Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sacrificing My Back for the Cause

I arrived home from Washington, DC, last night at 4:30 a.m., too tired and smelly to appreciate the great work I and "several tens of thousands" others had done earlier that day on the Capital Mall. After a quick shower I counted sheep until only 8:30 a.m., since I had another responsibility at church this morning and needed to prepare for it. "French Toast" was the lunch menu, compliments of the Good Witch - now I begin the retrospective.

God had mercy on those with good intentions, since the weather in Washington was better than fine. The temperature was about 50 degrees, a slight breeze fluttered the larger signs, and the light was bright but filtered through some medium height clouds - perfect for photography!

A crowd estimated at less than 100,000, swelled by busloads of people from all over the U.S., joined to admire each other's protest signs, chant slogans, listen to short speeches by congressmen (Dennis Kucinich), old pro's (Jesse Jackson), actors (Susan Sarandan), and others of their kind. Jane Fonda came out of retirement as an anti-war activist after 34 years away from the microphone! The Capital stood majestically at the end of the Mall nearest the speakers stand, and I could not help but recall the famous Forrest Gump protest scene as I walked not far from the reflecting pool. No beautiful blonde called to me, though.

As a veteran of a previous protest in Rochester, I expected to meet people of many groups who have an interest in stopping the "surge" or the war itself. And so I did: communists, socialists, Quakers, Unitarians, vegetarians, academics, Vietnam War veterans, animal rights proponents, union activists and "Raging Grannies" were all visible in the crowd. The war took center stage, but all these other agendas were out there for the supporting or joining. Bright colors were everywhere, punctuated by the "Women in Black" and the men in orange hooded coveralls who were impersonating the prisoners at Guantanamo. Children cavorted with their grandfathers as they marched, and young mothers pushed strollers that mounted protest signs. If there was a consistent theme, it was general repugnance for President Bush and Vice President Cheney: signs advocating their impeachment were omnipresent.

Not surprisingly, few in the crowd looked like me or the people who I live and work with. There was a lot of long hair, but little short hair. Hardly anyone wearing quietly expensive clothing. The rank and file of middle class America and corporate America were absent, even though polling data indicates many support the primary goal of the protest. Yet I was encouraged by the sight of young couples with children who came from DC suburbia to show their support for the cause.

What did this protest accomplish, other than garnering a few inches of attention on page eight? For one thing, in the face of increased government intrusion, it reaffirmed many people's
insistence on exercising their first amendment rights. There they were, society's most "different" people, standing tall near the center of a power they oppose. They made their point, and they were tolerated. America at its best!

And what about me, the veteran who has some sense of what it might feel like to "surge" into a Baghdad filled with a variety of committed enemies with rifles, RPG's and improvised explosives? I feel sad and angry that many of these young soldiers will be dying because George Bush made a series of stupid decisions, the latest of which is the "surge". If by some miracle it should succeed, that's good: Iraq needs to be peaceful. But I feel certain that outside military force cannot bring Iraq to a place where the opposing parties will negotiate a political solution. I dedicated two uncomfortable nights and one day of protesting on behalf of the soldiers who will pay with their lives for an escalation of a war that our country should never have started. \

My back hurts from too many bumps in an uncomfortable and cramped bus seat, but I will heal. I wish the same for the brave Amercans who take bullets and shrapnel for President Bush as they "surge" into Baghdad over the coming weeks and months. But today brought more dead. Will Bush ever be held accountable for his lies and blunders?

Friday, January 26, 2007

On to Washington!

The bus leaves tonight at midnight for Washington, DC, where who knows how many thousands of people will be marching and demonstrating for who knows how many different causes - including not "surging" the troops in Iraq. I will be on it, chaperoning my friend Jack who is a great guy but often in need of a little help. I'll also be driving Sally, a "Raging Grandma", to the bus. She's bringing a portable speaker system that the "Grandma's" always tote along.

This will be my second protest. Earlier this year I marched and shouted when Dick Cheney came to Rochester, and I'm sure my picture is preserved for posterity in the Secret Service and FBI archives. At least someone will remember me...

As you may know, I believed our president when he said there was no doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was ready to use them. When, three weeks after the war began, it became apparent there were no such weapons, I lost all faith in him as a truthful person and realized the war was a purely strategic act perpetrated by the neocons. I've since watched in horror as the country we never should have invaded has been torn apart by various sorts of chaotic forces, and we have been powerless to stop it because of our ineptness and our unwillingness to commit the number of troops that were necessary. Now it's too late, and Bush is going to kill hundreds more of our young men in a last gasp attempt to salvage something from nothing. We need to make a slow but steady withdrawal from Iraq, and leave no permanent bases behind. (Perhaps Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld could be the rear guard!)

We'll arrive around 9 a.m., march and demonstrate for awhile, and start home around 4 p.m. That's a lot of bus riding for about six hours of productive activity, but I hope I'll be sleeping for a good part of it. We'll be nowhere near the White House, since it's apparently impolite to petition the government where it really is. At least the weather will be quite comfortable for this time of year!

I'll write my report on Sunday afternoon, assuming I'm not occupying an 8x8 cell somewhere in our nation's capital at that time.

"Up the hill, down the hill, around the hill, through the hill!" That's what us paratroopers sang as we ran up and down the dusty trails of Fort Campbell, long, long ago. I never thought I'd be marching up and down the streets of Washington in protest of my own government.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Homeland Security?

As you know, I'm a practicing EMT. I took my last call just a couple of hours ago...that makes something over 1,500 calls in my career. So I know a little about what happens in emergencies.

What is bothering me is that our great Department of Homeland Security seems to have done very little to prepare us medics to deal with a really big disaster...think Bird Flu, HUGE ice storm, something that either quickly overloads the hospitals or prevents people from getting there. People are going to need medical attention in their homes or wherever they're at, and they are not going to get it. But they could if the government had its act together.

We do have a lot of trained medical professionals in our country, but they are not set up to deal with some major emergencies like the ones I describe above. To deal with these, we need lots and lots of semi-professional people who can do the simpler interventions that can save lives in mass quantities.

What are these interventions? Administering innoculations...think about having to give flu shots to a million people in five days or less in Rochester, NY. Starting IV's...think about having thousands of people being severely dehydrated by a nasty flu. Delivering IV glucose...diabetics unable to get to hospitals, paramedics overloaded by a huge ice storm. You get the idea. There are many thousands of EMT's in ambulance companies and fire departments who would be happy to sign up for this kind of training, and take the training on their own time.

Homeland Security is spending billions on communications equipment and all kinds of centralized stuff that the bureaucrats love, and they play out all kinds of scenarios about how they will manage disasters - like New Orleans. But what they don't seem to get is that accomplishing the objective - beating the disaster - requires many, many "trained feet on the street". There is an immense amount that could be done, relatively inexpensively, to get our country much better prepared to deal with a massive medical emergency. But I've heard exactly nothing about this topic from anyone in government.

If you want to see what the government is doing, go to Google and call up "NIMS IS-700", the introduction class for the National Incident Management System. That's what people at my level are being asked to learn - a bunch of high level organizational gobbledegook that may be useful to people at some stage of disaster management much higher than ours. Nothing practical here, that's for sure! But it sure does make the high level bureaucrats feel important.

I say, "Cut the crap, Homeland Security!" Start thinking about how you are really going to deliver, on the ground, the emergency services that many thousands or millions of people may need at roughly the same time. Got the picture?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"24" Drives Me Crazy

I have a problem. My wife is in love with "Jack", the individualistic, rebellious, brave, usually brilliant fast-acting hero of "24". After hearing a rave review of "24" from a good friend last year, we purchased the DVD of season 1. We recently finished viewing all the DVD's through season 5, just in time to start recording season six off Fox. We've now spent over 120 hours tracking Jack's tumultuous career as the CTU agent who saves America again and again.

In "24", some smart screenwriters have managed to combine the major elements of soap opera, spy thriller, techno expo, and war movie. Within ten minutes the same character can talk simultaneously to two people she's slept with, be betrayed by her partner, redirect a satellite camera to follow a bad guy, and assault a bunker populated by 20 very smart terrorists...and this character isn't even "Jack". No question about it, "24" has something for everyone, and it moves pretty much nonstop except for the interminable commercials (thank God for DVR!).

So what's the problem with "24"? It's that these screenwriters stock the sets and move the plots with ridiculous scenarios and out-of-character actions which almost always make the "good guys" dumber than the Keystone Kops. The top secret Counter-Terrorist Unit lets employees work for their relatives, is infiltrated by traitors, has systems penetrable thru endless back doors, and admits people to the command center if they show their library cards. U.S. presidents do even worse: they micro-manage strategy and tactics, carry and answer their own cell phones, give pardons to terrorists at the drop of a hat, and have staffs that never exceed three inept people. The original "Superman" was more believable than "24".

Despite its silliness, "24" has succeeded because its cast is excellent. "Jack" (Keifer Sutherland) comes across as independent, yet absolutely dedicated; ruthless, but capable of great tenderness; and vulnerable, but resilient. Chloe, his analyst assistant, is loveably quirky, totally loyal, technically brilliant, and always plagued by conflicts with other employees. The remainder of the cast somehow manages to keep straight faces while acting out some of the most melodramatic and improbable scenes ever written. In short, "24" has transported the old Saturday afternoon serials to 21st century television and millions of people wait impatiently for each Monday night at 9 to arrive.

How can I continue to subject myself to this brain-numbing, never satisfying program? I lay down on the couch, pull a down comforter over me, and rest my head on a pillow in my wife's lap. She rubs my head when I start to grit my teeth, and everything is again right with the world.

Democrat Intelligence Ignorance - O MY GOD!

I've been celebrating the democrat party's victory in 2006. Thank heavens that the ignorant fundamentalists are now in the minority, and sane, educated, thoughtful democrats will now be leading the policy-making process in congress! Then reality smacks me upside the head...

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Is al Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shi'ite?

The question proved nettlesome for Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, incoming Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," he said in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, a periodical that covers political and legislative issues in Congress.

Unfortunately for Reyes, the al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden is comprehensively Sunni and subscribes to a form of Sunni Islam known for not tolerating theological deviation.
In fact, U.S. officials blame al Qaeda's former leader in Iraq, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for the surge in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

But Reyes' problems in the interview didn't end with al Qaeda.

Asked to describe the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Congressional Quarterly said Reyes responded: "Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah," and then said, "Why do you ask me these questions at five o'clock?"

From the above, would you guess that Reyes has been on the intelligence committee since 2001? Did he miss a few meetings? Is there something we don't know about Texas water? Was he assigned to the committee in order to try and get some?

Whatever the case, any assumptions I might have made about assuming competency in the democrat congressional leadership have been officially scrapped. Every one of these men and women committe chairs need to be carefully scrutinized, to determine whether or not they are qualified for their jobs. If they have to go down to the most junior democrat member of the House to find someone who could answer the above questions and make sane judgments about intelligence, then that's what they need to do.

I love democracy and the political process, but something tells me that politicians ought to pass something like a GMAT before they are certified to run for federal office. People like Reyes make me break into a cold sweat...he needs to return to the border patrol.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Voted for Him, Marching Against Him

It's hard, but I have to confess I voted for George Bush in 2000. But I didn't vote for him in 2004, so at least I can claim to learn by experience.

When I listened to Bush in 1999, I was unimpressed with his intellect. He seemed pretty simple, and he had a hard time putting words together. But I liked a lot of what he said: no nation-building, balanced budget, non-discriminatory faith-based initiatives, free trade, smaller government, integrity, "uniter, not divider". I also had faith in the very experienced people he brought along with him: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Christine Whitman, even Condoleesa Rice. These people did not appear to be flaming right wing conservatives. Even with Bush's personal deficiencies, I was looking forward to a presidency that accomplished things in a steady, positive way - a presidency that would satisfy the moderate center of American politics and quiet the raucous discord of the latter Clinton years.

Much to my dismay, it didn't take long for President Bush to break virtually all his campaign promises. He deserted the center in favor of the far right wing. He became a war mongering nation-builder, a budget buster, a fundamentalist tool who deserted the poor, a government-expander, a defender of corrupt cronies, a privacy invader, a truth-evader, and a political whore. By 2003, I was ready to actively campaign for anyone who would be running against him in 2004. And I did. And again for his opponents in 2006.

On January 29th, concerned citizens will be in Washington to protest the Iraq war. I'll be there, a centrist republican-libertarian marching alongside a longtime very liberal democrat friend. If it's cold, I'll stay warm by remembering George Bush describe the terrible weapons of mass destruction that justified our invading Iraq. There is nothing quite so detestable as lying to your friends, which this man has done on too many occasions to count. "Christian" is a word that should never be associated with our president.

So, I'm sorry. I made a bad mistake in 2000, and I admit it. I can make decisions that are almost as poor as George Bush's. I take little comfort in knowing how many others also were deceived into buying this pig in a poke, and I recognize the lesson George Bush has taught us (beware of dull-witted, unsuccessful people) has not been worth the price we have all paid. I just pray the new congress can keep this country under some kind of control until January, 2009, when George Bush will slink out of Washington into his much-awaited retirement...unless a quick and deft impeachment gets him out a bit prematurely.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Where Are You, Mr. "Your Ever Well-Wisher"?

Making a new friend in the blogosphere is pretty special, since we have so many people to choose from. For quite a while, until recently, I looked forward to meeting ThomasLB, "Your Ever Well-Wisher" on his blog. He had a consistent theme of peace and "a quiet spirit", and he drew from a most interesting background. He was someone I could learn from. But he's disappeared.

Come back from hibernation, Mr. Well-Wisher! I don't want to take you off my links.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nation-Building Not a Military Mission

When the historians look back at the Iraq adventure, the Bush adminstration will be faulted for their idea that the military and an occupation administration could build a democracy from the ruins of a partial conquest.

President Bush knew the peril of attempting nation-building - he criticized President Clinton for attempting it in Bosnia - and he clearly stated he would not do it. But the siren song of the neocons was too enticing, and soon our troops had undone the Iraqi government. All that was left was to build a nation out of a fractured, sectarian-oriented society filled with angry citizens and foreign fighters. Our adversaries in that country had access to plenty of weapons, deadly explosives, and two major routes of resupply and funding. The situation soon became a civil war with the U.S. supporting an election won by the side aligned with Iran, a dedicated enemy of the U.S. This is a horror story.

President Bush is now implementing a "temporary surge", an increase of 20,000 troops aimed at suppressing the civil war. His hope is that the Iraqi government will be willing and able to control the sectarian leaders who put it into power - leaders who have objectives inconsistent with those of the occupying force. Because this "surge" is unlikely to succeed, long term U.S. occupation of Iraq is the only plausible means to keep Iraq from being a client state of Iran. Such an occupation will cost a fortune in U.S. casualties and treasure, but it is the probable strategy until President Bush's term is over.

Both the initial invasion of Iraq and the "surge" were posited on the idea that limited military means can be used to build a nation. However, history shows that success is predictable only when the military does what the military is trained to do - conduct all-out agression until total capitulation is achieved. The U.S. and its allies accomplished this in WWII. Germany and Japan were ruthlessly conquered and individuals who stood in the way of creating a new nation were imprisoned or killed. Martial law was imposed, and governments totally under the control of the conquerers were imposed. This strategy worked in WWII, but it was not the plan for Iraq. The Iraq plan was a naive one, a plan based on the idea that a conquered people with no cultural ties to the West would voluntarily embrace democracy and effectively implement it.

The military is the final tool of diplomacy. At the end of the day, soldiers kill or capture people until the political mission is accomplished. They don't worry much about collateral damage unless total victory can be accomplished while also minimizing it. "Occupation" is not a military mission, therefore, unless the ruthless tactics of war can be utilized, as in WWII, to totally suppress the occupied country. If the conquered country has a population that is generally united and supportive of the interests of the conquerers, the occupation will be short, peaceful, and concluded with an orderly departure of the troops. But if significant elements of the population are not supportive of the conquerer's interests, as is the case in Iraq, the occupation will be lengthy, bloody, and inconclusive at best.

The non-soldiers who planned the Iraq war did not listen to the career military. The soldiers advised going in with sufficient strength to suppress opposition and implement supervised civilian and security structures that met U.S. requirements. But Iraq is now in chaos, and the U.S. is neither capable nor willing to reinitiate the suppression mission that soldiers are trained to carry out. Consequently, the chance of finishing the nation-building mission is slim at best. The seeds of this defeat can be traced directly back to Bush's mistaken idea that a military victory over a hostile population could be consolidated with half measures. The Commander in Chief is learning this lesson the hard way, and school is not yet out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Michael Savage - A Disgrace to America

Here in Rochester, New York, the old-line clear channel radio station is WHAM, 1180 on the dial. It was purchased by Clear Channel several years ago, and its lineup now includes Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon and Michael Savage at night. I often catch a few minutes of Michael as I get ready for bed. You know the old adage, "know your enemy".

Rush was initially interesting, but he soon became a bought person for the Republican Party and jettisoned any of the evenhandedness he seemed to start out with. His recent confession about "carrying water" confirmed the obvious. Nowadays, hardly anyone will admit they listen to Rush. But Savage has a growing audience.

Savage rages against anyone who is "different" in addition to always ending up in sync with his Republican masters on the national issues. His agenda appears to have evolved out of his rejection for a faculty position at a California university, which rejection he credits to affirmative action. He may be right about that, but that event apparently finished his transformation into one of the most dangerous, vile people I have ever heard. The big risk is that some of his listeners might actually take action based on what they hear from him.

We ought to worry when a really bright person gets twisted. As an intellect, Savage is to Limbaugh what homo sapiens is to a rhesus monkey. He uses his considerable wit in service of what he considers to be traditional American culture, and against what he calls "Islamo-Fascism". That is, he's all about getting rid of the Mexican immigrants and attacking Muslims wherever they may be. People whom he dislikes (including all liberals) are called "traitors", and countries that he dislikes are called out for summary nuking. In between his shouting rants on these topics, he mouths pseudo-religous platitudes and short vignettes about his dog, his restaurant choices, and his mother. The vignettes effectively humanize this truly inhuman person for his audience.

Savage has become rich by peddling his vitriol on the radio and in several books that entranced followers have bought by the millions. He effectively uses the lowest common denominators - fear and hate - to poison the minds of the uneducated and the provincial. Although he is highly intelligent, he never exposes himself to bright people with opposing views, prefering instead to bully poorly prepared callers to his show. And what does he accomplish on the airwaves? He fosters intolerance, racism, rage, and aggressive behaviors in the name of patriotism. He should be hoping there's no just God, because if there is, he'll have a lot to answer for.

Savage's latest crusade is to push for the release of American soldiers who allegedly killed Iraqis in cold blood, either in reprisal actions or as part of gang rapes. To him, these kinds of behaviors are just another part of war - but of course Savage was never a soldier. To him, murder is fine as long as the victims are people he doesn't like. Do you see the commonality between Savage and the terrorists he seems to find behind every tree?

So where does this put Clear Channel, the corporation that allows him to spew his vomit into the ether? Equally guilty. Sometimes freedom of speech is almost too painful to bear, and Michael Savage and Clear Channel are right up against the line. The republicans should repudiate this creep and call Clear Channel to account. They are a disgrace to America.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush Digs Republican Grave

So, George Bush has committed another 20,000 troops to Iraq. It would be great if this investment paid off, but the odds are that it will not. Differences between the sects there, the problem of allocating oil revenues to the entire geography of Iraq, and the interference of neighboring counties will likely torpedo any hopes for a political solution. The violence is therefore likely to continue unabated, and Bush's decision will be shown to be a further futile attempt to achieve his objectives - objectives that were doomed even before the U.S. started this war. In the end, though, the most significant result of this decision will be to bury the republican party in 2008.

The republicans in the congress have no choice but to support Bush's decision. A few may waver, and some will second-guess and waffle, but they will support the decision and fund it without reservation. If the war continues for the next two years and does not succeed despite the deaths of many more soldiers, the republicans will be held responsible by the electorate. Congressmen and senators will lose their seats, and the democrats will win the presidency and hold both houses of congress with a significant majority. Republican domination of the U.S. government will go to its grave.

Rejection of the republican party's war strategy will, consequently, follow the people's rejection of the party's fundamentalist policies on stem cell research (soon to be approved over Bush's veto), its constant invasions of privacy, and its failure to take on global warming and the many major budget and trade issues that are festering. The neocon/fundamentalist alliance that has owned the republican party since 1994 will be buried along with Bush.

Will the moderate republican party of old - the one championing fiscal and personal responsibility, non-intervention, and a laissez-faire attitude toward life styles - ever come back? Probably so, because tides ebb and flow. But the neocons and fundamentalists are likely finished for a long, long time; even political purgatory will be too good for them!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Two More Years...O MY GOD!

We're almost ready to begin year seven of the Bush administration, with two more to go. Here are some of the highlights of the first six.

On Bush's inauguration day, the dollar was worth .986 Euro's - almost parity. As of today, the dollar is worth .769 Euro's. Bush says the American economy is strong. If it is, why is our currency worth 23% less after six years of Bushenomics? Deficits, entitlement overload, and a huge increase in the foreign trade deficit are the reasons. Don't even think of traveling to Europe - only people named Bush can afford it!

On Bush's first inauguration day, the price of a barrel of oil was less than $30, and gasoline was less than $1.50 per gallon. The increase in oil prices has taken an extra $100 billion each year out of America and into the pockets of foreign oil suppliers. In addition to impacting the balance of payments negatively, these dollars are strengthening many of the countries that Americans would consider to be our adversaries. I think I'm going to be sick.

In the lead-up to the 2000 elections, Bush unequivocally criticized Clinton's "nation-building" and said his administration would not get involved in it. Since March, 2003, Bush has unsuccessfully tried to nation-build in Iraq, spending more than $350 billion in the process.

President Bush said that his administration's major goals included a revamp of Social Security and the Tax Code, and a solution to the illegal immigration problem. None of these goals have come close to being achieved, and he took a public leadership role on none of them.

Of all presidents in recent history, Jimmie Carter has taken the most barbs for personal ineffectiveness and general obliviousness to the realpolitic of the world. George Bush and his cronies have already displaced Jimmie in these regards, even if the historians are not ready to make the official pronouncement. The trouble is, he has two more years to pad his reputation. O MY GOD!

Monday, January 01, 2007

The War Trumps Everything

I'm an incurable optimist. Sometimes I'm right, like my believing that the republicans would be crushed last November. Sometimes I'm wrong , like my believing that the republican leaders would be sat down after they muffed the Foley debacle. Recently I predicted that the next two years would see considerable progress on some of the big issues, since everyone in government had something to gain by playing the game together. Now I'm not so sure. The war trumps everything. This president, the man who "made macho" more than any other modern president, is now weaker than any modern president - weaker even than Jimmy Carter. The bad guys called his bluff, and their hand was a lot better. Now he's stuck to the tar baby of the war because his last diehard supporters (the pseudo-religious right, the neocons, and the bitter Limbaugh/O'Reilly-lovers) are still behind it. He can't afford to lose them, because they would desert the republican party, too. A "new strategy" of a measured pull-out would take a lot of attention off the war, and maybe Bush could stomach ditching his dream of dominating a key middle eastern country, but the party won't let him. So the war will dominate in 2007, for worse. The democrats, on the other hand, are hog-tied in the senate and will have great difficult getting any major liberal bills in front of the president for signature. The blue-dog democrats elected in 2006 may well short-circuit any kind of amnesty for illegal Mexicans, even though Bush would sign a bill if it got to him. At the end of the day, democrats may settle for a lot of useless hearings on Bush administration actions (the war) and policies - sound and fury, signifying nothing. As 2007 peters out, all the attention will focus on the 2008 elections and the year will have been wasted. O, democracy! So, there you have it. I'm solidly behind an optimistic outlook for lots of positive legislation in 2007, and equally sure the war will trump everything, so nothing will be accomplished. 2007 is a crapshoot - let's hope the dice fall our way!