failure about Iraqi society is what is killing us today. Because what really happened after the U.S. invasion is that what little Iraqi state existed just fell apart in our hands, like a broken vase. And then Rummy let the shards get looted. So yes, when the Bush team says rebuilding Iraq is like rebuilding Germany, it's half right. It is like rebuilding Germany, but not post-World War II Germany. It is like rebuilding medieval, pre-modern Germany - the Germany of clans and feudal fiefs, before there was a state.

As this column has long insisted, we are not doing nation-building in Iraq. We are doing nation-creating. It is hugely important, but hugely difficult. I can only assume the C.I.A. didn't know how broken Iraq was, because if the president knew and still put in so few troops, it was criminal.

Sadly, what Iraq desperately needs most from the U.S. today are A.I.D. workers, State Department advisers and technical experts from every agency of the government who can help rebuild Iraq's human capital. But people are afraid to go. And who can blame them? We have never established basic public order there, because we never had enough troops.

The president's speech on terrorism yesterday was excellent. He made clear, better than ever, why winning in Iraq is so important to the wider struggle against Islamo-fascism. But it only makes me that much more angry that he fought this war as though it would be easy - never asking for any sacrifice, any military draft, any tax hikes or any gasoline tax - and that he tolerated so much incompetence along the way.


At 12:41 PM, Anonymous rose said...



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