Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

I own a fair number of poetry books but I would be broke if I owned every book I read, poetry or not. So, sometimes I remember a poem but can't for the life of me figure out where I read it when I start browsing the local libraries. But sometimes I get lucky. Some of the best poems on war have been written in China. Here's an old Chinese poem from some 2,000 years ago whose author has been forgotten (there may be other versions but this one is translated by Anne Birrell whose books can be found at Amazon).

At Fifteen I Joined the Army

At fifteen I joined the army,
At eighty I first came home.
On the road I met a villager,
"At my home what kin are there?"

"Look over there—that's your home!"

Pine, cypress, burial mounds piled, piled high,
Hares going in through dog-holes,
Pheasants flying in through rafter tops;
The inner garden grown wild with corn,
Over the well wild mallow growing.

I pound grain to serve for a meal,
I pick mallow to serve for broth.
Once broth and meal are cooked
I'm at a loss to know whom to feed.
I leave by the gates, look east.
Tears fall and soak my clothes.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Penguin on the Equator

When somebody names their blog something like Penguin on the Equator, I just have to go and take a look. It turns out AK of Penguin on the Equator has a post on Norm Ornstein who has written about the media:
It's been a couple weeks since my last post on wonk extraordinaire Norm Orntein, but a friend today forwarded me a great article written by him in the current edition of Legal Affairs. In it, he criticizes the Washington press corps for failing to get to the stories about corruption in the GOP Congress -- those about the K Street Project, the Abramoff and Delay scandals, and lobbying reform generally -- given the warning signs that were present many years ago. As usual, Norm says all kinds of smart stuff.

He starts by talking about how, several years back, he began asking reporters why they weren't reporting some of the earliest efforts of the K Street Project...
In a way, the change in journalism began with Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich who spent so much time on the attack in the nineties that they gave cover to a lot of nonsense that was going on. Or maybe it began sooner when the media refused to dig very deep into the Iran-Contra story and the side story of the senior Bush saying, "I was out of the loop, I was out of the loop..." I'm a pragmatist and a realist, not a conspiracy buff, but there were too many nuts and bolts stories that simply didn't get covered for whatever reason.

My first impression is that AK and Norm Orstein are independent thinkers. I don't know enough about AK or Norm Orstein to comment further but there are times I want to widen the discussion and read people outside my usual haunts and usual inclinations. The progressive blogs have led the way on a number of fronts in the last four years but there are three dangers that progressives need to watch out for: groupthink which begins to lead to stagnant thinking; getting so far out ahead of the electorate that bloggers forget to make their case to Americans of varying backgrounds (and not just to each other); and finally, the habit some bloggers and many thread commenters have of slipping into the hubris of having little sympathy for people who don't spend at least forty hours a week devouring the news. It's important to chase down facts but it's also important to be able pull those facts together and to tell a story that draws people in enough to start absorbing those facts. I still haven't read a good summary, for example, of either the Duke Cunningham story or the Jack Abramoff story (If anyone knows of a good summary of those two, feel free to leave a comment).

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Are Democrats Coming Back?

Progressive Texan notes an article in Editors and Publisher about numbers in a Gallup poll showing that the Democrats may be coming back:
In a (perhaps) historic shift, more Americans now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, the Gallup organization revealed today.

Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind. But Gallup says this widens a bit more "once the leanings of Independents are taken into account."
Let's hope for the sake of our nation and our constitution that the numbers improve as more and more Americans recognize that Bush and his right wing Republican allies create problems, not solutions.

Veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan

One Veteran's Voice is looking for veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan to join in a blogging enterprise:
I've been kicking around the idea of making this blog a group effort for awhile, and it's time. If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan vet with a blogger profile and some way to prove your status as a vet (more than one picture of you in theater on myspace, blogger, flickr, or an established blog) you are free to post. Shoot me an email at with a link to your blogger profile and I will invite you to the group.
The last time I checked, over a million Americans have served in Iraq. It's time for more voices to be heard. One Veteran's Voice also has a list of blogs on the right hand sidebar by soldiers and veterans.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

More Antiwar Poetry

Sisyphus Shrugged did a great job of putting together all the people who posted a song/poem; I haven't had time yet to check out all the posts she lists but I intend to do so.

For several weeks now, I've been posting poems on Friday nights from different places but in the spirit of the moment I want to post something even if it's still early in the week. I would like to have added a song but I've been rereading a number of poems lately and here's a poem that seems to resonate with the moment.

The Price of War

If news people do not reach refugee camps,
does the lack of news mean lack of suffering?
If we do not see the caskets coming home,
does that mean the dying was not real?

If there are no photographs of torture,
does that mean the torture does not take place?
If journalists fear to leave their hotels,
does that mean there is no war to reveal?

Is suffering more than the empathy
we feel by chance when we catch a face in pain?
Is the reality of suffering
at the discretion of a Pentagon rule?

Is war a tough business that admits no mistakes?
When suffering is real, is it rationed,
is it a matter of taste in the daily news?
Is suffering a foreign policy tool?

If a president lands on a carrier
as a grandstanding publicity stunt,
does that mean the suffering is at an end?
If later, he says Bring it On, how should we feel?

Is suffering just something bothersome,
unrelated to our choices or us?
If there is no film footage of the dying,
can we presume that suffering is not real?

—CRT (2004)


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Religion and Spirituality

Mediagirl has an interesting post covering several issues revolving mostly around religion, spirituality and Christianity; here's just a small excerpt:
Maybe today people aren't paying "lip service" to faith, but in fact are practicing a religious tradition that has been all but oppressed to nothingness for 2000 years. Maybe what we call spirituality is the true faith, because it begins in the heart and soul. Maybe that's not good enough for some people. But since when is it their place to decide? What penalty shall we pay today for the heresy of knowing our own hearts?

I suggest reading the whole thing since Mediagirl covers so much ground and there's so much to think about.

The one thing I would like to offer is that I've been around a fair number of writers and poets and others interested in language and the one thing that becomes clear about language and writing is that the words we use have a tendency to lose their meaning over time unless they are constantly renewed; that's one of the things poets specialize in: finding new ways of saying things to give freshness to the things and ideas we have known or thought we knew. I suspect the same is true about religion and spirituality, particularly the latter which makes the former possible. Spiritual meaning, whatever that might mean for different people, requires being made new again, refreshed and deepened. Ironically, fundamentalists know this since they incorporate many new things into their religion all the time: translations, new songs, new images, and new technology; some very conservative evangelicals incorporate rock and roll into their services though forty years ago most fundamentalists would have been scandalized.

One possible difference between right wing Christians and other Christians may be that the first is certain of the answers, whether those answers have developed over time or not, and the second group believe that doubt and uncertainty and searching deeply for answers are an important part of their faith or spiritual path.

What Bush Does with His Time

George W. Bush has repeatedly failed to take on a number of problems facing our nation and he has managed along the way to create a few problem of his own. Bush is good at blaming others for his failures, but J. Macdonald illustrates perfectly what George W. Bush seems to do all by himself most of the time.

Be sure to check out Macdonald's Animal Farm. And let's hope after the November elections that flag on his blog starts returning to normal.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mapping Bush's Falling Numbers

It's been obvious for some time that Bush's approval ratings are dropping. Katrina, Iraq, Social Security, and NSA spying on Americans are representative of just four issues that Bush has failed on. Liberal Woman notes an excellent illustration of Bush falling numbers at the Radical Writ; the best view of the map can be found here.

I think we all know that politicians with a lot of public relations money are good at turning around their numbers even when they aren't actually doing anything concrete to turn around the failures. Despite the growing problems in this country, many self-inflicted by the Bush people and their right wing allies, Bush and Karl Rove have very deep pockets thanks to a large number of wealthy friends who have benefitted greatly from five years of Bush and Rove. But there's a chance that Americans can start holding these two guys accountable even if the current Republican leaders in Congress insist on whitewashing everything Bush does. With a lot of work, it's possible to send new faces to Washington who have backbone. One election, though, won't be enough. Putting our country back on track is a serious longterm project that's going to take a decade or so.

Friday, March 24, 2006

More Poems and Songs

Well, it's Friday, and instead of posting a poem tonight, I'm cheating by linking to three songs/poems. To be honest, I prefer poems with some depth to them and that's difficult to find when looking for thoughtful anti-war poems. Most anti-war poems express a sentiment and they sometimes forget to keep things in perspective; I might add that in my lifetime I have probably read at least a thousand poems dealing with war and that includes epics.

On the other hand, just keep in mind that many honorable soldiers have sung, read and sometimes written their own versions of anti-war poems and why not? When a war goes on too long and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, songs and poetry are a way of handling the pain and tedium.

Here's one stanza of several that can be found on Sisyphus Shrugged (sung to Johnny Come Marching Home Again):
While goin' the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin' the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin' the road to sweet Athy,
A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.
Here's another stanza of a different variation that I suppose is also sung to Johnny Come Marching Home Again, found on Suburban Guerilla:
He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
And finally, here's a stanza found on Body and Soul (words and song by Tom Paxton):
I got a letter from L. B. J.
It said this is your lucky day.
It's time to put your khaki trousers on.
Though it may seem very queer
We've got no jobs to give you here
So we are sending you to Viet Nam

I hope people will drop by these sites and read the full versions; I've never been to war but I find many long memories coming back for me.


Blogging Honesty

I like Matt Singer's blog, Left in the West, and recommend it, but I'm not entirely sure I agree with a couple of points in his post about Domenech:
...As Ben Domenech recently learned, everything you ever wrote can come back to bite you in the ass.

That’s very true.

At least one commenter here thinks that I make myself sound stupid by using profane invective (a great many think I make myself look stupid by using the photo that I do). My response is basically that I don’t care. I started this thing to write honestly. When I can’t do that for whatever reason, I try to not write at all.

And why does writing honestly sometimes require invective? Well, that would be because what happens in this world sometimes causes my blood to boil. I’m not embarassed by that fact.

First, I should point out that I find far more invective in a number of other progressive sites than I do in Matt's site and that doesn't say anything about the truly ridiculous invective one can find on right wing sites (and in general I'm mystified why some media types hold progressives to a higher standard than the right wing blogs). I suppose, on one level, we need more people to speak up who speak honestly and bluntly and who don't care about what others think; Matt does a worthwhile job of it as well as many other progressive bloggers who do likewise most of the time. But when I look around at sites that truly use a fair amount of invective, I'm not sure what it's about or what's being accomplished. And when I look at the comments on some blogs, I have to wonder what's going on.

We're all angry about the things going on in Washington that we are told are being done in our names and there are times we simply have to unload that anger and blogs are a good way to do it. But I'm far more interested in changing things that I am in simply letting my displeasure be known at full volume. And frankly, I'm more in interested in what people have to say after they take a ten-minute walk to cool down before sitting down at the keyboard. Plenty of anger still comes through and that's fine; understated anger is a powerful thing. Something to keep in mind, as just one example, is that when people write letters to the editors or to their representatives in Washington, the letters are filtered and those that are full of invective frequently fail to reach anyone in a position to notice what the trouble is all about. Most of the better bloggers know this and it's partly what they're talking about when they say: be nice.

One last point and this is about the progressive blogging community in general. I'm a little uneasy about the Domenech affair. I read the criticism in the Daily Kos about his plagiarism in his freshman year but I don't think anyone should pretend that he was passing off the news summary printed in his college paper as his own series of news stories; fortunately for the progressive blogs, Domenech did other things that undermined his position with far more certainty. If the clumsy news summary was the only evidence that everybody had against Domenech, I would have been embarrassed to join the chorus. The political battle currently going on in this country at the moment is far more about basic fairness, an idea that right wing conservatives have turned their backs on, than it is about games of gotcha. I think the Washington Post was out of line to hire Domenech but I hesitate to be involved in political justice that simply means an eye for an eye.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Permanent Bases in Iraq?

Sometimes it's hard to know what to make of various stories in the media. The House apparently voted down permanent bases in Iraq but behind the scenes it appears permanent bases are being put back on the table. Here's an interesting story by way of Jeanne of Body and Soul about permanent bases in Iraq (read it, otherwise I have to copy the whole thing for it to make full sense):
Via Liberal Oasis, here's a pretty important story I missed. Last week, the House approved an amendment to the emergency war spending bill which prohibits funds for permanent bases in Iraq.


The press has virtually ignored this story. But it's the type of thing the Democrats could really use to point out how far from mainstream opinion Republicans really are. America wants us out. The Bushies are digging in.
The Mahablog points out another story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the building of permanent bases:
While most Americans are focused on how soon U.S. troops can get out of Iraq, the Army and Air Force are pouring an awful lot of concrete there.

An Associated Press investigative report suggests that there is a certain air of permanence to the military construction we're doing in Iraq. Massive development at several U.S. outposts raises the prospect that the administration may be contemplating the U.S. installations designed to outlast insurgency and the creation of a stable Iraqi government.
Bush's spring public relations offensive against his sinking numbers in the polls is in full swing. Will Congress please tell us what's going on since Bush doesn't feel obligated to do so? And will Congress please exert its full authority as an equal branch of government? Nobody has asked the question but I suspect an overwhelming majority of Americans are unwilling to give Bush permanent carte blanche in our domestic and foreign affairs. It's past time for Congress to act.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The American Crisis

Although I've been reading blogs for over two years, I've been taking a closer look and reading various blogs over the last two months from the lesser known to the more famous ones that get mentioned on TV or news articles and I've been trying to get a sense of the national gestalt. I don't have a lot to say yet except to observe that there's a lot of frustration out there. Facts get uncovered on a wide range of issues and those facts need to be dealt with. Too often, facts are just sort of absorbed in a kind of collective forgetfulness.

We know Bush lied about WMDs and it's become irrelevant whether he knowingly lied, lied to himself first, was lied to or is simply incompetent. We know that Bush has far exceeded his presidential authority and yet Congress not only looks the other way, seemingly, but refuses to use the Patriot Act as a device to hold Bush accountable. So I understand the frustration even among bloggers that are rational and who are far from those bloggers that get somewhat shrill. Always Question, a thoughtful blogger who I wish would blog more often, has some observations:
I allowed myself a moment of optimism at the end of last month. It passed, of course, as moments do; but for that moment I could conceive of politicians acting according to their conscience and in the best interests of their constituents... their voter constituents.

It came to me in that moment that Congress might step up and reassert the primacy of the people over a corrupt administration with no political future and bills to pay to their multi-national corporate backers. At 58, I can still dream.


And the public? Have you ever watched a bad horror movie and wondered why the guy just stood there and let the vampires bleed him dry? That'd be us.
We absorb the information that the President has decided to ignore the formality of a retroactive warrant to wiretap in clear violation of a law he pressed for, and eventually we convince ourselves that it's really okay because the guy... who has lied to us how many times before... says "trust me, I'm only doing it to suspected terrorists."
Our Constitution is being eroded by the current administration; and Congress, led mainly by Republicans, is not doing much about it. Now sometimes it takes more time than any of us thinks is reasonable to restore some common sense to our government and even to our media, but my take on it, as frustrating as it is, is that there is little other choice than to keep pressing on, even if it takes years to get our government to do the obvious. The right wing conservatives wandered in the wilderness for thirty years cooking up their schemes and now that they have succeeded and shown how flawed their philosophy is, the rest of us have to keep pushing for a government that is fair for all Americans and for a pragmatic approach to the world where a president can't go to war because, well, he felt like it.

Obviously, there is more to say and more work to do.

Bush Hubris Continues

I suppose it's been obvious to many people for some time that Bush lives in a special bubble. Bush had a press conference today where he claimed that he had not made up his mind to go to war in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Think Progress has the story.

Think Progress offers some evidence that Bush indeed wanted war with Iraq for some time. But there's so much more to indicate the war was going to happen no matter what Saddam Hussein did. Bush started transferring troops from Afghanistan to positions close to Iraq before finishing the job (Osama bin Laden got away as a result), we had already started bombing in the fall of 2002, we had special forces in Iraq as early as January 2003, if not earlier, and it was simply taken for granted throughout the top levels of the Bush administration throughout the spring of 2002 that we were going to war with Iraq.

Further down, I noticed Think Progress has a related story on Bush and Iraq:
At this morning’s press conference, President Bush said that U.S. troops would remain in Iraq through the end of his presidency. According to Bush, the question of whether U.S. troops will ever leave Iraq will be one for “future presidents.”
It seems to me that Bush has no intention whatsoever of cleaning up his mess. I can think of a number of adjectives to describe Bush's decision to pass the buck on Iraq but I'll leave that to the reader. But I will say this. I respect our Constitution and I respect most government officials but it is becoming increasingly difficult to have respect for Bush or any of his top advisers. They are neglecting the Constitution and their responsibilities to the American people. Congress has an obligation to fix the paralysis and incompetence of the Bush administration.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Juan Cole: The Third Year in Iraq

Juan Cole of Informed Comment lists what he considers the ten ten catastrophes of the third year of war in Iraq. But first he gives us a quick summary of the catastrophes in the beginning:
The American war against Iraq began on March 20, 2003, so today is the third anniversary. The Himalyan mistakes of the American administration of the country in its first two years have by now been much analyzed -- the punitive steps against even low-level Baath Party members, the firing of tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs, the dissolution of the army, the permitting of looting on a vast scale, the failure to understand tribal honor, the failure to get a handle on the early guerrilla war, the failure to understand Shiite Islam, the torture at Abu Ghraib, the failure to get services on line, the destruction of Fallujah, the ill-timed and ill-advised attempt to "kill or capture" Muqtada al-Sadr, the adoption of an election system that allowed the almost complete exclusion of the Sunni Arabs, etc., etc.
Probably the biggest catastrophe on Cole's list is number 5:
5. All three Sunni Arab-majority provinces rejected the new constitution by a sound margin, two of them by a two-thirds majority. The Kurdish and Shiite provinces overwhelmingly approved the charter. Iraq thus has a permanent constitution that is absolutely unacceptable to the country's most powerful minority.
The Sunnis, who are the best financed, and have the most weapons and the best military training have not been made a part of the new government in any significant way and therefore will be difficult to bring in from the cold. But number 5 stems from debaathification and the firing of the military in the first months of occupation. There were many opportunities to undo the damage but Bush never did.

To me, the biggest catastrophe in the third year is that Bush didn't use his reelection in 2004 to start fresh in 2005 by firing Rumsfeld and bringing in a fresh team with fresh ideas for seriously dealing with Iraq and taking Iraq completely off the political table. Bush should also have reduced Cheney's portfolio which he could have done by reducing Cheney's staff in half and reducing the access and authority of the remaining staffers. It's a little ridiculous that Bush has allowed three CEOs to operate in Washington: himself, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Looking for Answers

It’s been a strange week. I’ve been reading some articles by conservatives that have puzzled me and I ran into someone who’s conservative and intelligent and yet I was surprised at how far behind this person was when it came to knowing about and understanding the many blunders of the Bush administration. I begin to wonder what my responsibilities are.

I have no problem with speaking the truth as far as I am able to understand it. For example, the Bush administration was slow giving our soldiers the body armor they needed and the armor they needed for their vehicles. Many people across the political spectrum spoke up, myself included, and finally some improvements were made. This is what makes a democracy work and too many people forget it; when people start getting hold of the facts and they realize the government is slow to react to those facts, and it’s important to react to those facts, it’s in everybody’s interest to speak up. And it’s in everybody’s interest to listen. Because there’s so much to speak up about these days.

Right now, it’s conservatives that are having trouble listening but many on the left have the same problem. People get ideas fixed in their minds, both on the right and left, and they have trouble letting go of those ideas. And trouble letting in new material. For years, we’ve heard people complain: not in my backyard! But people are also saying these days: my head doesn’t have room for your facts, thank you!

Okay, so this week I’m thinking that maybe I need to let go of some of my own ideas, just a little, for now. But I’m not sure what ideas to let go of. I don’t think I hammer conservatives over the head with my observations but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I assume conservatives are stronger than they are, that they can take it, that they can hear the facts and come to their own judgments.

Or maybe conservatives are just tired and need a brief respite.

Everybody, conservatives, moderates and liberals, want to have meaning in their lives. So we look for meaning and forget the other guy is doing the same. You can find meaning in anything, includng the poem below by Oscar Wilde:


O well for him who lives at ease
With garnered gold in wide domain,
Nor heeds the splashing of the rain,
The crashing down of forest trees.

O well for him who ne'er hath known
The travail of the hungry years,
A father grey with grief and tears,
A mother weeping all alone.

But well for him whose foot hath trod
The weary road of toil and strife,
Yet from the sorrows of his life
Builds ladders to be nearer God.

—Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Feingold Doing the Right Thing

I read an editorial this morning that criticized Feingold and I suspect there are a number of other editorials doing the same. But I suspect the editorial writers aren't doing their homework. The issue raised by Feingold is not some temporary politics that will come and go in a season. The NSA spying goes to the core of who we are as a nation and to the US Constitution. We are either a nation of laws or we are a nation of powerful coalitions that can do what they please irrespective of the rest of the nation.

I'm uneasy that Feingold isn't getting much support. The poll watchers in the Democratic Party resemble too much the poll watchers in the Republican Party. The Iraq War is failing because Bush wants to appear tough but doesn't want the Iraq War to endanger his political position so decisions are made based on poll results rather than on getting the job done. Part of the toughness that Bush pretends to have is tied to the fact that he can't seem to admit that he has made mistakes and therefore has to correct them; that too might cause him to go lower in the polls. When your poll numbers drop into the mid-thirties, it seems to me the strategy needs to change. And personnel need to change.

Talking Points Memo has a post on the Feingold situation:
I think I'm with Kevin Drum on this whole Feingold censure thing. It's really not that surprising that not every Democratic senator would want to jump on the bandwagon with this. But I also don't think there's any particular reason to run from it like it's Dem kryptonite or the plague. I've said this before. But I think the bigger problem for Dems is not the things they do but the very public hand-wringing and navel-gazing about how people might react to the things they do.

That doesn't look good. And it doesn't look good because it really isn't good.

President Bush really does deserve to be held accountable for breaking the law and then even more for claiming after the fact that the law actually doesn't apply to him. In constitutional terms, that bogus claim is a very big deal. So 'censure' him. Or don't censure him. But most of all don't get all bent out of shape or whiny about whether it might make some Bush supporter unhappy or might prompt some scold on the WaPo oped page to say tut-tut.

Let's keep in mind that conventional wisdom and the media have constantly been behind the curve when it comes to the many blunders and scandals of the Bush administration. Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum have a reputation of being rational and more on the moderate side of the Democratic Party; it is not a reach for the Democrats to hold Bush accountable.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gary Hart on Iraq

Donald Rumsfeld did not have a plan for what to do after the fall of Baghdad. If there's civil war in Iraq, let's hope he's learned something in the last three years and that he's better at planning, though it seems to me that Bush should have fired him a long time ago. Here's an article by Gary Hart in The Boston Globe:
Recently one of Islamic Shi'ites' most revered sites, the golden mosque in Baghdad, was destroyed by sectarian enemies. By this act and the reprisals that followed, Iraq moved a substantial step closer to civil war. Though a remote, but real, possibility, an Iraqi civil war could cost the United States its army.

...If sectarian violence escalates further, US troops must be withdrawn from patrol and confined to their barracks and garrisons. Mass transport must be mustered for rapid withdrawal of those troops from volatile cities in the explosive central region of Iraq. Intensive diplomatic efforts must be focused on preventing an Iraqi civil war from spreading to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Such a potential could make the greater Middle East a tinder box for years, if not decades, to come.


In greatest danger are the units in the Sunni central region cities. They are in real jeopardy if tens of thousands of angry Sunni and Shi'ite citizens, supported by their sectarian militias, surround and then overrun those units before they can be withdrawn.

I don't know if Hart is overstating the potential problem or not. There is a style of argumentation that says you need to enlarge on the potential dangers to get people to pay attention. On the other hand, I recall a few days in March 2003 when our supply lines were in danger and a serious effort had to be made to restore the situation. Then there was a second time in March/April2004 when our forces were being used to the max in Fallujah at the same time that Sadr was making trouble in the south and our supply lines were again threatened. In neither case were the Iraqis fully committed to taking on the American military in large numbers.

Maybe it's more important than ever for Bush to ask Rumsfeld to step down and to find someone who knows what they're doing. However, it sounds like Bush is going to give yet another series of speeches to improve his image and to give the nation a better impression of how things are going in Iraq. As his credibility continues to sink, Bush needs to understand that action produces far more confidence than a mere replay of words.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Randall Jarrell

There's a long tradition of war poems going back more than 2,500 years. In a sense, the Illiad was a war poem and not a very flattering one. Poems can praise war, condemn war or simply observe the reality of it. Randall Jarrell could be critical of war but not so much in the political sense but about the general concept; his poems understood the dark complexity. Having said that, here's something of a stark anti-war poem from World War Two which, once it started, was a war nearly impossible for most of the world to avoid. All over the world, millions volunteered to serve in World War II but it's important to remember that millions more were drafted into a fight they little understood. Most of the volunteers, and most of the draftees, served honorably insofar as they could within the context of the war, but the complexities remained.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep, I fell into the State,
and I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

—Randall Jarrell


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bush Blunders On

I don't usually pass on Internet jokes but this fits the gestalt too well—


In an attempt to thwart the spread of bird flu, George W. Bush has ordered the bombing of the Canary Islands.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Keeping an Eye on Russ Feingold

Russ Feingold is one of the few Democrats who should be taken seriously for 2008; he's liberal which in this era of name-calling can be a handicap, but this guy has his act together and he's exactly the kind of politician to give liberalism a good name. Here's a couple of pargraphs from the Washington Post:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) has recruited veteran party operative Paul Tewes to help him begin the long process of courting Iowa voters.

Tewes, who served as the political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2004 cycle, is on a trip to the Hawkeye state right now as he seeks to develop a plan for Feingold to help candidates in the upcoming 2006 election. He is working on a volunteer basis for Feingold, according to an informed Democrat.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another Bush Credibility Problem

Bush keeps telling us that the economy is doing great and in a small way Bush isn't consciously lying for once; for Bush, his campaign contributors, friends and other wealthy people like him, the economy is just fine. But Bush has always been a member of the powerful elite, even in his wayward youth when he so obviously was taken care of.

Tonight, on CNN, Wolf Blitzer showed us what the good life is like in Dubai; as I was watching the incredibly well-appointed rooms, the swimming pools, the expensive art work and the indoor ski slope, it just wasn't hard to to see why Bush is so attracted to the United Arab Emirates: they're rich like he is. And just like Bush, they didn't exactly work for that wealth. Bush hasn't a clue what life is like for most Americans. But he identifies with the wealthy of Dubai.

Paul Krugman in his most recent column in the New York Times writes: "Why doesn't Bush get any economic respect? I think it's because most Americans sense, correctly, that he doesn't care about people like them. We're living in a time when many Americans are feeling economically insecure, but a tiny elite has been growing incredibly rich."

Well, Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham were getting a taste of a Washington Republican's good life before they made the mistake of getting caught. I'm sure even a fair number of honest Republicans are wondering who these guys are in Washington that call themselves Republican these days?

It's not hard to understand that policies have consequences. A blind belief in greed as an economic virtue has consequences. Selling off American know-how, resources and jobs has consequences. Talking in simplistic terms to the point of dishonesty has consequences.

Here's an article originally from the Associated Press that has some interesting points, not all of which I agree with, but the last paragraph in the excerpt is worth discussing a moment:
WASHINGTON – You lost your job. It’s probably one of the most dreaded things you’ll ever hear from your boss. Then you find out that your white-collar position moved to the other side of the globe – to India. President Bush says he feels your pain and that education – not trade protectionism – is the answer to deal with the increasingly globalized world in which we live and work.

Bush discussed the politically sensitive issue in New Delhi on Friday, wrapping up a three-day stay in India. The country’s rapid growth has created anxiety among Americans, especially as they have seen call center jobs, back-office administrative work, software programming and other white-collar jobs move there.

“It’s painful for those who lose jobs,” Bush said. “But the fundamental question is, how does a government or society react to that? And it’s basically one of two ways. One is to say, losing jobs is painful, therefore, let’s throw up protectionist walls. And the other is to say, losing jobs is painful, so let’s make sure people are educated so they can find (and) fill the jobs of the 21st century,” he said.
Bush talks nonsense so frequently that I'm not sure what to think these days. And I think we're all tired of Bush's rich man's pout and his either/or mentality. There are many solutions besides setting up protectionist walls which, of course, is not a solution. One thing Bush could do is to sit down with business and seriously talk about ways to increase American jobs. Another way would be to stop the hemorrhage of our know-how and infrastructure. Another way would be simply to keep the jobs that we all consider vital to our long-term economic and national security. Another way would be to demand that other countries start doing a better job of paying more wages to their workers and making sure that fundamental changes are made in protections for all workers. Another way is to underwrite leading-edge technology in environmental protection and alternative energy so that America will be the leader in these areas for decades to come. Another way would be medical insurance coverage for a much broader percentage of Americans while also taking that burden off of business (and we should be pushing our trading partners to do the same).

The so-called rising tide that is supposed to be the effect of globalization is too often more of a one-way street in favor of the wealthy no matter where they live; and hundreds of millions are being left behind, including millions of hardworking Americans.

Globalization, on one level, isn't that bad an idea though more respect should be paid to the integrity of cultures around the world. If we're all economically interconnected, the use of nuclear weapons is self-defeating for anyone; that alone can make globalization useful. The real problem is leaving the definition of globalization in the hands of wealthy conservatives who have no interest in the rest of us. That's something I doubt that Thomas Friedman fully understands, if at all.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Richard Perle's Excellent Advice

It's always amazing what arguments neoconservatives will make in one decade and then forget a decade or two later. Actually, saying whatever is political convenient seems to be a general principle of what passes for the leadership of the Republican Party these days. Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution has a post on something Richard Perle said a number of years ago concerning the Russian war in Afghanistan:
GORBACHEV [circa 2006]: "We had to finish this war. But in a way so the Russian people would understand why tens of thousands had died. We couldn't just run away from there in shame. No. We needed to find a process."

What's hilarious—to the degree things involving massive bloodshed can be hilarious—is the subsequent footage from 1987 of Richard Perle dismissing all this "process" nonsense:

RICHARD PERLE: "It's not very complicated. They arrived in a matter of days on Christmas Eve in 1979. They could be home by Christmas Eve if they decided to leave Afghanistan and let the Afghans decide their own future."

You might ask: why isn't the same thing true for the U.S. in Iraq?

Richard Perle has interested me since he started pushing for war in Iraq back in 2002 (yes, his interest in Iraq began much earlier but he wasn't often seen in the media prior to 2002); in a way, Perle's not a true neoconservative but rather a link of sorts between the Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld triad, who are not much interested in neoconservatism except for its political value, and arch-conservative dreamers like William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz who truly are neoconservatives. The key to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld is that power rather than theory is what really interests them; for them, theory is just fancy noise for dazzling the followers. A further key to Bush is to remember that his father felt free to play all kinds of games during campaigns and would stop the moment he reached office. Junior never stopped playing the games.

Bush Wants More Power

One of the most incompetent presidents in our nation's history thinks he can get it right if Congress will simply hand him over more power. He couldn't get Katrina right so he complained that if only he had more authority to use the military, he would have gotten it right. Yeah. Sure. The videotape of Bush being informed about Katrina simply shows us he couldn't be bothered to use the powers he had. Now the New York Times reports that Bush wants a line-item veto:

President Bush today proposed legislation to create a line-item veto, a measure he said would help restrain government spending by allowing him to strip out pork-barrel spending.

Congress passed a line-item veto in 1996, but two years later, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that it represented an unconstitutional intrusion into powers granted exclusively to the legislative branch. Mr. Bush said his new bill was drafted in a way that would avoid the court's objections.

An administration official later said that the new bill would send vetoed items back to Congress, which could then reinstate them by majority vote, rather than the traditional two-thirds margin, as the 1996 bill had required.

Mr. Bush today cast the proposal, which he has favored since his first presidential campaign in 2000, in terms of its ability to help hold down money spent by "earmarks" — spending inserted into larger bills by individual members of Congress, usually for projects that benefit their home districts. The total amount spent by earmarking has soared in recent years, leading to a new effort in the Senate to rein them in, which Mr. Bush said today he supported.

President Bush, with the help of Karl Rove, is famous for rewarding his friends and punishing his political enemies (even Republicans); a line-item veto is simply an invitation for Bush to abuse his power even more. And the idea that Bush is some kind of reformer is rather ludicrous this late in the game. Bush is going to reform the Republican Party? I know Bush is getting desperate, but he shouldn't try so hard to be a parody of himself.

We need real reform in Washington, not shell games and not power grabs by the president and not smoke and mirrors by way of public relations that massages Bush's image without real changes taking place.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ralph Reed's Abramoff Connection

Ralph Reed is running for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia so his connection to Jack Abramoff is of great interest to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Ralph Reed has said he didn't know it until last year, but emails suggest he was informed that eLot — a firm then in the online lottery business — was behind his effort to fend off a ban against internet gambling in 2000.

The e-mails passed between Reed and Jack Abramoff, the now disgraced Washington lobbyist. Abramoff was lobbying for eLot Inc. of Connecticut, parent company of eLottery Inc., against a bill in Congress that would have banned most online betting. ELottery opposed the bill because it wanted to help states sell tickets online.

Reed, a lifelong opponent of gambling, said last year that he did not know in 2000 he was actually working on behalf of eLottery.

But e-mails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show Reed was offered the name of the company at the beginning of his involvement in the campaign, in May 2000. The e-mails emerged as dozens of federal investigators have increased their focus on events surrounding the defeat of the Internet gaming ban.

Abramoff included the company's name — referring to "the elot project" — in an e-mail he forwarded to Reed, as the two worked out details of Reed's contract for the campaign.

A spokesman for Reed, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said the e-mail does not contradict Reed's earlier statements that he did not know eLot, or eLottery, was financing the gambling fight. Campaign manager Jared Thomas declined to discuss the apparent inconsistency of Reed's earlier statements and the date of the "elot" e-mail.
When you read the whole story, you can just about conclude that Ralph Reed is either a fool who didn't know for five years that he worked for internet gambling, that is, eLottery, or Reed is not an honest man. Reed has enough experience with spinning that he might be able to offer a third option, but it's not looking good.

Ralph Reed may be innocent, but forgive me if a small joke comes to mind:

"But your honor, I was blindfolded when I reached in and took the cookies from the cookie jar!"

"Did you eat them?"

"I sure did, your honor. But I didn't know whose cookies I was stealing!"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

An Early Anti-War Poem

I'm not a pacifist. I reluctantly supported the first Gulf War (with several reservations) and I supported action in Afghanistan. But the current war in Iraq? It never made any sense to me. I don't know if America's role in Iraq is winding down or not, and I don't know if Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have more wars planned for America to start that we don't need. But as of now, there's a lot of unfinished business to deal with.

I've been thinking about doing a weekend poetry segment and I've been quietly talking to a handful of poets who might be willing to submit a poem or two. For now, I'd like to post some old anti-war poems for the next few weeks.

The first poem, by the 19th century British poet, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), doesn't feel like an anti-war poem at first. I suppose it's still taught in English literature classes; it was taught in one class I took many years ago and the instructor managed to sidestep around what the poem was about, maybe because Vietnam was going on at the time. We're told that Arnold wrote the poem in 1851; but it feels like it was written in the early summer of 1914.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude of peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

—Matthew Arnold


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sitemeter and the Perils of Blogging

Zeno of Halfway There wrote a post about his pseudonym, including two philosophers named Zeno, and other Zenos, including Nikki Zeno (with photo). In another post, he wrote an excellent piece about Dick Cheney and his FOX interviewer, Brit Hume. Check out his post on which of the two caused the number of visitors to his site to spike:
I was pretty pleased with myself. Dick Cheney had chosen to break his silence on the notorious hunting accident in Texas by speaking to Brit Hume on Fox News. It occurred to me that Hume was no stranger to speaking fluff to power. I had the evidence in my archives. (“Archives”: A fancy word for a cluttered home.) Brit's work as an apologist was in the pages of old computer club magazines from the 1980s that I had saved for no discernable good reason. I dug out the publications, found the articles, and drafted a blog post containing some juicy quotes from Hume himself. I uploaded my article and waited confidently for surfers of the blogosphere to stampede to my virtual door.
I suppose it's a little ridiculous that all one has to do to receive a spike in visitors is to incorporate words such as American Idol, Da Vinci Code, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, karaoke, George Clooney, memes, new video games, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hawaii, Tahiti, lottery, alternative medicine, origami, Oscars or Jon Stewart, and your personal best just might be reached that day. Of course, no one will stay long if one doesn't actually say anything about those topics.

Ah, if just one reader will stay for ten minutes to read those trying to save our democracy or talk about foreign policy or, in Zeno's case, talking about Brit Hume or teaching young kids math.

What a world!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dubai: Almost the Perfect Storm

The one thing lost in all the discussions about Dubai is that the Dubai deal does not in any way improve our security. True, its threat to our security is probably not that great but it seems many things that Bush does domestically have a way of nibbling at our national security. The 9/11 Commission made it clear that our ports needed better security and Bush has done more than nothing. After more than four years since 9/11, a number of things have happened that actually make the security of our ports a little less than it was; and then the Dubai deal comes along and although the Dubai deal is more about how it sounds than probably the reality, Bush fails utterly to take the opportunity to tighten port security. And he immediately sends his staff to the 24/7 spin bunkers instead of dealing with the issue.

William Rivers Pitt of Truthout gives us his take on the Dubai deal:
The flap over the United Arab Emirates taking control of several American ports, the subject of much hot talk over the last several days, is born of several factors. It is only partially about global economics. America's trade relationship with the UAE is the third largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and Israel, so the gospel of "free trade" is definitely in play.

This flap is also only partially about national security. There is, of course, concern that a nation connected to the 9/11 attacks will manage several vital entry points to the country. There is also the quid pro quo aspect to this deal; the UAE docks more American warships than any other Middle Eastern nation, and the thinking apparently goes that if they can do this safely, they can manage ports over here.

By the by, this UAE deal is also about standard issue straight-out-of-central-casting Bush administration cronyism. Two major players in the establishment of this deal were John Snow and David Sanborn. Snow, the Treasury Secretary, was chairman of the CSX railroad firm before joining the administration. In 2004, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World, the UAE-backed company tapped to run our ports, for $1.15 billion. Sanborn used to run Dubai Ports World's European and Latin American operations. He was tapped last month by Bush to head the US Maritime Administration. Convenient, that.

So there's some economics, some national security concern, and some good old fashioned insider horse trading going on here....
A further development today is that Bush knew more about the problems New Orleans might face before Hurricane Katrina hit than he led us to believe and yet he still went ahead during those crucial days and did nothing; we truly have reached a point when decisions on important issues cannot be left entirely in the hands of our incompetent president. Congress has to be more involved and if the Republicans are not willing to stand up to Bush, and one has to wonder why not, we need to send a majority of Democrats to Congress this fall.