Friday, December 22, 2006

"Path to Victory"

During the press conference Wednesday, in response to a question about the overwhelming opposition among the American people to continuing our military presence in Iraq and "…are you still willing to follow a path that seems to be in opposition to the will of the American people?" Bush replied,

"I am willing to follow a path that leads to victory, and that's exactly why we're conducting the review we are. Victory in Iraq is achievable…. it's been a tough period for the American people. They want to see success. And our objective is to put a plan in place that achieves that success. I'm often asked about public opinion. Of course, I want public opinion to support the efforts. I understand that. But, Jim, I also understand the consequences of failure. And, therefore, I'm going to work with the Iraqis and our military and politicians from both political parties to achieve success."

Cheney said the same thing more directly a while ago, to paraphrase,

"The American people may not like it, but it doesn’t matter. We’re not running for re-election."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fourth Dimension Spin

Okay, we are all used to Tony Snow doing a tap dance on the podium to avoid the possibility that he might actually say anything of substance. I had thought that none of his fourth dimension spin could really surprise me any more.

But when he was asked about the president’s apparent intention to send more troops to Iraq and the statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying that they categorically thought that more troops was a bad idea he really blew me away (along with pretty much the whole press corps). He actually tried to spin that to say that Bush and the JCS were not in disagreement, and spent about five minutes of blather in that effort.

So I’m reading a blog post about that yesterday and the following was one of the comments that had me rolling on the floor. I had to share it with you.

"Tell us, Tony, what would constitute a conflict between the Joint Chiefs and the president?"

An armored cavalry squadron surrounding the White House.

Comment by 2Manchu — 12/19/2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lifting the Fog of Fear

Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night was a repeat of some of his "Special Comments" from the past year. They all seemed very powerful to me at the time he made them and, while I enjoyed them last night, I realized that such commentary does not make for entertainment. Olbermann speaks well and his phrasing is elegant, but the commentary simply had no impact out of the context of the time to which it spoke.

I did respond when he referred to the "Fog of Fear" that Bush and company had cast over the country, because I realized how much that fog has lifted since the elections last November.

I am a news junky. Being retired, I am able to spend a couple hours or more daily online researching what is happening. I read the MSM and non-MSM of both left and right. When I heard that phrase last night I realized that the miasma of fear has essentially disappeared from all of it. There is still, of course, a great deal of discourse about Iraq, but it doesn’t seems to be clouded with the past’s inward focus on our "safeness" so much as a more outward focus on winning the "war on terror" in general.

I’d still rather read how we are spending billions on feeding hungry people or rebuilding New Orleans, but ridding the news of the endless "Only I can keep you safe" is a step in the right direction.

For five long years Bush and his minions have ridden their steeds through the streets of our nation screaming "The terrorists are coming," and now only Bush and McCain are left on spavined nags peeping like a couple of Chicken Littles.

Yes, "national security," the failure of the current administration to implement it and discussion of what to do about it, is still a major issue, but it seems to be getting a more reasonable approach today. We do after all, need to provide for our own defense but we do not need to make that the centerpiece, indeed the totality, of our lives.

The tragedy of 9/11 is behind us. Nothing will bring those lost lives back. Death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq will not bring back to life those who died that day. American soldiers sacrificed on the altar of war will not replace that hole in the New York skyline.

We can, however, honor those fallen by crawling out of the foxholes that false leaders have had us cowering within, as a nation casting off the fog of fear and once more living our lives standing free and proud. Now that we are doing so those lost in the Towers and our soldiers who have died and are dying in distant lands can rest at peace, knowing they have not died in vain.

One task is left – restore our Constitution.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Today's Tidbits

Paranoia rages

The Bush Administration is warning us that terrorists may attack our satellites. Yes, we are being told that terrorist groups pose a threat to our satellites, in space, orbiting miles above the earth. Terrorists.

At one time I believe the Soviets did have the technology to destroy satellites, but it was done using rockets launched from large a complex with sophisticated guidance and electronics. Have terrorists taken that over, or are they going to bring down our satellites with RPG’s? Or maybe by throwing rocks from the tops of the high mountains in Afghanistan?

Terrorists are, we do know, planning to launch ICBM’s at us; hence the need for the anti-ballistic-missile defense that we have paid billions for, enriching the companies that formerly employed our currently elected officials or have contributed truckloads of money to them.

Oh. So, what kind of system are we going to build to protect our satellites from terrorists? Who is going to build it and how much is it going to cost?

Why do ambassadors leave?

The Ambassador from Saudi Arabia suddenly resigned and left the U.S. for a return to his home country. No replacement has been named and no reason given for his departure other than a vague statement about him being in line to replace a higher official whose health is failing.

The usual reason for withdrawing an ambassador is that you know that your country is about to be in a state of hostility or is about to break relations with the host country.

Saudi Arabia has said that it will support the Sunni in Iraq if we don’t and there is growing evidence that, stay or leave, we are going to abandon the Sunni to the mercy (?) of the Shia in Iraq. The Saudi ambassador leaving the U.S. is not a good sign.

A "comprehensive catastrophe"

Timothy Garton Ash says it very well. In part,

If the consequences were not so serious, one would have to laugh at a failure of such heroic proportions - rather in the spirit of Zorba the Greek who, contemplating the splintered ruins of his great project, memorably exclaimed: 'Did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?' But the reckless incompetence of Zorba the Bush has resulted in the death, maiming, uprooting or impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children - mainly Muslim Arabs but also Christian Lebanese, Israelis and American and British soldiers. By contributing to a broader alienation of Muslims it has also helped to make a world in which, as we walk the streets of London, Madrid, Jerusalem, New York or Sydney, we are all, each and every one of us, less safe. Laugh if you dare."

Embedded troops

I am not an expert on military strategy or tactics on the ground. I was Navy, not ground forces, but the policy of our forces being “embedded” with Iraqi forces makes no sense to me on several levels.

Our guys have universally said that the loyalty and skill of the Iraqi forces is highly questionable, that while some are nationalists many are more loyal to their sect, their tribe, their village, or to an individual militia. It seems to me than embedding our soldiers within a larger force that is poorly trained and of questionable loyalty puts our soldiers at very high risk.

It seems to me that this is a step backward in terms of making the Iraqi forces less dependent on the U.S. for their security, and a step backward in terms of the Iraq government "taking the hard steps" that Bush advocates.

This policy certainly does not move toward any kind of reduction of forces in Iraq. The talk of force reduction is of "reducing combat forces" and is the kind of doublespeak deception that has been coming from the administration for years. The embedded soldiers would not be "combat forces" they would be "trainers" and would be protected by "support forces" in permanent bases.

Vietnamization by another name.

So we'll have 140,000 soldiers carrying weapons in battle, getting shot at, killed and wounded, but they would not be "combat forces." Instead of combat forces dying in Iraq we'll have "trainers" and "support forces" dying.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

War gaming

When I was in the "boats" we exercised a few times against anti-submarine task groups in the Atlantic. The surface forces always won, annoying us considerably, but the game was rigged in their favor. We had to stay on the surface until they spotted us visually, then we would pull the cork (dive) and try to do our thing (sink them and/or get away). What enemy submarine would allow himself to be sighted before diving?

In preparation for the war in Iraq the military "war gamed" the process to see how it would go. Guess what, Iraq won.

Well, not quite, but the general who was playing the part of Iraq didn’t keep to the role that Rumsfeld had set out for him. He had a history, apparently, of thinking that Rumsfeld’s vaunted "military genius" was in reality nothing but a collection of empty slogans that sounded good but didn’t really mean anything. (Which has, of course, proven to be quite correct.)

So in the war games he started doing things like sending messages by motorcycle, rendering Rumsfeld’s electronic intelligence methods useless, and sending suicide bombers in motorboats against the invasion fleet and sinking quite a few ships.

At that point the war game was stopped, the general fired, the sunken ships "refloated" and the game restarted with a new "Iraqi" general who was more willing to get stomped by Rumsfeld’s preferred methods.

McCain wants more troops

John McCain is visiting in Iraq, where the generals on the ground – that’s the generals, trained in ground warfare and right there where the fighting is taking place – are telling him they do not want more troops. Not.

John McCain is a former Navy pilot.

John McCain says we need more troops in Iraq.

He has Navy training, not Army. He has visited Iraq a time or two, while these generals have been there for many months directing the ground forces under their command. But he knows better than the generals do.

And he's still spouting that "follow us home" nonsense. Who is going to follow us home, Sunni or Shia? Which half of the bloody civil war that we are in the middle of is going to follow us home? Not even Bush is parading that tired old saw any more.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Olbermann Knows Football

Updated below

On last night’s edition of MSNBC's Countdown, there was a segment about Senator Obama’s “announcement.” The announcement turned out to be all in fun, on Monday Night Football, and about him being "ready for the Bears to go all the way, baby."

Host Keith Olbermann finished the piece with the statement that
"They’re still waiting for a reply from the San Diego Chargers."

You got that right, Keith.

What MSNBC doesn’t get right is the half-baked attempts at doing outright humor pieces. For someone who brings the insight and wit to news commentary that Keith Olbermann does, how does he tolerate the moronic mind-numbing halfwits that MSNBC selects for the "guest comedian" slots?

The freeways in San Diego at rush hour are hilarity personified compared to these slabs of dead meat that pass for comedians on Countdown. If you are watching Countdown and they introduce a “guest comedian” or someone named Musto, go in the next room and let your spouse, significant other or roommate beat on you with a stick. If you have two roommates (or wives, whatever) let both of them beat on you with sticks. Trust me, you will enjoy that more than listening to what passes for humorists on Countdown.

Of course, you could just turn the television off.

When it’s at the end of the broadcast, that’s what I do. Sometimes, unfortunately, they bring one of these "humor pundits" onto the show earlier in the broadcast and that’s when I either want to smash the television or shoot myself.

I would go in the next room and get my wife to beat on me with a stick, but she's a gentle soul and would not devote much energy to the task, so…

Aha, there’s a "mute" button on my remote.

And my humor is somewhere between the thing with sticks and the San Diego freeways, but it’s better than Countdown on MSNBC.

Update: apologies to Bears fans

Earlier this week I said the Chargers were first to clinch their division. My bad. The Bears had, at that time, clinched theirs with a 10-2 record and on Monday night won to tie our record at 11-2. (Tie breakers mean bupkus when you aren't in the same conference.) The slight was unintentional. Congratulations to an outstanding football team. See you in Miami.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Building a Dam

San Diego is located in a desert, and we import all of our water except for some small portion that is provided by local reservoirs. With an annual rainfall of less than 12" though, not much water is local.

So let’s suppose that the city decides to dam up another canyon to store some more water, and much controversy ensues between city supporters and environmentalists. (Which would be the case, but we are only supposing.) One side says we need the water, and the other wants to preserve the canyon.

Eventually the city prevails and, when construction begins it is discovered that soil conditions are such that the footings will not support a dam. The city says "Well, we really need the water" and continues with construction. They pour the footings and start laying bricks. Halfway up the whole thing collapses and a bunch of workers are killed.

So the city decides to make the dam out of concrete block. (You get where I’m going yet?) They pour new footings and start laying concrete block. Halfway up the whole thing collapses and a bunch more workers are killed.

So the city decides "We’re going to get a commission to help us decide how to build this furshluginner dam." The commission studies the situation for several months and says what everybody already knew which is, basically, that the dam can’t be built. But the city says that the water is essential and decides to try a poured concrete dam. Which, of course, collapses, killing even more workers.

The city then decides to enlist the assistance of El Centro…

Ah, to heck with it. I’ve made my point.

When a task proves to be impossible it no longer matters which side was right or which side was wrong. It doesn’t matter how noble the cause, if it cannot be done and is killing the people trying to do it, you must abandon the effort. To do otherwise is wasting lives: it is, in fact murder.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lesson in Winning

When you look at the NFL stats for last weekend none of the San Diego Chargers’ players show up as leaders. None of our receivers caught the most passes, none of our running backs ran for the most yards, etc. (Well, okay, LaDanian Tomlinson did set a record for most touchdowns in a season this past weekend. More about that in a moment.)

At 11-2, however, San Diego has the best record in the NFL and this team is the only one in the league that has clinched its division.

Football is a team sport, a concept that seems to have been lost in the days of Terrell Owens and his ilk. Vince Lombardi did not allow players to brag about, or even to collect individual statistics. His point was that when you played for him you devoted your energy to the team, not to personal glory. That’s why the Green Bay Packers in the Vince Lombardi era became such a dynasty.

And that’s why the Chargers are the first team in the AFC to clinch their division this year. Oh, make no mistake, the Chargers team does not lack talent, far from it. They have individuals with tremendous talent at every position, but they have a remarkable affinity for each other and they truly play as a team.

When the team members speak in public they are always speaking about the other guys. LaDanian Tomlinson, having just set a season record for touchdowns, talks about the role that the rest of the team played in that accomplishment. The receivers talk about the quarterback. The quarterback talks about the offensive line and the receiver corps.

LaDanian Tomlinson says that he’s glad the record “is behind me, so that now I can just go back to playing football.” (Or words to that effect.) When asked about the league MVP award he said that it wasn’t important to him.

This team is a winner. Not because they win games, but because they are a group of young men who are more focused on what they are putting into the game than on what they are getting from it.

There’s a lesson for living in that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Myth and a Reality

Myth: the American people will not tolerate losses (deaths of their soldiers) in a prolonged war.

I utterly reject that as an oversimplification. I believe that the American people will grieve for the losses but will support any war, however long and however costly, that forwards the principles for which this country stands or which is truly in defense of this country or its allies. We have done so before, and we will do so again whenever and as often as needed.

After 9/11 there was broad support for the invasion of Afghanistan, and the sorrow for those lost in battle did not soften the resolve of the American people to pursue the purpose of that just war. We were a nation united in outrage, and of one mind in the determination to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.

What Americans will not do is accept so much as one soldier lost in a war that is waged for political reasons, be those politics national or international.

The more murky has become the reason for our presence in Iraq the more we have turned away from supporting it. When it was revealed that the purpose of this war was unjust, that it was begun and is being pursued for reasons political and unrighteous, we began to cry out against the lives lost, lives wasted.

That "the tree of liberty must from time to time be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants" is a fact that the American people will accept.

But we will not send our sons and daughters to die in a distant war fought for the political ideology and self aggrandizement of a demagogue.

Self evident: When interviewed, the soldiers in Iraq say they do not want to leave before victory is achieved.

Newscasters cite this not only as an illustration of how heroic our troops are (which is true enough - they are indeed), but to indicate that the troops support the "we won’t leave until the job is done" advocated by Mr. Bush.

These are (mostly) young, highly trained, heavily armed men and women, loaded with hormones and dedicated to being as lethal as possible. They have trained for years for one thing and one thing only: to enter the field of battle and vanquish the foe. They are unwilling to leave until they can (figuratively speaking) stand with one foot on the conquered foe, wave the American flag and declare victory.

To leave prior to that would be like a racecar driver deciding to quit in mid race. When a driver’s car fails and he is forced out of the race, a driver is angry and distraught. Like a soldier in battle, he wants to finish the job. It is hardly surprising that our soldiers do not want to leave Iraq at this point.

But soldiers do not make policy, and it is not for them to determine the course of action that will best serve our nation. However admirable their attitudes, their words must not be used as justification for the continuation of an unjust and failed war.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Words and duty

Excerpted from an item by Michael Kinsley at Comment is Free today. About Jim Webb, one of our new senators,

"Webb seems to believe that because he served in Vietnam, anyone who could have but didn't should shut up. That includes people who opposed that war - that is, who got it right - as well as those who supported it. Webb's son is serving in Iraq now…"

And then about Bush’s political strategy,

"At first it seemed like a brilliant strategy - repellent, but brilliant - to isolate most Americans from the cost of the war in Iraq. It's starting to seem a lot less so. As the deaths and injuries mount, more and more people are touched by the war - and become understandably resentful of those who are not. Bush, in his speeches, is eloquent about what no one doubts - the sacrifice - but banal about what most people have come to doubt: the purpose.

In short, words are cheap when uttered by those who have not done their duty.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Oh my!

Oh my goodness. USC finally makes it to a position for the BCS championship, and then they lose to UCLA. I mean, they not only blow their position in the standings, and lose a trip to the championship game, but they do it in a fashion that is like the proverbial perfect storm - an unranked team, and their crosstown rivals.

I had another commitment and didn't see the game. And I'm from San Diego so I really had no dog in that hunt. But, oh my...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Privacy and Civil Liberties

Well the big news today is that the president (I simply cannot spell that with a capital letter, I just can’t) finally briefed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the NSA Warrantless Spying Program. It comes as no surprise that the Board thinks that he is doing a wonderful job of administering this illegal program.

Yes, of course they fail to address the fact that it is illegal in its entirety, and that comes as no surprise either. We’ll address that momentarily, but to finish the summarization of the Board’s report, they admire how much respect the president is showing for the privacy of the people he is spying on. I’m unclear on how one spies on a person and simultaneously respects that person’s privacy, but the Board seems satisfied, even quite pleased with the program’s performance in that respect.

As far as I can determine, the report does not so far address whether the civil liberties of the persons being spied upon are being respected, only the privacy thereof, so perhaps the Board should take another look at its name and assure us that civil liberties are being respected as well.

I rather doubt that civil liberties actually are being respected, but if the Board can believe that the privacy of the spyees is being respected, they should have no problem making the leap to a similar judgement regarding the civil liberties of those spyees.

The blogosphere is fulminating furiously about the report, but I’m not sure why. I mean, come on guys and girls, you knew a month ago who the Board was composed of so this report cannot come as any surprise.

"Fulminating furiously" Isn’t that a lovely phrase? It’s redundant, of course; fulmination is by definition furious. But I really like the way it rolls off of the tongue.

What amazes me is not the outcome, but the Board itself. Only the American Congress would create an oversight board the membership of which is in its entirety appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the person it is overseeing.

That is like deciding that our criminal system will allow the alleged criminal, by himself, to pick all twelve members of the jury that will be trying him. The new and improved “zero conviction” policy for reducing prison crowding.

The creation of this oversight board is in itself entirely corrupt in concept and execution. It was designed to have no purpose whatsoever other than to throw bullfeathers at the American people in an attempt by Congress to conceal the corrupt and illegal actions of the Executive branch.

So not only is the president violating the law, but Congress (or at least every member of it who voted for creation of this ludicrous Board) is entirely complicit in that illegality.

We elected a different Congress earlier this month. Now we need to keep an eye on it to be sure that it really is different. Pay attention America, our nation is at stake.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Failure of leadership, and...

There was a post on the Mahablog yesterday proposing a Civilian War Footing Act to involve the citizenry in wars started by our government. It was inspired by a New York Times editorial by Bob Hebert dealing with the image of Americans on a shopping craze while Iraq burned and people there died in large numbers. I can’t post a link to the editorial, because the Times doesn’t want anybody other than its privileged paid subscribers to read it.

I have written before that one of the most misbegotten aspects of this war is that the burden of it has fallen exclusively on the men and women of our armed forces and their families; that for the rest of us it is tax cuts, business as usual and, as mentioned by Bob Hebert, shopping. Once more for the record, I served in a diesel submarine in North Atlantic during the Cold War; I am 63 years old and I have Parkinson’s Disease, so I am not on the sideline by mere choice.

Like the Maha, I believe that any time we send our young men and women into harm’s way, any time we send them to place their precious lives between us and an enemy (real or imagined) that threatens us, we owe it to them to support them with every ounce of every resource that this nation possesses. That means not just putting the military on a war footing, but putting the nation into that status as well. That means paying taxes, rationing critical supplies, being confronted with the carnage of war in a way that does not allow us to ignore our responsibility – not on the back page of the local news.

That means seeing the flag-draped coffins as those who have lost their lives are brought home. It means being told the count of the wounded and the seeing the degree to which their lives and the lives of their families have been disrupted. That disruption is on our hands.

That “they die while we shop” is indeed a failure of leadership. Our leaders wage war abroad and promote false prosperity at home. They keep the war cost off budget, passing it as “supplemental” funding so that they can claim a lower deficit than actually exists and protect their pork barrel spending and tax cuts. They try to avoid the unpopularity of war by not asking the nation to bear the cost of that war either personally or financially. They popularize the war by fearmongering and promoting a false “war on terror.”

But in a larger sense the failure is us. We are a nation that overwhelmingly does not vote. Some sixty percent of us are too busy shopping to take time to go to the polls, to care who is running our country.

And those of us who did vote – we elected this government, and we reelected it. Bush preached fear and we allowed fear to rule us and we reelected him. Our legislature was corrupt, rubber-stamping presidential excesses and tax cuts and spending like whores, and we reelected its members in droves. Even in the current year of national revulsion, only something like 10% of incumbents were defeated. Voting for the incumbent is easy and we’re too busy shopping to research the challenger.

This country does not elect leaders. It elects people who can raise money.

Voters today do not listen to or read speeches. Votes are not based on in-depth evaluation of the candidate’s multifaceted persona. Votes are based on a single-issue sound bite aired hundreds of times on a thirty-second television commercial. That sound bite may very well be a lie, but it will get the person who has enough money to air it elected.

Don’t blame the person who raised the money and aired the sound bites. Blame the person who based a vote on that sound bite.

Taking time to read the life history of and the collected essays written by a presidential candidate is hard and it cuts into one’s shopping time. It’s easier to just react to a television ad that claims that someone beats their wife and vote for the other guy.

After all, there’s a sale on at Macy’s today.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank you

I know they will not read this, but…

To those whose loved ones are in harm’s way on this national day of thanks and who are, perhaps, not feeling much to be thankful for.

I cannot know what it feels like to be you.

I have served far from home and in hostile waters. Like your loved ones, I chose that service and I never regretted it. I did not enjoy the anxiety it caused those who worried about me, but I loved doing my duty. More than forty years later, having done that duty is still part of how I define who I am.

Do not think that they left you lightly. They do what they must do and so too must you. Willing or not, so too must you, because you love them.

Be the cause just or unjust it is this nation’s battle. Many remember to thank those who fight the battle, too few thank those who worry and wait.

And so, thank you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Military and Politics

Military officers, as part of the policy of civilian supremacy over the military, are not permitted to publicly criticize the President. I fully support that policy, but I cringe when it goes to the opposite extreme. As an example:

Reuters, 18 Nov 2006 01:21:37 GMT

Army Gen. John Abizaid compared the rise of militant ideologies, such as the force driving al Qaeda, to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s that set the stage for World War Two.

"If we don't have guts enough to confront this ideology today, we'll go through World War Three tomorrow," Abizaid said in a speech titled "The Long War," at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, outside Boston.

If not stopped, Abizaid said extremists would be allowed to "gain an advantage, to gain a safe haven, to develop weapons of mass destruction, to develop a national place from which to operate. And I think that the dangers associated with that are just too great to comprehend."

Abizaid said the world faces three major hurdles in stabilizing the Middle East region: Easing Arab-Israeli tensions, stemming the spread of militant extremism, and dealing with Iran, which Washington has accused of seeking to develop nuclear bombs.

"Where these three problems come together happens to come in a place known as Iraq," said Abizaid…

Military officers should not be used as a tool to implement the political ends of the civilian leadership, either. In taking this stance, Abizaid is betraying the troops he is supposed to be leading.

The military should be removed from the political process, apart from it. When the generals become tools of the civilian leadership, pawns in the games played by politicians, we are led into false wars.

Like into disaster in Iraq.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chaos Achieved?

I’m mostly listening and waiting to see what will be the effects of the newly elected legislature, but a few things still concern me.

Has chaos in Iraq been achieved?

The reports from Iraq in the English media are consistently much more horrendous than reports in any American media. It’s almost as if they are reporting on two different countries. According to the British reports Iraq is already in a state of complete and utter chaos, and they describe it in rather horrifying detail. More than one British conclusion is that Iraq is already a failed state and there is absolutely nothing we can do but leave. American reports, from media and from Generals “on the ground,” portray conditions that are admittedly bad but that are only "verging on chaos."

English reporters sometimes comment on that very fact, wondering why the American media does not report what they (the English reporters) are seeing. The English, as a people, do not have a reputation for melodrama; on the contrary, they are a people known more for understatement. I can imagine our Generals saying what their civilian superiors have ordered them to say. How many times in our national past has that happened?

But what is the American media doing? An important basis of a free country is an independent and free press, and I’m wondering if we have that.

I’ve asked this before…

Is George Bush insane? The entire country wants us out of Iraq. Congress wants us out. The American people who vote want us out. The people of Iraq want us out. Well, John McCain doesn’t want us out, but we all know that he is so dazzled by visions of the presidency that he has lost his mind.

The bipartisan commission has not yet submitted its report, and Bush is creating his own “internal review commission” which he has already determined will call for increasing military forces in Iraq by 20,000 troops. Which the military itself admits we don’t have.

The only good thing about this is that Bush and McCain are actually on the same page, and this policy will be so wildly unpopular and will fail so badly that it will reduce the chances that we will be stuck with McCain as president in 2009. Two madmen in the White House in a row would just be too much to be borne.

Will Congress improve?

As to being a rubber stamp for Bush, yes. Investigating the administration, probably, but we’ll have to see how deeply that probe will actually go.

In terms of reducing pork barrel spending and the influence of moneyed interest, things do not look good. The fact that Pelosi backed one of the most thoroughly ethics-challenged men in the entire House for majority leader leads me to believe that her “drain the swamp” is mere rhetoric. Murtha not only sold votes for pork, he sold votes to the opposing party in exchange for pork, and he avoided Abscam only because he was careful, not due to any abundance of honesty.

As an aside, the picture of him standing at the podium with his arm around Pelosi, and her grimacing as he fondled her was disgusting. She should have slapped him, not backed him for a leadership position.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Just a few thoughts

Today I’m just getting thoughts off of my chest about a few people.

Russ Feingold: I am delighted he is not running for president. I would vote for him, would probably campaign for him if he did, but we need him in the Senate. He has great honesty, the courage of his convictions, and he works for ideals not ideology. No person in either house of the legislature is more dedicated to the eradication of the corruption that has permeated our government. I believe he is one of the very best people in government today.

John Murtha: I find much to admire in this man. His military service and his dedication to his brothers in arms literally brings tears to my eyes. I greatly admire his courage in being the first to speak out against the Iraq war, and to do so as strongly as he did.

Many want him to become majority leader, but I do not: he is too much part of “the machine.” He sits in his corner of the House and “parcels out” favors, controlling earmarks in exchange for votes on major bills.

This “trading of votes” is a big part of the problem in government. I believe that each member’s vote for each bill in Congress should be based on the merits of that bill and only on the merits of that bill. John Murtha is a major part of the machinery that trades votes to get bills passed that are bad for the country and for the people, but that benefit special interests.

Hillary Clinton: as much as I admire Bill Clinton, and as much as I admire Hillary as a person and admired her as First Lady, I just cannot warm to her as a politician. She is just too much of a politician. Too much of what she says sounds not like what she really believes but like what she thinks is politically expedient. I’ve never been able to figure out where she stands in the Iraq issue, and the bottom line is she sounds to me like she’s merely trying to cater to voters on both sides.

Nancy Pelosi: her “drain the swamp” message is one I can really embrace if, and that is a big if, it is more than mere rhetoric. She certainly appears to be the strong leader that the Democratic Party needs. If the changes which I would like to see are to occur she needs to steer a course between shutting Republicans out of the process (as they did the Democrats), and weakening the change process by being too “bipartisan.” Right now it looks like she can get it done, and I’m pulling for her.

However, in endorsing Murtha for majority leader, Pelosi is effectively saying that she supports the "business as usual" method of vote trading and pork barrel spending, and that mitigates against her being real instead of merely symbolic in her promise to "drain the swamp."

John McCain: this man is one of the most devastating examples of the corrupting influence of power. I want to weep every time he speaks.

I once admired this man so deeply that I would have been willing to walk before him sweeping the ground so that he would not dirty his shoes. Navy pilot, unbroken by horrible torture, withstanding pain and humiliation that I cannot even imagine and emerging strong and with an undaunted and even renewed faith in God. Engaged in politics in a manner that earned national respect for the “Straight Talk Express.”

But now, so corrupted by desire for high office that he can do no more than offer token resistance, when he offers any at all, to the ideology of his party’s line. He now offers empty ideology instead of ideas and platitudes instead of straight talk.

He tells us with a straight face that he has thwarted a corrupt President’s attempt to legalize torture, when anyone with even modest intelligence can see that he has done nothing of the sort and that in doing so he made no attempt whatsoever to preserve habeas corpus. He says we need more troops in Iraq but when asked where those troops are to come from he spouts absolute nonsense and accuses the questioner of being biased. He refers to a religious organization as being “evil” one year and then two years later is speaking at their college’s graduation ceremony.

He would rather be president than be honest.

Duncan Hunter: this is a wingnut whose bid for the presidency is one entirely of corrupt self interest. He knows it will not succeed and he does not care. The campaign will collect a great deal of money and that is his sole interest. This is the politico who single-handedly inserted a clause terminating the investigation of corruption in Iraq into a bill after it had passed both houses of Congress. One of the first targets of Democratic investigations of corruption in government needs to be this man, who gets reelected only because he runs in California where gerrymandering has risen to unparalleled heights. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I loathe and despise this man.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: after the defeat of his initiatives (designed pretty much to “trash” the Democratic Party) two years ago, Arnold embarked on a bipartisan course. He talked the talk, and to a very large extent he walked the walk. I have wondered how much of that was pure pragmatism and to what degree Arnold had actually embraced a bipartisan working philosophy.

Then, after the 2006 elections, he spoke quite gracefully about the value of there being “new blood” in Washington. A Republican embracing a Democratic victory. He didn’t need to do that; he could have remained neutral. I can like a man who does that.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bush meets the Speaker

Ummm, does it look to you like Mr. Bush is guarding something quite carefully here? Like he thinks the Speaker of the House might yank them
off of him and put them down the garbage disposer?

Oh my, I do have a dirty mind.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Out of the Shadows

I feel better today. My heart is lighter and I feel stronger, my faith in America renewed. I know now that I had never really lost that faith, it was just drowned in the clamor of corruption and arrogance that was so constant and so loud for so many years

America spoke yesterday. All across this country, with one great voice America rose up and said that arrogance, fearmongering, greed, and corruption do not constitute our values.

America demanded yesterday that its leadership be responsible to the people, that its actions serve the people and not the moneyed elite.

And most of all, America supported our troops yesterday. Not by putting stickers on their cars, but with action. America told its leadership to end the meaningless deaths and injuries of our soldiers in a war gone wrong.

Today, for the first time in years, I am once again proud of my country and proud to be an American.

This country is its people, who gave up much in the name of fear but who have now stepped out of the shadows of  9/11 and spoken for values that matter more than mere survival.

Old Glory looks brighter today.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Overweening Arrogance

The phrase "overweening arrogance" popped into my mind when I was watching Cheney on a television interview the other day. That is a word one doesn’t see much these days, but it seemed to suit what I was seeing. The dictionary defines "overweening" as,

1. Overbearing; arrogant; presumptuous.
2. Excessive; immoderate; exaggerated.

One hardly would expect that the President, Vice President or Secretary of Defense of these United States would be persons of a shy and retiring nature. Actually, I daresay one would not want them to have such nature.

Bush has made the statement that he does not "flipflop" in accordance with each latest poll and I have no argument with that; doing so would not be leadership. But the elected leaders of this country are still accountable to the people, or should be.

As Keith Olbermann put it last night in his Special Comment, our founding fathers designed a government with "..checks and balances so that no one man may govern as he alone sees fit."

Yet Cheney baldly states that, to paraphrase as I don’t have the exact quote at hand, "The American public may not like it, but that doesn’t matter. We’re not running for election." He added that the election "..might change Congress, but it won’t change what we do. Once elected, he feels, his coterie may govern as, to paraphrase Olbermann, "..they alone see fit."

Unaccountable to Congress, unaccountable to the American people.

Overweening arrogance.

Bring them to account today.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Presidential Math

In his press conference of Oct 25th, President Bush used the following to attack the Democrats,

If you don't extend the tax cuts, if you don't make them -- in other words, if you let the tax cuts expire, it will be a tax increase on the American people. Take the child tax credit. If it is not made permanent—in other words, if it expires—and you've got a family of four sitting around the breakfast table, the taxpayers can be sure that their taxes will go up by $2,000: $500 for that child, $500 for the one right there; $500 for this one and $500 for that one. That is a tax increase. And taking $2,000 out of the pockets of the working people will make it harder to sustain economic growth.

First, the Child Tax Credit has already been extended at $1,000 per child until 2010, so he is raising his usual false scare tactic.

Second, he cannot name a single Democrat who has suggested altering the Child Tax Credit in any manner whatsoever.

Third, does anyone know of any "family of four sitting around the breakfast table" that has four children? Ummm, what happened to the parents? Not quite a typical American family.

Fourth, what is that $500 per child about? From ""

The credit was set to revert to $700 for each qualifying child in 2005, but Congress passed the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 to keep the Child Tax Credit at $1,000 per qualifying child through 2010, as long as you are within the income thresholds for your filing status.

So he could have used $300, or $700, or $1,000 but what hat did he pull that $500 figure from?

Or did he pull the whole thing from a region considerably lower than his hat?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Muzzled Media?

There has long been evidence that our press is muzzled; either voluntarily, by deception, or by coercion. They are lazy and report only what they obtain from “pr flacks,” or they are limited to “spoon fed” news by the administration and/or military media corps, or if they report what the administration does not want reported they “lose access.” I don't know that any of that is true, but I sometimes wonder.

Comparing American news to British is often revealing. Certainly our media is not suggesting that all is well in Iraq, but Baghdad is under siege, in the British publication The Independent gives me pause. No American news is reporting anything even close to this.

“Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.


“Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

“The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south.”

The article goes on to portray a U.S. Army rendered helpless by the force diversion to an encircled Baghdad,

“The impotence of US forces to prevent civil war is underlined by the fact that the intense fighting between Sunni and Shia around Balad, north of Baghdad, has raged for a month, although the town is beside one of Iraq's largest American bases. The US forces have done little and when they do act they are seen by the Shia as pursuing a feud against the Mehdi Army.”

Can this be true? Is all of this simply the product of a British reporter’s feverish imagination? If not, if these conditions are accurate, why are our reporters not reporting them?

A major event happened yesterday, which suggests to me that these conditions might be true. As reported here the Army abandoned one of its own to the Mahdi militia on orders of the Iraqi executive. One of our soldiers was captured and, on order of the Iraqi civilian executive, our Army has simply walked away.

This appears to be an Army that is simply no longer in command of the situation because our Army would never, absolutely never, willingly abandon one of its own. If the conditions reported by The Independent actually exist, the Army took down the roadblocks out of military necessity, not due to political consideration of the Iraqi executive.

Is the Bush administration playing a political game that is far more dangerous to our troops than any of us know? Will our reporters “get” these facts on November 8th? Is Iraq in a condition that will take the “cut and run” decision out of this country’s hands?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oil pricing conspiracy theory

Oil company profits are in the news again, along with lower gas prices and elections, leading to all kinds of conspiracy theories. But once again the news merely says that “Big Oil reported record $10.8 billion profit” without putting that amount into context. If Big Oil had $900 billion in sales, then that profit amount would be only 1.2% of sales, which is by no means outrageous.

I am not one who believes that profit is bad. Profit is why business exists. I do believe that unregulated capitalism becomes predatory, and that society suffers when an industry is allowed to operate without responsible government oversight to prevent it from behaving in a monopolistic fashion.

Larger profits are good for those who own the companies – stockholders. Profits are “predatory” when they become large enough that they take advantage of and harm the people who use the services of or buy products from those companies. That happens only in a non-competitive environment where there is only one producer or where producers are allowed to collaborate, and where the product or service is one which the consumer cannot reasonably do without.

There is a form of tacit collaboration where one producer raises a price and simply waits to see if the others in that industry will follow suit. When they do, simply because they can, the fact that there was no actual verbal communication between them does not mean that this is not monopolistic behavior.

The law of supply and demand is not an actual law. An increase in demand, or a reduction in supply permits the seller to increase the price, it does not require him to do so.

So I decided to do a little study to find out just which industries are “friendly” to us consumers in their pricing policies. I am far from any kind of economic genius, I have no formal education in the subject at all, and this study was certainly not rigorous or scientific. I picked companies which are rather dominant in their industries and who therefor would seem to have some freedom in pricing, and whose names most people will recognize. I had no preconceived ideas.

I looked at each company’s profits from three viewpoints, and will examine each one as we get to it. The results were not all that surprising. They do reveal that oil companies are a bit greedy, but perhaps not nearly as bad as the blaring news headlines would lead us to believe.

Profit as a percentage of sales

The first thing that I see missing from the headlines is, “To make that many dollars of profit, how many dollars did oil companies have to sell?”

The profit on sales is generally speaking a reflection of how much competition you have. If I am selling widgets that cost me $10 to make and no one else is selling them I can set the price at pretty much whatever I want. If someone else starts selling them at $12, however, then I need to set my price accordingly and my profit as a percentage of sales is going to decrease.

There are other factors that have powerful effects, so one cannot accept that statement at face value. Banks, as we will see later, have a huge profit margin on sales but there are other factors that make that a lot less attractive than it might seem.

Each of us will have our own opinion of what constitutes a “reasonable profit.” For me, if it costs me $10.00 to make and I can only sell it for $10.10, I’m probably going to look for another business to be in. Somehow 1-2% just doesn’t get me excited as a businessman. Volume is, of course, an issue but when you have a zillion stockholders dividing the profit volume has somewhat less impact.

Company NameProfit %
Bank of America30.05
Oracle Software18.66
General Electric12.38
Union Pacific Railroad10.54
BP Oil10.24
General Dynamics7.25
Boeing Aircraft4.70
Federated Department Stores4.70
Wal-Mart Stores3.60
Safeway Grocery1.84

Looking at this table, the real predators would seem to be banks and computer software, with Microsoft leading the way. Microsoft, as most of us know, has little or no competition in most of its products, and banks are a special case as far as pricing goes.

Railroads, defense contractors and oil companies seem to be pretty much head and shoulders above the rest of the field in terms of profit margins. Other than railroads, does that surprise anybody?

But are those profit margins really usurious? On the face of it, I would have said not, but companies like grocery and department stores have far lower margins and are considered to be successful and to be good investments. They keep stores open and even upgrade their stores and open new ones.

So while I’m not really outraged by the oil company profits at this point in my investigation, they do merit a little more study.

Profit as a return on investment

A more important measure of profitability is “for every dollar I spend on equipment, how many dollars do I get back in profit?”

Profit is a lot more attractive if I can make it without risk and without having money tied up in equipment that costs money, but some industries are just naturally equipment-intensive. Spending money on equipment and infrastructure that may or may not provide profit is a risk, and the profitability of the investment should reflect that.

Company NameProfit %
BP Oil14.51
Oracle Software9.29
Wal-Mart Stores8.65
General Dynamics7.91
Safeway Grocery4.75
Union Pacific Railroad4.66
Boeing Aircraft4.50
Federated Department Stores3.51
General Electric3.02
Bank of America1.56

Remember how banks and software, mostly Microsoft, seemed to be the ones doing the predatory pricing in the first table? Now Microsoft is still prominent but look who else showed up – oil companies. Banks have disappeared, and the reasons for that are interesting but are not really germane to this discussion.

So there is the oil company, right behind Microsoft and trailed by another big software company.

The “bad guys” argument has gained some momentum. Oil companies are keeping company in this table only with software companies who have no significant competition.

Defense contractors, in the person of General Dynamics, gets a dishonorable mention in this table, along with Wal-Mart, but remember that the latter is selling at only 3.6% profit on sales. Nobody else is even in the “bad guys” ballpark.

Profit as a return on investment

This third factor is basically a factor of “how well is the company’s profit rewarding its shareholders?”

This is sort of a “bogus” number, really. It is affected by the number of shares outstanding and by the selling price of those shares, so it changes almost from minute-to-minute. Since the selling price of shares is actually artificial, being determined entirely by what buyers are willing to pay for it based on often emotional factors, this return on investment is really artificial as well, but it is a factor worth looking at.

Company NameProfit %
BP Oil35.00
Boeing Aircraft26.00
Wal-Mart Stores21.82
General Dynamics19.00
General Electric18.40
Oracle Software17.97
Bank of America17.00
Safeway Grocery13.70
Union Pacific Railroad11.54
Federated Department Stores8.35

Wow, Microsoft and the oil companies blow everybody else out of the water, but defense contractors take pretty good care of their stockholders as well.

The average consumer can get along very well without computer software, while oil products have a huge impact on the necessities of daily life. So there is good reason to not really care about Microsoft’s pricing policies, but when we see oil company profits that are in line with those of a software company that has no competition…

Maybe we should vote for a Democrat next week.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Politics of Confabulation

Some time ago, when George Bush was confronted with Colin Powell’s line about the “world beginning to doubt the moral basis of our war on terror” at a press conference, I watched him give an incoherent response that was so completely out of context and delivered in such a frenetic manner that I actually began to wonder if this nation is being led by a man who is mentally deranged.

Then I read a piece today by Justin Frank M.D., a doctor of clinical psychoanalysis, titled Never on Sunday about George Bush, talking about Bush’s conflicting positions on the war in Iraq. I urge you to read the whole thing, but in part he says,

“Untreated alcoholics confabulate. Confabulation is a form of amnesia in which the patient gives detailed descriptions of what he has, and has not, been recently doing. While convincing, these descriptions are totally fictitious, although the patient truly believes what he is saying at the time.


“The rest of the administration is caught the way the family of an alcoholic is caught - trying to make excuses for its ex-drinker. (…) They go along with his confabulation without attempting to confront it. In this dire case they (the administration and its media watchdogs) have actually embraced Bush's confabulation, trying desperately to rationalize it to themselves and the rest of us - including, I suppose, our presidentially blindsided American soldiers who continue to fight and die overseas.

“It is clear Bush's ability to use narrative thinking is permanently compromised by his desperate need to manage anxiety. We see smiles of relief whenever he gets back on track. But getting back on track and constructing a narrative story-line for the war are not possible for him. He cannot link cause to effect. Put simply, George W. Bush is too concerned with managing his own feelings to think about the implications of his words beyond their function of ameliorating his immediate anxieties.”

I have some experience from the other side than Dr. Frank’s on this issue, since I am a recovering alcoholic. The key part of that statement is the “recovering” part. I am a treated alcoholic, with more than twenty years of continuous sobriety behind me, so I have learned about the disease and how to live without doing the things that I used to do.

I know a little bit about the kind of mind that confabulates. I can tell you that it is by no means a sane mind, it is an incredibly egotistic mind, and it is an uncomfortable and unhappy place to live. That kind of mind is definitely not in full contact with reality. Recovering alcoholics have a saying, “Everybody builds dream castles. An alcoholic builds a dream castle and then tries to live in it.” His ego will never, ever let him admit that the castle is not real.

The egotistic part of that mind resonates with what I see in George Bush, as well. Joshua Bearman "adds meat to those bones" with this post. Again, I urge that you go there and read it, but in part,

“Ego traps us in costly, losing battles, study finds

“A gambler plunges deeper into debt when crushing losses should scream to him to quit. A banker keeps lending to someone who clearly won't pay back. A leader pours troops and money into a war that has become a quagmire. These scenarios have something in common: in each, someone is entangled in a costly, protracted and losing venture. It happens quite often.

“Now, researchers say they may have confirmed a key reason why people fall into what the scientists call "costly entrapment in losing endeavors."

“Their finding, based on a study of monetary choices, might be unsurprising to many observers of human nature: it comes down to ego.”

So, count this as the third blog you’ve read (assuming you read the two I referenced) that suggests that this nation is being led by a man who is making decisions for reasons that are not completely sane.

Think about it. Is this whole power grab that Bush has been pursuing for six years the pursuit of a sane person? Is the incessant drumming of the demand for the right to eavesdrop in violation of the law, to detain without accountability, to torture, to contravene international treaties… Is that a rational pattern?

The Legislature passed a law requiring that the person appointed to head the Department of Homeland Stupidity be qualified for the job. That seems a perfectly reasonable requirement, but in signing it into law Bush added one of his infamous “signing statements” that he didn’t feel that he would be obliged to comply. He reserved to right to appoint the person of his choice, including someone unqualified for the job. Is that sane?

Nancy Pelosi ruled out impeachment in the event that Democrats win control of the House. Her reasons for that make good sense, but for one small thing.

That may leave the highest office in this land being held by a madman for two more years.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Old Glory Today

Clint Eastwood’s new movie Flags of Our Fathers was released today. I have not seen it yet, but I plan to. I have read the book, and had studied the WW2 in the Pacific before that.

The Battle of Iwo Jima is perhaps the defining moment for the United States Marine Corps. What they accomplished there, and the price they paid for it, defies belief. That photograph meant much to America, but it means immeasurably more to the Marine Corps. It signifies who they are. They carry the flag in the face of overwhelming odds, they carry the flag in the face of death, and they raise it where the world can see it. They raise it where no one else can.

The Marines created, and one man took, that photograph in a war where winning a battle was a step forward. Once ground was taken it was held and each new battle was fought on new ground closer to victory. Now Marines are fighting and dying in battles where winning means nothing more than living to fight another battle, retaking the same ground over and over again.

No more can the Marine Corps proudly plant the flag and proclaim victory, because victory keeps being redefined. First it was defending America from a “grave threat,” then it was deposing a dictator, then it was creating a democracy, and now it appears to be creating some sort of entity that can “defend itself and be an ally.”

Nor is the Marine Corps even defending democracy any more. According to our President, our purpose is nothing more than defending ourselves against a physical threat. These are his own words,

“Over the past few months the debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem complex. Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat? Every member of Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us.”

I would expect this statement from a leader of the Bloods or the Crips. Street gangs defend turf because that’s all they have. They don’t have aspirations to noble purpose, or goals for their citizenry. They “own” a piece of turf, and they defend it aggressively against all intruders.

In WW2 this country fought for principles of humanity, for freedom and democracy and decency. Today, it seems, we fight only to defeat a threat.

No longer do we plant Old Glory atop a Mount Suribachi. George Bush has reduced the Stars and Stripes to a “do rag” wrapped around the heads of street thugs defending turf.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Politics of Secrecy

"We need fewer secrets," says Jimmy Carter. In his Washington Post column of July 3, 2006 he says, in part,

“Increasingly, developed and developing nations are recognizing that a free flow of information is fundamental for democracy. Whether it's government or private companies that provide public services, access to their records increases accountability and allows citizens to participate more fully in public life. It is a critical tool in fighting corruption, and people can use it to improve their own lives in the areas of health care, education, housing and other public services. Perhaps most important, access to information advances citizens' trust in their government, allowing people to understand policy decisions and monitor their implementation.”

It’s pretty clear from polls and public commentary that we do not trust any part of our government. There are hints of corruption, and little pieces of it that get “cleaned up” but we don’t really know how deep it goes.

There are tidbits about how those captured in the “war on terror” are treated, but we don’t really know because our government tells us the “national security” demands that we keep secret the details. Secrecy, they tell us, protects us from evildoers.

Secrecy also protects power.

“..access to information advances citizens' trust in their government.” We know that the a certain bill passed in congress, what we don’t know is why it passed. Was it in behalf of the public interest? Was it because moneyed interests paid to have it passed? Was it passed as a result of some secret “dealing” that occurred in the halls of government?

The Carter Center works in developing nations to establish access to information for those nation’s citizens. Formerly totalitarian nations such as South Africa are opening up their governments to inspection by their citizenry. These nations, where citizens are becoming better informed, are finding that their citizens become more participative in government and enjoy a greater degree of freedom of society.

The United States, on the other hand, has a government that is becoming more and more secretive. The claim is that this is being done in the name of national security, it is being done to keep us safe.

But it is also eroding our trust in our government. It is creating a cynical citizenry that, believing that its vote will not count, does not vote. It weakens democracy, and in so doing it makes us less safe.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Commander in Who?

An excerpt from Goerge Bush in his press conference yesterday. The quote is by no means precise, but I defy anyone to remember precisely for more than a few minutes anything that Bush says.

"Do I support a change in the number of troops? Heck yes, if General Casey asks for more troops he'll get more troops. Do I support a change of plan? Heck yes, if General Casey wants to change tactics I support anything he wants to do." etc.

He has been saying for a couple of years that the "Generals on the ground" receive as many troops as they ask for. There is some question as to whether or not that is true, but he has been making that claim.

So troop levels, strategy and tactics in Iraq are all determined by the "Generals on the ground" there. So what, precisely, is the meaning of the title Commander in Chief that he is so fond of applying to himself?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On Being American

I read this morning the following posted by a police officer. It is part of her response to an article about the unlawful imprisonment and treatment of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and I found it very moving.

To retort that this raw power is necessary to "protect Americans" is to assume that there is nothing in being a citizen of this nation for any of us beyond the mere fact of being alive. My own judgment is that this is not what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind when they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the task of creating the United States of America and it horrifies me that those who have taken oaths to defend the Constitution view their fellow citizens as having no greater aspirations as Americans than craven physical safety.

If they are right and I am wrong then being American is little more than being situated in a certain place on the globe with no claim to moral authority beyond what can be enforced through bullets and bombs. Then we are little more than a street gang with assertions of control over our turf. Then we are truly lost.

Diana Powe

I cannot add to that. She says if better than I can.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ethics in Government? Nah.

A Greek philosopher named Diogenes is said to have once wandered through the streets of Athens with a lantern in daylight, searching for an honest man.

That pursuit would certainly have been fruitless in Washington, D.C. That is a city devoid of any trace of honesty or ethics.

Starting with the nation’s highest office, our president would not recognize the truth if he was a monkey and truth was bannanas. He would starve trying to eat picket fences. Keith Olbermann delivered a 'Special Comment' in his Thursday evening broadcast on the subject, well worth the time to listen.

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Bypassing the next in line (Cheney seems to be sort of hiding in the weeds at the moment), the Speaker of the House apologised for the “Foley issue” by saying that he is "deeply sorry this has happened." Some apology.

And I’m deeply sorry that a comet hit Jupiter last year and disturbed its atmosphere. It was a long way away, I had nothing to do with causing it, it didn't really affect me, and I'm not even entirely sure when it happened (was it last year, or the year before), but I'm deeply sorry that it happened.

After saying that he took “full responsibility, ” he goes on to blame everybody but himself. "Could we have handled it better?” He asked, “Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes." Does that sound like taking full responsibility to you? Please note that I take full responsibility for the comet that hit Jupiter, too.

So who is going to investigate whether or not the Foley business was covered up by the GOP? The House Ethics Committee. Is that good, or what? That’s about as effective as having the investigation done by the Asheville, NC Grade School Glee Club.

How many members of Congress have been tried in the courts and found quilty of fraud, campaign law violations, graft, bribery and, in one case, actually thrown in jail? Well, the House Ethics Committee is unaware that any member has ever done anything wrong. Maybe we can have them investigate the comet that hit Jupiter.

But the best part is that they are promising speedy action with the phrase that it will take “weeks not months.” The elections are four weeks away, so if the investigation takes five weeks it will be published after the election and still be “weeks not months” as promised. But it will still have been stalled until after the election.

The really sad part is that the American people know that we are being lied to, and we don’t seem to care.

In Hungary a politician was caught on tape admitting that those in government had lied in order to be re-elected, and when that tape was made public there was massive rioting. The people of Hungary care about government, and they were angry that those they had elected would lie to them to “stay in power.” They took action, massive action in an effort to throw out those who had betrayed their trust.

In America we just re-elect the liars.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Real Values

This will be a short post, as the subject pretty much speaks for itself.

Do the Amish vote? Who do they vote for?

They don't say, do they? What they say is that they forgive the man who killed their children. They don't rant about their beliefs. They don't beat their chest about whose God is right, about what "values" are wrong, about want anyone else should or should not be doing. They don't have any pulpits and they don't point any fingers. They just quietly go about the business of living their faith among themselves.

And they forgive those who wrong them.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Politics of Power

A New York Times editorial today said it very well,

“History suggests that once a political party achieves sweeping power, it will only be a matter of time before the power becomes the entire point. Policy, ideology, ethics all gradually fall away, replaced by a political machine that exists to win elections and dispense the goodies that come as a result. The only surprise in Washington now is that the Congressional Republicans managed to reach that point of decayed purpose so thoroughly, so fast.”

The short form is “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If you examine the record of the session of Congress just ended, it is readily apparent that the Congressional Republicans have no intention whatever of accomplishing anything for the good of their country. It is clear that they are directing their time, efforts and energy to only one thing, and that is the enhancement and preservation of their own party’s power.

Congressional Republicans are quite willing, in fact, to damage their country’s interests by inaction because the actions, institution of immigration policy reform and other items of national concern, would jeopardize their grip on the power they hold.

Congressional Republicans are quite willing to damage their country by passing bills that tighten their grip on power and weaken their country’s moral basis in the eyes of the community of nations.

Our founders framed our government as a system of checks and balances, and that system has worked throughout history even when the executive and the legislative branches were of the same party. It worked because those in government placed country above party. It worked because they placed governing above power.

It worked because absolute power had not yet corrupted absolutely.

But now it has. The purpose of those in power is no longer the service of one’s country, and they no longer even pretend that it is. They no longer even speak of “remaining in office” or “continuing to serve.”

They now openly speak of “maintaining control” of the House and Senate. Contribution to country, service to fellow man, honesty, integrity, ethics, decency and morality have all fallen to the corruption of power.

But the fault lies not only with those in office.

They are but men, no stronger or weaker than anyone else. We put them in office and leave them there for term after term by re-election. We give them the power that corrupts and so we share the blame when they fall to its siren call.

It is not the initial election to office that leads office holders to the sense of invincibility that corrupts. It is the endless re-election by the voters that leads them to believe that they have the power to act without accountability.

Asking those in power to change on their own is like a farmer deciding that his pigs are getting too fat and, while still pouring food into the trough, tells the pigs to stop eating so much. All that does is annoy the pigs and frustrate the farmer. He still has fat pigs, because pigs at a trough will not stop eating.

(Did I just imply that our legislators are like pigs? If so, I apologize to pigs.)

Voters re-elect incumbents because they are the “known quantity” and require no research, no judgement. The challenger is an unknown quantity and therefor a risky choice.

If our Congress is to change, it is the voters that must change it. It means that voters must work harder and in greater numbers. It means that voters must pay attention to what legislators are doing, and spend time and energy investigating “new blood” to infuse our into our legislative bodies.

Change, as it has been for more than 200 years, is up to us.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Relight the Torch

I’ve gone beyond anger, I am just terribly sad.

I have loved my country for as long as I can remember. I love it still, deeply and with all my heart. And my country yesterday was dealt such a blow.

This blow wounded America far worse than September 11, 2001. That terrible event brought death to no few of our people, grief and loss to many more, but this blow damaged the very soul of our nation.

September 28, 2006. On this date the President of the United States of America gained for himself the power to detain and imprison without recourse, a power heretofore held only by kings and dictators. He has been usurping this power for some years and has been seeking to have Congress make his illegal activity legitimate, and on this date a supine Congress gave him the dictatorial power he sought.

For more than 200 years the Constitution of this nation has stood as a bastion of the principle that freedom and liberty stand taller than the power of government. Forty-two presidents have lived within that principle, not all of them entirely by their own choice. The forty-third has fought hard enough to secure personal power in abrogation of that principle that he has finally succeeded.

For 120 years Liberty has held aloft in New York harbor a torch, a light that has been a symbol of liberty to the world.

On September 28, 2006 that torch became dark.

On November 7th America has an opportunity to relight the torch, to restore a government of checks and balances as our founders intended, to end the obscenity that is this Imperial Presidency.

Two more years of this power grab is unconscionable.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Elephant in the Living Room

Right-winger bloggers are greeting the NIE with great glee, with its content that the war in Iraq has increased the spread of terrorism. Some are a bit baffled why Bush would declassify that report, and in particular why he would declassify that particular portion of that report.

Talk about not seeing the elephant in the living room.
It says that there are more terrorists.

That is precisely the message that the Republicans want to get across to the American people. “There are more terrorists, the danger is higher, you need us to protect you.” They believe that people will overlook the fact that it is Bush policies and actions that have increased the number of terrorists, and will focus simply on the fact that there are more of them.

More terrorists (danger) + cheaper gasoline = Republican win in 2006.

It’s all they have. Will it work this time?

Killing Habeas Corpus

During the ratification of our Constitution it was noted and discussed that the document did not contain sufficient protection of individual rights for the people of the new nation. And so in 1789 the First Congress sent to the states for ratification a set of twelve amendments which were loosely based on a British Bill of Rights dating back to 1688.

Ten of those amendments passed and became known as our Bill of Rights.

Loosely speaking, the Constitution deals with the formulation and power of the Federal Government and the Bill of Rights deals with the protection of the rights of citizens. But, missing from our Bill of Rights and present in the British one, is the right of habeas corpus. Why?

Because our founders considered that right so basic and so essential that they put it in the Constitution itself.

Habeas corpus, literally “you shall have the body,” is the right of anyone detained by authority to appear before a judge to question his detention. The appearance does not determine guilt or innocence of any specified charge, merely whether or not the imprisonment itself is legal. It prevents the King, in the original British bill, or the any government agency in our case, from simply making someone disappear into a “dungeon” forever without recourse.

It has been a cornerstone of our laws, a part of our Constitution, for more than 200 years and now George Bush wants to remove it, permanently and retroactively. He not only wants the power to imprison without recourse, he wants justification for those whom he is currently imprisoning in violation of current law.

He is violating constitutional law and, rather than agreeing to cease the practice, he wants Congress to pass laws permitting his egregious imprisonment policy.

It is unconscionable that Congress would even consider passing such a law and yet, on both sides of the aisle, they are doing precisely that. Other than Sen. Arlen Specter's anemic stance and Sen. Patrick Leahy's somewhat more vigorous one, not one Democratic or Republican voice is raised in outrage at the concept of passing laws to overrule habeas corpus, to corrupt our Constitution.

When John McCain and company raised objection to an administration bill permitting torture, it was only the torture to which they took issue. The right of habeas corpus was never mentioned and, in the final agreement, the elimination of that essential right in that bill was agreed upon by all parties without discussion.

Are we really going to become a banana republic that lacks one of the most basic rights of man?

Falling gas prices

At a recent news gaggle Tony Snow said that Bush was not personally responsible for the falling gas prices; that he was not, himself, making the oil companies reduce prices. Words to that effect. The funny thing is, his remark was not in response to the question he was asked. He had been asked if Republicans were happy about the falling prices.

I always love it when people defend things they haven’t been accused of. Makes me sort of think, “Aha, there’s a skunk in the woodpile.”

He went on to say, "It also raises the question, if we're dropping gas prices now, why on earth did we raise them to $3.50 before?"

Well, duh. There wasn’t an election pending then.

Actually, I don’t suspect Bush or the Republicans of raising or lowering gas prices. I think they would to pretty much anything to win an election, but I don’t think they are the ones pulling the plug on prices. I have no doubt that it is the oil companies who are reducing the price of gas themselves, and I have no doubt it is related to the November elections.

Of course the oil companies deny that.

Joanne Shore, an Energy Department analyst was asked if it was possible that oil companies would reduce prices to help Republicans. She responded, "What company in their right mind would step forward to kill their profit?"

Obviously Shore has not taken Economics 101. Neither have I, for that matter, but even I can figure out that if I drop my prices to look good for a couple of months, and by so doing assure the continuance for another two years of the conditions that have been making me huge profits, then I’m going to recover way more profit in the future than what it cost me to temporarily lower my prices to assure that continuance.

Lowering prices for a couple of months will not “kill their profit.” Letting their friends the Republicans lose control of Congress will “kill their profit.”

It bothers me that the public would disregard death and destruction in Iraq, illegal detention and torture, corruption and waste in government, and loss of essential liberties, and would vote Republican because they are happy about the price of gasoline. But it seems they are doing so, because the Republicans are gaining in the polls and they only thing that has changed is the price of gasoline.

Little wonder that the rest of the world doesn’t take us seriously.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Policy of Torture

In addition to the moral argument that torture is simply wrong, there are the logical arguments that it does not provide real or useful information, that it exposes our own forces to the same treatment, and that it causes the world to “doubt the moral basis” of our war on terrorism.

There is another, chilling argument provided by Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps. He writes in the Washington Post on Dec 18, 2005

“Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists.”

He describes seeing that happen in the Soviet Union, it was called the NKVD which the current generation came to know as the KGB. And he goes on,

“So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? (…) I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.”

Vladimir Bukovsky has the courage to stand opposed to a nation’s adoption of torture as a policy, a policy to which he was subjected; to stand without flinching no matter how popular or otherwise his position may be.

John McCain was subjected to a similar policy, suffered greatly without surrender, and yet today his overwhelming lust for high office leads him to put aside his past experience and his moral compass, and causes him to bow to the imperatives of partisan politics by engaging in the rhetoric of deception rather than standing on his principles.

McCain claims that the so-called compromise between the “dissident” senators and the administration preserves and protects our adherence to the Geneva Convention, but anyone with half a brain can see that it does nothing of the sort.

Where is our leadership? Where is anyone in public life in America with the courage and conviction of a Vladimir Bukovsky?

Colin Powell emerged from obscurity in support of McCain’s initial objection to the Bush administration bill contravening the Geneva Convention, penning his oft-quoted letter with it’s line about the world “beginning to doubt the moral basis of our war on terror.” But when McCain and Company abandoned their position and Powell saw that he had no support he retreated back to the safety of obscurity. Powell has high standards, but it appears that he lacks the moral courage to stand up for them under fire.

Powell’s argument, though unpursued, for me is still the right one because it goes to the moral value of the practice. Torture is wrong, and it diminishes the moral basis of the person or nation that engages in it.

Vladimir Bukovsky has lived where the freedom of man did not exist, and so values it in a way that we, who have grown up taking it for granted, cannot. Perhaps that is the source of his courage. Perhaps he is the better man for having lived without that for which our leaders seem so unwilling to stand up and speak to defend.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Nation Divided

We have become a nation divided against itself in so many ways, and we have forgotten the adage the goes back, I believe, to the Revolution,
“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Divided on torture

Why are we even having this debate? Why are we even making the arguments about whether or not it provides useful information, whether or not it puts our military at risk?

It doesn’t freaking matter!

It’s against everything moral and ethical upon which this nation was founded more than 200 years ago. That’s what matters, and that should end the arguments before they even start.

Republican vs. Democrat

The two-party system used to be a valuable instrument of debate, and now it has become a weapon of ideology leading to stalemate and paralysis. Party ideologues are so rigidly married to their thinking that they can find no common ground that leads to action, and Congress has degenerated to a process of maneuvering to prevent the success of the opposition rather than the advancement of anything that can be useful for the nation.

Division of self-interest

The national electorate is united in the opinion that Congress has become utterly useless but is disastrously divided on what to do about it, divided by self-interest.

Overall opinion of Congress is massive disapproval, with 25% approval and 61% disapproval. However when it comes to “my guy” 53% think he/she is “doing a good job.”

The people responding to the poll overall said by a margin of 77% to 12% that new people should be elected to Congress, but 39% said they intended to re-elect their own.

The “other guys” are bad because they are getting federal money for other states and “my guy” is good because he’s getting federal money for my state. I’m not really that proud of my guy, but I want the money he brings home. The electorate is divided by self-interest.

When every state re-elects "my guy" out of self-interest, then the common interest of changing Congress is defeated. "Divided we fall."


Enhanced interrogation is another way of saying torture.
Rigid ideology is another way of saying intolerance.
Self-interest is another way of saying greed.

Torture, intolerance, greed. Is that America?