Saturday, June 30, 2007

On terrorists past and present

Whenever we are confronted with violence, extremism and nihilism, as we have been in recent years here in the US, in Britain, Spain and elsewhere on the globe, I always remember the words of a now-elder statesman, a fellow who has done a fair amount of writing in his life, and who won the Nobel Prize for literature in l970. Here's what he said about a previous incarnation of terrorists:

"Violence, less and less restricted by the framework of age-old legality, brazenly and victoriously strides throughout the world, unconcerned that its futility has been demonstrated and exposed by history many times. It is not simply naked force that triumphs but its trumpeted justification: the whole world overflows with the brazen conviction that force can do everything and justice nothing. Dostoevsky's DEMONS, a provincial nightmare of the last century, one would have thought, are, before our very eyes, crawling over the whole world into countries where they were unimaginable, and by the hijacking of planes, by seizing HOSTAGES, by the bomb explosions, and by the fires of recent years signal their determination to shake civilization apart and to annihilate it! And they may very well succeed. Young people, being at an age when they have no experience except sexual, when they have as yet no years of personal suffering and personal wisdom behind them, enthusiastically repeat our discredited Russian lessons of the nineteenth century and think that they are discovering something new. They take as a splendid example the Chinese Red Guard's degradation of people into nonentities. A superficial lack of understanding of the timeless essence of humanity, a naive smugness on the part of their inexperienced hearts--We'll kick out thosefierce, greedy oppressors, those governors, and the rest (we!), we'll then lay down our grenades and machine guns, and become just and compassionate. Oh, of course! Of those who have lived their lives and have come to understand, who could refute the young, many DO NOT DARE argue against them; on the contrary, they flatter them in order not to seem "conservative," again a Russian phenomenon of the nineteenth century, something which Dostoevsky called SLAVERY TO HALF-COCKED PROGRESSIVE IDEAS."

Well said, Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn. As we've noted before, democratic governments faced down extremism and totalitarianism in the past, they've been there before...this is nothing new. We can do it again without going all to pieces.

Some perspective from the eye of the current storm

Popessa referenced the London and Glasgow bombings earlier today. I was just reviewing the British papers for up-to-the-minute news and came across this lead article from the Guardian. I will let the editors speak for themselves:

"... the long view taken by those Britons whose phlegmatic calm so discountenances the foreign media is the right one. For terrorists do not pose, as some melodramatically claim, a threat to our way of life. In fact, they show us its strengths. The periods where there has been no terrorist threat to Britons in the past 150 years have been the exception, not the rule, yet we have weathered pretty much everything that has so far been thrown at us. So, it is worth noting, have many of our closest allies. Spain's far younger and far more fragile democracy withstood the Madrid bombings of 2004, as well as the campaigns of ETA. The US survived the shock of 9/11. Our own nation may have been shocked by 7/7 and 21/7, but it has not been significantly weakened.

Some believe that the solution to terrorism is to resolve the myriad grievances the terrorists broadcast so violently. This is a mistake. Many such grievances are imagined - the West does not want to 'dominate the lands of Islam', for example. Many more are simply not Britain's fault; we are not to blame for the parlous economic state of many Islamic countries. Instead, we should remember that it is our way of life, and the attraction it holds, that remains our best weapon. The truth is that our democratic structures, our economy, our values and the society we have built upon them are much stronger than we often think.

They can easily cope with the unpleasant but necessary measures, such as the controversial and currently flawed control orders, that are essential to fight terrorism. In counterterrorist circles, there is much anxious talk about the resilience of modern terrorist networks. There should be some less anxious talk about the resilience of our societies, too."

I think this strikes exactly the right note. What we are dealing with here is a death cult, with little appeal outside a narrow group of people. There is no need to change fundamentally the way we conduct our business...democracies ARE strong societies, perfectly capable of coping with this kind of threat. The language of overreaction, such as we have heard here in the US, only raise these nihilists' profile and standing. Let's do what we can to deflate these people, drain their swamps--maybe draw down the counterproductive and costly Iraq misadventure--and let the law enforcement agencies worldwide root out and punish these criminals. No need to "go all wobbly," as Margaret Thatcher put it so pithily in the l980s--let's play to our strengths and refuse to take action destructive to our basic values.

The Executive Non-Executive Branch

I've been enjoying the many descriptions by people of Cheney as the fourth branch of the government. It's no surprise that he considers himself above the law, but it's amusing to watch his lawyers running around in circles trying to justify his untouchability.

I'm surprised Bush hasn't sought advice from the Big Dick on how to pull off this magic trick of being and not being. In the Gonzales firing case, the House & Senate Judiciary committees have sent the White House a letter demanding that Bush either 1) back down from his executive privilege claim or 2) give Congress a detailed explanation for withholding each and every document. Bush's folk are trying to hold onto internal emails & documents related to the Justice Department firing of those nine federal prosecutors.

Bush's crew has been arguing that wonderful old chestnut, that these communication are part of the prerogative that ensures presidential advisers are free to provide "candid and unfettered advice" to the president.

Just to get this right -- Bush, famed for not listening to anyone about anything (except puppet master Cheney), has his lawyers arguing that they can't hand over documents showing that they fired the prosecutors for political reasons because they are part of this "candid and unfettered advice" the president receives?

If Bush truly got anything near to "candid and unfettered advice" does anyone thing we still would have invaded Iraq looking for non existent WMDs? Or would still be hanging on in there year after year in the face of obvious common sense to the contrary? Maybe, instead of worrying about getting those documents, Congress should instead focus on what on earth constitutes "candid and unfettered advice" over at the White House.

New Attacks?

First, a couple of potential car bombs found & defused in London, and now what is described as a "flaming car" crashes at the Glasgow airport. Certainly sounds like things are ramping up in the UK. Let's hope that's the last incident.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I Can't Imagine Anyone's Surprised by This

Today's episode of the WaPo's Cheney series focus on the Veep's behind-the-scenes work on loosening US standards on torture (what Geneva Convention?). Is there anyone out there who is not surprised to learn that Darth Cheney had a strong hand in helping to weaken yet more US laws that protect individual rights? Cheney & Co., managed to encourage some very repulsive CIA & military interrogation techniques (i.e., torture) because let's face it, who wants to stand up for the rights of the Taliban and their homicidal monsters. But where were the voices who asked, "if we weaken this law, what protects our guys? What argument do we get to take when fighting for the rights of our captured soldiers?"

One of Cheney's best instruments in working on this project was his general counsel, David S. Addington. You know, by the time Cheney slithers away from the office on 1/20/09, odds are great that Addington will have secured himself a lucrative position here in town. Cheney will win the condemnation of history. Addington will win ... what?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kissinger, Brzezinski and Scowcroft, Oh My

What do these three ex US foreign policy advisers have in common these days? Well for one thing, they appeared together on a Charlie Rose show. For another, they all agreed on one thing. One thing that this administration hasn't been able to grasp from the very beginning. The U.S. does not exist on its own planet. What we do and say impacts the rest of the world - just as the rest of the world impacts us, magic border fence aside. David Ignatius suggests that maybe its time the administration shut up, listen and learn for once.

It is neither weak nor dangerous to try to understand how the world works today. History is rife with the tales of the downfall of nations unable to recognize, understand, and adapt to international changes. The stakes are high for Americans and the world. It is in our self interest to understand not just the leaders of nations, but those people, events and movements whose impacts do, or may, prove to impact the world just as strongly as a national government. We need look no further than 9/11 for proof of that. But how have we reacted to an attack by an international movement? By attacking two nations. The first, Afghanistan, was a safe haven for our attackers - and few argued against the sense of attacking there. But then came Iraq. An attack against a nation neither responsible for 9/11, nor supportive of al Qaeda. (Despite what dwindling numbers of Bush supporters tell themselves.)

If we are unwilling to uncouple our view of the world from our old Cold War haze (hey, we won that one, let's cling to it and use those examples again!), and continue to be unwilling to view our national interests as part of a changing world instead of an island onto themselves, we are dooming this nation to an erosion of power and prestige from which it will not recover. And one, for which, I look forward to the far right somehow blaming on one of their bizarre bugaboos. (American would have remained a world power if it just weren't for those damned gay marriages. The U.S. would have owned the 21st century if it just hadn't caved in to public opinion and allowed the harvesting of embryonic stem cells!)

Inside the Heart of Darkness

If it weren't for the heart attacks, I'd saw we have little proof that Darth Cheney has such an organ. But into that dark pit we go as the Washington Post begins a short series on Darth Cheney this morning.

As you'll see from the link, they're pushing the online version hard. It's followed by reader input on the page itself (instead of a link as usual in WaPo world). The series runs through Monday. It includes today's piece, "Working in the Background." Future pieces focus on the war, budget and the environment. Cheney has worked hard to earn the distrust and contempt of not only the American public, but the global community.

The articles, credited to Post reporters Gellman and Becker, seem to have had input from a variety of bodies steamrolled by the Cheney tank. For those on the far right who will call this nothing but sour grapes from Cheney enemies - look at the universe. Aside from you and your best friend Mr. Right Wing Nut Case, EVERYONE is a Cheney enemy anymore. In the article, the reporters note that "Cheney expresses indifference, in public and private, to any verdict but history's, and those close to him say he means it." Interesting, since I am going to bet here and now that the historical verdict will be quite damning.

Look forward to isn't quite the phrase I'm looking for, but I do anticipate some interesting reads over the next few days as the WaPo looks into the belly of the beast.

Sacrebleu, Madame Sarko!

If you're sick and tired of American politics and its dreary, mendacious players, I've got just the antidote for you: go here and read all about the myriad ways in which Cecelia Sarkozy is scandalizing the French nation. Cherchez cette femme! She's a tour de force, or maybe a coup de grace, but in any case, she makes entertaining reading. The tabloids and gossip rags are in business indefinitely.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Questions for this week

I'm looking through the news roundups this week, and as usual, there are far more questions than answers. Here's a couple:

Did I really hear General Pace and Secretary Gates tell us that the real picture of what is going on in Iraq comes not from losses of American soldiers, but from "how secure Iraqis feel in their neighborhoods." Did I really hear that correctly? Do we believe they are prepared to say that to the faces of grieving families? Are they that oblivious, or that cold?! Do I really want to know?

How come people can whip themselves into enough of a frenzy to scream "Traitor" at John McCain outside his fund raiser because of his stance on immigration, yet utter nary a peep at the escalating losses and damage during the "surge" in Iraq? This utterly discretionary conflict is killing, bleeding and injuring Americans and Iraqis at a terrifying rate, shredding US credibility and creating more determined and motivated enemies bent on revenge every single day. But the big, REALLY BIG, issue is a bunch of illegal immigrants working for chump change in the shadows. What has happened to perspective, people?

And if we must focus on immigration, how come we can't see our way clear to make it possible for any Iraqi who has helped us, at terrible risk to life and limb, to come to this country immediately and apply for citizenship?

Just thought I'd ask.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The #1 Argument Against Impeaching Bush

Is, of course, the idea of what would replace him.

You just gotta love the Veep. Just when you think he's slithered off to his undisclosed location hole to continue his work on behalf of the dark spirits, he pops back up for a brief moment to stick his tongue out at the world before diving back in.

As you probably have heard or read by now, Cheney & his crew have decided that it's not just enough to refuse to comply with an executive order governing the handling of classified information. Nope, that was kids stuff. They've stepped now to true Cheney-level of malfeasance and tried to junk the office that dared to ask him to comply with U.S. law. I mean really, what WERE they thinking? This is Darth Cheney - a man whose heart is so black that neither light nor reason can penetrate it.

Well if you can't ignore the law, if you can't fire the enforcers, then of course the next step is to just refuse to comply by making a legal argument that will leave them laughing in the aisles. The argument? Well since Cheney's Veep duties include serving as prez. of the Senate, he is free, FREE from those silly Congressional oversight rules on the executive branch. One of my favorite quotes from the Cheney staff is in the WaPo article on this latest goofiness from the Dark One.

The vice president's office is "not subject to such investigation" by the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, the spokeswoman said. But she could not explain why Cheney's office initially complied with reporting requirements, then stopped in 2003.

I think she's onto something -- got the IRS on your back? Creditors? Well just tell them that you are "not subject to such investigation" by those groups - go on your merry way. After all, if it's good enough for the Veep, it's certainly good enough for the rest of us.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We've been here before

In this space, we have tossed around the idea of whether Iraq is Vietnam. It's not a simple answer...they are similar in that American troops are in a conflict that can only be solved politically, unless you are a Curtis LeMay clone and are willing to destroy the village to save it, bomb'em back to the stone age or make it a wilderness and call it peace. They are dissimilar in that Vietnam was a basic disagreement about the future, with the weaker side opting for a continuation of colonial rule, and the other for a different future, a national Communist future without foreign domination. Iraq, of course, is many different conflicts--Sunni v. Shiia, Shiia militias vs. the US, Shiia militias vs. Al-Quaeda, Sunni militias vs. the US, Kurds vs. everyone trying to drag them into the muck, Al-Quaeda vs. the US, Shiia criminal gangs vs. Shiia criminal gangs for control of the Basra port traffic.

Another point of convergence between the two was front and center at the New York memorial service for David Halberstam. Halberstam, along with his colleague Neil Sheehan--who later went on to write a brilliant book about the origins of the US involvement in Vietnam, "A Bright Shining Lie"--were the first to sound the alarm, or try to, about the inability or unwillingness of south Vietnamese forces to engage their enemy. We were trying to train these people to resist their Communist countrymen, using our advisers and resources in order to avoid sending in ground troops. Halberstam, Sheehan and others repeatedly exposed the veniality, corruption and lack of fighting spirit among the south Vietnamese, coming right out and saying that they were incapable of bringing off a victory against the highly motivated Communists. Implicit in all their reporting was that the US would not have much luck, either, if it intervened militarily. In contrast, all official sources--a lot of grey-haired, crew-cut generals--painted a rosy picture for the American public. The light was always just at the end of the tunnel, we only needed a few additional months and millions to bring the ARVN around, patience, not "defeatism" was called for.

Halberstam in particular challenged these optimistic scenarios with his own eyes, ears and prose. Official Washington tried mightily to silence him, but he went on writing and accusing the American government of covering up and sugar coating the truth. Thus was born the adversarial relationship between the press and the government, which deepened during Watergate and survives today in the death-defying reporters who bring you all that "bad news" about Iraq--the bombings, the cruelty, the torture and abuse, the internecine warfare, the corruption, the essential hopelessness of trying to solve militarily something that can only be solved politically.

Dexter Filkins, who did some of the finest writing for the Times during his four-year stint in Baghdad and environs, paid eloquent tribute to his Vietnam-era predecessor at the memorial in these words: ""When the official version didn't match what we were seeing on the streets of Baghdad, all we had to do - and we did it a lot - was ask ourselves, What would Halberstam have done? And then the way was clear."

Popessa was fighting getting down the other day. This should get her back out there, cheering. We've been here before, and we still have some intrepid truth-tellers in the field.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Finding Strength to Survive Until 1/20/09

It's another one of those days. The days where even the last couple of minutes of spirit-lifting nature footage on CBS Sunday morning can't fix. One of those days when the utter hopelessness of the world is just too much for my mind. Of all the things that are fixed and set in the world, the one that continues to boggle my mind is the mindset of our administration. Heads buried deep in the sand, unwilling (unable?) to see the world for what it is - they continue moving with blinders on month after month, year after year. I begin to think that there are only 50 people left in the universe who cling to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld vision of the world - all of them in that administration or staffing Fox news.

If you look at the bottom of this page, you'll notice that as of today, Bush has 582 more days in office. I have given up hope that anyone, anything, can force the administration to get their heads out of the sand and do their best to fix this mess they made. We need to get OUT of Iraq NOW. In November, I thought the elections showed Congress where to find the spine to drive the efforts. Those hopes have disappeared. For a while I thought the overwhelming opposition to this war by Americans who had supported B/C/R and going to war would bring change. It hasn't.

The only thing that is going to fix this situation is a change in the administration. And as Congress can't find the spine to stand up for those who elected them - they certainly won't have the spine to impeach either prez or veep. I have been slow coming to realize that - but I get it now. And all I have to offer at the moment are links to some must-reads in today's WaPo - and the notice that I'm going to go hide under the covers for a couple of hours.

While fighting for democracy in Iraq - it's apparently ok to watch it be trampled underfoot in Pakistan as long as our buddy Musharraf needs breathing room from whiny democracy-lovers in return for promising he'll crack down on the al-Qaeda/Taliban (ok, so the fact that Musharraf has let them settle in along the border is probably just an oversight). Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid reminds us of the administration's democracy hypocrisy. Oh, and if you're wondering where the lead comes from in the administration for our tunnel vision view of Musharraf? According to Rashid, "Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. . . . Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department. No one in Foggy Bottom seems willing to question Cheney's decisions."

Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations give it to us straight between the eyes with their no holds barred piece, "We've Lost. Here's How to Handle it."

David Broder's op ed piece "Failure on Two Fronts" looks at the administration's helplessness in the face of their efforts to push Maliki's government towards competency. Efforts that recently included using the New York Times (yes, the NYT) to send a message to Maliki.

Finally, in the "thanks but where were you when it counted" column is George Will's piece on a senator from my old homeland of Oregon - Republican Gordon Smith. Gordo (as my father still calls him) is the "Iraq Caucus of One" in Will's column. Gee George - you think we might all be stuck in this quagmire if you & your crew hadn't worked so hard to push the administration's agenda for the past six years?

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Justice for Moore and Dee?

It's getting to be a common story now, and so makes only the edges of the news. A former klansman is convicted for an old 60's crime. But today's conviction of James Ford Seale in Mississippi is good to note. Former KKK member Seale was convicted of two counts of kidnapping & one count of conspiracy from his participation in the abduction and murder of Charles Moore and Henry Dee on May 2, 1964. Moore and Dee were picked up by Seale and some other klan nuts. The pair were beaten and stuffed into a truck, driven to Parker's landing and dumped and drowned in a river.

How hard has it been to convict Seale in Mississippi? Apparently impossible in 1964, even though when an FBI agent accused him at the time of the murders Seale responded with "Yes. But I'm not going to admit it; you are going to have to prove it." How did they finally prove it over 40 years later? By making a deal with another one of the murderers, Charles Marcus Edwards. The prosecution admitted that they made a "deal with the devil" to get Edwards' testimony (he got immunity for fingering his old bully buddy).

I revel in Seale's conviction, and I try to not let that joy be diminished by Edwards' escape from justice.

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Hamas / Fatah - What is Going on There?

I will be the first to acknowledge that I have not been following the Palestinian situation with any regularity or depth. My only defense being that apparently there are only so many strife & destruction areas my brain can handle at any one time and Iraq & Afghanistan tend to eat up my attention, leaving a little to peak over and see that no, things have not gotten any better in Darfur.

So with the latest news of further struggles between Fatah fighters & Hamas has driven me back to the news stories I've passed by lately, such as this article on BBC online. What really drew my attention was that the leading US official in the area, Jacob Walles, noted that the fighters overthrowing the elected Hamas government would "receive the backing of Washington," and there is also "speculation that the ban on direct aid could be lifted." Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah leader, is going to swear in an interim Prime Minister on Sunday. The ousted Prime Minister & Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, asked people not to retaliate even while he argued that his dismissal was illegal.

I have much more to read to catch up on this. But please correct me if I've got the basics wrong - there was an election. People freely elected Hamas as their government. A democratic voice led to leaders the US doesn't care for (apparently we only want democracy when they elect the guys we like). Now there is a coup going on (can you give me another word for it?) and the US has stated that we will support those who are overthrowing the democratically elected government by force. What am I missing?

*The BBC has included a useful guide to Fatah / Hamas that is useful to those of us who have let this story fade from our brains far too long.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Celebrating Our Victory Over Communism . . . Sorta

Those of us who live in DC have one more monument in our midst (growing monuments is the city past time). It is the statue in memory of the victims of communism. You remember communism, right? The whole cold war thing? Cuban missile crisis? Reagan and his tear down the wall? German reunification? Remember all of that?

Well we won. And so now there's a monument to our victory over the evil commies in DC. What does the statue look like? Well it's patterned after the "Goddess of Democracy" statue that Chinese students created and carried into Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy protests of 1989.

Wait, you might ask yourselves. We've erected a statue celebrating our victory over communism, and the design is based on a pro-democracy symbol that was torn down, crushed and steam-rollered over by our current good friends and trading partners - the Chinese? Who are, after all, still communists. And the ones who massacred the students and protesters in Tiananmen Square. Surely this was the perfect opportunity to make a blow for freedom against communist China, right?

Mr. President? He starts out well enough, noting that "evil is real and must be confronted." Surely the next step is to tell China to stop using slave-labor practices and offer democracy to its people, right? Nah, of course not. I was just kidding. Bush goes on to use the opportunity to beg a comparison to his war. "Like the communists, the terrorists and radicals who have attacked our nation are followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom, crushes all dissent, has expansionist ambitions and pursues totalitarian aims."

So China? Hey, have fun, go ahead & enjoy the Olympics and the favorable trading deals we give you - we forgive you for that Tiananmen Square stuff, after all, if there isn't any film of dead bodies, probably never happened. It's all water under the bridge. So what if you're still communists. At least you aren't Muslim.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Color IS the Air on Rice's Planet?

Sometimes you just want to grab one of the Bushites by the shoulders, shake them and ask, "do you even KNOW what planet you're on?"

The latest to make me want to just bang my head repeatedly against my desk is Condi. Last Friday she asked an AP reporter to consider how much worse off we were BEFORE the Bush administration came to "help us."

"Six years ago . . . it wasn't a very nice world. Iraq was a mess, Iran was defying the world, North Korea was defying the world, Israel and the Palestinians had given up on peace. That was the world. A worse world? I think so."

Can anyone find anything in this quote that does not certify Ms. Rice for immediate looney bin residency?

Sunday, June 10, 2007


How much can be classified as top secret before - the words loose all meaning, or before most information is classified, or before so much is classified that there aren't enough techs to process it and guard it. When does this administration stop automatically classifying anything it can get its hands on instead of stopping to pick and choose (a process that requires analysis and judgment - two qualities in short supply in Bush-world).

Professor Ted Gup of Case Western Reserve, author of "Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life," talks about the administration's knee jerk reaction to secret keeping in today's WaPo Outlook section. He notes that while we claim to live in an "Information Age," we do, in fact, life in an age of secrets. Where information sharing is taboo across businesses and government agencies.

How many secrets? According to Gup: "In 1995, according to the Information Security Oversight Office, the stamp of classification -- 'confidential,' 'secret,' 'top secret,' etc. -- was wielded about 3.6 million times, mostly to veil existing secrets in new documents. Ten years later, it was used a staggering 14.2 million times (though some of the bump-up was the result of increased use of the Internet for government communications). That works out to 1,600 classification decisions every hour, night and day, all year long. (And not one of those secrets is believed to reveal where Osama bin Laden is.)"

And it's not just current secrets - people are actually going back into open documents and reclassifying them as secret. Because . . . ? And that's the fun. The explosion in classification is not just about keeping nuclear launch codes away from the bad guys. It's also about cleaning up afterwards - cleansing history while culprits still can - hiding the evidence before it exposes unethical, illegal or just unsavory activities.

Six years later, we are still shaking out the post 9/11 lessons on democracy in this new age. The push and pull between honest security safeguards and maintaining our democratic, open society is difficult enough on its own. But added to the mix have been the vague threats and fear mongering of this administration and its neo-con cheer leaders. If we don't go far enough - it is the end of this country, they tell us time and time again. Not once have any of them stopped to look in the mirror and ask themselves - what do they think they will have saved by abandoning so much of what has made this country great to begin with.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Nixon - No Prize There

There seem to be a few folks wandering the face of the earth saying things such as "If you look at what Bush as done, Nixon doesn't seem so bad." or "All things considered, and if you forget about Watergate, Nixon did well." And so on and so forth. With actor Frank Langella apparently about to receive a Tony for his work in Frost/Nixon, ol' banana nose seems to be getting a new look in some memories. That he was, somehow, a better Republican than today's conservative members of that party.

So let's take a moment to thank Elizabeth Drew for reminding those with bad memories, or those who didn't live through the Nixon years (LaPopessa admits her age - I lived through it. I was young, but well aware of the slime emanating from the White House in those years). In her op ed piece in today's WaPo, "Nostalgia for Nixon," Drew reminds us that those things some are giving Nixon credit for today are instead initiatives from the Democratic congress that Nixon didn't have the votes to sustain a veto over. While he pushed some environmental issues after seeing poll after poll that Americans demanded action, he agreed to a few things, but kept his contempt clear, telling Erlichman the environmental movement was "crap for clowns."

From Drew's piece:

Major steps toward improving air quality and water purity were taken during his presidency. But they didn't happen without a fight. Virtually all of these measures originated in Congress, mostly sponsored by Democratic Sens. Edmund Muskie and Gaylord Nelson.

Nixon's effort to replace welfare programs with cash payments, the Family Assistance Plan, urged on him by domestic adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has often been cited as his most progressive domestic proposal. But after Nixon announced the plan on national television, he told H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, his chief of staff, to "make a big play for it, but don't let it pass, we can't afford it." Once the plan was voted down by Congress in 1970 (neither liberals nor conservatives liked it), Nixon set the proposal aside.

So before you polish off your revisionist view of Nixon, take a few trips back to memory lane and remember (even with Watergate aside) why the man was so deservedly hated in his own time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Much Belated Thank You to Politics Plus

For naming Make it Stop! Make it Stop one of its five picks for the Thinking Blogger Award. As tradition dictates, Buckarooskidoo & I have selected five blogs that we think are well worth your time.

South by Southwest - Carol Gee's blog where she posts "ideas and reflections -
my observations and commentary on people and events that affect the USA or the rest of the world." She spends a good amount of time looking at the whole world, showing us many things that the American press ignore.

Hometown Baghdad - Described as "A web documentary series about life in Baghdad," Hometown Baghdad features the work of Iraqi filmmakers who are doing their best to document daily life in Iraq under American occupation. It is difficult and dangerous, but crucial work and my hat is off to these brave people.

Thoughts from Baghdad
- Fatima, who wisely gives no last name, says she was born & raised in the US. Her blog includes images and thoughts about life in "post-Saddam Baghdad." This Baghdad is a place where one can find a "sigh of relief" in a peaceful death - "Three days ago, my husband sent me a message. He wrote, "Sorry, I have more bad news." My heart immediately sunk. I went on to read, "Amma R's husband died today." I continued to read, "He was really sick and his heart gave out." Ironically, I sighed a sigh of relief. Alhamdulillah, it was a natural death."

Kiko's House - Shaun Mullen's blog was one of the first added to our recommended blogs list. He was, as he notes on his page, "born to blog" and shares his keen reporter's eye and sense with us. Taking a journey through the news with Mullen is like seeing what we could learn if the mainstream media wasn't so busy feeding its corporate masters. Keeping things lively and interesting, Mullen adds in a few blogs about culture and of course the original Kiko (meow, meow).

Finally, Tennessee Guerrilla Women is devoted to fighting the radical right in Tennessee and in the Nation. If every state had the devoted fighting women of TGW out there, I doubt that Congress would think twice before spending its time and efforts on voting to keep us in Iraq while wasting time making English the official language. It's blogs like TGW that keep on politicians at local and national levels to listen to the people who put them in office - not the hands doling out money to them when they get to DC.

And thank you again Politics Plus - for your efforts in the blogosphere.

Torture Begets Torture

There was an article in Monday's WaPo that everyone should take a moment to read. I apologize for not getting it online to you earlier - been a busy week. It is a study of a young American whose job was to get information, pretty much anyway he could. And what those acts have cost him mentally and emotionally. The article, by Laura Blumenfeld, is titled "The Tortured Lives of Interrogators.

Here is a sample.

The American interrogator was afraid. Of what and why, he couldn't say. He was riding the L train in Chicago and his throat was closing.

In Iraq, when Tony Lagouranis interrogated suspects, fear was his friend, his weapon. He saw it seep, dark and shameful, through the crotch of a man's pants as a dog closed in, barking. He smelled it in prisoners' sweat, a smoky odor, like a pot of lentils burning. He had touched fear, too, felt it in their fingers, their chilled skin trembling.

But on this evening, Lagouranis was back in Illinois, taking the train to a bar. His girlfriend thought he was a hero. His best friend hung out with him, watching reruns of "Hawaii Five-O." And yet he felt afraid.

"I tortured people," said Lagouranis, 37, who was a military intelligence specialist in Iraq from January 2004 until January 2005. "You have to twist your mind up so much to justify doing that."

What is interesting is that Blumenfeld also speaks with veteran interrogators who have found ways to find their "moral balance" using "denial, humor and indignation." What does torture beget in the torturer? Provided that soul is not lost already. As she quotes political scientist Darius Rejali, "Nothing is more toxic than guilt, which is typical with democratic interrogators. Nazis, on the other hand, don't have these problems."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Just about says it all, doesn't it?

Yesterday, I received another one of those whiny e-mail forwards from Bushland, in which a retired colonel vents his frustration at the media, which fails to cover all the "good news" and "good work" being done in Iraq, e.g. the construction of hospitals and schools. It's all bombings and violence, he complains, in an attempt to smear President Bush, because after all that's what all the media works on doing non-stop. I responded that I'm tired of guys like him who can't or won't see the forest for the trees. What are the chances that a)those wonderful new structures will still be standing once the US exits and b) there will be any qualified people to staff them? Minus a political foundation for post-Saddam Iraq, which is not apparent on the horizon, the future is going to be more of the same "bad news"--bombings, killings, kidnappings, revenge attacks...

We already know that over 4 million Iraqis, among whom are doctors, lawyers and professors, have already fled the chaos and settled elsewhere. Today, thanks to Damien Cave of the New York Times, we learn about the motto of the newly-minted graduates who would eventually take the place of their elders in hospitals, universities, schools and law offices. It's A-B-I, anywhere but Iraq!

"They started college just before or after the American invasion with dreams of new friends and parties, brilliant teachers and advanced degrees that would lead to stellar jobs, marriage and children. Success seemed well within their grasp.

Four years later, Iraq's college graduates are ending their studies shattered and eager to leave the country. In interviews with more than 30 students from seven universities, all but 4 said they hoped to flee Iraq immediately after receiving their degrees. Many said they did not expect the country to stabilize for at least a decade.

"I used to dream about getting a Ph.D., participating in international conferences, belonging to a team that discovered cures for diseases like AIDS, leaving my fingerprint on medicine," said Hasan Tariq Khaldoon, 24, a pharmacy student in Mosul, north of Baghdad. "Now, all these dreams have evaporated."

"Staying here," said Karar Alaa, 25, a medical student at Babel University, south of Baghdad, "is like committing suicide."

Doesn't that just say it all: staying in your home country is tantamount to committing suicide.

What a tragedy for these graduates, indeed for everyone in that hellhole.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Good Man?

There was a discussion of Bush's latest moves (including a push for more money & work on AIDS in Africa and a seeming about-face on global warming) that seem to be out of his compassionate conservative playbook of 2000 on today's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. In that discussion, Sam Donaldson said that he believes Bush is at heart a good person.

I am one of those optimists who do like to think all people have good in them. And I would love to think Bush does. That he's nice to his family and friends. That he doesn't kick puppies or pull the wings off of flies. And maybe that would make him a good person. But isn't the measure of a person more than how he treats those nearest him. Isn't it also the measure of his deeds? And in the end, could a good record on African AIDS really outweigh ignoring Darfur? Can an 11th hour turn around on global warming (if it really even is that) outweigh eight years of financial and legal incentives hand-fed to polluters? And in the end, is there anything this man can do to outweigh the murderous missteps of the Iraq war?

Illegal War? Why Not Illegal Immigrants Fighting it?

In today's WaPo Brigid Schult, a paper staff writer, talks about the case of young men like Johnathan, who are in the US illegally, but want to volunteer for the US military. In Johnathan's case, he has lived in the US most of his life and was about to graduate from high school in Virginia. Here is how Schult notes what happened next:

All this past year, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters kept calling Jonathan. The 17-year-old liked what they said to him. And they liked him. He was young and healthy, a star soccer player on his school team. He was fluent in English and Spanish, interested in computers and engineering and about to graduate from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. He wasn't afraid to die for his country, he told them.

A Navy recruiter came to Jonathan's apartment one evening last fall and won his family over with promises that the Navy could help him continue his studies in college -- something financially out of reach for his mother, who works as a babysitter, and father, an electrician and sometime pizza deliveryman.

Out came the recruiter's laptop for the standard military aptitude test. The program first required Jonathan to type in his Social Security number. But there was the catch -- he doesn't have one.

He explained that his parents had brought him to the United States from Ecuador when he was 11, then overstayed their five-year tourist visa. The recruiter closed the laptop and left. Thus ended Jonathan's hopes of a military career. The family, fearing deportation, promptly moved.

A family uproots itself and moves, and a young man who had the potential to serve this country at a time when the military is desperate for such young men is sitting at a Dunkin' Donuts counter wondering what's next in his life.

Is this perhaps one more example of a dirty job Americans don't want going up against fear of a nation overrun by immigrants? A bombs and bullets version of America's dishwashing or fruit picking jobs? If Johnny and Sally won't sign up to go to Iraq anymore, should we let illegal Juan and Juanita go instead? And how do we reward them? With legal status at the end of their service? Or provided posthumously (as we have done in some cases) after they've paid their ultimate price for a country that wouldn't claim them before?

Our military doesn't seem to have much more room to go in terms of lowering their standards. A new recruit doesn't even have to have that HS diploma. Looking for people on both ends of the spectrum - a military that can't set its age limits any lower has set them higher. If you're 42 and interested, hey, you may be what they're looking for. You're not too old. And those medical problems that would have kept you out before? Maybe not so much these days.

As Steven Green's case has shown us, "moral waivers" can allow you to join even if you're a sociopath. He may have raped and murdered a young Iraqi girl, but at least he was a full American citizens. And in the end, isn't that all that matters?

When All Trust is Gone

I believe there was a plot against JFK. I do believe that.

What I'm not sure of is why the plot was exposed to the media now. This administration has used similar news in the past to draw our attention away when they are under scrutiny for this or that misdeed.

So when this news broke, my first reaction wasn't - oh thank goodness, now we're safe. It was "what is happening now that they're trying to draw our attention away from?"

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Annals of religious bigotry, 2007, pt. 1

Everyone remembers--or maybe you don't, if you were born yesterday--the jokes and warnings circulating about a vote for John F. Kennedy for President. Kennedy was Catholic, therefore it was assumed in some quarters that he would be working for the Pope rather than the American people. "Join the church of your choice, while there is still time," said one wag, probably only half in jest. My personal favorite had the Kennedy family collecting bowling balls from all the primary states to fashion into a Rosary for the Statue of Liberty, which would subsequently be renamed "Our Lady of the Harbor."

But the Kennedy bashers of yore had nothing on this year's critics of Mitt Romney, the first serious LDS candidate for President(his father, George, ran back in the day and was considered an attractive candidate until he declared he was "brainwashed" about the Vietnam War--bad mistake). Exhibit A is Florida-based internet evangelist Bill Keller, who pulled no punches this week in warning his cyberflock that a "vote for Romney is a vote for Satan!"

Now don't you mince words, Reverend Keller!

You can read the whole story, and Keller's weak attempts to explain he didn't really say what he said, here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What he said!

I've thought for a long time that Americans' obsession with likeability in their Presidents is way out of hand. The popular wisdom in 2000 was that George W. Bush was the kind of guy you would like to sit down with over some beer and bbq, whereas Al Gore was a hopeless dweeb, the classic egghead intellectual, the kind of guy everyone loved to hate in high school--thus we ended up with Mr. Average Guy, even though not many average guys have two vacation homes, an Ivy League pedigree, upper-crusty prep school background, etc. etc. In any event, we all know how well we've fared with Mr. Average Guy, who boasts of never reading the papers and basing all his policy decisions on his "gut" or his conviction that Jesus Christ put him in office.

In today's WaPo, Gene Robinson makes a great case for going the other way in the upcoming election, going after the smartest guy or gal in the room. I'm going to let him agitate with you, just in case you're on the fence about this:

"One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.

When I look at what the next president will have to deal with, I don't see much that can be solved with just a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve. I see conundrums, dilemmas, quandaries, impasses, gnarly thickets of fateful possibility with no obvious way out. Iraq is the obvious place he or she will have to start; I want a president smart enough to figure out how to minimize the damage.

I want a president who reads newspapers, who reads books other than those that confirm his worldview, who bones up on Persian history before deciding how to deal with Iran's ambitious dreams of glory. I want a president who understands the relationship between energy policy at home and U.S. interests in the Middle East -- and who's smart enough to form his or her own opinions, not just rely on what old friends in the oil business say.

I want a president who looks forward to policy meetings on health care and has ideas to throw into the mix.

I want a president who believes in empirical fact, whose understanding of spirituality is complete enough to know that faith is "the evidence of things not seen" and who knows that for things that can be seen, the relevant evidence is fact, not belief. I want a president -- and it's amazing that I even have to put this on my wish list -- smart enough to know that Darwin was right.

Actually, I want a president smart enough to know a good deal about science. He or she doesn't have to be able to do the math, but I want a president who knows that the great theories underpinning our understanding of the universe -- general relativity and quantum mechanics -- have stood for nearly a century and proved stunningly accurate, even though they describe a world that is more shimmer than substance. I want him or her to know that there's a lot we still don't know.

I want the next president to be intellectually curious -- and also intellectually honest. I want him or her to understand the details, not just the big picture. I won't complain if the next president occasionally uses a word I have to look up.

The conventional wisdom says that voters are turned off when candidates put on showy displays of highfalutin brilliance. I hope that's wrong. I hope people understand how complicated and difficult the next president's job will be, and how much of a difference some real candlepower would make.

I don't want the candidates to pretend to be average people, because why would we choose an ordinary person for such an extraordinary job? I want to see what they've got -- how much they know, how readily they absorb new information, how effectively they analyze problems and evaluate solutions. If the next president is almost always the smartest person in the room, I won't mind a bit. After all, we're not in high school anymore."

Amen, Amen, Amen! What he said!!

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