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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

April 30, 2004
Mind. Boggling.

Girl cooties are a potent weapon against fanaticism.

Talking about challenging the Patriot Act violates secrecy provisions of the Patriot Act. Yet some people deny the Patriot Act goes a bit too far in curbing civil liberties.

But it's all okay if The Man is havin' fun with it, right? (New theories occur to me all the time. Now I think that hiding Bush from the public is a ploy to make "seeing" him more special, making people tasked with investigating potential failings less critical?) I have to say that it doesn't give me confidence in the 9/11 commission to hear that one participant was busy admiring the "twinkle" in Bush's eye instead of following the lines of questioning.

Digby. Naughty boy.

This is unreasonable. If the Bush Administration had landed on Fallujah with all four feet, firing rockets and missiles in every direction, the Left would have been screaming their lungs out. Since they're trying to find a different solution, Dreyfuss is scoffing. Shame.

Bush speaks (Earlier today):

"A year ago I did give the speech from the carrier saying we had achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein," Bush said.

"As a result, there are no longer torture chambers or mass graves or rape rooms in Iraq," the president said.

Given recent revelations of torture, death, and rape in Iraqi prisons, I find myself….I'm sorry. I just can't deal with this kind of reality-bending.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:44 PM | Comments (3)
Stuff

I'm talking a lot today, aren't I?

Bush. Religion. Nightline. No, I didn't watch it. The article was scary enough. (Anyhow, I was out last night. I have a life.)

Lawrence Krubner posted a fascinating piece about the history of marriage this week.

Hey, hey. Hellblazer has an Iraqi self-rule countdown clock.

My reaction was 50/50. Part of this article annoyed me, part of it fascinated me. (Thanks to Ralph E. Luker for the link.)

Have to link. Can't help it. Morford.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)
Less Disturbing Reading

Common Dreams can scoff, but I agree with Kerry. We were lied into this war but that's no reason to walk out in the middle of a mess.

Fallujah. I contributed to the Frisbee purchasing effort. I still believe that such "human" interactions can be a key to winning peace and security for Iraq while USofA forces are still on the ground there. But maybe not yet.

I think it's possible to grant a president the power to use "appropriate and necessary force" to achieve and end but find that his methods are neither appropriate not necessary. Looks like this might be under discussion in the Supreme Court.

A sign of the times. More of the disintegration of civil liberties or a necessary move?

If bin Laden didn't personally telegraph the Bush Administration an engraved invitation with date and time on it, they couldn't have been expected to know 9/11 was going to take place. That seems to be a condensed version of Bush's 9/11 testimony. (The interview excerpt I heard on NPR had him saying that he was satisfied the commission had a better understanding of "how I think" which makes little sense.)

Bush reacts to abuses of Iraqi prisoners. "I didn't like it one bit." (Okay, that was sort of unfair, being a partial quote, but I'm still disturbed by the entire thing.)

Did academics have more freedom under Hussein? Who's behind this? Iranian hardliner insurgents?

Krugman isn't at all sure that my "we made the mess, it's up to us to clean it up" approach to Iraq is right. The numbers worry him.

Bob Edwards signs off Morning Edition. Drat.

News Item: "The United States is preparing to significantly raise its estimate of the number of nuclear weapons held by North Korea, from 'possibly two' to at least eight...."

As we continue our relentless search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

From today's QuickTakes.

The Guardian takes a look at Bush's 9/11 testimony…or rather the fog of the completely informal and nonbonding, not to mention private, even secret, nature of the conversation-because-without-an-oath-it's-not-testimony, sort of chatty interlude…oh, forget it.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)
This is war

Using Abu Ghraib at all was a mistake and as I recall, many bloggers commented on it a year ago.

This was supposed to be a war on terror[ism], not a war of terror.

Using it to essentially continue Husseins' human rights abuses is intolerable. A lot of heads had better roll. Those flag-draped coffins we're not supposed to see deserve better than this as a legacy of their sacrifices. (Caution! Photographs.)

One of the soldiers facing court martial is Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick.

Frederick is charged with maltreatment for allegedly participating in and setting up a photo, and for posing in a photograph by sitting on top of a detainee. He is charged with an indecent act for observing one scene. He is also charged with assault for allegedly striking detainees – and ordering detainees to strike each other.

60 Minutes II talked with him by phone from Baghdad, where he is awaiting court martial.
Frederick told us he will plead not guilty, claiming the way the Army was running the prison led to the abuse of prisoners.

“We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things...like rules and regulations,” says Frederick. “And it just wasn't happening."

The idea that someone had to specifically tell him and the other soldiers not to torture and humiliate other people is one of the most appalling things I've heard. Especially considering that he was a "corrections officer at a Virginia prison" previously. In what way did he feel he needed additional training?

Maybe the answer is later in the article…the stuff about helping to soften prisoners up for interrogation.

There's something seriously, seriously wrong. Many of us can't conceive of doing something we know, intellectually, morally, in our gut is wrong, but we're not in Iraq, we're not in that situation.

And, as we know, training for soldiers is specifically designed to break down ingrained social barriers.

This is why it's so critical that the Geneva Conventions must be applied to everyone taken prisoner in Iraq and that our Constitutional protections should apply. Soldiers on a battlefield don't have perspective. They're not objective. And, in this and other cases, their commanding officers completely failed to protect the soldiers from the consequences of their training and the situation.

The next time you find yourself wondering why some of us see war as an extremely dangerous, absolutely last resort, remember this incident.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:49 AM | Comments (3)
That religion thing

I've tackled this a dozen times and deleted the posts unpublished because I couldn't find a way to rationally explain my aversion to professions of religious belief. I hope I've done better this time.

Not, you understand, in private life. I care as much about religion in private life as I do any other facet of someone's personality. Astrology, Wiccan, Christianity, homosexuality, vegetarianism, conservatism, whatever. It's variety that makes people fascinating.

But, because I post intemperate rants about organized religion and belief and make frequent rude remarks about 'believers' I've been thinking I should try to provide some explanation.

There's a great deal that I admire in the content of the belief systems of various organized religion. There's a great deal that's admirable. Assuming the followers of each system actually implemented the precepts of their particular faiths, many people today might be a great deal better of than they are.

Religion is like dieting, though. It's easier to talk about losing weight than to actually refuse a chocolate donut. Most people use the "think system" of dieting, religion, smoking cessation, regular exercise, whatever their goal is. Me, I used the "think system" of dieting for ten years. All I got was pudgy and ten years older. When I stopped talking about it and took action was when I lost weight. (Alas…age cannot so easily be erased.)

Topic. Topic. Stick with the topic.

I read a very interesting blog entry on "Flaunting one's faith and the presumption of secularism" in which the poster said that consulting his religious beliefs in the course of his work, using his religion as a filter through which to interpret his studies, was considered wrong by some of his (for lack of a better word) co-workers.

I think his co-workers may be wrong. I think people should, in fact, consult their private systems of morality and ethics in their everyday life. I have may have questions about how a historian would use the "lens" of his "faith and church" to interpret what he reads in his research, but I've asked in the comments section of his blog and maybe he'll be able to explain it in a way I can understand.

Read More »


Posted by AnneZook at 08:54 AM | Comments (4)
April 29, 2004
Slacking Through Lunch

Whatever I might want to be when I grow up, I sure don't want to be press secretary for an unpopular, secrecy-obsessed Administration.

Here's a story of ambassadors duking it out in the U.N. (Well, actually, it was one sucker-punch, from behind, but still. It's very unusual for anyone at the U.N. to engage in direct action, as the column makes clear.)

The Nation is doing a button contest. I object to being limited to ONE entry. I've already had one inspirational button idea come to mind and I'm sure I'll have more soon. (I googled my first idea "One Nation, Under Democracy" and found that it's been done already. Multiple times. No doubt I saw it somewhere and forgot.)

Forget the military-industrial complex. Let's make room in our brains for a Military-Academic Complex.

Nicholas Turse has been covering the military-industrial-entertainment-scientific complex for Tomdispatch now for many months. His last piece was on the nature-bending activities of the Pentagon's blue-sky scientific operation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA. Now, he adds another hyphen to the complex's complex equation, reminding us of the way in which higher education has become a wing of the Pentagon. The ivory tower is, he tells us, being rebuilt out of a high-tensile [classified] material and armed with [classified] [secret] [classified] and so is being readied to face the world explosively.

Go. Read.

Let's be rational, people. It's not rational to expect New York to grant a permit for "hundreds of thousands of protestors" to inhabit a space that holds, at most, 80,000 people. Protesting the decision won't make Central Park any bigger. (Although I have doubts about the official "capacity" of the park, based on cited usage in the past.)

I don't always agree with Jim Hightower, but I do this time.

And while I'd like to believe those on the ground in Iraq are doing their best in a difficult situation, I don't believe it of Donald Rumsfeld. Either he's getting bad data from his staff, and someone needs to be fired, or he's a serial liar. Or…reading it more closely, the article just proves once again that someone in the White House is paying attention to every semantic nuance they can find.

How long will we have police infiltrating non-violent groups with an eye to…what? Entrapping them? And here in Colorado, too. (From last April. The sentencing was this week.)

How far is it from Baghdad to LA? Closer than you think.

This in particular rang a bell:

Gang members are traumatized young veterans of war, with no outlets for counseling or treatment. We need a massive rehab program in the inner cities that includes surviving veterans of these wars as role models. Gang members are necessary scapegoats in the rise of law-and-order politics and vast expansions of police and prison budgets.

You remember the "enemy combatants" that also happen to be USofA citizens? There are two of them in the news today because of the Supreme Court case. For one of them, Jose Padilla, I know only two facts. #1 - He was arrested getting off a plane in Chicago because they thought he wanted to bomb someone/somewhere. #2 - He's a "former Chicago gang member." Those two pieces of information have been repeated again and again in the news. As though being a "former Chicago gang member" explains why someone is suddenly being held as a terrorist.

(Also, after having read the article, I've decided it's time to get soft on gangs. Getting hard on gangs hasn't worked. Let's bypass the police squads and offer real, valid, and viable alternatives.)

Posted by AnneZook at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)
Stuff to read

Avedon Carol kindly reposts her article from the defunct DNO at Avedon's Other Weblog. First up: LatinAmericazation of the USA. (Sadly, the comments function on AOW has been disabled, but I do understand why someone whose daily readership numbers in the thousands can't afford to indulge in the extra bandwidth.)

Goodness. Ask people what they can't find on-line, and you get a flood of answers. Many of the complaints seemed to me to be a case of searching in the wrong place. Others were because people believe a search engine should use language the way a person does - intuiting appropriate context, format, and associations. All of which leads me to speculate that the first serious AI development will be in search engines.

Oooo! TalkLeft is discussing enemy combatants and that Supreme Court case. I look forward to expert analysis in the future.

I am appalled. Just appalled. In exactly what way is naming the names of the soldiers killed in Iraq "not in the public interest"? Is it not enough that their families have been denied the support of having the nation honor the returning caskets? Is a simple recitation of names somehow dangerous to democracy?

And it's comforting that soldiers responsible for this kind of abuse are being punished, but where were the commanding officers? Isn't preventing this kind of thing sort of part of their jobs? As Hal tells us, commanding officers are also facing charges. Maybe. That course of action is being "urged" anyhow.

This kind of thing, people is why we should not allow imprisonment without legislative and judicial oversight. No internment camps, no unregulated prisons, no "enemy combatants" not given access to legal representation. Soldiers in a war zone aren't the best judge of what actions are appropriate or otherwise and a few (to be charitable) over-zealous 'interrogations' can and should bring disaster.

"We need common-sense judges who understand our rights were derived from God."

That's Bush, in 2002. And that's not true.

Our rights are the product of hundreds of years of debate and evolution of thought. And the product of blood, sweat, and tears. The man is out of touch with reality, but that's a separate issue. The problem is that believing you're on a mission from God is how bloody crusades and massacres get started. This kind of thinking is dangerous.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:56 AM | Comments (2)
There And Here

That "enemy combatant" thing is bad enough. Is this really what this country has been doing? If yes, then how do we stop it? If no, then how do we repair our reputation in the eyes of the world?

But I don't think Colin Powell is giving the USofA public enough credit. I mean, maybe we'd sour on any war where we ran into resistance, but I don't believe that. I think real support wouldn't dissipate that quickly. Unfortunately for Powell, real support is based on real information and real truth, and people are seeing that we weren't served up much of that before we invaded Iraq.

So, the Bush Administration is willing to do anything to fight this war on terror[ism] except, you know, fund sensible investigations.

You now what strikes me about Bush & Cheney and the 9/11 Commission? The power play of having the questioning take place in the Oval Office. Someone really interested in getting at the truth would have chosen a different White House room or even gone to the Commission. But in the Bush Administration, it's all about looking presidential…not about being a real leader.

The thing I find most amusing about Cheney's fight to keep his consultations with the energy industry secret is the way one of those over-the-top, Clinton-era, Republican laws is being used against Cheney. Not for the last time, a Republican is getting kicked in the teeth by some short-sighted piece of legislation passed mostly to be used as a weapon against Clinton.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. So wrong. It's been tacitly accepted for decades that political access is "sold" to campaign contributors. Maybe now that politicians are becoming so blatant about it, we can have some real reform?

Max Boot makes sense today.

Hopefully by the time you read this, the photo essay of the new WWII memorial on the front page of the Washington Post today will still be available.

"Conserve," they cried. And we did. Cars went unwashed, lawns went unwatered, households fixed leaky taps and stopped running the dishwasher half full of dishes. Water usage was down. Of course, that means fees collected for water usage were down and now they're talking about raising fees, almost doubling them, to make up for the lost revenue. You just can't win, can you?

Norway is still considering pulling out of Iraq.

Where is Kim Jong II? The paranoid psychotic is mostly likely hiding in fear, believing the recent North Korean train explosion was an assassination attempt. I wouldn't be surprised it it had been.

Is the U.K. evolving from (c)onservative to (l)iberal?

It's everyone's planet, not just ours, you know. We need to clean up our act.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)
Who knows the law?

Hold the mockery. We can't all be lawyers or even semi-expert about the legal system.

Listening to excerpts of the arguments before the Supreme Court, I find myself increasingly confused about this "enemy combatant" thing. There are two problems (well, three, but let's begin simply) that I can see. (Maybe four.)

First - a foreign national scooped up, locked up, but not lawyered up. Picked up in the USofA or elsewhere. Held incommunicado for months or years while his family wonders if he's dead or alive. Constitutional status: Uncertain.

I know what I think. If they're picked up on USofA soil, they're treated like any other criminal and tried under USofA law. If they're picked up on an enemy battlefield, they're prisoners of war and treated as such. How complicated is that?

Second - A USofA citizen scooped up, locked up, but not lawyered up. Picked up in the USofA or elsewhere. Held incommunicado for months or years, yadda, yadda, yadda. Constitutional status: Pretty darned clear.

We have a judicial system specifically designed to deal with criminals, no? And a Constitution that guarantees the right to a trial. Period. It doesn't say, "unless the government isn't in the mood" or something like that. Right to a trial. There's a bit in there about being speedy with the proceedings as well.

Certainly that has to cover USofA citizens arrested on USofA soil for actions that break USofA laws.

On a battlefield? There's a "treason" law, right? The law already has provisions to handle USofA citizens that pick up guns on an enemy battlefield and take aim as USofA soldiers. Even if they're just standing back and helping someone else aim, we have conspiracy laws that would apply. Conspiring to commit a crime much less heinous than treason can be prosecuted.

So where's the problem with these two "enemy combatants"? Lawyer them up and put them in a courtroom.

Bail can be denied and they can be kept locked up (consequently, not a danger to the country or anyone in it) until they come to trial. (Heck, the way the judicial system works in this country these days, those two guys would probably still be waiting for trial even if they'd lawyered up within five minutes of being arrested. We need to work on that "speedy" thing.)

Third, and more fundamentally, I really dislike the invention of that "enemy combatant" status.

The Geneva Conventions were put into place for a reason - to prevent mistreatment of soldiers taken prisoner during a war. What kind of people then start using a sort of euphemistic gray area status for people they can't charge and won't release? I'll tell you who. People who don't want to be limited to "humane" treatment or allow the Red Cross or any other neutral organization to see what they're doing.

If we're at war, then prisoners taken are prisoners of war. Sidestepping the law by declaring that there are people we can stuff into a different category and hide away somewhere is just wrong.

Secret arrests, secret detentions, these are the stuff of totalitarian regimes or fascists. They're not what I thought this country was all about.

(You know what really pissed me off? The bit of testimony where the government lawyer insisted that the men were free to make their defense, explain themselves, to their interrogators with the implication that that was as good as a trial. I mean can you see the military giving the Guantanamo interrogators the authority to declare someone "not a threat" and ordering their release? Because I don't see that happening and certainly the only releases that have come so far have been the result of massive public and diplomatic pressure.)

Let's be clear. I don't think our military just arrested people for the fun of it and I don't think any of them honestly want innocent men locked up. On the other hand, we paid head bounty on every "enemy" the Afghan warlords turned in to our soldiers in Afghanistan and I don't have quite that same faith in the Afghan warlords.

And beyond that, there's the plain and simple fact that it's just wrong. You don't lock someone up for years on end when their only contact is the man or men sent to interrogate them to gain "intelligence" information you have only the vaguest possible suspicion that they might possess.

Heck, you just don't lock someone up for years on end without benefit of some kind of trial. There are times when even the appearance of impropriety is as bad as impropriety. Is this the image of the USofA we want to export to the world?

Anyhow.

I really don't understand why this has turned into a legal battle except that I understand the Bush Administration wants to waive the Constitution when it interferes with their plans and I completely disapprove of this or any other Administration being allowed to do that.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:16 AM | Comments (2)
April 28, 2004
A Spoonful of Outrage

Let's hear it for this disgraceful White House maneuver. (From Jeanne.)

Tune in to Nightline this Friday, even if you don't have a Nielsen box and won't be 'counted' in the ratings.

Good grief. Every time I think the conspiracy-theorists are out on the edge, along comes something that shows they're not alone on that ledge of insanity.

You can't follow the money if you can't find it.

I'm thinking there's more behind bills stalling in Congress than the Bush Administration being all distracted by getting its war on.

For one thing, I think they sometimes make grandiose promises they have no intention of keeping. (The badly written and pathetically under-funded No Child Left Behind Act, anyone?)

For another, they sometimes propose stupid things which, it would appear, no one had the responsibility for floating a trial balloon on (Immigration reform, anyone?) and when such issues prove to be massively unpopular, the Administration develops temporary amnesia about them.

"They just seem to have trouble keeping their attention on one bill," says Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

I guess that's another way of interpreting it.

Administration officials, in response, point to such Bush legislative successes as the Medicare prescription-drug benefit and a bill imposing additional criminal penalties on those who harm fetuses while committing certain crimes.

Yes, and those are massively successful, aren't they? What with the growing scandal over reports that the Administration knew and suppressed the true cost of Medicare reform, not to mention a cost I'm not sure anyone has accurately predicted, that being the cost of administrating such a nightmarishly complicated drug-card plan, and all, you know. Yeah. Big success.

And that second one is just a preliminary step in the struggle to ban abortions. This is an "issue" that was on no one's radar until the Bush Administration decided to make a "cause" of it. They could have promoted the Amber Alert system, chosen to really fund social services, actually done something positive for education, or even put money toward replacing the dangerous lead water pipes in Washington D.C. and those would have been worthy of pointing at and bragging about. Children already born matter too, you know.

And look at this.

States turn red ink into black More than half the states are projecting surpluses by the close of the current fiscal year, a sharp contrast to the situation they faced a year ago, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At this time last year, states were still struggling to close a cumulative $21.5 billion budget gap. Now, they are working to close a total gap of $720 million, according to NCSL. Also, 32 are forecasting surpluses by the end of FY 2004, which ends June 30 for most states. These projected surpluses are the result of improved collections in major revenue categories and program cuts. The surpluses are not large.

Impressive, no?

The breathing room comes after three consecutive years of fiscal crisis, the report said, when states had to cut funding in such core areas as education, health care and corrections. Some states tapped rainy day funds, increased fees or raised taxes on items including cigarettes, health insurance and phone service to help make ends meet.

Suddenly…amazingly less impressive.

Posted by AnneZook at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)
Quotations

From QuickTakes:

President Bush on the economy:

"So that's what -- there's some ideas. And the -- it's -- my job is to, like, think beyond the immediate."

*White House transcript of President Bush on the economy:

"So that's -- those are some ideas. And my job is to think beyond the immediate."

Hmm, indeed.

And, from the same page, political correctness run amok:

Junior soccer leagues in the United Kingdom will now require the score of any game where a team is behind by five or more goals at halftime to be reset at 0-0 because the "feelings of all the children should be taken into account."

Apparently "all children" doesn't include the children on the winning team or the children who made those five or more goals.

Saunders gives this season's West Wing too much credit. It is not, in fact, as witty or as intelligent as it was under Sorkin. At least, not as consistently so. The episode he discusses, the two supreme court judges, had exceptional moments, though.

Check this out, culled from a recent print copy of the Denver Business Journal.

ACBJ Washington Bureau

The Transportation Security Administration is a step closer to testing a registered-traveler program after requesting proposals from private-sector firms on how to manage the system.

The agency asked firms April 5 to describe how they would provide program management, biometric capabilities, tactical operations and systems integration support.

TSA plans to award a contract in June for a pilot program, which will be tested for 90 days at three to five airports around the country. The agency will evaluate the results and decide whether to pursue it further.

Frequent travelers at the selected airports will be eligible to volunteer for the pilot. They will be fingerprinted or iris-scanned to verify their identities and assessed for security risks. If they pass, these travelers will be able to speed through airport security checkpoints.

Read Adm. David Stone, TSA's acting administrator, said the agency "will move forward with all possible speed" to develop the program.

The request for proposal is available at www.fedbizopps.gov.

I'm not saying anything.

Moving on now.

What possible excuse could there be for police to brutalize an old woman?

What possible excuse could there be for the Secret Service to terrorize a child? (If you think the child is disturbed, then by all means contact someone who can help, but "someone who can help" is not the Secret Service.)

Are you reading Big Pharoah here and here?

What happened to Matt Maupin?

Henry in Africa is back and blogging his recent experiences in the Liberian civil war. Or at least promising to tell his story in detail.

Reading Ginmar is painful, but her courage and her honesty are moving.

I may disagree with the Bush Administration's policies and procedures, but the vast majority of the soldiers actually fighting in Iraq, as well as their immediate commanding officers are… extraordinary. Their desire, their commitment to doing right by the people of Iraq is impressive.

That's why the government is wrong to sneak flag-draped coffins back into the country under cover of secrecy.

Regardless of anyone's position on the invasion and occupation, they shouldn't be denied the opportunity to honor the returning dead. The families of the soldiers should not be denied the chance of seeing their loved ones so honored.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:32 AM | Comments (2)
April 27, 2004
Cynicism In Search Of A Soapbox

Okay, so things aren't going well in Iraq. I think we're willing to admit that, no matter how passionately some of us supported the original invasion. No matter how thick your blinders, you can't help but see that "coalition" troops weren't greeted with the showers of flowers and thanks for deliverance that the Administration imagined.

So what precisely is the problem there?

Regardless of your position on the invasion, no one disputes that Saddam Hussein and his cohorts were authoritarian criminals who needed to be removed from power. No one the media has interviewed has announced they would rather have kept on living under the former, repressive, abusive regime.

And yet, barely weeks after the embarrassingly stagy toppling of the infamous statue, resistance to the occupation troops was rising and today there is little less than full-scale warfare in parts of the country.

What's up with that?

I've been pondering Fables of the Reconstruction at intervals over the weekend. Not only the article, but the original memo it references. And what I read in this article (yes, again) about the problems Latin America has encountered in trying to install healthy democracies.

(Obviously one of the major mind-boggling moments in reading the memo is the assertion that arresting the cleric responsible for the Fallujah uprising will create problems for only a few days. I don't agree with that assessment and that's kind of what got me started on this train of thought.)

First, let me just say that we handled Iraq wrong. Assuming our collective hearts were dead-set on invading the country (a big assumption, but I'm not here today to point out that we freaking told you so), we needed to do it…well, almost entirely differently.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Administration and those responsible for pushing us into the invasion weren't invading the right country.

I mean to say…I'm not sure they were invading the country they thought they were invading.

That might sound like a more polite way of saying they didn't know what in the hell they were getting into (and it is) but I mean it in a broader sense.

One presumes that our State Department, not to mention the CIA, has employees dotted here and there on the payroll whose job it is to understand the countries we're dealing with (or not dealing with, as the case may be).

(This may not be as true under the Bush Administration, she said, mindful of those reports that the Administration is considering government oversight of curriculums for foreign studies departments or something, leading one to believe that that current crop of politicos don't see anything wrong with viewing the world through eyes too glazed from over-consumption of Krispy Kremes and Big Macs to understand the importance of hummus to much of the world's population, but historically that's what one presumes has been taking place all these years.)

Anyhow. The point is that one presumes there were at least some government employees who understood the psychology and sociology of Iraq. It's rather a pity no one seems to have consulted them on this invasion thing.

There's a power vacuum in Iraq. The removal of an overwhelmingly dominant, even if unpopular, government is inevitably going to leave a power vacuum and the stronger the leader, the greater the vacuum.

Chalabi, in spite of his support among USofA Republicans, is not the man to fill it. (Even aside from the fact that he's a convicted criminal and a fugitive.) Let's be honest…no one chosen by the USofA is going to be acceptable to the Iraqi people at this point. Those who wanted Chalabi in power doomed him by supporting him publicly. What's left is the struggle over who among actual Iraqis over is going to take power, and the contenders are using the means they personally understand. (Not elections, campaign lies, ballot box stuffing, or outspending each other, no. This isn't the USofA, it's Iraq. They're using the pulpit and the people.)

The way I see it, each of those approximately 30 militia groups reported in Iraq is headed by a cleric whose actual goal is to replace Saddam Hussein.

I don't think they dream of reviving his repressive, authoritarian regime, but they do perceive that their country is in need of direction, of focus, and of leadership, and each of these clerics fancies himself as the man to do the job. (Also? It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to jump to the top of the heap. It's a mistake to discount simple ambition.)

These clerics mistrust the USofA and our brand of democracy, viewing it (rightly or wrongly) as anti-religion and specifically anti-Muslim. They fear that the installation of a secular, democratic government will lead to the development of an increasingly Westernized Iraq, effectively sounding the death-knell for their culture.

They fear being made irrelevant. Powerless. With a certain amount of mental effort, I can even believe some of them believe their scriptural texts and that they think they're saving the Iraqi people from hell or non-salvation or whatever it is that Muslims believe in for transgressors.

This doesn't apply to all Iraqis. It may not even apply to most of them. But it does apply to significant percentages of the religious sector and they have the ear of the most important demographic in the country…young men.

They must also fear being powerless, or even being perceived as powerless. Maybe they even fear being ridiculed because the Big, Bad Monster Hussein, the man they cowered before, ran like a frightened rabbit when the hated USofA came after him.

(The least the man could have done, after holding his entire country hostage to terror for decades, was not to have turned out to be such an abject coward. Dr. Jekyll was revealed as, not Mr. Hyde, but a quivering mass of Jell-O.)

Arab machismo isn't something you can't afford to overlook and I can't help but think it's been badly bruised. They're probably angry…even if they don't understand precisely why they're angry, it's understandable that they're angry. And, like all young men, they need a tangible target. They need someone to be angry at.

Enter occupying army, stage right.

While not downplaying my own anger at the stories of USofA soldiers committing crimes in Iraq, let's consider that there have been few such stories; compared to the number of soldiers we have on the ground. That's laudable. You can't do anything about the bad apples except weed them out…but you have to wait for them to appear first. Unfortunately this is not a situation where these few bad apples can be overlooked.

Every misdeed, every transgression, every crime committed against an Iraqi citizen (and I include soldiers carrying out short-sighted and unwise orders for massive "search-and-detain" operations) is going to be magnified in the eyes of the Iraqi people. Especially in the eyes of the, forgive a cliché if you can, Angry Young Men.

It's absolutely unsurprising to me that Iraq's rebellion against our occupation of their country is only increasing.

Yesterday I wrote this:

The real problem is the mindset that if you can just document, regulate, and oversee people closely enough, then all will be well. That's what can lead to an authoritarian regime.

At the time I was warning about what could happen in this country, but you can take a look at Bremer's administration of Iraq and see the same mentality at work.

They've centralized the government because it's easier for Bremer and the military authority to communicate with a centralized government and oversee what's happening, but the effect is to remove even more power from the hands of the people, including those Angry Young Men.

Outside of Baghdad, no one can be certain if their wishes are being properly considered or if or when their needs will be met. Is it any wonder, after months of little or no progress, they decide the interim government and the (already hated) "Americans" are not acting in good faith?

And what about corruption?

Corruption was a major feature in the article discussing why democracy in Latin America is failing. Corruption was rife in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. As in any such society, this corruption included a black market of patronage and products.

If the government can't insure that food supplies, fuel, and security are available…then the underground economy will. This reinforces the belief of those involved that corruption is the way to get things done and makes it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate such corruption.

I do not, by the way, fault the 'Coalition' for having dissolved the previous Iraq government structure. I actually do think it was a laudable attempt to wipe the slate clean. That it failed is regrettable and, I believe, another sign that the thought given to planning for post-invasion Iraq was completely and entirely inadequate.

Only a lunatic would…no. No, I refuse to get sidetracked….

Still. You can't deny that those previously involved in the underground economy are going to be the ones who know where to get what you want.

I don't doubt that whatever black market or smuggling pipelines there were before are still there today…and probably greatly expanded. (Nor do I doubt that some of those "private investors" applauded in the above-cited memo are, in fact, black marketers.)

The result of removing the previous government structure, with the responsibility of moving food, fuel, and medicine from Point A to Point B, is to empower this underground economy and entrench the accompanying corruption. Not to mention weakening the faith of the citizenry in organized government.

By trying to eliminate the problem of corruption with one move, the military authority has actually helped strengthen the hold it has on the average citizen.

As the first-mentioned article and memo made clear, power stations built with French, Russian, or German technology could have been repaired after our bombing by parts from French, Russian, or German companies, had the Bush Administration not spitefully refused companies from those countries permission to bid on reconstruction work. Ethnic differences were not given sufficient consideration (possibly because of a President who sees the world as, "Christian versus evil" but I'm trying to avoid that kind of ranting).

The Middle East as a whole should also have been considered. You can't go in and remark a single section of that part of the world in whatever image the Bush Administration finds most palatable. Arabs are entitled to an opinion. Unfortunately, our closest "ally" in the region is Saudi Arabia, hotbed of terrorist sympathizers and a country with its own problems. And what about Iran…openly discussed as a divisive and warlike influence in Iraq? Did we have any plans for dealing with the inevitability of this development?

I mentioned good faith, earlier. I think a lot of the problems we've run into in Iraq would be lessened if there was a belief that we're acting in good faith in the country, but I think Iraqis are looking at the behavior of the USofA-installed provisional government and they're seeing the confusion, corruption, and infighting and they're drawing obvious conclusions. The USofA is not acting in good faith, the men supposedly spearheading the installation of a democratically elected government aren't to be trusted, and if Iraqis want to control Iraq's destiny, they're going to have to step up to the plate now, and take control before it's too late.

I dunno. If a hostile foreign power invaded my country and made such a hash out of 'reforming' it, I think I'd feel the same way. Okay, I wouldn't shoot anyone, because generally I'm all about not killing people (although I'm willing to make exceptions), but I'd sure be agitating for said foreign power to pick itself up and get out.

It's a psychological problem that billboards, television commercials, and propaganda television stations aren't going to solve because the problem is not with the Iraqi people. Our current leadership is the problem.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:25 AM | Comments (2)
Ugh

The Bush Administration doesn't think sloppy or fraudulent work should bar corporations from riding the Iraq reconstruction gravy train. Why am I not surprised?

One of the Bush Administration's new friends, world-renowned terrorist sympathizer and major-league criminal in his own right Muammar Gaddafi says that if everyone isn't nice to him, he'll take up terrorism again.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:52 AM | Comments (0)
April 26, 2004
Call Me Cynical

But I don't like it.

President Bush on Monday plans to introduce an initiative to have electronic medical records for most U.S. residents within 10 years, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. Bush also is expected to announce the creation of a national health information technology coordinator, a sub-Cabinet-level position to help meet the goal of computerizing medical records.

Bush has said paper records can lead to errors, inefficiency and poor communication among health care providers (Riechmann, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/26). However, he will suggest that patients' participation in EMR programs be voluntary (Riechmann, AP/Washingtonpost.com, 4/25). Under his EMR plan, Bush will announce a proposal to double the annual grants to support the technology to $100 million (Hitt/Schlesinger, Wall Street Journal, 4/26).

Like the gathering of fingerprints on driver's licenses, this is just another part of an electronic database many people suspect the government would like to gather on all of us.

Face it, the government itself (under any administration, any political party) has neither the time nor the resources to create a database from scratch.

On the other hand, by putting together driver's license data, medical information, taxes, credit card, and other electronically held information, the government can effectively outsource the creation of such a database.

Industry pays to maintain it, with each industry gathering and storing the data it has a financial interest in. Grocery stores, clothing stores, bookstores, electronics stores, you name it. Any store you walk into that demands your phone number even if you're paying cash is collecting information on you in its database. Mixing and matching data from half a dozen or so privately held databases, you could create a fairly complete history of anyone.

I'm going to start pulling cash out of my checking account and using it for everything.

Okay, now that I have that out of my system....

No, I don't really think the government has a Sekrit Sinister Master Plan to build Big Brother's Database.

The thing is, they've been pretty open about it, so it's not Sekrit.

And I don't believe it's Sinister, not in intent. They just don't know what else to do. How do you govern a country this size? Their solution is to reduce the complications offered by messy, disorganized individuals to clean, tidy data that can be statistically analyzed. It's a bonus that the underlying database also offers individual-specific information.

It's not even really a Master Plan. I mean, some of the most dangerous things, from a paranoiac, 1984 perspective, are things we've asked for.

Paying bills on-line, or via credit card (rounds out your credit history and fills in your purchasing habits). "Permanent" phone numbers (that create a lifetime history of your phone use). Many "databases" of information were created with the approval of the vast majority of citizens of this country.

The real problem is the mindset that if you can just document, regulate, and oversee people closely enough, then all will be well. That's what can lead to an authoritarian regime.

As I see it…we don't entirely trust our government, which is healthy and leads to us keeping an eye on what they're up to.

And our government doesn't entirely trust us…which is wise. People, as individuals, aren't bad. I believe that. On the whole, most people are fairly well-behaved, law-abiding types.

But people en masse are a different story. We're not entirely trustworthy. One guy mad about a parking ticket is just grouchy. One hundred people mad about a slew of parking tickets along a street one afternoon can quickly become a mob.

Individuals can be intelligent, thoughtful, logical, and mindful of consequences.

Groups are impulsive, reckless, short-sighted, and fickle.

I think we all need to bear in mind that a government that changes direction every four years or so while dealing with disparate mobs of constantly aggravated citizens (who calls their congressman unless they're annoyed?), isn't facing an easy task.

At some point, the citizens of this country stopped considering themselves as part of the government and the "us versus them" mentality that has evolved was inevitable. Out of that divide, many of the country's problems have developed.

I don't have a slam-bang conclusion for this post, it's been more of a stream-of-conscious musing than anything else, but it all comes down to that. What information the government has doesn't matter. It's what they do with it. If if "they" were "us" then "they" would be unlikely to do anything with it that we wouldn't approve of.

Democracy is supposed to be participatory. You're not off the hook just because you spend thirty seconds in a voting booth every four years.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:27 PM | Comments (2)
Notes From A Slacker

Today, sex sells, but racism, or at least racist stereotypes, used to be favored by advertising agencies.

Fascinating. I'd like to visit that museum.

More later.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)