Friday, December 30, 2005

The Invisible Hand is Giving Us the Finger

Are we all agreed that socialism is drab, colorless, and boring? Good.

Does that mean the alternative to socialism has to be greed-driven capitalism? Isn't that a false dichotomy?

Couldn't we, like, you know, try to find a happy medium, or something?

Yes, greed-driven capitalism produces great abundance, but it also generates tremendous shortages (of things which are in the public interest but not very profitable, such as efficient public transportation).

Competitive capitalism is casualty-intensive. Some gotta win; they drive Mercedeses and join country clubs and live in McMansions and wear Rolex watches. Others gotta lose, and they get the shitty end of the stick. That's the worst thing about enshrining greed as the highest virtue, or claiming that it's any kind of virtue at all.

But the most annoying debris of capitalism isn't the walking wounded, it's the tastelessness and vulgarity. Anything that sells is good, so Danielle Steele, the only author who's written more books than she's read, is good.

Is there anything more tasteless and vulgar than Christmas?

Yes, there is, and I've found it: Breast Cancer M&M's.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ready for a Comeback

A poster at Beliefnet's U.S. Politics board (sort of a political Romper Room) was recently heaping contempt on critics of Bush's war.

"By the way," he sarcastically sneered with a sneer, "do you want us to restore him (Saddam Hussein) to power there?"

Sure, why not? He looks better than he has in a long time -- sort of like Nixon did in '68, only with a beard.

And any foreign policy idea that Don Imus favors is o.k. with me.

We could lend Saddam money and sell him weapons, like we did before. Then Don Rumsfeld could go over there and shake hands with him. It'd be like old home week.

Think of the headlines: "Saddam Hussein -- Comeback Story of the New Century..." And think of the advertising revenue: "Saddam sez, "I always wear Armani when I'm gassing Kurds."

Here's Saddam kicking political detainees in his steel-toed Doc Martens. And since a re-secularized Iraq would once again allow tobacco advertising, that ubiquitous billboard picture of the dictator smoking an Angel Fart cigarette would explain that he finds them "mild, but satisfying."

With a little help from us he'd certainly repress the Shi'a. Maybe he'd even be willing to go to war against Iran again. We always seem to do better when we let someone else fight our wars for us, as in Central America during the '80's.

We'd just have to tell him, "Look, don't kill or torture too many people -- you'll make us look bad. And if the Kuwaitis get back into "slant" drilling, let us handle it. We don't want to have to come after you again."

Saddam Hussein is like a pit bulldog -- a bad dog if he belongs to your neighbor, but a nice puppy if he's yours. And he's the kind of dog you definitely want in your backyard (rather than, say, China's) in this dog-eat-dog world.

I don't think he'll hold the Iraq War against us. After all, it was all just oil, money, and politics.

Nothing personal, Saddam old buddy, just business.

Sorry about your sons.

Monday, December 26, 2005

He's Eatin' Chow Yuck

He's eatin' bagels, he's eatin' pizza, he's eatin' chitlins, he's eatin'...oh, never mind. He's trying to please everybody is what he's doing, and he's pissing everybody off.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the far-right American Family Association has warned Republican Senator Rick Santorum that he "needs to be careful" about changing his views on intelligent design.

"Senator Rick Santorum's agreement with Judge John Jones' decision (in the Dover, PA school board case) is yet another example of why conservatives can no longer trust the senator," the Association said.

Santorum's changing views on evolution indicate, if not an ability to evolve, at least an awareness of a need for adaptation. As his popularity has declined, his viewpoints on any number of issues have veered wildly.

His problem is that people of all political persuasions dislike someone who is obviously insincere. Rick's just about to the point now where he needs to tie a steak around his neck to get the dog to play with him.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Troops Out, Air Force In

As reported by media critic Norman Solomon and also here earlier this month, the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq announced recently by Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't mean that the war there is ending or even being wound down.

As in Vietnam 35 years ago, as the troops come out, the bombers will go in.

The Washington Post yesterday became the first major media organ to confirm the war's new direction, and provided numbers.

The Post's Bradley Graham reported that "US airstrikes in Iraq have surged this fall, jumping to nearly five times the average monthly rate earlier in the year, according to US military figures.

"Until the end of August, US warplanes were conducting about 25 strikes a month. The number rose to 62 in September, then to 122 in October and 120 in November."

Read the whole thing here.

The Bush administration's strategy is obvious enough: they're hoping that Americans will forget about the war if they're not confronted with daily U.S. casualty statistics. They're assuming that while news of Americans killed in action upsets us, the death toll among Iraqis either won't be widely reported or, if it is, won't bother us.

After all, who cares about a few dead Arabs.

The problem is, re-tooling the war as an air campaign is dangerous in ways the ground campaign was not. These new dangers were examined in detail by the December 5 New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that originally reported this story, "Up in the Air"

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Usual Suspects

Ever since the word got out that Bush's secret police are illegally scrutinizing the minutiae of our daily lives, the Republican spin machine has responded in its usual way, by lying.

It's their standard operating procedure. If you want to start a war, slime an opposing candidate, or justify a criminal policy, you just make shit up.

In this particular case, the standard lie, spun into cotton candy thread by the credulous and swallowed by the gullible, is that Carter and Clinton did the same thing.

Here's the warrantless search order Clinton signed:

Section 1. Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) [50 U.S.C. 1822(a)] of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act, the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.

Two things make this different from Bush's NSA order: 1) The AG could approve only physical searches, not electronic surveillance, and 2) the AG had to be able to certify that said searches were in compliance with USC section 50 section 302.

What does that section require? That there be "no substantial likelihood that the physical search will involve the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person."

To go on TV and baldly assert that what Clinton did is the same as what Bush is doing isn't an exaggerration, a mis-statement, or a mistake. It's an outrageous, deliberate lie.

While we're at it, here's the order Carter signed:

Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.

This one includes electronic surveillance, but like Clinton's order is required to adhere to the rules laid out in the same USC section, which specifies that "the electronic surveillance is solely directed at communications exclusively between or among foreign powers." Under the terms of both these orders, spying on U.S. citizens was strictly off limits.

The hopeful sign is that the people spreading this malarky aren't always getting away with it. A couple nights ago on "Hardball," some neocon Senator from one of our barbaric southern regions of cornbread and revival attempted to tell this lie, but was brought up short by Andrea Mitchell, actually doing her job for a change.

"You're leaving out the last sentence," she told him, when he recited an edited version of Clinton's order.

In a truly democratic society, GW Bush and his crew of buccaneers would be out of office and in prison right now, doing hard time for the lies they told during the runup to Iraq. But lying worked for them then, and there's no reason for them to assume that it won't work now.

The truth is, there is no precedent for the kind of surveillance we're being subjected to under Bush, and it has nothing to do with "terrism." Big Brother is indeed watching you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Studies in Dictatorship

At least Co-President Cheney doesn't mince words. Quoted in a story by Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times, Cheney blandly asserts that he and Bush want to return to the abuses and usurpations of the pre-Watergate Nixon administration (although that's my choice of words, not his). From Reynold's story:

President Bush's decision to bypass court review and authorize domestic wiretapping by executive order was part of a concerted effort to rebuild presidential powers weakened in the 1970s as a result of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday.

Returning from a trip to the Middle East, Cheney said that threats facing the country required that the president's authority under the Constitution be "unimpaired."

"Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority. I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters traveling with him on Air Force Two. "Especially in the day and age we live in, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy."

Cheney's remarks were recorded by reporters traveling with him and disseminated by the White House under an official pool arrangement.

Cheney dismissed the idea that Americans were concerned about a potential abuse of power by the administration, saying that any backlash would probably punish the president's critics, not Bush.

His words are reminiscent of the third chapter of Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall," which concerns the ascent of Octavius Augustus to the throne of what was, until his arrival, a republic. Gibbon says of Augustus:

"THE obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state, in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army. But, unless public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism.

"Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been levelled by the vast ambition of the dictator...the fate of the Roman world depended on the will of Octavianus, surnamed Caesar, by his uncle's adoption, and afterwards Augustus, by the flattery of the senate.

"With its power, the senate had lost its dignity...

"Augustus…displayed his patriotism, and disguised his ambition.

"It would require the pen of Tacitus to describe the various emotions of the senate; those that were suppressed, and those that were affected. It was dangerous to trust the sincerity of Augustus; to seem to distrust it was still more dangerous...Amidst this confusion of sentiments, the answer of the senate was unanimous and decisive. They refused to accept the resignation of Augustus; they conjured him not to desert the republic, which he had saved. After a decent resistance, the crafty tyrant submitted to the orders of the senate; and consented to receive the government of the provinces, and the general command of the Roman armies, under the well-known names of PROCONSUL and IMPERATOR. But he would receive them only for ten years. Even before the expiration of that period, he hoped that the wounds of civil discord would be completely healed, and that the republic, restored to its pristine health and vigour, would no longer require the dangerous interposition of so extraordinary a magistrate. The memory of this comedy, repeated several times during the life of Augustus, was preserved to the last ages of the empire, by the peculiar pomp with which the perpetual monarchs of Rome always solemnised the tenth years of their reign.

Finally, either Hamilton or Madison (or both) wrote these words on the topic of constructing a government designed specifically to prevent the advent of the accumulation of too much power in too few hands, especially as exemplified by dictatorship. From The Federalist No. 51:

TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. Without presuming to undertake a full development of this important idea, I will hazard a few general observations, which may perhaps place it in a clearer light, and enable us to form a more correct judgment of the principles and structure of the government planned by the convention.

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigorously adhered to, it would require that all the appointments for the supreme executive, legislative, and judiciary magistracies should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels having no communication whatever with one another.

(Emphasis mine.) We can infer from Cheney's words that what he and Bush have in mind would make Nixon and Reagan look like lightweights; their plan matches more closely that of Augustus.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Blogs Abuzz Over Mysteries Re: NSA Spying

The initial outrage over the revelation that the Bush administration has been using the National Security Agency to illegally spy on American citizens has given way to perplexed questions about why it happened. If the spying was conducted using the ordinary sorts of surveillance techniques -- wiretaps and so forth -- couldn't the administration have very easily obtained the required permission from the FISA Court?

Discussion on the left-leaning blogs centers on the wide latitude historically allowed for government investigations by the Foreign Intelligence Security Act Court -- the warrant-granting agency created in 1978 in the wake of Watergate.

At the influential "Talking Points Memo" blog, proprieter Joshua Micah Marshall notes that "Wiretaps are conducted around the country every day. The FISA Court alone approves something like a half a dozen a day in highly classified national security or espionage related cases."

"The only issue here," Marshall pointedly observes, "is why the president decided to go around the normal rules that govern such surveillance, why he chose to make himself above the law."

But Marshall himself had already gone a long way toward answering that question.

In a December 17 posting, Marshall reports that in its entire history, "the FISA Court has rejected (only) four government applications for warrants," but then further explains, "Only, it's not quite that simple."

The Department of Justice report Marshall cites also explains that "in 2003, the Court 'made substantive modifications to the government's proposed orders' in 79 applications out of 1727 applications made and 1724 approved."

"In 2004," the same report continues, "the number of approved warrants with 'substantive modifications' was 94 out of a total of 1758." However, before 2003, the court hardly ever demanded modifications in the government's request for warrants. There were less than half a dozen such demands from 2000 through 2002.

"2003 Is where the change comes," Marshall concludes, and implies that the Bush administration refused to submit surveillance activities requests to the FISA Court out of fear that the court would demand that the scope of those activities, or the techniques used to conduct them, be modified.

This raises the possibility that the administration is using new eavesdropping technologies they want to keep secret. The blog "" links to a December 18 Washington Post editorial, "Pushing the Limits of Wartime Powers," which quotes former Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla), who was briefed on the internal spying as saying, "I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy, with new opportunities to intercept overseas calls that passed through U.S. switches."

Likewise, New York Times Editor Bill Keller, while explaining to CNN why his paper waited a year to publish its story revealing the existence of the domesting spying operation, revealed that "...we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program -- withholding a number of technical details -- in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record."

At Dave Lindorff's "This Can't Be Happening" blog, a December 17 posting recalled Bush's first-term plans to assign Admiral John Poindexter, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, with developing a "Total Information Awareness" program.

"TIA was officially dumped when word of it leaked out," Lindorff says, "but it bears mentioning that in fact, much of the hardware and software for realizing Poindexter's dark dream already exists. Carnivore--a software program that allows the Feds to scan all Internet communications for certain key words--is already in operation. American companies, in fact, have been honing these skills in products they have developed to help China monitor its Internet and phone systems. Don't think those fearsome capabilities have gone unnoticed in the White House."

"Without calling it TIA," Lindorff concludes, "our government too has begun massively snooping on Americans’ private communications."

Tying these various threads together yields the answer to the question the blogs are asking: President Bush, when ordering the National Security Agency to implement a new, wide-ranging domestic surveillance program, instructed the agency to refrain from requesting the warrants from the FISA court that would have made the activity legal. He did so out of fear that the court would disapprove of the extremely powerful "wide-net" technology the program subsequently employed, and would demand modifications in the government's investigatory techniques.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Extraordinary Melancholy of Christmas

A few nights ago, on one of the increasingly rare occasions at my house when the television happened to be on, I noticed one of the networks was running one of the several versions of that ancient, cartoon feature, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," with its ageless characters and fossilized pratfalls.

I was immediately struck by the theme music, which I didn't remember ever having heard before (I had heard it, but didn't recall it). The words were all about "joy," "beauty," "cheer," and so forth, but the tone of the piece, sung by a boys' choir, was extremely sad, melancholy, pensive, and completely at odds with the images simultaneously taking place on the screen.

That aura of deep melancholy and sadness now infuses everything about this joyless season, from the post-Thanksgiving Day scuffles over deep-discount merchandise at Wal-Mart, to the sad, exhausted, and careworn faces of shoppers in the overcrowded stores, wearily fulfilling their obligation to exchange battery-operated items of useless junk with each other on the appointed day.

This is all that's left of one of the primary high holy days, as it's vestigally celebrated by the mummified remains of our dominant religion.

When you look at this sad celebration as it is, as it's evolved, it's kind of cool in a half-assed sort of way. It's a tired, played-out ritual embodying the last gasps of a dying culture.

As it turns out, I have that song on a CD -- the late Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I've listened to that song a lot the past few days. I enjoy the melancholy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Mud Levees versus Tsunamis

GW is on PBS's News Hour declaring that he "only does what's legal"(referring to government surveillance of U.S. citizens) to protect the U.S. against terrorism.
--Outraged commentator

Well, he's lying, of course. So what else is new?

I may be really jaded, but I'm finding it more and more difficult to get upset about things like domestic surveillance, or the torture of detainees. These things are only what you'd expect.

As long as you permit your government to have a war machine, you'll get wars.

If we elect fascists and liars, we'll get fascism and lies.

A rotten tree does not bear good fruit.

I don't know that attacking these problems piecemeal -- swatting at domestic surveillance here, or at torture and illegal detention there -- does much good, although it's beneficial that these things are still pointed out. But what's the total effect of all these revelations? Have we figured out yet who we really are?

The rest of the world knows (excepting our little obedient poodle dog, England, of course), even if we(in the words of Conan-Doyle)have not the slightest clew!

We're not one nation under God. We're one nation on a shopping spree and a petroleum bender, and we're willing to blow up anyone who doesn't cooperate in our pursuit of this insane and increasingly hysterical way of life, recently described by our Vice-President as "non-negotiable."

So, domestic surveillance? Sure. Is it legal? Of course not. Is it to be expected from this scurvy crew? Does a bear live in the woods? Big, big deal.

I'm not giving up exactly. I just feel like we're in an extremely ominous, very revolutionary situation that's being driven by events and circumstances way beyond our control.

The way we've been living is coming to an abrupt and painful end. The Bush administration's weak and pathetic attempts to deal with this reality are a symptom rather than a cause of the enormous changes we're soon to endure.

We seem to have no idea who we are, or what part we played in creating this impasse.

I must say, in favor of Bush and the neocons, that at least they're attempting to deal with the reality of petroleum addiction (by securing more) and economic constriction (by propping up the pillars of capitalism with tax cuts), however inadequately and short-sightedly. They seem to understand the true nature of our problems, unlike most Americans who are totally unable to comprehend the enormity of what’s happened since the turn of the century, and what’s about to happen in the next few years.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that debating the legality of domestic surveillance, or the torture of detainees, or even whether we're trying to export "freedom" and "democracy" to Iraqis, is, to use a tired simile, sort of like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Black Market in Labor

The lead ediorial in the December 14 Los Angeles Times revealed that "the number of recorded workers in legitimate businesses in Los Angeles is lower now than in 1990."

The editorial did not, however, note the scope of the L.A. area's population increase for the decade and a half since 1990. U.S. Census figures show fourteen and half million people living in the L.A.-Riverside-Orange County region in 1990, and two million more than that in 2000. In the five years since, assuming the same rate of growth, the population of the area would have increased to about seventeen and a half million.

Of course, census data only provide a rough estimate, because many illegal immigrants avoid being counted due to fear of deportation.

But even the most inexact estimates reveal the explosive growth on an under-the-rader business sector that operates outside government regulation. These are the restaurants, clothing factories, car washes, beauty parlors, and gardening services that pay no taxes (including sales taxes), ignore health and safety requirements, and often pay less than the minimum wage.

Southern California has been growing faster -- at a rate of 12.7 percent a decade -- than any other metropolitan region in the U.S. except Las Vegas, and illegals from all over the world have been the most significant part of the increase. The illegal immigration and economic desperation noted by David Rieff in his incisive and somewhat prophetic 1992 book, "Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World," has generated a black market in labor which now threatens the survival of legitimate businesses facing unfair competition from the "informal" sector.

The Economic Roundtable and Milken Institute, the sources of the Times editorial, also note the severity of the increased burden on public schools and public health systems stemming from the growth of a black market in labor, as well as widespread mistreatment of workers.

Liberal and progressive Americans have expressed concern over the past few years about slave labor in countries like China, and the spread of child labor throughout the non-industialized world. These are legitimate concerns, but our attention to these critical issues should perhaps be focused more effectively within our own borders, and especially right here in Southern California.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Last Word

The last word on the Tookie Williams execution is by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. What makes this commentary so good is Lopez's ability to embrace the complexity of the issue(s).

I'm reproducing it in full here because you can't get on to the LA Times site without registering.

Steve Lopez:
Points West

A Barbaric End to a Barbaric Life

In an odd way, the most disturbing thing about watching a man die by lethal injection is how discreetly death creeps into the room.

No sudden jolt, no snapping of the neck at the end of a rope, no severed head.

The inmate gets a shot, he closes his eyes, he sleeps.

The room where Stanley Tookie Williams was killed Tuesday morning is set up like a theater, with neat rows of spectators sitting or standing on risers to view the execution.

Late Monday night, as one of 39 witnesses, I was ushered past dozens of guards and prison officials and into the viewing area a few feet from the octagonal death chamber.

Before us in the stuffy little auditorium, the curtains were opened, Williams was led in by guards, and the midnight show began — a dark, sinister, medieval drama in an archaic prison.

Never having witnessed an execution, I had tossed my name into the ring of potential spectators in order to see precisely what we're all a party to in a state that sanctions capital punishment. And now here I was, watching the clinical, calculated procedure used by the state of California to kill a man.

I watched the executioners struggle to tap a vein, digging into Williams' arms for minutes that seemed like hours. He was calm, if exasperated by the delay. Splayed out on his back and secured with tape and restraints, he lifted his head to study our faces, and he mouthed goodbyes to supporters who shared these close quarters with the relatives of his victims.

There was no apparent sign of suffering on Williams' part when the lethal injection did its duty. He lay motionless for several minutes before he was declared dead and the curtains were closed, show over.

"The state of California just killed an innocent man," three of his supporters shouted in unison.

That struck me as an insult to the families of Williams' victims. Of all the things Williams might have been, he wasn't innocent, and watching him die made me feel no differently about the man.

His victims, all four of them, were shotgunned as if it were a cheap thrill for Williams. And as one of the first Crips, he started something that destroyed everything in its path, bringing genocide to neighborhoods on top of all the other problems.

Williams was a tough guy in prison too, spending years in solitary confinement for his mayhem behind bars before he took a different tack. His anti-gang books and speeches from death row were great gestures, but the Nobel Peace Prize nominations were preposterous, and the marketing of Williams as a hero was offensive.

If he were truly redeemed, he would have taken responsibility for the murders, he would have rejected the duplicitous code of honor among those who refuse to tell what they know, and his dying words would have been a call for the dismantling of the gang he started.

Those who tried to cast Williams as a martyr, including the usual Hollywood rabble, once again picked the wrong man to carry the banner against the death penalty. They made a cause of Tookie Williams as others have done with Mumia Abu Jamal, the Philadelphia cop killer and death row inmate whose claim of innocence is pure fiction, despite the celebrity bestowed on him.

And yet, watching Williams put to death Tuesday morning by agents of the government — his execution sanctioned in a country where godliness and virtue are synonymous, even as torture and execution are defended — made me all the more certain that capital punishment is barbaric.

Though I don't question Williams' guilt, no one can dispute that across America, class, race and money figure prominently in the circumstances of crime and the quality of legal defense. Since 1973, in fact, 122 death row inmates have been exonerated or granted new hearings. A better poster child for abolishing the death penalty is No. 123, whoever that might be.

Twelve U.S. states no longer use capital punishment, and the possibility of a mistake is one of the reasons 40 countries have abolished the death penalty since 1990, including Mexico, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Senegal. In 2004, the United States followed only China, Iran and Vietnam in the number of executions.

Coming down the death row pike in California is a violent killer named Horace Edwards Kelly, whose wicked crimes are not in question. But he has been diagnosed as severely mentally ill, if not retarded, and was virtually tortured as a child.

Should we feel just as good about killing Kelly as we're supposed to feel about killing Williams? Will the premeditated and clinical execution of a feeble-minded man make us more civilized, more humane or any safer? Is life in a cage not enough to satisfy our puritanical beliefs or lust for blood?

Apparently not. Modern as we are, we still live by the law of an eye for an eye — as long as it doesn't get too messy.

The needle is perfect. He closes his eyes, he's gone.

It's much easier to handle that way. Not just for the person put to death, but for us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Seven Proverbs

1. When you have a war machine, you get wars.

2. The earth -- love it or leave it.

3. They will purchase gasoline by measure and with astonishment (Ezkeiel paraphrased).

4. (We) came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity (AA, second step).

5. Before enlightment, you gather wood and haul water. After enlightenment, you gather wood and haul water.

6. At first a fool's mischief tastes sweet, as sweet as honey. But in time it turns bitter, and how bitterly he suffers (Dhammapada).

7. When life gives you lemons, squirt your enemy in the eye.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Missing Half the Story

A widely-quoted December 13 Times of London article which states that "Britain and America are planning a phased withdrawal of their forces from Iraq as soon as a permanent government is installed" has given new hope to anti-war forces in the U.S. and muted criticism of the Bush and Blair administrations.

However, the Times article and the many others which have spun off from it miss half the story: departing American and British troops will be replaced by American air power as detailed in Seymour Hersh's December 5 article in the New Yorker, "Up in the Air".

Even though the numbers of allied ground troops will drop sharply in 2006, and American and British readers will not encounter the same level of daily killed-in-action reports in their newspapers, the violence in Iraq and its impact on Iraqi civilians will not lessen, and might worsen.

The Times of London has completely missed this aspect of the developing story, as have all the major U.S. media. Author and media critic Norman Solomon, in a December 5 piece entitled "Hidden in Plane Sight" which appeared at Common Dreams website, noted that the phrase "air war" has not appeared a single time in either the New York Times or the Washington Post in 2005, and is also AWOL from the pages of Time Magazine.

"At least implicitly, news coverage has viewed the number of boots on the ground as the measure of the U.S. war effort in Iraq," Solomon observes. "And as a consequence, public discussion assumes -- incorrectly -- that a reduction of American troop levels there will mean a drop in the Pentagon's participation in the carnage."

In fact, the tempo of American bombing in Iraq has already increased "in recent months," according to Hersh's New Yorker piece which adds that "Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border."

Given its performance during the runup to the war, there is no guarantee the American mainstream media will pick up the significant details of the new developments until it is too late. "Mainstream news outlets in the United States haven't yet acknowledged a possibility that is both counterintuitive and probable: The U.S. military could end up killing more Iraqi people when there are fewer Americans in Iraq," Norman Solomon concludes.

He also quotes Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee: "This would in effect be 'changing the color of the corpses' in order to make the continuing war more palatable to the U.S. public."

Those who note parallels between the Iraq and Vietnam wars now have plenty to work with. The Bush administration's emphasis on creating an Iraqi government "able to stand on its own," and Iraqi fighting forces sufficient to protect it, mirror President Nixon's "Vietnamization" program of the early 70's. Likewise, the replacement of ground troops with air power precisely replicates the failed Nixon-Kisinger policy of that earlier war.

The end result -- Iraqi collaborators being lifted off the rooves of the Green Zone by departing American helicopters -- can be foreseen by predictors less prescient than Jeanne Dixon. History may not repeat itself, but most certainly, as Mark Twain once said, "It rhymes."

Now more than ever, an informed citizenry needs to take action to forestall the continuation of a criminal and unpopular war under stealth conditions. We need to email our Congressional representatives and senators, write letters to the editors of our local newspapers, and spread the word.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Scavenging the Blogs

While they may be competitive, bloggers are not generally jealous or overly possessive, and if they like the work of a fellow internetter they usually share enthusiastically by steering their own readers to others’ sites. That’s exactly what’s proprietor, the gay activist John Aravosis did recently when he turned his readers on to the brand new

“For political junkies, must-see TV once meant sitting through hours of ‘Crossfire,’ ‘Hannity & Colmes’ and ‘Meet the Press,’ hoping for the occasional gem,” an LA Times intro to the site quoted by Aravosis explains. “Nowadays, to catch Robert Novak turning the air blue on ‘Inside Politics’ or work yourself into an apoplectic lather over our politicians' latest truth-challenged utterances, you can point your browser to”

Not a conventional blog, crooksandliars consists entirely of streaming video and audio outtakes of political television and radio shows. Founder John Amato, a 47-year-old Angelino and former musician, monitors all the political broadcasts so we don’t have to. So now, if you don’t have much time but are dying to see that priceless moment you’ve heard about when Bill O’Reilly defecates little bricks or Monica Crowley vomits crooked pins on the air, a la Salem, Mass., you know where to go. A minor annoyance is that you have to register to access the site, but it’s free.

Meanwhile, Ana Marie Cox a.k.a.Wonkette (, who runs the site subtitled “Politics for People with Dirty Minds,” posted a link to a singularly non-political Washington Post story, but one which makes readers my age feel a twinge of nostalgia for the late Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”

“(T)wo women, both named April and with the middle name Dawn, lived in different parts of Fairfax County and dated 22-year-old men,” the December 9 article by Jerry Markon and Tom Jackman begins ominously. “Now, both women have been charged in separate murder-for-hire plots with trying to have those boyfriends killed.”

“In what authorities called a bizarre coincidence, police charged April Dawn Shiflett, 33, with plotting the slaying of her 22-year-old boyfriend and charged April Dawn Davis, 27, with soliciting the murder of her former significant other, also 22. Police released the information yesterday, though the two were charged a week ago.”

Wonkette’s comment on this strange tale: “A word of warning: if you live in Fairfax County and are dating a woman with the first name April and the middle name Dawn, you should go to a friend or family member's house, call the police, and hide until they arrive.” She somewhat overstates the case, however, since you needn’t worry unless you’re a 22-year-old male.

Finally, a hat tip to Duncan Black’s “Eschaton” blog ( for linking to this truly scary story by Kevin Drum from the Washington Monthly under the title, “Kafka’s America”

the December 10 article describes a litigant contesting the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirement that airline passengers show a picture identification, only to be told that the law which specifies the requirement cannot be contested because it is a government secret.

Is it possible that in the near future U.S. citizens will be prosecuted for violating laws they weren’t aware of because the laws themselves are secret? How would such accused persons be arraigned, and how could they defend themselves against charges which cannot be fully articulated because the statute itself is secret?

You can find the answer to these and related questions at the Kafka Blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cheney, Rumsfeld will resign in January

A betting person would be well advised right now to wager that both Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will resign shortly after the turn of the new year, probably the week of January second. The odds are very much in favor of it.

An NBC Nightly News broadcast piece aired at the beginning of December noted rising opposition to the Iraq War both in Congress and among voters, and ended with speculation that Rumsfeld might step down shortly after New Year's Day.

Several metropolitan dailies including the New York Daily News and the Baltimore Sun reported during the week of December fourth that Rumsfeld is expected to retire early next year. Possible replacements for Rumsfeld's post include acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and the nominally Democratic Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, according to these sources.

Now Cheney's name has been paired with Rumsfeld's in the "possible retirement" category by Ray McGovern, a former CIA agent and currently a freelance writer who posts occasionally at

"It is no secret that Cheney bears primary responsibility for making our country a pariah among nations by punching a gaping hole in the (until now) absolute ban on torture under international and US law," McGovern writes, adding that when the Vice-President steps down in January he will likely cite "reasons of health" as the motivation for his departure.

Ever since their ardent promotion of the decision to invade Iraq, Cheney and Rumsfeld, along with former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, have been viewed by many as the team, or less flatteringly, "the cabal," which holds the primary responsibility for development and implementation of the administration's war policy.

McGovern claims that the result of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's recent overseas trip to meet with European heads of state, during which she discussed the issue of CIA-run prisons on European territory, was the final nail in the Cheney-Rumsfeld war policy.

"Never in the sixty years since World War II has an American secretary of state been received with such hostility by our erstwhile friends in Europe," McGovern says, adding that Rice's bland denial of U.S. wrongdoing -- "We do not torture," her standard response to inquiries about secret prisons and rendition flights -- was met with deep skepticism.

Rumsfeld, who is 73, will probably retire to his home in Taos. Dick Cheney will most likely return to rural Wyoming. There has been no discussion in the media concerning who might replace the Vice-President.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Good Old Mike

Good old Mike Wallace hasn't lost his punch. In a December 8 interview with the Boston Globe's Suzanne Ryan, he jumped the shark on her first question:

Q. President George W. Bush has declined to be interviewed by you. What would you ask him if you had the chance?

A. What in the world prepared you to be the commander in chief of the largest superpower in the world? In your background, Mr. President, you apparently were incurious. You didn't want to travel. You knew very little about the military. . . . The governor of Texas doesn't have the kind of power that some governors have. . . . Why do you think they nominated you? . . . Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that the country is so [expletive] up?

Yup. It's not George Bush's fault. He's not the cause of our problems, he's a symptom, like Las Vegas, Wal-Mart, and a war machine that's compelled to run an unjustified foreign invasion every 35 years or so (supposedly motivated by the need to spread "freedom" and "democracy").

The problem is not that George W. Bush is blanked up. We're blanked up. The rest of the world knows it, even if we don't.

At 87, Wallace is still conspicuously unsenile. Elsewhere in the interview, he says "There's no such thing as an indiscreet question."

And please don't ask me, "Why do you hate America?" I just told you.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ruff Tuff Creampuff

Everybody's favorite homecoming queen, Condo Leeza, is apparently preparing to read the riot act to European governments over their desire to confront us about the torture and illegal detentions the U.S. is running on their territory.

It's a pretty stupid thing for her to do. Support for the Bush administration is running at slightly over one-third in this country, and she has even less credibility over on the other side of the pond.

As John at Americablog says, "It's time to call Condi's bluff. She has no support in this country, and certainly no mandate to go alienating (Europeans) any further."

This is the dumbest Bush move yet. You don't go into a neighborhood where people are on the verge of deciding to kick your ass anyway, and threaten them so as to make them madder than they already were.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Eye Dubya Dubya

(Note: I.W.W. = Industrial Workers of the World)

I looked at the world; the world looked round,
So I started singin' a protest song;
I belong to the I.W.W.
Eye Dubya Dubya
Dubya Dubya Dubya

Bin Laden said it, and Dubya said it too,
You'll bury us and we'll bury you;
Dubya said it, bin Laden said it too,
We'll bury us and you bury you;
So you really oughta think about joinin'
The I.W.W.
Dubya Dubya Dubya
Indubitably I belong to the I.W.W.
Dubya Dubya Dubya Dubya Dubya

No use hangin' around waiting for a schism
Between moderate Muslims and Islamo-fascism;
No use waitin for Democrats to step on the gas;
You'll hear a pop when they heads come out they ass.
In the meantime I'll stick with the I.W.W.
Dubya Dubya
Dubya Dubya

Well I remember when I
Was a member of the Eye
Dubya Dubya

Goddammit! I'm the oldest pinko in this trailer park.

(Eternal gratitude to the Holy Modal Rounders)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Point No Point

A new month, and a new leaf.

I'm not going to write about the Iraq War any more, or talk about it, or think about it. It's too depressing.

Anyway, I don't have any influence, so what difference does it make?

A crusty old conservative Marine Corps lifer and long-time advocate of the war machine speaks for me now, as he does for many of us. Murtha also speaks for the generals in the Pentagon; of that there can be no doubt. And the generals have turned against the war, and chosen Murtha as their designated rep and point man.

God, of course, has chosen George W. Bush as his designated rep and point man. Our beloved leader is not one of God's humble organ pipes, he's God's big organ, and he's been instructed not to "pull out now" but "stay in there and get the job done."

He's as crazy as a shithouse rat.

Likewise, trying to argue with any of the 40 percent or so of the population at large who share vicariously in Bush's psychosis is pointless. As Ecclesiastes would say, "There is no profit in it." You can pile up documented evidence as high as the Tower of Babel, but for them everything remains just great in Iraq -- the economy is booming, and just look at all those purple fingers.

There's no way to stop them trying to put out the fire with more gasoline. Maybe an even better metaphor is this one from Tom Tomorrow.

So I'll just bow out of this debate until the fire has consumed us and the cliff has been driven over, until the time the war is tragic history and the wankers and morons are chanting in unison, "We would have won if it wasn't for you treasonous anti-war people."

Then it'll be time to jump back in and deliver some extremely sharp words to some very hind quarters.