Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bartender, hit me again -- and make it a double!

The now nearly-continuous media fixation with the Federal Reserve's monthly interest rate-setting meeting and the unsolicited advice it nearly always offers that rates must be lowered (again) should be ringing alarm bells with anyone who has watched the current economic morass in development with their eyes open.

Rather than fix the system, the people in charge seem to be hoping that a continuing supply of cheap money injected into the economy will stave off a total collapse -- at least until someone else is in charge -- and they are probably right. However, it is likely that the longer the drunk continues, the worse the hangover will be.

The aversion to the R-word (ie regulation) by those in charge, coupled with undending pressure from the financial industry and the pundits who report on it to keep lowering interest rates -- at a time when other countries' central banks are doing the opposite -- is a frightening sign of a future economic disaster.

It's Economics 101 that you can't keep increasing the money supply forever without causing inflation; thus pressure to increase intrerest rates, not lower them, will be building up. It is also simple economics that a hugely expensive war, financed by borrowing, rather than by a tax increase, will result in pressure for higher and higher interest rates, because the people and governments who buy US debt obligations will demand higher and higher returns to keep buying them. (Especially, as now, when they have begun to realize that the phrase "backed by the full faith and credit" of the US government might not mean much anymore)

And these buyers of our debt are some of the most powerful nations on Earth -- China, just to mention one. If we were Argentina or Brazil, rather than who we are, the governments and bankers of our creditor countries would be pushing for economic concessions from us to force us to put our fiscal house in order. In the past, our government and bankers routinely drove debtor nations into near-penury and caused real hardship to their citizens by insisting on draconian repayment and economic restructuring arrangements on national debt obligations.

Suppose we in the USA were to be on the receiving end of such an arrangement? What would it be like to live in a country where nearly all government programs had to be eliminated and the bulk of our GDP siphoned off to pay foreign creditors -- possibly for a couple of decades? World wars have started over less.

Monday, November 26, 2007

High price of failure at Middle East Summit

I find myself using the word "fatuous" more and more often as I read nonsense like today's "analysis" by the Associated Press of the upcoming Middle East Peace Summit.

AP asserts that failure at the summit would have a high price because "radical Islamists could gain the upper hand in Palestinian areas and in an increasingly polarized Middle East."

What about the high price that the Palestinian people have been paying since the partitioning of Palestine created a homeland for the Jews on 77% of what had been Palestine? What about the price they have paid as refugee camps -- once thought to be a temporary solution on the way to Palestinian statehood -- have become a permanent way of life for more than 4 million Paestinians (as of a 2005 count)! Or the ongoing high price they have been paying as Israeli settlements squeeze Palestinian territory more and more.

The so-called peace process -- which is not a process and has nothing to do with peace -- has been and continues to be an attempt by the USA, Britain, and Israel to gain international legitimacy for the status quo in Palestine: namely that Israel will continue to expand and the Palestinian territories will continue to be a large concentration camp. The upcoming summit, coming as it does late in the lamentable presidency of George W. Bush, is clearly nothing more than a hopeless publicity stunt to boost Bush's reputation. Having done less than any president in my lifetime to address the Palestinian mess, Bush now wants to go down in history books as having had his own peace summit.

Perhaps he really thinks he can bring peace to the middle east -- that he'll be able to succeed where many better minds have failed -- because of his great success bringing democracy to Iraq.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Restoring Democracy

The fatuous calls for Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf to "restore democracy" are a good indicator of the intellectual level of the mainstream press. You either live in a democracy or you don't. If your civil liberties are dependent on the mood of one man (in this case Musharraf) then you do not have a democracy, even if his current mood is a pleasant one.

Musharraf may be talked into allowing TV stations back on the air, removing riot police from the streets, and allowing Benazir Bhutto to move about unhampered but everyone will quite justly wonder at what point their actions could cause him to "take away democracy" again.

In a real democracy, the rule of law and the stability of its institutions make it highly unlikely that one individual or even a small group could take over and suspend civil liberties in any situation other than a true national crisis. This, of course, is why thinking people in America are so worried about the erosion of our system of checks and balances by the constant onslaught of the Bush/Cheney war against democracy. Because that is how democracy is really taken away -- by weakening the laws that protect us from tyranny. Once those protections are gone, there will no longer be any democracy to take away or restore.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Immunity for mercenaries

I haven't posted to my blog for months because I've been so depressed by the atmosphere of selfrighteous stupidity in the USA that I didn't know where to start. Every day brings events to light that I get myself worked up about and that would be great topics for blogging, but I'm too worked up to write about them!

But yesterday's news that our benevolent government has extended immunity from prosecution to Blackwater employees in Iraq made me so angry that I simply had to write about it.

If anyone needed proof that the fiasco in Iraq was cooked up by and is directed by people with no integrity whatever, this decision should be enough to make it clear. The Bush administration is run by people who will say and do anything to cover up the ongoing disastrous consequences of the war in Iraq and of their involvement in the decision making that led up to and continues to direct the invasion. From the original lies told to justify the war, through Abu Graib, and now the Blackwater disaster, the people in Washington who have caused this mess have either refused to admit what a disaster it is or refused to take responsibility for it. And now, as the Blackwater mercenaries are on the brink of being brought to justice for alleged war crimes, they are immunized by our own government.

There is no precedent nor legal justification for this immunity. Our own volunteer military, whose members fight for their country for much lower wages than the Blackwater mercenaries receive, are not immune from prosection. In fact, the Uniform Code of Military Justice spells out procedures for investigation and punishment of just the kind of cimes Blackwater perople are being accused of. And, while it would be naive to claim that the military's process can't be subverted, at least it doesn't start out by granting immunity to the main defendants! And, in fact, military justice has a pretty good record of identifying and punishing evil-doers in time of war.

Contrast this with what is happening under our very noses with Blackwater -- a team of highly-paid mercenaries given carte blanche to shoot anyone who gets in their way. Sounds a lot like the death aquads that used to roam El Salvador and Guatemala randomly shooting civilians for fun and profit. But then, we supported the governments that paid those guys, so why should Iraq be any different?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Myth of the Benefits of Leaving Iraq

As one of the people who was against the war from the moment it was proposed, I have watched the late awakening of American outrage with mixed feelings. On the one hand, more people saying the war is a mismanaged disaster is better than fewer people saying it. Yet, the reasons given by people who have finally begun to call for withdrawal are so fatuous:

"The Iraqis just aren't ready for democracy"

"We didn't send in enough troops to do it right"

"The Iraqis will have to stand on their own now - we have done enough"

--- and more along the same lines.

Largely absent -- save from people who were against the war from the start -- is a condemnation of the immoral and illegal US decision-making process that led us to invade a sovereign country and reduce it to civil war. This lack of forthrightness is particularly glaring among Democrat front-runners for the 2008 presidential election -- people who should know better and who should have been leaders in the debate against the war before it started.

Along with the lack of honesty about our role in making Iraq into a disaster area, there is a corresponding lack of realistic thinking about the benefits of a pullout. Received wisdom seems to be that we can just leave and that, whatever happens afterwards isn't our problem. A corollary to this piece of self deception is that the costs of the war will immediately evaporate as soon as our last soldier has left Iraq.

For those of us opposed to the war from the start (sorry to keep harping on this, but I think it is a key fact about the debate on the war), it was obvious and oft-stated that it would be much easier not to go to war in the first place than it would be to get out once we had invaded. It was pointed out by some that the war could drag on for years and cost hundreds of billions and even spill over into the next presidency. All of this prediction has or is in the process of coming true. Yet, here we are now: wishing we could just leave and pretend it never happened.

Here are some facts related to leaving Iraq that we had better start discussing honestly:

* The USA invaded a sovereign country for no good reason in violation of common decency and international law. There will need to be a reckoning for this. My preference would be for war crimes trials for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others. But, whether such trials ever come to pass or not, the American people as a whole owe the Iraqi people reparations to atone for our moral and legal transgressions.

* Before we invaded, Iraq was functional as a state - now it is not
* Before we invaded, there was working water, electricty, a national health system, schools, police, fire departments - these are now in shambles
* Before we invaded, sectarian violence was kept in check by Saddam Hussein's government - tens of thousands of Iraqis have now died and now no one can walk the streets in safety
* Before we invaded, Iraq had an oil exporting business -- this is now largely ruined

I am willing to accept that our military withdrawal will do more good than harm, since we are the hated occupier. But, once gone, we will need to provide massive aid to help clean up the disaster we have precipitated. (This assumes that the country will not totally implode after we go and that there will be any prospect of rebuilding it) To be effective, such aid will run into the hundreds of billions -- just as the military action has already done. In addition, the war's cost to date, which has been financed by deficit spending, will come due for middle class Americans in the form either of much higher taxes or possibly crippling interest rates and will most certainly be used as an excuse not to fund needed infrastructure upgrades here at home. Heaven only knows what the additional costs of reparations will do!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

More weapons for "peace"

In a 7/28/07 article, MSNBC News Services describes plans by the Bush Administration to expand sales of weapons to "friendly nations" in the Middle East. The Israeli government, usually supportive of US militarism, is objecting to this expansion on the grounds that some of the technology at least could be used to attack Israel. Not an unreasonable objection, since historically weapons nearly always fall into the "wrong hands" -- meaning people that we don't like at the moment.

Which is, of course, only of ancillary concern to the Bush crowd, as it looks for new ways to spread the benefits of freedom and democracy to as much of the benighted Middle East as possible. The stated objective is to support "moderates" in Iraq (whoever they may be) by surrounding Iraq (as much as possible) with friends of the USA that are armed to the teeth. Of course, the most important objective is really to send a message to Iran not to "interfere" or else. It's interesting that the US invasion of Iraq is not defined as interference, but that any activities of Iran that might thwart US ambitions in the area are considered interference. Somewhat odd, if you look at a map of the world: Iran is Iraq's next-door neighbor, while the US is 6200 miles away! But that's how things are supposed to work when you are "the world's only remaing superpower," as we like to refer to ourselves.

The Bush Administration has been rattling its sabres in Iran's direction for some time now, but the idea of an invasion of Iran has been somewhat unpopular with a Congress, already smarting from political fallout over its appalling lack of oversight in allowing Bush to invade Iraq. Perhaps Bush wants to increase the concentration of weapons in the already over-armed Middle East in hopes that he can provoke a regional war between Iran and US allies that the US can back behind the scenes without the embarrassment of a direct attack by the USA. There's a lot of precedent for this indirect approach, which has been a smashing success whenever we have used it in the past.

The best thing, though is that, no matter whom the weapons get used against, US armaments manufacturers will make lots of money. And perhaps that is the ultimate purpose after all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hummer bummer

In a Washington Post article entitled "Hummer owner gets angry message," we read of Gareth Groves, whose newly purchased Hummer was vandalized while parked on the street near his house. The act of vandalism was presumably a political statement, since the perpetrators scratched "FOR THE ENVIRON" into the paint.

No one interviwed for the article made pro-Hummer remarks, but most of the disapproval of the vehicle was tempered with the liberal disclaimer that "of course I don't condone violence" and one anti-Hummer neighbor, Lani Fremaux, said "They've got everything at their disposal in this city to make a statement in a legal way," ... I consider this a hate crime."

Hmmm. "Hate crime." Let's talk about what the Hummer is and what it represents, at least from my point of view:
1. The Hummer is a military vehicle, often used in close encounters with civilian populations. It has always struck me as odd at best that a civilian would want to own one outside of a militarized zone. What image is Mr. Groves, who works in sports marketing, which he says is "image-based," trying to convey? My car is bigger than your car? I'm a bigger fucker than you are? Don't mess with me - I'm a mean mo-fo? The Hummer is all about projecting an image of hatefullness.
2. The Hummer costs more to manufacturer and wastes more steel, plastic, aluminum, and energy in the process than most, if not all other non-commercial vehicles. The Hummer gets lousy gas mileage. Yet, for those with money, these very facts are what makes it attractive; it is a testament to waste and to the notion that you can do anything you want if you have the money. The decision to buy a Hummer is often justified by apologists of American capitalism with the "why shouldn't he buy it if he can afford it?" argument. This is the notion that money justifies any act. And it's a short logical leap from there to the idea that, if you can afford it, why shouldn't you own 50 newspapers, 13 TV stations, and a handful of congressmen. The Hummer says that might makes right and money talks.
3. The Hummer is, in fact, an anti-Prius: where the Prius is smaller than other vehicles and therefore less likely to cause damage to other vehicles in an accident, the Hummer is larger than all other non-commercial vehicles and therefore most likely to inflict heavy damage to other vehicles in an accident. where the Prius gets mileage in the mid-40s, the Hummer gets 14 mpg. where the Prius uses state-of-the-art engineering to make a small, fuel-efficient, well-appointed car, designed for a commuter, the Hummer uses the principles of "bigger and heavier" to make a chariot fit for Caligula. But, under the might makes right principle, this is supposed to be OK. My safety doesn't matter, the world's oil supply doesn't matter -- if you have the money, you should own a Hummer.
4. The Hummer's weight allows its purchaser a tax break (supposedly) intended for owners of commercial vehicles, such as construction companies, farmers, and the like. Yet, Ms. Fremaux thinks that objection to the Hummer should be expressed only in legal ways. Nice thought. American automobile manufacturers have whined for 5 decades that they need just a little more time to be able to manufacture fuel-efficient cars and Congress has gone along, mandating fleet mileage standards that European and Japanese car makers were able to meet (and beat) in the 1950s. How have the US manufacturers expressed their thanks for this liberality on the part of Congress? By making bigger and bigger cars, the Hummer being the biggest of all, and sized -- funny coincidence -- to take advantage of the tax break. Does Ms. Fremaux really think that there are legal ways to challenge a partnership between some of the largest corporations in the world and the people who are supposed to be making laws to protect us?
The Hummer is a symbol for me of so much that is wrong in America: too much wealth in the hands of too few; a belief that we Americans have a right to use up all the world's resources, so long as we can afford to pay for them; the need to project an image of meanness to everyone around us. And Ms. Fremaux's answer is unfortunately the liberal response to so much that needs fixng: fix it through the system. But what if the system itself is broken? What if Americans are so intellectually lazy, so besotted with consumerism, so brainwashed by 24-hr doses of FOX News, that they no longer know right from wrong?
In my opinion, the Hummer itself is a hate crime.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Child health insurance too expensive

Surprise, surprise: our president, who has no problem spending half a trillion dollars on Iraq (by borrowing it, no less), has threatened to veto a cigaratte tax increase which would be used to expand a federal program that helps to pay for for health insurance for low income kids. Heaven forfend we should increase cigarette taxes!! This president and his neocon supporters claim that abortion is murder, but, apparently, once the kids are actually brought to term, it's perfectly OK to keep them poor, unhealthy, and miserable.

The more I read, the more I realize I live in a nation of fools!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cheney - Emminence Grise

As the Emminence Grise of the Bush Administration, Cheney obviously has a lot to hide and, like a playground bully, will say and do anything necessary to get his way - in this case, to avoid revealing what he's been up to behind the scenes for the past at least 4 years. Funny that his office stopped reporting under the rules around 2003, just when the Bush propaganda machine got under way to invent the evidence to justify an invasion of Iraq. Cheney is spitting in the eyes of Congress and the American people. If he feels he is above the law -- a position that he clearly holds -- then he needs to be impeached. Among the many justifications for impeachement that he already merits, refusing to submit to Congressional oversight is juts one more, but it's a big one! Surely our Congress is not so ethically inert as to fail to do its job in this case?

[As submitted to Washington Post blog in re an article entitled "White House Defends Cheney's Refusal of Oversight"]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stem cell irony

In what I think should be known as the Irony Administration, President Bush continues to make decisions which, we are told, are an indication of his "principles" and his "conscience." Thus, today, when he vetoed stem cell legislation that would have earmarked federal funds for stem cell research, his press secretary, Tony Snow, said

"The president does not believe it's appropriate to put an end to human life for research purposes," Snow said. "That's a line he will not cross."

Putting an end to life by denying possible treatments for dread diseases to those suffering from them is perfectly OK apparently. As is his stance against abortion, which condemns tens of thousands of children to be born into families ill-equipped to care for them.

If there is a logic in holding the existence of undeveloped life as more important than the lives of living, developed human beings, I can't imagine what it would be. From an ethical standpoint, it makes no sense. The only source of authority for the President's viewpoint is the rigid pronouncements of Catholic and fundamentalist Christian groups -- pronouncements which fly in the face of common sense as well as common decency. Furthermore, using those religious beliefs as a basis for government policy dec isions is blatantly unconstitutional.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Supporting our troops - the reality

In a 6/16/07 article, "Mental health system ill equipped for PTSD," the Washington Post documents the unsupportive, unresponsive, mismanaged "system" in place for helping returning veterans deal with post raumatic stress syndrome. This is not the first article -- nor will it be the last -- on the failure of the military establishment in general and the VA mental health system in particular to provide appropriate services to our returning troops when they suffer the disabilities caused by their participation in the wars in the Middle East.

This situation is a disgrace and one whose irony, I would hope, would penetrate the thick skulls of the "support our troops" crowd. Those are the folks who think George Bush (whose own military record is spotty at best) is a patriot and a war hero because he started the war in Iraq. These are the people who have kidded themselves that the war in Iraq is justified and even successful, while the preponderance of evidence is that it is neither. These are the people who have villified those calling for an end to the war. These are people who cloak themselves in the flag and the Constitution, while failing to exercise the most basic responsibility of a citizen -- the responsibility to think and to question. These are the people who have enabled one of the most corrupt and immoral US public enterprises in my lifetime.

Every time I see one of their cars with a yellow ribbon on it, I want to vomit.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Call Bush's bluff

Today, speaking of a no-confidence vote called in Congress with regard to Atorney General Gonzales, President Bush said that "They can have their votes of no-confidence but it's not going to make the determination about who serves in my government."

I would say it's time Congress called the President's bluff; Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach and it can be used against the President, the Vice President, cabinet members, or anyone else in the government who meets the standards for mis-conduct in office.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

History's judgement

Secy. of State Condoleezza Rice is quoted by AP as having said, in reference to the legacy of George Bush, "History's judgment is rarely the same as today's headlines." and to further claim that the world is a better place today as a result of Bush's actions.

Presidents who have passed into history have -- until now -- been good for wise quotes at the very least and, in virtually all cases, for at least some positive accomplishment in terms of making the world a better place. What will Bush contribute? He can neither write nor speak a coherent thought. And his legacy of action -- Rice's nonsense notwithstanding -- contains little if anything to be proud of. He has continued Reagan's "voodoo economics," lowering taxes and increasing defense spending, and therby producing the worst budget deficit to date. And, unlike predecessors, who financed their wars mostly out of available funds and out of sacrifices current at he time of the war, Bush is paying for the Iraq war with credit cards and deferring the hard sacrificies until he is out of office. How will history view him when those credit card bills come due at interest rates that will likely be double or triple current rates?

How will history view "extraordinary rendition," whereby individuals are kidnapped off the street and flown to secret prisions around the world, there to become un-persons, possibly never to be heard from again? How will history treat Guantanamo, where people are warehoused without due process for months or years, denied access to lawyers, denied the right to be heard in a court of law? How will history view the Gonzales Justice Department and claims that torture isn't really torture? Or that domestic surveillance is OK? How will history view the President's obstruction of medical research that could potentially lead to cures for diseases from altzheimers to cancer? Or promoting religious fundamentalism at home while denouncing it abroad? Or claiming to support education while simultaneously defunding it? Or promising a prescription drug plan for seniors on one hand, while actually delivering a monopoly lock on drug sales to the US pharmaceutical industry? Not to mention lying to start a war that has no point and has produced nothing but misery. Or punishing an ambassador for speaking out against the war by outing his CIA wife -- an action which, if carried out by an ordinary citizen, would be viewed as treason.

How will history view his legacy as the first president in my lifetime who has not tried to do something to facilitate a solution to the Israel/Palestine troubles? Unless you count the Iraq war as "something." Or US support of Israel's punishing bombardment of Lebanon last summer. But constructive dialog that doesn't blindly take the side of Israel over that of everyone else? Not this President!

How will historians -- many of whom are not Americans -- view Bush's contempt for other nations and for their right to challenge America as the sole arbiter of what is right?

I have no doubt that Bush has earned his place in the history books. But I doubt that it will be alongside Jefferson or Lincoln. More likely in a special volume on third-rate fascists. If history does view him favorably, then we can assume that he has been successful in delivering us all into a very dark future.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Rice on Cuba - more hypocrisy

In a Reuters article this morning, Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice is reported to have started her visit of "conciliation" to Spain by criticizing the Spanish for their policy of engagement toward Cuba. She said,

“Democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, meaning to support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that they can transition from one dictatorship to another,”

This is yet another stunning example of the hypocrisy that characterize the vile Bush administration. What does Rice think "acting democratically means? Supporting Castro's mafia-controlled predecessor, Batista?! Isolating Cuba for nearly 5 decades in hopes of destroying its economy and its people?!

How can she even dare to speak about democracy as a member of an administration that has lied to mount an invasion of a sovereign country, willfully and repeatedly violated the rights of prisoners of war, conducted illegal domestic surveillance of ordinary American citizens, and which is busy trying to eviscerate an independent judiciary in the United States!?

We are already the laughing stock of Europe - does she think that this kind of idiocy is going to impress the Spanish?

Support the troops - blah blah

Not surpirisngly, given their gutless behavior to date, Congress and many congressional Democrats gave Bush what he demanded -- more money for his war in Iraq with no strings attached. The most unpopular president in my lifetime and congressional Democrats couldn't stand up to him! What a sorry situation! Received wisdom is that Democrats didn't want to be perceived as not "supporting the troops" and, rather than challenging the validity of the entire "support the troops" fiction, Democrats, as usual, worried more about their image than about doing what's right.

You have to hand it to the propaganda machine of the right - they sure do know how to turn a moronic phrase into a powerful tool for enforcing obedience to their agenda. In the runup to our war against Iraq, Bush and his thugs had to juggle a lot of complicated problems in order to ensure the war went forward: they had to lie about Saddam Hussein's intentions and his non-relationship with Al Qaeda; they had to fire or retire military personnel who objected to the war; they had to marginalize dissenters in the civilian population as un-patriotic; they had to make a show of consulting the UN about Iraq; they had to cook up a charge of possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and then insist on Iraq proving the un-proveable. And so on - lots of hard work, any of which might have ended in a stalemate for Bush. (Of course, with the help of the popular press -- who were almost visibly salivating at the prospect of covering a new war -- it was probably a slam dunk). But, once the war started, all that has been necessary to keep Americans onboard for 4 years has been a constant repetition of the "support our troops" mantra. And this in spite of the fact that every dire prediction about the war and its consequences has come true!

When the "support our troops" ribbons began appearing on SUV tailgates all over the place about 10 minutes after the war started, I got a queasy feeling. My queasiness turned into a permanent state of nausea as voices of reason throughout the country were shouted down using the simple claim that, if you did not believe in and support the war, you weren't supporting the troops. Michael Moore, Dixie Chicks, Cindy Sheehan, military strategists , writers, historians, journalists, ordinary citizens -- it doesn't matter who you are or how much you know -- you can be neutralized with the "support your troops" neutralizing spray. (Just use as often as needed - watch that dissent disappear!)

In my lifetime at least, Americans have had a strange relationship with their military: one one hand, we revere them, probably as a result of WWII, through which the USA became a world power. Then, on the other, we repeatedly send them off to fight endless, undeclared wars, whose purposes are murky and which never seem to be winnable. And, when they come back home, they are honored with unemployment, national feelings of guilt, and a medical and social support system that leaves them feeling cheated and unvalued.

But in between, we are supposed to keep our mouths shut and "suuport" them. By not objecting to the war before it begins. By not criticizing it once it has started. A nice recipe for a non-participatory democracy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More evidence in support of impeachment?

In an NBC article that came out this AM, it appears that US intelligence services presented detailed analysis of what would probably happen if we invaded Iraq and, as you might expect, the information was apparently ignored by the Bush administration. Perhaps not essential to, but certainly supportive of a call for impeachment.

Unfortunately, because this information was also made available to congressional intelligence committees, and they gave Bush a blank check to invade Iraq anyhow, it undercuts somewhat the high moral ground upon which Congress could build an impeachment case. Besides, there is nothing in the intelligence analysis that civilian experts outside the government didn't say loudly and frequently before the invasion. And for many of us outside the goverment, it was equally clear that the case for invasion was a pack of lies cooked up by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Powell (and no doubt other less well known sub-demons in the administration). Yet those members of Congress who voted to authorize the war (especially those Democrats who did so) claim that they had no idea that the reason for invasion (WMD) was a total lie, cooked up by the administration.

The utter unbelievability of this position -- and the fact that there were braver members of Congress (eg Sen. Byrd) who did argue against the war and did maintain that the justification for war was nonsense -- makes the case for impeachment even more difficult, at least for prominent democrats like Hilary Clinton and other Democrat hawks. An impeachment based on "who knew what and when did they know it" would inevitably make Congress look almost as bad as Bush (a fact which is reflected in recent polls showing that the public esteem Congress and the President about equally - which is to say not very much). So maybe this has something to do with the apparent reluctance of Congress to bring this rogue adminsitration to justice for its misdeeds.

However, events that have occurred since the war began, including willfull violations of the Geneva Conventions, illegal domestic intelligence activities, and, in general, a Justice Dept run amuck, seem like quite sufficient grounds for impeachment even without the issue of the cooked intelligence that Bush and his fellow thugs used to start the war.

So what's the problem, Congress!?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Half the story - as usual

As Gaza is imploding, the AP just reported that State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Israel had shown “great restraint” in exercising its right to self defense and warned Hamas it would never achieve a Palestinian state unless it chose peace and worked with Fatah.

How quickly the US government and our media forget (or cover up) history. Let us not forget that the Hamas government came into office as the direct consequence of an election the United States endorsed -- until we got a result we didn't like. Then, instead of seizing an opportunity to work with Hamas -- a group that arguably actually represents Palestinian ideals and intentions -- the USA and Israeli rushed to erect a cordon sanitaire around the Palestinians in order to financially choke them to death. Financial aid and taxes due were frozen in order to make it impossible for Hamas to operate.

Prior to the election in which Hamas came to power, Fatah was considered corrupt and incompetent and Hamas was valued (by Palestinians) as a better alternative. But because of their vocal hatred for Isarael and its decades-long occupation, Hamas and all Palestinians have been put into an impossible situation. Israel and the USA will accept no government in the Palestinian Territories that does not a priori endorse the status quo with respect to Israel and its control of territory. Israel and the USA will not accept any negotiation that does not in advance accept the Israeli position of whatever is to be negotiated.

Now, as internal political pressures resulting from the impossible existence that has been forced upon Palstinians leads to war between the factions, the propaganda organs of the US government issue nonsense like the above-quoted gem. And, when the whole situation blows up totally and there is sufficient chaos, we will most likely see (another) invasion by Israel followed by more pompous platitudes from our own government about why such an action is necessary, justified, and "restrained."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What to do when your addicted relative has bankrupted the family

In a recent article in Business Week Online ("Roads to riches") author Emily Thornton describes plans in process to sell or lease major portions of US public infrastructure, especially roads, to private investors. The reason is that the public authorities controlling these public assets are so cash strapped that they need to sell the roads, tunnels, bridges, etc in order to pay off huge debt.

The situation is like that of a family that is ruined financially by a bread winner who won't work, but who keeps raiding the family checking account to pay for booze or drugs or gambling. Eventually, the family has to sell off its belongings in order to stay afloat. George Bush is that addictive bread winner. His tax cuts have squeezed federal programs and offloaded some of that squeeze onto states and municipalities, which now have to find money for programs formerly supported in whole or in part by federal monies. At the same time, Bush has raided America's checkbook for an unjustified, unnecessary, unwinnable and very expensive war.

Like a ruined family, America now has to sell off its roads and bridges to private investors in order to stay afloat. And, like a ruined family, once all the belongings have been sold and the bank has been paid off, the family ends up with nothing. There will be a lot of nothing in many Americans' futures, thanks to the profligacy of the Bush administration.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Impeachment "lessons"

In an April 24th article entitled "Kucinich launches oust-Cheney effort," Tom Curry of MSNBC claims that "The Republicans proved in 1999 that impeachment is not a functional political tool, except perhaps in the case of corrupt federal judges (against whom it has been used a few times in the past 30 years). "

I'm growing quite tired of the impeachment naysayers (which, unfortunately, includes a lot of our congressional leadership) who, along with media analysts like Curry, keep spouting the received wisdom that impeachment is a bad idea, even if richly deserved by the thugs who comprise the decision-making core of the Bush administration.

The two arguments against impeachment seem to be that either (1) it is a political mistake (Curry's opinion) or that it would be (2) bad for the country.

Political Mistake
As to the first argument, it has 3 serious problems:
First, there is far too small a sample of US presidential impeachments to draw any conclusion about the political benfefits or drawbacks of impeachment. And, in fact, in parliamentary democracies, no-confidence votes and changes of government are common tools of all political parties and provide a mechanism for holding government accountable. There can certainly be political fallout, but the idea that it is always bad for those initiating the action is just not so.

Second, using the Clinton impeachment as a model for impeachments is completely unjustified. Clinton was impeached for having sex with Monica Lewinsky (though the excuse for the impeachment was that he lied under oath about it). To claim that there is any similarity between what Clinton did and what the Bush Administration has done is nonsense! As the bumper stickers quite reasonably point out, "When Clinton lied, nobody died." In contrast, the Bush Administration has engaged in a cold-blooded, calculated campaign of lying about multiple grave matters of state and at several levels of the administration and for several years.

Bush et al's lies have caused the US to invade a sovereign country, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of Americans. It has de-stabilized the world oil market, leading to ruinous energy price increases that have hurt people worldwide in general and in America in particular, where high energy costs threaten our fragile economy and cause hardship for ordinary Americans.

Bush et al's machinations have done irreperable damage to the reputation of the USA with its allies and have provided fuel for decades of jihad-building hatred by our enemies -- and by people who didn't used to be our enemies.

Meanwhile, to enable the above, Bush's little gremlins have infiltrated the entire federal bureaucracy poisoning it with incompetence, cronyism and ill will. And his big gremlins have been working on trying to repeal the Bill of Rights and to nullify the Geneva Conventions!

Third, it is the duty of Congress to act as a brake on executive misconduct and, so far, it has done fuck-all (as the British would say). It doesn't matter what the political fallout of impeachment, Bush et al are guilty of high crimes and need to be called to account.

Bad for the Country

The second argument - is that our democracy will come tumbling down if we have an impeachment. (Funny how this argument didn't seem to bother the Republican partisans who pursued the Clinton impeachment with such a vengeance; apparently removing a president for a sexual peccadillo wouldn't ruin the country, but removing him for attempting to undermine the Constitution would. Hm, funny logic that).

I happen to think that our Constitution, our nation, and our people can tolerate action needed to bring crooks to account for their misdeeds. That's why our system includes the impeachment mechanism; it's not there as a pretty embellishment never to be used.

An impeachment in the USA is much rarer than a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary country and is therefore perhaps more frightening to us as Americans, but not, I submit, as frightening as allowing the thugs who run the Bush junta to consolidate their insidious power to such an extent that the USA may soon begin to resemble 1980s Argentina.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Surge too late?

Predictable I suppose that an "analysis" would appear this AM with the title "Did Iraq 'surge' come too late?". As seems typical of the media attitude toward the Iraq war, there is a fixation with tactics at the expense of the big picture. Which is --

Our government used a bunch of lies, half-truths, and nationalist hysteria over 9/11 to cook up a case for invading a sovereign country. Virtually everything that was claimed about the reasons for going to war, the ease with which the war would be run, and the benefits both to America and to Iraq were wrong. We were not welcomed with open arms by anyone except looters. We did not march through the country with no opposition. We did not have enough troops to subdue the population. We did not find weapons of mass destruction.

On the other hand, nearly everything that people opposed to the war predicted has happened: The war did quickly turn into urban house-to-house combat . We did not have adequate troops to secure anything or any place, thanks to the arrogance and pig-headed blindness of Don Rumsfeld. Antiquities were looted. The country's infrastructure was ruined (schools, healthcare, water supply, sewers, electricity, you name it). Tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans have died. And just by the way, we have not been able to use Iraq oil revenue to finance the war; far from it - the war is leaching the present and future out of the US national budget and has cost (what a surprise) much more than predicted by our government's salesmen.

Many Americans do not seem to understand that the above facts point to the reasons why this enterpise was and is doomed. This is because many Americans are not inclined to put themselves in other people's shoes. The simple exercise of imagining ourselves as the invaded rather than the invaders seems not to have occurred to the mainstream media, for example. Try this exercise yourself and then try to guess how much cooperation you'd be giving to the invaders.

Was the surge too late? The only thing "too late" was not to have started the war. Now that we have done, we, the Iraqis, their neighbors, and our national future are stuck with the consequences and the aftermath of that inexcusable decision. You can surge today, surge tomorrow, or surge last year; we are where we are not wanted -- and with good reason. We will never win in Iraq because there is nothing to win and no one there who wants us to win. If we sent enough troops to subdue the entire country (an unimaginabley large number of troops) we would then have an armed occupation - we might have more security, but certainly no less hatred of us.

So why does our government keep asking for more time and more money in order to "finish the job"? For a "surge." Because they started the war and now don't know what to do. And, based on their unblemished record of dishonesty and incompetence, we the American people can expect more of the same until we put on the brakes and demand an unconditional withdrawal.

After that, we can impeach our government and put the prime movers in this vile mess on trial for war crimes.

Imus schmimus!

When I first heard about the Imus thing, I was inclined to write a nasty letter deploring his actions and demanding his firing. After a few days of media frenzy over the issue, I realized that, as usual, we the public are being led to focus on the wrong thing: ie Imus the individual acting wrongly.

The more important issue is that the American people's airwaves have been handed over by Congress and federal regulators to mega-corporations whose actions are driven by their bottom lines and who, in the merger frenzy of the last 25 years, have caused an increasing concentration of media ownership in the hands of fewer and fewer. And people like Imus serve the interests of those media moguls who, after all, pay their salaries. Imus says things that are what Joe Sixpack is saying day in and day out at his local bar because this is what Imus' handlers have decided makes for good (ie profitable) radio. Oh, they may express outrage at Imus' “unpredictable” behavior, but that is just standard procedure when an employee has done something that embarrasses his employer.

The question here is whether it is good for Americans that the Imus (and Bill O'Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch, and FOX and Rush Limbaugh et al) point of view dominates the airwaves to the exclusion of more progressive, tolerant, enlightened points of view which may be less profitable to air. The rich, mostly white, mostly men who control the airwaves claim that they only put on the air “what people want to see and hear” and, whether true or not, this claim is consistent with a risk-averse approach to making money. Could the goal of a more balanced media in general and more open radio broadcasting in particular be met without recourse to regulation is an open question, but history should not make us sanguine; every industry de-regulated in fact or in law since Reaganomics has suffered a precipitous loss of quality. Expecting the media moguls to buck this trend on their own is unrealistic.

This is why real regulation is so important – contrary to the idea that it strangles innovation and competition, it actually provides a safer space for businesses to innovate, knowing that certain bottom-line economic realities are protected by a regulatory safety-net. For example, if the FCC ruled that all TV stations had to provide a full one-hour commercial-free news show every night at 6PM, there would be no competition-based argument against it, because every station would be required to do it. If the FCC mandated free equal airtime for all political candidates and banned paid political advertisements, then all media would be equally “inconvenienced” and we the people could hear the opinions of candidates not rich enough to afford to buy airtime. We would also see an immediate improvement in the content of political discourse as the candidates could not resort to attack ads and slickly-produced distortions about their opponents.

In addition to re-regulating content, the American people need to re-think ownership of the media. Freedom of speech and of the press was never envisioned by the founders to mean control of speech and the press by a small group of Plutocrats – quite the opposite. By allowing essentially unfettered mergers and acquisitions (albeit with the usual smoke and mirrors by the FCC that they are “concerned”) the number of possible different points of view aired by all media have necessarily lessened. If the NY Times and Boston Globe are owned by the same company, I don't care what claims they make to the contrary, there is going to be less difference in their outlook than if they were truly independent. If Sinclair Broadcasting owns 50 TV stations (and they do) then they will have an undue influence on the news and other content of those stations (as they already have done).

The above is what we should be focusing on, not whether Imus is a good guy or a bad guy, whether he can apologize enough to make people like him again. Because Imus is only the tip of this iceberg.