Sunday, December 31, 2006

Leaving 2006 - What Else Have We Left Behind?

A good reminder by Richard Clarke in today's WaPo of the numerous critical issues that faced the US and the world - none of which had anything to do with invading Iraq to find WMDs, oust Sadaam, make the world safer for ... or whatever Bush's excuse de jour is today.

While Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. were busy focusing their energies in what has to be one of the stupidest moves made by any administration, what were they (and by default, the US) ignoring?

What awaits us in 2007 in as bad as shape as it was in 2006 or worse? (sorry no happy presents in this posting).

Global Warming - despite Gore's hit film and a winter here in DC that averages 50-degrees a day, the only move I've noticed the Admin. making on global warming is to acknowledge that maybe polar bears won't survive it.

Russia - Bush stared into Putin's eyes and saw ... apparently whatever he wanted to see, as is Bush's way in life. The Russians have seen something else. Putin is scheduled to step down in 2009. Does anyone thing life there is getting or will get better? And don't delude yourself. A chaotic Russia can and probably will cause problems for all of us.

Latin America - Venezuela and Chavez is just the first in what is promising to be more left-leaning governments south of our border. Not something that worries me, but certainly something that is going to agitate whoever hits the White House after Bush.

Africa - Holocausts, every day wars, AIDS, poverty and hunger on unbelievable scales. Even as all this horror plays out in front of our eyes we can't do anything while all our energies are spread out in Iraq/Afghanistan. Little surprise the administration smiled when Ethiopia marched into Somalia recently.

Arms control - Hey, wasn't there a 3rd axis in that famed evil trio? While Kim makes noise and we pay attention from time to time, the administration has done little other than blame the Clinton administration for Kim. Gee, does that mean Republicans will finally start taking the blame for setting up Sadaam in the first place? Oops, sorry, momentarily I lived in that fantasy world of personal responsibility by government officials.

The Drug War - aka the other war we're losing. Although we did, oddly enough, help to set up the groundwork for Afghanistan's emerging role as a heroin-financed state. Well done Bush administration. Only this crowd could come up with something as mind boggling stupid as this.

Clarke's focus in this article is on international issues. Maybe that's because we're all far too aware of the impact the administration's Iraq-focused mindset has made on internal policies. Two years after Katrina, we're still not in any better position to help ourselves after natural disasters - let alone another attack. The homeland security dept. has become a national joke (is that 3 ounces of shampoo, or 2?) that hasn't made any strides toward cooperation with FBI, CIA or the rest of the alphabet soup agencies.

Americans continue to be homeless, hungry and poor. We've got health issues, boomers starting to retire in massive numbers (with all the economic impact that's going to make), schools that are leaving a whole lot behind, students who can't think, and national media that spends more time focusing on Brittany Spears' divorce than investigating government frauds and mis-use of funds.

2006 hasn't been a good year for anyone, and we can only hope that 2007 will be better. While it won't be as good as January 2009 - when Bush finally gets his butt and his third rate mind out of the White House - here's hoping that the administration finally starts to make at least a few right choices.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A last, ironic laugh?

Saddam Hussein is no more, as of a few hours ago. The Iraqi government carried out the hanging, with sinister-looking masked men hovering around the gallows so that a video of the proceedings could later confirm that the tyrant is dead.

The long-term consequences remain to be seen. I must say, though, that it had not occurred to me that Saddam may have had the last laugh in all of this. President Bush took him out on the grounds that he brutalized his nation. Bush even spoke in apocalyptic terms, branding Saddam the embodiment of "evil." if Saddam didn't exist, "evil" had no meaning. Some less theologically inclined observers wondered whether Iraq was how it was because of Saddam, or whether Saddam was the way HE was because of IRAQ. Saddam always maintained that only manipulation and violence could keep his hostile constituent groups in Iraq together.

In today's Boston Globe, Peter Cannelos, a very shrewd student of international and domestic politics, notes that immediately after Saddam was removed from power, the Kurds retreated and quietly began plotting independence and the Sunni insurgency began, which was answered by Shiite militias and then was invaded by Al Quaeda and jihadists from all over. In other words, the state broke apart and the various groups began murderous campaigns against one another.

Saddam always said he ruled the way he did because of the nature of Iraq. Bush said Saddam ruled the way he did because Saddam was the embodiment of evil. It sure looks as if Saddam's assessment was a lot closer to reality, which gives him the last, ironic laugh in this crucial difference of opinion. That's bad news for all of us, especially the families of the nearly 3,000 dead and many more thousands of wounded.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Saddam death extravaganza

Am I the only one who's thinking it's a bad idea to execute Saddam? I don't doubt that he deserves harsh punishment, because he IS a mass murderer and is guilty of planting the seeds of sectarian violence that would have wracked the state whether or not the US had invaded. That's historically the only way to rule a fake state, by playing one group off another, in this case the Sunnis--Saddam's clan--vs. Shiites and Kurds. Our man in Yugoslavia, Tito, did that masterfully, by keeping all the groups in the state perpetually off balance and threatening any dissenters with prison. He never answered for any of his crimes because he was a friend of ours, someone who defied Stalin and the USSR.

But what good will it do to execute this man? It won't help reconcile the feuding parties, because the judges who condemned Saddam belong to the hated Shiite-dominated government, which is supported by us. I doubt that their verdict will do anything except strengthen the hand of the Sunni insurgents, both in terms of the deadly ethnic war with Shiites and the campaign against the "occupiers"--that would be us--who deposed Saddam and the Sunnis out of their exhalted position.
Second, Saddam will die on the basis of one incident, a massacre in the town of Dujail. He's known to have committed many other crimes against other groups, for example against the Marsh Arabs. How can you investigate and expose these crimes with no defendant to answer for them? Iraqis, in particular bitter Sunnis, need to understand the full extent of Saddam's crimes. An international, rather than Iraqi, investigation of Saddam on charges of general crimes against humanity might help this cause a lot. Finally, would it not be the best punishment of all to let Saddam languish in obscurity the rest of his natural life? He obviously loves publicity and notoriety, and removing any possibility of that would surely be the most severe punishment imaginable for him. Why make him a martyr by executing him?

I just don't see the upside in this verdict. It's nonsense to claim that we can't stop it--we put in power the judges and the government that delivered it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

President Ford and the next President

I was sorry to hear of the passing of President Gerald Ford today. I didn't vote for him, opting instead for Jimmy Carter on my inaugural trip to the polls in l976. I think, though, that he made the right call on pardoning President Nixon, believing that exile and impeachment were sufficient punishment for a man who put such a high premium on his place in history. President Ford spared the country a wrenching, divisive ordeal in so doing, even though many people wanted Nixon punished to the maximum extent of the law.

The thing I most remember about Gerry Ford, though, was his ability to laugh at himself. He made himself very imitable with his tendency to fall down airplane stairs, trip on the Oval Office rug, etc. etc. Chevy Chase and the first Saturday Night Livers made a career off recreating these incidents. Some presidents--the more imperial and imperious types--would've taken offense at that, sent their PR people to pressure NBC, maybe even shut down the studio if their name happened to be Vladimir Putin. To his credit, though, President Ford laughed right along with the rest of America He once said he never missed Saturday Night Live.

I think self-deprecation is an extremely important characteristic in a President. It suggests that you do not take yourself too seriously, that you believe yourself capable of making a mistake, that you are accepting of the opinions of others. In other words, it suggests humility and a sense of human fallibility. All of those characteristics are notably absent in the current President, who thinks himself incapable of making mistakes and is utterly impervious to the opinions of everyone save his personal sycophants. We have all seen the results in the wreckage of his Presidency.

In the coming months, I'll be looking for the candidate who rolls with the punches and laughs at signs of his or her own humanity. That's maybe the best way to remember President Ford.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

And happy holidays to all, for all the celebrations of the season.

My number one wish for the season is that we find a way to get our guys and gals home out of Iraq, and that the damage we've done to that poor country is somehow repairable and that somehow, at some point, good can rise from the ashes of this neo-con blunder.

And that the blowhards who use "I support the troops" as a blunderbuss finally get their acts together and help work to really support the troops by bringing them home out of this mess.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Twas the Night Before Christmas . . .

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through [White] House
The creatures were stirring
Including head louse
The neo-cons sat one by one with great air
And looked at their mess with nary a care
They laughed with glee at where they had led
As visions of "victory" floated in their heads

And Cheney at his desk with W in his lap,
Who had just settled down for his afternoon nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
They jumped from their desks to see what was the matter
And "whish" past their eyes what was that mad flash?
Was it, could it, have been making a dash?
Past the secret service and with something in tow
It looked like a sleigh to eyes watching below

The sleigh they could see, as it drew quite near
Was dragging a banner, that was quite clear.
What did it say, the neo-cons asked Dick?
Who leaned out and looked and then felt quite sick.
For the man in the sleigh was a man of some fame.
He shook his head, pointing his finger with shame.
"Now Dick! Now George! Why act like Nixon!
The lies, the war, your mess needs some fixin’!"

"You lied to the people, you lied to them all!
And led them to war, and then watched them fall
Young men and women so many to die
For the stupid things, stupid things that you try
Calling those traitors who warned us of you
And told from the start of the things that they knew
Your WMDs not there, or did they go 'poof'?
In a flick of an eye when we looked there for proof"

You send troops across Iraq and yet found
No weapons of mass destruction on the ground
So what did you do when that your cause was moot?
But said now the reason was to give Sadaam the boot.
So neo-cons continued their cries to attack!
No troops took time to stop any loot carried by sack
While we searched high and lo for Sadaam without terry
Ignoring Iraq’s plunge into disrarry

Our nation only able to take UK in tow
The rest of the world when asked to join say NO!
Sensing that neo-con argument weak underneath
And none other than Bushies wanting to be kicked in the teeth
With faith in themselves and friends at Fox on the telly
Deluded Bushies and neo-cons keep going by nelly
Lying to all in his way, to even himself,
George W. keeps pushing on, keeps better plans on the shelf.

All the world knows to what depths we’ve been led
When they look at Iraq and then count up the dead
Among those who fight and who over there work,
Not a daughter or son of any neo-con jerk.
The morons who stay home, taking it easy and doze
Send the others to fight, suffer and what else who knows
From their safe and warm desks they lean back and whistle
Safe from bombs and mobs and even a wild missile

I heard one exclaim, as Santa wept out of sight,
"My cigar’s gone out, won’t you give me a light?"

Words by LaPopessa
The shame of the world by Bush & his neo-cons

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Apologies for Not Posting Much Lately

I was going to do a whole "new colors, new images, festive look" page for Rumsfeld's last day in office / first day on unemployment. Something that really sang and danced and praised the wonder of a Rumsfeld-less DOD.

Then I started thinking about the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are dead, injured, homeless and damaged because of this man's ego, short-sightedness and inability to even learn on the job.

And then I didn't feel so much like celebrating.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rating Bush

Is Bush the worst president we've ever had? If so, what would it take in the next two years to allow his place in history to climb out of the gutter? Today's WaPo Outlook section posed that question to some historians (including a personal favorite, Eric Foner). One thing they all point out is that Bush's place in history is hard to judge while he's still in office, two years to go. After all, history is the subject plus time, equaling perspective. I find it difficult to believe that any amount of time and perspective could move Bush out of the bottom 5, ranking as certainly one of the worst presidents we've ever had.

Eric Foner (Columbia University) "He's the Worst Ever"

Douglas Brinkley ( Tulane University) "Move Over Hoover"

David Greenberg (Rutgers University) "At Least He's Not Nixon"

Vincent J. Cannato (University of Massachusetts) "Time's On His Side"
[warning to our weaker-stomached readers, Cannato writes from the right]

Iraq is overwhelmingly the topic by which the authors selected to judge Bush's presidency (Even Cannato admits Iraq is an anchor, but seems to hope that it will lesson with years). For the sake of the Iraqi people, I'm sure most Americans would love to see a miraculous happy ending come out of all of this. But we're not 4 years old and this isn't a fairy tale. Bush's presidency has earned its rank near the bottom of the pile, and the neo-cons push to mold the world in their image along with it. Their hubristic ideology set the cogs turning in Iraq, and the outcome can be placed at their self-deluded feet. Their sin, not so much that they allowed those delusions to create the hellish world of present-day Iraq, but that so many of them have refused to admit mistakes, thereby offering a chance to learn from them. And so they propel the world headlong down the same dark, hopeless and bottomless well. For that, they have well earned our derision.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Iraq, Day 1,354 and Counting

We all know that the Iraq war passed a pretty sad milestone last week, as just about every news report noted, US troops have been fighting that war longer than they fought WWII. I honestly don't know what to say on this score other than it's sad and depressing news on top of sad and depressing news. Republicans who couldn't stop running to the WWII well for comparisons before that date are now crying foul when this factoid is brought up.

Our leaders so often seem unable to learn from history, yet they seized on analogies with a more popular war, one that had not just one, but two victories. It's an easy sell. If Sadaam = Hitler, then we know we will win. If the US/British alliance of 2003 is the same as that of WWII, then we know we will succeed.

But Sadaam isn't Hitler, The US/UK alliance isn't the same, and Iraq isn't Germany, Japan or Italy. As I'm sure Bush & crew will be grateful to hear, it isn't Vietnam either.

But does that mean we abandon any hope of learning from past conflicts to find a way out of this one? I pray it does not. That those around the Bush/Cheney isolation booth find a way to break through the self-delusion in time.

Another Record for the Bush Administration

This year saw a record 7,000,000 people guests of the U.S. prison system. That is, 1 in every 32 adults in this country is either 1) behind bars; 2) on probation; 3) on parole.

So, the next time you're in a crowd of more than 32 people, and you know you haven't been held for anything lately, look around. Somebody next you just might have been.

Is this because we're just bad, BAD, Americans anymore?
Is it because after watching Oz all those years, many of us just wanted to experience it for ourselves?
Or is it perhaps that we've got a criminal justice system that would rather incarcerate than rehabilitate? It's not news that for decades now we've been feeding people into a system that has little money for rehabilitation and training, but instead turns out broken people trained for little but leading lives that will lead back into prison.

Among the depressing statistics . . .

2.2 million people in prison or jail, a 2.7% increase over 2004
4.1+ million people on probation
784,208 people on parole
Female prison population is growing faster than the male, 2.6% vs. 1.9%
7% of all inmates are women
From 1995-2003, 49% of inmates in federal prison are there for drug offenses
Black males aged 25-29, one in 13 is incarcerated (8.1%)
Hispanic men 2.6%
White men 1.1%

By states, South Dakota has apparently become quite lawless. It's prison population has grown 11%. Montana grew 10.4%, Kentucky 7.9%.

Webb vs. Bush - Respect

I believe the office of the President of the U.S. deserves respect.
I don't believe the current occupant of that job respects it. Bush does not respect the office of the President when he treats it as his own personal fiefdom, when he acts above the law, when he drags international good will from the heights of post 9/11 empathy to the dregs of hatred and disgust in pursuit of his own white whale. That said, Senator-elect Webb showed the office held by George W. Bush more respect that Bush has managed to scrape together so far.

When the President sought out Webb during a reception to ask how Webb's son (serving in Iraq) was doing, Webb responded, "I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President." - Bush pushed on, apparently expecting something warm and cuddly, "That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?"

Webb's response, "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President."

Knee-jerk conservatives have flailed about, bemoaning Webb's lack of respect. There was no lack of respect. Webb responded at each turn with the office title, "Mr. President." That he didn't give Bush the answer he wanted is not a lack of respect, except from those who believe, as does Bush, apparently, that he should constantly be allowed his way in this world.

Listen to the voters, Mr. President and your shrinking handful of sycophants, the lack of respect being shown to the office of the Presidency is coming from Bush & his cronies, not from the rest of the nation.

Donald Rumsfeld vs. Robert McNamara

No, not in a contest to see which hopelessly inept Secretary of Defense can help kill more Americans than the other for the most poorly-conceived and fought war.

No, according to one of the latest rumors running around town, even though Gates is prepped and ready to step into the slot, Bush won't push Rumsfeld out the door until after December 29. Why that date?

Because of Christmas? - Nah!
Rummy's birthday is before then? - Nope
ok, I give up, why would Bush let the man competing for that coveted slot of worst Secretary of Defense ever stay in his office even one more day when his replacement is ready?

On December 29, 2006, Rummy wins the record for the "longest-serving US Secretary of Defense." And out of whose incompetant hands would Rummy be grabbing that title?

None other than Vietnam's own Robert McNamara.

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