Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Last Sean Taylor Post

And then I promise to go back to politics. Just had to vent on some of the media coverage of Taylor's death. Do reports of his attack and death have to also focus on his transgressions? When most people are attacked and killed, do media reports mention that they were arrested, or had this or that run in with the law or someone? Thankfully some of the reports mentioned that only to say that he had grown, matured over the past few years.

But really, when people are stunned by the death of someone considered a part of the family locally (DC residents and their attachment to the 'skins is probably not normal) - does a reporter need to remind us of prior bad acts again and again? Or can he try and do his job by looking for the breaking news on what is happening and how people are reacting.

Stepping of this particular soapbox for the moment. Will soon return this channel to the insanity of politics and the world under Bush.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sean Has Died

What horrible news to wake up to. Last night things had seemed a little better - he had shown some response, squeezed a doctor's hand. But it wasn't to be.

Rest in Peace Sean Taylor. You will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family and your little baby girl.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cheney's Atrial Fibrillation News

I'm sure that I'm not the only one whose first thought about any Cheney heart news stories are created only so people will think that Darth Cheney actually has such an organ.

Sending Thoughts of Hope to Sean Taylor & Family

Stepping away from the political arena for a moment, I just want to send out some thoughts of hope and good vibes to Sean Taylor, a Washington Redskins safety who was shot early this morning in his Miami home. Taylor was out with an injured knee, so was at home for the past few weeks. I may not care much for the political aspects of living in DC (especially under Republican rule), but I have been a fan of the 'skins since I first arrived. Taylor has had a rough ride, some of his own making, but he's well respected by his teammates, and that goes a long way with me. I hope he pulls through.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

They Hate Us. They Really Hate Us!

In today's NYT Magazine, James Traub's contribution to the weekly how we live column looks at the damage Bush & Co. have done to America's reputation around the world. He runs through the list of "good will" ambassadors the administration has sent out to fix what they've broken. These include Bush groupie Karen Hughes' short stint as "undersecretary of state for public diplomacy" and Charlotte Beers and her "Muslim Life in America" videos that brought a ton of unintended humor, but little admiration from Muslims and others in the middle east & around the world.

And the impact of the Bush good will push? Well as surveys from Pew Charitable Trusts show, from 2002-2007, favorable views of the US have definitely changed:

In Germany - favorable views fell from 60 to 30%
In Indonesia - favorable views fell from 30 to 9%
And the good news? Well in Pakistan the figure rose from 10 to 15% (great news, we pump millions of dollars into their coffers and we get a 5% bump!)

A BBC poll of people in 35 countries from 2006 showed that the majority of people in 33 of those 35 countries believed that the Iraq war has INCREASED the likelihood of world-wide terrorist attacks. The average percentage in those countries was 60% fearing more terror thanks to our "war on terror" invasion of Iraq. Among the nations polled were five Iraq neighbors. Except for Afghanistan (only 25% want withdrawal), the wish for the US to get the heck out of there was pretty strong. Egypt (76%), Saudi Arabia (64%), Turkey (61%) and coming in even lower (believe it or not Darth Cheney) was Iran at 58%. Yes, the countries that are our allies and know us best are the ones in that group of five that want us out the most.

Earlier this year, the same group conducted a multi-country poll that found "in all Muslim countries polled, majorities said that the US is having a mostly negative influence in the world and that the US military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents."

At some point, don't you just want to shake whoever keeps sending out these good will bombs into the public and scream -- "Please, Stop Helping Us!"?

Of course, this isn't the first time we've tried using ideals and propaganda to win a war, in fact, we have done it so often that you would think that by now we'd be good at it. So why are we (forgive the phrase) bombing at it in the Muslim world? Of course much of it comes back to the concept of do as we say, not as we do. Don't watch us destroy a nation to try and save it. Don't watch us refuse to grant visas and refuge to Iraqis who helped us, endangering their lives and those of their families. Don't watch how we treat POWs (or whatever it is we've chosen to call them at the moment so that we can hide them from international or national laws, not to mention moral responsibilities. Ignore everything you see with your own eyes and believe what we tell you. And we're wondering why we can't get through with our messages of respect and admiration for Muslims and Muslim culture?

The insane thing is - (stick with me here Bush & Co.) - most people in the middle east think that Democracy is the way to go. Look at the Voice of the People 2005 Democracy survey conducted by Gallop. When asked for a response to the phrase "Democracy may have problems but it is the best system of government," 78% of Middle East responders agreed. That number is higher than that for Latin America (74%) and Eastern & Central Europe (68%). North America's number of 87% is only 10% higher. So why do so many Americans seem to think that Muslims hate democracy?

Bucky has long argued that one way Americans can better understand the world is to ensure that every high school student spent some length of time abroad. I couldn't agree more with that concept. And I'd argue that there is another benefit - the more Americans who spend time abroad, the more people from around the world who have a chance to meet an American face to face. It's harder to stereotype a people once you've met them face to face - a benefit to both sides, not just one.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Today is the day for taking stock and giving thanks. Some years are harder for that than others. There are the personal things we are thankful for - and I hope for all of you those lists are long and wonderful.

Then there are those things that effect many of us to examine. And it is those things that are harder to find this year. Things seeming to be going better in Iraq is something I'm thankful for - but the flip side of that is why they're going better (the continued division of neighborhoods by religious belief, local government's inability to function) and all those ways the war isn't better (in Iraq or Afghanistan). Other potential good news is the upcoming middle east conference (but it doesn't include a group that should be there; long-term history of these things is almost always poor). Or that the Democrats control Congress (but they have done little to nothing with that control other than feed at the trough in new ways). The list of things to fear is too long and depressing to think about, especially in a post that is about giving thanks.

So what can we find to be thankful for as a nation and world this year? I think we can still find a few.
  • More attention is being paid to climate change, more people seem determined to do what they can to help the planet survive us.
  • The Democratic race for president includes a woman, an African-American and a Latino. In other years, just one of those three would be news. This year, it seems to be an accepted part of life that not only white men can hear Hail to the Chief.
  • Bloggers continue to do a great job of bringing us news that corporate media ignores or downplays.
  • Yesterday's fears of travel backups around the US went mostly unrealized.
Ok, so yes, I seem to be reaching for a couple of those. So help us out - other big-picture items that we & the world can be thankful for today?

'Skins quarterback Jason Campbell & Receiver Antwaan Randle el helping DC Central Kitchen with Thanksgiving turkeys.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mistakes Were Made - The Scott McClellan Story

It's going to be interesting to watch the dominoes fall as Bush staffer after staffer flees the White House and writes his or her book. Former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan steps up this week with his book's revelation that the lies he told while working for Bush were unintentional - having been fed information by Bush, Cheney & all, he was merely a front man for their misdeeds.

The Nation looks at the Valarie Plame affair from McClellan's book:

The former press secretary is confirming that Bush and Cheney not only knew that Rove, the administration's political czar, and Libby, who served as Cheney's top aide, were involved in the scheme to attack Wilson's credibility -- by outing the former ambassador's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA analyst -- but that the president and vice president actively engaged in efforts to prevent the truth from coming out.

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby," writes McClellan in an excerpt from his book, What Happened, which is to be published next April by Public Affairs.

"There was one problem," the long-time Bush aide continues. "It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."

Bush & Cheney lied to the American public? Gee, rush that one out to the news wire. That's a news flash to end news flashes. Oh, wait, you're right, there are still 20-some% of the American public clinging to their view that Bush is worth their time.

For the rest of us, news like this makes me ask - so what. Bush & Cheney lied about this. We know that. We know that they've lied about a hell of a lot more. So one of their cronies has found the stones to admit it publically after fleeing? It's just such a tired old pattern. And with this administration, just the tip of the iceberg. McClellan and the crew that will follow him down this road sold their souls to the devil when they went to work in that White House. And now they're out their first move is to cover their butts.

Newsflash to Scott - We know Bush/Cheney lied. What would be nice to see from one of their enablers instead of a self-serving memoir after the fact is an admission that you were part of the circus. What would have been even nicer would be to have seen you stand up and say so while still in the circus. It's a day late and a dollar short now - so take your book and cling to it, hoping that while the media jumps up & down in excitement nobody takes the time to ask you the hard questions of your complicity in this administration's criminal, immoral and unethical actions.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Next Big Thing a ringtone celebrating a storied moment in Spanish-Venezuelan relations involving the king of Spain and President-perhaps-for-life Hugo Chavez. It has made a couple million for enterprising Spaniards, and the Venezuelans have gotten a lot of mileage out of it, too. Where do I get mine? It seems certain to enter the current-event gifts Hall of Fame, right up there with the Spiro Agnew Mickey Mouse Watch--which, if it talked, would say quite a few things considerably worse than a mere "Shut up!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The British identity crisis

Perhaps in response to evidence of alienation in British society, from yobs in hoodies terrorizing shopping malls to the subway suicide bombers, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government is trying to come up with a motto to bind everyone together, express the nation's essential qualities. The BBC and other news websites have been soliciting suggestions, which I excerpt here:

"Once Great: Britain"

"Americans who missed the boat"

"At least we're not French"

"usque conabor" (I will try my utmost), answered almost immediately by some pig/faux Latin,

"Dipso, fatso, bingo, ASBO, Tesco(neatly addressing the country's contemporary problems with alcohol, obesity, gambling, antisocial youth, and materialism).

and then, the priceless

"Get blotto, play the lotto, that's our motto"

If i were writing in the spirit of the above suggestions, I would probably offer, "Don't be a sap, mind the gap!" In any case, I think it's clear the British sense of humor, if not its "yearning" for national unity, is very much alive and well.

Did I miss something?

There's been a lot of talk recently about the upcoming summit to be held in Annapolis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Condi Rice appears to believe that the two sides are finally serious about taking concrete steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state and a permanent cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.

I'm just wondering how they will do this, or what meaning the results of the conference will have, in view of the party the Secretary of State declined to invite: Hamas. The last time I looked, Hamas was the democratically elected governing authority in Palestine--as I understand it, the PA was marginalized by the election results. So here's the thing: just how will any agreement be implemented without the participation and consent of the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people?

Has this not occurred to reporters and analysts covering the runup to this meeting? Am I missing something here?

No, they CAN'T just go to the emergency room

Last night, I was half-watching Michael Moore's latest documentary, "Sicko," and thinking that he was going a little over the top with his case on health care access, especially with respect to Cuba, where I suspect he and his ailing entourage was able to access the nicest, most up-to-date care available, at Havana Hospital. Based on my experience in the former Soviet Union, the average neighborhood clinic or hospital leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of sanitation, quality of staff, etc. So that might have been a showcase affair staged exclusively for Moore.

But then I saw this item in the New York Times, and the dimensions of our health care crisis here in the United States became clear in a way that transcends Moore's occasional agitprop and for that matter all of the usual black-and-white political discourse: some people in this country are now being served by Remote Area Medical, a group of volunteer doctors and nurses who normally work in places like...Haiti, Guyana, Tanzania and rural India. That's how bad things have gotten especially for people in rural America. The Times reporter notes that it has become a yearly ritual in Virgina that

"Each summer, shortly after the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair and Horse Show wraps up at the fairgrounds, members of Virginia Lions Clubs start bleaching the premises, readying them for RAM’s volunteers, who, working in animal stalls and beneath makeshift tents, provide everything from teeth cleaning and free eyeglasses to radiology and minor surgery. The problem, says RAM’s founder, Stan Brock, is always in the numbers, with the patients’ needs far outstripping what his team can supply. In Wise County, when the sun rose and the fairground gates opened at 5:30 on Friday morning, more than 800 people already were waiting in line. Over the next three days, some 2,500 patients would receive care, but at least several hundred, Brock estimates, would be turned away. He adds: “There comes a point where the doctors say: ‘Hey, I gotta go. It’s Sunday evening, and I have to go to work tomorrow.’ ”

It should be obvious to everyone that access to health care is the number one domestic issue for this country in 2007. I've seen it personally manifested in friends and acquaintances' having to remain in toxic, terrible work situations because they can't get insurance otherwise. I think there would be a tremendous burst of creative activity here if that problem were solved, in the creation of numerous small businesses and services that would afford people the chance to do something for a living that they were really passionate about. But I'm afraid that the idea that people in this country must depend on groups usually working in third-world nations has a resonance lacking in other examples and rationales.

I think this ought to become front and center in someone's campaign--access to health care has become so difficult in places that volunteers heretofore serving exclusively third-world nations, the poorest of the poor, now must operate in America. Where is the outrage? Why do we settle for this?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

One Person Can Impact the World

Or at least rip off the citizens of Washington, DC to the tune of $20 million and counting. Those of you who don't live in DC may haven't seen the story of Harriette Walters and Diane Gustus, DC tax & revenue employees who have stolen over $20 million from myself & other DC residents. Of the money only $4 million has been retrieved. The rest has gone into cars, houses and a host of expensive goodies.

Over a number of years the pair has been issuing tax refunds to friends & relatives that they didn't deserve, to say the least. Here's a link to a list of WaPo articles on the topic. The spending spree included $1.4 spent at Neiman-Marcus, a Bentley, and today's list of items retrieved from Walters' home - "more than 100 pieces of jewelry, a mink coat and 90 purses -- many of them such designer brands as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci, . . .68 pairs of shoes, designer luggage and other luxury items. Some of the goods were stored in the garage, near a 2006 Mercedes-Benz, . . . a pair of silver-plated iguana figurines, a silverware set, a Rolex watch and a silver bar cart."

How did this all happen, you ask? As do I - having been paying taxes in DC for many many years now. Here's what the WaPo had to say:

A Washington Post analysis of city records has found a total of $31.7 million in questionable property tax refunds dating back seven years -- including $346,700 to one fictitious company named "Bilkemor LLC."

The Post identified 92 payments to companies that prosecutors have identified as dummy corporations, for properties that have no connection to the firms receiving the checks. The analysis comes as federal prosecutors do their own review in the biggest corruption case in local government history.

Federal authorities initially said the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue had lost more than $16 million in a brazen refund scam orchestrated by a mid-level manager. They later upped the figure to $20 million and warned that the damage could be even higher as their investigation continues. Yesterday, law enforcement sources confirmed that taxpayer losses could reach $30 million or more.

The Post's analysis showed that the volume and pace of suspicious activity at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue reached its peak in the past three years. Of all real estate tax refunds issued in that span, about half appeared suspicious.

And of the $37 million refunded from the start of 2005 to July 2007, the dubious checks total more than $19 million.

Harriette Walters, the former manager in charge of property tax refunds, was arrested Nov. 7 and is charged with signing off on payments to sham companies controlled by family members and others who were in on the scheme. Six people have been charged, including tax employee Diane Gustus, one of several city workers who prepared or handled paperwork leading to the checks.

So far, prosecutors have publicly accused Walters and others of conspiring to fabricate 58 fraudulent refund checks, amounting to $20 million, and then using the sham companies to steer money to themselves. In court papers yesterday, prosecutors said that Walters has "confessed" to the activities and that she "approved each and every fraudulent voucher."

Cartoon of the Week

Luckovich - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Polling the world

It never had occurred to me to ask this question, but it probably should've: which of the Presidential candidates has the greatest appeal to citizens who can't vote, i.e. the millions and millions of onlookers outside the United States? You can discover the answer here, and it seems to me to be something radical in our politics: an individual who could change perceptions of America just by virtue of who he is.

That's a great reason to root for him, too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More "Thanks" to Vets From Bush & Co.

From CBS, a look at suicides among vets. Their report looked at data that found "veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non-vets. A recent Veteran Affairs Department estimate says some 5,000 ex-servicemen and women will commit suicide this year, largely as a result of mental health issues, and Keteyian says, 'Our numbers are much higher than that, overall.'"

A Wall Street Journal report takes a far more positive note. Sure the troubled soldiers are out there, but they're getting help. "Of the 88,235 soldiers studied, one in five on active duty and nearly half of reserves were referred to mental health treatment at one of the two time points. . . . Last month, the hotline received over 1500 calls from or about veterans and over 40 calls from active duty military personnel, which led to almost 300 referrals to the suicide prevention coordinators at VA hospitals and 70 rescues, according to Ira Katz, head of mental health in the VA Central Office."

Why is it I have a feeling that the CBS report has examined the issue more closely than the WSJ reporter?

Here it comes again, look out!

While you were sleeping peacefully, the citizens of New Dehli were going another round with those pesky monkeys, who chose yesterday to go on another tear. Because of their alleged ties to the Hindu god of strength, they are given a pass in almost all public places, but occasionally they push that man was talking to his neighbor on the balcony at about ll pm, when a monkey bounded in and took a bite of his baby's leg, triggering another mini-rampage. There were several such home invasions in the neighborhood...

You would think that monkey business in the Indian capital(it IS the capital, isn't it?!) would be at a minimum because the city allocates almost half a million dollars yearly to monkey capture and resettlement. But those stubborn simians just refuse to accept their exile and return again and again to claim their privileged status...long may they run amok. Well, maybe they COULD lose the habit of biting small humans, but they are at least good for a mirthful break from our dismal current reality.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Buying Congress - Update From the Alaska Delegation

Like Texas, Alaska is one of those states whose occupants don't do much in small ways. So it's not surprising that one of the best quotes from a lobbyist Congressional-buying frenzy comes from an Alaskan elected representative.

As the WaPo shows us today, Pete Kott, "the former Republican (there's a big surprise) speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives bragged of the depths to which he would sink for money. As the article notes, Kott "crowed as he described beating back a tax bill opposed by oil companies. "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie. Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil."

Unfortunately for Kott and a few others, big brother was watching the sale. "When the FBI came looking for corruption in Alaska politics, it found an excellent perch in Suite 604 of the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, the state capital. There, a profane septuagenarian named Bill Allen did business throughout a 2006 special session called to set taxes on the oil industry. With hundred-dollar bills in his front pocket for ease of access when lawmakers turned up with their hands out, the oil-services company executive turned in a bravura performance before the pinhole camera that federal agents installed opposite his favorite chair. . . .

Officially, the scandal has remained confined to Juneau, where Alaska lawmakers had grown so accustomed to operating under the presumption of impropriety that several of them embroidered ball caps with the letters CBC, for 'Corrupt Bastards Club.'"

Well, at least they'll have something fun to wear to prison. Wonder how long before Senators Ted Stevens and Don Young will be joining them?

The Best Congress Money Can Buy

In 2006 most of us voted for a Congress that would stand up for the people and stand up to Bush. They had their chance when Bush vetoed a bill authorizing limited stem cell research. They failed. They had a chance with a bill setting a goal for troop removal. They failed. They had a chance with a bill expanding health care for children. And again they failed.

But do not despair, for Congress has found their spine. And it came, in all places, in defense of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. First the house overrode Bush's veto 361-54; then the Senate voted 79-14. And Americans across the land stood and cheered the brave men and women in Congress because . . . oh, wait. We didn't cheer them? Could it have something to do with the fact that the only bill they've found the guts to override a Bush veto on is a pork-laden bill that has little to do with water resources and everything to do with getting re-elected in 2008?

Just when I thought there was little this Congress could do to lessen my opinion of them, something like this comes along. So we may not be able to do m ore stem cell research, or help the troops, or expand health care - but take heart, Congress is doing everything they can to make sure that they'll be around after 2008 to wimp out on us again.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A moment at the Wall

Popessa is right--the Vietnam Memorial Wall is a remarkable monument in the United States, perhaps eclipsed only by its neighbor, the Lincoln Memorial. Even the Remington statue of the three soldiers, which stands adjacent to the Wall, has become an essential part of the landscape there. To some extent, it is a concession to the literal-minded, but it's no heroic pose: depending on the angle, the three soldiers look wary, resigned and/or terribly weary.

I had quite an encounter at the Wall in 2001, just a few weeks after the trade center attacks, when everyone was avoiding NY and DC in anticipation of another attack. It was a beautiful, sunny, even balmy fall morning, and I had skipped out on my conference to go to the Wall, since I always visit whenever i am in town. I had gone down into the monument, to the point where the Wall is at its tallest, and was preparing to take a picture. Suddenly, I caught my own reflection in the wall, since the sun was out, and I saw myself taking a picture of...myself. While I was contemplating this odd pose, I suddenly realized that I filled with names, and the names on that section were filled They were in me, and I was in them. From that time, i have always felt that because they became part of me that day, I had to try to tell their story, represent them somehow, to people who never knew them or their circumstances. The next spring, I took as my personal assignment the teaching of the Vietnam war at least every other year, even though it's pretty far from my expertise, and I've followed through. I always try to impress upon class members that they owe it to the Vietnam dead, in fact the dead of all wars, to choose leaders who will use military force as a last, rather than a first resort. So many conflicts in this century were political in nature and therefore required a political solution, Vietnam being only one example.

I almost felt that this moment at the wall was a Flanders' Fields moment...I didn't want to break faith with the people I saw in
myself, didn't want to break faith with those who died...and I think I have kept the faith, in my fashion.

Where is Our Long-Range Vision?

I started thinking about this question today as I noted that it is the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam War memorial here in DC. The wall today is a highly-visited, universally-loved memorial, the icon against which other memorials have been measured. Without revealing too much of my age, I will say that I was living here in DC when the memorial was being planned in the early 80s.

At that time, the memorial was anything but the beloved treasure it has become. Instead, the design was greeted with howls of anger and outrage when a Yale architect student, Maya Lin, won the competition that had been created for the designer. Screams of protest that the designer of this memorial to American dead in Asia was to be an Asian-American. And the design itself? Instead of a soaring tribute to Americans, it would be a SLASH in the earth, a buried tomb of an embarrassment. The attacks came fast and furious. Outrage! A vile left-wing, anti-war spitting attack on the memories of our brave dead! Amazingly enough, the government's cave in to the attacks was not to change Lin's main design, but to add a standard sculpture of a trio of soldiers to it.

Of course we all know what followed - the power of the wall to reach into our collective, emotional baggage of that war continues to this day. And the right-wing screamers who couldn't stand the idea of that Asian-American woman's slash in the earth? Well now they're on the internet organizing patriotic brigades to protect the wall from attacks from those left-wing anti-war protesters who, for some reason, they believed were going to attack the wall as part of their Iraq-war protests.

I bring this up because this pattern is one that continues to play out over and over and over again. Today we hear moans and groans from the wealthy, the right-wing, the Republican conservatives who voted heart and soul for Bush because Gore or Kerry would destroy America - they bitch and moan to us about how they regret their votes for Bush and wouldn't vote for him again. And every single time I hear that I laugh at them and point out their inability to either see the big picture, or even learn from one mistake before making it a second time in 2004. And to a person they shake it off and start in on how Gore or Kerry would have destroyed America.

And so the pattern continues.


It's a fact that the burden of the Iraq and Afghan wars has not been borne equally, here in the United States or Great Britain. This is partly because that both nations have all-volunteer forces. But there is another factor at work here: almost no one with a privileged background in either country has chosen to join "the long war," the "generational struggle," or even be in the service. Geoffrey Wheatcraft underscores the contrast with the Great War in today's Independent by crunching some numbers, as follows:

Of the men who went up to Oxford in l9l3, 31% died in the Great War. These guys invariably came from wealthy backgrounds.
Number of Oxford grads KIA in Iraq: none

3 British Prime Ministers lost sons in the Great War.
Number of British PMs who lost sons or daughters in Iraq or Afghanistan: none

85 MPs lost sons in World War I; at least 22 MPs fought and died themselves in that conflict.
Number of MPs who lost children in iraq or Afghanistan, or fought themselves: none

All four British Prime Ministers between l940 and l963 served either in the Great War or World War II
Number of British Prime Ministers who have seen combat recently, or even been in the service: none.

Here in the US, there are a few veterans of World War II in the Congress, but there is only one(1) Congressman with a son serving in Iraq or Afghanistan: Senator Jim Webb. There is a small handful of Iraq vets, but their numbers are negligible.

Someone once said that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. But I don't think it's a stretch to review these numbers and wonder whether if this generation of leaders and/or their children had choseen to serve in the armed forces alongside their less-well-connected peers, they would have been so quick to choose war in 2001 and 2003.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Our discriminating Commander-in-Chief

Tomorrow is variously Armistice Day, if your frame of reference is World War I, Remembrance Sunday, if you are a citizen of the UK, and Veterans' Day for Americans. Around the world, citizens will pause to remember the dead of World Wars I, II, Korea, Vietnam, the Irish Troubles, the French colonial wars, Afghanistan, Iraq...and I'm sure I'm missing a few. There has been an awful lot of armed conflict in the past 100 or so years.

President Bush will no doubt lead the official commemoration here, as usual. But as Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the IHT , some of the American fallen and their families get more attention and consideration than others from the President. I'm sure you won't be surprised to discover that these people have all written warm letters of support to the President, endorsing his war and assuring him that he was not to blame for their son or daughter's death.

Wouldn't you think someone as unyielding in his belief in this war, in fact in military force generally, would be just as solicitous of those opponents of his war who lost a son or daughter? Wouldn't you think the Commander-in-Chief would welcome the chance to comfort these people, too, and reassure them that this war was just and the outcome will be the best for the United States of America?

Well, wouldn't you?!

What a prince of a guy we've got in the White House.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oddly Enough it Would be an Improvement for Both Countries

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An eventful anniversary...

Let me be the first, and no doubt the only, person to wish you Happy 90th Bolshevik Revolution Day November 7, 2007. Ninety years ago tomorrow, in Petrograd, a few Bolshevik activists broke into the Winter Palace to arrest the cadets and Women's Battalion of Death soldiers guarding what was left of Russia's democratic government. The activists and their leaders found it inconvenient to convene the Constituent Assembly that was supposed to decide all the burning questions--land reform, whether to stay in World War I, what kind of state Russia would be--because they believed themselves possessed of superior wisdom. It might be an understatement to say that the succeeding years did much to dispel that illusion.
For old times' sake, let's have a look at Vladimir Lenin hailing a taxi--er, leading the troops on to victory--and celebrate "70(now 90) years on the road to nowhere," as a sign i once glimpsed in a l987 crowd proclaimed. URA! URA!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A History of Waterboarding

In today's WaPo, a law teacher & former National Guard JAG officer, Evan Wallach, provided an article on waterboarding. Wallach lets America's history with the technique answer the question of torture / not torture. And while our soon to be Attorney General responded in writing to the Senate that he found the technique "over the line and, on a personal basis, repugnant," but wouldn't say that he found it illegal, history has not been as reluctant to make the call.

Wallach seems to have access to better information than Mukasey. In his op-ed piece, Wallach notes that "after World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. . . . Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding."

Even by WWII waterboarding wasn't new, according to Wallach. During the US occupation of the Philippines after 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for using the technique, called then the "water cure" while questioning Filipino guerrillas.

And let's not leave out Bush's beloved state of Texas - where in 1983. That's right, 1983!, federal prosecutors charged a sheriff & three deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights by forcing confessions by subjecting prisoners "to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning." Sound familiar? The sheriff in this case was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Did you ever think we would turn to the state of Texas for an example of how Bush & Co. should behave?

You can stroll through National Public Radio's history of waterboarding here. The piece looks at the use of this torture during the Inquisition and after, along with descriptions of what it feels like. NPR notes of a Vietnam War example, "On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced 'a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk.' The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier."

So while Bush, Cheney, Mukasey and the neo-con fan club continue to hedge on the issue, the rest of us continue to shake our heads and wonder just well denial works for them.

Bromides from Barack? Not so much!

There's a very interesting portrait of Barack Obama and his world view this morning in the New York Times and IHT. I'm still not convinced I could articulate the Obama doctrine, but I like some of his thoughts, e.g. using a Swiss Army knife, with its multiplicity of tools, in the formulation of foreign policy rather than using blunt force all the time. I also like the range of people he has chosen for his "brain trust," from the late Secretary of State George Marshall to Bush 41's guru, Brent Scowcroft. It's potentially a nice change from the Old Prexy, who apparently chooses his advisers based on their ability to contort themselves into line with his "thinking," and people like Mitt Romney, whose big ambition for his presidency is the drastic enlargement of Guantanamo.

The verdict on the Hughes era in American public diplomacy

As a veteran of cultural exchange, I was happy to hear of Karen Hughes' decision to step down from her post as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. I was always at a loss as to what she could contribute to improving America's image abroad, since she knew virtually nothing of the languages and cultures of the world--she had been a local TV reporter in Texas and recently a spinmeister for George W. Bush. But that doesn't begin to convey the revulsion she inspired in people whom she was trying to convince that they were all wrong about the Bush White House and Bush foreign policy. Rami Khouri of the Lebanon Daily Star does this much better than I could, as follows( excerpted from his Nov. 4 column):

"I could not help but notice that Karen Hughes announced her resignation as US public diplomacy chief Wednesday on Halloween day here in the United States. This was an apt moment for her to hit the airwaves - when monsters, ghosts, goblins and witches roam the land for the night, then disappear for another year, all in a make-believe fantasy land that enchants us briefly, and frightens us occasionally, but that we never take seriously...

Her office had no appreciable impact on improving global perceptions of the United States, and in some situations made things worse, especially when she and some of her colleagues spoke to audiences in the Middle East with a combination of political condescension, cultural arrogance, and aggressive moralizing. I had the chance to see her perform in person a few times, and it was always a painful experience. Those left behind in her wake should analyze the last two years honestly, and come up with policies and strategies that shed the sort of racism, fantasy communication and self-delusional political and moral evasion of responsibility that the hapless Hughes and her colleagues practiced with a gusto that was matched by their obvious irrelevance and failure.

I am harsh on her and her work because it reflects the absolute worst in American political culture and America’s engagement with the world. What she has done in her two years as public diplomacy chief is not only ineffective and probably counter-productive; it is also very un-American. She rejected the honesty, humility and realism that define the values of most Americans, and instead opted to live in a dream world in which America was perfect, and foreigners who thought badly of it needed to be lectured about American values and policies...

She never understood that her brand of moralizing and arrogant cultural cheerleading - “Go, Muslims, go! Reach for the sky! You can be modern and democratic, if you really try!” - was part of the problem, not part of the solution. She failed to grasp that she was handicapped from the start by trying to make us love a country whose pro-Israeli, pro-Arab autocrats foreign policy - and now the Iraq fiasco - has devastated our lands and cultures for nearly half a century.

By any standards, she failed miserably and totally - but to be fair to her, she never really had a chance, given the enormous handicap of her country’s foreign policy in the Middle East. We should criticize her personally only for accepting to be part of this charade, and playing the fool on a global stage that increasingly came to see her as a strange combination of a comedy and horror show rolled into one.

We should instead remind Americans that this is a moment for them to reconsider this whole silly episode, stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on vacuous public diplomacy programs, and stop insulting several billion people around the world who do not need any prompting to enjoy American values, education, business, technology, sports, and other offerings - including Halloween night, with its bags of Tootsie-Rolls, and the fantasy of defeated wicked witches who get on their brooms and disappear into the night sky, to reappear only in our future nightmares."

What he said! The fact is that Karen Hughes spent two years trying to put lipstick on a pig, and fooled absolutely no one. The US will be in the toilet bowl of worldwide public opinion until the current administration leaves office.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Helping to Ensure the Rights of Lobbyists

You remember lobbyists, don't you - they made the news quite a bit back in 2005-2006 for being just a little to open about their ownership of various Congressional figures. Well after the 2006 election, many of them slinked back into their offices, working quietly and trying to stay out of that messy public radar. Fortunately, the folks over at Public Citizen haven't been sleeping on the job. At "White House for Sale" they have been charting just how many lobbyists have been signing up to work with the various candidates.

Of course, maybe being a lobbyist isn't the job it used to be - guess which dynamic Presidential 2008 contender has more registered lobbyists than any other. None other than John McCain with 32. Hillary comes in a distant second at 18, followed by Mitt with 13, Rudy with 12, Obama with 7, Thompson with 6 and Bill Richardson at 3.

And amazingly enough, the number of registered lobbyists raising money for the 2008 candidates is almost as high as it was during the 2004 campaign. Most of the ones who are going to get on board haven't jumped on yet. According to the site, "George Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean, the three 2004 candidates who released lists of bundlers, reported fundraising activity by 136 federal lobbyists. Fewer than 30 percent (28.7 percent) of those lobbyists have yet surfaced on the 2008 candidates’ fundraisers’ lists." Waiting to see what shakes out, perhaps? Didn't they get the Hillary will win memo?

I'll check back from time to time with more info on who is buying whom in the race for the White House.

Looking for a Good Strike

There are strikes on my mind recently. In DC we had a one-day taxi strike (drivers don't want to switch from the city's zone system to a metered one). In NYC, taxi drivers went on strike to complain about new cabs being decorated with flowers. In Hollywood, we've got an upcoming writers' strike, which apparently means only news & "reality" programming will be available. Ugh. In automobile land, Ford and the UAW are working to avoid a strike over a number of issues (esp. retirement health care).

But in the world where we could really use some strikes, we never get them! Then again, if the Bush administration, Fox Newsless, or the neo-cons went on strike, would anyone even miss them? But boy oh boy would I love the chance to find out! Where are the strikes like that - the ones that could heal and help the nation?

America's Democratic(?) Allies

American presidents have a long history of choosing our international friends based on what they (forgive me JFK) can do for us, not what they can do for their own countries. To an extent, that is how it should be, leaders should keep their countries' interests in mind.

What I've found particularly entertaining (in a sick and demented way, I admit) is the Bush administration's ability to pick and choose international friends for how they can fulfill the goals of that ever-entertaining group of tunnel-visioned, self-delusional idiots known as the neo-cons. They will toss away an opportunity to work with an international leader for the best of everyone if he doesn't fit into the neo-con vision of the future. So we play nicely with leaders who enslave, torture and murder their own people. -- Wave to the camera leaders of China, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and wait . . . is that Pakistan I see over in the corner there?

Yes, as you probably have heard, Pakistan prez. Musharraf has decided to proclaim a state of emergency and suspend the Pakistani constitution. Pakistan's supreme court declared the state of emergency illegal, but Musharraf took care of that by expelling the chief justice and sending troops to take over the court and even surround judges' homes. Pakistan, Pakistan. Have you learned NOTHING from your work with the Bush administration? Why did you not simply follow his example, which is to simply ignore the constitution and the court. After all, whenever he does that, the only response he gets from Congress is that they bend over and ask for another.

As CNN notes, "for weeks the country has been coasting in a state of political limbo while the Supreme Court works to tackle legal challenges filed by the opposition that calls into question Musharraf's eligibility to hold office."

And as any political science major can tell you - nothing reassures a country sliding into political limbo and in the midst of military, terror and political crises from all sides like a central political figure shutting everything down and grabbing all power.

Yup, that should fix everything. Don't we all feel so much better now?

Does Cheney Have Bush-Envy?

It must be hard being Bush's veep. Watching W stride through life with his C-average strut that mysteriously captivated millions while at the same time being an international punch line for his inability to speak his native language, remember salient facts (such as who actually invaded us on 9/11 vs. who he didn't like). Darth Cheney, on the other hand, can't even get away with shooting an old man in the face - even AFTER the old man apologized to Cheney & his family for it.

So it must be especially grating for Cheney to be mocked now for a very Bush-like flub, after mixing up Venezuelan Prez Hugh Chavez's nation with that of Peru. Cheney on Chavez, "The people of Peru, I think, deserve better in their leadership. But that's obviously a matter they've got to resolve for themselves."

Then again, maybe Cheney knows something we don't -- that the people of Peru are working with the CIA to invade Venezuela? One never knows with this crowd.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rumsfeld's Snow Jobs

While he was running the Pentagon, Rumsfeld flooded people with 20-60 memos a day (so many they were nicknamed "Snowflakes"). Today's WaPo has a story featuring a number of those. Here's a few of Rumsfeld's "thoughts" for staff.
  • Muslims avoid "physical labor"
  • "keep elevating the threat"
  • "link Iraq to Iran"
  • develop "bumper sticker statements" to rally public support
  • "our publics risk falling prey to the argument that all is lost" -- simply result from the wrong standards being applied
  • "Talk about Somalia, the Philippines, etc. Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists"
  • People will "rally" to sacrifice, he noted after the meeting. "They are looking for leadership. Sacrifice = Victory."
  • needed a team to help him "go out and push people back, rather than simply defending" Iraq policy and strategy
  • advised aides "to test what the results could be" if the war on terrorism were renamed
  • Neither Europe nor the United Nations understands the threat or the bigger picture

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