Monday, December 04, 2006

December 3, 2006 et al.

Dance like our future depends on it.

It's one of the oldest truisms in the English language:

“He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

Do you have a problem with that? If you do you're wasting your time, because the piper has two choices;

1) Play the tune requested and get paid, or
2) Refuse and get nothing.

In January the piper will have new paymasters, congressional Democrats. And that
should be no small matter. After all the machinery of government, all of it, is fueled by money – lots of money. As a machine it's without doubt the most inefficient in the universe. If the US government were a car, it would be getting about 2 GPI (Gallons per inch.) But that's another matter.

My point today is that if Democrats really want to change the course of US policies in Iraq – and maybe Iran as well – all they have to do is slam the purse shut, dial the White House and say, “Can we talk?”

Of course the moment they did anything like that right-winger hit squads would fan out on the talk shows claiming that Democrats were “putting our troops at risk,” and “cutting our fighting men and women off in the middle of battle.” It would be nonsense, of course, but precisely that kind of nonsense has served the right well.

In reality no one would vote to “cut the troops off in the midst of battle.” But, what the Democrats could do -- and should do -- is to begin choking off future funding for combat operations. That would force the administration to begin a slow, orderly withdraw of troops from what has clearly morphed from a failed military operation into an ugly civil war.

With control of the purse, there are no shortage of ways for Democrats to weaken Swift Boater-style attacks. Such as voting to shift funds from the war to departments in the Pentagon charged with the task of keeping the US military and its equipment in fighting form. Right now US military depots around the world resemble auto dismantling yards. Thousands of tanks, Humvees and other rolling stock await repairs and refitting – work that cannot be done now for lack of funds and lack of spare parts. Recent estimates put the amount needed right now just to repair and replace the backlog of military gear ruined in Iraq at $16 billion – and climbing by the hour.

“Operations in Iraq have placed the heaviest burden on the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army. While most attention has rightly focused on the war’s impact on our men and women in uniform, this report examines another, more hidden impact that the war in Iraq has had on the U.S. Army — the stress placed on Army equipment and its implications for U.S. military performance and readiness.” (Full Report)

Democrats should also pass a resolution demanding that the first troops withdrawn from Iraq be reservists and National Guard. Then pass legislation requiring that any such foreign deployments in the future require formal congressional approval. The National Guard in particular should be reserved for domestic emergencies and civil defense.

The Pentagon has expropriated over $7 billion in trucks, tanks and Humvees from Guard and reserve units in the US to send to Iraq -- so far. (Visions of reservists on weekends training with wooden rifles dance in my head.) Congress should demand that either the Pentagon return all the gear and vehicles -- in working order -- or provide replacements.

"WASHINGTON -- The National Guard's scramble to bring aid and order to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is hamstrung by the fact that units across the country have, on average, half their usual amount of equipment -- helicopters, Humvees, trucks, and weapons -- on hand because much of it has been siphoned off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military officials and security specialists. " (Full story)

Nothing I've proposed above is radical. None of it would put our troops at risk. Just the opposite. And all of it can be defended by any one with even the shakiest grasp of the English language. Each of the proposals would begin the process of disentangling us from the inevitable disintegration of Iraq, as we know it -- which is what voters clearly said is what they want.

So why are Democrats unlikely to do it – any of it? Because they still don't understand what voters really said in November. Voters didn't really say they wanted Democrats. They said they wanted change. They said they wanted everyone up there to stop playing political Parcheesi with our treasure and our lives and get down to the hard, unglamorous and politically dangerous work of governing. Politics ceased being a game for most of us the second US troops became expendable players on the board. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have gotten that that message, yet. All we want out of them is straight talk – real straight talk - not the McCain variety. And we want practical solutions to the growing number of real problems that have piled up while the two parties busied themsevles plotting game strategy against one another. (Go roll the game dice with your kids lives and see how much fun it is!)

Those who pay the piper, call the tune. True, but only IF they know a tune to call. And then only if they know how to dance, and not slow dance but River Dance, to the tune they call -- to fearlessly and proudly pound it out on the stage of public opinion.

One more thing about calling tunes. Can we get back to calling them by terms that actually describe them, rather by Orwellianisms? You know, civil war is civil war, not “a new phase marked by an increase in sectarian violence.” And hunger is hunger, not “food insecurity.” That kind of crap has stop and stop immediately. It's not only intellectually dishonest, but it's precisely the kind of calculated, hypocritical doublespeak upon which the worst kinds of governments have risen -- and fallen. Words define. Words are important. So let's get back to calling things what they are, not as we'd like to see them.

Regarding Graceful Exits
Just a quick note on George Bush's statement yesterday that he will not be agreeing to any "graceful exit,” for US forces in Iraq. Instead, he said, the US was there for the duration – whatever that means.

Excuse me for finding more than a little irony in Bush refusal to engineer a “graceful exit” from
his mess in Iraq. This from a guy who's entire adult life has been marked by engineered graceful exits. There was the Spectrum Energy graceful exit, followed by the Harken Energy graceful exit, followed by the sweetheart graceful entry into ownership of the Texas Rangers:

In October 1988 Bush used $606,000 he pocketed from the arranged Harken sale to buy 1.8% interest in the Texas Rangers from Bush family friend and Fort Worth oil man Eddie Chiles. Later Bush would be given another another 10% ownership as part of a $12 million “bonus.” (More here)

(See also, Bush Family Values)

So, here we have a fellow whose entire “professional” life has been an unbroken series of arranged graceful entries, which he promptly screwed up, followed by arranged graceful exits. But now this same fellow sniffs with contempt at arranging the same favor for US troops fighting to clean up his latest mess, Iraq.

It's at times like this I regret being an atheist. I'd love to believe there would be an eternal form of punishment for the likes of George W. Bush and his kind.

I just wanted to make that point. You can take it from there.

Have a nice weekend.

November 28, 2006

To: Congressional Democrats
From: The Rest of Us

Re: Howdy

Dear Democrats,
Sorry it took me so long to drop you a note. I've been meaning to do so since the November election but, well lots of other stuff has been going on.

I would congratulate you on your victory, but I didn't vote for you. Well, I voted for you, I just didn't vote for YOU. Like the majority, I voted
against the Republicans.

So, now we have you guys. If I could offer you a piece of advice -- your first job should be to make us glad about that. Then you can go on and try to convince us you are worthy of the White House again.

In other words, you have your work cut out.

I'm 61-years old, and I've been through a lot: the whole Vietnam mess, felonious Richard Nixon, the back-breaking deficits of Reaganonomics, the “watch-my-lips-thousand-points-of-light” guy, Newt's Contract
on America, fellatio Bill and felonious Tom. Whew! It's been one weird trip so far.

But never –
never -- has my country and its government been in as big a mess as it is today.

When your house is on fire you're glad when
any fire department shows up. And that pretty much sums up how we feel about you Democrats. The question now is, can you put out all the fires set by the slash-and-burn bunch that preceded you? Or are you just here to collect on the fire insurance?

That's what we're wondering.

Here's some PR advice – the last thing someone wants to witness while fire consume their home is firemen fighting over who gets to hold the hose. We called you guys to the rescue on November 7 and no sooner did you arrive at the scene than the first thing we see is your leaders fighting over the hose.

Not a good start. We're worried.

You have a lot of convincing to do. For the past 12 years you guys have been about as relevant as tits on a boar. Oh, I know, you "weren't in control." So, you say, none the bad stuff that happened was your fault. Or, as Bart Simpson would put it, “It was broke when I got it.” Yes, we've heard you say that, and say it again, usually just after another horrendous piece of legislation was passed -- more often than not with way too many votes by your own members. Then your leaders would slither before the cameras and whine as though you were innocent bystanders, powerless to stop a crime in progress.

Well, now you're no longer innocent bystanders in the House and Senate. You're in charge. Like a dog that's been chasing the same car for 12 years, now you've caught it. Whatchya gonna do now? Was the whole object of the chase just that – to win and no more? Now that you've caught that car are you going to take us somewhere in it, or just sit back and enjoy the warm glow of ownership?

Or are you guys actually about something. Are you about fixing the things that have been broken, stolen, abused, misused and perverted by the previous owners? We sure hope so. But so far we've seen and heard precious little to indicate that's what you're up to.

As you can see, we have a lot question and more than few worries and doubts. So, if you have the time, would you drop us a line and let us know:

1) What are you going to do about Iraq? Are you going to just wait until the Baker Commission tells you what to do? (I don't recall voting for the Baker Commission. Should I have?) During the campaign you said you'd get us out of that armpit of a country. Were you just kidding us? I hope not because we lost our sense of humor on that issue a long time ago. Either you have no policy of your own, or you do have one, but are afraid to push it for fear the other party will make fun of you. (“Mommy, he's calling me names again!”) "Cut-and-run Democrats" they call you. And that makes you so mad that... that... you'll show them. You won't unveil your plans for Iraq. You'll just let more US troops die, rather than proposing a withdrawal thereby providing the name-calling Swift Boat Party a juicy opening. That'll show those bullies.

2) What are your plans for securing America's borders? The US Chamber of Commerce likes them the way they are right now, wide open. That way their business members can keep wages low and bust unions by pitting American workers against the endless pool of cheap Mexican labor pouring across the border. And, of course, the Hispanic lobby likes it the way it is too, for obvious reasons. So what's your plan? Will the US become the only country in the world that disregards its own borders? How much of America's sovereignty are Democrats willing to trade away for Hispanic votes? Just asking. But here's a clue... if the US Chamber of Commerce thinks something is a good idea, it probably is – for their members – but not for working Americans.

3) What are you going to do about global warming? Will you lean on automakers by doubling CAFE standards over the next ten years -- (What about it Mr. Detroit Dingell?) Will you lean on the oil and gas industry? Will give them the choice – either start to seriously invest in alternative, renewable energy sources or you'll slap a hefty alternative energy surcharge tax on their well-heeled asses? Will ya? Got the balls to go head to head with the oil barons for Mother Earth? I don't know about you but I'm feeling this whole global warming thing is something of a pressing issue. (Who needs ice caps anyway? Maybe there's something useful under them any way, like more oil. And hey, Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch will be worth plenty once it's beach front property.) So, do you Democrats know which way the wind blows on all that? And if so, how soon can we expect to see some action from y'all?

4) Oh then there's the cancer. Oh don't look confused, you know what I'm talking about. The cancer.
Money. What are your plans for a full-blown Congressional intervention? Are you ready yourselves to take the cure? Or do we have to start wearing little green ribbons on our lapels to drum up support for cure? Let me tell ya, we regular voters – (defined as those who cannot afford to fly you off to all-expenses paid golf resort “seminars,”) -- are sick and tired of big money buying what it wants and leaving table scraps for the rest of us.

5) Members of Congress are like sexual predators running a boarding school when it comes to ethics. You guys just can't resist the temptations around you. This has been proven time and again. So admit it -- you need help. And this isn't like AA where you team up with another recovering addict for support. This kind of help can only come from non-politicians – folks no one can pay off. That's why you need to impose upon yourselves a truly independent ethics commission comprised of non-partisan scholars, retired judges and ethicists. You always bristle when anyone suggest that you enact a real cure. You say you can “stop taking the money any time you want.” Trouble is, you never do. So, we know you don't like that idea. But we like it, and that should be all that matters. As Nike would say, “Just do it.”

Well, I could just go on and on. It's been so long since I've had anyone in Washington worth writing to. But I will leave it right there. As I said, you Democrats have your work cut out for you. And there are millions of us out here ready to help if you ask. If we see you roll up your sleeves in an honest and non-triangulated manner and dig in, you'll heard the roar of the crowd – a crowd that has had little to cheer about for very long time.

We've been jerked around for too many years by the right,. and we are in no mood to be jerked around by you guys next. NO MOOD. So, if you guys go back to weaseling around the way you did back when you lost control a dozen years ago, this crowd will file out of the stadium, before half-time, and organize the mother of all tailgate (third) parties in the parking lot.

We are a surly lot. Don't say you weren't warned.

The Rest of Us

Not Even Trying to Win?
Are You Kidding Me?

I have friends – Republican friends – who accuse me and those like me of “not wanting to even try to win in Iraq.”

Not even try? What have we been doing for the nearly 4 years? Congress gave this administration a green light to attack Iraq and has approved every request from the White House and Pentagon and CIA since.

(Editor's note: Since Republicans also tend to dismiss news they don't like by saying the press is biased and that we use too many unsourced facts -- I have provided links to sources.)

So, we don't want to try, they say:
I don't understand what on earth these pro-Iraq war GOP dead-enders mean when they say folks like me “don't even want to try to win in Iraq.”

Did we leave early? I don't think so. As of Sunday, November 26, the war in Iraq has gone on longer than the US involvement in World War II, and counting. Hell, by this time in 1945 our victorious troops were heading home for Christmas after defeating both the Japanese and Nazi empires.

Why haven't we won in Iraq, a nation in shambles? How were we able to defeat the organized and well-armed German and Japanese armies in less than 4 years, yet can't win a war against a rag-tag band of indigenous insurgents in Iraq?

Well, it's not been from a lack of trying, that's for damn sure. The answer can be found in the last war we lost, Vietnam. We kept trying to win that one for even longer, 8 years, before we got the message , that foreign occupiers cannot win against determined, home-grown insurgencies driven by political ideology, religion or both. After all, they live there. We're just on a heavily armed visit.

(Well, actually we learned that lesson 230 years ago, when we gave the British a can full of whoopass. The British tried too. )

So when you run into one of these pro-Iraq war dead-enders over the holidays and they accuse you of “not wanting to even try to win in Iraq,” ask them what we've failed to provide in the pursuit of that goal. Have we denied them:
Partly these GOP dead-enders are engaged in a political redeployment of their own. They are taking a page from the play book of those on the right who, to this day, claim we did not really lose the war in Vietnam, but gave up. They blame the media for eroding public support for the war. They say that if we had just stayed in Vietnam longer, bombed more, defoliated more, burned more villages to the ground to save them, that we would have eventually won. They claim the US loss in Vietnam was not their fault, but our fault, those of us that opposed that war.

I don't doubt that some of those who still want to fight on in Iraq are sincere – dead wrong – but sincere. Yet there are plenty of others on the right that realize this war will go down in the history of military debacles right along side Napoleon and Hitler's foolish and bloody attempts to conquer Russia. And Bush's "bring it on," bravado will be compared to Custer's cavalier disregard for the fighting skills of his chosen enemy.

Therefore, smelling defeat, Neocons are preparing their own historical smoke screen of doubt and deception. They are saying that Iraq was was good war, a righteous war, a war of liberation, a laudable effort that was ultimately undermined by those of us who “did not even want to try to win.”

You'll run into this tortured logic more and more in the months ahead as Iraq decends further into civil war and US troops are forced, first into armed forts and finally out of country entirely. But when the GOP dead-enders try to blame you for it, demand they tell you exactly where they think we let the war effort down? Please, tell those of us who believe we should withdraw, sooner rahter than later, precisely what it was we've denied them up to this point. And just what it was we denied them that, had we provided it, they would have won? Inquiring minds want to know.

And ask them just what it is they want from us now?

Well, let me tell ya my bottom line. I support the troops and I am willing to provide almost anything they need to stay alive while we sort this mess out here at home. But there's one thing I am not willing to provide any more of ---

Because, have no doubt about this -- it's no longer about democratizing Iraq or even stablizing that mess of a nation. It's about time -- time to escape the verdict of history.

Last week George W. Bush proved that when he claimed that, ”the only way we can lose in Iraq, is to leave.” I understand , perfectly. I understand what he really means is that the only way HE can lose is if we leave before he leaves office.

It's really just about buying time now. If George can stall for two more years he hopes to escape blame for the inevitable American retreat from Iraq. And, better yet, be able to shift that blame onto his – hopefully a Democrat. ("See, I told you," Bush will crow from Crawford, "Cut and run Democrats.")

That's why I say I am unwilling to give the GOP dead-enders any more blank checks for time. Time's up.

So, if you're one of those dead-enders, don't even think about trying to shift the blame onto us. Proponents of this war were given everything short of nuclear weapons to fulfill their delusional dream of force-feeding democracy to an Arab nation. They were given over 150,000 US troops, day in and day out since March 19, 2003, of which 2880 were returned to their families as slabs of cold meat in a box -- no photos allowed. Another 46,137 coalition troops have been wounded, about a third of those seriously maimed for life. They tried. And today they are tired of trying. According to a Zogby poll 72% of US troops in Iraq think we should leave.

Those of us who oppose the war have tried as well, in our own way. Opponents of the war tried to convince power-drunk GOP Neocons that sending an invading western army into Iraq was beyond a fools errand. Had the Neocons simply read the history of earlier attempts to round up and coral the tribes of Mesopotamia they would have had good reason for pause. ,After all, every single one of those attempts failed - bloody failure all. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) wrote plenty about that and his writings would have made worthwhile reading for those who thought they could break that losing streak.

So we've tried. We've all tried. We tried and tried and tried and tried. And, after nearly four years of trying, life is now far worse and far more dangerous in Iraq than it was under the rule of the clinically insane megalomaniac, Saddam Hussein.

So please, war-supporters -- knock off the “you guys don't even want to try,” routine. It's an insult, not only to our intelligence, but an insult to all those who actually went to Iraq and tried, and died for trying, and died for nothing. We tried. We failed. Get over it.

The only pertinent question that needs to addressed now is how many more will have to die before we get over it and get out. From this day forward every American soldier that dies in Iraq is dying for only one thing: to provide George W. Bush time -- time to run out the clock.

Looking into the future, darkly

I am coming to believe that, when historians a century from now write about 9/11, they will not do so in the simplistic terms the Bush administration has. Rather than it being cast as the terrorist version of Pearl Harbor, historieans will cite 9/11 as one of many early stirrings that heralded a new epoch for the Middle East. For centuries the once vibrant civilizations of the Muslim Middle East had been eclipsed by the industrializing West. While hog-tied by unreconstructed Muslim thought, western countries charted a more pragmatic course. Western nations played lip service to religious sensibilities without allowing the metaphycial to trump modernization and commerce. That juggling act heralded in the west's epoch of change.

Future historians will have to parse out exactly what events stirred the ancient ashes of Islam. Maybe it was the west's cynical and self-serving exploitation of their oil resources. Maybe it was the creation of Israel after World War II and the influx of Europeans and all that has followed. I don't pretend to know. What I do know though is that everything that has happened on and since 9/11 -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran, right up to the most recent assassination in Beirut -- are part of something big – bigger than 9/11, bigger than Iraq, bigger than Bush and the Neo-con superiority doctrine.

The rest of our lives, and those of our children, will be consumed by what has begun to play out in Middle East. It is folly for the US or Europeans to think they can somehow shape these events. The west will be at once spectator and hostage to these events. Because when history decides it's time for epoch change, only a fools and dead men stand in the way.

Decades from now a new Middle East will coalesce out of the chaos ahead. What that new Middle East will look like no one can say. What will become of the Sunni nations? Will Iran annex Iraq? Will the Shiites exterminate the Kurds with the help of the Turks? Will Israel survive? What will the industrialized west use to fill it's energy needs?

I don't know. I only know it has begun. The good news and the bad news is we will all have front row seats to the show.