Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy 250th!

Happy 250th birthday to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the six Greats!




Ya' know, I'm surprised conspiracy theorists haven't had a field day with this one! Consider for a moment that W is a foreign agent, planted by, say, the House of Saud to bring down the good 'ole US of A. Let's look at the evidence:
  • Running the most rapidly progressing deficit in history, increasingly mortgaging our financial future to the Chinese
  • If the warrantless spying thing ever sees the inside of a courtroom and is found to be illegal, many legitimate "tearist" convictions could be overturned due to tainted evidence
  • Fueling the growth of Islamic extremism by invading an Islamic nation which did not pose a threat to the US
  • Dismantling the social infrastructure at home
  • Fracturing the post WWII alliance
  • Last but not least, rendering our military ineffective in the event of a real threat
Think about it. If even 3 of these things come to pass, it could begin the passing of a great nation.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Warriors and Wusses"

Touchy subject. Hate the war. Support the troops. No one dares handle that one. Kinda like the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that no one wants to acknowledge and discuss. Or the naked emperor with the lovely new "clothes".

Until now.

In a gutsy, albeit controversial column yesterday Joel Stein steps out of the chamber of hypocrisy and bares it all. And he says some things a lot of us have been thinking, but haven't had the cajones to say.

How can you possibly hate the war, but "support the troops"?

Mr. Stein tackles this one with a poignant and provocative column in yesterday's L.A. Times. Unlike its portrayal by the Regressives (and some Progressives) it is not an attack on "the troops", but rather on the phonies that stick the ribbon magnets on the back of their cars, never even having a clue about what war really is and what the troops endure there or after returning, and also the even more spineless who claim to be against the war but "support the troops" (whatever that means).

I don't agree with all his points, particularly those that deal with the realities of enlistment. I don't believe a 19 year old is going to spend a lot of time and thought on the morality of historical use of force. Additionally, in many cases he or she may be pursuing one of the few career options in the community. And once they are in, options for dissent are and should be nonexistent. And I think national service is an honorable and fruitful pursuit.

But he does lay bare the issue of taking a consistently firm stand (not just one of a tepid rejection of war) contrasted with a politically safe chest pounding patriotism. There's a contradiction here that doesn't pass the smell test.

Please read the column. Sure, there's a tone of unseemly bravado in it. Maybe even insensitivity. But it made me think. He's not anti-troops. He's anti-citizens who have reduced their understanding and involvement in war to a magnet on the back of their car, or a phony "our brave men and women" platitude. Whether they are for the invasion & occupation or not.

Thank you Joel. We know that no one wishes the troops ill will. but we also know that it is just as patriotic to speak out when there is a wrong to be exposed.



It was a fascinating development in the Middle East yesterday, the stunning rise to elected power which Hamas achieved yesterday over Fatah thanks to Palestinian voters. There're a lot of juicy aspects to it; let's look at some of the obvious ones.

First and foremost, its got to be an absolute shocker to the U.S. and other countries who had labeled the radical militant organization as a terrorist group (which it is). And they were democratically elected. We'll see the usual spin in the next few days: it wasn't so much a vote for Hamas as much as it was a vote against Fatah and the PA, who are corrupt and have dramatically failed the Palestinian people for so many years, blah blah blah.

The second and third things that come to mind are kind of in-your-face issues for Hamas itself.

One is the fact that part of their charter from day one was the goal of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. As recently as a few days ago they were stickin' with that story. But the PA and the West Bank settlements are not exactly an autonomous, stand-alone nation. Their public infrastructure (public works, water, power) is provided mostly by, well, Israel. So the first couple of conversations with their new patron will be a bit uncomfortable. And because the PA is currently on the brink of bankruptcy other benefactors may have some tough questions before providing more aid. How's the rewrite of the charter coming boys? And that logo?

The other is the fact that transforming from a disruptive force to a governance & diplomatic entity is quite a journey. The IRA was very creative about the way they accomplished this (assuming you'd consider them successful). For sure, Hamas provides a lot of charitable aid to Muslims which most westerners are unaware of. But they are largely composed by the guns and bombs group as well (the "T" word). Its easy to start the fires, harder to manage them and put them out. It will be interesting to see if they can make the transition from a negative to a positive role. It certainly will take a lot of readjustment, and some big time patience on the part of some outsiders. Plus a change in leadership, as we have learned from the likes of Mr. Arafat.

One thing is certain at this point. If relations between Israel and the Palestinian people don't continue to improve, or if the peace process deteriorates, it can no longer be blamed solely on disingenuous leaders like Yasir Arafat or Israel. Partial blame can now be placed at the feet of the Palestinians themselves.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Curious Case of Jill Carroll

Unfortunately the average American knows little (or nothing) about the people we are in armed conflict with in the middle east currently, particularly those in Iraq, the folks we have "liberated". There are many reasons for that, ranging from the spin doctors in D.C. (on both sides) feeding us distilled and hopelessly oversimplified explanations of the area to the dangerous conditions making it difficult for journalists to travel outside of the Green Zone for the real stories. We are told they are murderous "terrorists", hell-bent on destroying "our way of life". We are also told they are not ordinary Iraqis; those were going to greet us with rose petals, and dance on Saddam Hussein's grave.

The latest target of the "kill the messenger" squad of the RadCons, Rep. John Murtha, tells us differently. He reports that they are 93% Iraqi; our friends during the day, tossing bombs at night. And the citizens not only know who they are but also support them clandestinely. Would you support an occupying force in your neighborhood?

But these "tearists", or "insurgents" have a curious PR problem. And the case of Jill Carroll is the latest example of this. Here we have an American journalist, familiar with the language and the culture, having friends in the area and trying to report what the real facts are on the ground, so we might understand the nuances of the war. So they (I realize there are many conflicting factions, have seen Monty Python's Life of Brian at least 30 times) abduct this woman, threatening to kill her unless several demands are met by the Americans and their Iraqi government. It's a message kinda like "they tell you we're barbarians so now we'll prove it!". I would think these folks would be giving foreign journalists an armed escort around the country (except FOX "news") so the world can see for themselves the extent to which the average Iraqi is affected by the occupation and growing civil war.

The American invasion and occupation of Iraq was wrong. The abduction and threat against Jill Carroll is just as wrong, arguably more so.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Soooo Busted!

File this one under Pets NOT to Have if you are having an surreptitious tryst. Its kinda funny and sad at the same time. I think he should have kept Ziggy. And I wonder what Gary's up to now.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The True Patriot

Al Franken has a great way to simply characterize the difference between an extreme conservative's love of country and a progressive's. The conservative love is much the same as a 5 year old boy's love for his mommy: its simple, unconditional, and anyone who says mommy is less than perfect is gonna get a big punch in the nose! The progressive's love, in contrast, more closely resembles a mature adult romantic relationship: deep, complex, always open to ways it can become better; recognizing that there are flaws in all of us, but still loving, building, growing.

There has been a lot of good, constructive analysis from a lot of great minds in the U.S. detailing what is wrong with our foreign policy, and our military approach in Iraq. The 5 year old calls many of them traitors, cowards, soft on terrorism, Osama-lovers; well, you get the idea (funny how just 6 years ago criticizing the Commander-in-Chief was tres fashionable in their circles). We've also endured considerable criticism from around globe, much of it virulent, from friend and foe alike. However, now we have some comprehensive feedback from one of our oldest and closest friends and allies, the British. A high ranking officer in the British military has written a very constructive but painfully frank critique of U.S. performance in Iraq after spending a few years working alongside the Americans in Iraq. There is much praise, but also a heaping helping of some friendly advice. What is more remarkable and very encouraging is that the U.S. Army published in in their magazine, Military Review (kudos to Colonel William Darley, editor; it's a great first step). No "peacenik", the man who wrote it.

While the British understandably are distancing themselves from the article by saying it does not reflect the view from 10 Downing, indications are that his are widely held opinions among high ranking officials, perhaps even in the mind of Mr. Blair himself. Of course, the rightie rule number one being to viciously attack the messenger, Brig Aylwin-Foster will be the target of long worn out negative cliches about the British over the coming months. Perhaps there will be a ban on fish-and-chips in the senate lunchroom. Maybe something less mature like giving up gin. Or, as we love to do to the French, we can declare "we pulled your fat out of the fire in WW II!" with all the righteous indignation we can muster.

Or we could listen to the sober words of a good friend.

No doubt there are some misconceptions in the article, but the overall tone supports many, many other assessments from other sources. We are morphing into a caricature of wild west movie gunslingers in our approach to the rest of the world, allowing our diplomatic skills to atrophy. No subtleties, no grays or nuance; Black or white, with us or again' us, good guys or bad guys. And what we don't like we blow up. Then we blow it up with a bigger bomb. Shock and awe. Civilian casualties? What civilians? They're all bad guys!

I know, I know. The world's an ugly place with some pretty ugly characters in it, who'd cut my throat without a second thought. True. And then we can trot out that Swiss army knife of excuses and justification, 9/11. And I take this life for granted in the comfort of my living room, never threatened by the hell that's out there. Again the all or nothing approach.

But the reality is that the world is evolving politically and diplomatically, especially the west, and we are becoming increasingly out of touch. We are losing our credibility in diplomatic circles as we continue arrogant unilateral actions, much as we are losing our moral authority through situations like Abu Graib, illegal detentions, black sites, illegal wiretapping, torture and rendition. Most progressives love this country, and are desperately trying to sound the wake-up call. This article is the latest wake-up call, let's hope its loud enough. We've stopped growing, folks (in some ways we're regressing).

Bill Clinton (among others, like W's dad) has said that we can never kill, capture or contain all those in the world who mean us harm. In fact trying to do so alienates those who would be our friend, and fuels those who won't. We can still set a major example for the world if we recognize this, and act accordingly. Mr. Clinton understands the world community we live in; he's a true patriot. Mr. G.W. Bush is an oligarch (or a plutocrat?).

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Hidden behind the current Alito coverage are other stories of the news cycle, particularly the attempt of L. Paul Bremer III to sell a book. Mr. Bremer, who prefers to go by the forename L and the surname III is attempting to be the latest public figure to secure his future by distancing himself from his past. Despite his rabid defense of the W approach to the invasion and occupation of Iraq when he was the man in charge, he now has considerable criticism, much of it quite valid, now that he has a career to cultivate and a book to sell. Mr. L. III does little, however, to take responsibility for his role in the Iraq mess, or his inability to correct it, much less extricate his reputation from it. Easy to call it on monday, Mr. III. Perhaps you can also blame Jacques Chirac and Jean Chretien? Enjoying that Medal of Freedom, are we?

Another Opinion

Now he wants to distance himself from his book!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Happy Anniversary to...... Us!!

It was one year ago this blog was started for a number of reasons, among them the need to vent over pent up frustrations, to celebrate the good stuff, and the desire to develop and improve a writing style (you might say it was a New Year's resolution). I was not sure how long it would endure, but here we are going strong a year later, and I feel like I'm just getting started! For those who have been repeat visitors, I thank you!

Here's the very first post from January 11, 2005.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

An Island Nation

60 Minutes did a piece last night on Bill Clinton and his work on assisting with the growing AIDS problem in China. About two thirds of the way into the story, the inevitable (and irritating) question was offered up by Dan Rather: Why can't you spend your energy helping those closer to home?

The question is well-meaning in a simplistic sort of way; When neighbors in the old west hit on hard times like a bad harvest or a devastating storm, the folk around them helped them weather the challenge (maybe this is just the movie impression, perhaps it never happened this way. At least now this phenomenon takes place occasionally at the neighborhood level).

But the hidden meaning screams out: American suffering is far worst than general world suffering (a bombing killing 10 lives in the US is perceived in the US as FAR worse than a bombing in, say, Africa which kills 1,000) and American life is far more valuable than general world lives.... at least once you get beyond English speaking countries, then the Western ones (except for the French and the Germans, who for some inexplicable reason have turned them from friends to targets). This is just plain wrong. We are all human.

Our country has turned into an island of sorts, oblivious and isolated from the world, impervious to its cultures, not unlike that of pre-WW II. Yet our government projects power and influence at an unprecedented level unbeknownst to 95% of the citizens, under Democratic and Republican leadership (actually the Reps today are more honest about their intentions). We can't even begin to comprehend the level of suffering in parts of the world (Katrina would be a relief to the black inhabitants of parts of the Sudan).

So one needs to ask, what is the "trade deficit" in terms of travel and cultural interaction between the US and the world?

To start, a little fact finding. First, the US is 4th in the world in terms of square kilometers of land mass. We just barely squeak past China, and are a stone's throw from Australia and Brazil. Second, we are the third largest country in terms of population behind China and India (unless you consider the EU as a country). Yet we represent only 6% of the world's total population.

So why the attitude?

Easy answer. Economic and military power, plus the fact that we yet again have become a cultural island. But the ugly truth is that we subconsciously discount the value of human life that is not American, and Caucasian. Consider the following:

  • How many of you know (within 10,000) how many people died in last year's SE Asian Tsunami?
  • Do you identify with the majority opinion that we'd "rather fight the 'terrorists' over there than here" (really meaning we'd rather have innocent Iraqi deaths than American deaths)?
  • Lastly, how many of you consider 9/11 to be the worst human tragedy of the lat 10 years?
  • How many of you have been to a non-North American country?
The point is this: We as Americans travel overseas far less than other civilized countries (depending upon source, 17% vs. 43%) and are far less likely to speak a language other than our own. We live in a cocoon, the dominating sleeper, unaware of our cultural surroundings. And because of that we're being fed erroneous information about other cultures, information we can't temper with experience. In short, we know nothing of the rest of the world.

To be fair, being the economic superpower we are as well as taking into account geographical considerations, this may be inevitable. Except for those of us fortunate enough to live on the only two borders we have (and I'd question that there is a huge cultural chasm between the U.S. and Canada besides the fact that Canada leans toward more progressive values), most folks don't ever meet "foreigners" face to face, always a guaranteed ice breaker. And its only natural to worry more about one's own friends and family more. But this fact behooves a nation which professes such strong "Christian" values to go the extra mile to walk in another's shoes (if I may mix metaphors!), especially when we are directly responsible for bringing on the much of the pain and suffering in the world.

Why should Bill Clinton worry about AIDS in China? Because we are all humans, equal in importance, equal in need. We are not American, Chinese, Bangladeshis; we are inhabitants of planet earth.

Long live Caesar......