The President chose North Carolina's Fort Bragg for his speech tonight, his sixth prime-team speech delivered from outside Washington, this one to extol the virtues of "staying the course" in Iraq. I certainly heard portions of it on the radio, and it took a number of minutes before it dawned on me that it was a live speech, and not a re-play of similar speeches he gave in 2002 and 2003 linking Iraq to the events of September 11th, extolling the "hard work" which would, inevitably be done by others while he derived political benefit from it.
But I was mistaken: it was, in fact, broadcast tonight. At least the President confirmed one thing: we will be cutting and running from Iraq commencing around this time next year. With a tepid call for military recruitment, the President tacitly acknowledged that the failures of the Army and the Marine Corps to meet their recruiting numbers is a more serious problem than he would otherwise let on. And with an insistence that giving a firm date for our leaving Iraq would be a mistake, he thereby confirmed that a major effort at drawdown must not merely be announced, but actually well under way by the 2006 Mid-term Congressional elections, or the GOP will likely lose one, if not both Houses of Congress.
Yes, the President announced initiatives like the partnering of Iraqi units with American ones and the vaunted success of the Iraqi elections and government (even as Iraq's oldest legislator got knocked off, along with others, including American personnel, just ). Those things will continue. Indefinitely. Which is how long American troops will remain in Iraq. But not at the current 130,000 (give or take) level. Instead, look for a most serious force reduction down to, I would guess, the 30,000 level by the end of 2006 (those mid-terms again).
Don't worry: it won't be called anything like "operation cut and run". However, the simple realities are that poll numbers are becoming untenable for continuing the current levels of carnage. Unfortunately, initiatives designed to get our media to stop reporting the carnage... just haven't worked. Hence... what I said.
The President's Saudi patrons need not concern themselves: the chaos and violence necessary to keep Iraqi oil production off-line for the next ten to fifteen years can just as effectively be managed with the reduced American deployment as with the current levels. And 30,000 U.S. troops (or thereabouts) should be just enough to prevent any kind of actual stability from emerging in Iraq... hey, the President himself just told us that the mission was hunting down terrorists in Iraq, and not stability, as we once thought... truth in advertising from the White House, perhaps?
Well, well. Amidst various irreconcileable decisions upholding the Ten Commandments at a state capitol but not in a courthouse, the Supreme Court declined to accept an appeal from two reporters challenging an order that they disclose the source (most likely Scooter Libby of Dick Cheney's office, though this is merely "the smart money") who disclosed to them (and Robert Novak, who went public with it) that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative.
Frankly, I have never been all that big for reporters' "constitutional right to protect their sources;" I tend to think it is abused far more than it benefits anyone. In any event, in this case, we cross the line of "anonymous source who needs anonymity to protect himself so the public can know." What we had here was a calculated leak-- indeed, an official source who is using anonymity not for the benefit of "the public's right to know", but to get away with the crime of outing a covert operative for partisan purposes, i.e., treason.
As such, even if I liked the policy, it doesn't apply here: the "source" was not a whistleblower, but a criminal, whose very communication was the crime itself.
Most ironic that this is happening in our current era, where journalism largely consists of "objectively" printing "both sides'" respective press releases, and not bothering with irritatingly slow and expensive actual reporting. Frankly, given that one of the reporters who will almost certainly go to jail is the loathsome war criminal Judith Miller (along with Matthew Cooper of Time, with whom I am less familiar), well, let's just say that the primary value: uprooting treason in the White House, supercedes some unenumerated constitutional right that the journalistic "profession" is doing its damndest to show us that it doesn't really need anyway. Not that I'm an end justifies the means kind of guy; I'm not.
I'd certainly prefer to see Judith Miller facing a war crimes tribunal for her deliberate recitation of Administration propaganda about non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. If she goes to jail, however, for misuse of a legal principal, at least karma will be served some.
Christopher Hitchens, who was once a great writer and champion of things decent, continues his descent to an alcoholism-addled hell with this piece in Slate involving an Iraqi t.v. program in which captured insurgents confess and allocute as to their various crimes against the Iraqi people. I concur with him that the program sounds fascinating, albeit horrific, in its juxtaposition of horrifying beheadings and other heinous acts while the subject confesses to training, rehearsing and motivating, to remove any mystique surrounding the insurgency, which consists of an awful lot of non-Iraqis.
The ever-journalistic Hitchens notes that such practices couldn't (legally) be done by us, because showing prisoners captured in war would violate Geneva Conventions, a problem the nascent Iraqi government needn't concern itself with, as these are its prisoners. But then Hitchens falls into the abyss of a growing meme, made all the more insidious because intelligent people like him have fallen for it.
That meme is simply that Al Qaeda and its minions are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions or anything else, and therefore, its personnel, who don't fight in uniform, are not subject to... the Geneva Conventions or anything else (other than getting served lemon chicken in between being chained to a chair and pumped with fluids).
I don't really know how to express how dangerous the moral slippery slope is, so I'll just jump around. The Empire of Japan ("Rape of Nanking", "Batan Death March", "Bridge over the River Kwai") was pretty nasty to prisoners of war it captured, including Americans (something like 1 in 5 of whom died in Japanese custody). The Roosevelt and Truman Administrations made a conscious choice, however, that notwithstanding these brazen violations by our enemy, this country would adhere to the Geneva Conventions to the letter. To. The. Letter. When American colonials were butchered by Hessian mercenaries in the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington demanded-- DEMANDED-- that Americans who captured Hessians and British regulars treat those prisoners decently and humanely-- even though there was no convention then signed by the nascent United States of America and if there was, the British were violating it anyway.
In the end, this isn't about Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or anyone else. It is about us. Either we are better than our enemies, or we are NOT better than our enemies, period. If we could defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany without discarding our laws or treaty obligations, if we waited out the Soviet Union and its clear capability to vaporize us many times over, why, for God's sake, are a few hundred jihadists suddenly a mortal threat requiring tossing away our legal and moral values in one fell swoop?
In practical terms, we lose moral authority as to calling those who capture our personnel to honor conventions and treat them humanely; our military is well aware of this. We also lose the most powerful and important weapon in our arsenal-- a weapon more critical since we are skimping on the size of our ground forces for domestic political reasons: our moral authority. In short, this short-sighted feel-good torture is counter-productive to our military objectives.
But that's not really what this is about. This is about us. Are we behaving "like Nazis" or "like Soviets"? I don't care, and frankly, it begs the question, because it implies that the question of whether nations or actors that behave even worse than we are now behaving is somehow relevant. It is not relevant. Not even a little relevant.
The question is, are we behaving in a manner worthy of the United States and our Constitution? That is the relevant question. The fact that the answer is "no, not even close" is what we need to concern ourselves with, and the eloquent sophistry of an alcoholic English wit and other intelligent sounding moral bankrupts, doesn't change that most unpleasant and uncomfortable answer.
This week's visit to our comrades at People's Daily gives us this account of PRC Premier Wen Jibao's assurances to the world that Chinese expansion of its economy has absolutely nothing to present to the world's possible anxieties in terms of fear of world domination, or anything like that. Part of the reason I try to link to People's Daily each week is because we live in a peculiar world where, quite frankly, the authoritarian (and PD tells us the PRC is authoritarian) regime publishes a house organ that is more straightforward than the so-called free American press. And so, here we go again...
This observation by Wen comes even as our government makes painful (for our troops, that is) decisions on where to skimp on current expense items like vehicle or body armor based on DOD budgetary constraints, there seems to be little or no constraints in terms of developing weapons systems for hypothetical enemies of the future (the hypothetically aggressive future Chinese) and the costs so incurred by definition cannot be used to fight our current enemies, the ones actually killing our personnel as we speak.
Which is all fascinating. A recent fabulous post by our favourite blogger has observed that Chinese defense strategy has generally involved the defense of China from the territory of... China. The vaunted Chinese blue water navy hasn't been developed. The Chinese long range air force seems to fly as far as the edge of Chinese territorial waters. The Chinese army is unlikely to be able to mobilize more than a day or two's march from the Chinese border. Indeed, even in the Korean War/Police Action, the Chinese didn't intervene until we approached the Yalu River (i.e., China itself.) In short, the Chinese are being damned inscrutible about their intentions for future world domination... We, by contrast, have an entrenched defense industry that has to have threats (real or imagined) in order to justify sucking up taxpayers' money.
A while back I started to do a post on Sun Tzu's The Art of War, noting that the best wars are never actually fought: proper planning and superior positioning force the enemy to succumb without having to engage in the blood and treasure costs of actual battle. The Chinese doubtless understand this. I suspect we understand it as well. The Chinese, hence, will be willing to continue selling us cheap tchotchkes performed by its quasi-slave labor force which it finances to us at artificially low renmindi valuations while we run a huge budget deficit to finance a military machine to battle a future China whose intention is to defeat a bankrupted United States who is its economic vassal, without bothering to fire a shot, or even field a soldier...
It all makes perfect sense, of course, if you're on the Chinese side. Or insane.
Our visit to our comrades at Pravda gives us this alternative version of the scheduled White House meetings with Uzbek opposition leaders. The article's suggestion is that the Uzbek opposition leaders are closely tied to islamist extremists, such as Al Qaeda. Certainly, our "war on terror" and our more recent "mass homicide in service of freedom and democracy" have been cause for us to have some strange bedfellows, such as, among others, the hard-line government in former Soviet Central Asian rebublics, such as Uzbekistan.
Given our ongoing alliances with problematic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and similar autocracies in the Islamic world, our support of the hardasses in Uzbekistan is not a surprise.
Further, the willingness of the White House to meet with (arguably) problematic figures is also... not a surprise. Obviously, our comrades in Moscow have their own agenda... but is this scheduled meeting consistent with our purported agenda...?
Honestly, I have no idea what being a liberal means anymore. Of course, I never had a clue where Justice Anthony Kennedy stood on anything, other than, I suppose, on the wrong side of just about anything important, from Bush v. Gore, to Padilla v. Rumsfeld, and now finally, to the current outrage, " Kelo v. City of New London, in which a 5-4 Supreme Court majority basically re-defined "public purpose" in matters of condemnation to be "anything that someone powerful enough to get state or municipal officials to do for private benefit that might increase the tax base".
Its understood, of course, that if my house lies in the path of the intended expansion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, my house is probably going to be leveled. Ah, but it also means that if Bruce Ratner's plans to build a basketball arena and commercial properties for his private benefit, though the City will get "boosterism" rights and higher tax revenues, and my house lies in the path of that project, the city and state may level my house as well.
This is fascinating, actually. It should come as no surprise that the defenders of "economic freedom" are... Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas and O'Connor; Kennedy is a tad surprising, but then, as noted above, we can safely say that he is just universally wrong (even in cases the Court rules 9-0, we must now question the overall wisdom).
Essentially, what the City of New London proposed doing was knocking down a lower income neighborhood (not a classic "slum"; just an old line working class neighborhood) for some fancy schmancy commercial development which would profit a private party, though increase the City's tax base. Not to expand City Hall. Not to build a school or a park or a water pipeline. No. Property owners can lose the house they grew up in because someone else is powerful enough to get the government to condemn your property for his private benefit.
Simple as that. You see, the Supreme Court believed that the powerful aren't powerful enough: once in a while, they see a nice choice piece of property in the way of their development plans, and those irritating rightful owners refuse to sell quickly or cheaply enough... best call City Hall and get those irritating proletarians to move (damn them).
Frankly, the powerful have too much influence as things already stand. This peculiar ability-- public condemnation for private benefit-- is something that the courts are supposed to protect us from. As usual, the Court held in favor of the powerful. That's what it does, I guess. Its a perverse world where the "champions of state's rights" are now the liberals. Strange world. But the State knows best. Best get used to it.
Forty-one years, if necessary, and in the case of ex-Ku Klux Klan member Edgar Ray Killen, forty-one years to the day was what it took before a Mississippi jury decided to find him guilty of three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, 20, Michael Schwerner, 24, and James Earl Chaney, 21, who disappeared on this day, in 1964.
There was some disappointment that the jury was unable to reach a verdict finding Killen guilty of murder, and while jurors questioned refused to characterize the verdict as a compromise, let's get real: I heard reports this morning that the jurors were deadlocked six-six, with six favoring acquittal. Killen is now 80, and confined to a wheelchair. Manslaughter carries up to 20 years on each count, and the murder charge did not carry the death penalty. In short: the result is the same. Edgar Killen will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison (or at least, appealing a homicide conviction). The fact that an ex-Klansman can be convicted of the homicide of civil rights workers in Mississippi is itself a sign of some advancement in the universe (in federal trials in the 1960's on conspiracy charges, the jury was unable to reach a verdict). Is it a sign of significant progress? Well...
American race relations are one of those minefields of discussion out there (like religion or politics, in general). What can we say? This essay, for example, discusses disparities in the human condition and perceptions thereof; the overwhelming majority of Whites believe that racism is no longer a problem in this country (including specific discussion of issues like educational opportunity, housing opportunity, treatment by law enforcement, etc.), while only a minority of African Americans feel that way... to this day.
Obviously, the issue is hopelessly politicized. We get some people who would probably never have even been permitted to attend law school but for the legacy of the Civil Rights Act and policies such as affirmative action, let alone find themselves on federal courts (yes, Justice Thomas and Judge Brown, I mean you) but who now feel it necessary to demonstrate that somehow they and they alone achieved everything in their lives by lifting themselves by their own bootstraps, of course, and believe that the continued existence of affirmative action will dilute their own "achievements" and hence, must be stopped. We have "civil rights leaders" like Jesse Jackson, who makes his living by being a racial shakedown specialist, or Al Sharpton, a demagogue who dabbles in politics and has helped assure defeat of Democratic candidates in everything from Mayor of New York to President of the United States. And we have the civil rights laws themselves, which, it should come as no surprise to anyone, are as subject to abuse in the hands of private litigants as any and every other law available to private litigants.
Alas, the troubling stats persist: the average African American earns well below
what the average White earns, even for the same job, and we won't talk about education, housing, or the fact that recent trends were showing that nearly half of Black males will spend a portion of their lives incarcerated or in juvenile detention at some point...
Forget good old "racial profiling" for this last one: some (well, I) argue that drug laws are, in essence, a means of state reimposition of involuntary servitude on a racial basis. Given that this ends up being their effect (let's acknowledge that a Black male with, for example, the President's reputed history of substance abuse would have unquestionably been incarcerated for some period of their life), one wonders how this could not have been the intent of such (asinine) laws (well, I do anyway). (Yes, this does mean I stand for the decriminalization of all currently illicit drugs-- not making them generally available, mind you, just subject to the same controls as prescription narcotics, and not subject to outrageously draconian mandatory minimum sentences for abuse. But I digress...)
Anyway, despite what lots of White folks think, we have an awful lot of work to do in American race relations. I'm not going to say today was "a good start": it's, quite frankly, 41 years overdue, but there is no question that justice is better late than never. Maybe we can ponder the question of why so many African Americans (in particular) still believe racism is a serious problem, and maybe not be so damned dismissive of the question... Maybe Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney will not have given their lives in the service of some half-measure and incomplete project after all... overt Jim Crow laws replaced by more subtle, yet similarly effective and troubling means... I'd sure like to hope so...
Such is an implicit question asked in this candid essay constituting our visit to Beijing's People's Daily; the $12 trillion question is whether Americans are by and large concluding, given the rise of China and India and their ability to pick off some of our lower-skilled industrial jobs (and in the case of India, some white collar jobs too) that free trade is not nearly as good a thing for America as once thought.
Certainly, this is a question perennially asked by one of the Democratic Party's leading (and declining) sub-constituencies, industrial trade unions. They insist that all free trade costs domestic jobs, and hence, sucks, and we should have rampant protectionism on anything and everything, the costs to the (vast-majority) non-unionized work force be damned. Democrats from Bill Clinton to John Kerry have, wisely, rejected this balderdash for the most part (though a persistent and malignant minority like the thankfully retired Dick Gephardt have not), and held fast to the correct view that free trade is to our benefit.
What's interesting here is what I'd call "shades of the 1920's." Shortly after the stock market crash of 1929 (which was more of a prologue to the Great Depression, rather than "Act I"), Congress, in its infinite wisdom, brought on the Great Depression in spades by passing the most irresponsible trade legislation in this country's history, the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, more or less designed to try to stimulate American economic activity by eliminating foreign trade. When other countries promptly retaliated, setting off an international cascade of protectionism, cutting off potentially growth generating trade at a time when economic activity was slowing down anyway... let's just say, the Depression was on.
Conditions are very different now: for one thing, the Chinese, Japanese and others are very heavily invested here, and, frankly, are propping up our economy as it is by funding both our trade and federal budget deficits. For another, while there is some resentment over "outsourcing", there is no general sentiment that free trade is bad (at least, yet). Still...
(BTW-- note the perversely refreshing candor of the essay: openly admitting that China is a tightly authoritarian state. Anyway...) So: free trade good. Yes, it has a downside, but its upside is bigger. Now, if we could actually engage in free trade and stop artificially propping up our own oil industry (note that our defense budget is largely a subsidy to keep oil prices lower than otherwise, among numerous other distortions.) We'll see if (as I expect) Chinese patience on this outlasts ours... I hope not, but you never know...
This week's visit to Pravda (it's been a while!) gives us this discussion of what appears to be a growing tourist Mecca in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine... I'm talking about Chernobyl. It's been near 20 years since the world's most devastating nuclear power plant accident killed thousands (or was it tens of thousands... given Soviet era obfuscations, no one can be sure...), and resulted in the abandonment of this city of nearly 50,000...
An apparent natural paradise (albeit one with lethal radiation in all directions) appears to have sprouted up, amidest abandoned apartment blocks and government buildings. Some inveterate tourists (the article notes a group of young Finns) finds the place fascinating; local guides seem to make good money shuttling people around on one day excursions around the place.
I'm not sure of the specifics, but I'm pretty sure that, given our current technological abilities to "de-tox" this much released nuclear material, Chernobyl will not be inhabitable for decades... or is it millenia?
Just something else to consider as our own energy thirsts and other (arguably myopic) wants may lead us to go on a blitz of building more nuclear plants... a cautionary tale quite literally from The Twilight Zone...
Iraqi politicians have been behaving in a very... politic... manner, by expanding the committee slated to draw up Iraq's new permanent constitution to include an additional 15 Sunni members, and to propose that the constitution be passed "by consensus". This is clearly designed to ameliorate the gross underrepresentation of Sunni members in the overall national assembly, as a result of the direct proportional representation system demanded by Grand Ayatollah Sistani and capitulated to by the Bush Administration; because Sunni areas are, in general, poorly secured compared to the rest of Iraq, very few Sunnis voted, and Sunni parties were, by population, wildly underrepresented. (BTW, the Grey Lady article also reports on the murder of two New York National Guard officers, one of whom hailed from my hometown, by a fellow soldier in a fragging incident... the shades of Vietnam are becoming undeniable to all but the 101st Fighting Keyboarders...)
The Iraqi assembly's compromise, which, presumably had "help" from us (our new ambassador to Iraq is Afghan native Zalmay Khalilzad, who once tossed me out of his political science colloquium in college because it was oversubscribed...) looks to be a smart move. Anything that can arguably make the Sunnis participants in the big picture will, hopefully, increase the legitimacy of the fledgling Iraqi government in Sunni opinion, and hasten the day we leave (prior to Dick Cheney's proposed cut and run date of 2009).
Of course, the Iraq war seems to have done wonders to the popularity of another government... Let the Second Term malaise begin, as the President's approval rating dips to around 41% (with Congress around 33%). Not to worry: come November of 2006, somehow the President's party will manage to not only hold on to its majorities in both Houses of Congress, but likely expand them. Why?
Despite the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war (largely because we seem to be losing it, and there aren't any good pictures of shit blowing up that CNN can give wall to wall coverage), the Republicans will fall back on the usual "Vote for the Democrats and a terrorist will kill your children", coupled with whatever buttons it needs to push on gay-bashing and abortion, and... you get the picture.
At least we have some encouraging news out of Iraq...
That hotbed of anti-American sentiment, the House of Representatives, voted to repeal one of the more "high-profile" and irritating provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act (passed by a chicken-shit Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9-11), removing the provision allowing warrantless searches of library and bookstore records. My understanding from no less an official than John Ashcroft was that this provision was not at all worrisome, because the federal government hadn't used it...
Apparently, the House, in an approving an amendment sponsored by Vermont Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders (it did not exempt internet use a libraries... just what books got checked out), felt that there was more to fear from Alberto "Spanky" Gonzales than from Ashcroft. The President has offered a veto threat, lest the nation's libraries and bookstores be off-limits to warrantless searches by the Thought Police... apparently, the House of Representatives, with (by definition, a good number of GOP votes to get anything passed) disagreed, or just said "Go ahead, make our day..." knowing that, like the President's other brilliant legislative initiative, social security repeal, this is the sort of thing that bites individual members on the ass when they have to run at home...
Civil libertarians were a tad encouraged by this (Congress is also debating the continued operation of our gulag at Guantanimo and perhaps whether "disassembling" is in order.) A point I frequently make is "where were the Democrats"? but this measure obviously required overwhelming Democratic support, and some actual creativity in finding something that the President found troublesome that dozens of Republicans could sign on to... so even I am somewhat encouraged by this...
In short, it looks like we may have finally exhausted the statute of limitations on the President's ability to repeat the word "terrorist" like a mantra and get whatever the hell he wants... enough Republicans realize that unlike 2002, mere re-broadcasts of the events of 9-11-01 and repetition of the threat posed to us by some Arab regime won't be enough to secure Mid-term pickups...
Now, about that budget deficit...
Finding that Michael Jackson's celebrity cachet is still all there, as a matter of California law (specifically a unique provision contained at Cal. Penal Code Section 6-418(b)(2), which provides simply "celebrities are above the law"), a jury in Santa Maria, CA acquitted the "king of pop" on all charges associated with the child molestation prosecution he faced. (Juries are still out, apparently, in the nearby towns of Nino and Pinta.)
Well, let the jokes fly: Michael "beat it". He can moonwalk right out of the court house. Whatever. The jury was, as I feared, duly awestruck by the big-time celeb, and the prosecutor, alas, was a tad too aggressive on a case loaded with problematic characters the most prominent of which was the vic's professional shakedown artist mom, who, evidently, seems to have placed her child in a freakish situation, hoping to cash in. (And given that the civil suit is to follow, where the troublesome "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is replaced by "preponderance of the evidence", may yet get that wish.)
The man remains a freak, and a deeply troubled individual, who should simply not be allowed alone in the presence of children, including his own. That's the way it is: a lesser man (in celebrity status and wealth, that is), on mere accusation of what there seemed to be enough evidence here to convince a grand jury to indict (not that that's all that hard), would probably find himself on a sex-offender registry and paying some social worker $150 an hour to babysit him with his own children.
Not the king of pop, though. He gets away with some... very troubling stuff. Well, he can have wild court house celebrations all he wants. I'm not sure this sort of accusation will be good for business (I really do resent reporting such as CNN's that he was "found innocent"; we are all innocent until proven guilty-- he was found not guilty-- a big difference here-- because the man was anything but "proven innocent".) Jackson is wildly in debt, and while he won't face jail (because his status as a celebrity is infinitely more important than the safety of children-- as that jury saw it, and sadly, just about American jury would see it when the accused is a major star), he'll probably face some hard financial times ahead.
And he'll doubtless soon be reaping all the medical problems he sowed over the years with those freakish skin peels to make a Black man look like a White woman. And one or the other of these things will, hopefully, take him out of the pajama party business.
Maybe reality will set in for this fellow, one of these days. But probably not. In that sense, it's unclear to me even what value punishing him would serve... I'm sure Jackson could figure out the difference between Santa Barbara and San Quentin... or am I? In a world where just about any irate ex-spouse can swear out an accusation against just about any man that said man is molesting their children, and the man's life goes to instantaneous hell without so much as a court hearing... the fact that Mr. Jackson can continue to be allowed to live in his 24-7 predatory playground... is beyond galling.
Of course, I might just be saying these things because I can't moonwalk...
Let's hear it for our Chinese overlords, who, according to this from our friends at The People's Daily, are building a 200 kph (around 130 mph) railway between two of their Northern provincial capitals. The complicated project, which will include numerous mountain bridges and tunnels, is expected to be completed by around 2008. It's the sort of thing Americans were good at at one time (I recall reading that a significant part of New York City's IRT subway system was completed in under two years, as was the Empire State Building), but, for a variety of reasons... aren't quite as good at. Indeed, our highly limited high speed rail service, Amtrak's Acela, has had innumerable technical problems (and might I add, for my limited purposes, is outrageously expensive when compared to alternative means of East Coast inter-city travel).
So... the same month our Chinese overlords announce that their trade has surpassed $500 billion for the first five months of this year , they announce that they are building a fancy kick-ass high speed rail service, let's just say I get a little... I don't know what the word is. I mean, the Germans and Japanese getting a high speed rail, well... they build such kick-ass cars, so you'd think their engineering would be up to the task. The French? It kind of pisses me off that the indolent 35 hour a week 6 week a year vacation French have something as kickass as their TGV, but they do... I recall bicycling through the Loire Valley with the then future Mrs. TD some years back, and we stopped at a grade crossing where the crossing danger sign said something like "stop here; trains are very fast-- serious danger of death". We looked both ways, and saw nothing coming, but with the gate down, with Mrs. TD considering crossing, I just said (having travelled on it ourselves the day before) "given that these things come at 300 kph (nearly 200 mph), let's just sit here a bit"... and sure enough, within seconds, the thing came by in a flash, and the gate lifted.
Anyway, at least Germany, Japan, and France are all super-high-tech First World countries (as is Sweden, which also has a fast train on which Mrs. TD and I have once alit-- the same model we use for our Acela, albeit, with more technical trouble than the Swedes have with it)... But China? We are getting our ass whooped in something cool and high tech by a country with maybe 5% of our per capita income?
That says something. And not something good, I'm afraid. Anyone volunteering to give me Mandarin lessons will be most appreciated...
Bruce the Veep forwards us this follow-up from (dog run member) The Times of London, giving us this report of British officials who concluded as of July 2002 (a month before I conlcuded it) that the Bush Administration had decided to have a war with Iraq, with facts and legal justification to follow...
There were two reasons that the officials concluded that the Blair government was committed to being the Bush Administration's Bitch on this: (1) Blair had evidently made a personal promise to commit British support to any American action to remove the Saddam Hussein government some months earlier at a private meeting with the President at Crawford, Texas, and (2) an "in for a penny, in for a pound" rationale, that as the British were in no position to deny American use of U.K. leased bases at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Cyprus in the Med, and hence, goes the theory, Britain would be "involved" anyway, so, hey, why not include ten thousand troops in the same category as "overflight rights" (it worked for the rest of "our vast coalition".
Bruce questions what it will take for a backlash against either the American or British governments, both of whom, it is becoming undeniable, clearly intended to mislead their respective electorates as to the threat purportedly posed by Iraq, and to use the UN as a post hoc justification for a decision to attack Iraq reached long before...
Well, we're in kind of deep in Iraq, at this point, and look to be for some time to come. The policy (whatever it is) may ultimately prove to be "successful" as time goes on. We might chose to blame the voters in the US and UK for deliberately restoring governments who appear to have misled them; on the other hand, both John Kerry and Michael Howard (the latter sincerely) campaigned based on their support of entering the Iraq War...
Does this mean that, in the future, if an American or British politician wants to enter a problematic military action opposed by a probable majority of their electorate, but not an sufficient majority to sway a pliant media who itself will post hoc justify the event, that said politician's government can "get away with it"? Yes, that's what it means. Worse, while of some dubiousness legally and/or morally, politically, this would seem to be a good move...
When all is said and done, it would appear that we really do end up with the government we deserve (though, once again, I don't recall knife-raping a nun...)
And so the G8 group of rich, industrialized nation, at a meeting in Britain, in an announcement made by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer (and next PM) Gordon Brown, agreed to forgive billions of dollars in debt owed to the rich nations by poor, overwhelmingly sub-Saharan African nations, which would amount to a savings estimated at $1.5 billion per year.
This, at least, appears to be something new and something for real, as opposed to our President's pronouncements in recent days of impressive sounding aid programs to Africa that amount to nice-sounding-restatements of... existing programs. And it may make some difference, at least in some sectors.
Of course, the problem in some of the poorest of the poor countries is governmental corruption, on scales representing, for example, the overwhelming portions of government spending going for graft, rampant bribery, and that sort of thing; to the extent that sovereign debt relief eases that sector, we will, in some cases, at least, just look at the corrupt officials simply increasing their take-home-pay, as some money they HAD to not steal (debt payments) is freed up. Just between us girls, this is most of what will happen here-- although some people in the First World can, I guess, feel better about it.
Of course, in some of the relatively more honest regimes, this will enable resources to actually be used on government services like desperately needed infrastructure,public health, that sort of thing. The "moral" aspect, of course, is interesting, given that this comes in a year that the United States (the largest net creditor in this sphere, IIRC) has decided to be most unforgiving of its own individual desperate debtors in passing the Barriers to Bankruptcy Act. But we've talked about that already...
Anyway, this is an opportunity for me to talk about the only thing that will bring meaningful relief to sub-Saharan Africa and other desperately poor areas of the world during our lifetimes: removing arbitrary First World trade barriers to agriculture and other basic industries. It's as simple as that: by throwing open our borders to the industries most likely to improve the economies of the world's poorest nations, we will not only improve their ecnomy, but increase the available supply and hence ultimately lower the prices of food here and world wide, not to mention other basic industrial products like textiles.
Of course, just as French farmers (less than 10% of the French population, btw) seem to control the entire EU in order to maintain their greedy subsidies, so American "agribusiness" (again, representing, I'm guessing, less than 10% of our population) insist on our convoluted system of trade barriers and taxpayer subsidies (for example, we pay a heavy multiple over the world price for sugar, so that the big-time GOP donor Faneuil family in Florida can literally control the domestic market, and destroy the Everglades to boot).
It would be win-win, helping the world's poorest nations and the American consumer at the same time. Of course, politically, it will adversely effect major donors (of both parties, to be fair), and therefore, I'm afraid, it won't happen...
Well, at least some of the "debt relief" money may trickle down to the world's poorest. For that, I guess, we can celebrate...
The United States Senate completed the Democratic sellout/implosion associated with the now-proven-to-be-totally-hollow threat of ongoing judicial filibusters against "extremist" conservative judges, by approving the nomination of California State Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown (56-43) to a for-life seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely viewed as the second most important court in the nation and a frequent springboard to the Supreme Court itself.
There are those of us of the view that most who don the black robe of a federal judge recognize the limitations of their judicial office: the principle of stare decisis binding a judge to established and binding precedents, the ability to make a determination only in the pending case, and so forth, and hence, other than arguably the Supreme Court, which is the only Court that can overturn Supreme Court precedents, ideological (as opposed to issues of character or professional experience or competence) grounds should just about never be a reason to reject a federal judge.
Of course, the Democratic Party campaigns every four years to a constituency whose only growth area is single females that they alone will stand up to protect the sanctity of Roe V. Wade (which, as we all know, was handed down from Mount Sinai) from those Republican extremists who might undermine the right to obtain abortion free of governmental restriction. While I have questioned whether this is an appropriate issue to make not merely the centerpiece of liberal ideology, but the only issue on which Democrats can stand together on (as opposed to, say, progressive taxation, or environmental protection, or, oh, not willy nilly entering large-scale military actions against nations posing no threat to us), it would, at least, be a consistent stand on something.
Except it isn't. Joyce Rogers Brown, an African American self-described Christianconservative who is as "activist" a judge as it gets, opposes affirmative action, favors free land-grabs and corporate welfare for the powerful, and opposes abortion rights. And now she's being kicked up to our nation's premier intermediate appellate court where, as a relatively young woman (she's 54, I believe), she would be a front-runner for any eventual Supreme Court opening, assuming this President Bush or the next President Bush is in office at the time of that opening (Justices Stevens and Rehnquist are in their 80's).
Frankly, if her nomination is not deemed "extraordinary circumstances", it's hard to imagine what is, vis a vis "the filibuster deal" reached by seven Democrats that Harry Reid should have handled, and seven Republicans who secured the fall of the final domino marked "Democratic principle". Nothing in "the deal" (which also gave us ideological righties Priscilla Owen and William Pryor seats on other federal appellate courts) prevents Republicans from invoking "the nuclear option" down the road. Frankly, an attempt by Democrats down the road to filibuster Joyce Rogers Brown herself may well be an appropriate time for that nuclear option: after all, she wasn't "extraordinary circumstances" now, so a later filibuster attempt may be viewed (rightly) by Republicans as abrogation of the earlier "nuclear free" deal.
So here we go. I'm one of those sticks-in-the-mud who believes that, for the most part, the judiciary is a pretty instrinsically conservative branch by nature (think stare decisis) as it is, and while certainly individual judges can move the law in their own way, compared to, say, the legislative branch which is actually charged with legislation, or the now-all-powerful executive branch, let's just say I'm not particularly worried about the occasional "extremist" judge as compared to, say, a President and Congress (both parties) blithely unconcerned with the nation's fiscal integrity, environmental health, compliance with its own laws (such as those against torture, for example), actual security or international standing. That's just me, of course.
Once again, it's looking like the United States Army's unfortunate choice of advertising slogans is a reflection of it's intended force levels, as it looks like May's Army recruiting goals were off by either 25% if you believe the "revised" numbers, or over 37% if you believe the actual numbers (the Grey Lady's piece notes that there will be skepticism caused by the self-serving revision... to coin a phrase... ya' think?)
This is all part of a growing trend: our military's largest (and coolest) branches, the Navy and Air Force, which, by and large, do not have heavy contingents on the ground in Iraq, are generally meeting their recruiting goals, whereas the less cool Army and the Marine Corps, which do have heavy contingents on the ground in Iraq, are not. I realize that a lawyer arguing the scientific connection of those facts might contend there was no "proven" relationship (in a "beyond a reasonable doubt" sense to some people), but apparently, our nation's youth seems to think there is, nonetheless, and is voting with its boots.
I tend to go back to what I view as that squandered opportunity we had for those few months after 9-11-01, when, instead of a call for national service that might have enabled the nation to meet national service needs of any kind imaginable, we were instead told to shop. This, in turn, was followed by the lengthy machinations leading up to the Iraq War, followed by the rather unfortunate history of the amazingly rapid victory over the amazingly rapidly collapsed Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein, followed by the easily predictable insurgency with its bloody results.
The Army faces a difficult conundrum; in the short term, it appears that various retention gimmicks have, perhaps, stanched the outward flow of exiting soldiers. On the other hand, army work is, ultimately, a young person's game, and a nation of 280 million people having trouble meeting manpower needs in the range of 8,000 per month for its army at a time when it is involved in a large-scale ground combat purportedly for its own defense is, to coin a phrase, not good news.
Your talking dog has been on what we'll call an involuntary blogging hiatus, a hiatus during which we've posted a couple of things such as the interviews with Staff Sergeant Shanona Gregozek and Attorney Joshua Dratel, but generally, otherwise, pretty much... a hiatus.
Fortunately, my spiffy new computer has finally arrived from our friends at Dell, and hopefully, I'll soon figure out its manifest thousand and one uses (including "blogging")... but I'll say this (no, I'm not writing this at home, nor am I writing it at work... ). When one's obsession is neglected for long enough, it becomes less... compelling. I've used the occasion, for example, to spend time with wife and child, and to revisit things I used to enjoy, like reading (just finished Thackeray's "Vanity Fair"; still applicable after all these years!)
In the end, I find that I have tried to make things interesting here; for one thing, my original content interviews with the above-referenced Sgt. Gregozek and Josh Dratel (and before that, Donna Newman, attorney for "dirty bomb" suspect and "unlaawful combatant" Jose Padilla) are, I hope, somewhat more interesting than the usual fare that you get on this (and every other) blog, to wit, spin of some kind or other on some news story or other, or more likely still, spin on spin.
So, you'll still get your share of spin here (with my incomprable wit, naturally), but I'll try to keep the original content coming (you need someone interesting to say they are willing to talk to you... not a gimme, though I have been most fortunate thus far...). In the end, despite what, say, the 101st Fighting Keyboarders believe, we who sit at computer keyboards and shoot our proverbial mouths off are not heroes of any means. Sgt. Gregozek-- she's a hero, quite literally fighting for our freedom. Mrs. TD-- who, thankfully, was quick enough to grab a small child at a Long Island beach yesterday before said child was grabbed by a rip-tide-- she's a hero too. Attorneys Dratel and Newman, fighting for our freedom as well-- you got it. The thousands who died on Omaha and Utah beaches at Normandy some 61 years ago today... exactly. And, of course, Richie Pearlman, to whom I allude from time to time...
But writing this *&^%? Pllllleeeease. Everything should be kept in proper perspective; if it takes an occasional computer crash to do that, so be it. Well, hopefully we'll get the home machine up and running, so I can send these missives more regularly... until then... peace.