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Politics Thursday: "Victory Strategy" Found Wanting by GAO

The non-partisan Congressional Government Accountability Office recently released this report on Iraq examining the President's strategy for victory:

Rebuilding Iraq: More Comprehensive National Strategy Needed to Help Achieve U.S. Goals and Overcome Challenges, GAO-06-953T, July 11, 2006

The report examined the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (NSVI) and drew these conclusions among others:

Moreover, the strategy falls short in at least three areas. First, it only partially identifies the agencies responsible for implementing key aspects of the strategy. Second, it does not fully address how the U.S. will integrate its goals with those of the Iraqis and the international community, and it does not detail Iraq's anticipated contribution to its future needs. Third, it only partially identifies the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq, including maintaining U.S. military operations, building Iraqi government capacity, and rebuilding critical infrastructure. Furthermore, the June 2006 Camp David fact sheet provides additional detail but does not address these key shortfalls. Security, political, and economic factors will hamper U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq and achieve key U.S. goals. First, the U.S. and Iraq are trying to stabilize Iraq by training and equipping additional Iraqi security forces and securing Baghdad and other strategic cities. However, increases in attacks against the coalition and its Iraqi partners and the growing influence of militias will adversely affect U.S. and Iraqi efforts. Second, the U.S. and Iraq are trying to improve Iraq's capacity to govern by reconciling sectarian groups and building the capacity of national and provincial governments to provide security and services. However, sectarian conflicts, the lack of capacity in the ministries, and corruption serve to hinder these efforts. Third, the U.S. and Iraqi governments are trying to revitalize Iraq's economy and restore the oil, electricity, and other key sectors. However, these efforts have been impeded by security, corruption, fiscal, and other challenges. The formation of a permanent Iraqi government gives the U.S. an opportunity to re-examine its strategy for Iraq and align its efforts with Iraq and the international community.

In response to these significant weaknesses, it recommends several fixes:

As a first step, NSC should complete the strategy by defining and disseminating performance metrics, articulating clear roles and responsibilities, specifying future contributions, and identifying current costs and future resources. In addition, the United States, Iraq, and the international community should (1) enhance support capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, (2) improve the capabilities of the national and provincial governments, and (3) develop a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy.

There's more in the 28 page report, including a chart on page 15 that shows a very clear upward trend of insurgent attacks from the 2003 invasion to April 2006, the last date on the chart.

The GAO believes that the general American goal of a peaceful, non-threatening Iraq is possible. But only if the Adminstration changes course and adopts meaningful metric.

I'd go farther and say that nothing beyond a bloody stalemate is possible as long as the President and his supporters see trouble in Iraq as a creation of the press.

Buffy comes to Delta Junction, Alaska

No, not that Buffy. But a visit from another buffy to the Delta Junction Public Library as reported in the July 7, 2006 Alaska State Library Friday Bulletin:

So.... yesterday I'm sitting here working away on Summer Readers stuff, and three guys come in.. one buffed to a high gloss and the other two schlepping giant equipment bags.

Buffy says: Hi, I'm Ted Rowlands from CNN... can we use your Internet?

JMc: ::after swiftly recovering from near faint:: "Of course!"

So they did - they filed this story from the DELTA LIBRARY.

They were all totally adorable and stunned at the beauty of Ak and tired, since they hadn't slept since leaving LA the night before and couldn't get over the constant light. While the tech guys got all their equipment hooked up, they asked a million questions, leading with the obvious "why do you live HERE?" to which I always reply, "why do you live THERE?" which I've found to be a handy come back.

Anyway, the video is on Fort Greely and why everyone is jumpy around here because they are on ALERT out there and ordinary mortals can't even get on post right now to go to work. They wouldn't let Ted on post either, but he does look charming standing in front of the trees at the gate, doesn't he? [Link to CNN : http://search.cnn.com/pages/search.jsp?query=alaska : click on "Alaska base key to U.S. defense"]

Just another day in the life of a Rural Alaska Librarian, and it goes to show that the center of the universe IS Delta Junction, like I keep trying to tell people.

They are on their way out to Dillingham next - I told them to be sure and use THAT library to file a story, too. :-) Joyce McCombs, Director Delta Community Library

New FGI Discussions: July 10, 2006

Activity was heavy at Free Government Information (http://freegovinfo.info) (FGI) this week as guest blogger Jessamyn West and the regular FGI volunteers started the following discussions:

Jessamyn's postings:

Volunteer postings:

As noted above, we are running a new poll. This time we are seeking your input on what kind of stories to post to Free Government Information. Please stop by and tell us what you want to hear!

No FDSys related activity has been observed at the main FDSys site in the past week.

This week the FDSys blog offered a clarification on their Unique Identifier UID. The UID and speculation on its role were covered in an earlier FGI posting.

If you use Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com/) or some other RSS reader, consider subscribing to the FGI Feed at
http://freegovinfo.info/blog/feed to get FGI stories as they are posted.

Alaska Libraries Thank Laura Bush

This good Mrs Bush-related news was reported in the latest Alaska State Library Friday Bulletin (7/7/06) [Hyperlinks Mine]:


Scenes from Douglas AK on 4th of July

From our First in the nation fireworks to the annual Douglas Fourth of July parade, my wife and I took pictures to share through Flickr.

Here are a small sample. If you were out enjoying our great holiday, how about some links to pictures or events? Apologies in advanced for the blocked parade view. Didn't seem right to elbow people out of the way today:


Fourth of July - Founded by Questions

Image hosting by Flickr.

A happy Fourth of July to you! Hope you enjoy this picture of this decked out gas pump from Douglas Depot.

As you celebrate the 4th, I hope you will take a moment to read the Declaration of Independence, some of the other primary documents of the revolution, or perhaps an official history of the revolution.

Perusing these documents, I find the Founders to be men (and presumably women) who questioned authority. If they followed the instructions of today's political elites on both sides of the aisle, they would have never broken away from the lawful gov't of Great Britain. Their lives were secure, they had a mostly free press and they had the same "virtual representation" afforded to most Englishmen in the mother country.

They not only questioned being a part of a state without direct representation, they dared to criticize the government's arrangements for national security.

According to our own government, the colonials would not pay for their own defense as required by the British Executive (Emphasis mine):

More serious in its repercussions was the new British revenue policy. London needed more money to support its growing empire and faced growing taxpayer discontent at home. It seemed reasonable enough that the colonies should pay for their own defense. That would involve new taxes, levied by Parliament -- at the expense of colonial self-government.

The first step was the replacement of the Molasses Act of 1733, which placed a prohibitive duty, or tax, on the import of rum and molasses from non-English areas, with the Sugar Act of 1764. This act outlawed the importation of foreign rum; it also put a modest duty on molasses from all sources and levied taxes on wines, silks, coffee, and a number of other luxury items. The hope was that lowering the duty on molasses would reduce the temptation to smuggle the commodity from the Dutch and French West Indies for the rum distilleries of New England. The British government enforced the Sugar Act energetically. Customs officials were ordered to show more effectiveness. British warships in American waters were instructed to seize smugglers, and "writs of assistance," or warrants, authorized the king's officers to search suspected premises.

Both the duty imposed by the Sugar Act and the measures to enforce it caused consternation among New England merchants. They contended that payment of even the small duty imposed would be ruinous to their businesses. Merchants, legislatures, and town meetings protested the law. Colonial lawyers protested "taxation without representation," a slogan that was to persuade many Americans they were being oppressed by the mother country.

Any people can follow orders from their government. It takes Americans to question their government and try to make something better. Any people can accept whatever their government does as the price to "keep us safe." It takes Americans to question the measures of our leaders and insist we live up to our original values.

Happy Independence Day!

A Second Life for Government Documents?

In my latest entry at Free Government Information, I highlight the newborn government documents section of the Second Life Public Library. I also provide a few links to business stories about Second Life for those wondering what all the fuss is about.

PT: Potential Reductions in Venezuelan Oil Production

Rather than offer any of my own commentary today, I wanted to highlight a Government Accountability Office report contemplating disruptions in oil supplies from Venezula. The report expects disruptions regardless of whether President Chavez carries out his threats. But don't take my word for it:

Energy Security: Issues Related to Potential Reductions in Venezuelan Oil Production, GAO-06-668, June 27, 2006

Venezuela is the world's eighth-largest oil exporter and among the top 10 countries in total proven oil reserves. Venezuela also supplies about 11 percent of current U.S. imports of crude oil and petroleum products and wholly owns five refineries in the U.S. Consequently, Venezuela is a key player in the future energy security of the United States and the world. The current global oil market is tight and may be more susceptible to short-term supply disruptions and higher and more volatile prices. Recently, tension between Venezuela and the United States has caused concern about the stability of Venezuelan oil supplies. On several occasions, Venezuela's President has threatened to stop exporting oil to the U.S. or to close Venezuela's U.S.-based refineries. In this context, GAO analyzed: (1) how Venezuela's crude oil production and exports of crude oil to the U.S. has changed in recent years, (2) the potential impacts of a reduction in Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S., and (3) the status of U.S. government programs and activities to ensure a reliable supply of oil from Venezuela. Commenting on a draft of the report, the State and Commerce Departments generally agreed with the report, but DOE contended that the report presents an "alarmist view" of U.S. energy security. We disagree and believe the report presents a contextually balanced treatment of the issue.

Venezuelan oil production has fallen since 2001, but exports of crude oil and petroleum products to the United States have been relatively stable--except during a 2-month strike in the winter of 2002-2003, during which the oil sector was virtually shut down and exports to the United States fell by about 1.2 million barrels. Energy Information Administration data show that total Venezuelan oil production in 2001 averaged about 3.1 million barrels per day, but by 2005 had fallen to about 2.6 million barrels per day. Following the strike, Venezuela's President ordered the firing of up to 40 percent of Venezuela's national oil company employees. U.S. and international oil industry experts told us that the resulting loss of expertise contributed to the decline in oil production. In 2005, the Venezuelan government announced plans to expand its oil production significantly by 2012, but oil industry experts doubt the plan can be implemented because Venezuela has not negotiated needed deals with foreign oil companies as called for in the plan. A model developed for the Department of Energy estimates that a 6-month disruption of crude oil with a temporary loss of up to 2.2 million barrels per day--about the size of the loss during the Venezuelan strike--would, all else remaining equal, result in a significant increase in crude oil prices and lead to a reduction of up to $23 billion in U.S. gross domestic product. A Venezuelan oil embargo against the United States would increase consumer prices for petroleum products in the short-term because U.S. oil refiners would experience higher costs getting replacement supplies. A shutdown of Venezuela's wholly-owned U.S. refineries would increase petroleum product prices until closed refineries were reopened or new sources were brought on line. These disruptions would also seriously hurt the heavily oil-dependent Venezuelan economy. U.S. government programs and activities to ensure a reliable supply of oil from Venezuela have been discontinued, but the U.S. government has options to mitigate short-term oil disruptions. For example, activities under a U.S.-Venezuela oil technology and information exchange agreement were stopped in 2003, in part, as a result of diplomatic decisions. In recent years, U.S. oil companies have not sought assistance from the U.S. government with issues in Venezuela because the companies do not believe that federal agency intervention would be helpful at this time. To mitigate short-term oil supply disruptions, the U.S. government could attempt to get oil-producing nations to increase their production to the extent possible, or could release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. While these options can mitigate short-term oil supply disruptions, long-term reductions in Venezuela's oil production and exports are a concern for U.S. energy security, especially in light of current tight supply and demand conditions in the world oil market. If Venezuela fails to maintain or expand its current level of production, the world oil market may become even tighter than it is now, putting further pressure on both the level and volatility of energy prices.

Perhaps its time to start asking a question from World War II, "Is this trip really necessary?"

2nd Life - because you can't experiment too much

Hi all,

I took my first trip to Second Life last night, after being prodded by BusinessWeek articles, blogs about the Second Life Public Library and finally by one of my favorite communication blogs.

If there are any SL's out in LISNews land, I'm registered as Alaskan Nighbor.

As the first social technology to seriously challenge my computer skills, I'm not prepared to comment on my experiences yet except to offer one piece of advice.

What if you had to carry water a half mile?

Some time back on Vatican Radio, I heard that the average distance that a person living in Africa must walk to get water is about a kilometer or 0.6 mile. If you've heard a different distance, let me know. I got a SMALL taste of what that must mean back in November. It was a cool, clear day and I decided to walk the half mile to pick up my bi-weekly box of fresh vegetables I get from Full Circle Farm as part of their Community Supported Agriculture program.

My Mother's Tortillas

When I was in Los Angeles for my mom's coma and subsequent death, I found a recipe file and notes for a diet cookbook. With my dad's and sister's approval, I took these items with me back to Alaska with the promise that I would type them up so the whole family could have them. For nearly three months, I did nothing.

Today that changed. I started typing up her sometimes incomplete recipes. I hope to eventually create an HTML version of her gourmet diet cookbook and an HTML version of her nondiet recipes found in her files.

As a small down payment to that vision, I offer you my mom's mostly complete recipe for tortillas, which tasted great the few times I had them:

Flour Tortillas

About 6 cups flour
3 or 4 tsps baking powder
1/3 cup crisco
1 tsp salt
enough water to make dough

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add crisco and mix well with your hands. When it is all crumbly (like cornmeal) start adding hot water. Mix with hands until stiff dough (like bread dough). Turn onto floured board and kneed for at least 10 or 15 minutes. The longer you kneed the better the tortillas.

Heat an iron griddle very hot. Save this griddle for tortillas only as it will look awful. Don't scour griddle as it will make this stick.

Mom's directions end at this point. But I think the rest of the directions would run something like this:

Take a small ball of dough and roll it out flat and thin as possible. Put tortilla on heated griddle and cook like a pancake until both sides seem fully cooked. Set aside and start cooking next tortilla.

I hope to use this recipe next weekend or the next and so hope to tell you if the above really was a wise course of action.

If I stay with this project, which I hope I will, I'll be sharing more of my mom's recipes and will share the URL of the book when (or if) I get it finished.

One of the most heartbreaking things are those recipes where I have full ingredient lists but no instructions whatsoever. For some recipes I have some idea from what to do, either from the brief times I actually paid attention in the kitchen or from my own general cooking skills.

But for others, I have no clues and now I'll never be able to ask her. If you have a relative who is a great cook -- pay attention to them while they're around to teach!!!

New FGI Discussions: June 26, 2006

While FGI (http://freegovinfo.info BOTM Jessamyn West was busy elsewhere this week, the regular volunteers started a number of discussions this week:

The FDSys Blog continues to keep its promise of more current content. In the past week there was a posting explaining the coming integration of the Future Digital System with GPO's current Integrated Library System (ILS). There was also a new FDSYS update dated June 19, 2006 that included a web harvesting update.

No FDSys related activity has been observed at the main FDSys site in the past week.

If you use Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com/) or some other RSS reader, consider subscribing to the FGI Feed at
http://freegovinfo.info/blog/feed to get FGI stories as they are posted.

Photos I've Missed

Turning into an amateur photographer, I've started to be slightly disappointed by the photos I haven't been able to take. Situations where I just haven't been quick enough in turning on the camera and getting it focused before the "perfect" opportunity passes. Here are a few examples from last year:

  • A Raven perched on my balcony seemingly screaming at me for 30 seconds.
  • Two instances of people water skiing the Gastineau Channel.
  • Any number of hummingbirds.

Politics Thursday: My Statement to Senator Murkowski

Last week, I commended Republican senator Lisa Murkowski for her willingness to listen to critics of the continued occupation of Iraq. This week I offer the written statement I submitted. I doubt it will change any minds here, but feel free to use as much of it as you like in letters to your Congressional delegation as we gear up for a war against Iran, which I believe we'll see next March if the Iraq pattern holds. If "preventive war" is not to become an American tradition, we must stop it here.

Now my statement:

Dear Senator Murkowski:

Thank you for coming to Juneau to listen to constituents' concerns about Iraq in person. This is something I hope you will do in Anchorage, Fairbanks and any other communities you feel appropriate. I also hope that you can encourage Sen. Stevens and Rep. Young to come listen in person as well. While such meetings are not a scientific barometer of opinion, they send a powerful message that you care about your voters and allows you to see which side has the highest passion and level of commitment to their cause.

Today I want to write you not about the heavy costs of the Iraq war in blood and treasure nor suggest a withdrawal timetable to you. Instead I want to urge you to refuse to endorse any more "preventive wars." You should refuse the next war on the basis of the threefold failure of the "preventive war" in Iraq. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the President and Administration officials offered three main goals that invading Iraq would fulfill: 1) Prevent the transfer of WMD to terrorist groups; 2) Reduce terrorism worldwide by eliminating one of its sponsors; and 3) Intimidate North Korea and Iran into abandoning their nuclear weapons programs. As I outline below, the Administration has failed in each of these three aims.

The Administration failed to prevent the transfer of WMD to terror groups – Whether or not you believe that Iraq had pre-2003 stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the Administration did not prevent their transfer out of Iraq. If you believe as I do and as the Iraq Survey Group concluded that there were no stockpiled weapons, there were no weapons to transfer, and the invasion was a waste of resources. If you believe the Weekly Standard that stockpiles of weapons were transferred out of the country, then the invasion failed to prevent this from happening. What we can positively conclude from the number of soldiers killed and wounded by IEDs is that the invasion of Iraq did transfer tons of conventional explosives into the hands of terrorists and some has probably left Iraq in the intervening years. So instead of denying terrorists unconventional weapons, our invasion of Iraq provided regional groups with a conventional armory.

The Administration has not reduced global terror, in fact global terror is up nearly three times over 2001. - According to the Terrorism Knowledge Base (a href="http://www.tkb.org">http://www.tkb.org ) graphing analysis tool, the number of worldwide terrorism incidents since 2001 have been – 2001 – 1733 attacks, 2002 – 2649 attacks, 2003 – 1898 attacks, 2004 – 2646 attacks, 2005 – 4924 attacks. 2005's figure of 4924 is 2.8 times the number of incidents that took place in 2001. Considering that the trend is upward and that the world hasn't seen a year "as peaceful" as 2001, seems to suggest the futility of "preventive war" as a anti-terrorism measure. If the trend was definitely downward, I could withhold judgment, but given the costs in blood and treasure, we are paying far too high a price for what appears to be an ineffective solution.

Far from being intimidated, both Iran and North Korea have continued, if not accelerated their march towards nuclear weapons. - The public record shows that the Administration clearly felt the invasion of Iraq would be an "object lesson" for Iran and North Korea. By showing our resolve in Iraq, North Korea and Iran would be terrified into giving up their nuclear programs. Instead, I think developments have clearly shown that they instead took the logical lesson that the United States only attacks non-nuclear powers. As a result, North Korea now maintains it has at least some nuclear bombs and Iran is proceeding with nuclear enrichment in defiance of the West. As object lesson to change countries nuclear behavior, I believe that Iraq has been an objective failure.

As a fellow Catholic, you are likely familiar enough with the moral case against "preventive war" made by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the US Catholic Bishops, so I won't repeat it again for you. But I hope that the paragraphs above will let you consider that there is a pragmatic case against "preventive war." If our stated aims with the Iraq War failed so badly, what possible assurance can this or any other Administration offer that launching a first strike against another nation will guarantee better results?

Farewell to longer days

Today is the summer solstice, a day of joy tinged with sadness.

Here in Juneau Alaska, the sun will be above the horizon 18 hours and 17 minutes. There will be usable light for 20 hours and 56 minutes. This day and the days leading up to it are joyful simply by virtue of their length.

Sadness creeps in because as of today, daylight gets shorter. While the sunlight tomorrow will only be seven seconds shorter, it starts a process leading to a mere six and a half hours of gloomy sunlight around December 21st.

Race with the Army!

I write about how the Army is podcasting news involving its three NASCAR racing teams in a new post at Free Government Information.

From my writing file: Jesus Decoded

Today I took a look in my writing file for LISNews - that place I pull journal entries from when I'm not simply writing off the cuff.

Here's an entry that might still have some relavance for you or one of your patrons:

Although I feel like they're just giving more publicity to the movie, I thought I should point out that the US Council of Catholic Bishops have prepared a web site and other measures to fight the portrayal of Jesus and the Catholic Church in the Da Vinci Code. According to their March 9, 2006 press release:

New FGI Discussions: June 19, 2006

Activity was heavy at Free Government Information (http://freegovinfo.info) (FGI) this week as guest blogger Jessamyn West and the regular FGI volunteers started the following discussions:

Jessamyn's postings:

Volunteer postings:

No FDSys related activity has been observed at the main FDSys site in the past week.

However, exciting things are happening at the FDSys Blog. On June 16th, the FDSys staff posted a "FDSys Update" for 6/2/2006 and included the following note:

"NOTE: GPO intends to post brief FDsys Program Management Office updates to the blog on a bi-weekly basis."

The current update features news on GPO automated web harvesting and efforts to integrate their newly acquired Aleph ILS with the Future Digital System.

I think I speak for the whole FGI group when I say we are very pleased to see this level of commitment to regular communication and look foward to future updates.

If you use Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com/) or some other RSS reader, consider subscribing to the FGI Feed at
http://freegovinfo.info/blog/feed to get FGI stories as they are posted.

No hike today, but two wolves

Hey Blake! - How's the weather in Buffalo? Here in Juneau it is raining with temps in the 60s. That wouldn't keep most Juneauites off the trail, but I like being dry.

So I'm at my office catching up on Alaska electronic documents claims. During this process I came across a beautiful quote from the Spring 2006 Newsletter of the Alaska Special Education Service Agency:

Politics Thursday: Dissent no less patriotic than...

...holding Memorial Day observances. That was the message given to me and over 200 other participants in a listening session held by Republican senator and war supporter Lisa Murkowski on May 30, 2006.

From 4:30 – 6:30pm, Senator Murkowski listened to 36 speakers, all but one who opposed our continued occupation of Iraq. She appeared calm and attentive throughout even though about four speakers were crazy lefties even by my standards. The overwhelming majority were not though. They were respectful in their dissent and questioned the costs and motivations of the war. Only one or two of the speakers criticized our military efforts in Afghanistan and all supported more reconstruction and humanitarian aid for Iraq. None wanted to simply abandon the Iraqi people, only to restructure how we are trying to help them.

I am happy to report that the one speaker who spoke in support of our continued occupation was given applause and a respectful hearing from the audience. His name was David Summers and he is a small businessman and reservist who expects to be deployed to Iraq a few weeks from now. (May God bless and keep you Mr. Summers.)

In many ways, Senator Murkowski represents what is best about Alaska. She understands that while we may have sharp disagreements, her constituents are all Alaskans and Americans and their loyalty and patriotism are beyond question. She does not write off those constituents who do not belong to her party. It is an example that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should emulate.

At the conclusion of the listening session, Senator Murkowski mentioned that the day before she had participated in a Memorial Day service in Kenai. Then she said "This forum was no less patriotic than what we had yesterday. If you don't believe me, look up the May 31 issue of the Juneau Empire (registration required).

Hopefully she will take that message to her colleagues and Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld, who still make comments equating dissent with the treason code phrase "aid and comfort to the enemy."

I did not speak at the listening session myself, but I did provide a written statement, which I will post in the next Politics Thursday.

If your Member of Congress had a similar listening session, please journal about it.


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