Friday, February 07, 2003

Rummy the Jackass

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's latest gaffe is comparing the German government's position to the pending war on Iraq to the opposition from countries like Libya and Cuba. Understandably, the German press and public was less than pleased:
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says "there are good reasons to criticize the German position on Iraq.. but this is a mixture of tastelessness and insult."
What is the matter with this dolt? Is it not possible for Mr Rumsfeld to disagree politely with the government of another nation? Unlike the American regime, the German government was actually elected legally and enjoys the clear support of its people on this issue--two things the Bush admin cannot claim.

I suppose this is what passes for diplomacy from the Bush admin and considering that, it is no wonder most of the world is angry at us right now. Who can blame them? The next admin is going to have to spend its first year in power trying to rebuild all the bridges the Bush admin burned in its many moments of childish pique.

UPDATE: Apparently, Rummy is getting a frosty welcome after arriving in Germany today. Can't imagine why.

Should Dems Be Campaigning in South Carolina?

The NAACP has organized a boycott of South Carolina for that state's practice of flying the Confederate flag from public buildings. Apparently, this boycott also applies to campaigning and Democratic presidential candidates are debating whether or not to hit the hustings in the Palmetto state. As anyone who has ever worked on a campaign could tell you, campaign workers spend money locally on gasoline, restaurants, convenience stores, and--of course--hotels. However, since sales tax receipts from all that commerce go into the coffers of a state government that flies the Confederate flag, the NAACP wants candidates to avoid all of those things. Honoring the boycott will make campaigning in South Carolina difficult or impossible and some candidates are rebelling against it. Senator Joe Lieberman, Congressman Richard Gephardt, and Senator John Kerry have all said they intend to campaign in South Carolina, while North Carolina Senator John Edwards and New York City rabble-rouser Al Sharpton have promised to honor the boycott.

My thought is that the NAACP boycott of South Carolina is a good thing. The Confederate flag represents the worst crimes this country has committed. Slavery, discrimination, hatred, lynchings, terror--all those things are inseparable from the Confederate flag for me. It represents not honor or courage, but small-minded prejudice and moral depravity. I loathe the very sight of that vile rag and if South Carolina wants to fly it from their public offices the state should be prepared to pay the price.

However, I think political campaigning should be excepted from the boycott. Every one of the Dem candidates for president oppose not only the legacy that the flag represents, but--unlike many Republicans--they refuse to give a wink and a nod to southern racism by using the code words that have propelled the political careers of vermin like Trent Lott and new Georgia GOP Governor Sonny Perdue. Let the Democratic candidates campaign freely in South Carolina--and let them denounce the Confederate flag at every opportunity.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Tony Blair Admits the Bloody Obvious

Apparently, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has realized that war with Iraq is not exactly popular in the United Kingdom. Mr Blair wants--needs--a second U.N. Security Council resolution explicitly endorsing the use of force against Iraq to bolster his case among the British people. When he visited Washington, D.C. last week, Mr Blair made it clear how desirable a new U.N. resolution would be, but Mr Bush indicated such a resolution is not necessary or important.

It must have been very disappointing to Mr Blair to see the man he has risked so much for treat him so cavalierly, but he should get used to it. This American admin has a use for people only so long as those people slavishly serve its interests. Once anyone develops a mind of his or her own, they don't want you, don't need you, and would prefer to see you come to some harm.

However, Mr Bush may have little choice but to head back to the U.N. Security Council and seeks its approval for an invasion of Iraq. Other than the United Kingdom, which is already on board the war train, the rest of the Security Council was distinctly unimpressed what it saw and heard from General Powell on February 5, so the admin may be forced to return to the Security Council to drag along some reluctant allies and soothe the domestic concerns among skeptical Americans.

Mr Blair says he is confident the Russians and French will come around to his line of thinking in a second U.N. Security Council resolution. I think he's right--though only after the French and Russians have been promised their economic interests--especially those involving oil--will be respected by any U.S.-installed Iraqi regime.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

North Korea Crashes the Party

While all the world focused on General Powell's speech to the U.N. Security Council today, the North Koreans decided to crash the party with the announcement that the country is restarting its nuclear facilites at Yongbyon, which had been dormant since 1994 under an agreement made with the Clinton administration.

Boy, does this matter more than what is (or is not) going on in Iraq now. While Iraq is years--at least--away from the capacity to produce even one atomic weapon, the North Koreans could produce at least five in a matter of weeks and, in fact, may have already done so.

In the February 5, 2003 edition of The Financial Times, the editors had this to say on the matter:
While struggling to build up the case for a preventive war against Saddam Hussein, Washington has been sitting on satellite images showing queues of North Korean trucks at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, presumably moving the mothballed stockpile of nuclear fuel rods to be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium...

The 8000 fuel rods would yield plutonium to make six bombs in "weeks not months", to borrow a phrase President George W. Bush is fond of repeating about Iraq. Kim Jong-il, the Stalinist master of Pyongyang, has in recent weeks also: expelled UN nuclear monitors; withdrawn from the nucelar non-proliferation treaty, and admitted to the uranium enrichment pogramme.

In Iraq, by contrast, the same nuclear monitoring agency: destroyed the Hussein regime's atomic weapons capability in 1991-1998; has found no evidence indicating it is being rebuilt; and judges that it would in any case take Baghdad years to develop the bomb.

To any reasonable admin, this situation would be tops on the to-do list, but Bush, Inc. cannot even admit its a crisis. (The latest to deny it was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.) Saddam Hussein is surrounded by distrustful and hostile neighbors, his armies smashed, his economy wrecked, and his territory crawling with U.N. weapons inspectors. By contrast, North Korea boasts one of the largest armies in the world, has a quickly-developing nuclear weapons program, and is completely isolated from on-site U.S. or U.N. surveillance.

So why isn't the Bush admin doing more with North Korea and less with Iraq? Because Iraq seems more soluble to them right now. The North Korean problem cannot easily be solved by brute force because the communist government can demolish Seoul (which is about 30 miles from the demilitarized zone), as well as millions of civilians (and thousands of U.S. troops) in the first few hours of a war. In other words, the situation calls for the sort of nuanced and skilled diplomacy the hardline chickenhawks in Bush admin loathe.

But there is more. The admin thinks the Middle East can be radically transformed for the better by conquering Iraq and installing a pro-American dictatorship in place of the Saddam Hussein regime. The admin also believes it can protect Israel by destroying the Saddam Hussein regime and force the Palestinians to negotiate away its dreams of nationhood with a Likud government in Jerusalem.

Lurking behind this is a motivation never publicly spoken of by the administration or its neocon allies: Religion. The millenarian Pentecostal Christians in the admin and among its supporters favor a war in the Middle East because they believe it will bring the world closer to the Rapture written of in the New Testament.

Is this any way to manage the foreign policy of a superpower?

Wall Street v. The War, continued

The latest installment in my running series about Wall Street's stubborn resistance to war fever has stock markets tumbling (yet again) in response to the looming prospect of war. As France, Germany, and Russia maintained a distinct coolness toward the Bush admin's 'invade now, ask questions never' policy and Iraq signalled its pugnacious defiance of the United States, the markets gloomily prepared for a bad time:
"This (war) is not going to be easy. It's not going to be short and it's not going to be limited," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp.
Clearly, that fellow has not received Chairman Rove's talking points memo.

Upside of Bush Economic Stagnation: Fewer Shark Attacks!

Those of us constantly on the look-out for something nice to say about Mr Bush's economic policy have finally found something. Apparently, the number of shark attacks on human beings has fallen in the world and the United States. A leading cause, according to George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Flordia--the Bush economy:
"Clearly, the economy has been down for the last year or so, which may reduce the number of tourists who are able to afford to go to beaches," he said. "That the number of attacks was down in Florida, a popular tourist destination, as well as the U.S. and internationally, may be reflective of a worldwide downturn in the economy."
There we go, finally something Bush and his deficit-hog Republican lackeys can take pride in. Unfortunately, there is another, less cheerful reason for the drop in shark attacks on humans, according to Mr. Burgess--one the Bush admin is very unlikely to address:
"Shark populations are at low levels, not only on the East Coast of the United States but worldwide, primarily because of over fishing and to a lesser extent because of habitat alteration."
The findings of the International Shark Attack File prove pretty clearly that the shark hysteria of 2001--especially Time magazine's egregious 'Summer of the Shark' cover--was almost entirely a media invention designed to win larger audiences. According to the International Shark Attack File:
The annual total of 60 unprovoked attacks worldwide was less than the 72 reported in 2001 and 85 recorded in 2000, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF.

Not only did the number drop, fewer of the attacks were serious. The number of fatalities declined to three in 2002, from five in 2001 and 13 in 2000. Two of last year's fatal attacks occurred in Australia and the third took place in Brazil.

"The number of shark attacks has declined for the last two years at all three levels, internationally, nationally and in Florida, the so-called shark capital of the world," he said.

First Impressions of Colin Powell at the U.N.

My reaction to General Powell's speech at the United Nations was cautiously positive. I think Powell and his varied audio-visual tools proved beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that Iraq has been purposefully undermining the inspections regime since it began. Essentially, this substantiates the assertions made late in February by UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix to the U.N. Security Council. Clearly, Saddam Hussein has not accepted the U.N. inspections regime and is trying to conceal the full extent of his illegal weapons program in Iraq.

I thought General Powell was weaker when he tried to draw direct links between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda. If an Al Qaeda base exists in northern Iraq--much of which is not under direct control by Saddam Hussein, it is scandalous that the U.S. has not destroyed that base. In fact, it strains credulity to imagine that the U.S. is aware of the existence of this Al Qaeda base and has not obliterated completely. In my view, the Bush admin has still not made a credible and reliable case that Iraq and Al Qaeda have been working together against the United States.

General Powell was also unable to provide exact or even general locations for whatever weapons Saddam Hussein posseses and refuses to hand over to the responsible U.N. authorities. This isn't exactly damning, but it does suggest the inspectors need more time to search for the weapons. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein is doing his best to thwart those inspectors, that much is clear. Saddam Hussein's resistance in this matter is intolerable and should be ended, by force, if necessary. I would suggest punitive bombing raids on Iraqi installations when we know U.N. inspectors are being hindered in their work. All the while, the United States should be building, training, and equipping armies of liberation in the south and north of Iraq, so that they may fight their way through the country and rout Saddam Hussein from power.

That's what I'd like to see anyway. General Powell made a stronger case for war with Iraq than this administration has made yet. I do not doubt that war with Iraq is justifiable, but I do believe that this admin is pursuing the wrong policy. Saddam Hussein must removed from Iraq, his regime utterly destroyed and his weapons program revealed to the U.N. However, there is more than one way to do this and I think the policy adopted by the Bush admin to accomplish those goals will kill many more people than necessary, bleed the U.S. of more treasure than is necessary, and needlessly involve the United States military in a long, costly, and demoralizing occupation of a foreign land and people.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Had Bush Ever Been to NASA Before?

Yes, of course Mr Bush had visited the Johnson Space Center before yesterday! How dare you even ask such a question? Oh, wait. Maybe he hasn't. Might be. Could be. Possibly. Or consider this:
Dismissing suggestions on Monday that the president had shown little interest in NASA or its programs before the Columbia tragedy, Fleischer told reporters Bush had been to the Houston center in 1995 or 1996 when he was governor of Texas. But he said he did not know the exact date.

After further research, neither Bush's White House staff nor the Johnson Space Center could find a record of any official visit, the spokesman said.
The White House mouthpiece wasn't finished, though:
Fleischer did say that Bush had never seen a NASA launch or a landing.

"There are many wonderful parts of America that the president has yet to explore ... And over the course of his term perhaps he will."
Is that a threat, Ari?

Aussie Women Will Strip for Peace

Disrobe to disarm? Oh, behaaaaave!

Tony Benn: Useful Idiot

Former British Labour parliamentarian and cabinet minister Tony Benn, part of the far-left faction now known as Old Labour, must be drooling into his porridge, because quite clearly the man has his wits. Mr Benn was recently in Iraq to interview the Baghdad Butcher about weapons of mass destruction, the United Nations, oil, and--of all things--peace. During this BBC interview, not once did Mr Benn ask Saddam Hussein about human rights in Iraq. That's right, you read that correctly, but I'll write it again so you may be certain your eyes did not deceive you: Not once did Mr Benn ask Saddam Hussein about human rights in Iraq. Instead of a real interview, we are treated to nonsense like this:
Benn: Mr President, may I ask you some questions. The first is, does Iraq have any weapons of mass destruction?

Saddam: Most Iraqi officials have been in power for over 34 years and have experience of dealing with the outside world. Every fair-minded person knows that when Iraqi officials say something, they are trustworthy.
And this:
Benn: I wonder whether you could say something yourself directly through this interview to the peace movement of the world that might help to advance the cause they have in mind?

Saddam: First of all we admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war and for the cause of peace and security based on just peace for all.
And it goes on like that. The entire interview is Mr Benn tossing softballs at Saddam Hussein so the dictator can just broadcast his utter lies to the world.

Mr Benn actually has the temerity to ask Saddam Hussein, a man who has invaded Iran and Kuwait and brutalized Kurds in the north of his country and Shiites in the south--to say nothing of what he has done to the rest of the country, what message he has for the peace movement! I think it is pretty clear what message Saddam Hussein has for the peace movement and it is the same message he gave when he invaded Iran or invaded Kuwait or used mustard gas on the Kurds or depopulated the marshy regions in south Iraq after the Gulf War. The message, for anyone so thick-headed they haven't gotten it by now, is that Saddam Hussein doesn't give a damn for peace unless he is losing a war.

I've always wondered why far-left politicos like Mr Benn, who has made a few good points over the course of his life, instantly latch on to every injustice in their own country and in other western democracies, but completely refuse to recognize the unbridled terror that monsters like Saddam Hussein have unleashed upon the world. If people like Mr Benn truly care for the poor and the oppressed, they'd have the guts to ask Saddam Hussein a real question or two.

Economy Sandbags German Peacenik

Things have not gone well for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder since his dead-heat re-election in September 2002. Mr Schroeder made his absolute opposition to Mr Bush's Iraq war the centerpiece of his re-election campaign and the tactic worked with a skittish and pacific German public. However, since then the German public has paid more attention to the sclerotic economy and Schroeder's leftist Social Democratic Party (SPD) is paying the price. Facing key tests in two regional elections, Mr Schroeder went back to the well, campaigning on his opposition to the Iraq war, only to find the public there was in no mood to hear it again. The SPD was thrashed in two regional elections in the lander of Hesse and Lower Saxony. While the German public is still hostile to war with Iraq, voters are more focused on economic concerns.

In relatively conservative Hesse, the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) ruled the land in cooperation with its coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP). However, the new elections have delivered outright parliamentary control in Hesse to the CDU, who may now rule as they wish in that land. More worrying for Mr Schroeder, however, is his party's dismal performance in more liberal Lower Saxony, which the SPD had controlled for 16 years. The CDU got 48% of the vote in Lower Saxony while the SPD share of the vote fell from 48% to 33 percent. The CDU can now control Lower Saxony with its smaller coalition partner. Together, these two land represent over 16% of the German public, making it clear the Schroeder government was delivered a stinging rebuke by the voters.

While I share Mr Schroeder's scepticism about Mr Bush's intentions in the Middle East, I feel no pity for Mr Schroeder's current predicament. Instead of offering a decent solution to the crisis in the Middle East, Mr Schroeder simply opts out, preferring to curry favor with the voters by pretending Mr Saddam Hussein is not a problem and will disappear if studiously ignored for long enough. The fact is, Saddam Hussein is a serious problem and must be dealt with---very possibly by force. If I think right now is not the proper time and I disagree with the particular methods chosen by Mr Bush, I nevertheless recognize that the current situation in the Middle East cannot endure forever and must/should be changed by a coalition of western nations, led by the United States.

Mr Schroeder, however, is buying none of it. Preferring to stick his head in the sand and encouraging his pacifist countrymen to do the same, Mr Schroeder is discovering what Bush 1.0 learned 10 years ago: It's the economy, stupid.

Bad Food. Too Much Rape. I'd Give that Prison Only 1 Star

A German web site is rating prisons in Germany much the way Michelin rates restaurants or Fodor's rates hotels. Here is what one German prisoner had to say about Hamburg Prison:
One inmate wrote: "Very good food, very nice cells, nice officers, a decent daily rhythm. I keep coming back."
I guess it isn't always easy to walk that fine line between Oz and the Ritz.

Courtney Love Arrested in London

Can't someone figure out how to revoke this witch's citizenship before she gets back to the U.S.?

Wall Street v. The War, continued

The stock market continued to make its sceptical view of the Iraq war known, by shedding one percent of its value soon after the trading day opened on Tuesday.
Stocks slumped at Tuesday's opening bell as caution gripped Wall Street a day before Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) delivers a speech that could ratchet up the prospect of a war against Iraq.