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Time for fresh meat. Troop rotations beginning next year will bring a new mix of Reserve and National Guard troops to the firing range that is Iraq (or the free-range chaos of Afghanistan). The Pentagon wants to reduce troop numbers to 100,000 by May 2005, some 30,000 fewer personnel than are there now. U.S. forces have trained 118,000 Iraqis as a security force; the Pentagon projects a group of 170,000 by May. The new troops will be expected to serve a year in Iraq. Following that year, count how many of them never have anything to do with the military again.

At least Bush won't let anyone see the coffins on TV. As of November 6, 2003, 384 troops have been killed in Iraq, 245 of those since President "I didn't hang the banner" Bush declared an end to major operations on May 1. A Chinook transport helicopter downed by surface-to-air missile caused 15 of the most recent fatalities. The soldiers on board were on their way home to the U.S. for a fortnight's break. Insert definition of irony here.

Oh, and there might have been an out. The New York Times reported Thursday that Iraq had offered some last-minute concessions to avoid war. While this may well be true, if Iraqi leaders had been paying attention, they would have known that there was no way out at that point. Had they seen George W. Bush? Had they heard him talk?




Hope no one leaves the Supreme Court for the next couple years. For the first time in the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, a new federal law will restrict abortion. President Bush signed the "partial-birth abortion" ban into law on Wednesday, amid a crowd of happy pro-life advocates and angry pro-choice protestors outside the White House. Partial-birth abortion is a procedure done in the second or third terms of pregnancy. It is fairly rare. The ban exempts such abortions performed to save a woman's life, but not her health, a provision that made Bill Clinton veto the ban during his administration. The court battles began less than an hour after Bush signed the bill; a federal judge in Nebraska issued a temporary stay for a doctor who challenged the law, followed on Thursday by a New York judge. Let the ugly debate continue. And use a condom. Please.

More evidence that there's not much difference between the Dems and the Republicans. Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is considering pulling a GWB by foregoing public campaign funding. Dean is polling his supporters to get their OK on the idea. He claims the only real way to compete against Bush is to raise money without adhering to those pesky campaign finance laws. By accepting public money for a primary run, a candidate can spend only $45 million. Bush will likely run unopposed for the Republican nomination and still spend carloads of clams before primary season is over. (Read more about this here.) So what is a candidate to do? Whichever it is, hoping you're the candidate "for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks" is probably not the best choice. Dean said he "deeply regret[s] the pain I may have caused" with the comment. Other Dems are crowing; they've finally got something on him. Will anyone else care? It's still too soon to tell. The Black Table figures those with flags in their pickup trucks weren't going to vote for Dean anyway, so it doesn't make much difference. But at least Jeff Foxworthy's got some new material.




This'll take some doing. The first draft of Afghanistan's constitution was released Monday, drawing from both the Islamic and democratic traditions. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan hopes for bicameral national assembly, similar to the United States. However, the assembly cannot pass any laws "contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." Can Afghanistan strike a balance between modern government and religious heritage? The compromising will begin next month, when a loya jirga, or grand assembly, comprised of 500 representatives, is convened. Nationwide elections are scheduled in Afghanistan for next June. Our guys wrote a constitution in a summer. The Black Table hopes the Afghans are up to the challenge.




He has been right in the past. Fed chief Alan Greenspan said this week that indicators "increasingly favor" growth in the job sector. But the climbing deficit could have "notable, destabilizing effects" when those rascally baby boomers retire. The Black Table prefers to think that Greenspan actually said, "Our future is fucked," but our C-SPAN reception isn't too reliable. Greenspan also favored spending cuts to combat the deficit, as opposed to tax hikes. The Black Table doesn't even care anymore. Just make the debt smaller. These damn boomers are so health conscious they're going to live forever, too. We recommend everyone take up our whiskey-and-cigarette regimen.




Chump Broadcasting System. CBS announced Tuesday that its planned miniseries on "The Reagans" would instead be shown on sister-network Showtime. Network executives denied they were moving the show after conservative groups threatened to boycott, but The Black Table has its suspicions. Granted, doing a snowjob on an ailing old man who don't remember being president of the United States is pretty awful, but not as awful as conceding to the chilling effect created by the Church of Reagan.

That's a lot of burgers. Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, left $200 million to National Public Radio. Kroc died on October 12. Her gift, which surprised NPR, is nearly twice the non-profit's annual operating budget. Kroc has no history of giving directly to NPR (in the past, she donated to local stations individually), but reportedly admired the network's coverage of the war in Iraq. At the time of her death, Kroc was worth about $1.7 billion. Both she and her husband, who died in 1984, donated hundreds of millions during their lifetimes.



Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, (and another one, about muckraking, on the way!) writes Weekly Rundown every Friday.