Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our future: mercenary olympics on ESPN, and no bees

On a gorgeous spring day where I sweated and swore through the learning curve of installing a drip irrigation system in the garden, my evening Web browsing has been anything but the relaxing winding down I'd hoped it would be. In fact, it turned up a couple of pieces of truly scary glimpses of our future.

The first comes courtesy of a summary/review on Daily Kos on Jeremy Scahill's extremely alarming Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Writes the reviewers, SusanG "... Blackwater would be a masterpiece of the genre of futuristic sci fi were it not so regrettably real. It’s got all the twists and turns and secret corners of a Hollywood thriller: records and contracts that can’t be traced, shady characters recruiting other shady characters in violent Third World nations, extremist religious figures lurking in the background of a mysterious unregulated company that uses PR tactics worthy of Orwell. Unfortunately for America, we’re living the plot in real time."

The review is excellent, as is this brief video excerpt:

And the second scary bit, a report from Der Spiegel on the decimation of bee populations both in Germany and in the United States.
Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of beekeeping is at stake."

The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.

I am pretty virulently hostile to GMO crops, but from what the article reports, there doesn't seem to be conclusive proof that GMO crops are what's behind the disappearing bees--certainly nowhere near the proof that would be needed to spur any kind of action on the part of politicians or industry, anywhere, if the disinclination in Washington to take action on global warming is any indication....

But hey, it's only life itself that's at stake: bees, pollination, plants, animals ... man. No biggie....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Be ever vigilant

From BoingBoing:
Bruce Schneier notes that the FBI has sent out an "informational bulletin" about the possibility that terrorists might try to become school bus drivers. The FBI notes that they have no reason to believe that this is actually happening, though -- it's just something someone there thought of.

On the subject of "scary-story-but-nothing-to-worry-about," here are a couple from[Cory Doctorow]:

* Osama bin Laden might recruit suicide bombers who fill their colons with Semtex and undetectable shards of broken glass. These anus-bombers might blow up airplanes with their explosive assholes, killing everyone on board. We should all get a thorough, deep rectal exam prior to boarding, starting right now.

* Terrorists might use rigged laptop batteries to trigger massive inflight lithium explosions. All laptops should henceforth travel in unpadded, unlocked bags. No battery-powered devices of any kind (digital watches, hearing aids, iPods, phones) should ever be allowed on airplanes. People with pacemakers should walk. Or stay put.

* Terrorists might start animal shelters and use them to recruit stray animals that can be trained to serve as superbug vectors, tearing through our cities, spreading weaponized Ebola. No living creatures -- other than (some) humans should be allowed within the city limits of any settlement bigger than 400 people.

* Terrorists could infiltrate the world's car companies and manufacture large, fuel-inefficient vehicles like Hummers. Once America has gone all SUV, the resulting carbon emissions would contribute to polar melting and global warming, causing devastating hurricanes through the southwest, killing and displacing millions of Americans. Ban car companies now, or the terrorists have won.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Wait! Were we even in the Vietnam War?

Sad. Funny. Sad. Funny.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Country Life

Today I bought a chainsaw. For price, power and ease of use, it seemed like a good deal. But I got home and kept staring at the box and thinking, "Wild Thing--who the fuck would buy a Wild Thing chainsaw? And what kind of marketing department comes up with shit like that??"

Like most entry level users, the first thing I'm looking for in a product like this is some kind of assurance that it won't dismember me or anyone in my immediate family. "Wild Thing" is not the most reassuring concept.

Anyway, I bought it. Do the marketeers know me better than I know myself? Were they speaking to the Leatherface deep inside?

We drove home tonight after sundown, our family of five, in two separate cars, from dinner at a friend's house. It's Wednesday evening, so the local Baptist congregation was just letting out, but in spite of the crowd, I noticed a shirtless man walking down the road, and my wife noticed him too. I guess he would be a drifter, by the look of things, and to use the police blotter vernacular. I slowed down for a look, half thinking at first I'd ask if everything was OK. But he glowered. My wife, following five minutes behind, had seen him too, and had the same experience.

But while I had noticed the creep on the road perpendicular to ours, my wife had seen him on our road, so that was a little disconcerting. He would have walked past our gate an hour ago, or else he's come up the gravel road to our unprotected nest.

Weird. I now take solace in the thought that even a psychotic drifter would assume that all the farmhouses in our neck of the woods are inhabited by folks who are packin'. We're not, but he can't know that--can he?


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I rather enjoyed that

Most NBA games are flat-out tedious affairs. But tonight's Dallas-Phoenix confrontation was the rare game that lives up to the league's ridiculous hype.

I was watching the fourth quarter intently, but in the last minute it looked to be pretty much wrapped up for Dallas, and that the great Steve Nash was not being his dominating small Canadian self. So I blinked for a minute, and pretty much missed Nash's 10 points in the last 58 seconds.

He then made a ridiculous number of amazing plays in both overtimes, both offensive and defensive. The one that for some reason didn't make the highlight reel: Nash uncharacteristically loses the inbounds pass under his own basket, and falls down in the process; the ball bounces around a bit, and comes to a Dallas player, who drives hard to the basket; but Nash has already gotten up and with the fastest feet in the league manages to draw a no-contest charge.

I'll always tune in when little Stevie is on the court.

Rite of passage

Another great post from Tony Karon, who has recently returned from a vacation that was only a month in duration, but to me it seemed like years.

His first two posts back (here and here), on the prospects of the United States attacking Iran, are typically thoughtful and insightful looks at a subject that is full of posturing, misdirection and outright disinformation. Today, he allows a slightly atypical bit of disgust to surface, in this case with regard to presidential hopeful Barrack Obama and the eternally contemptible AIPAC. I saw recently that there's a billboard somewhere in New Zealand with Cheney's likeness and the phrase "Hell is too good for some people." That pretty much describes my attitude to AIPAC (and to Dick Cheney).

Here's Tony on Obama, the Democrats, and the whacked out lobby:
I have long been appalled by the craven genuflecting before the altar of vicious nationalism that appears to have become a required ritual for would-be Democratic Party presidential candidates courting what they see as the “Jewish vote.” Not only are they required to outdo one another in the extent of support they pledge for Israel; given that the element they’re addressing (right-wing Zionists who don’t reflect even the Jewish-American mainstream) is steeped in the toxic racism common to ultra-nationalism of all stripes, what they’re really required to do is outdo one another’s pledges of hostility towards the Palestinians. Kind of like that scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the basis for joining the People’s Front for the Liberation of Judea is your answer to the question “How much do you hate the Romans?”


Here’s my advice to Obama: AIPAC is a right-wing body, even on the Jewish-American political spectrum — in Israeli terms, its orientation is strongly Likudnik, aligning it with the right-wing fringe in Israel, too. Close to 80% of American Jews, according to surveys see the Iraq war as a mistake. (As opposed to the AIPAC crowd and Israeli government, which continues to support it.)

So, when you pander to the AIPAC crowd, you are not reaching the Jewish-American mainstream (even though most of the Jewish-American mainstream is loathe to directly challenge the AIPAC crowd, for fear of being labeled traitors are worse by rabid right-wingers like Alvin Rosenfeld). Nor are you really helping Israel, because its only chance of surviving rests in its ability to make peace with its neighbors, and Israeli peaceniks will tell you that the support of the U.S. (egged on by the AIPAC crowd) for the most belligerent and hawkish positions on the Israeli spectrum is actually working against Israel’s ability to make the compromises it will have to make in order to achieve peace.

And nobody will think any less of you, Barack, if you choose to speak the truth, and what you know to be the truth, rather than half-heartedly embrace falsehoods that aren’t doing anybody any good. The right-wing Zionists aren’t going to support you no matter how hard you pander, and the liberal mainstream will respect honesty and consistency. Israel needs American leaders that can march it back from its own self-destructive impulses, rather than cheerleaders of its march of folly.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m wasting my breath…

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Holy shit! Congressman a nonbeliever

From the L.A. Times:
Secular groups Monday applauded a public acknowledgment by Rep. Pete Stark that he does not believe in a supreme being, making the Fremont Democrat the first member of Congress — and the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. — to publicly acknowledge not believing in God.
OK. I didn't know that about Pete Stark, but good for him.

But the part that kills me is the "highest-ranking elected official in the U.S." part. You've gotta be kidding me! They couldn't find ONE other elected official to say that he or she doesn't believe in "the invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day."

Those are the, er, immortal words of George Carlin, and reading this crazy story moves me to repost an earlier appreciation of Mr. Carlin's take on "the greatest bullshit story ever told."

Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!
And only one elected U.S. rep has admitted to not believing that. Double holy shit!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dems to Dubya: Bombs away!

Most Americans would not trust George W. Bush to deliver their pizzas, but yesterday the Democrats decided to trust him with the (highly unconstitutional) authority to attack yet another country.

Juan Cole is good on this latest piece of appalling news about the state of the Republic.....
The Democrats are blinking and taking out of proposed legislation a provision that would have forbidden Bush to take military action against Iran without coming to the Congress first (i.e. without acting in accordance with the Constitution). I'm not sure why you need a statute, anyway, to ensure that the Constitution is followed . . . Except that it has been so long since presidents have paid much attention to the Constitution. The Imperial Presidency has overshadowed it, just as Emperor Augustus overshadowed the Roman Republic.

Those who said that such a provision would take the military option off the table with regard to Iran are simply wrong. It just required that the president make the case for a war to the legislature, which declares war. The option was still there if the legislature wanted it to be.

But after the Iraq fiasco it is amazing to me that Washington is still talking about going to war against Middle Eastern countries that pose no threat to the US mainland. The US got where it is after World War II by mostly avoiding direct military campaigns and occupations. The US does not have the resources to occupy two Middle Eastern oil states, and trying to do so will break it as surely as imperial overstretch broke its predecessors among the great powers. Those who think all this is good for Israel are being short-sighted. If the US spirals down into a non-entity over the next 30 years as a result of over-stretch, Israel will be left without a great power patron and might well not survive. The Europeans are fed up with its militarism and itchy trigger finger, and it hasn't made any friends in its own region.

Happy anniversary, "paranoid style"

James Carroll, author of House of War, the sweeping, passionate and ultimately unsettling "biography" of the Pentagon, writes in today's Boston Globe of the need for American foreign policy to go back not just to the days before the current criminal mob took office, but to the very beginnings of America's postwar global dominance.

Carroll writes that the United States must look back a full six decades to reverse the faulty logic of the Truman Doctrine, instituted on this day in 1947, when Harry insisted that "nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life"--a slightly more sophisticated way of saying "you're either with us or against us."

Writes Carroll:

The occasion of Truman's pronouncement was his decision to militarily support one side in the civil war in Greece, and with that, the deadly precedent of American intervention in foreign civil wars was set. Fear of communism became a driving force of politics and a justification for vast military expenditures.

Nine days after announcing the Truman Doctrine, the president issued an executive order mandating loyalty oaths and security checks for federal employees, the start of the domestic red scare. The "paranoid style" of American life, in Richard Hofstadter's phrase, was set.
And so with the Truman Doctrine came war after war, some out in the open, some clandestine but every bit as bloody. Today, in the midst of what surely will rank as one of the most disastrous wars in American history, Carroll finds important questions still going unasked:

More than adjustments in tactics and strategy are needed. What must be criticized, and even dismantled, is nothing less than the national security state that Truman inaugurated on this date in 1947. The habits of mind that defined American attitudes during the Cold War still provide consoling and profitable structures of meaning, even as dread of communism has been replaced by fear of terrorism. Thus, Truman's "every nation must choose " became Bush's "You are with us or against us." America's political paranoia still projects its worst fears onto the enemy, paradoxically strengthening its most paranoid elements. The monstrous dynamic feeds itself.

The United States has obviously, and accidentally, been reinforcing the most belligerent elements in Iran and North Korea, but it is also doing so in Russia and China. Last week, for example, alarms went off in Washington with the news that China is increasing its military spending by nearly 18 percent this year, bringing its officially acknowledged military budget to $45 billion. Yet who was raising questions about massive American military sales (including missiles) to Taiwan, whose defense build up stimulates Beijing's? Speaking of budgets, who questions the recently unveiled Pentagon total for 2008 of more than $620 billion? (Under Bill Clinton, the defense budget went from $260 billion to about $300 billion.) Even allowing for Iraq and Afghanistan, how can such an astronomical figure be justified?

When the United States announces plans to station elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, why are Russian complaints dismissed as evidence of Vladimir Putin's megalomania? On this date in 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO, in violation of American assurances to Moscow that NATO would not move east from the unified Germany. Now NATO looks further east still, toward Georgia and Ukraine. And Putin is the paranoid?

Last week, the Bush administration announced plans for the first new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years, a program of ultimately replacing all American warheads. So much for the nuclear elimination toward which the United States is legally bound to work by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Washington simultaneously assured Russia and China that this renewal of the nuclear arsenal was no cause for them to feel threatened. Hello? Russia and China have no choice but to follow the US lead, inevitably gearing up another arms race. It is 1947 all over again. A precious opportunity to turn the world away from nuclear weapons, and away from war, is once more being squandered -- by America. And what candidate running for president makes anything of this?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Know your chicken: A song for a sunny spring day

Gorgeous day here in central Kentucky, the air ripe with the smell of a truckload of compost we just tilled into the garden.

I've got poultry on my mind, with the McMurray Hatchery catalog open on the table in front of me. Made me feel like sharing this classic from the East Village Scene BITD BMFEU (back in the day, before money fucked everything up).

My kids love to dance to it, and it just makes me smile. God bless Cibo Matto.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The stab in the back

The phrase usually refers to the Jack Rippers of the world objecting to having their aggression thwarted by weak-willed civilians and media types. As this fascinating history in Harper's demonstrates, it is pure mythical, right-wing bull caca.

But stab in the back is such a vivid phrase. I would like to reclaim it for a current betrayal--of the war-weary American public by the Democratic Party.

"You're not weary of war," the newly elected leadership tells Joe Voter. "You're just weary of the IRAQ war. You'll LOVE what we have in store for Iran. Sanctions. Saber rattling. ALL OPTIONS ON THE TABLE. We can waste lives and treasure with the best of 'em.

"And are Democrats willing to bring the world a few more steps closer to Armageddon for short-term domestic political gain? Just watch us!"

Wait, but surely there was intelligent discussion on the topic of "containing" Iran. Someone stepped up and told Lantos, "Look, Tom, this is a little over the top, no?"

Er. Nope.

David Swanson writes this chilling summary of the extent of Congressional lock-step.
The absurd notion that Iran constitutes a threat to the United States was asserted in the opening breath out of Chairman Tom Lantos's mouth and never questioned by a single speaker through the hearing. Not a single speaker questioned the need to get tough on Iran in one way or another. Not a single speaker questioned the idea that a nation years away from possessing nuclear weapons and open to negotiating about them is a threat to the world's hugest nuclear power. Not a single speaker questioned assertions made during the hearing to the effect that Iran is supplying Iraqis with explosives. Not a single speaker questioned US preparations for war on Iran. And not one voice raised any concern over what sanctions would do to the Iranian people.
And from here, Chris Floyd brings the appropriate sense of despair.
... the national Democrats -- who were returned to power on a wave of public revulsion against the radical militarism of the Bush Regime -- are now trying to raise the war fever against Iran to the boiling point, in a bellicose bid to "outflank both the Bush administration and the United Nations with the toughest set of sanctions against Iran that have ever been proposed," as that right-wing calliope, the New York Sun, approvingly notes.

... The Lantos version of the latest Iran Provocation Act is being pitched as a partisan swipe at George W. Bush. (In their PR packaging, at least, the Democrats are being responsive to overwhelming public sentiment.) Lantos emphasizes that the bill would prohibit the president from granting waivers to any oil companies or countries that sign new energy deals with Iran. "If Dutch Shell moves forward with its proposed $10 billion deal with Iran, it will be sanctioned. If Malaysia moves forward with a similar deal, it too will be sanctioned. The same treatment will be accorded to China and India should they finalize deals with Iran," said Lantos. [And isn't it wonderfully democratic of this Democratic leader, telling other countries who they can and cannot trade with, and how? Oh well; if these rag-tag nations want to be part of our Greater Co-Propserity Sphere, they have to toe the line, right?]

Of course, all these draconian efforts to cripple the development of Iran's oil and gas industries will only make it more imperative for Tehran to develop its nuclear power program -- and therefore increase the likelihood that this program could one day be turned to the production of nuclear weapons. In other words, the bill is designed to exacerbate and accelerate the very danger -- nuclear proliferation -- that is the ostensible reason for keeping "all options on the table" against Iran.

But that's OK. We want them to keep building their nuclear program, so we can use it as an excuse to strike Iran. We want the people of Iran to suffer from crippling sanctions, as did the people of Iraq (while, as in Iraq, the leaders continue to live in luxury), because we want Iraqi society to deteroriate to the point that its leaders feel compelled to take some action that we can seize upon as a casus belli and launch a "retaliatory" attack whose real aim is "regime change." Both the Democrats and Republicans have very publicly committed the United States to this course.

So the Lantos law has nothing to do with bashing George W. Bush for giving his oil buddies waivers to work in Iran. That's just cornball for the rubes back home. It has everything to do with the pursuit of "regime change" in Tehran and the implanation of a friendly client regime that won't stand in the way of the long-held, bipartisan Establishment dream of unchallenged American dominance over world affairs.

And it It has nothing to do with punishing Iran for allegedly helping kill American soldiers in Iraq. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans, with a few honorable exceptions, give a damn about the American soldiers in Iraq. If they did, the soldiers would already be coming home -- or never sent there in first place. If they did, they would also be passing sanctions against Saudi Arabia, from whence gushers of money, weapons and recruits are flowing into Iraq to support the Sunni insurgency that is actually killing most of the Americans in Iraq.

No, they don't care about the soldiers. They care about "regime change" and advancing the frontiers of dominance. In this, the American Dominationists have found common cause with the government of Israel, which also desperately wants regime change in Tehran. And here the other raison d'etre of the Lantos bill comes into play: kowtowing to the interests of the Israeli militarists, and thus securing the domestic support of the Israel Lobby in America. And the Democrats are not even trying to hide the influence of the Lobby on the bill. As the Sun notes: "The introduction of the new legislation comes as more than 5,500 members of America's largest pro-Israel lobby [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] are set to arrive in Washington for their annual policy conference." Making their haj to this Mecca..House speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to give her first major speech on Middle East policy as the House leader. Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate will make speeches at the event, which is also expected to draw presidential candidates such as Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Brownback. Senator McCain is said to be likely to attend as well." Every one of these speakers will throw red meat to the crowd. Every single one of them will declare that "all options are on the table" against Iran. Every single one of them will wave the black flag of war.

Of course, most American Jews oppose the war in Iraq; So do most American WASPs -- although not in as great a number as American Jews, as several recent Gallup polls show. (The American religious group most opposed to the Iraq war is Black Protestants, the surveys found.) Most Americans oppose launching a war on Iran. But neither the WASP Dominationists who control American policy nor the Jewish leaders of the Israeli Lobby give a damn about what Americans -- of all faiths and none -- want. These honchos serve only the interests of power. They may tell us -- they may even tell themselves -- that they are only pursuing, with unfortunate but unavoidable ruthlessness, the security of the American and Israeli people. But the record of the past decades gives overwhelming proof that these policies do not bring security; they bring only more death, more suffering, more fear -- and more money for war profiteers, and more authoritarian power for government officials to wield with increasingly weak or non-existent restraints.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Three hands clapping

Matt Taibbi's ongoing single-minded, ad hominim hatchet job on the writing of Thomas Friedman is unfair and vindictive--or it would be so, if it were someone other than Friedman he was talking about.

Friedman is the most prominent talking head featured in Radar's The Iraq Gamble, a look at how the careers of pundits like Friedman, David Brooks, Jeffrey Goldberg and Fareed Zakaria actually took off after they bet the farm on the Iraq invasion and occupation--and lost. But Friedman is far and away the most conspicuous and shameless of the bunch.

Here, Taibbi writes that Friedman is not content with being allowed to show his face in public after being perhaps the most influential--and certainly the most strident (Mr. "Give War A Chance") "liberal" to promote invading Iraq. Friedman, says Taibbi, is already preparing to blame the debacle of the Iraq invasion and occupation on a patsy-- the American people. His piece should be read from beginning to end, but is worth quoting at some length. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll agree: "Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull."
Friedman's latest column, "Don't Ask, Don't Know, Don't Help," is yet another "the war should have worked" piece, and it's of a sort we're likely to see quite often in upcoming years.

What we have to remember about America's half-baked propaganda machine is that, dumb as it is, it always keeps its eye on the ball. The war in Iraq is lost, everyone knows that, but there are future wars to think about. When a war goes wrong, the reason can never that the invasion was simply a bad, immoral decision, a hopelessly fucked-up idea that even a child could have seen through. No, we always have to make sure that the excuse for the next war is woven into the autopsy of the current military failure. That's why to this day we're still hearing about how Vietnam was lost because a) the media abandoned the war effort b) the peace movement undermined the national will and c) the public, and the Pentagon, misread the results of the Tet offensive, seeing defeat where there actually was a victory.

After a few decades of that, we were ready to go to war again -- all we had to do, we figured, was keep the cameras away from the bloody bits, ignore the peace movement, and blow off any and all bad news from the battlefield. And we did all of these things for quite a long time in Iraq, but, maddeningly, Iraq still turned out to be a failure.

That left the war apologists in a bind. If after fixing all of the long-held Vietnam excuses Iraq could still blow up in our faces, that must mean that we not only misjudged Iraq, but we were wrong about why Vietnam failed, too. Now, if we're ever going to pull one of these stunts again, we're going to need to come up with a grander, even more outlandish excuse for why both wars were horrible, bloody failures. Who could come up with such an excuse? Well, a man who counts on three hands sure can. Here's Friedman quoting author Robert Hormats:

"In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war," said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: "War costs money. ... That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an Ĺ’all-out‚ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country."
Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a "crushing superiority" in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

In other words, both Vietnam and Iraq failed not because they were stupid, vicious occupations of culturally alien populations that despised our very presence and were willing to sacrifice scads of their own lives to send us home. No, the problem was that we didn't make an effort to "re-evaluate tax and spending policies" and "shift resources" into an "all-out" war effort.

The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night ... to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.

Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull for even suggesting this, of course. We're talking about one of the richest men in media, a guy who in recent years got still richer beating the drum for this war from his $9.3 million, 11,400 square-foot mansion in suburban Maryland. He is married to a shopping mall heiress worth nearly $3 billion; the Washingtonian says he is part of one of the 100 richest families in America. And yet he has the balls to turn around and tell us that the pointless, asinine war he cheerleaded for failed because we didn't sacrifice enough for it. Are you reaching for the railroad spike yet?

This being tax season, I want you all to think about this Friedman column as you prepare your returns, because I'll bet anything he's surfing ahead of a trend here. If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq.

You're going to hear that we didn't have money to pay for body armor, when the reality is that the reason troops didn't have body armor in recent years is that congressmen robbed the operations and maintenance accounts of the defense budget to pay for earmarks/pork projects (they took $9 billion in pork and earmarks out of the O&M allotment in 2005, for instance). They robbed the part of the budget that paid for ordinary soldiers‚ gear so they wouldn't have to touch the F-22 Raptor, the CVN(X) aircraft carrier, or any of the other mega-expensive and mostly useless weapons programs. I mean, think about it -- how else can you spend $600 billion dollars on the military every year and not have body armor for the soldiers deployed at war? Somewhere, someone who doesn't need it has to be sucking up that money.

But trust me, the myth is going to be that you didn't cough up enough for the war. It's your fault we failed, not Tom Friedman's. So put all three of your hands in your pockets and dig out that change you're holding back. We'll need it for his next great idea.

Read the whole piece....

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A modest proposal

Andrew Bacevich, career military man and self-avowed conservative, always seems to be on the money when he talks about foreign policy--and I'm speaking as a hard-core pinko pacifist.

Today, in the Boston Globe, Bacevich, who currently teaches at Boston University, makes some recommendations for a series of concrete proposals the Democrats can make to reverse the creepy, poorly thought-out, and murderous Bush Doctrine.

First, Bachevich brings us up to speed on just how big a grab Bush made when he declared a Doctrine in his own name:
Long viewed as immoral, illicit, and imprudent, preventive war -- attacking to keep an adversary from someday posing a danger -- became the centerpiece of US national security strategy in the aftermath of 9/11. President Bush unveiled this new strategy in a speech at West Point in June 2002. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize," he said, "we will have waited too long." The new imperative was to strike before threats could form. Bush declared it the policy of the United States to "impose preemptive, unilateral military force when and where it chooses."
Although the Constitution endows the legislative branch with the sole authority to declare war, the president did not consult Congress before announcing his new policy. He promulgated the Bush Doctrine by fiat. Then he acted on it.
Bacevich then proceeds to offer up some baby steps the Democratic-controlled Congress can take to at least begin to restore a semblance of sanity to U.S. foreign policy:

The fifth anniversary of President Bush's West Point speech approaches. Prior to that date, Democratic leaders should offer a binding resolution that makes the following three points: First, the United States categorically renounces preventive war. Second, the United States will henceforth consider armed force to be an instrument of last resort. Third, except in response to a direct attack on the United States, any future use of force will require prior Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution.

The legislation should state plainly our determination to defend ourselves and our allies. But it should indicate no less plainly that the United States no longer claims the prerogative of using "preemptive, unilateral military force when and where it chooses."

Declaring the Bush Doctrine defunct will not solve the problems posed by Iraq, but it will reduce the likelihood that we will see more Iraqs in our future. By taking such action, Congress will restore its relevance, its badly tarnished honor, and its standing in the eyes of the American people.
I'm not thrilled with the bit about "stat[ing] plainly our determination to defend ourselves and our allies." Talk about a loophole you can drive an Abrams tank through.

But all the same I have to say I'm all for this sort of thing, and, given the unfortunate realities of mainstream U.S. politics, really think Bacevich would be a presidential candidate I could live with. Do I think his modest proposal has a ghost of a chance with the current Democratic Congress? Naaaaaaaahhhhh.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What's so funny' bout peace, love and ...?

From the Times:
WASHINGTON, March 2 — About a dozen members of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus gathered on a sunny day last summer on the terrace outside the Capitol for a news conference. The only problem: no reporters showed up.
Ha ha. How funny. Of course, the Out of Iraq Caucus actually represents the opinion of a strong majority of Americans (who thought they were voting to bring the troops home last November). Why would anyone want to pay attention?

And why has talk of peace become such a taboo? Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi tries to grapple with the latter question. He begins a recent piece by quoting an ugly note from a Marine fighter pilot in Iraq, who laments that his tour of duty is almost up, because "the opportunities to kill these fuckers is rapidly coming to an end."

Taibbi takes this as an opportunity to actually ponder just how far America has gone down the road to complete militarization, which is pretty rare for a columnist for a mainstream publication:

I'm always wary of these stories about American soldiers acting like hateful, mindlessly violent psychopaths in Iraq, though they're not exactly rare -- from Abu Ghraib of course, to a chilling video of a pilot pointlessly wasting a huge crowd of what appear to be civilians in Fallujah ("Oh, dude!" the pilot chuckles, after the explosion appears to kill dozens), to a gang of squids in the Gulf who lined up on an aircraft carrier deck in a formation that cleverly read "Fuck Iraq," to soldiers running over a cab driver's car with a tank because he was suspected of looting a few pieces of wood to stories about the use of napalm in Tallulah and so on.

It's not that I don't believe these stories, and not that I don't want to hear them. I'm just wary of sullying the debate over this war with a referendum on the behavior of young soldiers who have been placed in an impossible position, sent to fight in a strange and hostile place with no clear mission and no detectable strategy for securing peace or victory. In my mind, all the people in the Bush administration and in Congress and in the media who got these kids sent there in the first place have to be the first ones held responsible for whatever those kids do after being thrown into the fire. I just don't yet have the stomach to start pointing the finger at a bunch of teenagers and twentysomethings who never should have been sent there in the first place.

But the letter from this Marine pilot is something different. What worries me about it is this unabashed glee in killing people from high altitudes might not be a psychiatric aberration, but an inevitable consequence of the entire structure of our economy, which is based heavily on government spending in the area of high-technology defense manufacturing. When [former Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck"] Spinney [who forwarded the Marine's note to Taibbi] focuses on this gruesome and bloody letter from a single Marine pilot, he's not ripping an individual soldier but showing graphically how the tail has, by now, wagged the whole dog -- how a society whose economy is based on high-tech defense spending will first tend to gravitate inexorably toward high-tech defense solutions to policy problems, and then over time will raise whole generations instilled with an implicit belief in and enthusiasm for such lunacies as the "surgical strike." Here's how Spinney put it:

We all know that the American Way of War is to use our technology to pour firepower on the enemy from a safe distance. Implicit in this is the central myth of precision bombardment that dates back at least to the Norden Bombsight in World War II...Of course this is all hogwash, as the conduct of the Iraq War has proven once again. Real war is always uncertain and messy and bloody and wasteful and accompanied by profound psychological and moral effects. But these preposterous theories are central to the American Way of War, because they justify the maintenance of a high cost high-tech military which is so essential to the welfare of the parasitic political economy of the military-industrial-congressional complex that is now seamlessly embedded in our political culture.

The reason I'm even writing about Spinney's letter this week is that we're now just seeing come into focus the first outlines of the rhetorical parameters for the 2008 presidential campaign. Among other things, I'm seeing a lot of TV commentators pound home the theme that the Democratic party needs to shed its reputation for "pacifism." An article I saw about Rudy Giuliani last week saluted the former mayor for being sensible on Iraq without being a "peacenik." After four years of Iraq, we still can't talk about peace in public! This evil bullshit has been buried in the commercial media's descriptive campaign language seemingly forever by now, but it may be time -- in the wake of this Iraq disaster -- to start thinking about where it comes from and what effect it may have on the national psyche.

I believe that Marine pilot is driven by the same forces that render the presidential candidacy of someone like Dennis Kucinich impossible in America. A country that feeds itself through the manufacture of war technology is bound to view peace, nonviolence and mercy as seditious concepts. It will create policies first and then people to fit its machines, finding wars to fight and creating killers to fight them. If that's true of us, and I think it is, our troubles won't be over even if someone brings the Iraq war to an end. We'll be treating the symptom and not the disease. And the reason our elections are a sham is that the disease is never on the table. Excepting the occasional Kucinich, no one in either party is interested in trying to change who we are, no matter how sick we become.

Read the whole piece....

Update: And today David Sirota takes the Times to task for its condescending coverage of the Out of Iraq Caucus, which it saddled with a "fringe" image, even with a majority of Americans opposing the war."

Says Sirota:

... Democrats who want to bring the troops home from Iraq do not have a "fringe image" among the public, which also -- according to polls -- strongly wants the same thing. Then again, maybe I'm wrong: Maybe this statement is just a very public admission that editors and reporters at newspapers like The New York Times really believe they get to unilaterally decide "images," not the public; and from their Beltway vantage point where the only Serious People are those neoconservatives who pushed the war in the first place, anyone who wants to end the war is a Dirty Hippie on the "fringe." Either way, this line is stunning (though sadly not shocking) for its sheer idiocy, its Beltway-typical disconnection from public opinion, its deliberate contempt for the majority of the country -- or whatever combination of all three led to its publication.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Underground Hero

Tom Philpott, writing in Grist, calls Sir Albert Howard an underground hero because he presciently "concerned himself with the ground beneath our feet" (in a time when dirt was thought to be no more than the medium that held N, K and P) and also because his writing has for some time been hard to access. His important texts have been out of print since original publication.

The good news is that the University of Kentucky Press has recently reissued The Soil and Health in a paperback edition.

Well, you may ask, so what? Who was Sir Albert? Philpott provides a concise history of the man and his importance as at the very least the inspiration for the first wave of the organic movement.

A few excerpts:
Around 1900, a 27-year-old British scientist named Albert Howard, a specialist in plant diseases, arrived in Barbados, then a province of the British Empire. His charge was to find cutting-edge cures for diseases that attacked tropical crops like sugar cane, cocoa, bananas, and limes.

To use the terms of the day, his task was to teach natives of the tropics how to grow cash crops for the Mother Country. The method was to be rigorously scientific. He was a "laboratory hermit," he would later write, "intent on learning more and more about less and less."

But the "natives," in turn, had something to teach him. On tours through Barbados and neighboring islands, through "contact with the land itself and the practical men working on it," a new idea dawned on Howard: that "the most promising method for dealing with plant diseases lay in prevention," not in after-the-fact treatments.

The insight was radical. Then, as now, conventional science tended to view plant diseases as isolated phenomena in need of a cure. But Howard began to see diseases as part of a broader whole. As quickly as he could, he fled the controlled environment of the lab and concerned himself with how plants thrive or wither in their own context -- outside in the dirt, tended by farmers.

....Howard began his career not long after the triumph of the Industrial Revolution. The rise of mass production had prompted a mass migration from farms to cities, leaving a dearth of rural labor and a surplus of urban mouths to feed. Tasked with the problem of growing more food with less land and labor, scientists in Howard's time worked to apply industrial techniques to agriculture.

By then, science itself had succumbed to industrialism's division-of-labor logic. The study of plant disease had become a specialized branch of plant science, itself a subset of biology. The task of growing food could only be studied as a set of separate processes, each with its own subset of problems and solutions.

Soil specialists working at that time had isolated the key elements in soil that nurture plants: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Known as N, K, and P, respectively, these three elements still dominate modern fertilizer production. By learning to synthesize them, soil specialists had "solved" the "problem" of soil fertility.

The process for synthesizing nitrogen, it turned out, also made effective explosives. The same specialists who had industrialized agriculture also, as tensions among European powers mounted in the early 20th century, began to think about industrializing war. During World War I, munitions factories sprouted throughout England, using those fertilizer-making techniques to mass-produce explosives.

Soon thereafter, weapons technology repaid its debt to agriculture. As Howard puts it, "When peace came, some use had to be found for the huge factories [that had been] set up and it was obvious to turn them over to the manufacture of [fertilizer] for the land. This fertilizer began to flood the market." These technologies made their way over the Atlantic to the United States.

Thus began modern agriculture. No longer dependent on animal manure to replenish soil, farmers could buy ready-made fertilizer from a fledgling chemical industry. For the first time in history, animal husbandry could be separated from the growing of crops -- and meat, dairy, egg, and crop production could all be intensified. As production boomed, prices for farm goods dropped, forcing many farmers out of business. Technology had triumphed: fewer and fewer people had to concern themselves with growing food.

But Howard prophesied that the victories of industrial agriculture, whose beginnings he lived to see, would prove short-lived. In its obsession with compartmentalization, modern science had failed to see that the health of each of the earth's organisms was deeply interconnected. Against the specialists who thought they had "solved" the fertility problem by isolating a few elements, Howard viewed the "whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject."

.... Was Howard right? Despite his gloomy pronouncements, industrial agriculture has so far kept many of its promises. Food production has undeniably boomed over the past century.

And yet, the Green Revolution -- the concerted effort, begun at about the time of The Soil and Health's publication, to spread the benefits of industrial agriculture to the global south -- has failed to eradicate world hunger. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 800 million people live in a state of undernourishment. And in the United States, where industrial agriculture arguably won its most complete victory, diet-related maladies are reaching epidemic proportions. Howard's contention that chemical-dependent soil can't produce healthy food may yet be borne out.

And, of course, industrial agriculture's environmental liabilities are piling up, and could still prove its undoing.
I think the crazy ironic link between the creation of industrial agriculture and the industrialization of armaments can't be stressed enough--and all too few are aware of it. The insights of Howard and Rodale and Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan about the tragic error of the Green Revolution are indisputable. Whether they will have an impact on how most of the industrialized world eats is a huge looming question, right up there with "Will we ever be done with war?" I'm skeptical, but hopeful. I'm off to add The Soil and Health to my bookshelf.

Read the whole essay in Grist....
An appreciation of Sir Albert Howard, with plenty of links for further reading.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Black Snake ha ha

A rare display of wit in the Arts pages of the Times from A.O. Scott:
Really, though, the character, played with his usual fearsome wit by Samuel L. Jackson, is a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues. No doubt “Black Snake Moan” is a provocative title, but a more accurate one might be “Chaining Miss Daisy to the Radiator in Her Underwear.”
Haven't seen the movie, but I'm planning to. So I don't know if I agree with Scott's assessment. But ya gotta give a good line its due....