Friday, December 29, 2006
Iraq - Blame the Victim
The argument, superficially valid, points out that the civil war in that long suffering country consists of Iraqis killing each other. The United States did not start the sectarian violence, we have been trying to stop it.
For those who avoid the depressing news, the KC Star ran a fascinating look at the current situation in Baghdad in today's edition. The streets are full of armed men, belonging to various groups. Trucks piled high with belongings ferry the last few stragglers in and out of enclaves. Illegal checkpoints dot the roads; people are detained and killed pretty much at random, based on the most superficial signs of which sect a person happens to adhere to. Anyone foolhardy or desperate enough to leave whatever shelter they've found must carefully consider how they tie their head scarves, which colors they wear, and what phone numbers are programmed into their cell phones. Even if you don't make any mistakes, you still risk death by torture.
Much of the violence is between Sunni and Shiia followers of Islam.
Before the United States travels too far down the road of blaming the Iraqis for the current state of affairs, a review of very recent history would be helpful.
Under the leadership of president George Bush, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. Under Mr. Bush, the United States dismantled the Iraqi military and police forces, and nearly all the government. Under the direction of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the occupying force was too small to replace the functions of the police force. Looting broke out almost immediately. With the advice of Vice-President Dick Cheney, the United States, instead of employing the jobless men of Iraq, awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other rich domestic companies to re-build the nation. The United States made no discernible effort to disarm the Iraqi people, who were already well armed by Saddam.
Therefore, the United States created a large, hostile, idle pool of armed men in a nation which already held deep sectarian hatreds with long histories.
So be very clear; yes, the Iraqis are killing each other. But it is the United States that bears the brunt of the moral responsibility for allowing that to happen.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The Power of No and the President
Ford reluctantly took office in the spirit of public service, to help the nation overcome the disastrous end of the Nixon administration. Although one could argue Nixon's foreign policy included some brilliant successes, his domestic policies were an unqualified disaster. Years of wage-price controls only worsened the economic problems they had been designed to cure.
Who remembers the short-lived "Whip Inflation Now" campaign? Ford's first attempt to fix the economy pitted implacable market forces against slogans, buttons and stickers. It didn't work.
But Ford hit the brakes on Congressional spending. His vetoes saved billions and billions of dollars of public spending. Even though he was a Republican and the Congress was in the hands of the Democratic Party, most of his vetoes were upheld. When he left office, the nation was much better off than when he took office. We were at peace, and the economy had improved.
As many will say in the next few days, Ford helped heal the nation after the trauma of Nixon's resignation and the bloody end of the Vietnam war. But Ford deserves quite a bit a credit for his veto record as well, something often overlooked in noting his accomplishments.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The Xmas Season - Xcess, Xhaustion, and Xscasty
First, an Xcess of material goods must be amassed; gifts, we call 'em. These objects embody in physical form our love for our family and friends. We hope the Xpressions on the faces of those recipients unwrapping our presents to them will justify the Xtra effort and cost of placing those things in their hands. The children, unskilled in the poker game of social relations, will give us honest answers with their smiles and grins, and the twinkles in their eyes.
We wish we could give a facile dismissal to the crass materialism of an American Xmas, but we cannot. The tradition thrives because so many people use it to confirm the tender feelings we have for each other. To those of us who grew up poor, a new tv, cell phone or camera means we are loved. To those of us who grew up poor, giving an expensive gift represents the sacrifice of love.
Yes, time, attention, devotion and providing food, warmth and shelter for another are superior markers of affection; but the material gifts of toys and gadgets also symbolize and convey love when the other needs are already abundantly met.
The frenzy of wrapping means four hours of sleep on Xmas eve, typical for a parent. Long after late night church, long after the kids begin to dream of Santa, Mom or Dad or both, labor to produce those golden early Xmas morning minutes. In the wee hours we manufacture those happy moments, a few hours later, when the kids wake and the gift exchange starts.
Legend holds that gift giving on Xmas began with X's birth, when the Magi rode into town carrying gifts for the baby X. But the ancient rituals pre-date X by untold centuries. The traditions varied greatly, so what we know today really is the product of today.
Even in the good old USA, Xmas itself declined sharply during the early 1800's. It fell out of favor for a while, and was barely practised. A fellow named Dickens revived it, almost single handedly.
Nowadays, midnight or late church services mark Xmas eve. For me, the church service is the highlight and the best part of the whole Xmas season. Holding a lit candle, in a large darkened room, singing with hundreds of others about the most holy and elevated feelings, is close to Xcasty. The feeling of joy lightens my heart and removes the crushing oppression of the many Xcesses and Xhaustion.
Each Christian forges his own relationship with X. So, too, Xmas means something different for each practitioner.
Incidentally, the versatile "X" as stand-in for the word "Christ" goes all the way back to very early Greek versions of the New Testament. The letter "X," or Greek "chi" is the first letter of the word, "Christ."
Merry Xmas, gentle readers. Merry Xmas to you all.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Blood Will Have Blood
"It will have blood, they say, blood will have blood." MacBeth, Act III, Scene 4.
Less than 60 days after we were assured that the escalating violence in Iraq was aimed at influencing our own elections, the folks who always get it wrong are now saying we need to throw more troops into the fray.
Fellows, if the October violence was aimed at dislodging Republicans from power, why is it now so much worse? What kind of arrogant narcissism thinks that mass killings half a world away are aimed at prying loose the scoundrel's grasp on power? Try to grow up and face your mistakes: you got it wrong, wrong, wrong.
Bill Kristol, among other talking heads, advocates a short deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, and soon. He says we could change the mission (again) of the occupying force to secure the city of Baghdad.
Boys, here's a tip you can use: don't hose a blaze with gasoline.
In Act III, Lady Macbeth sorrows deeply; grief and conscience stricken, she clearly foresees the deadly consequences of her murderous acts. Shakespeare illustrates the tragic consequences of greedy ambition, pride, and blind lust-for-power. The path of vendetta must run its course; the tragedy, once set in motion, cannot be stopped.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
-- Omar Khayyam as translated by Fitzgerald.
I would not expect the frat boys in the executive branch to know Macbeth or Omar Khayyam; but you would at least think they looked at Machiavelli back in college.
"The injury we do to a man must be such that we need not fear his vengeance." The Prince.
The United States, under the leadership of the Bush administration, attacked and occupied a foreign land out of pride, ignorance, blind ambition and endless arrogance. The United States, its leaders and its people, neither understand nor care to learn about the ancient tribes now suffering in that miserable place. How many Americans know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite? Do Americans know where the Kurds live? (No. The newly appointed head of the Senate Intelligence Committee was embarrassed last week because of his stunning ignorance. Learn some history here.)
The brutal dictator Saddam held the various factions of Iraq together by ruling with an iron fist. By all objective accounts, his treatment of his subjects was horrendous. The world reacted with horror as accounts of attacks on civilian populations with poison gas leaked out.
Before the latest war with Iraq, the suspicion that he still had weapons of mass terror seemed quite reasonable. Saddam himself wanted to make it appear he was hiding those weapons. The world situation called for prudence, wisdom, and strategic thinking.
But the United States cast aside prudence, wisdom and strategic thought by recklessly invading Iraq without bothering to learn about it. Saddam's armies and his political party were crushed. The iron fist restraining the ancient feuds and hatreds was broken.
This is the kind of action one would expect from a power grown soft in the head. It is the act of a bully, taking his fury out on a target, not because he was wronged by that individual, but he was wronged by someone, and someone has to pay.
The phrase coming from our leaders, spoken at various times by president Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Chief Chertoff, the phrase that will become the most haunting and telling phrase of our times is, "No one could have foreseen this."
The truth is, many, many, many people foresaw the bloody consequences of smashing Iraq's iron fist.
Now we are left with "ignorant armies that clash by night." We are left with too many blood feuds and vendettas to count.
The facts on the ground are that Baghdad has already split geographically into Sunni and Shiia neighborhoods. If a Sunni or Shiia strays into the wrong part of the city, death will be slow and painful, but certain. But factions of the Shiia and Sunni camps are also waging war on themselves. The fact is inflation runs at 50 percent in Iraq. The fact is that 60 percent of the men are unemployed.
They join militias because they can. They join militias to protect themselves. They join militias to get revenge.
The facts is that more US troops will not bring back the dead; more US troops will not employ millions of men; more US troops will not bring security to the city.
The fact is that our own general in command of US forces in Iraq opposes bringing more of our troops to the battle.
The "surge" theory finds support from the same right-wing talking heads who thought the invasion was a fine idea. These guys spin their fantasies from the safety of their studios and then go to a comfortable home at night; while on the other side of the earth, real people die.
Please pray with all your might that our leaders become wise. Pray that God will open their eyes. Pray for the poor people of Iraq. Pray for our troops. It would appear that only God can save them now.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Time for JoCo RINOs to Switch Parties
For you out-of-state readers, Zombie Klien was the man overwhelmingly rejected by the county and the state as a leader in last month's election. The now undead former Kansas AG sustained his political life with his binary view on abortion. In fact, he achieved his 15 minutes of fame on O'Reilly, when host Bill claimed to have received inside information from private abortion clinic records Kline had subpoenaed. Of course, if Kline did give the talking head information from those files, then Kline would have violated any number of laws. Kline claimed the records contained evidence of crimes. To date, no charges resulted from his fishing expedition into the private lives of Kansas women.
Because Morrison ran for Johnson County prosecutor as a Republican, the party got to select his replacement. Precinct captains and party functionaries got together earlier this week to choose. One of the candidates was a deputy prosecutor who has actual experience under Morrison. Of course, Kline has no experience as a prosecutor. Kline surprised the assembled Republicans by asking for the chief prosecutor's job. The day before, he had declared his residency in a Stanley apartment belonging to two Republican party stalwarts.
If moderate voters needed proof that the Kansas Republican party is totally uninterested in their views, this Kline appointment is it.
So, as we moderates wipe this spit from our eyes, lets wipe away some illusions, too.
Like many others, I registered as a Republican because Kansas has a long history of electing only Republicans. I hoped to influence the party to become more moderate by voting for moderate candidates in the primaries.
This strategy failed. The Kansas Republican party has moved right while the rest of us returned to the center. The party has become more monochromatic than ever.
As proof, consider their taking this proven loser and installing him as DA. The project should have been DOA, but the party just can't seem to get too far too the right to suit themselves, so it made perfect sense to the right-wing activists in charge.
The time to switch parties is now. Let them keep their progress towards an ever more radically conservative party. Let them cling to 19th century thinking. The rest us of need to move on.
Information on how to switch party affiliation can be found here.
The elections of last month prove that Kansas moderates do have a voice and do have a chance to get elected - if they run as Democrats. Look at Nancy Boyda, Paul Morrison, and Dennis Moore.
Both national parties look at the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats when deciding on which races to support with money and volunteers. Growth in the numbers of registered Democrats in the county and the state will definitely attract attention. So will losses on the Republican side.
Help bury the political career of Phill Kline - the dead should stay dead, it's not right that he walks among us in Johnson County.
The time has come to register your protest to the Kline fiasco by registering your vote with the other party. Let them know how you really feel.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Never have I written one of these letters, but this year, for the first time, I will mention some of the blessings we have been fortunate to receive:
- We shared our wealth, giving what feels like a substantial part of our income to the church and to others less fortunate than us.
- We shared a trip to a fabulous Mexican Riviera resort with a friend who is suffering from cancer.
- Natasha traveled hundreds of miles on a church mission trip to help people she had never met.
- Samantha helped every day with Vacation Bible School.
- We bought three gallons of milk every month and donated them to a food kitchen.
- We set out and took up flags marking the graves of vets during the week of Memorial Day.
- We taught Sunday School.
- My lovely wife and I attended religious instruction at a friend's home.
- We organized activities at church.
- My lovely wife served as Girl Scout leader.
- She also continued as President of a VFW Ladies auxiliary.
- We helped a neighbor who had an unfortunate incident with her dog.
- We helped a friend who's baby was born with no mental functions.
- We went to funerals.
- I posted stories, opinions and ideas to the Internet, hoping to increase awareness and to provoke thought.
- We regularly went to church.
- We donated food to the school food pantry drive.
- We donated to the charity drive at work.
- We recycled plastic, metal, cardboard and newsprint every week.
- I continue to try not to speed on the highway.
Gentle readers, you may think these activities blessed others, and you would be right. But these things blessed us more. Forgive me if I regard these as the really noteworthy accomplishments for the family in the past year.