Wanted: Chalabi

Ok, this is getting insane. One month before we transfer Iraq over to the Governing Council, we’re raiding the offices of one of it’s members. Not just a random council member, either, but rather the golden boy, the President in Exile, Ahmed Chalabi. This is insane. We’ve cut off payments to his group, the Iraqi National Congress, and we’re arresting his men.

Bremer and the CPA are starting to look like chickens without heads. Reminds me of Faisal, the ex-con from Baghdad that the Brits installed as King of “Iraq” in 1920. Basically he sweet-talked the British Foreign Office (including guys like T.E. Lawrence, yes, that Lawrence of Arabia) into making him King, promising all sorts of Arab support that never materialized. 38 years later, his son, Faisal II, was overthrown in a coup that brought Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party to power.

Contractors

This month’s issue of Harper’s has a collection of postings from TacticalJobs.com. Check out the classifieds if you have time. These guys who go tear-assing around Iraq in armor-plated Suburbans and wrap-around sunglasses at $12,000/month are a problem. The Iraqis have no use for them, and neither do the enlisted men and women.

I want to know how all this privatization of the military is saving the government any money whatsoever. Because it’s certainly not helping the people of Iraq or the morale of our troops, who earn in a year what these guys make in a month.

Internet Groceries

Those of you who listened to the show on Monday remember our discussion of the rise and fall of Internet grocery stores. Apparently they’re making a comeback.

Guess you can’t keep a good idea down. It’s interesting — we’re starting to see all the excess capacity and knowledge that was built up during the tech boom and then ripped down actually being put to use. You see this in Fiber Optics, for example, where so much bandwidth was added in the late 90s, much of which sits idle. Someone will put it to use.

More Hypocrisy

I’m watching Nightline tonight and there’s a story on John Kerry, Catholicism, Abortion, and Communion. For those who haven’t been following, see my previous post. A Colorado Bishop is being interviewed by Nightline because he’s going to stop administering the sacrament of Holy Communion to parishoners who disagree with him politically. Ok, fine, be that way. But when asked whether he would do the same for parishoners who believe in the death penalty, Bishop Sheridan argues, with a straight face, that the Church doesn’t explicitly forbid the death penalty. There he is, in his office, sitting under a Crucifix, which, for those of you who haven’t been tuned in to human history in the past 2,000 years, is the most potent and well-recognized example of the death penalty being misapplied, arguing that a church founded by a man who was wrongly executed isn’t opposed to the death penalty.

What happened to forgiveness, Bishop Sheridan?

Foresight

I was listening to Weekday on my way in this morning, and I listened to James Lilley, a former Ambassador to China and old CIA hack. Fascinating to listen to him tell stories of detaining and interrogating the Pathet Lao in ’68, etc…

There was one point where Steve Scher, the host, asked him what he thought of Iraq. He said he had great faith in the war planners, that he’d worked with Wolfowitz in the 80s in East Asia to great success, he thought Rumsfeld was top notch, etc. But he also said he had two great reservations going in. At that point I expected him to say something about troop strength or internationalizing the coalition, but he didn’t. Instead he gave these two reservations, both of which clearly betrayed his CIA training: One, he said, the borders in Iraq were too porous, which was the same problem he’d experienced in Vietnam (and which is a big reason why Korea succeeded and Vietnam didn’t). And two, there was an endless base of support for the enemy. In Vietnam it was the Chinese, and in Iraq, it’s the endless supply of jihadists from around the area.

Smart. His book, coauthored with his son, is called China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia. Probably worth a read.

More on Taxes

Well well well. Good to see Mr. Bruno has come around to the idea of a flat tax after all. And well argued, to boot.

To add just a little … If we progressives are to be better than our opponents, then we must not fear to give credit for good ideas to those with whom we otherwise disagree. From Adam Smith to Jerry Brown to Steve Forbes — such a broad array of proponents have championed a flat tax that we must at least give this radical notion its time in the spotlight. For your edification, here’s a little ditty by Dick Armey* (aside: remember the halcyon days of the mid-’90s when Dick Armey was public enemy number one and Ashcroft was a midwestern sideshow? Ah … may such times return with all haste) published by the American Enterprise Institute*.

The real trouble with our current income tax, or a flat tax, or any other tax of income earned from labor, is that they don’t really address wealth, which is what we really want to redistribute. Wealth taxes, such as the property taxes used to fund government and schools in many locations, are a much more effective way to redistribute the means of production. The challenge with these is that wealth taxes present cash-flow problems for people without much of an income (for instance, the elderly). I leave further examination of this issue for a later date.

Thanks again to Bruno for bringing this up once more.

* May these two never appear, lauded, in this virtual space again.

A Unified Front

The Democrats have a real chance to pull an upset in the fall elections, if they can get their message straight. They’ve got to pull out some fresh ideas, and presesnt them in interesting ways. The place to do this, of course, is the Democratic National Convention this summer. Here’s a couple of ideas that I think could make for a winning strategy this summer:

1. Flat Tax. Weird, right? But think about it: If the Dems became the party of the flat tax, they’d completely own the debate. See this Forbes article for a good primer (OK, so as a Forbes publication, they’re probably obligated to argue for a flat tax, but nevertheless…) Why is it that I paid 20-something percent of my income in taxes last year and Dick Cheney paid 12 percent? The problem with the current tax structure isn’t that it puts too much burden on the rich, as George Bush would have you believe, but rather too little. Make a flat tax at say, 20 percent, exempt everyone who makes below a certain threshold (say $20K a year), eliminate all other exemptions and loopholes, and fire all the tax attorneys and accountants who spend their lives exploiting those exemptions and loopholes.

2. Fair Districts In the wake of Colorado and Texas, this one’s a no-brainer. Time to steal the moral high ground on this from the Republicans. In 1994, the Republicans won big time by embracing “term limits,” playing to voters who were sick of entrenched career politicians. The voters’ anger was justified, but the solution of term limits was wrong. We need to admit that in a partisan age, when marching orders are handed down from party heaquarters, it no longer makes sense to have state legislatures drawing congressional boundaries. We need independent districting commissions, like they have in Iowa. This report from the Cato Institute lays out the argument quite nicely. By creating competitive congressional districts, we can work to eliminate extremism in the House of Representatives, and encourage more moderate voices.

I’ll have more to say on all of this in the coming weeks.

Like, duh!

This just in America — you may be responsible for higher gas prices. According to this article in the Detroit Free Press, gas consumption is up 24 percent since 1990.

Why?

You guessed it: the dramatic growth in SUV and light truck ownership — a 74 percent increase from 1990 to 2001.

Matski says, “I told you so.” This falls under the category of things that are so obvious you wonder why they even bother to do the research.

And I hereby propose that from now on, every SUV sold should be required by law to come with two new accessories — a replica dog tag with the name of a soldier killed in Iraqistan (maybe you get Pat Tillman’s with your sport package) and a life vest for when the ice caps melt.