The cost of war: $12 billion a month

The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show. In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the “burn” rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

The Great Wall of the United States

In the current flap over building a wall between Mexico and the United States, it would be well to keep in mind Robert Frost’s injunction: “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That “something” is that a wall is a barrier.

In the case of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico, a wall is a manifestation of conflict, just as the Berlin Wall was a manifestation of conflict. A wall between the United States and Mexico will only escalate the enmity between the two countries.

Who’s watching the watchers?

Given the power to snoop on their citizens, governments will snoop. Given limits on snooping, governments will inevitably exceed them, barring oversight by an independent watchdog. That’s just the way governments work.

The USA Patriot Act greatly expanded the use of national-security letters, administrative subpoenas that do not need a judge’s approval, that allow government agents to collect, generally secretly, extensive amounts of personal information — bank and credit records, Internet use, telephone records.

Taxpayers will pay for greed of others

As home foreclosures mount and Washington struggles to find a solution to a dilemma that threatens to drag the nation into full-fledged recession, one thing seems inescapable: Ultimately, the taxpayers will be assessed for the greed of lenders and the self-indulgence of a couple of generations of Americans who want everything without struggle.

The cost of protecting our troops

One of the more controversial moments of Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as secretary of Defense occurred when he responded to a question by an Army sergeant about why U.S. units in Iraq were forced to improvise armored protection for their vehicles.

Rumsfeld’s answer included the unfortunate line, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Given the circumstances, the line was unnecessarily flippant. Except for the tone, however, he was simply stating a truism about war.

Big Brother is listening and I’m glad

Are you outraged? You’re supposed to be. According to Peter Eliasberg, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “everybody in the country” may have had their phone calls “combed through” for terrorist connections and, if that happened, he told The Washington Post, “lots of people will be outraged.”

Would you be among them? Or would you, like me, be relieved to know that on at least this occasion, the government did its job?

Do obituraries make the man (or woman)?

Have you ever noticed in the newspaper death notices that the dead people pictured are always smiling? I find this encouraging. It suggests that they know something the rest of us do not.

At this time of year, I need some encouragement. With the funereal nature of the weather — periods of gloom with an 80 percent chance of depression — mortality weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, as the poet has written.

More FBI abuses on privacy

The FBI improperly used national security letters in 2006 to obtain personal data on Americans during terror and spy investigations, Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the privacy breach by FBI agents and lawyers occurred a year before the bureau enacted sweeping new reforms to prevent future lapses.

Details on the abuses will be outlined in the coming days in a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

A long-term commitment to Iraq?

A top lawmaker voiced fears Tuesday that US President George Bush’s administration was negotiating deals with Iraq that would amount to an open-ended commitment to stage US combat missions there.

Administration officials say formal US-Iraqi negotiations will begin later this month on a legal framework aimed at keeping security policy options open for both countries beyond 2008, when the UN mandate for US forces ends.

When the media does the right thing

A few years back — some 30, to be exact — the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency showed up at my office to ask that a story obtained by our Pentagon correspondent be withheld, not because it was inaccurate but because it would endanger the life of an operative inside the Soviet Union.

He made a very persuasive case that the information on which the story of Soviet laser technology was based was so tightly held that it was highly likely that revealing the United States had knowledge of it would point the finger at the source.