Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rudy already making political hay out of Glasgow attack

Though Glasgow Airport's main terminal is still closed as police search for clues among the smouldering remains of a Jeep, it apparently isn't too soon for GOP Presidential contenders to start making hay out of it, in a misguided attack at that.

Touching on a theme which is popular with GOP primary voters, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani attacked immigrants and said the attack shows we need a strong immigration policy.

You mean, like for example an immigration policy that actually would let us know who is in the country? That is one thing that would have come out of the immigration bill that was defeated this week, since one provision would have required that immigrants who entered the country wanting work permits would have to register and notify authorities of where they were from and where they were going. Undocumented residents currently in the U.S. -- people we know so little about that even the number is only estimated to be between 12 and 20 million-- would have to pay a fine and could then obtain a permit to work legally-- and hence we'd have a record of them.

Or is Rudy trying to appeal to the more extreme elements in his party, you know the folks who like to talk about building a wall around the country, mass deportations and throwing people in prison for trying to get a job?

I agree that the fact that there are still terrorists means that we need to do a better job, among other things, of policing the border, but that should be part of a comprehensive, not just 'tougher' immigration policy.

Terror war continues with attack in Scotland.

Three days ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been in office for a decade, relinquished control of the office to fellow Labor party leader Gordon Brown.

And right on cue, two car bombs were apparently primed to go off in London (though both were found and defused) and today a Jeep Cherokee was set on fire and deliberatly rammed into the main terminal at Glasgow Airport (though so far none of the terrorist plots has resulted in any injuries, and two men were arrested in connection with the incident today.) Prime Minister Brown has raised the terror level in Britain in response.

This makes several things clear:

1. The war against terror is still being fought. While it is unforunate that Blair and Bush screwed up and invaded Iraq and thereby diverted our attention, resources and time from the matter of fighting terrorists, they are still out there and we still have to be vigilant.

2. The timing of these attacks-- obviously timed to send a message both to Blair (that he had failed to prevent them) and to Brown (that Britain remains a target) suggests that terrorists have learned to use the political calendar to their advantage (as we also saw in the Spanish train bombings) and as such we can probably expect some sort of effort made in the United States next year during the Presidential election season, or if they can't swing that, then perhaps shortly after the inauguration. Of course it took eight years between the first and second World Trade Center bombings, and so the first year of the next President's term would be pretty much on the schedule they've used in the past.

3. The fact that the first two attacks were thwarted and the third attack in Britain failed to produce any injuries or major damage is partly because citizens themselves have become much more vigilant, and notice what is going on before them.

4. 'If we are fighting them over there, they won't be able to launch attacks elsewhere.' Might have been true had we continued to make Afghanistan the number 1 priority, but obviously making Iraq a priority hasn't crimped them much.

As I've said numerous times, the U.S. conquest of Iraq was a huge mistake in the context of the global war on terror, but regardless of how anyone feels about Iraq, the real terrorists are still around, and we should not forget them or give them a break.

Fact Check: facts in 'Sicko' are accurate

Last time Michael Moore released a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, critics on the right accused him of lying about the mismanagement of the War on Terror and how we got into Iraq. So, he offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could document an error in the whole movie. To date, despite righties crawling all over it like ants on a dead bird, only a single inaccuracy was ever found-- an inadvertent one at that, in which a newspaper headline was transposed with the wrong date in a way which was of minor significance to the movie itself.

So it should come as no surprise that a fact check of 'Sicko,' while at times criticizing Moore for not putting some things in context (see my last post) verifies that his facts are pretty accurate.

The right can and will criticize Moore as biased (which most of us on the left will readily admit, just I would say this blog is biased because it reflects my own views), as motivated by profit (funny that the right has suddenly decided that being rich is a sin, at least when it is Michael Moore who has become rich), and as quoting facts out of context (though when he quotes facts like the Institute of Medicine's figure that 18,000 people per year die in America as a direct cause of not getting adequate health care because they are uninsured, it's hard to imagine what 'context' exactly would make that an acceptable number.) But if they criticize him by calling him a 'liar,' then you can be sure that they don't know what they are talking about.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why does it take a Michael Moore to do what the News isn't doing anymore?

As soon as I have an opportunity, I plan to go see Sicko, Michael Moore's new documentary. I figure with all the conservatives who claim they won't be going, I should be able get a pretty good seat.

Sicko is Moore's fourth major documentary. The first three, which made Moore a very rich man, were Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Are Moore's documentaries biased? Of course they are. They certainly do only tell one side of the story. On the other hand, documentaries historically do tell a story that isn't being told; and the people on the other side, usually the rich and the powerful, generally have been telling their story for a very long time, maybe not to us but certainly they've been telling it to Congressmen and Senators, and maybe even to Presidents. Besides, documentary makers have an easy out when it comes to telling the other side of the story. All they need do is invite the people on the other side to come and be interviewed. They may accept, but if they do they will certainly be confronted with some of the very embarrassing situations that are likely to be profiled on the documentary and asked some questions that there is no good answer for (the truth would be about the worst one they could give.) They could decline (in which case you will hear a line about how 'so and so was invited but declined a request for an interview,' or they did not respond-- and still have that noted.) Of course Moore used a third option in some of his earlier documentaries, literally hounding and peppering with questions people who weren't willing to be interviewed otherwise.

Why is Moore making documentaries?

That's easy. Because the people who should make them, the major news networks, have quit doing their job. Documentaries are supposed to bring us the stories that aren't being told, they should be the media getting behind the scenes and giving us the picture that someone else would rather that we not see. Years ago, there were some great documentaries made by CBS, ABC and NBC. The best examples are Harvest of Shame, the 1960 gold standard by which all documentaries are measured, in which Edward R. Murrow profiled the plight of migrant farmworkers, and Hearts and Minds, the 1974 documentary directed by Peter Davis about the Vietnam war that largely provided a new framework for how we talk about war, especially guerilla conflicts.

Were those documentaries controversial? Absolutely. Were they biased? Perhaps, though (like Moore) they provided raw facts and first hand footage, not edited to make it easier to swallow or sugar coated so Aunt Sophie wouldn't lose her appetite.

But today, the major news networks hardly ever make anything that could be called a 'documentary' anymore. So Moore (and last year, Al Gore who inconveniently for the right stepped in when Moore was taking a year off putting together 'Sicko') are merely filling a niche that has been vacated by the news media who should be guardians of the news, and who should be telling the untold stories.

So the real question isn't about Michael Moore, it is why have the major networks quit making documentaries? Is it because they are afraid of controversy? Maybe, although they certainly don't seem to have a problem with controversy when it comes to pushing the envelope with how much sexual innuendo they can put on TV, or if it is of the Jerry Springer/Montel Williams variety. Is it that they don't have the staff to do it anymore? Perhaps, but then why do they have so many reporters devoted to telling us every detail of what is going on with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Tom Cruise? Is it because they aren't cost effective? Maybe, and it is true that it costs a lot more to send a reporter and film crew to some small town in the jungle someplace than it costs to film another vapid sitcom in studio 17-B. But Moore has made a ton of cash from people plonking down their money to see his documentaries, which suggests that the networks could get some decent ratings and turn a profit from them if they wanted to.

I think though that the real reason why the news networks have gotten out of the documentary business and left it to Moore is because they are no longer independent corporations. CBS is owned by Time-Warner, ABC is owned by Disney, NBC is owned by General Electric and FOX is part of the corporate empire of Rupert Murdoch. The truth is, while for the most part the corporate leadership doesn't interfere with the news divisions in any of these companies, when it comes to influencing public policy they do. A good well put together documentary can do a great deal to influence public debate and policy on an issue (as Harvest of Shame did, and as Hearts and Minds, which was finished too late to influence Vietnam, has influenced the way we think about civilian populations and modern warfare. And the truth be told, the corporate titans really don't want to rock the boat and influence public policy other than by their own very deliberate lobbying and campaign donations.

Now they are probably thinking, if they could just figure out a way to buy Michael Moore....

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fifty years ago, still the same... or is it?

One side of a school yard has a shady tree. It is a segregated school yard, and only white kids have been allowed on the side with the shady tree. Black kids have their patch on the other side of the yard.

So a few black kids formally ask the school administration for permission to go to the other side of the yard and sit under the tree. It is granted.

So the next day black students arrived at school to see that the tree had been decorated for their arrival. With three hangman's nooses.

The school superintendent overrules the principal on punishment for the white students who put the nooses there and suspends the students for three days, calling the nooses "a prank."

After the slap on the wrist punishment is handed out, racial tensions quickly escalate, including fights and arson (no arrests yet in the arson which partially destroyed the school.) Then a black student is beaten when he shows up at an all-white party. No one was charged.

Three days later a white student confronted three black students in the parking lot of a convenience store and pointed a shotgun at them. The black students defended themselves by wrestling the shotgun away from the offender. Charges were filed-- against the three black youths for aggravated battery and theft for taking the gun away. The white man who pointed the gun at them was not arrested and was never charged with a crime.

Then a group of black youth beat a white kid senseless as he was leaving the gym on December 4. Remember that no charges were filed for the beating at the party. But this time charges are filed-- for attempted second degree murder, which is likely to land the kids who did the beating in prison for up to 100 years apiece. In other words, effectively a life sentence for doing exactly the same thing as resulted in no charges at all just a few days earlier when the victim was black and the perps were white. Of course the six black students who are accused of the beating should be charged with a serious felony-- without a doubt this is aggravated battery, but charges should be filed both proportionately (which attempted murder leading to life in prison is disproportionate) and against anyone who commits the same crime.

Louisiana in 1957? No, Louisiana in 2007.

What amazes me most about this is how most of the townspeople (well, the white ones anyway) don't think they have a race problem.

The district attorney declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But other white leaders insist there are no racial tensions in the community, which is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.

"Jena is a place that's moving in the right direction," said Mayor Murphy McMillan. "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives. "

Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.

I will say that a later quote in the article appears to only tell part of what Pentecostal Minister Eddie Thompson wrote in his essay so I will link the entirety of his original essay here: The Battle Against Racism in Jena, Louisiana he adds a note of explanation at the beginning in which he writes in part:

I have decided to keep the article here and add this explanation: I believe that racism, bigotry, and hatred exist in our community just as it does in villages, towns, and cities all across the United States, North and South. I reject the notion that our local law enforcement, governmental, and educational institutions perpetuate these fruits of wickedness. In fact, I believe those institutions in Jena have lead the way in correcting the imbalances caused by racism concerning equal rights for all. Opportunities exist for all people of all races in our community under the law. Personally, I have not found the local courts to be biased in judgment nor the school system to prevent advancement from anyone based on race. However, you cannot change the heart of anyone through legislation; education alone will not undo bigotry or hatred instilled from birth. Unless we deal with the spirit of our people, we will never learn the grace and mercy of God towards those less fortunate in life...

And then copy the quote taken from the linked Chicago Daily Herald article (one question arises, if the author of the Chicago Daily Herald article was publishing online, why not link directly to the online article quoted?)

I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism: True racism.

Thompson, obviously a conservative minister (who I would probably agree with on very little, but I commend how he handled this situation) then goes on to describe how he attended a healing meeting for the town in another article The Battle Against Racism in Jena Hijacked) and writes in part,

What an amazing sight it was! There was the United Pentecostal preacher standing with the Baptist pastor, seeking the hand of God for our children. There was the black minister lifting his voice with the white minister to sing praises to our King. The principal of Jena High School was thrilled to see us there on his campus, politically correct or not, calling on the Name of Jesus for mercy and for grace. The Superintendent of Schools caught the spirit and preached like a Bible-thumping evangelist from a rickety pulpit. The “congregation” of our city gathered together in one accord to fight the spiritual wickedness that has bound us for so long. Perhaps the most touching moment of all was when the students, black and white, suddenly joined together on the football field and sang the alma mater hand in hand, special emphasis given to the line that states, "God keep safe thy fame." All convention was set aside for the higher purpose of finding answers. We called on our Savior to set the captives, all of us, free. In all my years I never saw it such in Jena, Louisiana.

I hope that the citizens of this town solve their problem together. However, a little media spotlight, showing whether they are successful or not, won't hurt.

Because there is still racism in America, and what the citizens of Jena now (finally) appear to be doing (though we will see how this turns out).

Supreme Court decides High School Principal outranks the First Amendment.

Quite a few years ago I was involved in helping to organize a union one of my former work places. At one point we decided that we wanted to have a peaceful picket and demonstration. So we petitioned management to allow us to demonstrate in a courtyard outside of their offices. They refused, so we picketed and demonstrated on a sidewalk, which in fact was along a road that major road that ran right through the middle of our workplace. In the end the management backed down and backed off of the specific decision they had made which prompted the demonstration, in no small part because of the citywide press coverage that the demonstration got (they'd have been much better off if they had approved the original site.)

The reason the sidewalk was chosen was very plain: it was public access. It was the one place on-site where management had no legal sway, and by law we had the right to demonstrate as long as we did so in a manner that did not block access for anyone else wanting to use the sidewalk or interfere with traffic.

And that is what makes today's Supreme Court decision very troubling. By a 6-3 majority, the court ruled to restrict free speech by students on a public sidewalk.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court ruled against a former high school student Monday in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner case -- a split decision that limits students' free speech rights.

Joseph Frederick was 18 when he unveiled the 14-foot paper sign on a public sidewalk outside his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002.

Principal Deborah Morse confiscated it and suspended Frederick. He sued, taking his case all the way to the nation's highest court.

The justices ruled 6-3 that Frederick's free speech rights were not violated by his suspension over what the majority's written opinion called a "sophomoric" banner...

"It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use-- and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority.

The substance of the banner is irrelevant. Either this student (and by implication all students, or all people) have a right to express their views in public, or they don't. In the end it is that simple.

Suppose that the banner had read, 'prayer 4 Jesus.' Would the conservative justices who voted against Frederick then vote to allow him to display his banner (or for that matter, it is fair to ask whether the three liberal justices who supported him would vote against him?) And if the answer is 'yes,' then wouldn't it plainly mean that the decision was based on the personal viewpoints of the justices and not the matter of free speech at all?

There is no question that the school has every right to control what is said on school grounds-- they have jurisdiction there, but with this decision can they then ban what students can say off campus? Could they enforce dress codes even when students are not at school? Could they punish students if they write a letter to the paper that portrays the school in an unflattering light? The implications are chilling.

And it won't stop with students. If Mr. Frederick can't display the banner across from his school, could you? Maybe prinicipal Morse might not have any jurisdiction over you, but the mayor would. Or the Governor. Or the President. This ruling represents a real restriction on the rights of all of us.

And don't let anyone fool you into thinking that it does not.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cheney announcement is a probe, part of a plan to bury their tracks.

Vice President Cheney claimed yesterday that his office is not part of the Bush administration and therefore doesn't have to send to the National Archives any documents that he has.

Aside from the laughable proposition that the Vice President is not part of the administration, this has a serious-- and a dark side.

Presidential administrations by law must keep documentation on file, both for the benefit of future administrations and for the review of historians.

These documents are kept in the National Archives and housed in Presidential Libraries.

Of course some are classified, and remain so until some time in the future when either a specific declassification date is passed or they are deemed as no longer required to be classified by the administration then in charge.

Even where documents may prove to be embarrassing or possibly the grounds for criminal liability, procedures have been devised that will still make them the basis for future historical knowlege. For example, Lyndon Johnson had a time capsule sealed which will be opened in 2039-- a date by which anyone who might have been associated with his crimes in Vietnam will almost certainly be long since gone from this world.

But what we've seen from the Bush administration is a whole new direction. First, were the lost emails. Thousands, maybe even millions of government emails, required by law to be stored (and recently requested by Congress as part of the investigation of the U.S. attorney firings) have been deleted.

I think the investigation probably has only uncovered earlier than the White House expected one of the pieces of one of the greatest coverups of our time, which we will see much more of in the near future, especially if it looks like a President who may not be interested in protecting Bush administration secrets wins the White House.

Another piece fell into place yesterday with Cheney's blatant claim. Believe me, it's not just that he wants to keep the attendees at his energy summit secret. It goes much deeper than that, especially with the role that the Vice President's office has played in developing the policies of this administration. If he can blanket claim the right to deny documents to the National Archives then he has sigificantly reduced the number of documents the administration will have to make public right there, and provided a 'safe' spot within the administration where they can send the most damning of documents and get them out of harm's way.

This administration is aware that the sand is starting to run out of the hourglass, and when it does they could be caught holding documentation on torture, secret surveillance of American citizens, kidnapping and 'black rendition,' detention of prisoners for secret trials, and other illegal operations. Like a drug dealer who has been tipped off that their house has been staked out and the police are on their way, they have a limited time to dispose of the sticky evidence and a lot of it to get rid of.

I fear that Cheney's announcement may be a probe, intended to see how far they can push the needle in terms of covering up what they have done. But expect over the next couple of years more and more stories like this as the Bush administration does everything they can to bury their skeletons (and may we hope that is only a figurative description.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pulte turns high pressure improvised water cannon on legally picketing workers

Hat tip to Tedski at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.

Last April, the AFL-CIO announced their intention to organize thousands of construction workers in Arizona and Nevada who worked for Pulte Homes. As the union said according to an article at the time in the Las Vegas Review Journal, it called Pulte the "Wal-Mart of home developers." Pulte employs numerous subcontractors, but according to the union does not hold them to high standards of worker treatment.

On May 29, Pulte responded by announcing they were cutting 1,900 jobs nationwide, including a reduction of their Phoenix based workforce from three divisions to two. While it is true that the housing market has cooled and Pulte recently canceled plans to build a development in Benson, it is clear from this move that they consider their heavy use of subcontractors to be more important than even their own workforce. Of course, people in Anthem already know a little about how Pulte operates: According to an article in the Arizona Republic on May 28 (unfortunately online links via AZCentral are only good for seven days but the print edition is still available)

Del Webb, a Pulte Homes company, built the Anthem community in 1999. Residents said Del Webb didn't disclose that the cost of providing the community with water would come back to haunt them eight years later.

Oh, and one other thing-- most of the workforce is Hispanic, many from Mexico (I don't know what their legal immigration status is and that is irrelevant to the abuses you will see in a moment.)

Maybe you agree with the objectives of the union. Maybe you don't. But workers have a legal right to picket, which is exactly what right they were exercising outside a construction site in Florence, Arizona yesterday.

The workers who were in the picket line were fired from companies Pulte subcontracts with for speaking up about working conditions--specifically for being forced to work during their lunch breaks and for not being given enough water to hydrate during the day (note that the high temperature in Phoenix yesterday was 113 degrees).

Pulte executives responded, after threatening to have leaders of the picket line arrested (I guess they then figured out that the cops know what the law is and wouldn't arrest them for demonstrating legally), by the use of a water cannon-- actually an improvised one, setting the company spray truck to deliver high pressure water. Some of it was sprayed directly on protesters. Whether they would have done this at a crowd of predominantly anglo workers is not an unreasonable question to ask.

The AFL-CIO will show a videotape of the incident at a news conference tomorrow but it is already available on U-Tube linked here.

There is a reason why the police are reluctant to use water cannons as an example of 'non-lethal force.' It is because they can and have at times in the past caused serious injury, both if they happen to hit a vulnerable area of the body (like the eyes or the ears) and if they cause people to fall at an accelerated rate of speed.

This is only going to escalate tensions. But maybe that is what they want. Are the Pulte execs so stuck in the sixties (on the wrong side) that they will try tear gas next?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Global studies bill killed by dummies.

In today's highly competitive and globalized world of business, it is important for Americans to understand and be able to work with people from other cultures, speak other languages or conduct business in other countries. Only don't tell that to a handful of idiots on the Arizona legislature.

Businesses need people skilled in world languages and economics. The government has gaping holes in diplomacy and intelligence. Universities are begging for more students with sophisticated learning.

It all gives credence to a bill in the Arizona Legislature to create international schools to help make students globally competitive.

But, in the end, the bill died. As its supporters learned, "international" is a dirty word among some at the Capitol.

Key leaders there suggested the bill was un-American and part of a slippery slope to a U.N. takeover and the end of U.S. sovereignty.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, would have put three K-12 schools in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, where kids would begin a second language in kindergarten, and set up new international programs at seven high schools. Big business and universities pledged to partner with the schools. First-year costs would have been $2.3 million, or less than 0.02 percent of the proposed state budget...

• Some Arizona legislators were so opposed to the bill that supporters changed the name from international schools to American competitiveness project schools to appease them.

That didn't sway Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican.

"What I'm assuming is that they changed the name, trying to get us to be less objectionable, as if, you know, a rose by any other name is not as sweet," said Gould, a member of the Senate's K-12 Education Committee. "There's a lot of us here who are not internationalists. These schools actually have kind of a United Nations flavor to them, and we're actually into educating Americans into Americanism, not internationalism."

I guess that would be the same Ron Gould who proudly flies a Confederate battle flag in front of his Lake Havasu city home.

• Sen. Karen Johnson, a Mesa Republican and chairwoman of the K-12 Education Committee, never let the proposal out of committee. Johnson instead brought in a professor from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn., to educate lawmakers on the dangers of a popular international studies program, the International Baccalaureate....

"The International Baccalaureate is un-American," Allen Quist, who served in the Minnesota Legislature in the 1980s and ran for Minnesota governor as a Republican in 1994, said in a phone interview. He said that International Baccalaureate's links to the United Nations are disturbing and that its sense of right and wrong is ambiguous.

That would be the same Karen Johnson, four times divorced, who likes to lecture others about 'family values.'

To get around Johnson, supporters took the proposal to the Senate's Higher Education Committee. The proposal eventually reached the House Appropriations Committee, which helps decide what bills get funded and how much. There, it ran into Rep. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican. Pearce recalled this week that his research on international schools in general found them to be dangerous, and he suggested their agenda was tied to the U.N., not America.

"Our schools ought to be focusing on education that we, as Americans, espouse," Pearce said. "We ought to concentrate on United States history and United States heroes."

Ah, yes. Russell Pearce. The same Russell Pearce who has led the anti-immigrant charge in Arizona and who not so long ago praised (and refused to apologize for praising), "operation wetback," a 1950's program in which millions of men, women and children were rounded up, sometimes violently, and forcibly deported en masse.

So Arizona's schoolchildren will lose out on an opportunity and the state itself will either miss out on the next generation of global trade or have the money made from it sent someplace else (in China, kids are taught English at an early age, for example).

This bill, you will note had a Republican sponsor. But with Republicans like Gould, Johnson and Pearce in the legislature it is no wonder that we still have the reputation nationally as being 'ignoramusville.' I guess they are shooting for internationally too.

Iraqi refugees

Another sad fact to come out of the Iraq war: millions of Iraqi refugees.

According to a report released this week by the U.N.'s refugee agency, there were 1.4 million Iraqi refugees at the end of 2006, most of them in Syria and Jordan. Another 1.8 million Iraqis were displaced inside their own country, according to the report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Iraqis who fled west are mainly Sunni arabs, proving that the Shi'ite death squads (often indistinguishable from government forces, many of which have been infiltrated by the Badr brigade, the Mahdi army and other Shi'ite militia) have been remarkably effective in trying to remake the country into a Shi'ite nation.

The other noteworthy thing is the number itself. Iraq had a pre-war population of about 26 million. The total of 3.2 million refugees represents over 12 % of the population. Add to this the up to 600,000 Iraqis estimated to have died in the war and this represents a significant demographic shift in Iraq, all due to the war that George W. Bush started.

More than just a number however, the refugees represent an ongoing problem that is likely to get worse over time. Camps full of refugees, if allowed to fester often form the birthplace and later the backbone of future guerilla armies (just ask the Israelis about that). The human tragedy is huge, it will put a strain on the economy and society of countries that host refugee camps and other countries, especially the U.S., will be pressured to accept sizeable numbers of Iraqi refugees (just as our significant Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong and Bosnian communities are part of the legacy of America's past foreign wars over the past half century.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Michael Bloomberg quits GOP

Current New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that he is resigning from the Republican party. Of course, more than one out of eight Republicans have also left the GOP since 2004 so it's hardly remarkable anymore that he is doing so.

However, in his case, it heightens speculation that he will run for President next year. Like Ross Perot (who got 19% of the vote in 1992) Bloomberg has hundreds of millions of dollars he could spend on a campaign, which alone makes him a viable candidate. Unlike Perot, he has already held elective office (the same office as Giuliani's highest in the past) and he isn't so nutty-- I have my disagreements with Michael Bloomberg but I can't see him accusing his opponents of sabotaging his daughter's wedding or quitting the race the moment he gets some bad news and then rejoining it later.

As a candidate, Bloomberg starts out with one big advantage.

And that advantage is one that the parties did to themselves. By failing to stop states from piling on with front loaded primaries. I blogged on the dangers of this headlong rush to the head of the line (Super-Duper Tuesday frought with peril) a couple of months ago, but failed then to consider what the effects might be of a third party candidacy. But supposing that the two major parties have nominations all locked up by February:

1. Bloomberg could then take his time and announce a run about mid summer. Because of his enormous personal financial resources he won't have to do much fundraising (and as I'm sure he would point out, wouldn't have to make any backroom deals to raise funds). He would be able to start with a complete warchest just as his two major party opponents were depleting theirs attacking each other between February and when the conventions start in late August and then having to try and raise more money for the general. And by July people will know all about the two nominees (and probably not like them) so Bloomberg would be a fresh face on the scene.

2. People are already weary of partisan politics. One effect of the nominees being known by February is that they will be driving up each other's negatives, and Bloomberg can pick his time and announce just when some partisan battle really drives up people's disgust with both parties.

3. Bloomberg, who has only had to run twice for Mayor (and then in elections largely focused on 9/11) has not had to define many of his positions on issues. Once it is known who the major party nominees are, he could carefully triangulate a platform that plays to issues where people are dissatisfied with both nominees. In particular, if Giuliani is the GOP nominee then look for Bloomberg to take a surprisingly conservative tack on cultural issues but if it is somebody else Bloomberg could define himself as the 'new' Giuliani and run to the center (as he did when he ran for Mayor.)

Now granted, no third party candidate has won for President since the modern two party system began. In fact, only once-- in 1912 when former President Teddy Roosevelt finished ahead of Republican William Howard Taft (but losing to Woodrow Wilson) has a third party candidate even managed to finish second. Also, without an existing party organization Bloomberg would face some stiff organizational challenges regardless of how much money he has, but he also-- largely thanks to the disastrous primary schedule that both major parties have allowed to happen-- could have all the advantages he would need to be successful.

Giuliani state chair busted for dealing drugs.

South Carolina isn't exactly the kind of state where Rudy Giuliani is pinning his hopes of winning the GOP Presidential nomination on. Though the state has been reliably Republican in national elections, the Republicans in South Carolina are likely to be skeptical of him for reasons of his positions, past or present, on abortion, gay rights and gun control.

Add another one though. Today, the chair of his statewide Presidential campaign, State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, was indicted on Federal cocaine charges. The investigation finds that he began distributing cocaine in late 2005, and has since distributed an undisclosed amount, though less than five hundred grams (which that is still more than a pound of coke-- worth thousands of dollars on the street.)

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) -- South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a former real estate developer who became a rising political star after his election last year, was indicted Tuesday on federal cocaine charges.

Thomas Ravenel is also the state chairman for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.

Of course, Ravenel will be asked to resign, especially since Giuliani is already vulnerable to charges that he stood by Bernard Kerik for too long even after having been briefed years ago on Kerik's ties to organized crime. But if Rudy had any thought that he might be able to steal a win in South Carolina's primary (which is likely to set the tone for the rest of the South) it sounds like today it was snorted away.

Could the opportunity for peace come out of a war?

Once again, it seems like there are no winners but some real losers in the Palestinian civil war that has ripped the not-yet-born state into two pieces.

Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected President of the Palestinian authority, and Hamas, which by the same voters was elected to lead the government, have in the end not been able to work together. Not just with Israel, but not even with each other. Hamas has seized complete control of the Gaza strip while Fatah has done the same in the West Bank. Because the two pieces of Palestine are separated by Israel, it seems unlikely that there will be any other resolution to this than a 'two state solution,' but not the 'two state solution' that most had evisioned.

I had written a post following Hamas' surprising victory last year, Interpreting the Hamas victory and where from here, in which I had written that there might be cause for optimism because unlike the corruption plagued and weak structure of Fatah, Hamas could, if they could be induced to sign an agreement, back it up.

Ah, but that is the sticking point. I was far too optimistic, because while there is no question that Hamas has the authority that they could enforce an agreement, they have no inclination to make one. They still have one and pretty much only one goal-- to destroy Israel. And no price-- even the partitioning of the Palestinian state itself, is too high for them to pay in order to get rid of Israel. Like the medieval crusaders, Hamas risks simply becoming a cause without a plan, other than simply to push the cause forward-- and like the crusaders it is playing a very dangerous game, likely to end up in a bloodbath of Biblical portions, including both Israeli and Palestinian blood.

Fatah is probably a bit stronger and less corrupt than it was under Arafat (mainly because of the hard realities of the situation, as well as the fact that it would be hard to match Arafat for corruption, a man who stole billions in western donations while his people starved) but I can't say that I share the optimism that western leaders have that Mahmoud Abbas will be any more effective than Arafat at preventing individuals and organizations from carrying out attacks on Israel. To be honest, Hamas was able to make their one year cease fire with Israel that they observed up until last summer hold because they have a reputation for ruthlessness that Fatah lacks. Nevertheless recent events have clarified the situation and made it clear that Abbas and Fatah will be Israel's negotiating partner.

Israel is in the most interesting position. Of course if Israel does nothing it benefits (and has been benefitting) in the short term while the two Palestinian factions do their best to destroy each other. However, in the long term Israel faces some hard choices. Presumably now that Abbas has formed a government that does not include Hamas (in other words, a government which other than himself was never elected by the people) Israel is free to negotiate (since they had refused to negotiate with a government including Hamas because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel).

To begin with the Palestinian authority and Israel, which recognized each other after the Oslo accords, are willing to reiterate that agreement, but what next? Israel has built settlements in the past and is willing to dismantle them as they did in Gaza-- but what happened in Gaza, which has provided a base for rocket and mortar attacks and resulted in Israel re-invading certain areas in brief forays (as well as a protracted incursion last summer) suggests that simply dismantling the settlements as good-will gestures is as likely as not to simply turn them into launching pads for rockets aimed at Israeli population centers. Israel may indeed dismantle settlements, but the price is likely to be steep-- likely including acceptance of the Israeli border wall (which I oppose incidentally-- for the same reasons I oppose a border wall on the Mexican border-- but realistically, the Israelis are unlikely to tear it down given its record of stopping suicide bombers) and possibly some concessions in other areas-- more on that later. However, it is clearly to Israel's advantage to have a secure border along the West Bank area, just as Israel presently has secure borders along two borders which were once battle zones: Israel's borders with Jordan and Egypt. So Israel does have a motivation to reach an agreement that will allow a Fatah led state to come together and develop economically and politically. However, even if an accord is reached, there is still the thorny issue of what to do about east Jerusalem. Both sides claim it as their capitol, and the one thing that Jews, Muslims and Christians agree on is that the temple mount (now adorned with the mosque of Omar, the third holiest site in Islam) is holy ground. The holiest site in Judaism is the western wall of the temple of Herod, the same temple where Jesus preached and which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. I suspect that in the absence of other considerations, Israel would retain control over the holy sites only because of the fact of the matter, that Israel controls them now and won't give them up, and this would be part of the price Abbas would have to agree to in exchange for the dismantling of settlements elsewhere. However, the Israelis could offer to put portions under joint control, IF they had a real reason why they needed to gain goodwill, especially from West Bank Palestinians. And there is a reason they will.

The reason is quite plain. Israel will certainly be fighting a two front war in the very near future. In the past, Israel's reputation for military effectiveness saved it from actually having to fight any real wars since the end of the Lebanon invasion in 1982. But last summer, Hezbollah fought Israel to a draw. In the politics of the Middle East, that equals a victory for Hezbollah and a defeat for Israel. Hezbollah, which fired thousands of rockets all over northern and north-central Israel in last year's war has re-armed themselves and will sooner or later (with 'sooner' being more likely) go to war again with Israel. Not surprisingly, as we've seen recently, al-Qaeda also quickly has gotten into the scene, with Lebanese army units fighting to dislodge them from bases in southern Lebanon-- a place where until a few months ago al-Qaeda had no interest in.

However, with Hamas now firmly in control of the Gaza strip, we can anticipate that such a war will be a two front war. Hamas remains committed absolutely to the destruction of Israel so it is a certainty that at some point, they will use the complete control of the area which they now have to organize and conduct a concerted attack on Israel. It is hard to imagine that whether Hezbollah or Hamas attacks first, the other won't quickly join in. Or perhaps Israel, knowing this will happen, will attack both Hamas and Hezbollah directly-- hoping to gain enough militarily from a first strike to offset the political price they would pay for it.

And that is where Fatah and Abbas' opportunity comes in. They could of course mount an attack as well on Israel, but unlike Hamas and Hezbollah, Fatah's roots as a guerilla organization are long since past, and they would be quickly crushed by the Israeli army if they were so foolish. However, they could extract a high price from Israel in exchange for remaining neutral (since the last thing that Israel would want while fighting a two-front war would be for it to become a three-front war-- with the everpresent concern that Syria could also open a fourth front). In particular, that might be the card that Fatah would need to get rid of all the settlements, and possibly gain a joint control agreement over east Jerusalem. At the same time, a Palestinian authority which remained neutral (including reigning in its military arm, the al-Aqsa martyr's brigade) while Israel was fighting another major war would go a long way towards convincing Israel that the time was right for full Palestinian statehood.

It has been said of the Palestinians in the past that 'they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.' Of course that was when Yassir Arafat was leading them from disappointment to disappointment to disappointment. The next few months will tell whether Abbas will be able to seize the opportunity and create a peaceful and stable state in the West Bank or go the way of Arafat before him.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

What loopholes do you see affecting people around you?

I will be gone for most of the next two weeks on vacation, so (as I do every June) I will leave a post that is worth chewing over:

Many years ago, I was a student at a small engineering college in Socorro, New Mexico. One year it rained a great deal, so the grass and all the grounds were lush and green. One day in late June I was walking along and saw the sprinkler system running full blast, with everything flooded and underwater. I said something about it to one of the groundskeepers and he told me that they had to use their water allocation by the end of that week, or it would be cut the next year, when it would be dry and they might need it. Apparently that was the way the system was set up by people who thought that even the weather could be made to comply with their red tape. Millions of gallons of water (a precious resource in the desert southwest) were being wasted instead of stored where they could be used to protect against a drought in the next year, all out of fear of a drought in the next year.

I've been thinking a lot about how legislation, while well meaning often results in unintended consequences, which were either not imagined by those crafting it, which were contemplated but dismissed as unlikely or negligible in their impact, or in rare cases were in fact the reason the law was crafted in the first place, and sold to a well-meaning but gullible public or legislature.

A prime example of the last on the list was the ballot proposition passed last year (last year's prop 207) and sold under the guise of protecting people against 'eminent domain,' in which municipalities were ordered to pay for any changes in property value as a result of zoning changes. This includes things like sign ordinances, and has as a result hamstrung the ability of cities and counties to control the urban environment and plan responsible growth (which is in fact what the writers, mainly developers, wanted all along but they claimed it was about eminent domain.) Under the text of a proposition, any individual landowner may sue any time there is a change in zoning, claiming (rightly or wrongly) that it has affected their property value, and this fact has already prevented cities from making changes in zoning to manage growth.

Another prime example from last year's legislative propositions (last year's prop 101) limits property tax hikes by any county, city, town or community college district to 2%. While I might not agree with the intended consequences (forcing these entities to hold down taxes and hence limiting tax investment) I can respect that this was the intent of the voters. However, by basing it on current rates, the unintended consequence has been to disproportionately punish counties and other entities which have been fiscally conservative in the past and held taxes down while keeping their taxing ability in abeyance, while in effect rewarding those who in the past have raised taxes the most, by giving the most room to raise them even further in the future.

As a matter of fact, another example (this time of a law which was not passed) is last year's prop 302, relating to the salaries of elected state legislators. Now, let me say right up front that I can certainly why most people voted against this one. Given the underfunding of our schools, police departments, counties and other entities that we've seen by this group of tax-cut happy legislators, I know why a lot of people felt they don't deserve a raise. And I'd agree fully that they don't deserve a raise. Let them try to make it on $24,000 a year, just like ordinary people in the state. The problem though is that not raising legislative salaries (as has not been done in many years) virtually guarantees that we will have a legislature full of people who are anything but ordinary, in fact are disproportionately rich. Keeping legislative salaries where they are in effect rewards people who can afford to serve for $24,000 (in fact many of them could probably afford to serve for nothing) while poor or middle class people can't afford to even take the time off from work to run for the legislature, let alone serve. I've heard the argument that serving in the legislature is a half-time job, so it should only pay a half-time salary; the fallacy here is that it only applies to legislators who can take half a year off of work and still have their jobs back when they get done, and with an uncertain start date. The irony is that by keeping legislative salaries low Arizona has in effect created the professional legislature that its opponents sought to prevent.

Let's get away from last year's ballot propositions. What about actual laws?

Here is one that always seems to get ignored. Included among all the anti-smoking laws is one which makes it a crime for adults to purchase cigarettes for children. I fully support this law. It does not however make an exemption for parents. In fact, no parent (and I am one) wants their kids to smoke (and if a parent does push smoking on their kids then that would constitute child abuse and could be dealt with in other ways). But by tying the hands of parents (who could otherwise use the opportunity to monitor their kids habits and talk to them about quitting while they are still young enough to do so relatively easily) we in effect open a whole new clientele up to drug dealers, who might otherwise never have a way to meet these kids. I know this happens (and where I first started thinking this might be a poorly written law) because of a kid telling another one in my presence that she didn't have any cigarettes because 'my friend got busted for meth.' So we in effect have made tobacco the new entry drug, and after spending some time getting to know the kids by buying cigarettes for them, it isn't too long before, 'smoke this one,' comes up. And heck, let's forget the drug dealers for a moment-- what a golden key we've just handed child molesters with this law. In effect, by trying to protect our children from the evils of tobacco, we've gotten to the point of taking what little authority parents still have on the issue away and letting it fall into the hands of people who may actually be out to harm these teens and pre-teens.

Another one which I was forced to confront lately is related to the law exempting groceries from sales tax (which I also fully support). Lately I've noticed (and my kids insist on making me notice) that people who make cheap toys that they sell in convenience stores have started including a mixture of toys and candy. I've not seen this in states that don't charge sales tax differentially for toys and food, so apparently this concoction was whomped up just for Arizona. The candy probably costs them less than a dime, so they can put it in a package with a $1.59 toy and raise the price to $1.69 (tax free). They end up making more money that way, the price ends up costing the consumer less and who loses? Well, the state budget and every teacher, every police officer, and every project which depends on state funding loses. So do the kids, since most of this candy is hard candy (like suckers) which are loaded with sugar and are the worst for their teeth. I don't think that the legislature had this in mind when they passed the exemption for groceries but it is an example of how people who shouldn't be covered by a law will find a loophole and crawl through it (simple solution: quit exempting candy from sales tax; Maybe then they will at least package the toys with jerky or with dried vegetables or something which would at least be nutritious.)

Those are a few of my most observed loopholes. What are yours?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Criminal justice: Paris Hilton case makes it clear how corrupt it is.

Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in jail (since reduced to 30) for violating probation in her reckless driving case. Of course, probation by definition is a punishment that is given in lieu of jail time, so if you can't abide by probation you should go to jail.

But after only three days, she has been released (to house arrest-- in effect another form of probation) because of an unspecified 'medical condition.' I guess the oficial name for it is 'spoiled little princess.' But now after the outrage that ensued, Los Angeles county officials have hauled her back into court where a judge may send her back to finish out her sentence.

Jail isn't supposed to be fun. That's why people are supposed to want to avoid it (well, other than of course Timothy Bowers of Columbus Ohio, an unemployed 62 year old man who robbed a bank last year and then called the police and waited at the bank so he could be sentenced to two years until he qualified for Social Security-- that's how desperate some people are these days.)

In jail, many prisoners die of natural causes. They don't get to serve under 'house arrest' because of their 'medical condition.' And I guarantee you that when Paris' sentence is over in about a month she will be hitting the Hollywood party scene just as hard as she always has. If she has a medical condition it might be nausea at having to make her own bed in the morning.

But whatever the result of today's hearing is, the fact that it is happening at all only shows how spineless the officials are-- their first decision was obviously made due to pressure from Paris and her lawyers, but the reversal is due to pressure from the public-- the consistent point being that they buckle under pressure.

It also shows that I was right about something I wrote regarding the Duke rape case (in which justice was in fact finally served when three fairly wealthy guys who could afford good lawyers were able to endure the attempt by a politically motivated D.A. to railroad them).

It would be a mistake to suggest that the problems with the criminal justice system begin and end with the Durham county prosecutor's office. It is true that in even the best criminal justice system mistakes are bound to be made (one big reason I oppose the death penalty). But the criminal justice system we have in America is far, far from the best, and perhaps we should go through it from one end to the other and try to figure out what it will take to, as Joe Friday used to say, focus on 'just the facts.'

On the other end of things, we've seen people who did not have access to good attorneys who did get railroaded. In the Duke post, I linked to a story about a man who spent 22 years in prison for a series of rapes he did not commit, and who could have been allowed out sooner if he had been willing to confess to the crimes he was in fact innocent of. We've also seen cases like that of Anthony Porter, who was literally two hours away from execution in Illinois for a murder he did not commit (in fact he was saved by a class of Northwestern University law students who first, working on their own, uncovered enough evidence to cast doubt on the case and earn him a stay of execution, and then later tracked down the real murderer and proved that Porter was innocent.) In many of these cases, because the defendant was poor, he or she could not afford adequate legal representation and was shafted by the same system that is giving special privileges to Paris Hilton. Earlier this year I posted a story about a substitute teacher who is facing forty years in prison, frankly because the jury in the case was unaware of what a 'mousetrap' program is, something which has happened to me when I hit a link on a webpage and it started opening windows automatically which I did not have any interest in (in particular, pornographic windows.) I also posted a case of a man who was cleared of a rape by DNA after he paid for it himself-- after the police lab refused to carry out the test and instead chose to be lazy and not consider the possibility that he might not have done it (of course whoever did is still out there.)

There have been times when I've been complimentary towards the job the cops do but there are also times when they are either too lazy or too busy to adequately investigate cases, so they settle for the easiest explanation, whether they get it right or not. Of course this sort of attitude isn't unique to police and the criminal justice system, we've all seen it here and there in our daily lives, when we do business with someone who has a bad attitude about their job. But when people's lives are on the line, it is even more important to get it right.

And that's what is most troubling about the Paris Hilton case. Apparently someone didn't want to bother putting up with listening to her and her lawyers whine.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mr. Slate calling Fred!

Conservatives have recently been excited about the prospect that former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) might enter the race. The media seems to love it, going on and on about the actor and comparing him to Ronald Reagan. The fact that he is getting so much press and so many Republicans lining up to welcome him into the race does show one thing-- the fundamental weakness of the current GOP field.

Thompson's positions are what conservatives (especially neocons) would want-- except for immigration, where he goes along with the rest of the anti-immigrant hystrionics, he is essentially Bush right down the line (I consider him more Bush-like than the columnist I'm linking to, Bill Press).

He’s a big supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq, but not of Bush’s immigration plan. In the Senate, he voted yes on drilling for oil in Alaska, but no on background checks on handguns purchased at gun shows. He voted yes on amending the Constitution to prevent flag-burning and yes on banning gay marriage, but no on raising the minimum wage.

He's also more Bush-like in another way. Fred Thompson is lazy. George W. Bush has frequently been criticized for frittering away more of his term on vacation-- not to mention fundraising trips and photo ops-- than any modern President, and during a time of war when we should expect the President to be willing to work overtime, not half-time (then again, as a Liberal I suppose I should be happy about all those wasted vacation-days. Imagine how much more damage Bush would have done if he was a workaholic.)

The worst rap against Thompson is that he’s lazy. He quit the Senate because he preferred the much easier schedule of an actor. Sure, he’d like to be president, but does Thompson have the “fire in his belly” necessary to fight for and win the Republican nomination? If so, it’s not always obvious.

Although I think that actors actually do work harder than they are given credit for-- my own two eleven year olds have been attending an 'acting day camp' for the last two weeks and have really worked hard at it, and I know that in Hollywood it takes a lot of hard work to makt it look easy-- there is no question that Fred Thompson has had that rap against him for a long time. He began working in Washington as a counsel to the Watergate committee and has been in Washington for most of that time, and reputations like that don't just spring up overnight-- they are developed through decades of repeated observation.

Well, what the heck. Let Fred run. We'll see if he has the energy and drive that say-- Ronald Reagan had. Or will his lazy side come out? If so then at least we can give him a nickname that will combine his neanderthal politics, his name and his laziness: Fred Flintstone.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

McCain, Brownback (also Clinton and Edwards): voted without even reading intelligence estimates.

In tonight's GOP debate, John McCain and Sam Brownback both said that they never read the National Intelligence Estimate in advance.

They defended their lack of preparation for perhaps the most important vote they'd ever cast in the Senate by saying that they listened to briefings. Yeah. Presumably briefings by the Bush administration, which was trying to sell the war. Can you say, 'rubber stamp?'

I've been critical of Democrats who voted for the AUMF in 2002 (particularly Senators and current Presidential candidates Clinton, Edwards, Biden and Dodd) but to have not even read the report is a cause for even a higher level of criticism than that. In particular, how can John McCain continue to justify his unflagging support for this war when he never even took the time to read through what its foundations were?

ADDITION: The ever sharp-eyed Indy Voter pointed out that the two leading Democrats who were in the Senate in 2002 also voted for the war without reading the resolution.

My comment on that was:

I'm beginning to think there are only two kinds of people in the United States Senate. One group is the cowards, and the other group are those who have never considered running for President. And I'm not sure which one is in the majority.

Even Republicans want us out soon.

Lost in the furor over the Democratic leadership caving in to President Bush on the Iraq funding bill, is that the recent Democratic debate showed a similar lack of spine. Whether it is Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war and has never apologized for that vote, or John Edwards who voted for the war but has, or Barack Obama, who called Edwards out for his war vote after Edwards lectured him at the debate the other night for timidly casting his vote against the war funding bill without really leading on the war, they seem to be all over each other to straddle the fence.

I'm not sure why. To begin with, Democratic primary voters are overwhelmingly against the war, and have made it abundantly clear that it is our main issue.

But it isn't just Democrats who believe the time has come to get out of Iraq. Though the debate on the Republican side is often dominated by neo-conservatives with loud voices and a lot of control over conservative media, ordinary Americans who happen to be Republicans paint a different picture:

A recent Iowa poll by strategic vision showed (question 5) that among Republicans only, those polled favored getting U.S. military forces out of Iraq within six months, by a 53-37% margin (only five percent of Democrats in the poll think we should remain in Iraq.)

What this shows is that even the President's own party is turning against the war and believes it is time to get out.

I believe that if one of the Democratic candidates would just step up and say that his or her one and only objective is to extracate the U.S. from Iraq, he or she would rise quickly in the polls.

The public is way ahead of the politicians on this one.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lieberman caught off guard by angry questions from troops.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the 2000 Vice Presidential Candidate, made a surprise visit to Iraq this week. As usual for these unannounced visits (claim that things are overblown all you want-- visits by Americans to other countries are generally announced for weeks in advance), Lieberman mugged for the cameras and painted a rosy picture, saying “what I see here today is progress, significant progress.”

That wasn't the picture a few hours later, when he actually met some of the troops.

McClatchy reports tonight on Spc. David Williams, who collected questions for Lieberman from 30 other troops.

At the top of his note card was the question he got from nearly every one of his fellow soldiers:

“When are we going to get out of here?”

The rest was a laundry list. When would they have upgraded Humvees that could withstand the armor-penetrating weapons that U.S. officials claim are from Iran? When could they have body armor that was better in hot weather?...

Next to him, Spc. Will Hedin, 21, of Chester, Conn., thought about what he was going to say.

“We’re not making any progress,” Hedin said, as he recalled a comrade who was shot by a sniper last week. “It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at. … It’s just more troops, more targets.”

As for the 'troop surge' itself, it appears not to be stanching the violence. The number of unidentified corpses in Baghdad, after falling in April jumped up by seventy percent in May as militias returned to the streets.

In fact, the only real 'surge' is in the number of U.S. troop deaths. April and May were the first two consecutive months since the start of the war in 2003 in which the total number of U.S. troop deaths was over a hundred in both months, and in fact it has broken 100 in four of the past eight months-- as opposed to only reaching that level three times in a calendar month, in the first 3 and a half years of the war.

I find that particularly depressing because I predicted thsi would happen. I'd have much rather been proven wrong, but instead, the Administration's new war policy has simply produced more dead Americans, and apparently (based on the above numbers from the street) no let up in the rate of Iraqis murdering other Iraqis.
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