Saturday, September 23, 2006

Meet the New Bill. Same as the Old Bill

From the Washington Post article on the torture bill compromise:

"It replaces the old broken" military trial system ruled illegal by the Supreme Court with "a new broken commission system," said Marine Corps Col. Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel for the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions. He said "it methodically strips rights" guaranteed by laws and treaties and appears to be unconstitutional.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hostage to Iran Again

The 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent detention of 52 Americans for more than a year remains a defining event in US-Iranian relations almost three decades later. Funny, then, that the US occupation of Iraq has not only opened that nation to Iranian influence but has also made America hostage to Iran. Gareth Porter writes in Asia Times Online:

The underlying reality in Iraq, which the Bush administration does not appear to grasp fully, is that the United States is now dependent on the sufferance of Iran and its Iraqi Shi'ite political-military allies to continue the occupation.

Three and a half years after the occupation began, the US military is no longer the real power in Iraq. As the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps revealed in a recent report, US troops have been unable to shake the hold that Sunni insurgents have on the vast western province of al-Anbar.

But the main threat to the occupation comes not from the Sunni insurgents but from the militant Iraqi Shi'ite forces aligned with Iran, led by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army. The armed Shi'ite militias are now powerful enough to make it impossible for the US occupation to continue.


Muqtada has made no secret of his intentions. In an interview with the Washington Post published on August 11, his top deputy, Mustafa Yaqoubi, said, "If we leave the decision to [the Americans], they will not leave. They'll stay. To get the occupiers to leave, they need [to make] some sacrifice."


If Muqtada and his followers are already preparing for a showdown with the US occupation forces, the only factor that appears to be restraining the Mehdi Army now is Iran. After all, Tehran's interest lies not in forcing an immediate withdrawal of US forces, but in keeping them in Iraq as virtual hostages. The potential threat to US forces in Iraq in retaliation for an attack on Iran is probably Tehran's most effective deterrent to such an attack.


Only Iran's ability to persuade Muqtada to hold off on his effort to end the occupation can prevent a violent confrontation between Shi'ite militants and the occupation forces. But Bush's advisers may still not understand how fundamentally the power equation in Iraq has shifted.

This situation may not rate a nightly news special complete with logo but, more than anything else, it demonstrates the trap BushCheney has led America into.

Some Housekeeping

New on the blogroll: Candide's Notebook's by Pierre Tristam, an Arab-American journalist who brings a distinctly less than Americacentric view to his observations.

New site for an old friend: Action Point, the blog companion for Action Point on Air America Radio Phoenix. The show's host is Cynthia Black who is CLB of Cranky Little Blog, which I dropped from the roll. She's putting all her efforts into this show and has not been posting to to Cranky lately. I recommend listening to her show on Sunday's at 12:00 noon (MST).

Since you'll be tuning (or most likely streaming) in to KPHX, at 11:00 AM (MST)you can check out About Face a show by veterans for veterans and active duty military presented by the Phoenix Veterans for Peace chapter. Yours truly is the Under Assistant Substitute Co-host when either of the regulars cannot be in the studio. Sometimes I just show up anyway.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Form the Department of Stating the Obvious

Asked point-blank whether the United States is winning in Iraq, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, replied: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

A few years ago in preparing to renovate my house, I watched a Martha Stewart video for some ideas. I learned that anything is possible with an unlimited budget and complete access to a necessary skills.

Gen. Abizaid must have seen the same video.

Taking a Chance for Liberty

Some things are worse than death. No one wants to die an untimely death but sometimes that sacrifice is necessary in the service of a greater good. Generations of soldiers have given their lives for their nation. Certainly the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were aware of the stakes when they pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in support of American independence.

These thoughts come to me as I read the debate about torture and warrantless wiretapping in Congress this week. BushCheney is asking Congress for greater authority to defend the nation, to protect America from terrorist attack. I guess I should be thankful that he even bothers to ask. His normal approach has been simply to do whatever he wants, exercising what Dick Cheney calls the “robust executive power” of a unitary executive. All of which, the administration sells to the American public in the name of security.

But I think that BushCheney puts America at even greater risk than the threats posed by terrorist organizations. The terrorists can only kill us, can only destroy property and wreak economic havoc. Far more dangerous is the loss of liberty and Constitutional government that BushCheney’s policies will inflict on this nation. I read the news and see a president who acts like a king, who claims the right to do anything in the name of national defense, without limit, and I wonder what has become of the Constitutional republic that grew from the actions of those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

I’ve been a student of government for over 40 years. The more I learned about this nation’s history, the more amazed I am at the miracle of the US Constitution, an 18th century document that has survived the challenges of slavery, civil war, world war and nuclear confrontation, a document originally created to protect the liberty and interests of a small elite that has expanded liberty and democracy well beyond that small group. America’s history is hardly an unblemished success–we have had our failures and repressions–but the trend has always managed to correct itself. Slavery did not last. Lincoln’s infringement of civil rights was only temporary. The same with the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Palmer raids..

BushCheney would alter that trajectory be creating a supreme ruler, unaccountable to neither the courts, Congress nor the people. THAT would be an unspeakable loss, not only to America but to the world. The United States, whatever, its shortcomings has always represented democracy, the possibility that a free people could create governing institutions that would not ultimately destroy the freedoms they were created to protect.

The men who wrote the US Constitution were acutely aware of this danger. They were far from certain that democracy could persevere in over such a large geographic area. Imagine their wonder that their work not only survived but flourished as the United States grew from 13 to 50 states. It’s been a bumpy ride but the Framers’ doubts did not materialize. But now, as I watch BushCheney demand that Americans give him unfettered power to deal with terrorism, I am beginning to have doubts.

Which brings me back to my original thought. I don’t think that the terrorist threat is worth sacrificing our democracy. I understand that the threat is real and dangerous but I also believe that creating an all-powerful executive, free from all checks and balances, is an even greater threat. I, for one, will take the chance that a competent, effective leader can deal with the danger in the context of our Constitutional system. I don’t think we need to destroy America in order to save it. We cannot save America by destroying our Constitution; we can only create something with a similar name but without the soul or spirit that has made this nation the envy of the world.

My choice may put me at risk from a terrorist attack. But it’s an acceptable risk compared to destroying the Constitution, especially when so many other alternatives for combating terrorism are available. I can deal with the consequences of my choice and I think most Americans can do so too, once they look past BushCheney’s fearmongering rhetoric and recognize that the threat that he poses to the Constitutional government this nation has been so fortunate to enjoy for so much of its history.

It’s not like I’ve never faced death before. Thirty-five years ago, I patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, hoping to god I wouldn’t die. The funny thing about combat is that even in the face of a very real and immediate threat, life goes on. I adjusted to that reality even as I questioned the cause I was fighting for. I can easily face a lesser threat in defense of a real cause such as Liberty and Freedom.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Guns vs Butter

Pierre Tristam at Candide's Notebooks:

Year after year we hear that federal programs like Social Security and Medicare are heading for bankruptcy. We never hear about the Pentagon heading for bankruptcy. Yet the military budget increased 67 percent in the last five years, a rate by far exceeding that projected for any of the country’s social programs in their costliest coming years. Military spending last year, at $494 billion, exceeded combined Medicare and Social Security spending by $16 billion. The presumption is that social programs can and must be cut back if the nation is to survive, but military spending cannot be: Defense is indispensable if we’re to have something left to live for.

We have it backward. Military spending as a share of gross national purpose is driving us to bankruptcy in every way — economic, social, moral — faster than Social Security or Medicare could, regardless of how “burdensome” the Baby Boom generation will be on those programs.


A strong defense is absolutely necessary, too. But every dollar spent on defense isn’t inherently a defensive dollar. The kind of military spending we are opting for is an investment in defeat. Billions are wasted on weapons programs — the missile shield, the F-22 fighter jet — that only grease up corporate dividends and illusions of security. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on a fraud of a war are fueling our enemies, wrecking our one-time strategic advantages abroad, weakening the “homeland” and inviting future ruin. In exchange for what, when the nation’s priorities are going the way of its moral sense? If we’re to have something left to live for, recognizing the engines of demolition for what they are, at home and abroad, would be a start.

Compelling Arguement

I have often said that BushCheney is a danger to the American Constitutional system but I have never made the case as well as Bruce Ackerman at Slate.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Forward to the Dark Ages, Part II

More evidence of the destruction in Iraq. Mutanabi Street, the center of intellectual life in Baghdad for decades, is falling victim to the violence unleashed by the American invasion.

A silence has fallen upon Mutanabi Street.

In the buttery sunlight, faded billboards hang from old buildings. Iron gates seal entrances to bookstores and stationery shops. On this Friday, like the past 13 Fridays, the violence has taken its toll. There is not a customer around, only ghosts.

Perched on a red chair outside a closet-sized bookshop, the only one open, Naim al-Shatri is nearly in tears. Short, with thin gray hair and dark, brooding eyes, his voice is grim. This is normally his busiest day, but he hasn't had a single sale. A curfew is approaching.

Soon, his sobs break the stillness. "Is this Iraq?" he asked no one in particular, pointing at the gritty, trash-covered street as the scent of rotting paper and sewage mingled in the air.

It is a question many of the booksellers on Mutanabi Street are asking. Here, in the intellectual ground zero of Baghdad, they are the guardians of a literary tradition that has survived empire and colonialism, monarchy and dictatorship. In the heady days after the U.S.-led invasion, Mutanabi Street pulsed with the promise of freedom.

Now, in the fourth year of war, it is a shadow of its revered past. Many of the original booksellers have been forced to shut down. Others have been arrested, kidnapped or killed, or have fled Iraq. "We are walking with our coffins in our hands," said Mohammad al-Hayawi, the owner of the Renaissance book store, one of the street's oldest shops. "Nothing in Iraq is guaranteed anymore."

Perhaps the loss of bookstores is little compared to the loss of life and homes that came in the wake of the US invasion but, as one who has long loved books, I find this loss very sad. Books represent freedom to me, they offer access to worlds and ideas beyond the immediate. Where Iraq once had this opening to the world--even under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship--now it has the closed world of sectarian hatred.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Thinking About Window Rock

Lately, it seems increasingly difficult to blog about politics and affairs. Maybe I've reached a saturation point where I don't feel that I can offer anything to the discussion that hasn't been said better by many other bloggers. Where my fingers once flew across the keyboard in outrage apoplexy, I seem to find only weariness. In addition, my routine has changed as I have pursued more gainful employment. So the vitriol and insights just haven't been coming as readily.

In the meantime, I am looking back at earlier, unpublished work. I found these three pieces about living in Window Rock, Arizona at the airport there.

Walking a Line

Walking was part of my daily routine in Window Rock. Most nights after work, I walked about a mile and a half with my dog, Prince. We followed a well established route about halfway down the runway, crossed an open area about 15 meters to the dirt road just inside the airport fence and then back up the road to the hangars and terminal area. During winter the short days meant that I often walked in the dark under an immense sky filled with moon, stars and planets, all parading overhead.

A small area doesn’t offer much option for varied routes: clockwise or counterclockwise. On the runway pavement, I preferred to walk against the landing pattern so that any plane landing would be coming toward me. Usually that meant walking south on the runway since most planes landed from that direction. After dark, the direction didn’t matter; the runway lights always gave me ample warning.

Maybe a year or so after I began this routine it dawned on me that I always cut across the same section between the road and the runway. I wondered if I could trace a path. I would have to walk the exact route across the field every time. The route from the pavement to the road was easy. A gate was at that point on the road; I could sight in on the right gatepost. The other direction lacked a prominent feature to sight upon so I just walked west from the gate post. These maneuvers were even more imprecise in the dark. One a moonless Window Rock night, the gate is difficult to see. Moonlit nights were not quite as difficult.

I followed this route for maybe three years, walking four to six days a week. After a while I could see the occasional footprint. By summer 2001, my last year in Window Rock, I discerned a faint trace. Hardly a path but evidence of one person’s routine walking in one spot. The trace was a visible, mostly benign, mark of my presence. It was, to the extent it existed at all, transitory. When I returned to Window Rock two years later, no trace remained. Only the memory of many, many walks.

Some Verse

Good evening Mother Earth.
Good evening Father Sky.
On this night filled with your wonder,
I thank you for the gift of creation.

The heavens above and earth below are testament to your presence.
Life flows and ebbs daily within your sphere.
All creatures, great and small, share in the cycle of life
I have the honor of knowing and following that cycle.

I see you in every view and vista,
From rocky outcrops to the most distant star.
You manifest your variety in infinite ways
That awe and astonish me.

During the day you reveal a multitude of color, form and motion.
My eyes are filled with works near at hand.
At night you dazzle me with your infinity
As I gaze into space time, and motion.

I have watched you these many years
You never fail to dazzle and amaze.
I am comforted to be part of your creation
And know that I share in your infinity.

Some More Verse

Watching the night sky over Window Rock, Arizona is like no other experience I’ve known.
Years of amateur astronomy taught me to navigate the cosmos.
But four years in Window Rock taught me to feel--for the first time--my place in the universe.

Looking heavenward, I watched stars and galaxies wheel through the heavens.
The Milky Way stretched its dusty cloud between the horizons.
Planets followed the Sun in a timeless parade.
Venus and Mercury danced between evening and morning.
Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn moved steadily east to west.
The Moon appeared as a delicate crescent, barely visible in the Sun’s glare and waxed full until she dominated the night.

I have witnessed this nightly spectacle in many places.
But only in Window Rock, Arizona did I become part of it.
A tiny speck in an expanding, accelerating universe.
A heavenly body, dancing into eternity on this small blue-green planet.