January 26, 2007

Bush OKs Killing Iranians

According to this article from Slate, President Bush has officially authorized U.S. forces to kill or capture Iranians fighting with Iraqi insurgent militias in order to stop Iran's influence in Iraq.

If U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq are attacked by Iranians, I expect, nay, encourage them to return fire and defend themselves. There's no reason they shouldn't be able to protect their own troops. What concerns me is that this could potentially be seen as authorization to pursue and attack groups that definitely are from Iran- potentially throwing gas on the Persian-American fire that is already building.

Iranian insurgents fighting amongst Iraqis is not only possible, it's probable. I would have preferred that soldiers just did what it took to defend themselves without having an officially sanctioned policy that target Iranian citizens.

While this policy is not the same as declaring war against Iran, it still does mean the killing of another nations' citizens... and the Bush administration insisted this wasn't an escalation! It's only a matter of time until enough Iranians are killed or captured that Iran officials get really upset about this and does something drastic, or mobilizes their military to defend themselves in Iraq.

January 16, 2007

The Working Poor

My whole life, that is, until I finished college, I considered myself a part of the middle class. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and went to a good public school. I always had a roof over my head, a warm bed to crawl into, and all of my needs were met.

After working through 4 years of college, I'm poorer than ever, with no sign of change soon. Today, I align myself with the working poor- a struggling group that doesn't seem to get ahead despite hard work and dedication.

I live with my girlfriend. She's a 4-year graduate of one of the best journalism schools in the country who managed to achieve a 3.8 GPA. I graduated with a masters degree in economics. Neither of us make more than $10 per hour.

Ten bucks an hour would have sounded like a lot just a few years ago. Even today, it's more than I've ever made in my life. I've had a number of jobs, and this one has more hours and a higher wage than any other. Despite this, I'm ineligible for health benefits, sick time, vacation time, 401k, or anything of the type. I also drive 40 minutes to and from work, so extra cash goes straight into the gas tank. Worst of all, I've been working temporary assignments for the past few months. I figured it would be a way of building experience, but it doesn't provide any permanence. I have no certainty that I'll still have a job here next week, let alone next month.

My girlfriend has made more money than this before. She used to be a waitress, and while it doesn't carry much in the way of prestige, it brought home more cash than her current job- bank teller. She's thought of going back to that line of work, and does often. The catch is that a restaurant won't provide health benefits. We need that medical plan, as we're both on it.

We don't have much spare money. We pay utility bills, rent, and car insurance with the majority of our paychecks, and the rest goes to food, car insurance and debt. She has credit card debt left over from college that she's been able to maneuver through 0% interest cards, and I have $20,000 in student loans that I'll be paying back for the next decade or so. Even though we each pay only half of each bill, it still seems like money disappears so fast.

If one of us could land a real job, it would take a lot of the pressure off of the other in so that they could find salary somewhere too. If we could each get a decent job, say, somewhere around $35k, (which is still well below the US GDP per capita of 41,000) we could substantially improve our predicament. It would alleviate the pressure to pinch pennies and use credit cards to keep afloat.

It bewilders me how we've had such a hard time finding work. We're both smart kids, well educated, with spotless legal records. We're friendly, respectful, and thoughtful. We're willing to take just about any job that promises opportunity. We've made substantial efforts to get ourselves out there, and have applied to several positions per week for months. I know we've submitted well over a hundred resumes, to job openings near and far. I've managed one interview, and she has had a few calls back, but nothing promising. Neither of us know why we're failing. It's unknown whether we're tremendously unqualified for the positions to which we've been applying, or if simply no one is reading our cover letters and resumes.

Maybe my presumptions were simply off the mark, but I expected more. I truly thought an advanced degree would put me on some kind of career path out of college. My girlfriend thought that good grades were a ticket to a good job. In this new year, we each only make a couple dollars more than minimum wage. That is to say that our college degrees and other credentials only benefit us a tiny bit over the least educated, least talented, and least qualified individuals employed in the state. If there's anything to be learned here, it's that a degree guarantees you nothing.

As downtrodden and hopeless as my words may read, I haven't given up hope. I am mindful that a job opportunity may be only a phone call away. One day, things will work out. We'll get jobs and be able to establish a better life. We'll even think back to today in few years, and laugh about how frustrated and stressed we were. However, when I do get to that point, I don't want to forget what this felt like. The lifestyle I lead now is the past, present, and future for so many people. I don't want to forget what it feels like to struggle.

I've been reluctant to publish this posts because it largely just sounds like me whining. And in a lot of ways, that's exactly what it is. But it's a way for me to air my frustrations with the system that's been pushing me back for months- isn't that what blogging is for? I do understand that even our frustrating lives are significantly better than so many others. We do have a lot to be thankful for. At the same time, I don't want use that as a rationale to cast my thoughts aside. Everyday I talk to people that don't seem to be any more special than anyone else, yet they hold down successful careers. Why not me? What it comes down to is the simple fact that I expected to have more by this point than I currently do- and I mean that in an overall life sense, not necessarily materialistic. Most of all, I'd like to share my experience with those younger than me. My friends, siblings and others who have yet to embark on this stage of your life. I sincerely hope that you have better luck than I- but don't get your hopes too high too fast. It's a difficult struggle ahead.

January 10, 2007

New Bush Plan in Iraq: Bigger Shovel

Bush announced tonight his new plan for Iraq. Just as described by the media leading up to tonight, his plan is simply to send 20,000 more troops in a 'surge' to attempt to quell the violence in Baghdad and other regions of the country.

While I expected nothing less from his naive and out-of-touch mind, I thought the overall plan would include a little more strategy than simply sending forth more American young people, I was not so lucky. Bush stated:

Our troops will have a well-defined mission, to help Iraqis clear and secure neighbourhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs"

Call me crazy, but I thought that was what were already doing. I thought all along that U.S. forces were being deployed for the purpose of protecting Iraqi civilians from insurgents. Bush is failing to recognize that such a strategy, defined so broadly, isn't enough. U.S. forces have been using the same tactics since day 1, and that was back in 2003. This is the strategy that dug the United States into the hole that it is in. Mr. Bush: when you're in a deep hole, a bigger shovel isn't going to help you get back out.

After all of the hoopla last year about new Iraqi strategy, and the multiple reports explaining the situation (not the least of which, the Baker-Hamilton plan), this is what we get. Sounds to me like Bush just didn't want to do the reading, and instead just did what made sense to him and him alone. After all of the work that was done developing a strategy, after all the analysis of what's happening on the ground, after all the consideration of diplomatic strategy, increasing Iraqi troop levels and criticism of Iraqi leadership, the best we can get is a 'surge'. It's as if the only message he understood from any of the reports was "Failure = Bad". For something so bad, he's damn good at it.

As if the situation isn't bad enough, Bush claimed that Al Qaeda is attempting to seize control of the Anbar province of Iraq. We know Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before the war, and we know that there has been a flood of jihadists moving into the area since, and now they're going so far as to take over a province? What the hell? Didn't this whole operation begin as a 'war against terror'? So not only is the U.S. apparently not winning that war, the terrorists are actually gaining ground? I certainly hope not. I'm going to call Bush's bluff on this one, and I hope I'm right. He and his cronies need to incite Americans to back his stale war, and they turn to the only words that many of us would respond to. There were ten mentions of al Qaeda in his speech, and one mention of September 11... just in case we forgot.

I'm tired of his 'whatever it takes' for 'victory' attitude. The man knows no limits, nor understands the reality in which we live. No American would say they want anything but victory in Iraq. Nobody wants to lose, and we are all in debt to those who have been lost. However, our definition of victory needs to change. The day will never come when Muhammad Jefferson, Jihad Madison and Osama Franklin will quill a constitution and bill of rights that will provide for the freedom of Iraqis the same way we have those freedoms in the U.S. That outcome was never an option, and anyone who thought otherwise is completely out of sync with the middle east, and really the world as a whole. The Bush administration needs to find what they believe to be an acceptable level of success and make progress to get out of Iraq and let the original objectives go. It's not worth it anymore. It's not as easy as you thought it would be, and it's not going to get easier. The beehive has been thoroughly shaken, and an extra baseball bat or two isn't going to put the bees back in the nest.

Even the generals are criticizing this whole 'surge' plan. Normally, generals are the most trigger happy of all government staff, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to utilize new weapons systems and demonstrate America's military might. When the generals get hesitant, you know there's a problem. Bush acts as if he's doing the generals a favor by giving them 'what they want'- he's insisted for some time now 'if they want more troops, they get more troops. if they want less troops, they get that'. Ceding too much authority to the military top brass is worrisome on its own. No general, corporal, admiral or lieutenant is an elected official- meaning there is no political recourse for citizens, nor is there a lawful obligation to serve the people... Only indirect obligation and recourse via the elected President, aka Commander-in-Chief. Fortunately, what those generals want now is strangely nonparallel to Bush's strategy

The most frustrating part of the whole scenario is the hopelessness I feel about the whole situation. It doesn't seem like there's anything you or I can do to slow down this boat ride down the river Styx. Even Congress has its hands tied on the whole thing. They can't directly stop the deployment of more troops- and if they decide not to fund the operation, they look like they're the ones putting U.S. forces in danger.

Just as Bush foresaw back in October, it very well may turn into just him, Laura, and Barney believing in the Iraq mission. And Barney was recently seen humping someone else's leg.