Daily Archives: August 5, 2004

A White Heat

Robert Fisk, reporter for the British newspaper The Independent and long-standing bete-noire of the American right because he won’t shut up about what a failure the Second Gulf War is, is pissed off. Writing in a white heat, he excoriates the American and British media for ignoring what’s really happening in Iraq in favor of reporting Happy Talk from our leaders about how swimmingly everything is going.

Living in Iraq these past few weeks is a weird as well as dangerous experience. I drive down to Najaf. Highway 8 is one of the worst in Iraq. Westerners are murdered there. It is littered with burnt-out police vehicles and American trucks. Every police post for 70 miles has been abandoned. Yet a few hours later, I am sitting in my room in Baghdad watching Tony Blair, grinning in the House of Commons as if he is the hero of a school debating competition; so much for the Butler report.Indeed, watching any Western television station in Baghdad these days is like tuning in to Planet Mars. Doesn’t Blair realize that Iraq is about to implode? Doesn’t President Bush realize this? The American-appointed “government” controls only parts of Baghdad — and even there its ministers and civil servants are car-bombed and assassinated. Baquba, Samara, Kut, Mahmoudiya, Hilla, Fallujah, Ramadi, all are outside government authority. Ayad Allawi, the “prime minister,” is little more than mayor of Baghdad. “Some journalists,” Blair announces, “almost want there to be a disaster in Iraq.” He doesn’t get it. The disaster exists now.

When suicide bombers ram their cars into hundreds of recruits outside police stations, how on Earth can anyone hold an election next January?

Even the National Conference to appoint those who will arrange elections has been postponed twice. And looking back through my notebooks over the past five weeks, I find that not a single Iraqi, not a single American soldier I have spoken to, not a single mercenary — be he American, British or South African — believes that there will be elections in January. All said that Iraq is deteriorating by the day. And most asked why we journalists weren’t saying so.

But in Baghdad, I turn on my television and watch Bush telling his Republican supporters that Iraq is improving, that Iraqis support the “coalition,” that they support their new U.S.-manufactured government, that the “war on terror” is being won, that Americans are safer. Then I go to an Internet site and watch two hooded men hacking off the head of an American in Riyadh, tearing at the vertebrae of an American in Iraq with a knife. (emphasis added)

Did the part I bolded sound at all familiar? That’s right: it’s the Afghanistan pattern. We proclaimed that Afghanistan had a democratic govt, recognized Hamid Karzai as its head, and pulled out, even though Karzai’s forces (with help from a contingent of US troops) only controlled Kabul at the time. Two years later, whether or not Karzai actually still controls the city is a debatable question and nobody is arguing that he controls anything else; the rest of the country is clearly and firmly in the hands of the war-lords once again, and they are making demands that will ensure the short-lived nature of the ‘democracy’ there.

What Fisk describes is an identical scenario developing in Iraq: major cities existing outside the supposed government’s range of authority; control of the capital itself dicey and tentative; a population so decimated by war that it can barely function; talk of national elections that goes on endlessly while nothing concrete happens; and the growing disruptions of the insurgents–in Afghanistan, the re-emergence of the Taliban, who now once again control sizable sections of the countryside; in Iraq, the growing internal discontent that feeds insurgent strength. It’s a pattern anyone watching Afghanistan (which hardly anyone is) will be familiar with.

But Afghanistan is hardly a template we want to re-use. It has been an abject failure under which the country has deteriorated into near anarchy. Basically, we declared victory and ran for the exits. If that’s Bush’s ‘plan’–declare victory in Iraq just in time for the election, brag about how it now has a ‘sovereign’ govt of its own and how we’ve ‘restored democracy’, and then pull our troops back until they’re only defending the capital and the oilfields–it will be a disaster of a magnitude hard to credit even now. The Middle East will have been thoroughly destabilized to no purpose beyond domestic political concerns, and become a powderkeg waiting for a match. That is reality and yet both the US and British govts have decided that it isn’t, and the media in both countries are telling us NOTHING.

If Iraq continues to implode on the Afghan model, the fantasy our leaders are promoting is going to blow up in our faces and it is our troops who will pay the price. We have put them in an impossible position, told them to do impossible things, and then just walked away.

Viceroy Negroponte is still calling the shots, as we all discovered when Allawi tried to use an amnesty, as Mandela did in South Africa, to clean Iraq’s slate and give it hope for a fresh start (the only thing he’s done so far that made any sense) and Negroponte scotched it–our ‘Ambassador’ simply said No to an inititative by a supposedly sovereign govt and that initiative was DOA. So, too, is Iraq’s supposed independence, as Negroponte’s power proves. Sovereign govts do NOT abandon their programs because a mere Ambassador doesn’t like them.

So we have a puppet govt run by a shadow Viceroy masquerading as an ‘Ambassador’, troops in harm’s way in a deteriorating situation, private corporations raping Iraqi resources, mercs in charge of the prison system and increasingly taking charge of ‘security’, and a President who thinks everything is fine and dandy and just as it should be.

No wonder Fisk is pissed.

Springsteen’s Op-Ed

From today’s NYT:

A nation’s artists and musicians have a particular place in its social and political life. Over the years I’ve tried to think long and hard about what it means to be American: about the distinctive identity and position we have in the world, and how that position is best carried. I’ve tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures.These questions are at the heart of this election: who we are, what we stand for, why we fight. Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

Like many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the country’s unity. I don’t remember anything quite like it. I supported the decision to enter Afghanistan and I hoped that the seriousness of the times would bring forth strength, humility and wisdom in our leaders. Instead, we dived headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq, offering up the lives of our young men and women under circumstances that are now discredited. We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of “one nation indivisible.”It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities – respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals – that we come to life in God’s eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Dumping the Legislative Branch

As usual, California leads the way. In what may be a harbinger of the next radical Republican assault on governing, Ted Costa–you may remember him as the guy that started the recall of Gray Davis after the Enron-engineered rape of CA’s finances that ended by putting yet another Republican movie star in the Gov’s chair–has announced a new petition drive, this one aimed at making CA’s full-time legislature into a 90-day/year rubber stamp.

Costa called it a cost-saving measure, but said his goal is for lawmakers to spend more time in their districts and cut back on the time they “rub elbows with the special interests” in Sacramento.To qualify for the next election, in March 2006, Costa’s petition drive would need to present about 600,000 signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state.

Independent of Costas, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would call for a special election to let voters decide whether the Legislature should be part time.

Schwarzenegger’s popularity drew attention to the idea, and as opponent Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) said, “Ted Costa jumped up and said, ‘I’ll lead that parade.’ ”

To finance a statewide petition drive, Costa would need financial backing, said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

“He’s going to need a sugar daddy, and the question is, will somebody come forward?” Cain said. During the drive to recall Davis, Costa received financial support from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), a wealthy car-alarm maker.

Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said his fellow lawmakers introduce too many bills, do not spend enough time on policy and that he would be “willing to restructure Sacramento and put California first.”

The Legislature was part time for 116 years, but voters converted it to full time in 1966.

Trimming back the legislative branch, with Democratic majorities now in both houses, would shift more power to the executive branch and to Republicans, policy experts say.

“It’s an attractive, populist proposal that does not get to the roots of the governance problems in California,” said Elizabeth Garrett, a policy expert at USC.

“What you’re asking is for people to govern the sixth-largest economy in the world in a part-time manner. It doesn’t solve problems, it exacerbates them.”

You gotta give these Publican wingnuts credit for thinking outside the box: if misguided and foolish people insist on voting to put Democrats in the state legislature instead of staunch Republicans, eliminate the legislature or, if you can’t do that, make it a powerless joke.

I don’t live in CA, so I’m not personally concerned with any political whackiness in which they might indulge themselves. I would like to think that Californians are smart enough to turn back this latest bad idea for making their Gov a Dictator (which is what the proposal would amount to) and send Costa packing this time for their own sake, but there’s not much I can do about it.

What does bother me is how well this fits into the radcon strategy to take over governance in this country using whatever tricks come to hand. Costa and Darrell Issa, the rich, Republican (I know, a redundancy) used-car dealer who paid over $$1M for the Davis recall, used the blunt corporate thievery of Enron and several other Texas-based energy corporations to lever Ahnud into the Gov’s Mansion. In Texas and Colorado, Pubs used their probably temporary legislative majorities to draw crazy-quilt districts assuring that they would maintain their power. All of August, Karl Rove is running ads featuring cowboy W running the US govt from his ‘ranch’ as if the Congress were an unwelcome and unnecesssary inconvenience.

The moves are being made to get us used to the idea that only the executive branch is required for govt to function, especially if the legislative branch has Democrats in it. If legislatures will not voluntarily become executive rubber stamps, then, they say, get rid of them. What do we need them for?

We need to understand that this is not new: Republicans have been running for govt positions by attacking govt for 25 years. They insist that it’s wasteful, useless, corrupt, and a bottleneck that just gets in the way. Since 9/11 they have ramped up those criticisms, demanding blind and instant obedience to anything Junior wants and attacking anyone who continues to act as if this is a democracy by crying ‘Traitor!’ and accusing them of being ‘objectively pro-terrorist’. In that sense, Costa’s (and Schwartzenegger’s) new initiative is simply the next logical step: if they can’t control the legislatures, they’ll eliminate them. Simple.

But here’s the problem: I may not live in CA and maybe you don’t either, but if this latest anti-democratic move by the Pubs succeeds there, we will likely be seeing it replicated elsewhere, maybe in our own home states.