Friday, March 28, 2008

Yes, Make It Stop(the ridiculousness, that is)!!

I've been taking a brief, unofficial hiatus from the news, because of the sheer revulsion I feel at the incessant sniping and attacks from the Clinton camp to Obama's, and vice-versa. But I've come up for air now that the ridiculousness quotient has reached a new high(or low)this morning, when someone--maybe the Republicans, maybe the Clintons--began asserting that Obama is an exaggerator and/or liar because he claims he has been a "professor at the University of Chicago Law School." He did a stint teaching at the UC Law School before and after his stint as Illinois State legislator, prior to his election as a US Senator in 2004.

True, not everyone in a college or university is a "professor." Technically, a "professor" is someone who has reached the highest level of achievement in the university; otherwise, you are an "associate," or "assistant," or even a "lecturer" or "instructor" if you are not on a permanent, tenure-track appointment. Despite these fine distinctions, in the 12 years I have been teaching--I'm now "associate professor"-- not one person has ever called me anything but "professor." In this culture, if you teach in ANY capacity in a college or university, you are so regarded and referred to.

For people to be seizing on Obama's calling himself a "professor" as evidence of dissembling is somewhere east of insane...I guess they want him to insert a variation of the above explanation into every speech, every autobio, every book jacket, to hold him to a standard NO ONE on ANY CAMPUS adheres to. THIS...IS...riDICulous...Make it stop! Make it stop!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If 4000 People Fall in a Forest, Does the Press Hear it?

The coverage of the 4,000th US military death in Iraq/Afghanistan has been interesting to watch. That is, the coverage that one could find. Has the press decided that the big round numbers are no longer targets for automatic stories? Or is it that the public is just not buying the story anymore?

On the same Monday that saw that tragic 4000th death the most viewed Yahoo News story was on oil prices. The most emailed story was about the discovery of a 1986 message in a bottle. Has the war become a story for only those families of the serving, wounded and killed? I have been surfing small town newspapers and found few carrying stories of the war. Those that did I found in towns near military bases.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism noted that in 2007, the war occupied an average 15.5 percent of media news, a number that represented a steady decline through that year. In the first quarter of 2008, it was down to 3.9 percent. The presidential race has grabbed our attention, certainly. As have the numerous missing young pregnant wives or college co-eds stories. It brings to my mind that quote attributed to Stalin, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."

After 2,000 Idaho national guardsmen were sent to Iraq in 2003, the Idaho Statesman sent a reporter and photographer to Iraq to cover the story. After those troops returned, the coverage nose-dived.

This has become a war that exists for fewer and fewer Americans each year, Support the Troops stickers hang partially ripped off on truck bumpers as we move along to whatever captures our attentions next. This war has lasted far too long for the American attention span to handle.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Easter to All

Can the Congo Save Itself?

Democratic Republic of Congo's mining minister, Victor Kasongo announced that several mining contracts between their government and international companies are going to be reviewed, re-negotiated and possibly terminated after a review commission revealed that out of 60+ mining contracts, NONE met international standards. Well no surprise there, we've had a long history of taking great advantage of Africa's bounty with good to great success and little to no obstacles. As Kasongo told a BBC reporter in reference to those contracts, "the state assets were undervalued, making our contribution seem smaller. In essence we are contributing too much. This creates some unfairness." The contractors (mostly from the west), see things differently, of course, and would prefer to keep their sweet deals intact, as noted in this Bloomberg piece.

Congo's latest president, Joseph Kabila, was elected in 2006 - the nation's first democratic election since the 60s. Will this give the DR Congo an opportunity to provide an example to other nations rich in natural assets but poor in international influence? What has it been, after all, that has allowed some (though not all) oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia to perch high in the driver's seat? While nations like the DR Congo, home to huge reserves of gold, diamonds, copper and coltan (don't know what it is, well try using your cell phone without it) serve at the mercy of international corporations? Great national wealth has funded national security for some, while others are torn limb from limb, often with international assistance. Some of the contracts Kasongo refers to were made by companies in rebel-held territories of the DRC.

Can Kabila and Kasongo find a way to break the trend and finally begin to use great national wealth to build and unify their nation? History argues no. Divisions are rife and complex across so much of Africa, and within the DRC. Kabila has recently hit at one large rebel group, the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), which has accused Kabila's government of corruption. Troops attacked BDK areas and left almost 80 dead and hundreds unaccounted for. The BDK is a complicated organization. Part militia, part political and part religious movement that wants to return the nation to its pre-colonial kingdom status.

Complicated, isn't it. And that's only part of the equation. Eastern Congo is also been the stage for recent fighting between Mai Mai militia and Rwandan rebels. With every acre of disputed territory comes another danger of population exodus. Yet another group, The Party for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by Laurent Nkunda (who is Tutsi), have forced more than 750,000 people to abandon their homes and flee. Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect Tutsi populations from Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. Have you gotten out your charts and maps to follow this yet? From a BBC report:

Father Mario Perez runs the Don Bosco Ngangi home for orphans of the war in the provincial capital of Goma. He regards the numbers in his home as a tragic barometer for the crisis across the eastern DR Congo, and they are rising fast.

He has been working for the past decade with families torn apart by the conflict, and he sees a disturbing new pattern. It seems clear to me that civilians are being driven from their homes by force. In the past, they were just running from the fighting between the armed groups, and they were able to go back as soon as things had settled down," he says.

"But now they're being pushed out with aggression, and humanitarian groups are being prevented from helping them. I think the militias are trying to clear the countryside and push people to Goma."

According to Human Rights Watch this long tradition of no victors, but millions of losers, continues:
All parties to the conflict in North Kivu – including the Congolese army, troops under the command of Nkunda, and combatants from the FDLR and PARECO – have committed serious crimes against civilians, including killings, rape, forced displacement, looting and the use of child soldiers. In a detailed report published in October, Human Rights Watch documented abuses against civilians during 18 months of armed conflict.

The recent combat has increased local hostility against the Congolese Tutsi population, seen by other groups as the main supporters of Nkunda. But Tutsi civilians have also suffered displacement and abuse, including from those who claim to be protecting them.
The civilian casualties are so high and terrible to be almost beyond understanding. According to an International Rescue Committee report, 45,000 Congolese citizens, half of them children, are dying EVERY MONTH from hunger, disease and other fruits of violence and displacement.

Congolese women and girls in particular bear the vicious brunt of this crisis. Indeed, eastern Congo right now is perhaps the worst place in the world to be a woman or a girl. The sexual violence and rape exists on a scale seen nowhere else in the world as it is part and parcel of the conflict. It mutilates and humiliates. Its nature is brutal and vicious; it defies both description and imagination. Often successful in its intent to destroy and exterminate, rape as a weapon of war is causing the near total destruction of women, their families, and their communities.

I know, I know, after all of this, we have lost track of the original questions. Can DR Congo save itself? Are re-negotiated contracts for national wealth one step on the long road to creating a unified and successful nation? Or just one more bump on the long road of African despair.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


That was Dick Cheney's one word reply to an ABC reporter's question yesterday. She asked him his thoughts on the fact that the majority of Americans no longer think the war in Iraq is worth the cost.

No surprise here that Cheney could care less about the American public. And no surprise that he wouldn't be shy about sharing that.

Just the same ol' same ol' from the administration.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I dunno

After hearing the Obama speech yesterday, I was thunderstruck. I am not sure I have heard a more lucid, rational and dispassionate discussion of a loaded question in my lifetime. It is extraordinary how well Obama understands the problem of race and how it plays out among whites as well as blacks. I told one of my history classes that they owed it to themselves to read or watch the speech on Youtube...probably one day, it will be considered as one of the great speeches in American history.

I have to confess, though, that I got water thrown all over my enthusiasm when I engaged some students after class. They were about to take issue with me over the Obama speech...they did not see it as great or eloquent, but a crafty apologia for anti-Americanism and racism. A summary of their reaction reads as follows:

...Obama refused to denounce and sever ties with his pastor, who after all "preaches hate."

...Obama did not condemn anti-American remarks by his pastor(I guess they weren't listening very carefully)

...Obama's WIFE said she was only "proud to be an American now," when her husband is running. What kind of patriotism is that(and how did his wife come into the equation anyway)?

...Obama and his wife and pastor "hate America."

Maybe these students were never going to give the speech a hearing anyway, but I am afraid these viewpoints aren't too far from the American mainstream. People can't seem to understand that African-Americans view American history differently, for good reason, from white Americans. They equate any criticism of America with near-treason. And anyone who "does nuance," tries to understand someone else's point of view, is automatically as suspect as the America-haters.

So I don't know now whether Obama helped himself or not. What I do know is that Americans need to get out somewhere, of their town, their state, their country or merely their comfort zone, and engage some different opinions and viewpoints, so that they can understand that their nation is not viewed as a shining, benevolent city on a hill by everyone, inside or outside America. Maybe then they will be able to listen and internalize criticism as a means to help along the process of personal or national improvement.

I guess I am kind of appalled.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It Never Fails

I always remember something my mother told me years ago - Democratic scandals are all about sex. Republican scandals are all about money. (of course, the 21st version of this is that Democratic scandals are all about sex; Republican scandals are all about money or hypocritical gay sex).

Following hot on the heels of Gov. Spitzer and his six years of hookers, we've got Christopher Ward, treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee stealing $1 million from the committee. Congrats to Mr. Ward for helping to remind us of the party priorities.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DC vs. NYC

I've been in DC for a long time now. And ever since I've been here, there has been this DC/NYC rivalry about various things. New Yorkers who for whatever reason live here instead of NYC (first clue that they're full of it perhaps?) complaining that DC doesn't have as good bagels, or as cool clothing, or as great a downtown, or 24 hour night life, or whatever.

Ok, so we sit here in DC and take that, knowing that hey, we prefer to live here and NYC has too much of this that or the other thing. So it's no surprise to me that when the governor of NY is down here for an event that he imported his call girls from NYC.

But really Gov. Spitzer. Must you continue this anti-DC
nonsense? By your actions, you're telling the world that NYC's hookers are better than DC's hookers. And isn't that just one more insult from our neighbor to the north? I would like to think that DC's hookers are second to none!

I Want My Vote Back

In the 1984 Presidential election, I voted for Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan. Mondale's running mate was Geraldine Ferraro. I was happy to vote for her at the time, proud to have a woman on the ticket.

I want that vote back.

Ferraro is helping the Clinton campaign, great, we all get to choose who we support. But how we each show that support is important. And Ferraro has let me down, not because we differ in candidates, I always support people's right to choose candidate for themselves. But because of her remarks that Obama's success this campaign is because he's Black. I'm sorry, but this campaign, a vibrant young white guy spouting the cause of hope and change would have put Hillary's campaign into the dirt by now.

And the last thing the Clinton campaign needs is someone questioning how a candidate got there - would an Arkansas lawyer have become a NY Senator & presidential candidate if she hadn't been married to a president?

The hypocrisy is getting pretty deep in the woods these days.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A thousand words...

is the approximate worth of this Jack Ohman comment on the strange campaign recently launched by the Clintons to convince Barack Obama to abandon hope of winning the nomination and occupy the back seat of the HRC Presidential bandwagon.

Even a terminal smart-aleck like myself could not hope to improve on this.

Friday, March 07, 2008

We Can All Breathe Easy Now

According to the latest news, the Japanese government will provide armed coast guard officers to protect its whaling ships from interference by anti-whaling protesters. So now, instead of having to lay off and allow those annoying whale populations to grow, the Japanese whalers will be able to continue their work without being bothered by protesters.

I know I speak for all of us when I say it's about time those poor whalers caught a break!

Recruitment Center Bombing

Talk about a flash from the past - my brain is replaying Subterranean Blues as I'm reading another article on the hunt for the person who set off a bomb in front of the Times Square military recruitment center. I doubt that we're seeing the resurgence of Weathermen. But I am surprised that we haven't seen more in the way of war protests. True, it's a new time, full of a new generation that works through text messages and blogs, not sit-ins or marches.

The protests of the 60s were derided and mocked by the general public. But they did help push public opinion against the war, and in the end were a factor in getting us out of Vietnam. Do text-messages and blogs have the same power in the long run? Five years into this mess, protest hasn't done much. Is this the beginning of a new stage? Or just a fluke? More importantly to my mind is the question, will people ever take to the streets again in the numbers and anger of the anti-war Vietnam era? Or have we left that to the monks of Burma?

Monday, March 03, 2008

The War - What's Your Contribution?

I posted from this site in the past - thought considering the $3 Trillion War, it was a good time to bring it back. The National Priorities Project lets us know what states are putting towards the war, instead of, oh, I don't know, taking care of people or the earth, to just name two other areas we might want to focus money at some point.

For my town (it's not a state, just a taxed without representation town) of DC - these are our numbers:
Taxpayers in District Of Columbia have paid $2.2 billion for the Iraq War thus far. For the same amount of money, any one of the following could have been provided:
574,075 People with Health Care
3,969,705 Homes with Renewable Electricity
37,453 Public Safety Officers
38,186 Music and Arts Teachers
1,038,619 Scholarships for University Students
140 New Elementary Schools
7,792 Affordable Housing Units
707,075 Children with Health Care
307,402 Head Start Places for Children
38,186 Elementary School Teachers OR
19,156 Port Container Inspectors

For my home state of Oregon - the costs are $4.2 billion for the Iraq War thus far. For the same amount of money, any one of the following could have been provided:

856,047 People with Health Care
3,955,275 Homes with Renewable Electricity
86,757 Public Safety Officers
70,956 Music and Arts Teachers
720,745 Scholarships for University Students
395 New Elementary Schools
26,044 Affordable Housing Units
1,187,398 Children with Health Care
629,803 Head Start Places for Children
71,789 Elementary School Teachers OR
72,829 Port Container Inspectors

Now remember, these numbers represent ONLY Iraq War funding approved as of now. Add in the 2008 approval request, and these all get shot to hell. For instance, Taxpayers in Oregon will pay $535 million for additional proposed Iraq War spending for FY 2008 and $1.1 billion for projected Iraq War Spending for FY 2009.

Leaves you with a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling all over, doesn't it.

Whats Three Trillion More or Less?

The cost of direct US military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans - already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.

And, even in the best case scenario, these costs are projected to be almost ten times the cost of the first Gulf War, almost a third more than the cost of the Vietnam War, and twice that of the First World War. The only war in our history which cost more was the Second World War, when 16.3 million U.S. troops fought in a campaign lasting four years, at a total cost (in 2007 dollars, after adjusting for inflation) of about $5 trillion (that's $5 million million, or £2.5 million million). With virtually the entire armed forces committed to fighting the Germans and Japanese, the cost per troop (in today's dollars) was less than $100,000 in 2007 dollars. By contrast, the Iraq war is costing upward of $400,000 per troop.

Did you get all of that? Getting rid of Saddam and getting mired in the muck of our own making has cost us TWICE AS MUCH as it cost to get rid of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. And the cost of the war is more than $400,000 per US troop. Almost half a million per man or woman over there fighting this thing is what we're spending. And we already know how little of those funds go to actually protect those men and women.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Vote early, and often(Russian-style)!

Tomorrow is Election Day in Russia--Presidential elections, that is. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's party already triumphed in the parliamentary elections of December 2, so all that is left is the shouting, celebrating and anointing of Putin's hand-picked successor, Dmitrii Medvedev. Hillary Clinton mangled Medvedev's name in Tuesday night's Ohio debate, but it hardly matters, because Medvedev at this point looks as if he is the mouthpiece for Putin, who cannot legally remain as President but can and will stay on as Prime Minister. Putin routinely refers to himself as the "Father of the Nation," so how could the nation possibly continue to exist without him?!

Medvedev's vote total is projected to exceed 70%. I guess this is a "respectable" tally, but one would think the affirmation would be way stronger. All of Medvedev's opponents have been disqualified, his party has a monopoly on media coverage and Russians have all kinds of carrots and sticks to get them to the polls--cash and booze in some places, employer voting checks and schoolkid coercion elsewhere. But I suppose appearances matter...if you turn in results along the lines of 90%, you are probably getting close to banana republic voting, which would make you look ridiculous. And Putin's heir and sock-puppet!

It all takes me back to my student days in St. Petersburg 27 years ago, when one of my instructors at then Leningrad State University assured the class that, contrary to popular belief, the USSR DID have free elections. When asked to explain her reasoning, she declared--with a perfectly straight face-- that everyone was perfectly free to vote for the ONE candidate on the ballot!

Plus ca change...

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