July 27, 2006

High Mileage Hard to Find

I have been looking around for a high mileage vehicle, because I am going to be driving 50 miles a day to my new business. What a revelation! High mileage cars are few and far apart. Honda, Toyota, and a few others have Hybrid vehicles, but for the most part, the parking lots that make up most automobile dealers are overflowing with cars and trucks that guzzle gas like American kids guzzle Big Gulps.

I found one car that intrigued me, the VW Wagon TDI, which has a diesel engine. This car gets almost 50 miles per gallon on the highway, 43 mpg in the city. I can't buy it in Vermont. In fact, I can't buy it in any of the northeast states because it doesn't meet emission standards. Imagine that. One of the most efficient cars can't be bought. I visited a VW dealer who said they can sell the TDI used, with over 8000 miles on the odometer. The salesman said when the owner announces he has bought one at an auction, the dealership contacts a list of people who then rush to the dealership to bid on the TDI.

The sales manager suggested I look at a Jetta or Passat (nice cars) which get 23 mpg in the city. He spoke admiringly of the 23 mpg figure and I couldn't help laughing. Here we are 30 years after the oil embargo of the early 1970s with long lines at the gas stations, and we haven't learned a thing. Gas mileage is less efficient now than it was then. 23 mpg in the city is awful. We've had 30 years to make technicological advances in mpg and we have done almost nothing. How pathetic. And now here we are with automobile dealers' parking lots overflowing with huge gas-eating vehicles baking in the heat of global warming.

July 23, 2006

Being Taught A Lesson in Iraq

Difficulties for Iraq's Battered Women

The issue of domestic violence is a difficult one to face in Iraq. According to women's advocates and victims, the conservative values and weak protection laws discourage victims of domestic abuse to come forward to authorities who often do not take them seriously.

"According to Iraqi law, a woman can take legal action against her husband when there are marks on her body or when there are witnesses to the abuse, which makes it hard to get a conviction, say women's advocates and victims.

Some lawyers are pressing for protection laws that rely on personal testimonies rather than physical or witness evidence of abuse.

Rewas Fayaq, a lawyer, said witnesses are particularly difficult to find because beatings often take place in private. She said the law needs to be changed and that there should be greater awareness of domestic violence.

"The laws have not been successful in stopping abuse against women," she said.
But not all in the judiciary think like Fayaq. Gashaw Mohammad, a female judge with Sulaimaniyah's personal status court, said, "If the beating hasn't broken a bone and there isn't a mark on [the victim’s] body, then it's not a beating. It's being taught a lesson." [more]

Several women's organizations say they are making efforts to help decrease domestic abuse cases, but more efforts are needed. However, many women who have family support rely on their relatives rather than on outside organizations for help in domestic abuse cases.

The above is from EPIC and Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Meanwhile, in Iraq....

From EPIC -- Education for Peace in Iraq Center

While the international spotlight has focused on the conflict in Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, sectarian violence in Iraq has escalated sharply increased. "The human rights office of the U.N. mission in Iraq reported Tuesday that more than 14,000 civilians had been killed during the first half of this year, including more than 3,000 in June (Washington Post, 9/20/06)."

Last month, the death toll averaged more than 100 Iraqi civilians a day. So far in July, that average appears to have continued to go up. On July 9 in Baghdad's al-Jihad neighborhood, Shiite militiamen went door-to-door systematically killing Sunni families. The next day, Sunni gunmen openly massacred innocent civilians in a Shiite market. Each new attack leads to bloody retaliation, fueling a cycle of violence that has engulfed much of Baghdad.

Desperate to escape the attacks, Iraqis have begun fleeing from their homes, including at least 1,000 Iraqi families in the past week alone. The violence is affecting millions of Iraqis, including EPIC's friends and colleagues.

In Baghdad, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is working to implement a national reconciliation plan to end the sectarian violence engulfing the country. Maliki urged members of his government and the Iraqi population to embrace his reconciliation plan as the "only bridge and the basic crossing to the shores of peace."

In today's dispatch, EPIC releases two press statements regarding U.S. military abuses at Mahmudiyah and regarding the Bush administration's belated decision to recognize the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to all foreign detainees in U.S. custody.

We feature links to the best analysis on Iraq, including International Crisis Group's new report about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, believed to be responsible for some of the sectarian violence.

We also include a guide to the Members of Prime Minister Maliki's Government, our latest PolicyWatch, and EPIC's Top Ten Summer Book list for 2006.

July 17, 2006

Eating His Words

Another argument holds that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world, and interfere with the larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region, extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad, moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli/Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.

Vice President Dick Cheney speaking before the VFW 103rd Convention on August 26, 2002 , wherein he sets up an argument against the US invading Iraq and then proceeds, in his mind, to demolish it with his seering logic, now proven utterly foolhardy and wrong. Had he asked most Middle East experts in the CIA, he would have gotten different advice.

During that speech he also offered Mideast "expert" Fouad Ajami's assessment that there would be "joy in the streets" of Basra and Baghdad as soon as US would bring about regime change in Iraq.

So did anything Cheney say come true? Simply put, the answer is no. Extremists are rethinking their strategy of jihad, recruiting more fanatics than ever in the face of the US quagmire in Iraq; moderates are not taking heart, but are worrying more than ever that the folly of US policies are giving rise to even more terrorists; and the Israeli/Palestinian peace process is anything but.

Will Dick Cheney ever have to eat his words? Perhaps the better question is: are there any words about the Iraq war that Cheney has spoken that he should not be eating?

July 16, 2006

Restore Your Manhood

Have you seen the Hummer ad on television? The one with two guys standing in a grocery line, with the one in front buying tofu, while the guy behind him is buying mounds of beef and ribs? The guy in front seems so embarrased when the guy behind him sees his tofu, that he is forced to immediately rush to a Hummer dealership where he buys a Hummer and restores his manhood. He is now sitting behind his big fat Hummer in control!!

This is the ad for the guy who has no self-respect, no self-esteem, and, of course, has no idea what it means to be a man. This is the ad for the guy who wants to be as dull and stupid as men can be, as insecure as I worry most of them are. This ad is not funny, although some puerile ad writers probably thought it was.

July 15, 2006

What Iraq War?

[I am pleased to post a piece co-written with an old friend, a fellow who introduced me to my radical roots in 1972. It is especially significant because this is Orwell's Grave 500th post since I started it early last year]

by P.J. Baicich and F. S. McArthur

There are mighty good reasons to be disturbed over the level of discussion on the situation in Iraq, especially with patriotic-sounding Republicans regularly rallying behind their President. Just consider the situation last month where they would insert the phrase "cut-and-run" into every third or fourth sentence they uttered. It was painful to watch as the clueless Democrats squirmed to avoid being painted as "sell-outs" and near-traitors to our troops.

Of course, as long as the Democrats talk about "withdrawing from the war" and fight among themselves over the degree to which they should embrace an "anti-war position," they will never extricate themselves from the Republican patriot-trap. As long as the Republicans accuse any opposition to the Bush administration as a capitulation and a "cut-and-run" policy, the American people will equivocate or will confuse patriotism with holding fast to an increasingly untenable position in Iraq.At the same time, the American people seem to be stuck in the endless memory-loop of Vietnam, and they are increasingly presented with the Iraq situation from the viewpoint of a nation still wounded from its Vietnam experience - by both sides in the American debate. The "insurgency" is discussed in Vietnam-like terms, and the opposition "alternative" is, thus, shoe-horned into the brilliantly orchestrated Republican "cut-and-run" mantra. This is a losing proposition for Americans - and for the Iraqi people.

The cycle must be broken.

This can only be done by facing the reality: The war in Iraq is over.

What is a classic state-to-state war, anyhow? How does one measure "victory" of one side over the other?

Well, for starters, one historically gauges a victory as the defeat of the opponent's military; next, the seizure of the main cities (often with the capital as being the most crucial); and, finally, the elimination of the top political/military leadership of that enemy nation.By those classic criteria, America won the war and Iraq has been soundly defeated.

Whether you supported the invasion of Iraq or opposed it is now totally irrelevant. The fact is that the war is now over. Laughable as it may seem on the surface, the war has been over since about the time that George W. Bush stood in front of that memorable "mission accomplished" sign.

So, what actually remains?

What remains is a devastated physical and political infrastructure in Iraq; what remains is a factional, near-civil-war between Sunni and Shiites; what remains is a self-appointed international jihadist mini-faction (only loosely self-identified with Al-Qaeda) that is stirring up trouble. What remains are American troops in-between.

Ultimately, what remains is not the U.S. in a war, but the U.S. in an occupation.

Post-war occupations - particularly if they persist for long periods - are often debilitating, ugly, demoralizing, and even dehumanizing for the occupying power. Take examples in recent world history: the Soviets in Eastern Europe or the Israelis in the administered territories.

Alas, the U.S. public has no recent memory of such an experience, so the disastrous Vietnam War is often brushed off and superimposed onto the Iraqi situation. It simply doesn't fit for many reasons too numerous to recount here. Suffice it to say, without alternate American examples in immediate memory, media commentators, the military, and politicians alike all slip into Vietnam analogies. This occurs for both defenders and opponents of the American involvement in Iraq, sometimes with a desire to ‘do it right this time,’ and colored by the proponent’s view of the now long-gone Vietnam experience.

What might fit better is the history of the American occupation of the Philippines after the quick and quasi-imperialist Spanish-American war, when a disorganized, vicious, and fanatic "insurgency" was a response to an American occupation that became increasingly ugly and debilitating. That occupation also demoralized and dehumanized the U.S. troops at the time. But the Philippine experience is a century old, too far off in our collective memory to be a helpful lesson to Americans easily prone to historic amnesia.

So it is far simpler to re-visit the Vietnam experience, even domestically, with everything but the phrases "hawks and doves" re-constituted anew and with opposing sides in the U.S. practically forced to play their pre-assigned roles once again, having many Democrats insist that the U.S. "get out of the war," and many Republicans wave the bloody shirt of American casualties piling up in a far-off foreign land.

Unfortunately, the pliant and short-sighted American media is a smug party to perpetuating the confusion. No less culpable is an official "anti-war movement" which has an institutional investment in simply repeating what it is most comfortable with - viewing much of the U.S. role in Iraq through old Vietnamese-style anti-war lenses.

What to do under these circumstances?

We must stop talking about getting out of "the war" and start talking about getting out of "the occupation"! Only then will we be able to redefine the tasks facing all Americans and do justice for Iraq.

A world power engaged in a war must bring to bear certain weapons and necessities; a world power in an occupation must employ other tools altogether. The choices facing a country in war are far different from the choices facing a country in an occupation.

If the real issue is "the war" then the answers are always to be couched in military terms: boots on the ground, security, re-establishing the Iraqi army as the first priorities. These are never-ending, self-perpetuating, and, ultimately, losing issues, simply because they don’t address the current situation.

If the issue is "the occupation" and getting out of it, the answers will revolve around generating a degree of economic and social infrastructure in Iraq (based on such standards as the re-establishment of increased electrical power, a loose but functioning transportation network, more secure oil production, some increased health care, reopening more schools, and assembling a recognizable legal system). Perfection and a full-blown civil society may not be possible, but a modicum of stability is. America and Iraq need a timetable to make at least some of those goals possible. Moreover, it is the U.N. that may ultimately have a real role here, not the U.S.

Furthermore, American troops need to re-deploy out of Iraq: for the sake of being able to address real Islamic fundamentalism elsewhere (e.g., Afghanistan) and for the sake of addressing our own bloated and Republican-driven federal budget.

A more simple economic and social timetable or deadline is, indeed, possible: start with one year to help repair a fragile Iraqi economy rather than one year to build a parasitical Iraqi army. Set modest civil goals, attempt to restore parts of self-governance, and then simply get out.

Ultimately, the Iraqis must repair the country for themselves. They need help, but they also need a deadline.

Is it possible?

We only need point to the situation in the north of Iraq, where there is a Kurdish majority, to illustrate that, indeed, this is no illusory pipe-dream. There we see a level of popular participation, economic stability, and functioning civil society. It is more than imperfect, certainly, but it is also admirable and workable nonetheless.

Of course, there is also no hint of irony if the issue of Iraq is transformed from one of "war" to one of "occupation." In such a case, the issue of "defeatism" is completely removed from the equation. There can be no defeatism since victory has already been achieved!

Finally, the way to extricate the U.S. from the current Iraq situation is to seize at least one vestige of our painful Vietnam experience: to take the advice of then Senator George Aiken (VT) in 1967 to "declare victory and get out." The ultimate lesson might be that when Senator Aiken uttered these words they could not reflect reality, but if they were followed today they would hit the mark perfectly.

July 01, 2006

Bush World -- One Day in The New York Times

Wednesday, June 28, one day's coverage in The New York Times, conveys a clear sense of how solidly the Bush ideology has infected America and its social, economic and political life.

Story #1 [front page by Carl Hulse] -- The flag amendment was defeated by one vote -- an amendment to the US Constitution to make the desecration of the American flag a federal crime. Not an amendment to protect burning copies of the US Constitution itself, or an amendment to protect the burning of the Declaration of Independence -- two documents which certainly contain the essence of America more than any cloth or some silly flag pin found in abundance on the lapels of all those hundreds of Republican draft dodgers and chickenhawks. And then, of course, when you have a President who refers to the US Constitution as just a "goddamned piece of paper," it's not surprising the Republicans use the flag as a loincloth to protect their manhood. What really stinks is that Democrats like Diane Feinstein and Harry Reid voted for it.

Story #2 [page A16 by Kate Zernike] -- Republican Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is "riled" by Bush's use of what are called "signing statements, memorandums issued with legislation as he signs it..." In effect, Bush uses these statements to reserve his right to interpret them as he wishes. If he chooses not to enforce them, Specter argues, he can justify doing so by issuing the signing statements. Specter maintains that Bush has exercised this abuse of power on over 750 laws enacted since he has become President. This tactic, of course, effectively eliminates the checks and balances of the government established by our founding fathers. At least there is one Republican that is paying it lip-service.

Story #3 [front page by Reed Abelson] -- This is a good investigative report which clearly shows the links between physicians hired by medical device makers to do research on their products in development and the money that comes from non-profit organizations owned or controlled by either the doctors or the device makers. The interconnections of all these self-serving interests demonstrate little regard for ethics and conflict of interests, while, to the contrary, rfeflect great regard for making lots of money. This story is the tip of the iceberg and, of course, applies equally (although the money is even bigger) to the relationships between "researchers" and drug companies.

Story #4 [page A8 by Scott Shane] -- Senator Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is launching a study to determine the extent of damage caused by the press disclosure of American counterterrorism actions related to money transfers by terrorists through the SWIFT consortium. Roberts, in a tour de force of hypocrisy, claims that the media is not acting responsibly and cannot be persuaded to "protect the means by which we protect this nation." While Roberts is anxious to pillory America's media, he refuses to hold hearings on or undertake investigations of the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, fabrication of intelligence, and failures of intelligence on a whole range of issues.

Story #5 [page C3 by Edmund L. Andrews] -- Pity poor Henry M. Paulson, Jr., testifying before the Senate Finance Committee regarding his nomination to become secretary of the Treasury. He says: "Having good ideas is one thing. Having good ideas that are doable is another thing." What challenges he must face with all his good ideas -- he wants to keep taxes low, put restraints on the budget, increase American competitiveness, and use persuasion with China rather than threats. He is leaping into bed with a Bush administration that has cut taxes for the wealthy (to the detriment of everyone else), exploded a budget beyond anyone's wildest imaginations, decreased American competitiveness (the American automobile industry, for example, is tanking), and, finally, which has used threat and military menace more than persuasion in most of its international relationships. According to the story, Paulson offered no hints (much less details) of his own economic priorities. Unless he surprises us all, he seems to fit well into the Bush silence, tell-them-as-little-as-possible, keep-your-mouth-shut, frame of mind.