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Friday, April 30, 2004

Up is down, black is white, night is day
That's the general gist of every White House press briefing by Scott McLellan. Here's a sample from Thursday:

I mean, this is a good opportunity for the President to sit down with members of the commission and talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from al Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it and how we have been responding to the attacks of September 11th. The President believes their work is very important, and it is very important to helping us win the war on terrorism. He's pleased to sit down with the commission and answer their questions so that they can provide the American people with as thorough and comprehensive a report as possible.

Smirky fought the creation of the commission tooth and nail for over a year, tried, with considerable success to eviscerate its ability to actually find anything out, and only agreed to meet with the commission after months of stonewalling and insisting on a huge list of bizarre conditions.

Here's another sample from the same day:

Q Was the President's position, before the commission, that the administration had done all it could to respond to the threat from al Qaeda, that it took the threat seriously?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think -- I think the President talked about this in his news conference. Looking back, he wishes we had had certain things in place. He wishes we had had the Department of Homeland Security in place prior to September 11th; he wishes that we had had the Patriot Act in place; and he wishes that we were in a position to better share the intelligence information that we had. This is something that happened on his watch, and he very much supports the work of the commission and wants to see their report and see their recommendations and act on those recommendations.

The Department of Homeland Security, aka the Keystone Gestapo, was Senator Joe Lieberman's idea, and was strongly opposed by the Bush administration until rumors about the August 6 2001 PDB threatened to expose Bush as the fraud that he is in the Spring of 2002. And this crap about sharing intelligence information is just that--crap. The secrecy of the Bushies has made us substantially less safe.

What would have been the harm to national security in the summer of 2001 if there had been headlines in the New York Times and on CNN as follows: "FBI reports suspicious behavior: Many people in flight schools don't care about taking off or landing"; "CIA believes that two associates of Osama bin Laden are living in San Diego"; "President Bush briefed on hijacking threat from Osama bin Laden." While we know that Bush doesn't read the papers, I'll bet that many of the folks at the FBI and the CIA do, as well as many cops and other interested citizens. The dots would have been quickly connected. A few of the potential hijackers would have been rounded up, most would have snuck out of the country, and 9/11 would have been averted, perhaps indefinitely.

As long as the vast majority of the public is not terrorists, secrecy in government is an advantage to the terrorists, not the public. Of course, there might have been some hysteria and false accusations against some Arabs and Muslims in this country, but almost certainly much less than there was after 9/11. And with the charges or suspicions already public, they would have had a better chance of defending themselves publicly as well.

The extraordinary secrecy of the Bush administration, which is the focus of John Dean's book Worse Than Watergate, has deprived us all of the wisdom of countless potential dot-connectors, and has provided shadows for terrorists of all sorts to hide in (including those on Cheney's energy task force).
They've made an IN-credible mess...
And expect John Kerry to come up with credible alternatives:

"This may be our last chance to get it right," Kerry said.

"We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq. We must reclaim our country's standing in the world by doing what has kept America safe and made it more secure before -- leading in a way that brings others to us so that we are respected, not just feared, around the globe."

But the Bush-Cheney campaign dismissed the speech as lacking in any "credible alternatives."

Kudos to Kerry for saying "We need to put pride aside." The macho crap is going to get us all killed. And Bush and Cheney have worked hard for three years to create one of the worst messes in world history. Kerry suggests, for starters, trying something different. Given the rampant secrecy in the Bush administration, chances are high that Kerry doesn't have enough information on hand, even as a US senator, to come up with credible alternatives, even if there are any.

One thing that is completely clear from recent Bush and Cheney statements--the result of the election in November is far more important to them than any particular outcome in Iraq. If getting 10,000 more Americans killed in Iraq or in the US would guarantee his re-election, I have no doubt that Bush would choose that course. In fact, I think he already has.
Fallujah Bugout
Apparently there's plenty of confusion and handringing about the Marines handing over the siege of Fallujah to former regime elements, as I mentioned yesterday. Billmon and his commenters have great insights, as usual.

As Bob Herbert said today:
Mr. Bush has enmeshed us in a war that we can't win and that we don't know how to end. Each loss of a life in this tragic exercise is a reminder of lessons never learned from history. And the most fundamental of those lessons is that fantasy must always genuflect before reality.

It appears that the Marines fantasy of subduing Fallujah has genuflected to the reality of its impossibility.

Billmon and many of his commenters suggest that the 1000 or so strong "Fallujah Protective Army," under the command of former Baathist generals, will quickly merge with the "insurgents" in Fallujah and turn their American-supplied weapons against the Marines or whatever coalition forces they happen across. Most seem to think that this action only makes sense as a first step to full withdrawal from Iraq. I hope that's what it is. If the U.S. loses in Iraq, in the narrow Bushian sense, the world wins, including the U.S., in the larger sense. Uday and Qusay are dead. Saddam's in the brig. Declare victory and come home. We can convert our cars to biodiesel, and worry about things like poverty and education instead of terrorism.
Krugman and Herbert strike the same note
The two best NY Times columnists, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, wrote largely the same column today, saying that Bush has gotten us into a nightmare, that there doesn't appear to be a good way out, but that the worst thing to do is to keep pretending that things are okay and to continue doing what you've been doing.

The first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging it.
I've been reading about biodiesel, a renewable fuel which is available today and works in production vehicles. Biodiesel is made from soybean or other vegetable oil, and can be made from waste grease from restaurants. It can be used in unmodified diesel engines, such as the TDI engine available in the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and New Beetle. These cars already get around 45 mpg on petroleum-based diesel, and reportedly get similar mileage on biodiesel. Rather than smelling like a truck stop, biodiesel exhaust reportedly smells like popcorn, and is much cleaner than regular diesel and cleaner than most gasoline exhaust as well. It also puts out much less global-warming-causing carbon dioxide than conventional vehicles do.

I'd like to be completely car free, but sometimes that puts severe limits on what I do. A 45-mpg car burning renewable biodiesel would remove a lot of my guilt about driving! So I'm looking around for a good used VW diesel car (never buy a new car!). There's a place about 20 miles from here that sells biodiesel. Since a diesel Golf has a range of about 500 miles, that shouldn't be a major problem. I could always fill a couple of extra cans, and use ordinary diesel in a pinch.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Too big for prime time?
An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration at the start of the Republican National Convention in Manhattan has been denied a permit to rally in Central Park because the crowd would be too large.
The permit denial letter said the Aug. 29 event, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of protesters, would exceed the 13-acre Great Lawn's capacity of 80,000 people; only 10 acres of the space is usable because of trees, benches and walkways. United for Peace and Justice indicated on its permit that it expected 250,000 demonstrators.
-- Newsday

Rather than deny the permit, New York should require the Repugs to drastically change their policies and their presumed nominees, Useless Dick and his Dummy. That would probably get the number of protesters down under the 80,000 limit, and the demo could go on as scheduled. Problem solved.

The Repugs are absolutely insane to hold their convention in New York. Oh well, they're absolutely insane anyway.
He said it, not me
Mr. Bush chuckled at the suggestion that he and Mr. Cheney had chosen to be interviewed together so they could prop each other up or prevent discrepancies in their answers. "If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place," he said.

Two-and-a-half years later, under enormous pressure, after much stonewalling and insisting on bizarre ground rules (Bush and Cheney together, no audio or video, no transcript) is not "in the first place."

And, of course, he's as usual claiming the right not to meet with the commission when he obviously has information crucial to their investigation. That is the right of a king, not of a supposed public servant. But Bush has never seen himself as a public servant, and on that he is, for once, certainly correct.
Writing to Congress about Venezuela
I just used the web forms to send the following message to Senators Levin and Stabenow and Representative Dingell:

Dear Senator Levin:
I recently returned from a two-week trip to Venezuela. It is a wonderful country with wonderful people. I am deeply concerned that our government may be trying to unduly interfere in the politics there.

President Chavez was elected twice by a large majority of Venezuelans. The unseemly haste with which the Bush administration was willing to recognize the illegitimate coup of 2002 was deeply offensive to many people there, and suggested that the coup leaders had American backing. The so-called National Endowment for Democracy appears still to be meddling in Venezuelan affairs, especially the attempt to have a recall referendum on Chavez.

I met with both supporters and opponents of Chavez during my visit, and was impressed with the sincerity and passion with which they all approach their government. I believe that they can successfully address, if not fully resolve, their differences without U.S. interference. In fact, I suspect that U.S. meddling would likely make the situation far worse.

Please let me know what you know about any interference by the NED or other U.S. agencies in the internal affairs of Venezuela, and please encourage our government to let the sovereign people of Venezuela decide their own future.

Thank you!

Declaring Victory and Leaving?
FALLUJAH, April 29--The U.S. Marines announced a new plan Thursday to replace U.S. forces in this embattled, mostly Sunni city with a small army of ex-Iraqi soldiers and commanders who would be charged with subduing insurgent activity and stabilizing the city. There was no sign of any new agreement with the insurgents who have been battling the Marines for three weeks, however. -- Washington Post

General consensus in the comments on Atrios is that this will be very demoralizing to the gung-ho Marines--basically abandoning their position. One would have to guess that the "small army of ex-Iraqi soldiers and commanders" will be "subduing insurgent activity and stabilizing the city" by disappearing into the city and joining with the insurgents. The city will be stabilized by effectively withdrawing from coalition control.

I don't want to be at all negative about this--it seems like the best option, given the multitude of screwups over the past 13 months which led to the horrible standoff in Fallujah. I want the Bushies to fail in their mission of fully conquering Iraq, but I want them to succeed in protecting American lives (and by consequence many more Iraqi lives). Bugging out of Fallujah is the way to do that, and that's what this sounds like. The "small army" of Iraqis is simply a smokescreen for a surrender. But a surrender is what was needed, and it looks like this may be it. Hopefully they'll do the same in Najaf, and eventually in the rest of Iraq as well.
Quote du Jour
I'm angry at the U.S. government. I'm angry at the people who got us into this war...How do we get to peace in this world when we're making enemies faster than we can kill them? -- Celeste Zappala, mother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Baghdad on Monday.


British MP John McDonnell defends Chavez' Bolivarian revolution against U.S. meddling:

[Chavez'] government's program of reforms has included an additional 1.5 million children in school getting three free meals a day, over one million adults obtaining literacy, 1.5 million more people gaining access to drinking water, the establishment of indigenous people's rights to land and bilingual education, the distribution of two million hectares of land to small farmers, the introduction of food subsidies and vouchers for pregnant women and after birth as well as a massive expansion of health care to working-class families.

...the response of the US has been to support a reactionary right-wing opposition in a series of attempts to destabilize and remove the Chavez government from office.

More Ted Rall
As the 9/11 commission winds down, Republicans are arguing that Bill Clinton, whose presidency spanned eight years from the first World Trade Center bombing to the U.S.S. Cole, deserves far more blame for the attacks than Bush, who had only been in office eight months. But they've got it wrong when they criticize Clinton for not being aggressive enough in the fight against Muslim extremism. If we're to believe the August 2001 intelligence assessment and the word of the jihadis themselves, we know why 9/11 really took place.

It wasn't, as Bush says, because radical Islamists are evil or because they hate our freedom. It was vengeance for 1998, for cruise missile attacks that scarcely raised an eyebrow in the United States even as they convulsions of rage surged through millions of Muslims. It's perfectly reasonable, therefore, to blame Bill Clinton for 9/11, but not because he didn't do enough. What led to 9/11 was a clumsy application of excessive military power and arrogance.

It's a lesson that the United States, so accustomed to swinging a sledgehammer to kill a fly, should take to heart in its dealings with the rest of humanity.
Ted Rall, April 15, via my niece's blog.

There's a reason we were targeted for terror and Sweden wasn't. I disagree with Rall a little, though. He's not giving Bush Sr. enough blame. Without the first and equally illegal Gulf War, there would have been no WTC attacks (1993 or 2001), no embassy attacks, no attacks on the Cole. Until 1990, Osama bin Laden (like Saddam Hussein) was a U.S. ALLY. He was a leader in the Mujahadin in Afghanistan that fought a guerilla (terrorist) war against the Soviet occupiers, with extensive CIA support. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Osama offered to have his soldiers (the remnants of the Mujahadin, morphing into al Qaeda), defend Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion. We now know that that possibility was greatly overhyped by the Bush Sr. administration, scaring the Saudis into allowing U.S. forces to be stationed in their country. THIS was what pissed off Osama--Infidel U.S. troops in the Muslim holy land. Al Qaeda, which had opposed Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan, was quite ready to oppose American imperialism as well. And they have.

Not only Osama bin Laden, but Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and John Allen Muhammed (along with many many unnamed others) were turned against the U.S. by the 1991 Gulf War.

And this is why I can't get on board with Kerry. When it comes to the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" he uses the same sort of dumb macho rhetoric that causes terrorism as Bush does.
They hate us simply because we're there
Catching up on my Ted Rall. His cartoons are sometimes brilliant, sometimes incomprehensible, always ugly. But he writes extremely well, and always to the point.

With my Venezuela trip, I fell behind on my Rall reading. Catching up, I find his April 7 column, "Cut and Run Now," to be spot on, as they say across the pond.

There are three categories of civilians in an occupied country: patriots, collaborators and opportunists. In the calculus of hearts and minds, anything short of 100 percent popularity qualifies as total failure. It's an impossible standard, which is why no nation has ever successfully invaded and occupied another in the 20th century. Even if a majority like living under foreign control, a dubious assumption at best, an occupation is nonetheless doomed. As long as one percent of the population spends its evenings blowing up enemy convoys, fence sitters will be scared to collaborate. In Iraq, that one percent--or five, or whatever--shows no sign of letting up.

Read and understand: They hate us simply because we're there. Leave, and the hatred goes away. If you doubt that, visit Hanoi as a tourist.
Were there some possible future, even 20 or 30 years from now, wherein enough stability had been achieved to allow us to hand off power to a democratic government that truly represented the interests of all Iraqis, I'd argue that we should tough it out no matter the cost. The chance of that, however, is zero.

"The message to Iraqi citizens," says Bush, "is that they don't have to fear that Americans will cut and run." The Iraqis don't fear our departure; they crave it. Moreover, they count on it.

"We can't leave," Newsweek quotes an officer with a major security firm in Iraq (hmm). "If it takes a million f---ing American lives, we have to stay."

The hell we do. Sooner or later, one way or another, we're leaving--as defeated and bankrupt and demoralized as we were when we fled Saigon. The only question now is: how many more people are we going to kill before we cut and run?

The Veep from the Deep and his Dummy
Are talking to the 9/11 commission today:

Some critics, primarily Democrats, have suggested Bush and Cheney insisted on a joint appearance so they can keep their stories consistent. In an interview with CNN, [White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales took issue with that.

"This is not a criminal investigation," he said. "This is not someone before a grand jury. The purpose of these private sessions is for the president and vice president to provide information to the commission and that is what they are going to do."
-- CNN

It darn well should be a criminal investigation. Bush and Cheney are major-league liars who have done everything possible to keep the public from finding out what really happened on 9/11. There must be a reason.
Ten more troops killed in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Eight U.S. troops died in a car bombing Thursday and two others were killed in separate incidents in Iraq, according to the U.S. military.

The car bombing in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, also wounded four troops, a military spokesman told CNN.

737 Names on the Iraq memorial now.

From Clay Bennett.

From Mike Keefe.

There are so many levels of ridiculousness here. Kerry, the former leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, has been trying to outhawk the Bushies on Iraq--more troops, more money. Meanwhile, the chickenhawks in the Bush adminstration, led by Useless Dick, the Veep from the Deep himself, have been trying to attack the honored veteran Kerry on his war record.

I dislike Kerry, but Dick Cheney is probably as close to pure evil as anyone since Hitler.

Meanwhile, the reasoned voice--Vietnam sucked, Iraq sucks, no matter how similar or different they are, and we should high-tail it out ASAP--doesn't get a word in edgewise in the campaign.
Torture in the Prisons
Night raids, indefinite detentions, mass graves (or however the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in this illegal war are being buried). Exactly how is anyone better off now that Saddam is out of power?

One photograph shows Iraqi prisoners, naked except for hoods covering their heads, stacked in a human pyramid, one with a slur written in English on his skin.

That and other scenes of humiliation at the hands of U.S. military police appear in photographs obtained by CBS News, shown Wednesday night on ``60 Minutes II.''
-- NY Times

At least the military spokesman, who usually seems completely oblivious to the long term impact of this illegal invasion, seems to have a clue on this issue:

In an interview with CBS correspondent Dan Rather, Kimmitt said the photographs were dismaying.

``We're appalled,'' Kimmitt said. ``These are our fellow soldiers, these are the people we work with every day, they represent us, they wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down.''

``If we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers,'' Kimmitt said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

People are dying in Iraq...
So that people can continue to die on the highways here.

The U.S. Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 43,220 people died in 2003, up from 42,815 in 2002.

People drove more miles on average last year, so the rate of deaths per miles traveled was about the same.
-- CNN

That's about SIXTY times the number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq. Driving private automobiles, and especially SUV's and other behemoths, is completely unsustainable and threatens to destroy the planet. And our two stupid presidential candidates are arguing about who will keep gas prices low. It's past time to get serious about breaking the addiction to the automobile.
It's no secret
That the Bush White House is outrageously secretive. Washington Post writer Dana Milbank points out that the Kremlin, the Japanese, the Palestinian Authority, and just about everyone else is more forthcoming with information than is the government supposedly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Americans seeking to know what President Bush said in his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month went to the obvious place: the Kremlin.

"The presidents exchanged ideas on the situations in the crisis areas of the world: Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc.," the Russian government said in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency. "They expressed serious concerns about the lack of progress in the settlement of regional problems and the escalation of the situation in these areas."

And what did the White House have to say about this conversation between the world leaders? Not a thing. "White House officials would reveal no details of the conversation," the Associated Press reported.

As Paul Krugman said yesterday, writing about the Veep from the Deep's top-secret energy task force:

What Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, is a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn't obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public.

I've been reading John Dean's book, Worse Than Watergate, which focuses on the extreme and extremely undemocratic secrecy of the Bush White House. Our government was founded in part on the belief that the people should know what the government is doing and the government should stay out of what people are doing. The Bush administration is intent on reversing that.

From Bill Schorr.

From Boondocks.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Eve of Destruction
U.S. Troops Kill 57 Insurgents in Battle Near Najaf
U.S. Warplanes Hit Northern Falluja

Apparently determined to provoke the next big terror attack on the US before the election, the Bushies have apparently gone into all-out war mode, destroying Iraq in order to save it.
Black Hawk Down...Again?
Near the Shiite stronghold of Florence, South Carolina. Do you get the feeling that the Black Hawk helicopter is a serious deathtrap?
When Lovers Fight
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was intended by its Washington parents to give unfettered access by American and other wealthy capitalists to world markets, resources, and cheap labor. They never intended for the WTO to block their ability to bribe senators from farm states by challenging crop subsidies, which are basically corporate welfare. But to sell the WTO to the countries they wanted to exploit, they had to put in some language suggesting that the WTO might actually provide some benefits to those countries.

Since our tax dollars are used to subsidize cotton and other crops far beyond our domestic needs, these crops are sold on the world market. There these crops compete with unsubsidized products of poor farmers in other countries, either preventing them from selling or forcing prices below their costs of production.

Brazil filed a complaint in the WTO against the U.S. for our cotton subsidies, and yesterday Brazil won. The Bushies of course say they will appeal, as always worried about votes in the red states than they are about the plight of the poor billions around the world. But their commitment to profoundly undemocratic trade organizations like the WTO will likely trump even this election-year concern, as it did in the case of steel tariffs last year. A far better result would be if they rejected the WTO entirely, leading to its downfall. Brazilian farmers could then grow for the domestic market without having to compete with subsidized American crops. And eventually, American workers could go back to making things without having to compete with near-slave labor in Latin America and Asia.

"Free trade" is a euphemism for capitalist imperialism, and the sooner it dies the better. Hopefully this WTO ruling is a step in that direction, one way or another.

From Jeff Danziger.

Pat Tillman deserves respect for giving up the high-paid brutal life in the NFL for the low-paid brutal life and death of an Army Ranger. But, with all due respect, lets not give him undue respect. It troubles me that military service, even for corrupt regimes for dubious (at best) reasons, is seen as the most honorable thing to do. I'm not at all convinced that Kerry volunteering to go kill Vietnamese is really all that more honorable than Bush ducking out (although the Bushie attempts to label Kerry as unpatriotic or something are ridiculous, as is Bush's macho strutting in military regalia). Unlike most of his fellow soldiers, Tillman had a very viable economic alternative to enlisting. The imperial media is exploiting his death as heroic to convince America's youth that enlisting in the military is somehow "defending one's country," even though that is highly questionable in the case of Afghanistan and a flat-out lie in the case of Iraq.

Bush was able to get away with his criminal wars (as was his father) in large part because of the militaristic leanings of a large part of the population. Many of those coffins are filled with soldiers who joined the Army because they couldn't get a job at McDonalds, and who realized months ago that they were fighting for a lie. Their stories aren't being told in anywhere near the detail that Tillman's is.
Bush Knew
And did nothing. A video from Take Back the Media.
Why still bother pretending?
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said weapons must be removed from holy sites and schools "immediately" -- and if they were not, "further steps may have to be taken."

He said he would discuss those steps but said places of worship "are not protected under the Geneva Conventions in the event of military action, if they are used as bases for operations and bases to store weapons and other tools of violence."

Wars of agression against countries which have never attacked you are the worst of all war crimes. The U.S. has compounded this guilt through the use of cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, and other insane weaponry. Suggesting that the Geneva Conventions still apply, but of course only to the "enemy" (you know, those people defending their country against illegal foreign invaders), is ridiculous in the extreme. It's like a baseball manager machine-gunning the other team's shortstop and then complaining that their pitcher is throwing a spitball.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Quote du Jour
It is the media's responsibility, and an important one, though very uncomfortable for people in government, to put a very strong spotlight on the government's policies and practices on terrorism, especially given the current disorganization of the federal government's fight against terrorism. In this area, the federal government is in complete disarray. There's been remarkably little attention to the major recommendation the Gilmore Commission made for a substantial reorganization of the government's approach to terrorism. Journalists shouldn't let politicians get away with that.

The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it. Maybe the folks in the press ought to be pushing a little bit.
-- Paul Bremer, now American viceroy in Iraq, speaking at a conference in Chicago on February 26, 2001.


Hugo Says NO to GMO!
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has announced that the cultivation of genetically modified crops will be prohibited on Venezuelan soil, possibly establishing the most sweeping restrictions on transgenic crops in the Western Hemisphere. Though full details of the administration’s policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are still forthcoming, the statement by President Chavez will lead most immediately to the cancellation of a contract that Venezuela had negotiated with the U.S.-based Monsanto Corporation. -- Venezuelanalysis

GMO's are a horrible crime against nature and the planet. Way to go, Hugo!
U.S. soldiers kill four children in Baghdad
BAGHDAD: ONE day after a wave of attacks that left at least 40 dead, four Iraqi children died after being shot by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. According to hospital sources quoted by news agencies in the capital, the children were shot after the U.S. troops whose vehicle had been hit by a grenade opened fire. -- Digital Granma

The U.S. should get the **** out of Iraq, yesterday! Whatever mess we leave behind can hardly be worse than the mess we're in. For the burglar to stay, using the excuse that it will be even worse for the victim if he leaves, is arrogant in the extreme.

A brilliant American knew this 100 years ago:

I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object--robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick--a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor--none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is "the Country"? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant--merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the Country"? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn't.

Who are the thousand--that is to say, who are "the Country"? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country--hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This Republic's life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: "Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor." Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms--independence--would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam's phrase--you should take it up and examine it again. He said, "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war."

- Mark Twain, notes for a book called "Glances at History", writing about the invasion and occupation of the Philippines.

The guy can sing
So maybe Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is also a futbol star! He does look a lot like DC United's goalkeeper Nick Rimando:

New Poll Shows Chavez Will Survive Recall Referendum
Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would unable to recall him if a referendum is convoked by the National Electoral Council, a new poll has revealed. -- Venezuelanalysis
Violence in Chiapas
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, April 22, 2004: The silence in the community of Zinacantan, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, is more profound than ever these days. On April 10, an ambush left 35 indigenous Tzotzil people injured, and now almost no one feels like talking. People are frightened.

Narco News visited this picturesque region today, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. The ambush--which occurred in the village of Paste, just outside of Zinacantan--not only resulted in many injuries, but demonstrated, once again, the bitterness and racism that one part of the society here feels towards the "Indians" when they try to reclaim their rights, their voice, their lives.
Kerry: Redeeming Social Value?
My brother was telling me last night that Kerry had made a statement blaming his vote on the Iraq war on lies that were told to him and other congresscritters by the Bush administration. I haven't otherwise seen or heard directly any hint of recognition from Kerry that his vote was a mistake, but I would be ecstatic to see it. A brief search of his campaign web site turned up nothing, but that's typical. If anyone out there in readerland has a link to a statement by Kerry renouncing his 2002 vote for the war, please send it to me.

Currently, I don't trust Kerry in the least. I don't see how he would be any improvement at all in foreign policy (more efficient wars of domination?), and I doubt if he could turn things around domestically with a Republican congress, even if he really wanted to. His pandering to business interests and those whining about "high" gasoline prices hasn't encouraged me, either.

But I would be thrilled to be shown that I am at least somewhat wrong, and that Kerry actually offers a real positive alternative. Apologizing for his 2002 vote would be a huge step in that direction, and if he's already done that, please let me know!

From Boondocks.
The 9/11 Commission
I missed pretty much all of the testimony (except for about 15 minutes of Condi) and a lot of the news coming out of the 9/11 commission earlier this month. The WSWS has some interesting summaries and commentary here and here.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I've suggested before that I'd write more about Venezuela later. Well, later seems to be here, so I'll give it a shot. I've got a lot to say and my time is limited, so I'll warn you in advance that this certainly won't be complete and probably won't be completely coherent. I'll probably add bits and pieces later on, and maybe come back and edit parts of this post as well.

To start with, I'll mention how amazed I am at how little is known about Venezuela here in the U.S. Most of the people I've talked to since returning, none of them stupid, seem to have little or no idea where Venezuela is--even which continent it's on. I was asked if they speak Spanish there. When I mentioned the problems President Chavez is having, someone asked "Isn't he getting pretty old?" Eventually I realized that he thought that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, was now president of Venezuela. Nobody seems to be aware that Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the U.S., that the Bush administration despises Chavez, that there was a coup attempt two years ago with U.S. backing, or that there is likely to be a recall referendum in Venezuela soon. While almost all Venezuelans could tell you who the U.S. president is, and who his chief "opposition" is, it seems as though very few Americans know even the first thing about Venezuela (of course, this would be true of almost every country on the planet).

For some basic facts about Venezuela (and other countries), the CIA World Factbook is a good place to start. Here's their introductory background statement:

Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have held sway since 1959. Current concerns include: an embattled president who is losing his once solid support among Venezuelans, a divided military, drug-related conflicts along the Colombian border, increasing internal drug consumption, overdependence on the petroleum industry with its price fluctuations, and irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the rain forest and indigenous peoples.

From what I learned, the parts about "benevolent" strongmen and the "president losing support" may be a bit biased, but overall it seems a fair assessment. Elsewhere in the Factbook, I learn that Venezuela has a population of 24 million, has a land area twice that of California, of which only about 3% is used for agriculture. And if you don't know, Venezuela is located in the most northern part of South America on the Caribbean, and borders Colombia, Brazil and Guyana. Spanish is the official and dominant language.

Of course, for the U.S., and especially the Bush administration, the key fact about Venezuela is that it has lots of oil. In 2001, the U.S. imported 1.54 million barrels per day from Venezuela, trailing only Canada and Saudi Arabia as foreign oil suppliers. Before 1959, the "benevolent military strongmen" supplied the U.S. with oil at the low prices it demanded, and the democratically-elected governments between 1959 and 1998 didn't change that much. But Hugo Chavez has made Venezuela more of an aggressive member of OPEC, seeking to raise oil prices and share the wealth with the poor majority in the country who were largely excluded previously. This, of course, is the type of action which quickly gets the attention of the cheap labor/cheap oil conservatives in Washington.

So, ever since Chavez was first elected in in 1998, the opposition (composed mainly of the two parties which used to battle each other for power before Chavez came along) has been trying to get him out, with more or less active support from Washington. Opposition-led work slowdowns and stoppages have attempted to cripple the economy and thereby discredit Chavez. In April 2002, a coup was organized which succeeded in deposing Chavez for about one day. Since then, the opposition efforts have returned to work stoppages and more recently have focussed on a recall referendum, which has involved messy arguments over valid signatures on signatures.

Chavez is a fascinating figure, and the focus of adoration by his supporters and hatred by the opposition. He came from a poor family and came to prominence in the military. He himself was part of a failed coup attempt in 1992, for which he served a couple of years in jail. When he got out, he started promoting his populist agenda, telling the poor of Venezuela that they deserved a share of the country's immense wealth and a larger voice in how things were run. He was elected president in 1998 by a huge majority. One of his first acts was to call a constitutional assembly, which wrote a brand new constitution for Venezuela incorporating some of the most progressive elements from constitutions around the world. Chavez supporters, or Chavistas, adore the Bolivarian constitution of 1999, and many carry paperback copies of it with them to rallies and speeches.

But Chavez began to solidify the opposition shortly after the constitution was ratified. He used the new constitution as a reason for holding new elections, which resulted in a new national assembly, the majority of which were Chavistas. He himself was also re-elected to a six-year term in 2000, even though his previous term was far from over. So while the opposition doesn't directly attack the constitution very often (given its immense popularity), they do point out that Chavez used the new constitution to solidify his hold on power. They also point out that he has taken many actions which are unconstitutional under the new constitution. I don't know nearly enough about either the constitution or the actions taken to begin to judge accurately the validity of the charges. My general impression is that he has done many things of questionable constitutionality, probably much more than he admits, and probably much less than he is accused of.

And the constitution itself is the basis for the recall referendum. Unfortunately, the constitution was quite vague on the rules for such recalls, and much of the current debate is about how to run the referendum under these vague guidelines.

So has Chavez been a good president? He has clearly given hope to millions of Venezuelans who felt completely disenfranchised under earlier governments. His education programs have been fairly successful, increasing literacy. I personally witnessed the Mision Robinson (grades 1-6) amd Mision Rivas (grades 7-12) adult education programs. The students seemed thrilled to be finally getting the education they had missed as children. Even the opposition politician who spoke to us granted that these "Misions" had been successful. The health care proposals are much more controversial, although the debate is less on how well they are working than on how they are being implemented. The most controversial aspect is the use of thousands of Cuban doctors to establish clinics in the barrios and other poor areas. The Chavistas say that without the Cuban doctors that millions of Venezuelans would still be without access to health care; the opposition claims that there are Venezuelan doctors being displaced by the Cubans, and that the program shows that Chavez wants to establish Cuban-style communism in Venezuela. The economy under Chavez appears to be struggling mightily, but it is unclear whether this is due more to his policies or to the deliberate attempts by the opposition to sabotage them through strikes and other measures.

I'm going to try to wrap this post up shortly. My brief verdict: Chavez is more good than bad, a necessary force acting for the rights of the poor people in Venezuela. In conjunction with Lula in Brazil, he offers hope to all of Latin America for resisting the crippling free-trade and neoliberal policies being promoted by Washington (both Republicans and Democrats). He is far from perfect: He defintely has a bunch of skeletons in his closet, and at times he seems to needlessly provoke the opposition. But for the people of Latin America, and even the U.S., to successfully resist the pauperization of the masses and total destruction of the environment that the neoliberal/neocon "free-trade" agenda promises, intelligent charismatic leaders will be required. It seems clear that no such leader will result for the U.S. election this November. So dynamic leaders like Chavez, even with flaws, are probably critical to the long-term survival of the planet.

One more thing. While I hope that Chavez survives the recall, I hope that whatever result is achieved there is without U.S. influence. The only help I intend to offer Chavez is to write to Congress (and Bush and Kerry) to tell them to keep their hands off the process, and to ask you, my readers, to do the same. It's their country, not ours, and neither Chavez nor his replacement will be either legitimate or effective if he's seen as the choice of Washington, not Caracas.

More later...

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Feelings of Foreboding
Anybody else have the feeling that the upcoming Battle of Fallujah is going to be a bloody, horrible mess, and that the U.S. military isn't the only group preparing for it?
Five more soldiers killed, six wounded
Plus 15 Iraqis killed.

The deaths of the five soldiers in Baghdad and the Marine brought to 107 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the beginning of April. Since March 2003, 715 servicemembers have died in this country.

The Pentagon announced Friday that 595 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in the past two weeks, raising the total number of troops wounded in combat to 3,864 since the start of the conflict.

All for nothing. Making us all less safe. George W. Bush is a war criminal of the first magnitude.
I'm afraid there will lots more of this
Army sergeant charged in wife's death

"This has devastated me," Pitts' father, also named James, told KIRO-TV of Seattle. "My son called and said, 'I just killed my wife.' ... He's not my son anymore. I feel my son is still in Iraq. You can thank George W. Bush for this."

Friday, April 23, 2004

Speaking the truth is madness
According to Marcela Sanchez of the Washington Post, anyway:

Indeed for some, Chavez is one of the most charismatic and politically savvy individuals around. Yet, there are lapses when he genuinely sounds mad.

In the course of a few days last week, Chavez sided with Iraqi insurgents, accused President Bush of financing “wars of domination” and said that if Jesus were alive he “would be confronting the U.S. Empire.” He repeated threats to stop selling oil to the United States, and called for sanctions against Bush for anti-democratic practices against U.S. citizens. He also accused Colombian politicians of prodding the United States to invade Venezuela.

Let's look at what Sanchez thinks is evidence of Chavez' insanity:

Siding with Iraqi insurgents? Well, they are defending their country against foreign invaders, something usually referred to as patriotism.

Bush financing "wars of domination?" What else would you call it? Two countries invaded in three years, many more threatened, full support of the brutal Israeli occupation in Palestine. There's no secret about U.S. plans for global domination. It's in the Project for a New American Century, it was in Bush's West Point speech of June 2002 ("America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge"), and in the National Security Strategy of September 2002.

Jesus confronting the U.S. Empire? Well, I think he would, as I wrote last year.

Stop selling oil to the U.S? The Bush administration supported the coup of two years ago and hastily recognized the fascist coup leaders. Chavez certainly isn't crazy to think that the Bushies are his enemies, and oil is the only real weapon he has against them.

Calling for sanctions against the U.S? Well, Chavez should probably butt out of U.S. internal affairs, but the U.S. has never butted out of Venezuela, which is probably the point he is trying to make.

I haven't read enough about the Colombian politicians, but it certainly doesn't seem far-fetched.

This whole column, which Sanchez titled "Venezuelan Follies," relies on Americans being totally ignorant of all of these issues, an ignorance about which the Post and Sanchez are doing little to dispel. It is despicable that Sanchez is labelling Chavez as insane based on his speaking truths of which most Americans are willfully ignorant.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Idiot Quote of the Day
As Repuglicans go, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) seems to be better than most. I mean, I know he's got an interest in those election-stealing paperless voting machines, but at least he comes out every two months or so and blasts the administration on something. But now he's calling for a draft, and he asks this outrageous rhetorical question:

Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?

Well, we're already paying a price in our tax dollars, our deficit, and the greatly increased risk of terrorist attacks which has resulted from the criminal war in Iraq. Many soldiers have been killed and wounded, profoundly affecting them and their families. As for responsibility, I and millions of others have done everything we legally could to try to stop the war, but our opinions were entirely ignored by the administration and a large majority of Congress. Frankly, if you want to really deal with the responsibility question, I think that the entire Bush administration and every member of Congress who voted for the war, including Hagel, Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and the rest, should all be tried for war crimes. They knew that the Bushies were lying for the express purpose of going to war, and did not exercise their duty to stop him. And certainly those 18-year-olds out there, poor or rich, bear no responsibility for the war.

Suggested contrition for members of Congress who voted for the war: Apologize, impeach Bush, demand that the Republican party donate contributions for his campaign to the families of killed and wounded soldiers, demand an immediate withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and resign. We'll try you later.

It makes me sick beyond belief that most people in Congress seem to feel that the only way out of this horrible hole they have dug is to dig deeper. And my hatred of John Kerry is rapidly approaching that which I hold for George Bush. They are both utterly despicable.
Photos from Venezuela
This link should take you to the photos of my trip. If you can't see them, send me an e-mail and I'll send you an invitation.

Here I am doing my Rocky imitation WAY up in the Andes:
A Grudge Too Far

As you may have guessed, one of my main pleasures in blogging is trying to come up with creative headlines. Billmon cites a quote from Col. John Warden, one of the architects of the air campaign in the first Gulf War, talking before the invasion of Iraq last year:

The plan is probably one of the most risky in our history as it launches us off into terra incognita for the U.S.: our first preemptive or preventive war; our first attempt to democratize an Islamic state; and establishment of a very narrow beachhead in the midst of a billion undefeated Muslims.

Billmon uses the map above to show the physical reality: the coalition of the willing has intentionally gotten itself surrounded. Billmon compares it to Barbarossa, Hitler's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. I think another comparison might be the Allies unsuccessful Market Garden campaign in 1944, involving parachute drops far behind Nazi lines, which was documented in the book and movie "A Bridge Too Far," as well as in one segment of the Tom Hanks/HBO miniseries, "Band of Brothers."

The "coalition" has managed to get itself surrounded for no good reason except for aWol's grudge against Saddam. Hence, "A Grudge Too Far."

(Sorry, I think I had something better to say, but I got interrupted and can't remember what it was! Be sure to read Billmon's post though.)

From Bill Schorr.
Bombs going off in Basra and Riyadh, various members of the Bush administration lying to various members of Congress and the press, many other things happening around the world. So what is the banner headline at Michael Jackson Indicted.

It has changed a little, but last night two of the other prominent stories were about Kobe Bryant and Princess Diana. Celebrities: The hallucinogen of the masses.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Shove it, Hillary
No, I don't regret giving the president authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade. -- Hillary Bombbomb Clinton

The Bush family has been a much bigger problem for the international community for many decades, Shillary. By not exercising your authority to rein in the real madman, you have guaranteed that Iraq will cause problems for the world for decades to come.
Heightism is a disease
As a vertically-challenged member of society, I see pictures like this and wonder:

From the New York Times.
The two men on the right are from the south, sure to be a key battleground in November's election. The man on the right, Bob Graham, has far and away the most enlightened foreign policy of the three--he opposed the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Aristide in Haiti. The man in the middle is an eloquent speaker, comes from a modest background, and appeals to most people as being both very intelligent and very nice. The man on the left is neither enlightened nor eloquent, but he is the tallest of the three. You know who won the nomination, and in what order the other two were eliminated. Note also that none of the other eliminated candidates would ever be mistaken for NBA stars, and the one with the best positions on everything, Dennis Kucinich, was probably the shortest.

I remember reading about a poll taken in 1992 when Bush Sr. was running against Clinton. They asked people both who they were going to vote for and who they thought was the tallest. The two responses were strongly correlated. Those voting for Bush thought he was taller; those voting for Clinton thought he was taller. I don't know why the Dems settled for Kerry when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are available!
Back Home
Yesterday I flew from Merida to Caracas in the morning, and then from Caracas to Miami in the late afternoon/early evening. I flew from Miami to Detroit this morning. Why don't they have Internet cafes in airports?

Anyway, I'm catching up on all the bad news from around the world. I'm posting all of my photos on right now; they should be available for viewing in an hour or two. Meanwhile, here's a brief taste of what Chavez is up against:

On Easter Sunday, the opposition held a rally in Caracas. They have a tradition there of "burning a Judas," usually a political opponent. For the opposition, of course, Chavez is THE political opponent. This particular "Judas" has three heads: Castro, Chavez, and Osama.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Sittin' on Top of the World
Well, I was pretty close earlier today. My guide Carlos led me WAY up into the Andes--close to 4000 meters in altitude (You do the math--I'm in a noisy internet cafe in Merida with children crawing around by my feet). Very beautiful. Though the mountains are as tall as the Sierras in California, the tropical latitude means that there are plants growing way up there. The predominant plant looks like some sort of super pineapple; a few were in bloom with pretty yellow flowers. Carlos is a Chavista who said he spent most of the night before dancing and the rest of it screwing. Still, he was ready to go at 8:30, climbing miles into the Andes.

They only charged 50,000 Bolivares (about $17) for eight hours of Carlos' services (not the type he was giving last night). The price included a Jeep ride to the trailhead and a public bus ride back down. I gave Carlos a $20 tip.
I'm guessing that the Iraqis have learned
The last time Iraq disarmed in response to US demands, they were invaded anyway. Now, the US is promising not to invade Fallujah if only the Iraqis there will disarm themselves. My guess is that the only way they'll disarm themselves this time is by firing every weapon they have at the American troops.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Greetings from Mérida!
I´m pretty much on my own now, but what a place! I flew from Caracas to Mérida this afternoon. I quickly found a ¨Posada,¨or guest house, charging the outrageous sum of 40,000 bolivares for two nights. (That´s about $13, or $7 per night) It is right across from the Plaza Bolivar (every city in Venezuela has at least one of those), and close to the teleferico, which is the gondola ride which goes 7 miles and 15000+ feet up into the Andes. I plan on riding it tomorrow.

*UPDATE* The teleferico is closed until Wednesday. I signed up for a hike in the mountains instead. I won't get to 15,000 feet, but it should be spectacular anyway!*END UPDATE*

It is very pleasant here--much cooler and quieter than Caracas. I´ve found an internet cafe which is bright and airy--not the usual dark cave which was common in Caracas and Chiapas. I´m not going to write much more now--got to get out and enjoy this beautiful city!

I see that the Iraq memorial now has 700 names on it, and the fighting is all over Iraq. Way to go, George! (Hugo Chavez calls him Jayorge Doobleyou Boosh.)

Saturday, April 17, 2004

From Steve Sack.

From Ted Rall.
Bush es idiot
People are sacrificing their lives in Iraq from different countries. We ought to welcome that. -- aWol

Q: (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak is saying the new U.S. policy on the West Bank could escalate violence. How do you respond to his concerns?

BUSH: Yes, I think this is a fantastic opportunity.

And some people down here complain about Chavez.
If you´re not depressed about the Bush-Sharon agreement, you should be
Read Billmon for the very depressing details.
Going for it
Not a big chance, as chances, go, but still a little scary. The Global Exchange itinerary here in Venezuela ended last night, and most of the participants have left. I just booked a flight to Merida on Avensa, a small Venezuelan airline, using their Spanish-language web site. Entered my credit card numbers and everything. I´ll take a taxi to the airport tomorrow and hope I´ll be able to figure out how to get on the right plane.

Merida is in southwest Venezuela, at the foot of the Andes. There´s supposed to be a beautiful gondola ride up to the top of a 15,000 foot mountain. Should be great. I hope!

This was definitely a great trip. Venezuelans are wonderful people living in a time of crisis. The divisions in the country are deep, and not many people on either side of the divide are making serious efforts to bridge it. The armed forces and a variety of police forces are involved, along with politicians at all levels. US interference is significant both as reality and threat. As I´ve said before, I´ll have lots to post when I get home. I don´t quite feel up to it sitting here at an Internet cafe in Caracas, and I really should be out gathering more to write about!

¡Hasta la vista!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Super Barrio
We spent most of today in the largest barrio in Caracas, which is called 23 Enero (January 23). They say 1.5 million people live there. From the valley below (which is the main part of Caracas) the barrio looks very crowded and decrepit. But when you´re in it it is quite interesting and even pretty. Being on the hills, it is a bit cooler and windier than down in the city, and when it´s high 80´s in the city, that feels good. It has real roads going through it which you can´t imagine are there when you see it from below. The people are nice. I´m very short on time right now, but I´ll give much fuller reports (and pictures) on everything I´ve seen and heard here in Venezuela. Very interesting stuff, so please tune in next week!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Hugo Chavez!
I just got back from hearing Chavez speak outside the Casa Miraflores in downtown Caracas. It was quite an event. The Chavistas (Chavez supporters) showed up an hour before the speech. Lots of flags, signs, street vendors, singing, chanting, and more. Since our group has already been on TV and to a couple of Chavista events already, many people recognized us. They´re all glad to have norteamericanos come to Venezuela and hear Chavez.

Several speeches and lots of music led up to Chavez´s appearance. When he arrived, there was all sorts of cheering and flag waving. He started his speech leading the crowd in singing some national hymn or anthem which lasted about ten minutes; Chavez has a nice singing voice. As you can probably imagine, he is very dramatic and powerful as a speaker. The crowd adored him. We were pretty close to the stage, and it was pretty crowded. People kept coming up and shaking our hands and talking to us, telling us how great Chavez is. It seems like maybe a bit too much of a cult of personality. He´s absolutely adored by the Chavistas and detested by the opposition.

Four people in our group were given press passes and allowed onto a high platform where they could take pictures. Basically they just said they were Americans, and the security people gave them passes. They really want us to take the Chavez message back to the U.S.

All in all, an amazing experience. It was great to be there!

Earlier in the day, we toured Caracas by van, and then were given a very nice tour of the national assembly building (it has a nicer name that I can´t recall right now). They gave us a nice tour of the chambers, and gave us nice bound copies of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, of which the Chavistas are very proud, and apparently with good reason. When we were in the balcony of the main assembly chamber, several leading Chavista politicians came and talked to us--very engaging and funny. We later saw them being interviewed on TV before the Chavez speech and on the stage with him.

Sanjay tells me that Bush is giving a press conference. I´m guessing that he isn´t coming off as well as Chavez did!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Who could have envisioned planes crashing into buildings?
The Pentagon, for one. In October of 2000, a simulated attack on the Pentagon was staged to help prepare an emergency response.
The Times, they are a changin´!
In a single 17-sentence document, the intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush in August 2001 spells out the who, hints at the what and points toward the where of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that followed 36 days later. -- NY Times

Can you say "impeachment?" I knew that you could.
I´ve looked at Venezuela from both sides now
Besides being Easter, today is the second anniversary of the shooting at the Llaguno Bridge here in Caracas. We went first to an opposition rally--those opposing Chavez. We then went to a Chavista rally by the Llaguno Bridge itself. The feelings are strong on both sides, but fortunately we didn´t see any violence today. It may not be until after I get back that I write any long posts about the situation here in Venezuela; suffice it to say that there are a lot of parallels to the US, and a lot of stark differences as well.

We were on the pro-Chavez TV station last night. Three people in our group were interviewed live for about 40 minutes.

Update: There was some violence at the Chavista rally today. Michelle´s account:

We didn´t get arrested at the rally, but we have another one coming up. We did get pepper sprayed. Well, it was not intentional, but the police were brutally arresting a street vendor and got carried away with the spray. Our guide got a pretty good face full, my roommate got a blast and I got away with only a few molecules up my nose.
Bush: Memo had no 'actionable intelligence'
He´s an expert on that topic, having no actionable intelligence himself.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Learning Venezuela
First day of talks here in Caracas is complete. We heard from a couple of professors--one an expert on the overall history of modern Venezuela, the other an expert on the oil industry. Some interesting facts:
  • The society here is very polarized. The majority of the people, who are poor, support Hugo Chavez and think he´s doing great things. The middle and upper classes think he´s a murderer who´s destroying Venezuela. The two sides rarely talk or try to compromise. Some middle-class families and neighborhoods are bitterly divided.
  • Chavez´s speech are frequently extremely derogatory of the upper classes; the first professor who spoke said that she supports Chavez for the most part, but can´t stand to listen to his insults for more than ten minutes.
  • Gasoline costs 17 cents per gallon here.

Mas tarde.

For some very scary insights from Iraq, be sure to read Juan Cole regularly.
Greetings From Caracas!
I finally found an open Internet cafe. I got here yesterday afternoon. The city is practically shut down for Holy week. I´ll have a lot more to post when I have more time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Off to Venezuela!
I leave tomorrow (well, I guess today now that it's after midnight). I'll probably be able to post occasionally, but nowhere near as much as usual. I should have some interesting posts when I get back, though! Stay tuned!
They told them so
Why be crass and say "I told you so" as the predicted quagmire in Iraq becomes even worse -- 12 Marines killed in Ramadi. Heck, THEY knew better, once:

I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we'd have had to hunt him down. And once we'd done that and we'd gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we'd have had to put another government in its place.

What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi'i government or a Kurdish government or Ba'athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it's my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.
-- Dick Cheney, April 29, 1991.

If we had kept going, we would have gone beyond what we said we intended to do, beyond what our coalition partners agreed to, beyond what the UN Security Council signed up to, and beyond what the Congress and the American people approved. We entered the war with clear-cut military objectives.

We certainly had the military capability to go on to Baghdad, but for what purpose? To get Saddam Hussein? I doubt that he would have waited at his palace for us to drive up and get him. So we would have needed to send a very large force and might well have faced intensive combat inside the city. The artillery, tanks, and air power that performed so well for us in the open desert would not have been very useful inside a major city. That would have cost us dearly in terms of additional casualties. And I'm not sure what we would have done with Baghdad, once we had it.

But once we had prevailed and had toppled Saddam Hussein's government, we presumably would have had to stay there and put another government in place. And what would that have been: a Suni government, a Shia government, a Kurdish government, or another Bathist regime? How long would US forces have been required to say in to prop the government up? And how effective could it have been if the government we put in had been perceived as a puppet of the US military?

My guess is that if we had gone to Baghdad, we'd still have US forces there today. And to involve American forces in a civil war inside Iraq would have been a quagmire, because we would have gone in there with no clear-cut military objective. It's just as important to know when not to use force as it is to know when to use it. And we got it right both times.
-- President George H. W. Poppy Read My Lips Bush the 41st, March 30, 1992.

It sounds like they think that the world was better off when Saddam was still in power. Very hard to disagree with them now. I don't think Bush Sr. was right both times--the first Gulf War was as much a crime as the second. But I am sure that Bush Jr. was wrong both times; wrong to go in, wrong to stay in.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Miserable Failure
From Daily News Online contributor Mike Hinds:
By launching a war against a country that he falsely claimed posed a threat to America, President Bush not only undermined the fight against al Qaeda, he undermined the budget, relations with allies, regional stability, military readiness, and American security both at home and abroad. And by undermining troop morale and casually tossing our forces into a two-front quagmire, he has potentially unleashed a cascading effect of further erosion of morale, de-enlistment, and an ever-weaker ability to respond to the true threat of terrorism. Could Osama bin Laden have planned it better?

That reminded me of my first (and only) political cartoon, which I "drew" in July, 2002:

I'd better enjoy it while I can...
The Detroit Tigers lost 119 games last year, almost setting a record. At this moment, they are undefeated and in first place!

From Bill Day.
Seven more soldiers killed
And, of course, untold numbers of Iraqis. Plus wounded. Plus contractors, coalition forces, etc.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Depleted Uranium
The Bushies fret about the "terrorists" using dirty bombs, when they've been using them all along:

Army officials at Fort Dix and Walter Reed Army Medical Center are rushing to test all returning members of the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard for depleted uranium contamination.
Army brass acted after learning that four of nine soldiers from the company tested by the Daily News showed signs of radiation exposure.

The soldiers, who returned from Iraq late last year, say they and other members of their company have been suffering from unexplained illnesses since last summer, when they were stationed in the Iraqi town of Samawah.

Dr. Asaf Durakovic, a former Army doctor and nuclear medicine expert who examined and tested the nine men at The News' request, concluded four of them "almost certainly" inhaled radioactive dust from exploded depleted uranium shells fired by U.S. troops
. -- NY Daily News
Glad to Have Some Company
Billmon thinks it sucks that Americans are more concerned about gas prices than they are about our miserable failure of a war:

What does it say about a country -- a country at war, no less -- when its citizens are paying much closer attention to the price of a gallon of gas than to the fact that four of their countrymen were just killed, burned and hung upside down from a railroad bridge in Iraq for the world to stare at?
Coalition civilian head L. Paul Bremer on Monday accused al-Sadr of trying to usurp "the legitimate authority of the Iraqi government and the coalition." -- CNN

How is the "authority of the Iraqi government and the coalition" legitimate? An illegal invasion based entirely on lies? These clowns are completely down the rabbit hole.
The Tragedy of the Commons
California shows once again why public referenda are bad ideas.

A generation ago, proposition 13 was passed by referendum (direct public vote instead of through the legislature) in California. It put severe limits on property taxes and resulted in significant and ongoing cuts in school funding. The progressively more ignorant public (my brilliant nieces being exceptions) which resulted from these cutbacks just can't get enough of a bad thing. Other stupid referenda have been passed, making the crisis worse. And then, after these voters twice elected the horrible Gray Davis as governor, they then decided a recall election would be fun, replacing Davis with the even worse Arnold Gropengrabber.

Now, the real axis of evil, Wal-Mart, is trying to use California referendamania to weasel their slimy way into Inglewood after the city council repeatedly voted to keep them out. The vote is tomorrow, and I'm guessing that the typical voter will think "I don't work for those stores that will be closed, but I will be able to buy crap for a lot less!" And they'll vote for the Wal-Mart, putting hundreds of their fellow Inglewoodians(?) out of work, and allow Wal-Mart to continue to make a mockery of labor and anti-trust laws while continuing to destroy what little is left of the U.S. manufacturing base. The grocery workers who went on strike for months to retain some of their medical benefits won't have a chance on the next go-round; most will probably have been laid off by then anyway.

I shouldn't be too harsh on the Californians; anyone who shops at Wal-Mart is supporting the destruction of American jobs, both quality and quantity. The monopoly control exercised by Standard Oil and other late 19th-Century behemoths led to the passing of anti-trust laws in the first place. And Wal-Mart is as bad as any of those.
Kerry is a wuss and a hawk
In light of the unacceptable statement about the death of Americans made by Daily Kos, we have removed the link to this blog from our website. As John Kerry said in a statement earlier this week, "My deepest sympathies are with the families of those lost today. Americans know that all who serve in Iraq - soldier and civilian alike - do so in an effort to build a better future for Iraqis. These horrific attacks remind us of the viciousness of the enemies of Iraq's future. United in sadness, we are also united in our resolve that these enemies will not prevail." -- From the John Kerry for President blog

To which Billmon has a superb response:

Now this little wad of rhetorical bs would not sound at all unnatural issuing from the piehole of a neocon apparatchik like Paul Wolfowitz -- or typed up in a Halliburton press release. It willfully ignores everything we've learned over the past year about the reasons we went to war in Iraq, glosses over the gross incompetence with which the war has been managed, studiously avoids any mention of the internal conflicts that are now tearing Iraq apart, and gives the administration full credit for desiring only to "build a better future" for the Iraqi people.

Am I the only one who finds this incredibly ironic? That John Kerry, who launched his political career as an angry veteran protesting a disastrous, unwinnable war, is now a presidential candidate glibly endorsing a disastrous, unwinnable war?

I wonder how a President Kerry would feel if, a couple of years from now, he were to find a new generation of war protesters lined up outside White House gates, screaming "Hey, hey, JFK, how many kids did you kill today?"

I guess irony is one of those things you can't afford to recognize about yourself if you want to be president. And I'll still vote for Kerry, even though I do recognize it. My reasons for supporting him have always been, and still are, independent of my feelings about him. But I do have one question I'd like to ask -- even if it gets Whiskey Bar delisted from the Kerry campaign blog. It shouldn't be too hard to answer, since I know he's heard it before.

So please tell me Senator: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Does Kerry really believe that "Americans know that all who serve in Iraq ... do so in an effort to build a better future for Iraqis?" If so, he doesn't deserve to be president. It's about oil and power, Senator--always has been. You Skull & Bones guys are all alike. And don't you dare pretend to speak for what I know. Those who serve in Iraq, soldier and civilian alike, do so in an effort to make the wealthy elite in this country even wealthier.
You've got to go through a lot before you finally find some benefit
The ongoing disintegration of Iraq is bad, if predictable, news. In January, conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts wrote about what might happen if the Shi'ites become violent, which they now have. The prediction:

If the Shi'ites become violent, the insurgency would be too large to be contained by our present occupying force. Moreover, the outbreak of a general rebellion in Iraq would spill over throughout the Middle East where unpopular secular rulers are sitting on a smoldering Islam. Our puppet in Pakistan would likely bite the dust. Israel would then face countervailing Muslim nukes.

Hmmm...Forgive me, but I'm even more worried about the U.S. facing countervailing Muslim nukes.

If you think more US troops are needed now in Iraq, imagine how many more would be required to deal with a wider conflagration. Where would they come from? The US military is already so thinly stretched that soon 40% of the occupying troops will be drawn from the National Guard and reservists, resulting in tremendous disruption in the affairs of tens of thousands of families.

Pilots and troops are shunning the cash bonuses offered for reenlistments. The troops recognize a quagmire even if their neocon overlords cannot. The only source of troops is the draft.

Vietnam all over again. Not good news if you're young, or used to be.

A Shi'ite insurgency that brought back the draft would deprive Bush of reelection.

Finally, there's the benefit! Why did and does the world have to go through so much death and destruction before people finally realize that our pResident is a bloodthirsty moron?
The core intent Bush's tax cuts has been hidden from most of the public. But this week, Newsweek pulls back the curtain (lots of that going around now, finally!):

The blather from both sides obscures the real, but largely hidden, agenda behind the Bush tax cuts. Bush has been open about each item he wants: lowering taxes on capital income, such as dividends and capital gains; creating two big new income-sheltering investment plans; eliminating the estate tax. But he's not been at all forthcoming about the ultimate effect of his program. If Bush gets what he wants, the income tax will become a misnomer—it will really be a salary tax. Almost all income taxes would come from paychecks—80 percent of income for most families, less than half for the top 1 percent. Meanwhile taxpayers receiving dividends, interest and capital gains, known collectively as investment income, would have a much lighter burden than salary earners—or maybe none at all. And here's the topper. In the name of preserving family farms and keeping small businesses in the family, Bush would eliminate the estate tax and create a new class of landed aristocrats who could inherit billions tax-free, invest the money, watch it compound tax-free and hand it down tax-free to their heirs.

By drastically favoring investment income over salary, fees and other "earned income," Bush would make it harder for people who start out with nothing to earn their way up the economic ladder, because they'd pay full taxes on almost everything they make, but he'd shower rewards on people who have already made it to the top rungs.

Pay no attention to the bloodthirsty ogre behind the curtain!
This was the week the curtain got pulled back on the Bush presidency. In exchange for allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath, President Bush gets to bring along his vice president when he appears privately before the commission.

A top Republican strategist dubbed the legal document striking the unusual deal ?the Wizard of Oz letter? because it strips away the myth that Bush is in charge. Until now, it?s been all speculation about Vice President Cheney?s influence. With the revelation of the tandem testimony, nobody with a straight face can deny Cheney is a co-president or worse, the puppeteer who pulls Bush?s strings.
-- From Newsweek's Eleanor Clift.

From Jack Ohman.

From Rob Rogers.

From Ted Rall.
If we don't base our electoral decisions based on what they don't want us to do, then the terrorists haven't already not won!

From today's Tom Tomorrow cartoon (ad viewing required).

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Feces. Fan.
A coordinated Shiite militia uprising against the American-led occupation rippled across Iraq on Sunday, reaching into the heart of Baghdad and the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City on the capital's outskirts and racking the holy city of Najaf and at least two other cities in southern Iraq.

Seven American soldiers were killed in Sadr City, one of the worst single losses for the American forces in any firefight since Baghdad was captured a year ago.

An Iraqi health official in Najaf said 24 people had been killed and about 200 wounded in clashes that ensued when armed militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, a 31-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric, besieged a garrison commanded by Spanish troops on the road leading into Najaf from neighboring Kufa.

An American military spokesman said one Salvadoran soldier had been killed in Kufa and 13 soldiers wounded, including an American. All the other casualties were said to be Iraqis.
-- NY Times

CNN says that "dozens more" U.S. troops were wounded and a Salvadoran soldier was killed.
Looks like I'll be roughing it in Caracas...

Photo from the Hotel Savoy in Caracas.

[Update] Michelle informs me that the Hotel Savoy in Caracas doesn't look like that. It looks like this:

They Don't Give Us Flowers Anymore
Not that they ever did. The violence of Fallujah has spread to Baghdad and the south of Iraq, with armed militias opposed to the American-led occupation controlling streets in some areas.

Iraq was racked today by its most violent civil disturbances since the occupation started, with a coordinated Shiite uprising spreading across the country, from the slums of Baghdad to several cities in the south.

By day's end, witnesses said Shiite militiamen controlled the city of Kufa, south of Baghdad, with armed men loyal to a radical cleric occupying the town's police stations and checkpoints. More than eight people were killed by Spanish forces in a similar uprising in the neighboring town of Najaf.

In Baghdad, American tanks battled militiamen loyal to Moqtada Al Sadr, the radical cleric who has denounced the occupation and has an army of thousands of young followers.

At nightfall today, the Sadr City neighborhood shook with explosions and tank and machine gun fire. Black smoke choked the sky. The streets were lined with armed militiamen, dressed in all black. American tanks surrounded the area. Attack helicopters thundered overhead.

"The occupation is over!" people on the streets yelled. "We are now controlled by Sadr. The Americans should stay out."
-- NY Times

Billmon, in an unfortunately necessary "I told you so," tells us that he did tell them so:

A more plausible risk would seem to be something comparable to the 1968 urban riots here in America -- a wave of civil unrest that breaks out in many cities at once, and quickly spirals out of control. The insurgents, no doubt, would be happy to fan the flames any way they can.

Such a scenario could leave the Coalition with two choices: Crack down very hard, with indiscriminate use of lethal force, or, let the riots burn themselves out before trying to restore order. Either way, the Bush administration would be looking at a PR disaster, one that would make it impossible to pretend that things are gradually "getting better" in Iraq.

To be fair, Billmon wrote this last October. But I'd have to say that it is never impossible for the Bushies to pretend. They've been pretending that Bush is a good president for three years; anything else (black is white, night is day, Iraq is getting better) should be easy by comparison.
They Knew
A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.

She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".

Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

She told The Independent yesterday: "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She added: "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used ­ but not specifically about how they would be used ­ and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities ­ with skyscrapers."

The accusations from Mrs Edmonds, 33, a Turkish-American who speaks Azerbaijani, Farsi, Turkish and English, will reignite the controversy over whether the administration ignored warnings about al-Qa'ida. That controversy was sparked most recently by Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism official, who has accused the administration of ignoring his warnings.

I've seen Edmonds' story on other blogs, and I apologize for not posting it earlier. I keep getting that shudder of excitement when I think that this, THIS, is finally the piece that will bring Bush's house of cards down. But I recall someone suggesting that Bush wouldn't be impeached until they caught him with a live boy or a dead girl, and that still seems to be operative. Lie after lie has been told and exposed, law after law has been broken, thousands have died, and smirky is still living in the house he stole in 2000.
My Head Hurts...Or Why Bloggers Shouldn't Advertise
I took a quick look at Atrios, who led me to MaxSpeak writing about something that right-wing blogger Instapundit (no link here, on purpose) said about something that mainstream Democratic blogger Daily Kos said about the "contractors" who were killed in Fallujah on Wednesday. Kos wrote "I felt nothing" and "screw them." He explains that he was angry because five real soldiers were killed the same day and got far less attention than the mercenaries (Kos is a combat veteran).

So the thought police, led by Instapundit, came after Kos. Since Kos was running Kerry ads and raising significant bucks for the Kerry campaign, some of the wingnuts told Kerry that he should not have ads on Kos. And Kerry agreed, in case you have any doubt about where he takes his orders from.

I'm not sure I can derive a single coherent lesson from all of this, but I can come up with a few comments:
  • Kerry is a real wuss
  • Being able to step over the line from time to time is part of the beauty of blogging
  • Running ads may take away some of that ability
  • Finally, it's VERY tempting to go back and be ignorant again. Knowing more about what's really going on in the world and in politics hasn't increased my personal happiness. Watching Congress approve the Iraq war under pressure from the Bushies in 2002 despite all my phone calls and such (although all of MY reps voted against it!), watching supposedly anti-war pressure groups like MoveOn and Council for a Liveable World continue to support people like Kerry after they voted for the war, watching the U.S. start an illegal war despite all my marching and writing and calling, watching Bush's popularity remain high no matter how much evidence of his crimes is exposed--ignorance sure looks like bliss about now.
Ten-Day Forecasts
Ann ArborCaracas

I'll be in Caracas Thursday night! I'm going on a Global Exchange tour; we'll learn a lot about Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian Revolution." We'll also be warm!
Clarke was basically right
According to Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank in an analysis article in today's Washington Post.

... [The] broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.

Of course, the pot insists that the kettle is black:
"The public continues to get different stories on different days depending on which Mr. Clarke they ask or read," said James R. Wilkinson, the deputy national security director for communications. "These contradictions directly undermine his overall case against the administration."

What about the stories the public has gotten from Mr. Bush about the reasons for his illegal war? Or from Mr. Cheney about Iraq's nuclear capabilities? Or Mr. Powell about the bioweapons? The biggest errors they can find in Clarke's statements are whether someone was in the room at a particular time and things like that. This could be important in some cases, but the Post writers state that none of the alleged errors change the gist of what Clarke is saying.

As far as I'm concerned, the case against Bush was made a long time before Richard Clarke even started writing his book. The problem isn't making a better case anymore, it's getting through the thick skulls of the millions of Americans who ignore all the evidence and support Bush, wrong or wrong.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Gee, ya think?
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday that part of his dramatic testimony to the U.N. Security Council before the Iraq war was based on intelligence that appears to have been unreliable. -- CNN

The rest, of course, was complete crap.

The worst administration in American history has for over three years now had way more credibility with much of the public than it ever deserved. Not much foreign policy experience? Well, they've got Powell at State. A bunch of chickenhawks? Well, there's Powell, y'know, who was in Vietnam. A bunch of silver-spoon rich white guys? Powell is black and not from a rich family.

Much of the popular story of the (first) Gulf War is a lie; the true story is a lot nastier and bloodier. But in the spring of 1991 the leaders in that war had a shiny glow about them. But Powell wasn't a prissy twit like Bush Sr., and he wasn't to blame for the lousy economy. Powell wasn't creepy like Cheney, or profane like Schwartzkopf. The appearance was that he did his job as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with quiet competence. His glow was the brightest, and lasted the longest.

In December 2000, before the Supreme Court decided to give the presidency to aWol, the Bush campaign paraded Powell before the camera as their choice for Secretary of State. His glow hadn't worn off, and many people (myself included) were at the least confused into thinking that maybe W wouldn't be so awful in foreign policy since he would have Powell working for him. I suspect that this nomination, before they were really entitled to make it, gave the Bushies some ammunition against those who were pushing for full recounts.

I know a lot more about Powell now than I did then. He's a fraud. He tried to cover up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. He was up to his stars in Iran-Contra. The first Gulf War was pretty much genocide of Iraqi soldiers and civilians (first by U.S. bombs, then by U.S. troops, and then by Saddam's forces against civilians while U.S. troops stood idly by and let those mass graves get filled), and Powell again was a major player in all of that. In a just world, by 2000 he would have been in a prison somewhere for war crimes. Instead, he was using his ill-gotten credibility to boost the chances of an obviously incompetent presidential candidate.

His February 2003 UN speech was not an abberation which sullied the reputation of a great man. It was the crowning achievement of a life of crime.
Slaves 'R' Us
According to the New York Times, the practice of shaving time off of employees' pay records to cut costs is rampant in the already low-wage retail and fast-food sectors.

Another reason managers shave time, experts say, is that an increasing part of their compensation comes in bonuses based on minimizing costs or maximizing profits.

"The pressures are just unbelievable to control costs and improve productivity," said George Milkovich, a longtime Cornell University professor of industrial relations and co-author of the leading textbook on compensation. "All this manipulation of payroll may be the unintended consequence of increasing the emphasis on bonuses."

Unintended? I don't think so! Store managers are granted their tiny bit of status and barely-living wages and benefits in exchange for their willingness to squeeze as many hours from their employees for as few dollars as possible.

Friday, April 02, 2004

From John Trever.

Trever is usually about the third or fourth worst cartoonist on the Slate cartoon pages, in my opinion. He generally sides with Bush. But I really like this one. It not only provides a different perspective, but it provides useful information (the other prices) to support that perspective.

From Kevin Siers.
Pickering Update
A few days back, I discussed the 60 Minutes segment on Charles Pickering, Bush's controversial appointee to the 5th Circuit Court from Mississippi. While fully aware that the corporate media frequently lies like a Bushie, I thought that Pickering came off looking very good. Charges of racism against him seemed to be pretty much unfounded based on what was shown and what he said on the show.

I posted this opinion on our local peace-group message board. The president of our local ACLU chapter, Mary Bejian, replied as follows:

I saw the 60 Minutes piece and was immediately suspect when it became clear they were only focusing on the sentencing in the cross burning case. There's much more to Charles Pickering regarding civil rights, all bad. Check out People for the American Way's site on Pickering and an article from Go to the website of any organization you trust and see what they have to say about Pickering. Not to mention, Don't Trust Corporate Media. Just because it's 60 Minutes doesn't mean it's reliable.

My response to Mary (and to you!):
Thanks for the response. After reading the info at those links, I certainly have more concerns about Pickering than I did Sunday night. But I don't see a real smoking gun that tells me that he is unfit to be on the court. (There may be one and I just don't see it, I'll gladly admit.) The PFAW stuff seems to include a lot of pick-and-choose stuff we're like what we're hearing from Bush about Kerry; I'm not saying it's wrong, but providing a one-sentence summary is not nearly enough to understand either a court case or a vote in the legislature. PFAW didn't provide links to the cases and votes they referred to, and their "complete case" page had less information than their "just the facts" page. It really looks like a political smear ad.

The Salon piece is somewhat more troubling, but mostly because of Pickering's apparent stonewalling of the Senate, not because of any great revelations about his past. His law partner in the early '60's appears to have been a racist, and Pickering may have switched parties for racist reasons. He refuses to concede these points. Background as part of an overall pattern, perhaps. But I can certainly see that his recollection of what happened 40 years ago may be a bit filtered. His partner was his friend, they lived in a society where being a racist was the norm, he probably switched parties for a number of reasons.

Don't get me wrong; I don't trust Bush, so I suspect that Pickering is horrible. It's just that I don't trust Schumer or many of the Democrats either, and if they're pick(er)ing the wrong fight, they're hurting their own ability to make a difference when the right fight comes along. And I don't trust 60 Minutes either; I just thought that they presented an excellent case, and it made me question my previous assumptions. Hopefully the Richard Clarke segment the week before had a similar effect on some people on the right.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Shorter George W. Bush:
My one insane policy interfered with my other insane policy.

Here's the long version, from the Complete Bushisms web site:
The march to war affected the people's confidence. It's hard to make investment. See, if you're a small business owner or a large business owner and you're thinking about investing, you've got to be optimistic when you invest. Except when you're marching to war, it's not a very optimistic thought, is it? In other words, it's the opposite of optimistic when you're thinking you're going to war. ?Springfield, Mo., Feb. 9, 2004

And this isn't just a one-off gaff--he's been making this bizarre argument for months. I suggest that he complete the circle, and blame his failure in Iraq on the tax cuts. The scariest thing is that the wingnuts would STILL believe him.

Future Bushism: "See, my tax cuts didn't work because of my war, and my war didn't work because of my tax cuts. It's obviously not my fault."

A few more choice real Bushisms:
King Abdullah of Jordan, the King of Morocco, I mean, there's a series of places—Qatar, Oman—I mean, places that are developing—Bahrain—they're all developing the habits of free societies.
The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the—the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice.
See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction.
So Depressing
Billmon runs one of the best blogs around. I was reading this post, which concerned right-wingnut responses to yesterday's killing of four American "contractors" (actually mercenaries, apparently) in Fallujah and the dragging of their bodies through the streets and so forth. Now personally, I tend to think that dead is dead, and don't see how dragging or mutiliating a corpse is anywhere near as bad as creating one (by killing somebody). I mean, I don't do it, and would probably switch to the other side of the street if I saw a corpse-abuser coming, but in the hierarchy of crimes I rank murder as far worse. I understand that many don't agree. Anyway, Billmon pointed out some of the immediate reaction from the wingnuts at a horrible little website called "Littlee Greene Footballse." I added an extra "e" to each word hoping to prevent getting a similar reaction to what Billmon got--he actually LINKED to LGF!

And the trolls came a runnin' to his site, calling him and his usual liberal patrons every name in the book. Reading their suggestions just reminds me of how many truly warped people there are in this country. I find it very depressing.