Saturday, June 05, 2004

Losing the last 'Great President'

When Reagan died today, it was a shock. But also a relief as well, knowing that he wouldn't have to suffer from Alzheimer's anymore.

Reagan was the last 'Great President', in that he was the last man who filled that office with the aura and presence of a man who belongs there. Before him, you'd have to go all the way back, in my opinion, to Truman (I am not a Kennedy fan). Since him, no one matches up. George Sr. was an "administrator" type like LBJ or Ike. Not bad, but not historical either. And Clinton and W? I am sorry, but they just don't make it.

I'm not going to rehash his 8 years here, but he did some amazing things. He changed the debate about the size of taxes and government. And through a complex application of pressure geo-politically (Nicaragua and Afghanistan), economically (low Saudi oil prices undercut Soviet oil exports) and militarily (Star Wars), he broke up the Soviet Union. No one before him thought it possible. He believed it not only possible, but necessary. And he did it.

I don't know if we'll see another 'Great President' any time soon. W isn't up to snuff, and neither is Kerry. But for now I'll put that aside and mourn a great man and a great leader. A man who made America great again.

We will miss you, Ronald W. Reagan. God bless you and hold you fast.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Feel the Dark Side calling to you...

In the latest Good vs. Evil update, I am still good. But Evil is rapidly closing the gap. This week it's 69-31 in favor of the White team. Still a good-sized lead, but Evil has almost doubled it's total. I credit this single-handedly to Ann Coulter's name being used yesterday. And doing so again, I may have just pushed it to 50-50.
The Patriot Act - Hunting Terrorists and Eroding Your Rights One Day at a Time

Proponents of the Patriot Act talk constantly about how the Act is used only against terrorists. How those secret searches of your house - that you'll never know about - is only to be used against terrorists. How that all of us law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about...

And then you read this.

Now, when you buy a house, you'll have your name run against a list of "specifically designated nationals" who aren't allowed to buy or own property in the US. In order to qualify individuals to be checked out, Executive Order 13224, private individuals buying or selling property are now considered “financial institutions” by the government.

Am I crazy for having this bother me so much? I just don't like the idea of being cross-checked by the feds when engaging in a private transaction. The odds of terrorists laundering money through real estate is minescule. You can't turn it around quickly enough, and the value could drop.

Besides, the SDN database is flawed. As the story states, the name 'Osama bin Laden' wouldn't register a hit, because the feds spell his first name 'Usama.' Wow, that's comforting to know.

And it bothers me that I, and you too, now have to be "cleared", essentially, by the federal government in order to buy a house. Doesn't that bother you? I know it makes me uneasy to say the least.

I suppose what worries me most is the potential for future abuse. As does most of the Patriot Act. It's not the Patriot Act now that is the issue, but what it becomes in 10 or 20 years. The opportunities for abuse are so rife it boggles the mind. How hard would it be for a government employee with a grudge, or trying to "teach" someone a lesson, to add that person's name to the list?

The Law of Unintended Consequences...fear it. Because sooner or later, it'll come down on the Patriot Act.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

US scratching the UN's filthy back

One of the unexplored stories of the ongoing events in Iraq is the UN food-for-oil scandal. This program was rife with corruption. Billions of dollars, instead of going for food to feed the people of Iraq, instead went into Saddam's pockets, and the pockets of some UN officials and other business/political types.

Well, the US apparently doesn't want to upset the UN now that they are preparing to turn over power in Iraq. Bremer has handed this investigation to the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, and not the IGC. The problem is that the IBSA has members who very well could have profited from the corruption. This 1,100 member body is a Saddam-era holdover. Are you kidding? Bremer's spokesman, Dan Senor, admitted that they cannot even name all the members of the board, but insists they've all been cleared of any links to Saddam.

So you can't name them, but they're OK? What kind of doublespeak is this??

But hey, don't take my word for it. Read about it yourself. This investigation HAS to move forward if the UN is to be trusted long-term ever again. And the US complicity in blocking it is abysmal.

If you'd like to read about the other Saddam-era scandal, involving oil vouchers, here's my old post. Note the involvment of French and Russian officials.

BONUS Good News in Iraq

The 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi National Task Force has seized more than 6 tons of weapons outside of Al Tarmiya. This is an all-Iraqi unit led by US advisors.

The weapons cache consisted of nine sites in a four kilometer area, covered by palm trees. And the haul was staggering. I'll list some of the finds here, leaving out the massive amounts of small arms and ammunition:

Wow. Now, look at this haul. And they only found it NOW. Now imagine just those thirteen 55-gallon barrels of explosive. Forget the 5+ tons of other material. Now imagine they are filled with anthrax, or VX, or sarin. How quickly can we expect to find them? Think about it.

Oh, by the way, has the US media mentioned this story yet? Didn't think so...

The Good News in Iraq

In spite of everything else, the men and women in our Armed Forces keep making Iraq a better place to live. Today's story is about the rehabilitation of part of the Iraqi power grid.

When Kid Actors go bad...

No, it isn't a major story. But I find the idea of Alex P. Keaton's little brother getting tagged for OUI hilarious. Does that make me a bad person?
Volunteers? Not any more

It's amazing how well things have gone in Iraq when the sheer volume of incompetent and ill-advised leadership decisions is taken into account. The latest boondoggle is the Army's decision to expand their "stop-loss" program. This means that if you are getting ready to retire, fullfilled your contractual obligations to the Army, put in for a transfer, made it through Iraq and/or Afghanistan more than once...well, it means you aren't going anywhere.

Nope! Instead of expanding the Army, or bringing in other front-line units from Europe, they have decided to make these soldiers stay on through their deployment. Not only that, they cannot be discharged or transfered until they return to their home base. This means that a soldier could be held past his date, do a tour in Iraq, spend R&R time at a base other than his home base, and STILL be held for another tour. This decision basically has the effect of turning our volunteer soldiers into conscripts, being held indefinitely.

Their reasoning is to maintain "cohesive, well-trained units." That's fine, but you'll notice morale wasn't mentioned. That's because this decision is going to send morale spiraling downwards. Imagine surviving in Iraq through one or two tours. You're about to go home when "stop-loss" keeps you there. Oh, I am sure that guy is going to feel all sorts of hunky-dory.

Or imagine the impact if someone, who made it through and is about to retire, gets killed while being kept in Iraq on "stop-loss." How will THAT play?

There is a difference between conscripts and volunteers. Conscripts are meat, essentially. There is no contract. It is an imposition of state authority in response to a threat to the very survival of the country.

In a volunteer force, there is a contract signed between the soldier and the service branch. There is a different realtionship. The citizen is choosing to protect the state. That has to be respected.

Now, "stop-loss" can be necessary. But never has it been used to this extent. And the fact is, this wouldn't be necessary if the Powers-That-Be had commited more troops at the beginning or had authorized more money to expand the Army and relieve the manpower crunch. Forcing these men and women who have survived Iraq on more than one tour to stay there, when this situation was avoidable, is inexcusable.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The RNC moves into a glass house...

I wasn't going to post again today, but this story is too good to let pass. The RNC has a webgame on its website. It's called 'Kerryopoly.' You (the player) start with $40K, the average household income. Then you pay for the items in the spaces you land on as you travel the board. The goal, to quote RNC communications director Jim Dyke, is to:

" [prove] that John Kerry's lifestyle is out of reach and out of sync with most Americans."

Such examples are his $6.9 million townhouse on Beacon Hill and his yacht, the Scaramouche, ringing in at $700,000.

Okay, fair enough. Kerry really doesn't understand how economics affect the average American. Duh...

But George W. Bush does? This guy owned the freaking Texas Rangers! He started oil companies! He is the third generation in a political dynasty! How can the RNC, with a straight face, say Kerry is out of sync but W is right in line!? Are you f***ing kidding me?

What hard day's work did W ever do? Did he ever have to choose between paying one bill or the other? Of course not.

This is insane. Neither Kerry nor Bush have an inkling of what sacrifices you have to make to survive in the middle-class. None. So who is the bonehead in the RNC that decided to highlight this flaw in BOTH candidates? Because you can be darn sure people are going to call them on this. In fact, they already have. Someone pointed out to RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson that Bush, Cheney and Bill First are all multi-millionaires. When she was asked if "their lifestyles also were out of reach of most Americans" all she said was "no."

Yeah, I know just yesterday I was starting up an energy company and making millions off stock deals. I mean, isn't everyone? But then I was thinking about how that yacht was just out of reach...

Yes, Kerry is hopelessly out of touch with Average America. But Bush is right there with him. The arrogance and hypocricy of the RNC is overwhelming.

Once again, the two-party system in America is exposed for the sham it is.

Her Voice Makes My Ears Bleed

I don't like Ann Coulter.

That felt really good to say. I don't like Coulter or Al Franken or Michael Savage or Garofalo or any of these other partisan shills. But Coulter really fries my bacon because of her ego, which is amazingly larger than Franken's. And that is saying something.

She recently was on Bill O'Reilly's show when they had this exchange:

O'REILLY:  I'll tell you.  Here's what he [a military analyst close to O'Reilly - teddy] thinks has gone wrong.  Not enough troops on the ground, number one. 

COULTER:  Yeah, but that's not a problem.  That's something that can cause a problem. 

O'REILLY:  Well, it's a problem in the sense we can't provide the security that we need to provide for the country to be free.

COULTER:  But it's pretty darn safe over there.

O'REILLY:  Our Fox correspondents in Baghdad won't go out of the hotel.  That's not a good sign, Ann. 

COULTER:  I wouldn't go out of the hotel in Washington, D.C. 

And I stop here because I don't know if over-exposure to Ann Coulter is harmful in the mind-numbing way or the "unshielded plutonium" way. Regardless, her level of complete disregard for the facts is astounding.

"It's pretty darn safe over there." Really? Are you serious? Well then, Ann, here's what I propose: Go to Baghdad. I am sure you can since you have somehow convinced people you are a journalist instead of a shill. Then stay in a hotel OUTSIDE of the Green Zone by a good two to three miles. No Marine guards or private contractors, since it is "pretty darn safe." I am sure you'll be just fine, since Baghdad is "pretty darn safe." No car bombs going off, or Polish employees of a construction company getting kidnapped, or any other abductions, since it is "pretty darn safe." And this doesn't include Iraqis in Baghdad getting kidnapped at the rate of two a day. Which is okay, Ann, because I have a feeling the Iraqis don't enter into your calculus here.

And the DC hotel crack, Ann? Unless you are staying somewhere SE of the River, you must be joking. I have stayed in DC numerous times, more than I can count. I have never felt unsafe there. And the last time I checked, no one was lobbing mortar rounds into the Watergate Hotel. And what does your pithy little statement mean, anyway? It doesn't address what O'Reilly said at all. It's just a snarky aside that is supposed to impress the viewing audience. Well, consider me unimpressed.

I understand her overall point: things are better in Iraq that the media says they are. I happen to agree with that statement, thought there is much we should be doing better at. But that gets completely lost in her posturing and over-the-top rhetoric. And what is worse is that she believes it. People like Coulter are toxic to the body politic. They cheapen and coarsen debate on important topics. The fact she has a national audience is scary.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Witness Coulter's hubris with your own two eyes. I am not repsonsible for any vision impairment or eyeball-meltings that result.

You'll notice I didn't include Bill O'Reilly in the list at the top of the page. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don't. Which is a good indication that he is thinking on his own and not parroting a party line.

The Cosby Show

I am sure everyone has heard about the comments Bill Cosby made at an event in Washington, D.C. not too long ago. He said, in part:

"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking round...the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.  These people are not parenting, they're buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers, for what?  And they won't spend $200 for "Hooked on Phonics"...I can't even talk the way these people talk:  "why you ain't, where you is..."

The response to Cosby's commentary has been interesting. While some black community members were aghast at these words, others like Kweisi Mfume supported him.

Someone said that the reason so many people were upset was that Cosby was "telling tales out of school." In other words, while the black community knows it has these problems, they shouldn't talk about it in front of everyone (ie whites). The other common refrain from these same people was "Why didn't Cosby talk about poor white people?"

The answer is simple: He couldn't. Not with the toxicity we have have given race-related matters in this country. He spoke out on what he knew he could talk about, which are the troubles that plague a significant portion of the black community. Heavens knows no white person can do the same, lest they be labelled a bigot, racist or worse.

I happen to think that Cosby was spot on in his commentary. There is a destructive undercurrent in the black urban community today that looks upon education as "selling out." Why? There are numerous theories, which I won't delve into here. But I am hard-pressed to see how Cosby's message of self-reliance and personal responsibility is somehow harmful to the black community. Especially when the government's "help" has done anything but over the past 40+ years. But that's a topic for another discussion.

Taking the Next Step in Iraq

The interim government for Iraq has been announced. As of June 30, they will assume direct control of Iraq and her affairs. This is a highly positive step for Iraq and is hopefully a harbinger of positive things to come.

There are many things to like about the interim government. It has representatives from the Kurd, Shi'ite and Sunni ethnic factions. More importantly, the leaders the Iraqi IGC chose for this interim government were NOT the choices of the US. In the case of the president, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, it was in direct opposition to U.S. (aka Paul Bremer) wishes.

Good. The only way the interim government in Iraq will achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people is to appear as independent as possible. This is a good first step. The next step belongs to the Americans, and it is a big one.

After June 30, we MUST let the Iraqis choose their own path. And that means if they ask Coalition forces to leave, we leave. If that means they choose Islam as the basis of national law, we can't challenge that. If that means they bad-mouth Israel, so be it. We have to let the make their own choices, or else this whole affair will have been pointless. The big question is, can we do it?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Good News in Iraq

Besides the obvious news of the IGC choosing leaders for the interim government, here is another piece of good news. It's about a medical team in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, assigned to the 1st Marine Division. They are offering medical care in a rural Iraq community that rarely, if ever, saw this kind of medical treatment before.

As always, thank you to the men and women in the US Armed Forces.

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