Saturday, November 22, 2003

Forty years ago

I was in law school at Georgetown when Kennedy was shot. I, like all of you, recall where I was when I learned of the shooting in Dallas, and I recall Cronkite's announcement on the TV like it was yesterday.

I didn't wait in the miles-long line to go through the Capitol rotunda to view the coffin (it was freezing cold that day and I had studies, mucho studies that Sunday), but on Monday Georgetown called off classes and I, and my buddies, lined up early on Constitution Avenue for the funeral procession.

Yeah, I recall that too, like yesterday. I know what coat I wore (still cold, and we waited for two hours), and dead quiet. As the place filled up, we backed away from the curb (we were right across from an old hotel, don't recall the name) and found a higher spot behind.

I recall the clack of the horse's hooves (sp?) and the rattle of the wheels of the caisson along the asphalt. I recall my nose was about to fall off from the cold. I recall that for the first time in my life (I'm a western guy, CA and AZ), the tears actually slowed down after they squeezed out of the corners of my eyes. I recall wiping the tears away, expecting ice, but no.

The caisson clacked away, the few soldiers and automobiles behind it were an aftermath. Stuart (my roomate--we lived in an apartment about a quarter mile away from the route) went home and caught the rest of the funeral on TV: the makeshift eternal flame, the salute of the cannons, the black-garbed family, Jackie, the kids, Bobby and Ethel and Teddy.

Jesus. What has happened to my love of such stuff? What happened to my idealism? What happened to America?

Friday, November 21, 2003

Iraqis Shut Out of Lucrative Rebuilding Deals

There's an old saying, "When your neighbor's house is on fire, you don't haggle over the price of your hose." Right, no need to. You'll make out later, if you're the only builder in town. Halliburton, Bechtel, Bremer ... I wouldn't want to be in their shoes on Judgement Day. Yahoo! News

The Hundred Acre Kill Zone

Baghdad Burning

In her blog Today, Riverbend relates that a Baghdad child thought one of the LPDs (Launch Platform Donkeys) looked just like the donkey in "Winnie Dab-doob." I thought this might need explaining, so I sat down in my Thoughtful Spot, and discovered that Winnie Dab-doob is Winnie the Pooh in Arabic. Making the donkey's alterego noneother than Eeyore.

It begs the question though, will Tribune Bremmer have Eeyore added to the deck of cards?

A rant worth ranting about

This LOL bit by Patrick Sullivan, at the Keep Going website, is worth the extra time it takes to giggle, snort and, maybe, recover.

Of donkey carts and preempted compassion

Boy, Erik's been busy today, hasn't he? Except for a tuna melt I had for lunch, I've been avoiding anything with chips today. But I have two brief remarks:

On the donkeys: Holy AssRams, Batman!

On the statement by Mr. Bell of CARE: Codswallop. As much as I'm willing to decry America's hateful and arrogant foreign policy, there's another side to that coin. The US is all over the world with foreign aid. We're doing a helluva lot to get food to the hungry and resources to the poor. And everywhere we send food, it's diverted by corrupt officials or rotting on the docks. Aid workers are as much targets as soldiers these days. So I don't wanna hear anybody talk about poverty. It's hard to pass out bread when you're under attack.

Somebody tell the poor and disenfranchised of the middle east to think about how their bread is buttered. At least we're trying to do the right thing, pouring in billions for rebuilding. We try to send food and medicine and help where it's needed. But it's damn sure the donkey cart and suicide bomber boys never fed so much as a hungry dog.

Donkeys--finally, the Al Qaida link

Even Riverbend, who lives in Baghdad where the donkey-cart attacks occurred, has gotten into the act, finding humor in the chaos. Donkeys to Gitmo?

Another shoe dropping

The US Congress has dropped one billion dollars from its previous 1.65 billion-dollar international development contribution toward the reduction of world poverty. The billion has been channeled to reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, giving short-shrift to the other third-world nations, and leading the UN to conclude that it cannot meet its goal to alleviate half of the worst pockets of grave poverty by 2015.

According to the BBC, "the head of the large American aid agency CARE USA, Peter Bell, said the US Government should realise that the safety of Americans depended not only on vanquishing enemies such as al-Qaeda and the Taleban but on limiting the poverty which bred extremism."

Meanwhile, as the Bushes and Blairs crack a cold one...

The two "Other Developments" blurbs at the bottom of CNN's latest dispatch about the war in Iraq are revealing:

"--President Bush ended his state visit to Britain Friday standing side by side with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the British leader's home town. The president and first lady Laura Bush boarded Air Force One Friday after having lunch with the prime minister and his wife at a local pub.

--Two children were killed Thursday in an explosion after a child picked up an explosive device in a school yard in Karbala, Iraq, and took it into a classroom, a coalition spokesman said. The student who brought the device into the classroom was between 10 and 12 years old. An unknown number of children were wounded in what the spokesman termed a 'sad accident.'"

A blog to die for

I agree with Sean-Paul at The Agonist weblog. Billmon at The Whiskey Bar is my favorite libbie blogger (although I haven't checked out all of them, and new blogs arise every minute, literally).

My favorite phrase of the day, lifted from a comment to Billmon's post (which gives due credit to another blogger), commenting on the rocket fussilade that damaged Baghdad buildings and were apparently concealed in donkey carts:

Yeah, you guessed it: "Weapons of ass destruction."

(Feel free to scroll down from Billmon's post to follow the humor displayed in the comments about the donkey cart attack. Who says Liberals are mirthless bombasts? Well, mostly we are, but this Administration give us so much fodder, you can't help laughing sometimes. And for those of you who don't care to scroll, two examples: (1) "This brings new meaning to the phrase, 'Kick ass.'" (2) You watch--the Republicans will now claim the Democrats are behind these attacks. -- Donkey, symbol of the party, get it?)

First manufacturing jobs, now "outsourcing"

Opportunities for meaningful jobs in the US (meaning moderate pay, moderate skills) are shrinking rapidly, not just because of the ongoing loss of manufacturing within our borders, but also by reason of service companys' "outsourcing" of Internet communications systems to foreign countries. For example, when my Compaq (HP, now) laptop went blank some weeks ago and I called the Help telephone line, I was given re-booting directions by a male voice that had a distinctive Indian lilt. I asked the man where he was--that is, where my landline call had reached--and he answered, "Delhi."

I recall that a couple of years ago I called the same 1-800 number for help and my helper was located in Oklahoma. We talked about the Sooners while I waited for his instructions to take effect on my computer. (In both cases, I will editorialize, the telephonic Help was successful).

Upshot: I wonder how much money HP is saving by hiring Help in India?
Upshot no. 2: I wonder what my Sooner-backer buddy is doing for work now?

However, for a bit of perspective...

Check out these photos from the Hubble telescope, set to music.

Quotes from the dark side

#1--From Tommie Franks, Army commander during Iraq invasion, concluding an interview in which he predicted that if America were subjected to a terrorist attack using WMD, the US constitution would be abandoned and replaced with a military dictatorship:

“It’s not in the history of civilization for peace ever to reign. Never has in the history of man. ... I doubt that we’ll ever have a time when the world will actually be at peace.”

#2--Inscribed on a "collector's item" photo-portrait of Bush, this literary masterpiece from an address to Congress:

"We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail."

#3--From Laura Bush, while touring Buckingham Palace's collection of jeweled Faberge eggs during Bush's trip to England, as thousands of demonstators were kept miles away from the presidential entourage:

"We've seen plenty of American flags. We've seen plenty of people waving to us -- many, many more people in fact than protesters."

Fanning flames, cracking walnuts with sledgehammers, and so forth

From blog-contributor John comes this observation:

Bush's speechifying at Whitehall and consorting with British Royalty, only make him a more pathetic figure; and his use of the Army in Iraq is strikingly similar to the Israelis' use of their military against the Palestinians. In guerilla warfare, the use of tanks and artillery are not effective except to arouse anger and hostility of the population and to indiscriminately kill and maim innocent civilians.

[Ed--To a similar effect, check out this article, comparing our tactics to the Israelis', and to our failed effort in Viet Nam.]

I told ya so

Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Turkey--Wasn't one of the principal reasons not to invade Iraq that doing so would spread the terrorists' attacks throughout the world? Shocking, says Bush. What's shocking is that he's allowed to feign shock while taking delight in the effect these attacks are having on his control over the American unwashed. So long as terr'r attacks are unabated, he can manipulate them and remain in power.

I say again--as frustrating as it is to admit it--Bush has created a no-lose political situation: If terror abates, he claims victory. If it continues, he claims a need to stay in power.

And here's the scary part. The terrorists adore Bush. He's their best ally. So long as he keeps bombing, they keep bombing. He keeps them in power just as they keep him in power. The madmen on both sides are feeding on each other.

Only our side can break this insane spiral of violence. How? By adopting a truly equitable and beneficent foreign (and for that matter, domestic) policy, in which we share our economic largesse with the rest of the world, treat other nations as partners on the planet and reach out even-handedly to address the injustices and inequities that now plague the peoples to the south and east of us. In short, by sharing our wealth and wisdom with the rest of the world instead of hoarding it to feed our greed.

Bush and the neocons are the true evildoers on this planet. Only when they are removed from power is there any hope the US will change the face and the reality that it presents to the world--and only then is there a chance the violence will cease.

This American-language Greek newspaper commentary on the Istanbul bombings takes a more balanced position than I do, but its final three paragraphs, to me, present a founded solution as well as I've seen it laid out.

"For the counterterrorism campaign to be effective, it must be coupled with initiatives that seek to remedy the ideological and political factors that incubate Islamic fundamentalism. Otherwise, the relentless extremists will be seen as heroes in the eyes of angry Muslims, while ideas about the clash of religions and civilizations will increasingly resonate with these populations.

"For hundreds of millions of Muslims, the US is Satan and Bin Laden a hero. The combination of rampant poverty and of the widespread conviction that the Americans are giving Israel support while they seek to humiliate Islam is fueling anti-American sentiment and blind vengeance. The Istanbul explosions may well be the first in a long chain of similar attacks in other European nations whose governments have fallen behind Washington’s policies.

"Much of the responsibility lies with US President George W. Bush. For his war on terrorism to be effective, it must not be used as a pretext for settling broader geopolitical scores. The occupation of Iraq has allowed the US to assert control over the oil fields of the region and to gain a foothold in the heart of the Middle East, but it has done nothing to undermine Islamic terrorism. It has played right into its hands, providing terrorists, if not with political legitimacy, then at least with a new scope of activity."

100,000 March Against Bush in London

Yahoo! News

There was a time when I was offended by protests against American presidents in foreign cities. I considered it a slap in the face to America, by people to whom we are neighborly and generous to a fault. Not tonight. I think they're right to protest against Bush and his indefensible foreign policy. I just wish we could muster this kind of dissent on this side of the pond.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"What's news?" update

As I was saying in my "What's News?" post yesterday, the news covers the noise and the Bushies must have heard me. Now, with bombs blasting, mortars firing, the US Army is filling the Baghdad/Tikrit sky with sound, light and fury. To no avail as a matter of military strategy, probably, but all those rockets firing into the puke-green lenses of our TV reporters' nightscopes sure makes teriffic copy.
So, Bush once again declares war and has the might to win it. Not to defeat terr'r, of course, but to gain coverage. Which, as we know, is what matters.

Dollar and hi-tech jobs decline

The dollar's value against the euro is at an all-time low (it takes more than $1.19 to buy one euro) and the number of lucrative high-tech jobs is plunging.

Does this sound like an economic recovery to you?

Dow Jones predicts economic chaos in Iraq

The legality of Tribune Bremer's decree some months ago handing Iraqi commerce over to foreign investment was questioned in this blog and elsewhere. Now, this article, written by no Bush-basher, does the same, and furthermore points out the economic disaster that will befall Iraq as a result of the decree.

So far Bremer hasn't done anything right. He spends most of his time flying back to D.C. for new marching orders, then pawning them off on the Governing Council. What a mess!

Riverbend is pissed off

The US Army's new tack--bombing, shelling in Tikrit--drives The Baghdad Blogger crazy. For this and other reactions--well written, potent observations from the front--check her out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

What's news?

This piece in the Christian Science Monitor about news reporting from Iraq is a concise, definitive exposition of the concept of "news" as US culture has come to expect and define it. News has an "inherent limitation." "It can't give you all of reality. It necessarily focuses on a tiny piece of reality that is making the most noise at the moment."

During the invasion itself, what was making noise were our tanks and troops' forward progress (and of course Western reporters embedded therein were more able to witness same), so that such activities dominated the news, to the dismay of those who protested the invasion and blamed the news for being pro-Administration. Now, as the noise is being made by the guerillas' attacks on US troops (and coverage of same is available) the news has shifted to focus on that.
The effect is, of course, that now the Adminstration is claiming the news is biased against it.

Oh well.

"The Whole World is Watching!"

Recall the chant in Chicago during the "police riot" at the 1968 Democratic convention? In truth, the mass arrests of demonstators was actually seen by few TV viewers, because only one network covered the story live--the other two stuck with their "normal programming"--and there were no other channels.
But Bush's state visit to England is going to be seen by millions, and this fact has already caused Bush to limit his exposure to embarrassment, by canceling a speech to Parliament where he would likely have been heckled, as he was in Australia. There are those (including this writer) who would label Bush chickenshit as well as chickenhawk.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Road map redux

I'm no Israel/Palestine officianado, but I cannot help wondering why Israel and the US are opposed to Russia's suggestion that the UN re-affirm its commitment to the "road map" that the US (and Russia, the EU and the UN) previously proffered. Could it be that such a commitment requires that Israel eventually tear down its apartheid fence/wall? Just asking.

A little slice of heaven

According to a report that won't make the US news, a couple of nameless Iraqis, including an eleven-year old boy, were shot dead by US forces in Baghdad yesterday, when someone fired a gun in the air to test the weapon as our troops passed by in an armored column. I point this out not to disparage our troops, who are young kids frightened of the locals (in Baghdad, not in the "Sunni Triangle" BTW), and armed to the teeth. I am instead making sure it's not forgotten that such acts, however explicable, are those of a force that is more likely to create hatred than peace.
Let's face it, the notion that we can impose "democracy" (whatever that might mean in an arab, Muslim desert, ruled for centuries by nondemocratic tribes), is nonsense. Even more nonsensical is the idea that the US can shed its mantle as occupier simply by the passage of time. We are digging a deeper hole for ourselves and our troops every day, with every killing. And these killings, we now know, go unreported, unacknowledged, unknown, except by those who witnessed them, who survived them and remember.

So many apt slogans, so little space

"Saving face," "window dressing," "too little too late," "just plain bullshit,"--These are among the phrases that come to mind upon the report of Bush's latest maneuver: his announcement that "sovereignty will be passed to the Iraqis" by June 1. Particularly when the announcement is coupled with Bremer's statement that there will be a "side agreement" (with whom? how can that be known in advance?) that the US troops will be "invited" to remain to provide "security."

In the same Independent article, it is suggested (for the first time, I think) that the US may be willing to cede authority for command of its military forces in Iraq to an international authority, but of course that authority is NATO, which the US dominates. In the first place, it's unlikely the US will do so unless, as with the Iraqis, it can have a "side agreement" that NATO members (including naysayers France, Germany, Belgium) will agree to the US military program. In the second place, the bulk of troops, as with the NATO command in Afghanistan, will be American.

Another word, accordingly, springs to mind: "sham." The fact is Bush is getting his ass whipped in Iraq. His "war on terr'r" is a foul, evil design meant to exploit the reaction of grieving, frightened Americans into allowing him and his warmongering, profiteering capitalists to rule the world; and to his dismay, he is being thwarted by stubborn Iraqis (and resilient Taliban in Afghanistan). To avoid admitting failure, he is papering over these realities by announcements that won't change anything. American troops will continue to die, hatred of the United States will continue to grow, and so will "terr'r."

It can't be more clearly seen than in this latest charade, this latest burst of glossed-over retreats from his supposed "policy," that Bush is worse than wrong and wrong-headed. He is--without doubt now--a cunning, callous cynic.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

"Victory" in Iraq

A "scholarly" study of Americans' tolerance for the increasing death toll in Iraq concludes that the "swing voters," (those people other than perennial "doves" who are sensitive to the death and injuries to American troops) will abide more casualties if they believe "victory" is imminent.
A question not posed by this study (and one that seems manifestly significant) is this: What is "victory"?

Certainly it's not the creation of some happy-talking, hula-hooping, jump-roping society where all is rosy and fine all the time. We don't have that in America, even. Nor, one would think, is it a grateful, peaceloving body politic that exudes democratic confidence and somnolent satisfaction with the status quo. We don't have that, either.

Here's what I think: The best we can hope for--and what Bush and the neocons are after--is some strongly-funded autocracy that is US-oriented and will nod and scrape when called upon, no matter what the citizenry really wants.

Such a system, of course, will only perpetuate violence in Iraq. But get this: That's what the neocons really want. As with the US, where they maintain their power with the constant "threat" of danger, they wish to do so in Iraq, so they can keep troops there indefinitely.

I must keep reminding myself: Bush doesn't want peace, doesn't want democracy. He can stay in power only if the conflict continues.

No toadies, the Brits

Whoever said the British were simply our stooges in Bush's war on terr'r? They stand up to us all the time, defying our most reasonable requests. Like yesterday, when they refused to give Bush's security force "shoot to kill" authority during his upcoming trip to London.

Next they'll be demanding that we come up with a reasonable justification for having invaded Iraq. That's gratitude for you.