Monday, May 28, 2007

Bacevich: "The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed"

Andrew Bacevich, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, offers a moving reflection on his personal loss and the wider tragedy of American politics.

It's a Memorial Day message that goes well beyond the meaningless platitudes we're accustomed to hearing on this holiday. A as despairing as it is, gives me hope that a figure such as Bacevich, with a distinguished military record and impeccable conservative bona fides, could have the courage to speak so forcefully about the meat grinder chewing up bodies in the background as we go about our holiday weekend rituals of golf, barbecue and mowing lawns.

Still, I don't think this eloquent and melancholy piece will come close to converting the remaining Republican faithful, and more important, the "leaders" of both parties and America's corporate media. (Where is our Walter Cronkite????) Bacevich admits as much, and frets heartbreakingly over how he has "done nothing." That couldn't be further from the truth.

Echoing perhaps the misguided search for turning points indicating the possibility of victory in Iraq, I can only express a faint hope that Bacevich's message, there for all to see on the op-ed page of the nation's paper on a Memorial Day weekend, will serve as a turning point in moving America's sentiment against this war, and against the horrible infrastructure that makes all such wars possible and inevitable. It's a faint hope, but it's all we've got.

Here's the core of Bacevich's piece, which should of course be read in full.

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts [in opposing the Iraq war] to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.

In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier -- brave and steadfast and irrepressible.

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Them violent Mooslems is, for me, one of the Net's greatest treasures. It's so good in a meta way that I often overlook how important it is. It's as good a collection of suggestions for further reading as you're likely to find--and on good days, it's a whole lot more. One of today's (May 23) summaries is a classic of concision and makes a strong (but ultimately depressing) point at the same time.
After a Pew Research survey finds that U.S. Muslims are 'Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,' that they are 'in line with U.S. values,' and that they "lean toward the Democratic Party, six to one," the Washington Times headlines its report on the poll, 'Young U.S. Muslims back suicide attacks.'
The only quibble I would have with this paragraph that so perfectly encapsulates how fucked we are in America right now is that it makes it seem like the Washington Times is bizarrely out of step. Oh, no. Even Anderson Cooper was "horrified -- just horrified -- that 'so many' American Muslims would support such violence."

The prejudices of conventional wisdom are myriad. One that is held by many, many Americans at our particular moment in history is the essentially ignorant and particularly dangerous idea that Muslims are predisposed to violence.

No one is better than Glenn Greenwald at finding the key weakness in such instances of complete bullshit in the mainstream media consensus. The datum from the Pew Poll that aroused such racist idiots as Mark Steyn and Michelle Malkin was this: "while 80% of American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians in all cases, 13% said they could be justified in some circumstances."

Horrifying, just horrifying.

But wait, what about context? Oh, that..... Here's Greenwald:
The reality, though, is that it is almost impossible to conduct a poll and not have a sizable portion of the respondents agree to almost everything. And in particular, with regard to the specific question of whether it is justifiable to launch violent attacks aimed deliberately at civilians, the percentage of American Muslims who believe in such attacks pales in comparison to the percentage of Americans generally who believe that such attacks are justifiable.

The University of Maryland's highly respected Program on International Public Attitudes, in December 2006, conducted a concurrent public opinion poll of the United States and Iran to determine the comparative views of each country's citizens on a variety of questions. The full findings are published here (.pdf).

One of the questions they asked was whether "bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified"? Americans approved of such attacks by a much larger margin than Iranians -- 51-16% (and a much, much larger margin than American Muslims -- 51-13%).
In an earlier post Greenwald finds another religion whose adherents hold some pretty ugly opinions. Can you imagine the day when a headline reads "White Christians support torture"?
And majorities of white Christians -- Catholics, evangelicals and protestants -- believe in torture not merely in the improbable-in-the-extreme "ticking time bomb" scenario; rather, they believe in torture as a matter of course [emphasis in orginal] (i.e., more than "rarely" -- either "often or "sometimes"). (By stark and revealing contrast, "secularists" oppose torture in far greater numbers). [emphasis mine]. Think about how depraved that is: what kind of religious individual affirmatively believes that people should be routinely tortured, including people who have never been proven to have done anything wrong?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Don't cross him, don't boss him

Leave it to all-around great American Willie Nelson to offer up a nice, concise statement of why we all should care about farm policy and the upcoming Farm Bill.

I will quote his entire piece in toto. Can't see how that would upset anyone, but if it does, I'll be happy to trim it down:

Take Action: Support a Better Farm Bill

by Willie Nelson

I believe nothing is as central to our well-being as food — who grows it and how. When produced with the interests of the eater in mind, food makes our bodies strong. When produced with the dream of passing the land on to the next generation, food strengthens local communities. And when produced with a long view of the planet’s health, food keeps our environment intact, even thriving.

Family farmers have always understood the direct connection between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people — that’s why they take great measures to improve and protect their soil. The key to strengthening this fabric that holds our country together is to keep family farmers on this land, from coast to coast. It’s a solution to many of today’s most important concerns — climate change, fossil fuel dependence, childhood obesity and dwindling biodiversity.

In the coming months, Congress will seal the next farm bill, legislation so broad in scope that it touches each of us in many ways. When you hear “farm bill,” think beyond the farm. Think food bill, renewable energy bill, nutrition bill, environmental stewardship bill, anti-hunger bill.

Over the past several decades, the farm bill has served the interests of large-scale industrial agriculture with policies designed to produce cheap food and lots of it. This cheap food policy, however, comes with incredibly high external costs: a depleted countryside with fewer farmers, degraded soils and waterways, and public health disasters. A new farm bill — one that serves the interests of all Americans — with a vision toward sustainability, can help reverse these trends.

Instead of countless dying small towns across rural America, imagine the countryside dotted with thriving communities, all of them contributing to strong local economies. Imagine clean waterways, protected for generations to come. Imagine farmers markets in every community with fresh, locally grown food, free of chemicals and additives. Imagine powering your home and automobile with energy from renewable sources produced close to your home. Imagine your child’s school serving fresh, wholesome food from your neighbors’ farms. Imagine young people returning to the land to carry on the great tradition of farming. These dreams aren’t futile. They are possible with a farm bill that serves your interests over those of giant corporations.

If you want your grandchildren to inherit a nation with healthy soil, clean water and nutritious food, pick up the phone today and call your representatives in Congress. Tell them you want a farm bill that assists young people who want to start farming; one that restores fairness in the marketplace so family farmers can compete with giant food companies and factory farms; one that puts better food in our schools and rewards farmers who transition to sustainable methods. Let them know you want a farm bill for all, because the farm bill belongs to all of us.

For Congressional contact information, visit You’ll find helpful tips and talking points at and To keep up with farm policy news, visit You can sign up for e-mail updates from Farm Aid at

© 2007 Mother Earth News

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A video I can't stop watching

Cat Power, "Lived in bars." I love her singing, I love the spirit of this video, and I want that "The Greatest" jacket:

He only thinks it's Giuliani time

I didn't watch the Republican debate, and I didn't watch the Democrats' debate, but I have been keeping track if only to see how "my boys"--Paul and Gravel--have been doing. As usual, the outsider antiwar candidate walked away with the most memorable performance.

And the former NYC mayor walked away with the creepiest.

Responding to Ron Paul's quite proper old-school liberatarian Republican take on U.S. foreign policy, in which he cited Ronald Reagan's wisdom in a way the others in that mob would never think of doing, Giuliani asked the Texas congressman to take back what he said (what is this? high school?). Here's the Nation's John Nichols:
The most heated moment in the debate, which aired live on the conservative Fox News network, came when the former New York mayor and current GOP front-runner angrily refused to entertain a serious discussion about the role that actions taken by the United States prior to the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have played in inspiring or encouraging those attacks.

Giuliani led the crowd of contenders on attacking Texas Congressman Ron Paul after the anti-war Republican restated facts that are outlined in the report of the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President
Ronald Reagan's decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.

Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, "They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are "delighted that we're over there" in Iraq, pointing out that, "They have already... killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."

Giuliani, going for an applause line with a conservative South Carolina audience that was not exactly sympathetic with his support for abortion rights and other socially liberal positions, leapt on Paul's remarks. Interrupting the flow of the debate, Giuliani declared, "That's really an extraordinary statement. That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."

The mayor, who is making his response to the 9-11 attacks on New York a central feature of his presidential campaign, was joined in the assault on Paul by many of the other candidates.

But congressman did not back down, and for good reason. Unlike Giuliani, the Texan has actually read the record.

The 9-11 Commission report detailed how bin Laden had, in 1996, issued "his self-styled fatwa calling on Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia" and identified that declaration and another in 1998 as part of "a long series" of statements objecting to U.S. military interventions in his native Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general. Statements from bin Laden and those associated with him prior to 9-11 consistently expressed anger with the U.S. military presence on the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. aggression against the Iraqi people and U.S. support of

The 9-11 Commission based its assessments on testimony from experts on terrorism and the Middle East. Asked about the motivations of the terrorists,
FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald told the commission: "I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States."

Fitzgerald's was not a lonely voice in the intelligence community.

Michael Scheuer, the former Central Intelligence Agency specialist on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, has objected to simplistic suggestions by President Bush and others that terrorists are motivated by an ill-defined irrational hatred of the United States. "The politicians really are at great fault for not squaring with the American people," Scheuer said in a CNN interview. "We're being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live. And there's a huge burden of guilt to be laid at Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, both parties for simply lying to the American people."

It is true that reasonable people might disagree about the legitimacy of Muslim and Arab objections to U.S. military policies. And, certainly, the vast majority of Americans would object to any attempt to justify the attacks on this country, its citizen and its soldiers.

But that was not what Paul was doing. He was trying to make a case, based on what we know from past experience, for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Giuliani's reaction to Paul's comments, especially the suggestion that they should be withdrawn, marked him as the candidate peddling "absurd explanations."

Viewers of the debate appear to have agreed. An unscientific survey by Fox News asked its viewers to send text messages identifying the winner. Tens of thousands were received and Paul ranked along with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as having made the best showing.

No wonder then that, when asked about his dust-up with Giuliani, Paul said he'd be "delighted" to debate the front-runner on foreign policy.
I'm probably not the first to make this suggestion, but a Ron Paul- Mike Gravel ticket would get my vote in 2008.

Update: A choice quote on Paul's performance, from my good buddy Dave:
They're gonna mind-controlled-robot-assassinate his ass. How much more of this blather will our military industrial complex take before whacking him?

Paul's 1/2 life is getting shorter and shorter. He should probably write a letter to the Corinthians or sumptin, before he stops breathing.

Faaarrrmmm livin' is the life for me...

It's been over a month since I've blogged, but the truth is I don't have any energy left after a day spent watching my two-year-old twins and trying to get various farming projects off the ground.

My latest preoccupation has been with a box of baby chicks I bought last month, which has now grown into 26 rapidly fattening young chickens. The prior tenants of our coops, five old crabby hens and a neurotic rooster, haven't been particularly welcoming to the newcomers. I'd been bringing the chicks inside onto our porch evenings until last night, but they are unbelievably stinky creatures at this point. So I've rigged an elaborate but unsteady partition inside the coop.

When I first checked on the chicks, they had all crushed close to the door because they were so scared of the other chooks. But I made a point of putting about half of them onto the roosts and they made it through the night. Now it's pissing down rain on them and they're afraid to go back into the coop, so they're just getting drenched, and there's the added complication of my son's pet rabbit being very much in the mood for love-- he's mounting all the hens.

This week also marked my maiden foray into the world of beekeeping. The instructions for installing a queen into a package of bees couldn't be more simple--at least until you've opened the package and there are 8000 stinger-laden insects buzzing around you. You are supposed to remove a tiny cork, which allows the queen to chew her way out of about an inch of a candy-like substance. The time it takes her to emerge gives the workers a chance to get used to her scent, so they won't kill her when she shows up.

I managed to make a mess of both installations. With the first hive, I dropped the queen's cage into the box almost immediately, and had to reach into the wriggling swarm to fish her out. And I completely balled up the second installation, pushing the cork right into the queen's cage. I didn't crush her (I think), but now there's the risk that she emerged too early and has already been stung to death by her fickle workers. There seems to be a good deal of activity in the hive. Workers are coming and going and returning to the hive waddling under the weight of all the pollen on their legs, so I'm thinking things may be going just fine. But I'm going to consult with a fellow novice beekeeper by the weekend.

I know there's wars and scandals and all sorts of problems with the world, but for the moment I can only focus on children, bees, baking bread and chickens. It's kind of nice, really.