Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Thing Of Beauty

Yeah, I know everyone else has already linked to or reprinted this, but it's such an exquisite beauty I cannot, in good conscience, refrain from sharing it here. Keith Olbermann reminds us all what it is to be an American. And most certainly what it isn't.

Feeling morally, intellectually confused?

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as “his” troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.
It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld’s speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril—with a growing evil—powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the “secret information.” It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld’s -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.
It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.
It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.
The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.
Most relevant of all — it “knew” that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic’s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History — and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England — have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty — and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.
Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.
His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today’s Omniscient ones.

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.
And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience — about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago — we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their “omniscience” as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?
In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.
But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.”

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck.

Monday, August 28, 2006

That Is The Sound of Inevitability

It will probably be some light posting for me this week, due to some excessive "real world" activity that is demanding my attention. That sound pompous and self-important enough to maintain proper blogger gravitas? I'd hate to be considered unserious...

Anyway, in spite of the financial analysis boulder my inner accounting Sisyphus must roll, I thought I'd drop a quick thought on Iran. You know, Iran? The next war for which conservative "warhawks" are frothing at the mouth? Clearly both the United States and Israel, with Afghanistan, Iraq and Hezbollah under our collective belts, have demonstrated just what a spectacular success launching invasions can be as a tool for geopolitical change. Anymore of this kind of "success" and we might as well just elect an Islamist president and save everyone the suspense. Clearly a new direction is desperately needed to deal with the biggest challenge in the region: Iran.

I hear plenty of talk on NPR and read plenty of analysis in the news about how to address the issue of Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Naturally, I believe that opening up talks between Washington and Tehran is the best answer at this point. For all the bluster the neoconservatives and their fans have been espousing about a "military option" for Iran, the reality is that it's beyond our capability. Iran is many magnitudes a greater power than Iraq was when we overthrew Saddam Hussein, and that's been an unmitigated disaster. Short of a tactical nuclear strike against Iran, which would be the heavyweight champion example of tragic irony, no real military option exists for stopping Iran's uranium enrichment program. As I've discussed before, the technology for doing so is increasingly easy to come by; not to mention that the process for making nuclear power plant fuel and making fissile uranium is essentially the same. Economic sanctions are a paltry threat as well, considering Iran's vast oil supplies in the face of ever increasing world demand. Diplomacy is the only option available.

Only, here's the rub: I don't believe it will work. I've suspected for some time and now I'm fully committed to the belief: Iran will have a nuclear weapon, assuming it actually wants one, and there's not a damn thing the world can do about it. It's too late. The time when the U.S. could have acted as a moderating force in Iran's ambitions passed as soon as Bush vs. Gore was settled, if not years sooner. From the beginning, Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy team were committed to their "Axis of Evil" rhetoric.

These "serious" foreign policy minds have helped set a dangerous table, one which we'll be dining at for many years to come. Perhaps if the U.S. had lived up to its agreements under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is legally binding under our Constitution, and worked to eliminate its nuclear stockpile. Perhaps if the Bush administration had taken a more nuanced approach to Israel's actions in the region and acted as a moderating force instead of a hyperactive boxing promoter pushing its favorite prize-fighter. As much as I think it can be terribly misguided, perhaps a little Kissinger-esque realism could have helped put Iran on a different course. So many forks in the road that could have led to a different set of circumstances today yet, like Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons now, the neoconservative drive to create a destabilized Middle East was probably inevitable after 2000. The road to shaky empire was set, even if many of us didn't know where that road was leading.

While again I believe that we ought to engage with Iran diplomatically as much as possible, I also believe we need to prepare for the reality of a nuclear armed Iran. Like any rational person, the thought that a cabal of religious extremists like the Iranian mullahs will likely have access to the most terrible weapon ever conceived by man is extremely unsettling. Unfortunately, I believe it's inevitable at this point. In the battle to prevent a nuclear Iran, the U.S. and our allies have lost. In the greater war to prevent the devastating "clash of civilizations" for which so many conservatives are desperately praying, the tide away from world war could still turn in our favor. Perhaps November could start that turn...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An Honest Man

You have to at least give that much credit to Pat Buchanan: he's an honest man. He may be a racist pig, but at least he's up front about it. That's more than most other anti-immigrant nuts have the huevos to admit.

From Echidne:

In his new book, State of Emergency, Pat Buchanan argues for "an immediate moratorium on all immigration." Why? To preserve the dominance of the white race in America. Buchanan explains on pg. 11:

America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived.

Can't we finally get over this "white race" bullshit once and for all? Listen carefully, Pat: there is no such thing as "the white race". It's all a figment of your imagination. I, being a mixture of German, Italian, French and Irish, am a demonstrably dimmer shade of peachy than the German, Scandinavian, Native American (and whatever else) Gifted-1. I doubt anyone would claim that such a noticeable difference in skin tone, from my yardwork tan to her Swedish bikini team white, indicates a difference in race. Yet there's just as much biological difference between she and I as there is between you, Pat, and the Mexican immigrants you so tirelessly detest.

In other words, Pat, we're all human beings, brothers and sisters if you will, separated only by the fevered imaginings of your paranoid brain. You know something, Pat? My lovely daughter (see below) may one day marry the darkest African-descended man to ever walk the cheese-and-brat producing land of Wisconsin. She may have kids with her loving husband. Those beautiful children will be just as American as you are Pat; more so, because unlike you they'll have been taught to appreciate others for their differences. They'll be good citizens, good people, who will live their lives to the fullest (I can be optimistic! These are my future grandkids, after all...). But what they won't be, Pat, is "white"; at least not in any way you'd recognize. And you know what? As a "white" man, I think that's wonderful. They'll understand what an absurd concept "race" is in a way that you never will.

But at least you're honest, Pat. You may be a vile, racist, nativist coward, but at least you can meet the Devil on equal terms come Judgement Day.

"And Those Bloody Psalms! They're So Depressing!"

[Thanks to Ishkur. Check out the other posters too; they're a riot.

Our Star Turns 3

Our lovely Olivia Star turned 3 last month. She is becoming more of a little lady, each day. So smart, funny and cute...

I swear I should photo-shop some angel wings on this close-up shot!
{Or maybe the devil horns}

Living up to that "Star" potential! They {whom ever they are} always say: People grow into their names!
This could be a very good {or possibly bad} thing!
The other day I called Olivia a Drama Queen. She replied {in a very whiney voice} "I'm not a drama queen, I'm a PRINCESS!"

Any questions? ;)

Birthday girl request ~ a picture with baby sister! Olivia even picked out Cecelia's dress... and they coordinated very well, I might add, both in pattern and colors.

I can't believe it's been 3 years already! I couldn't imagine life without Olivia... time flies when you're having fun.

I love you, Livi Star!

~ Mommy

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Double Shot Of Hell's Finest

Come on in and sit down, I've been saving you a seat and a dirty glass. We drink in hate, misery and spite here I've got a double shot of our blackest rotgut waiting. You know the kind of booze I'm talking about, don't you? The cheap, nasty kind that comes in a fat plastic bottle and brings out the son-of-a-bitch in us all. Of course, you don't drink what I'm serving; you drink it in with your eyes and let it pollute your soul awhile.

It's not our regular stuff; not today. Normally I'd have a lowball full of gay hatred on tap or the burning Red of war death decanted. Don't spill it; once you get it on your hands it never washes off and that bouquet sure lingers. While that Red brings sweet, powerful catharsis and that Gay Hatred false piety (it's sacramental wine to some, you know), neither are good enough today. Today I've tapped a keg of the oldest brew: racist xenophobia, that hatred of the unfamiliar "other". Hear the cries of all human history repeated ad nauseum as that cool, black sludge fills your glass. Let's raise it now in toast to a nation that never repents, but only forgets, the transgressions of its past. Drink it down because you must, because you live there too, and feel what blackness you've allowed to pass your stained lips...

By way of a little back story, Gifted-1 and I both grew up on conservative northern Illinois. I'd been kicking around blogging about this first story ever since I caught wind of it from David Neiwert's blog. It's so close to home for me, which makes it more poignant than it might have otherwise been. From the Rockford Register Star:

A Freeport-based Aryan Nations group plans to rally Saturday in front of the Ogle County Courthouse in what the organization’s leaders are calling a nonviolent “voice of opinion about current immigration laws.”


Members of the Aryan Anarchist Skins, a white nationalist group, will demonstrate at 2 p.m. on South Fifth Street between the old courthouse and the Ogle County Judicial Center, said Lisa Shultz, a “sergeant officer” for the group. Shultz said she expects up to 200 people to attend the rally, though the group itself has just 10 members.

Representatives of other Illinois white supremacist groups and possibly some from other states might convene with the Skins on Saturday, Shultz said, but she knew of no specific Aryan Nations groups planning to attend.

This event, of course, has come and gone with little fanfare, leading me to conclude that it didn't make much a splash in little Oregon. I grew up less than 10 miles from there and I can certainly understand why a racist hate group like this might feel they have a sympathetic ear or two in the area. Jobs are rather scarce in Ogle county and many of those jobs are being occupied by Mexican immigrants. Rochelle, which is probably 30 miles or so from Oregon, has long been battling gang and violent crime issues due largely to poverty. A lack of jpersistentstant low standard of living and plentiful Mexican immigrants, all of which can be found in these former farm communities some two hours or more west of Chicago, combine to create a very hostile atmosphere for hate groups to exploit. Add to that the fact that Ogle is one of the most reliably conservative Republican counties in Illinois and you've got a sure recipe for trouble. Fortunately, there wasn't any, this time.

My reason for using a source story for this post that was prior to the actual event is terribly selfish, I'm afraid. My fear is that if I looked to closely at this event, I'd see someone I knew there. I have much family in that area. I also know that many folks are committed to the belief that legal immigration is an anachronism of a naive past and illegal immigration a criminal assault on the American way of life. I'm selfish in that I don't want to even know if any of my family or school-days friends share that belief, though I'm certain some of them do. I don't desire the confirmation.

In the broader sense I see this kind of event as the natural evolution of the immigration debate. The more and more harsh the rightwing rhetoric gets about this issue, the more justified these sorts of hate groups feel in spewing their racist bile. The Aryan Anarchist Skins are just a bunch of ignorant, maladjusted animals incapable of dealing with the modern world. However, the viciousness of the GOP noise machine towards this issue, especially as it relates to the House bill, begins to lend the tiniest bit of resonance to the hatred espoused by a group like this in the ears of those closet racists uncomfortable with a changing America. That's irresponsible, ideologically-blinded governance at its worst, and it's bringing the ugliest elements of our nation too close to my former home. Just knowing that the Aryan Anarchist Skins felt confident enough in the reception they'd get to show up in Oregon dulls the patina on my childhood memories of the area. What a shame that racism and nativism has been granted a foothold by those whose job it's supposed to be to uphold our civil liberties. November can't come soon enough...


The other bit of news I have, in this same vein unfortunately, comes from too close to my current home in Wisconsin. It seems the newly-elected mayor of Arcadia, Wisconsin has become frustrated with our government's refusal to codify into law his hatred of Mexicans so he's taken the first step himself. From the Winona Daily News:

Arcadia Mayor John Kimmel has infuriated the Hispanic community with an inflammatory proposal to eliminate undocumented workers in this western Wisconsin town.


Kimmel laid out a five-ordinance plan in an Aug. 10 column in the Arcadia News-Leader, that would, among other things: make English the official language in Arcadia, a city of 2,402 people, require an American flag to fly alongside any other national flag; alert federal agents to resident complaints of undocumented workers; and ensure signs are only printed in English. Kimmel considered monetary penalties for some but hasnÂ’t finalized anything.

First of all, the only part of Kimmel's agenda that actually has anything to do with undocumented immigrants is his proposal to alert federal agents about resident complaints involving illegal immigrants. Notice that he's not actually responding to the presence of the undocumented workers, who may very well be present in Arcadia, but to the complaints of residents about such. Of course, since undocumented Mexican immigrants (and, rest assured, Kimmel's talking only about Mexican immigrants) don't generally where signs proclaiming their undocumented status, the residents of Arcadia really have no way of knowing who is and is not undocumented. Not that it appears to matter to Kimmel.

As I drive through Arcadia each day, I've often wondered at the public reaction to the two Mexican grocery stores in the downtown area. I hate to assume the worst about those whose skin color matches mine, but sadly we pasty folks have a piss-poor track record in the racial tolerance arena. Thus, while I'm dismayed by Kimmel's overt attack on the local immigrant population, I'm certainly not surprised. Making English the official language is nothing more than a mean-spirited slap in the face. It's just a petty way of making Mexican immigrant feel a little less welcome in an area where plenty of work is available for all who seek it. It's a way for Kimmel and those supporting him to essentially tell the immigrant population that they are not welcome and are not regarded as neighbors (or people, for that matter). It's an abuse of office that I hope brings Kimmel every bit of the derision he deserves.

As a final bit of hypocrisy, I think his flag and sign restrictions are stupidly racist as well. This part of Wisconsin has a huge Norwegian immigrant population, complete with Norwegian flags and Norwegian signs, neither of which have been an issue for over a hundred years. Of course, those Norwegians, almost all second or higher generation immigrants, all look just a little different than the new wave of immigrants from Mexico. I'm sure you can guess...

It makes me sad to see how our Congress's refusal to enact any kind of compassionate program to deal with the immigrant question has led to such overt racism bubbling up. Perhaps that racism was always there and it's only now that I'm seeing it clearly. Either way, it shows that racism and nativism thrive just as well here as any where else in the world. We should be better than that.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Shout-Out!

I just want to give a quick shout-out to Joe Baker, Senior Editor for The Rock River Times.

Turning 74, he has been covering the news for over 50 years and I {and many others, I'm sure} would like to say a BIG THANK YOU for his inspiring career and eye opening point-of-view!

Go Joe! Enjoy your retirement!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Now Can We Mention Impeachment?

John at Liberal Hyperbole makes a great catch on the court ruling yesterday that held Bush's unwarranted surveillance program Unconstitutional. In her ruling, U.S. District judge Anna Diggs Taylor delivers some stunning information (bolded below):

Liberal Hyperbole: Say what?!?

OK, today's big news, the judge in Michigan ruled that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping is illegal. But one particular line jumped out at me here (emphasis added):

All of the above Congressional concessions to Executive need and to the exegencies of our present situation as a people, however, have been futile. The wiretapping program here in litigation has undisputedly been continued for at least five years, it has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and of course the more stringent standards of Title III, and obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Has this administration been using warrantless wiretaps before 9/11 even happened? If so, then two questions come immediately to mind: What was the justification for it at the time, and how useful do they seem to be if they couldn't stop any hypothetical people "determined to strike U.S." with the warrantless wiretaps?

Sadly, this isn't even really all that surprising. After all, the real power behind the throne during the Bush administration has been Dick Cheney, whose advocacy of the unitary executive theory has been widely discussed. The lesson learned from the Nixon Watergate debacle was simple: justify your lawbreaking to the American people as essential to national security. Of course, as John points out, how effective can it really be given that Al-Qaida succeeded on 9/11?

In my opinion, the warrantless spying program doesn't necessarily have a policy justification. I believe it's being justified purely on ideological grounds. Cheney and Gonzalez, among others in the GOP, simply believe that the President should have the power to act as he sees fit, particularly in an extremely broadly defined "time of war". They believe the 4th Amendment is too restrictive, a notion that other "lawn order" conservatives certainly embrace even if they don't couch it in those terms. The actual targets of the spying program, be they terrorists or just political opponents, are purely academic. Terrorism has merely offered a convenient, public-friendly justification for something that the Bush administration believes is within the President's purview naturally. The fact that the terrorism justification virtually guarantees success in obtaining a warrant from the FISA court, which has only denied four in its existence, simply bears out that belief. It's not a matter of paperwork or inconvenience; it's a matter of (egregious) principle. Being able to spy on Americans, the thinking goes, is something the President ought to be able to do with impunity and, thus, any obstacles to that enacted by the other two branches are to be ignored.

Monarchy, anyone?

According to Judge Diggs Taylor's ruling, the Bush administration has been deliberately and repeatedly violating a criminal statute. They've attempted to subvert the separation of powers in our Constitution and have willfully ignored the 4th Amendment. Given this, plus the ABA's report that Bush's signing statements are a similar violation of the separation of powers, do we dare continue running from the idea of impeachment? What else can the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" mean in the context of Presidential power than a President who willingly subverts our Constitution? Unlike Al-Qaida or (laughably) Hezbollah, the Bush-Cheney-Gonzalez theory of Presidential authority really is a threat to our way of life. This must not be allowed to stand, by either the Democrats or the GOP. We're all Americans and the Bush administration has become a very great threat to our nation.

If committing perjury about an extra-marital affair is worthy of impeachment, then by any reasonable measure the actions of the Bush administration certainly must be deemed so. A President who ignores our laws, disdains our Bill of Rights and subverts the separation of powers in our government is many magnitudes a greater threat to our way of life than a President who lies about a personal indiscretion.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Freedom Isn't Free

I have to confess that I've been itching for a reason to link to my pal Graffy but didn't want to make the maiden voyage one into turbulent waters (Graffy and I are on polar opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum). Luckily for me, he posted a nice rhetorical thought and I would like to address it in greater detail than I did in his comments. First, via Graff Paper:

I've seen the "freedom isn't free" line passed around so much that, even though I agree with it, I tend to ignore it for the most part. But in this case, the author [of the British paper The Telegraph article] is expressing it from a European viewpoint, which made me look at our country in a way I typically don't...

The general idea behind the author's op-ed is that Americans are not just being rhetorical when we talk about freedom and that we really are a nation willing to lay down our lives for freedom. His article is somewhat a chastisement against Europeans who doubt American commitment to this lofty ideal. I don't necessarily disagree with the article, but I definitely think that the claim "freedom isn't free" and its corollary, "the cost of freedom", mean very different things to different Americans.

My general impression of the conservative understanding of "freedom isn't free" is that it is primarily a justification for war. In the framework of Iraq, for example, "freedom isn't free" means both that we should donate our blood and treasure to this disaster and that the lives of the Iraqi people are an acceptable "cost of freedom". The Iraq war is seen as justified by conservatives because they accept the framing of Hussein's Iraq as an enemy of freedom in its broadest ideological sense. An authoritarian dictator like Saddam Hussein is incompatible with freedom as conservatives present it. Thus, "freedom isn't free" means that an enemy of the ideal of freedom cannot be allowed to stand uncontested, and any amount of sacrifice is worth the vanquishing of that enemy. Thus war, and all the horror that goes along with it, is justified as "the cost of freedom" because, of course, "freedom isn't free".

Unfortunately, then rears the ugly head of conservative hypocrisy in all its malignant glory. For if "freedom isn't free" and invading Iraq is winning freedom, then surely "the cost of freedom" must be born, correct? But the nature of that sacrifice, that "cost", is what gives the lie to the conservative belief behind this notion. For who's truly making the sacrifice? The American people? That's a cruel joke. The 130,000 soldiers currently stationed in Iraq, and their fallen compatriots, are bearing the "cost of freedom", not the other 299 million Americans safe at home. Tremendous amounts of money have been spent on this war, but Americans have not born that burden. The Bush administration has borrowed the funds to fight in Iraq, while cutting taxes, particularly for the wealthy. Not only are Americans not paying for this war, we're actually borrowing money so that we may pay less to our civic responsibilities than we did before the war ever began! "Freedom isn't free" in Iraq, but Americans certainly aren't paying for it. Or, at least, not we today. Our children and grandchildren will pay for it, as will the thousands whose families are being torn apart by this debacle.

Further, we've extracted a very heavy "cost of freedom" from the Iraqi people. Conservatives believe "freedom isn't free" so fervently that not only are they willing to consign an entire nation to death, destruction and chaos but are then offended that the Iraqis aren't grateful for the opportunity to pay that "cost". It's an almost insurmountable ideological blindness that allows these "warhawks" to not see that freedom means many different things to many different people, and nothing at all to the dead.

It's a gross moral travesty that anyone would support a war in which only our military volunteers are fighting and money we borrow from other nations is funding. The Bush administration has done everything in its power to separate the American people from any responsibility for the Iraqi invasion. And yet, thankfully, the American people have still eventually turned against this fiasco, albeit slowly. To conservatives who no longer march in solidarity with the Bush administration, this war is a failure of implementation. I say that's a disgusting, weak-kneed attempt to justify once supporting the worst foreign policy disaster of my life time. This war is a failure of leadership, of policy, of ideology and, most importantly, of humanity. Practical concerns about logistical and tactical implementation have their place, certainly, but are not an impeachment of the war on any philosophical grounds. This war was wrong, egregiously wrong, and had it been more sound tactically and gained the end the Bush administration desired (which it never could have), it would still be wrong. "Freedom isn't free" and neither is wanton violence and imperialist war, the cost of which we and the Iraqis will be paying for many years to come.

From a liberal perspective, I feel that "freedom isn't free" is also true, though for very different reasons. Certainly there have been times in our history where the cause of war has been the cause of freedom. The American Civil War for one and World War II for another. In these examples, there was a very real threat, both to the United States and to our friends and allies abroad. In those cases our military, be it volunteer or conscripted, paid "the cost of freedom" for others and it was a noble sacrifice they made. Unlike the Iraq war of today, the American people stood up and paid the "cost of freedom" together in these past conflicts. The Bush administration's policies have forced the Iraqi people to pay a heavy "cost of freedom" without even giving them the choice of whether or not they felt that cost was bearable. There were other ways to help the Iraqi people and maybe the cost would have been just as high. But that should have been the Iraqis decision to make, not ours.

To me, "freedom isn't free" reminds of 9/11, of all times. On that day, "the cost of freedom" was paid and a tremendous cost it was. Our liberal democracy, our open culture, allowed our enemies to strike at us and exact a terrible price in blood for whatever cause drives their hatred of the United States. Those 3,000 who gave their lives on 9/11 paid the price for the freedoms Americans enjoy. The GOP, through support of legislation like the Patriot Act and programs like the NSA surveillance program, would like to ameliorate that cost much in the way they do so with Iraq. They want to make freedom cheap and easy, by taking away the very freedom for which so many Americans have died. Realizing that our free society leaves us vulnerable sometimes is the true "cost of freedom". "Freedom isn't free" because our embrace of it can be exploited. That's a cost I'm happy to pay, because I believe our freedom is worth it. It's worth it to be necessarily vulnerable so that we don't unfairly profile our Arab-American brothers and sisters. It's worth it in order to protect the freedom of the 7 million Muslims living in the United States, by showing them that they will not be retaliated against because of the acts perpetrated by those claiming the same faith. It's worth it in order to insure that we are safe in our private lives, that our government does not own us or control us as an authoritarian police state would. Most of all, it's worth laying down our lives sometimes in order to demonstrate that our liberal democracy will not be subverted, either by Al-Qaida or well-intentioned bureaucrats.

"Freedom isn't free" because it requires real sacrifice, not just bellicosity. "The cost of freedom" is high, but the fear of that cost should not be mitigated by government debt and voluntary wars. Freedom is not our birthright as Americans; it's a privilege we earn by our commitment to it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Rattlesnakes Are Committin' Suicide

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: Defeatism and attacks on the Commander-in-Chief during a time of war

While I think it's plenty scary that these right wing chickenhawks are abandoning Bush because he's just not bloodthirsty enough for them, it's still gratifying to watch all these rats jump ship. Even the wingnuts seem to have finally grasped that George W. Bush really is one of the worst president's we've ever had, both in terms of effectiveness and competence. He clearly has no useful grasp of the Middle East whatsoever and is basically mailing in his second term. He's like a little boy lighting cobwebs in his parents' basement who, now that the fire is burning, has no clue what to do about it. He just watches the fire and hopes no one notices that he set it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Pyrrhic Victory

At least as of lunch time today, the very tenuous ceasefire in Lebanon seems to be holding. However, the agreement between the parties is likely fatally flawed and incomplete, as AJ at AmericaBlog discusses:

The resolution only addresses the Israeli soldiers and Lebanese prisoners issues in what's essentially a preamble section, and fails to outline hugely important factors including timing of troop movements (both in and out), defining acceptable military action, rules of engagement for foreign troops, and Shebaa Farms. It's a tenuous agreement at best. It's also worth noting that this is exactly the kind of agreement that the Bush administration insisted it wouldn't support back when the conflict began. The administration said it would only back a resolution that established an "enduring" cease-fire, one that actually resolved issues rather than postponing them. While I'm happy that 1701 passed, and that the U.S. supported it, it's worth noting that our foreign policy apparatus failed utterly to achieve its aims. American power and prestige continues to suffer due to ideological and strategic deficiencies.

I join AJ in being glad that this agreement passed, but I'm not terribly optimistic towards the future either. I see little reason that Hezbollah will stand an extended Israeli presence south of the Litani, nor do I expect that any nation will be interested in putting enough blue helmets on the ground to secure the situation. After all, the two main brokers in this agreement, the United States and France, have little incentive to staff a peacekeeping force. The French no doubt remember only too well the lessons learned from their colonial adventures in Lebanon and the U.S. is too tied down in Iraq (not that you'd guess it from watching any major U.S. news outlets).
The inevitable question that begins to arise after a ceasefire like this takes hold is who really won the war? Of course, we know who lost it. An estimated 1,500 Lebanese and Israeli civilians paid the ultimate price for this ideological clash, and likely more Lebanese casualties will be discovered as the refugees return home. The infrastructure of Lebanon has been largely destroyed, undermining an already shaky democracy and weak economy. On the other side, Israel has demonstrated in Lebanon, just as the U.S. is busy demonstrating in Iraq, that full military mobilization is not the most effective way to fight the kind of guerilla war Hezbollah likes to fight. One of the largest failures of neoconservatism is to internalize the lessons of Vietnam and Latin America. Israel has failed to evolve its military to meet the changing tactics of the threats it faces. Conventional warfare of the kind in which Israel and the U.S. prefer to engage is rapidly becoming an anachronism.

As much as I hate to say it, the winner of this conflict may very well be Sheik Nasrallah and Hezbollah, if it's truly possible to "win" a war of this kind. Hezbollah demonstrated to the world that it could withstand the firepower of the IDF, long the most powerful military in the region. Hezbollah also demonstrated that it could carry out its heinous attacks against Israeli civilians regardless of the damning being done by the IDF to Lebanon. At no time did it become apparent that Hezbollah's actions were in any way being hampered by Israel's invasion. Hezbollah also scored itself a PR victory, taking clear advantage of Israel's penchant for hitting civilian targets.

This is not to say that Hezbollah is not clearly a bad actor in all of this. Lest we forget, it was an incursion by Hezbollah, the killing and kidnapping of IDF soldiers, that led to this tragedy. While Hezbollah may have been trying to move beyond its terrorism background towards more political legitimacy, it's hostility towards Israel remains unabated. Nor is there any reason to believe that Iran will not help build Hezbollah back to fighting strength. Unfortunately, Israel's gross over-reaction to the initial Hezbollah incursion has given Hezbollah exactly the proof it needed to justify its militant ways and gain wider support on the Arab street.

So what we're left with is the status quo, once again. If Israel withdraws quickly behind the Blue Line, Hezbollah will likely resume its military control over the south of Lebanon, only this time with likely even more public support. If Israel lingers in Lebanon, it likely faces the same guerilla insurgency that drove the IDF out in 2000. Either way, the death toll for both the Lebanese and the Israelis will continue to climb, nothing will have been resolved and the U.S. will become even further marginalized in international opinion because of its inability to play a significant role in the Middle East.

No one wins a war like no one wins a natural disaster. But everyone loses...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Extreme Leftwing Bushido

We keep hearing repeated ad nauseum the notion that those of us refusing to support Joe Lieberman and his brand of misplaced centrism are attacking the Democratic party from the "extreme left". In the case of Lieberman's supporters, "extreme left" is certainly being used as a moniker to marginalize those who don't support Joementum's Party of One. However, when used by conservatives, such as Fox "News" commentator and current White House spokesman (but I repeat myself...) Tony Snow, it's used to denote disapproval with Bush and the war in Iraq. The last time I checked, Bush's approval ratings were in the low 30's and fully 60% of the American people were against the war in Iraq. That means a majority of the American people are now part of the "extreme left". Huzzah!

Sadly, of course, that's complete nonsense. It's merely a very shallow attempt by conservatives, and, yes, Joe Lieberman is a conservative, to paint the defining issue of our time, terrorism, into a more pleasant light for Republicans. I doubt it's going to work, but then only November will tell. The authoritarian bent of the GOP is very appealing to certain voters, many of whom are not interested in a nuanced democratic process but rather a strong leader to line them up. The Republicans either have to run away from Bush or establish that progressive politics are far outside of the political mainstream, in spite of the fact that progressive positions are routinely supported by a majority of Americans.

To demonstrate this point, I thought that I would lay out my "extreme left" view of national security and what our nation ought to be doing about it. I'm confident that my "extreme leftism" makes a lot more practical sense than the neoconservatism preached by the GOP and its sycophants. National security can be divided into two main fronts: domestic needs and international strategy. Both have been a miserable failure under Bush and the GOP's flawed leadership.

On the domestic front, I believe firmly in a comprehensive strategy that involves border security and import inspections, as well as protecting our vulnerable industry. I believe we ought to have in place a coordinated system which inspects incoming cargo containers, an area of great vulnerability currently. I also believe we need to better monitor traffic across our country's borders and our airport transit. I certainly do not think we ought to start building walls on either border, as no wall is impenetrable and the existence of such would likely lead to further border complacency. Further, stopping or harassing all immigrants in the name of thwarting the minute fraction that actually want to cause harm to the U.S. is both ineffective and cruel. Part of lessening our appeal as a terrorist target is making our country more welcome to others, not less. Part of that strategy includes eliminating racial profiling as well, as it both degrades minorities and creates unnecessary blind spots in our surveillance efforts.

Also domestically, I believe we need to have better security at our sensitive industrial plants. A major terrorist attack against a large chemical company or nuclear plant, for example, could have catastrophic repercussions that last for generations. I grew up 20 miles from a nuclear plant myself, and the thought that it could be turned into another Chernobyl by an enterprising extremist is very sobering. Yet the Bush administration doesn't seem to see this sort of domestic implementation as vital to our national security. Who's weak on security again?

Finally, while I think that airports are rightly receiving a great deal of attention, especially in light of yesterday's terror scare in London, I think we ignore other areas of mass transportation at our great peril. I rode the Metra train in Chicago for four years and can attest that, even after 9/11, security was almost non-existent. No bag checks of any kind were ever performed, nor were there any kind of security check points. At best, there were police officers, both uniformed and, supposedly, plain-clothed, riding along but that strikes me as being almost too late as an effective deterrent. Unless there were highly sophisticated, very secret detection methods in place, I have to conclude that the tens of thousands of train commuters in Chicago alone could make a tempting target. Again, since a military invasion won't help the mass transit issue, like it doesn't help any aspect of terrorism prevention, Bush and the GOP have little interest. Lots of liberals in big cities, you know...

On the international front, I believe that any successful national security strategy must be centered around removing the motivation of groups like Al-Qaida. The U.S. must be more engaged in combating the poverty and social injustice that breeds terrorism, without the overbearing crusader mentality that leads to foreign fears of a culture war. We also have to finally divorce ourselves from the neo-conservative notion that military assaults on other countries can stop terrorism. That strategy has been shown as an utter failure, especially in Iraq. U.S. military intervention must be a very careful last resort, used only to either stop invasions and genocide or to protect multi-lateral humanitarian efforts. Pre-emptive unilateral invasions are too antagonistic and collectively punish the very population we're trying to "liberate". Conservative estimates say that at least 50,000 Iraqis have died, all in the name of removing one despot from power. There is no situation under which that cost in Iraqi lives was worth the imprisonment of one man, nor is it just to force the Iraqis to pay that blood cost against their will. All that's been accomplished is to replace a stable dictatorship with a weak democracy in the throes of a civil war; perhaps a moral victory in the narrowest of terms but a disaster by any qualitative measure.

We also have to take considerably more responsibility for aiding and reigning in our allies, especially in the Middle East. The cognitive dissonance of a Bush administration that shouts "freedom" at every opportunity but then supports oppressive, non-democratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan is certainly not lost on the Arab people. That kind of inconsistency creates a gaping wound in our credibility which bad actors in the region can exploit. Labeling U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as a "war against Islamic Fascism", as Bush did yesterday, is also hugely counterproductive. Alliances are the key to marginalizing terrorist groups, not inflammatory rhetoric that justifies their existence.

Along those same lines, we also need to exercise more involvement with our Israeli allies. So long as the United States unequivocally supports the Israeli government and supplies its military, the U.S. forfeits its ability to be an independent third party. If that's a sacrifice we need to make, and I believe it is for Israel's sake, then Israel must accept a greater administrative role by the United States. The U.S. must acknowledge that the actions of Israel often have security implications for the United States and, as such, Israel must accept that the United States have some ability to greenlight or veto those actions. That's the cost Israel must bear in exchange for its U.S. sponsored military and economic dominance in the region.

In six years of GOP control in Washington, none of these steps have been taken. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our domestic security remains very porous, and the funding for such has become a political patronage system designed to reward GOP leaning states. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has destabilized a major Middle Eastern nation, fomenting a civil war that could possibly ignite a greater regional conflict. And the Bush administration's refusal to engage in any aspect of Israel's government policy, except to provide unconditional financial and military support, has helped allow yet another war between Lebanon and Israel to rage for over a month. All of these actions demonstrate a lack of fundamental leadership and seriousness on national security.

The GOP isn't strong on national security; it's strong on warmongering and peddling fear. Time for a change, before another major terrorist plot, obscured behind the smoking haze of Iraq and Lebanon, demonstrates our lack of preparedness in stark, bloody detail.

Breastmilk is Best Milk!

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding has many benefits for your baby. Breast milk is rich in nutrients. It helps protect your baby against infections. It also helps prevent your baby from having allergies.

Breastfeeding also has benefits for mom. It's clean and simple--you don't have to wash bottles or mix formula. It's cheaper than using formula. It helps your uterus contract back to normal size after having been stretched during pregnancy. And, most importantly, it helps make time for you to be close to your baby.

I have breastfed my children and have always known it was the best way to go. But, in light of the recent uproar about "boobs in public" ~ I've done a little more checkin' into things... and I might add, I beat the Colbert Report on covering {or uncovering} this issue! Ha!

People in the great ole USA have this sick over-sexed view of women's bodies and breasts in general. It's really a shame that we can't move away from that, long enough, to let babies get the best nutrition possible! Most other countries have completely different {IMO, better} views on the breast. Here are a couple examples where boobs are a part of every day life:

A Venezuelan phone card from CANTV company is showing a breastfeeding mother. The backside explains how Venezuelan law grants all working mothers the right to breastfeed, and encourages working mothers to pump their milk for their baby.

This ad photo was seen on the side of a newspaper vending machine in Switzerland. It says: "Point de ravitaillement" - place of resupply.

Unfortunately, most Americans can't be so mature. LiveJournal has even gone as far as barring images of breastfeeding mothers!
Check out the avatars here:

So, I was so happy {insert many cheers here} when seeing Vogue Model, Angela Lindvall (top) breastfeeding her 14 month old baby.
At least some of us are evolving...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Who's Weak On Security?

The usual rhetoric concerning Democrats and national security has been rolling in following Ned Lamont's defeat of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut yesterday. An anti-war stance has long been equated with weakness on national security by conservatives, as though those of us opposed to the government's love of war as its favorite foreign policy tool are any less affected by dangers to the country. It's a common conservative smear and one with no basis in reality.

Generally, it seems conservatives have twisted the idea of supporting national security, which every single American regardless of politics does, and the idea that war is the only effective way to maintain that security. This has essentially translated into the belief, propagated by conservatives and DLC centrists, that the only way for a political candidate to establish strong credentials on national security is to support every war in which the U.S. ever gets involved. That's an incredibly reckless abdication of civic responsibility in a democratic society.

Not only is carte blanche support of war morally wrong and irresponsible, it's also not a good security strategy. In fact, supporting the war in Iraq is to actually support a course of action which has left our nation less secure. General Wesley Clark puts it this way, in the context of Lamont's win over Lieberman:

You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "antisecurity wing" of the Democratic Party.

Destabilizing the Middle East and creating the conditions for a sectarian civil war in Iraq is not increasing our national security. Nor is giving unqualified support to every military endeavor Israel undertakes. True national security cannot always, if even ever in our time, be gained through military invasions and occupations. Those sorts of activities only inflame the extremists who are trying to breach our security in the first place and give them a cause around which to rally and recruit.

The fundamental narrative that the Democrats have to stamp out on this issue is the "only war brings security" narrative. The entire national security debate has been framed around this issue, thanks in large part to 30 years of conservative spin. Already today, on Fox "News", pictures of Ned Lamont were being displayed proudly next to pictures of George McGovern in a blatant attempt to revive that old conservative stereotype that anti-war liberals cannot be trusted on national security. The Democrats need to nip that sort of mendacity in the bud right out of the gate by following General Clark's rhetorical lead. Strong national security starts with bold, innovative foreign policy, not the same old warmongering that brought us Vietnam and Iraq. There is no security for anyone, the U.S. included, in war.


On a somewhat tangential note, I have to remark quickly on how sick I find our media's coverage of the war in Lebanon, particularly that of Fox "News". I watched a few snippets of Bill Hemmer this morning, reporting from an IDF mustering point on the Lebanese border, and was struck by just how detached from the reality of war these conservatives are. Bill was all a-twitter about the massive tanks and heavy artillery being deployed, as though he were giving a press conference for the Department of Defense. Is there no realization left on the Right as to just what tanks and artillery are being sent in to do? Those aren't cool toys being rolled off on an exciting Michael Bay-esque adventure. They're weapons of war being deployed to crush, maim and destroy human lives and civilization. Just because they're less sophisticated than the Katyusha rocket doesn't make them anymore righteous or benign. Real peoples lives and livelihoods will be snuffed out by that "75 tons of heavy firepower" rolling by you, Mr. Hemmer. Of course, we know that, for neo-conservatives, while all men are created equal, some are created more equal than others. And some, like Arab Muslims, far less.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

And The Winner Is...


Feel the Nedrenaline!

Sadly, Joe Lieberman has announced that he will run as an Independent to hold his Senate seat. Proof positive, if it was ever needed, that Lieberman has no loyalty to his party and no respect for the voters of Connecticut.

Time to go, Joe.

Bottom Of The Ninth In Connecticut

I've spent probably ten years or so now closely following politics and I cannot remember a Senatorial primary that has gotten anything like the attention this race in Connecticut has received. It's amazing to think that, not all that long ago, Ned Lamont was a virtual unknown facing arguably the most well-known Democrat in the Senate and now has reached national prominence as a progressive leader. Regardless of what happens today, I think Ned Lamont is destined to play a roll in the Democratic party for many years to come.

To that end, I want to thank Ned Lamont for making it exciting to be a progressive Democrat again. I remember the 2004 election all too well, and the feeling that, while I'd have sooner voted for my trusty adding machine as president than George W. Bush, voting for Kerry as an "anybody but Bush" candidate was very unfulfilling. I respect John Kerry and I agree with most of his policy positions. I think he's a very intelligent, well-experienced politician and would have made a fine president. But for me he lacked that inspirational quality that separates an expert policymaker from a bold leader. He also ran almost as poor a campaign as Al Gore, proving for the second time that allowing the GOP (and Karl Rove) to set the election playing field is a huge handicap once the game is afoot.

That's why I want to say "Thanks" to Ned Lamont: he is an inspiring leader in the mold of Russ Feingold or Al Gore (2000 was an aberration). He is proudly progressive, not cautiously centrist. The Democrats in recent years have often seemed to forget that while a candidate's particular political philosophy is a factor in elections, it's not necessarily the largest factor. A strong stand for that philosophy is campaign gold, as Lamont has so skillfully demonstrated. If the political career of George W. Bush has taught us anything (other than the usefulness of being rich, white and politically connected) is that a strong stance, no matter how egregiously wrong or damaging to the country, is more appealing to voters than a calculated attempt at appealing to as wide a voter demographic as possible. It's a little horrifying to consider what this reality says about the American electorate, but then you use the democracy you have not the democracy you'd like to have.

My support of Lamont is not to say that I necessarily think Joe Lieberman is a bad fellow. He was always far too conservative for my tastes and his tendency towards religious moralizing is a tremendous strike against him. Beyond that, though, what really has turned me off about Lieberman is his oft demonstrated failure to support his fellow party members. While I certainly don't think marching in lockstep is healthy for the Democrats or our democracy in general, as the GOP has demonstrated over the past 20 years, nonetheless I think it is important to recognize and support those fighting the same fight as you. Lieberman has been only too willing to distance himself time and again from his Democratic colleagues in a vain attempt to create a center where one often does not exist. Just as most issues have more than just a conservative and a liberal angle, most issues do not have a convenient middle ground for bi-partisanship between those two poles. There's no such thing as "conscience clause" contraception ban that only kind of strips women of their rights or illegal wars that could be morally justifiable if only they were managed more effectively. There's often no clear middle ground on fundamental policy issues, which is why we have two very different political parties (or should have, anyway). Lieberman's attempts to create an imaginary middle ground where none exists has helped fuel the perception that Democrats don't have any firm policy principles, while giving the GOP a "useful idiot" to lend the specter of bi-partisanship to whatever theocratic or plutocratic legislation the movement conservatives can dream up. To paraphrase what a commenter at firedoglake said recently: Compromise without an honest dealer on the other side is nothing but capitulation.

I predicted earlier today, at Ezra's place, that Lieberman would win today. Our electoral system is tremendously tilted in favor of the incumbent, and Joe Lieberman, for all his faults, is no lightweight in the political ring. However, after doing some reading at MyDD and DailyKos, I've changed my mind. I hadn't really stopped to consider the motivation factor. Lamont's supporters are energized, excited and taking their cause to the streets all across Connecticut. Lieberman's campaign, on the other hand, reeks of apathy and entitlement. The statements coming from Lieberman's camp remind me of nothing so much as the pre-fight posturing engaged in by a boxing trainer who knows he's putting up a fighter too far past that fighter's glory days to compete (such as Arturo Gatti's recent fight against Carlos Baldomir). Lieberman's campaign seems to have lost all its "joementum", while Lamont's people remain focused and engaged. Thus, my revised prediction is:

Ned Lamont 51%
Lieberman 49%

It's going to be a nail-biter, but in the end I think Lamont will carry the day. I also don't believe Lieberman will challenge the results if he loses. I fully expect Lieberman to make good on his insinuation that he might run as an Independent; actually, I wouldn't even be terribly surprised if he ran as a Republican. In either case, Lieberman knows from personal experience how damaging a failed recount bid can be and will avoid one at all costs.

I see Ned Lamont well on his way to being Connecticut's newest junior Senator by this time tomorrow.

The tide is turning 'round...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sunday Poetry Corner - Samurai Poetry

Mountain and river, grass and tree, grow more barren;
for ten miles winds smell of blood in the fresh battlefield.
Conquering horses do not advance nor do men talk;
outside Jinzhou Castle, I stand in the setting sun.

Emperor's army, a million, conquered the powerful foe;
field battles and fort assaults made mountains of corpses.
Ashamed - how can I face their fathers, grandfathers?
We triumph today?

Nogi Maresuke

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Strangers To Our Own Ways

As I was listening Tuesday night to a discussion on NPR's On Point about the Israel/Lebanon conflict, the talk turned to the historic precedents underlying the current troubles. Much was made of the origins of Hezbollah as a response to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The rage against occupation by a foreign power was raised as a likely cause of terrorism in much of the Middle East, including a large part of the insurgency in Iraq.

As the discussion progressed towards the issue of a multi-national peacekeeping force being introduced into the region, and the reluctance of the French to agree to such until a ceasefire was in place, one of the panelists, Christopher Dickey of Newsweek, made an excellent point that I think does not get discussed nearly enough in our foreign policy debates of late. Dickey's assertion was that the neoconservative push for invasion/occupation as a foreign policy tool and the French reluctance to engage in a peacekeeping incursion into Lebanon without the guarantee of a cease fire each stem from a sharp gap in understanding between Americans and most of the rest of the world, about the realities of occupation. Cheney's assertion about the expected positive reaction of Iraqis following our invasion (the very well-worn "flowers and candy" canard) is a prime example of this ignorance.

The fact of the matter is, as Dickey points out, that the French remember something we Americans do not: the indignity of occupation. The United States has never been invaded or occupied in modern times. France has, as has most of Europe. And so has Lebanon, which led to the formation of Hezbollah. In fact, most of the Middle East has been under foreign occupation at some point in the last 50-100 years, leading to a strong impression of just how humiliating such is to the occupied peoples. France understands the rage and hatred born of occupation, as it has been both occupier and occupied during the last century. That's why the French government is so hesitant to commit resources to a multi-national force without some agreement on the ground regarding a cessation of hostilities. France has been where the U.S. has not and understands the potential costs.

The lack of understanding by the United States of just how awful being occupied is leads to decisions like Iraq and the delusional belief that any people on Earth would welcome foreign occupation, no matter how good its intentions. There is no justification which would allow Americans to accept, say, the occupation of Oregon by Canada, no matter how noble Canada's intentions might be. Israel understands this as the French do, which is why Israel has no interest in stepping back into Lebanon on a long-term basis.

For all the heinous acts groups like Hezbollah commit, their creation and influence are not generated by a random bubbling up of anti-Western hatreds. Hezbollah, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, arose as a reaction to the depredations of life under hostile foreign occupation, whether that occupation was justifiable or not. Israel's continued assault, raising the specter of occupation again for the Lebanese, can only strengthen Hezbollah's influence. A push for a militarized Israeli or NATO presence in Lebanon exacerbates the situation and leaves the Lebanese government with little political authority to oppose Hezbollah. After all, if the only success Lebanon has had in staving off Israeli occupation has been due to Hezbollah military action, then how can the Lebanese government even begin to delegitimize Hezbollah in the face of more fighting with Israel? It cannot because the Lebanese people remember occupation.

Worse still are the calls for a widening conflict in the region. Using Lebanon as a staging area for a strong U.S. and Israeli joint force to put pressure on Damascus runs the risk of freezing out the remaining moderates in the region. After all, the voice of moderation sounds awfully weak in the face of an aggressive, implacable foe. American conservatives continue to push for wider U.S. and Israeli aggression in the region without one whit of understanding about the cost. Inexcusable, especially in light of the Iraq debacle.

Again and again the point must be made that the only proven way to stop terrorist groups like Hezbollah is to delegitimize their role in the region and erode their support. Bombing Lebanon to pieces or, in the case of the United States, invading Iraq in some misguided sort of anti-terrorism nation building exercise, only gives militant groups like Hezbollah and Al-Qaida further justification for their existence.

People in America have been extraordinarily fortunate in that we've rarely fought wars on our shore and have not, since early in our history, suffered the reality of foreign occupation. However, that lack of experience has led to a serious misunderstanding, especially among conservatives, about the illusion of benevolence under which they believe the U.S. is operating. The Iraqi reaction towards the U.S., along with the Lebanese reaction that created Hezbollah, demonstrates the motivational onus for violence brought about by occupation. No matter how good the intentions, invasion and occupation are never the best option until they are the only option.

Hopefully we in the U.S. never have to learn about being occupied first hand. But we'd certainly better learn how to deal with other peoples who have. The future of our world likely depends upon it.

What A Change A Year Can Bring

I wish I could point to more change for the better. We're still in Iraq, only now the civil war is getting fully underway and U.S. efforts seem to be stalling badly. We're still in Afghanistan as well, only now the Taliban has been making a comeback in the southern part of the country. In fact, none of Bush's foreign policy goals of a year ago have been realized and now even his shining example of Middle Eastern democracy, Lebanon, is being pounded into rubble by our putative allies in Israel. North Korea and Iran remain every bit the threat they were a year ago, possibly more so in the case of Iran.

On the home front, while Social Security privatization died, bankruptcy reform did not. The Republicans continue to push more tax cuts for the wealthy, while economic growth for the poorer 99% of the country is nearly flat. While both the Gay Marriage ban and Flag Burning amendments failed (barely), they still represent a tremendous waste of time by the Republican Congress. New Orleans remains an unmitigated disaster; a mute testimony to the gross incompetence of our current leadership in Washington. Intelligent Design failed in Pensylvania and will do so soon in Kansas, though the state of science education in our public schools remains sorely inadequate. We keep sliding ever closer to an elimination of a woman's right to an abortion, followed closely by an unrelenting assault against contraception. The theocratic agenda is very much alive and rolling on towards the November elections.

There is some good news, though. Numerous Republican crooks, such as Tom Delay and Scooter Libby, have been indicted for their malfeasance, though whether they'll serve any time or not seems unlikely. A jury of his peers convicted Enron Chairman Ken Lay and fate carried out the sentence. A current Quinnipiac poll shows progressive Ned Lemont with a solid lead over stealth Republican Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary. Sorry, Joe, but most of us only tolerated you as the VP nominee because we believed in Gore and understood what a trainwreck a Bush presidency would be. Too bad your fellow DLCers didn't see the danger. November is looking awfully good all around, with a recent Cook report showing the Republicans under seige in the House. I'm not willing to call it a Democratic takeover just yet, but something sure feels different this time around. I'm cautiously optimistic...

All of this is a round-a-bout way of saying "Happy Birthday" to A Beginner's Mind. As of Tuesday, I've officially been spouting off publicly for one whole year. It hasn't yet brought me the money, fame and appearance on "Meet the Press" I so desperately crave, but that's alright. I've learned more than I could have possibly dreamed just from the conversations here, and I look forward to another year of pedantic ranting.

For the comments: Let me know what you think the world will look like a year from now? Assuming Armageddon isn't really happening...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No People Are People In The Middle East

Generally I don't bother with tearing up rightwing blog entries. Partly because my blog reading time is limited and I don't want to waste it reading RNC talking points. In part also because many other bloggers, such as TBogg and The Editors, do a much more entertaining job of eviscerating the numbskullery than I do.

However, every once in awhile its interesting to see how the other side gets down so I took a cruise around the shallow end of the bloggy ocean earlier today. I happened across Randian objectivist blog Atlas Shrugs, whose blogger, Pamela, is doing some kind of propaganda photo journalism piece for the Olmert government. Actually, it appears she's wandering Israel in an attempt to show the people under the duress of war, which is laudable, and also to get her wargasm on over Israel's military might, which is scary and pathetic. In any case, while most of her observations, incredibly biased as they are, seemed pretty banal, there was one passage that really caught my eye:

Next stop was the Patriot Missile Base in Haifa, again no photos. Again, extraordinary people. Another young, fabulous Captain explaining that they will not use Patriots to shoot down Katushyas. Why use to a million dollar missile to shoot down a thousand dollar rocket that they have thousands of? The Patriots are for the Iranian missiles.

Let me see if I've got this straight: launching a military assault on Lebanon, killing hundreds of civilians, destroying Lebanon's infrastructure and leaving a fourth of the Lebanese population displaced is an acceptable cost for keeping the Israeli people safe but launching some million dollar missiles is just too costly? Personally, I don't really think "fabulous" is how I'd describe this particular IDF officer. I think "dangerously disturbed" sounds a little better. I mean, my God, he's quibbling about the hardware cost of protecting the Israeli people while participating in a war that is supposed to be accomplishing that very goal? I guess this just demonstrates yet again that, to the Pro-War crowd here and abroad, the Lebanese people have no value. Their lives are not even as valuable as some Patriot missiles. That actually explains nicely the difference between humanitarian aid for Lebanon and military aid for Israel from the U.S.: it's just a matter of risk management on the value of assets.

I have to assume that this IDF officer doesn't really intend to convey the notion that the Israeli people are not worth protecting to the tune of $1 million per missile. Instead, I think it's a tacit admission that Hezbollah's rocket attacks, while certainly serious, are not the existential danger to Israel that American conservatives would like us to believe. Captain Fabulous' assertion about the Patriot missiles definitely gives the impression that the IDF, if not the Israeli people at large, are not seeing the same war American conservatives are seeing. I also think it's pretty clear that Israel's motives are not as self-defense oriented as is being claimed. I think perhaps the good captain, and his unwitting spokeswoman, may have given us a glimpse behind the curtain on this conflict.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Few things illuminate the ugly side of human endeavors quite like the corpses of children killed in wartime. A massacre like the one that occurred in Qana, Lebanon on Sunday was inevitable, as all such atrocities in wartime are inevitable. Cries of outrage vie with official-sounding apologies and the non-denial denial of a promised "official investigation" into the matter. Certainly we in the West would like to believe that only terrorists murder children; we'd like to cover our faces with our hands and pretend that modern societies have evolved beyond this kind of brutality, while seeing the blood run red on those hands. This is why we who believe so strongly in peace condemn the actions of Hezbollah and Israel, the United States and Al-Qaida. We know the violent aggression of war has no winners but losers innumerable.

The tragedy in Qana is no more or less horrifying than the deaths of two Israeli-Arab children in Nazareth several weeks ago. It's always children, the "innocent", who pay the highest price for war. For all the grand talk of a "right to defend" and a need to "oppose the occupiers", for all the geopolitical doubletalk about "cease fires" and "sustainability"; after all the talk is done Qana and Haifa are the irreducible reality of war, the bloody bootprint of human tribalism run amok. After thousands of years of human blood flowing all we've learned is how to bleed each other more efficiently and moralize more convincingly.

For me, the atrocity that adds grave insult to the deaths of these Arab children is the soulless moralizing coming from each side, particularly American conservatives in support of Israel. The suggestions from many of the Israeli government's supporters, here and in Israel, that the lives of these children in Qana are currency paying the price of safety in Israel is an affront to our shared humanity. For supporters of Israel's attacks on Lebanon to claim that the defense of the Israeli people is worth the lives of the Lebanese is to strip the humanity from these Lebanese children, rendering them less precious than their Israeli neighbors. It's to signify that invisible lines on a map separate those deserving of life and safety from those less deserving. It's racist, nativist and a clear signal to the terrorists in the Middle East that our "western values" are as easily toppled as a Lebanese apartment building. Or an American World Trade Center.

Who are these boobs... and why don't they think breastfeeding is okay?

Eyeful of breast-feeding mom sparks outrage, according to MSNBC, Baby Talk's recent magazine cover has been blasted by the public, who are squeamish over the sight of a nursing breast... no nipple or areola, I might mention.

Here are a few quotes from the article:
"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.

I am amazed, daily, by the stupidity of people in this country! I certainly would rather my son (and my daughters) view the breast as a wonderful, beautiful part of a woman's body... that is used to nurture and care for her children. Not a sexual object to be augmented an oggled, as seen below:

Now, in my younger years, a cover like this would have sent me off in a tirade, but as I've gotten older... I don't blink an eye when seeing crap like this. I do, however, wish my children to see positive images of women's bodies. I think we are doing our children a great disservice by depicting women's bodies as something that should ONLY be lusted after and not accepted if they aren't {someone else's idea of} perfection.

We should be teaching our children to respect their mothers, sisters, themselves and humanity as a whole.