Saturday, June 12, 2004

Attention! Cette Homme est Dangereux!

He sure as hell is...


Again, apologies for slow posting--this is due in part to the ongoing medical issues...

Friday, June 11, 2004

Reading the Names

I won't be holding my breath while waiting for Ted Koppel to read the names of the civilian casualties in the Iraq War. But Raed Jarrar is doing his best to make sure they aren't quite as forgotten as seems to be the case in this country.

If you go to the website, click on the links various tables, which provide more information.
Cockburn: No Kool-Aid for Me

Alexander Cockburn adds his voice to those of us who haven't bought into the Reagan myths.

Cockburn brings up a touchy subject that NO ONE has really wanted to mention: the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy. The mainstream media focuses on the evening television address to the nation, but the real story--the one NEVER told--involves more than "normal" political pressure to launch the vehicle.

A number of engineers knew exactly what the problem was, and vehemently argued against the flight. Unfortunately, I can't find the source, but I distinctly remember reading that at least one individual watched the first seconds after liftoff with tremendous apprehension. After thinking they had snuck by, he breathed easier, only to see the worst seconds later.

Recall: Reagan was to deliver the SOTU address within several days of this event. As Cockburn points out, one segment of the speech included a pointed reference to "the teacher in space." No, no one's found a smoking gun--yet. But neither should we be wide-eyed naifs. Don't kid youself: the Republican political machine will stop at nothing when it comes to pursuing their agenda. Billmon makes the point nicely in this post.

I know there will, unfortunately, be a number of people who will go to thier OWN graves faithfully downing Big Gulp after Big Gulp of Reagan flavored myth. But it's good to know plenty of others have a taste for something different.
No Hard Feelings

Via TalkingPointsMemo, I came across this The New York Times reprint of an AP article. Specialist Sean Baker had his life permanently altered when, in a training exercise, he agreed to play the role of an uncooperative prisoner at Guantanamo. Unfortunately for Baker, the soldiers being trained either didn't know--or didn't care--that this was an exercise, and proceeded to beat him silly. As a result, Baker now suffers from from a brain injury and experiences seizures regularly.

According to Bush, though, this is all within the law.
Myth vs. Reality

Via Kevin Drum, MaxSpeak pokes a hole in the myth that Reaganomics initiated an economic boom.
Civics, uh, Lesson

Correction: Apologies--here's the source.

George W. Bush on sovereignty:

And we're waiting for the Iraqi government to assess the situation and make requests to the free world. We'll respond to their requests when sovereignty is fully transferred.

That's the definition of full sovereignty. When a government's fully sovereign, they then make requests on behalf of their people. And the response here at the G-8 has been very encouraging. In other words, the G-8 leaders have said we'll wait for their requests and see if we can't help.

George W. Bush on History and Cultural Sensitivity:

I fully understand that a free society in the Middle East is going to reflect the culture and traditions of the people in that country, not America.

I also understand it takes a while to adopt the habits of a democratic society and a free society. After all, it took our own country a while. You might remember the period of the Articles of Confederation.

You do remember the period of the articles?

George W. Bush on the UN:

I think it's a positive development when the U.N. is able to work together, and we are working together. We're working together a lot on a lot of fronts.

George W. Bush on Torture:

Q:Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

George W. Bush on War Trophies:

What she is referring to is members of a Delta team came to see me in the Oval Office and brought with me -- these were the people that Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, hiding in a hole.

And, by the way, let me remind everybody about Saddam Hussein, just in case we all forget: There were mass graves under his leadership. There were torture chambers.

Saddam Hussein, if you -- we had seven people come to my office -- perhaps the foreign press didn't receive this story...

So this is the person -- so, needless to say, our people were thrilled to have captured him.

And in his lap were several weapons. One of them was a pistol, and they brought it to me. It's now the property of the U.S. government.

And I am grateful for their bravery. I'm also grateful that that part of the mission was accomplished for the good of the Iraqi people.

This is your area, right?

George W. Bush on WMD (Compare and Contrast with March 6, 2003 press conference):

Bob, it's a good question. I don't know -- I haven't reached a final conclusion yet because the inspection teams aren't back yet.

I do know that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to make weapons. I do know he's a dangerous person. I know he used weapons against his own people and against the neighborhood.

But we'll wait until (U.S. weapons inspector) Charlie (Duelfer) gets back with the final report, and then I will be glad to report.

George W. Bush on education:

Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?

Thursday, June 10, 2004


Billmon linked to this Capitol Hill Blue article--making sure to mention the usual caveats--Capital Hill Blue should be taken with many grains, if not a shaker, of salt.

As the nation prepares to bury former President Ronald Reagan, Republican insiders fight among themselves over plans by the political team of President George W. Bush to use images of and speeches by Reagan in new television ads aimed at jump-starting a faltering campaign.

The ads, ordered up by Bush political advisor Karl Rove immediately after Reagan’s death last Saturday, use images of Reagan and excerpts from his speeches in what one angry GOP conservative describes as a “callous attempt to tie George W. Bush to the legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan.”

One proposed ad even goes so far as to show Reagan saying “George, go out and win one for the Gipper.” The clip comes from Reagan’s speech to the 1988 Republican National Convention where the former President’s request was to Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, in his successful 1988 run for President.

If this is true, what's next? Rove calling in a taxidermist to stuff Reagan so he can accompany the boy king when the latter "reaches out" to the carefully vetted, pre-screened audiences of true believer/more Kool-Aid please minions (or Spanish speakers)? Why not go all out and retool the Lincoln robot at Disneyworld--add Ron's face, program in a few speeches (I guess the "win one for the Gippet" snafu wouldn't make the cut--too bad, since it proved Reagan was better at reading teleprompters than hearts and minds).

Electoral politics is heading into the twilight zone.

Note: sorry for the slow and short posts--I'm having some elbow problems, and it makes typing a little painful. Hopefully, the problems will go away--and, if they don't, I'll go to a DIFFERENT doctor than the quack I've been seeing, who won't do anything except take my money and advise rest...I've changed my primary care physician because of this--wish me luck.
A Real American Hero Dies

Ray Charles has passed away. If there's an afterlife, a lot of folks will soon be hearing some fantastic music.

I've heard some stories about Mr. Charles--some good, some bad. For instance, once one of the Raylettes claimed that they were called the Rayletts because you had to "let Ray." Then again, I remember seeing him host Saturday Night Live many years ago. Ray allowed for some very funny if questionable jokes that evening--if anyone can find a script for this, check out "The Young Caucasians," Dan Ackroyd as Tom Snyder interviewing Ray, and Lorne Michaels presenting Charles with, IIRC, an "original Rembrandt" (which really was a blank canvas with the words "Please Don't Tell Him" printed on it).

Charles's music ranged from blues to soul to gospel to R & B and even country. I guess I'll be pulling out the box set of his music that I received as a gift some time back.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Charles.
Via Library Chronicles

Democracy Now interviews Gore Vidal (transcript via AlterNet).
Thank Heavens for the Canadians

Lawrence Martin has managed to insulate himself from the myth. Check out his editorial.
D'Escoto: "[They are] Possessed by the Demons of Manifest Destiny"

Democracy Now reminds us of the Ronald Reagan that WASN'T all that genial at times.

People in the US have been so conditioned--so caught up in the MYTH--of our innate goodness that they can't see--or refuse to see--the very serious game of realpolitik we engage in throughout the world. I'd just as soon leave Reagan out of this for the most part, but he's front and center to the myth: the faux cowboy and television program 'man's man.'

George W. Bush, while lacking any of Reagan's so-called "charm," plays the same game, although a bit more consciously. Hence, the photo-ops at Mount Rushmore, etc. etc. The idea is to craft Bush as the embodiment of "real American" for public consumption. Then, while pundits and other such reptiles hog our television screens and wax piously about whether or not his latest effort at public speaking is sufficiently "presidential," (i.e., more of the myth), the REAL business of government--the upward flow of wealth to the already wealthy, the savaging of as many third world nations as we can integrate into the global economic system, and the brutality in the Middle East (with attendant contracts for the cronies)--continues unabated. The pundits get paid, the public is supposedly satisfied, and life goes on. The death of a Reagan figure offers the opportunity to further inculcate the myth into the popular culture, while simultaneously casting aside the less savory elements of our national character (not to mention the less than noble elements of Reagan's own character).

Unfortunately, our myths clash with the reality of our government's ACTIONS. Failure to note this will ultimately lead to failure generally. While it might not happen for some time, be assured that when this country DOES have its great fall, there will be plenty of folks throughout the world that will seem remarkably unsympathetic--because they've seen and suffered from the reality of this country's actions. Far from being the beneficiary of "American Largesse," they've in fact been victim of American hegemony.

We shouldn't forget that.
Wait...There's More

Whiskey Bar follows up on a previous post regarding Joe Ryan, the Abu Ghraib torturer/interrogator who foolishly posted a 'diary' of his exploits online. More of his diary has been discovered and posted, proving, in Billmon's words, that Ryan is definitely a "major league asshole."

If Joe Ryan is par for the course in Iraq, we've more than just lost the war: we're in serious trouble throughout the Middle East.
But was the Chicken Hooded?

Juan Cole posted the following:

Why Did the Chicken cross the Road?

Coalition Provisional Authority:

The fact that the Iraqi chicken crossed the road affirmatively demonstrates that decision-making authority has been transferred to the chicken well in advance of the scheduled June 30th transition of power. From now on the chicken is responsible for its own decisions.


We were asked to help the chicken cross the road. Given the inherent risk of road crossing and the rarity of chickens, this operation will only cost the US government $326,004.

Muqtada al-Sadr:

The chicken was a tool of the evil Coalition and will be killed.

US Army Military Police:

We were directed to prepare the chicken to cross the road. As part of these preparations, individual soldiers ran over the chicken repeatedly and then plucked the chicken. We deeply regret the occurrence of any chicken rights violations.


The chicken crossed the road, and will continue to cross the road, to show its independence and to transport the weapons it needs to defend itself. However, in future, to avoid problems, the chicken will be called a duck, and will wear a plastic bill.

1st Cav:

The chicken was not authorized to cross the road without displaying two forms of picture identification. Thus, the chicken was appropriately
detained and searched in accordance with current SOP's. We apologize for any embarrassment to the chicken. As a result of this unfortunate incident, the command has instituted a gender sensitivity training program and all future chicken searches will be conducted by female soldiers.

Al Jazeera:

The chicken was forced to cross the road multiple times at gunpoint by a large group of occupation soldiers, according to eye-witnesses. The chicken was then fired upon intentionally, in yet another example of the abuse of innocent Iraqi chickens.


We cannot confirm any involvement in the chicken-road-crossing incident.


Chicken he cross street because bad she tangle regulation. Future chicken table against my request.

U.S. Marine Corps:

The chicken is dead.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Praise the Lord, Pass the Ammo--and Vote for...

As I noted below, As'ad AbuKhalil found this article, which suggests a gambit by Rove to put all his money on the religious right to ensure four more years for the Dauphin. Talkingpointsmemo found the corollary: this Washington Post story. Dennis Hastert, sick bastard that he is, added a rider to a jobs bill that would allow churches to maintain their tax exempt status while openly endorsing and campaigning for candidates--provided they used, pun intended, the fig leaf that they were acting a "private citizens."

If a church wants to engage in politics beyond the existing boundries, fine. But, don't ask for special favors once you've decided the secular approach is the way to go. Pay your damn taxes like any other organization. Once again, though, we see just how greedy the right has become. They act like the government OWES them the right to be political, while at the same time they owe the government nothing.

And they act like WE'RE greedy when we ask for adequate education funding?

Hubert Humphrey High has more on the Asscrossed hearing.
Billmon Hits Another One Out of the Park

Finally, work has slowed to the point where I can try to get something done. Then I went and read the latest from Whiskey Bar: Ashcroft. Once again, Billmon is right on top of things:

"In the end, the AG's arguments really all came down to a single point - that is, unless 'we're in power and you're not' is also a point. America is at war, he repeatedly intoned, to a chorus of GOP amens. And in war time what the president says goes - at least as far as the legislative branch is concerned. (We may find out what the executive branch thinks about the role of the judicial branch when the Supreme Court rules on Padilla and the other pending internment cases.)

Constitutionally, the AG has a point. But constitutionally, we are not at war - and haven't been since the end of World War II. Congress doesn't declare wars any more, it just signs various blank checks whenever the President lays them in front of it. And on various occasions the Supreme Court has found sufficient reason to hold that these checks are acceptable substitutes for declaring war.
I won't argue the constitutional point, which belongs to a (small-r) republican era that is now behind us. But, if this really is a war, it lacks most of the customary features the law typically looks to when drawing constitutional distinctions between wartime and peacetime. And it's probably going to last indefinitely - if not forever.

So really, what the adminstration wants is to have it both ways. It wants to deny the traditional protections of the Geneva Convention to Al Qaeda prisoners because 'this isn't that kind of war and they aren't those kind of soldiers.' But, when it comes to defining its own powers, it argues that it very much is that kind of war - no different than World War II, according to Ashcroft.

Everybody likes to have it both ways - it's human nature. But in this case, accepting the administration's claims means accepting that the constitutional order once considered the exception (wartime) is now the rule, and what was once the rule (peacetime) is now history. And so is if everything that went with it - checks and balances, due process, etc.

Or rather, these things still exist only in so much as they are tolerated by an executive branch that claims an inherent right to set the law aside at will.

There are names for governments like that. Constitutional republic isn't one of them."

Which is unfortunate. I managed to catch most of Asscrossed testimony on C-Span last night. Let's just say the "newspaper of record" is anything but. I mean, shit, they didn't even mention the questions Charles Grassley had about Sibel Edmonds, nor did they note the truly bizarre answer the AG gave--something about "if the milk is spilled and nobody notices, the best thing to do is put it back in the bottle." Huh? Remider to Asscrossed guests: stick to individual bottles of water. Check and make sure the seal hasn't been tampered with.

But, work calls. Gotta run for a bit. BTW--Timshel was linked to by Atrios this morning. Like winning the lottery, except for the money. I passed along a congratulations in his comments...

I'm almost shaking with anger after reading this post from Timshel. Here's the link to the Pic article. Short version: William A. Graham, an anti-abortion kook in Jefferson Parish allegedly promises to refer women needing abortions to private physicians, under the guise that they are "better" than doctors at abortion clinics. Then he tries to run the clock out. He'll tell them that the appointment needs to be rescheduled, or, in a mammoth act of fraud, indicates that later term abortions are safer--which is a lie. One woman alleges that Graham told her to wait until the 30th week before terminating the pregnancy--which is ILLEGAL under Louisiana law (although I believe the Federal statute MIGHT provide some protection if the woman's life is in danger, but that's not the issue).

The suit also points out that Graham deliberately chose a name--Causeway Center For Women--that's similar to a genuine provider of abortion services, Causeway Medical Clinic. The clinic is one of the co-plaintiffs.

Most of my posts lately have concerned the outrageous behavior of the Bush administration--for instance, this link from As'ad AbuKhalil indicates that Bush and Rove are basically betting the farm this November on getting out the religious zanies vote. But I also believe in thinking globally while acting locally--and, for both, WOMEN'S RIGHTS, INCLUDING ABSOLUTE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, ARE CENTRAL.

Graham's actions are reprehensible. While the article doesn't note any monetary fraud, the fact that he'd deliberately engage in misleading practices--in this case, offering a service he has no intention of delivering--is reason enough to find him in violation of several provisions of law.

Here's hoping he's put out of business for good.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Atrios links to this post by Randy Paul at Beautiful Horizons. It provides a general sense of perspective in light of John Asscrossed testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose subordinates have written confidential legal memorandums seemingly approving of torture, told a Senate committee today that President Bush had "made no order that would require or direct the violation" of either the international treaties or domestic laws prohibiting torture.

Duh--deniability is the hallmark of this administration. Considering the rather limited intellectual capacity--and sheer laziness--of the Commander-in-Chief, it's easy to believe that Bush personally gave no order--in spite of the fact that the now infamous memo urged a presidential imprimatur to provide cover for those who DID cross the line. Asscrossed is splitting legal hairs here. And, while Bush ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long shot, he's not so stupid that he'd sign his name to Exhibit 1 of his impeachment. In the language that counts as official Washingtonese, the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are, for Bush, "unknown unknowns."

Mr. Ashcroft refused to provide several of the memorandums, saying they amounted to confidential legal advice given the president and did not have to be shared with the Congress.

Asscrossed is risking a contempt-of-Congress slap with his flat-out refusal. "Confidential legal advice" might be relevant if Bush was under indictment or being sued as a private individual. However, in his capacity as a public official, legal advice proffered by the Justice Department can and should be considered relevant for public debate. I don't even buy the "executive privilege" claim. First, because Bush would have to invoke it personally (he can't LOAN it to the Attorney General, for chrissakes), and second, because goddamnit, "executive privilige" is nothing more than "the right of the king." Bush might THINK he is a king, given that he wasn't actually elected, but we still demand that chief executives ENFORCE THE LAWS, not set them aside.

The administration has responded to the memorandums by saying they were merely legal opinions offered at the beginning of formulating policies. Mr. Ashcroft said that "first of all, this administration opposes torture."

It's nice to know the administration officially opposes torture. Next thing you know, they'll come out in favor of freedom. And "merely legal opinions" is a pretty lame attempt to justify the subversion of the Constitution. It's also pretty stupid, when you consider how ready the administration was to invoke the Geneva Conventions last year when OUR soldiers became POW's (not to mention the fact that, today's hostage release notwithstanding, there are still plenty of folks, including a US serviceman, being held by factions within Iraq).

Speaking of lame, Asscrossed went on to squawk about war, and how it's not a good idea to debate presidential powers in the midst of such things. This is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as the saying goes.

But it's also true that people get the kind of government they deserve. If Asscrossed, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, et al, manage to somehow convince the public that THEY deserve a second term--well then, I'll certainly be looking into employment overseas. Because that will mean that the experiment in US democracy is over, and that enough of the public has become so alienated, disinterested, or otherwise out of it that I don't want to be considered part of such a society. Enough is enough.
Science Tuesday

And, no, it isn't about the transit of Venus, although I did stay up late to catch some of it on a webcast.

Instead, this, also from the BBC, purports to verify that the fabled city of Atlantis actually existed off the coast of Spain, until destroyed by a flood some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. If true, it certainly would be a fascinating discovery, and a reminder that the ancient world has plenty of secrets.

But, I'm not entirely convinced. I looked at the photographs. Maybe they show the ruins of a city, but they could show natural morphology. I'll be keeping an eye out for more information.

Meanwhile--I'll be slow to post today. I've got a follow up doctor's appointment (nothing serious), and expect to be a little busy as well. If something NOT related to the deification of Ronald Reagan captures my attention, I'll put in my .00002 cents worth--or, if it is a particularly egregious attempt at deification (or canonization), I'll add my voice.

Back in a bit.

Monday, June 07, 2004


The New York Times reports that the US is withdrawing 12,000 troops from South Korea--3,000 of whom will be sent to Iraq.

The Pentagon had no comment when asked if people were looking for change under the sofa cushions as an additional source of finances.
Must Have Missed Something Here...

Update: OK, I DID miss something. Phil Carter at Intel Dump notes that the relevant passage in the Constitution is Article II Section 3, in particular, what he calls the "take care" section:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Sorry for the mistake, but I don't think it takes away from the gist of this post.

Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution reads:

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

OK. Now, where's the part about "The President will, at his discretion, ignore international treaties/conventions and/or Federal Law, should he or one of his underlings deem it required under the guise of fighting the 'war on terror.'"

I'm gonna go back and look at the entire Section II again...

Nope--it ain't there.

The reason why I checked is because of this article, which I first saw over at Billmon and which is probably linked to from a number of sites by now. Add me as the 2millionth to do so, and here's hoping you've got the time to look at it. I was especially struck by something Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: "Can one imagine the reaction if those on trial for atrocities in the former Yugoslavia had tried this defense?"

Even more stunning than the US crossing the line--let's face it: this isn't the first time the government has resorted to extra-judicial methods, although it certainly is one of the most egregious examples in recent history--but even more significant is the fact that, for all Bush has wrought, he's made about as much of a dent against terrorists as we in the Deep South have made against fireants, which is to say, very little. Rumsfeld even concedes that we might be losing the war, which is Bush speak for "we're fucked." Said the Donald: ''It's quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this."

No shit.
Words of Wisdom

I've noted before that I was lucky enough to be a student of Tony Kushner's when I was young. Anyway, The New York Times recently ran a "Ten Questions" with Tony. Here's question one--it has a line that irked Andrew Sullivan--good (saw the Sullivan link via Atrios). I'll let you guess what pissed Andrew off.

Q. 1. How do you envision the role of the artist in a country — and a world — increasingly dominated by the struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular rationalism?
— Angele Ellis

A. I think this is an interesting question. I don’t have an answer for it. I don’t think that fundamentalists are particularly good representatives of religious faith. Certainly fundamentalists don’t have the monopoly on religious faith they seem to feel they have. I’m a huge fan of both the secular and the rational, and I think both are in desperately short supply these days — the hegemonic grim spirit of the age being incarnate in our thought-disordered bloody, greedy, little plutocrat-slash-soulless-theocrat of an unelected President — but I don’t know that only secular rationalism opposes religious fundamentalism. Living, intelligent faith, believing in a genuinely merciful, compassionate and just God, opposes the murderous, unimaginative verities of fundamentalists of all denominations and creeds; look for instance at recent near schisms over homosexuality in Protestantism. And we should remember as well that the real architects of the debacle in Iraq, the noisiest geniuses of right-wing think tanks at least publically consider themselves secular rationalists — wouldn’t Condi Rice call herself a secular rationalist, wouldn’t Antonin Scalia, or even nutty Ann Coulter call herself that? Surely Bill Kristol does. In this world secular rationalism can be used as a cover for all sorts of chicanery, just as fundamentalism is often an expression of desperation, emanating from poverty, illiteracy and long histories of oppression, exploitation and terror — and this is true in America as well as in other parts of the world. So perhaps the role of the artist, or one role at any rate, is to mix up and confuse all such antinomies.

The role of the artist at all times and in all conditions is to make art. The role of the citizen, artist and otherwise, is to be engaged in political process.

Hint: it's a pretty accurate description.
Another Primer

Bush Wars presents the ABC's of terrorism. It's so simple a child could understand. No word on whether Dubya is capable, though.
More on Reagan's Legacy

For anyone feeling a little misty-eyed about the demise of the Gipper: check out this Guardian article. Young women in Guatemala are being brutally assaulted and murdered at a feverish rate. The murders and assaults are attributed at least in part to the legacy of war, which has desensitized some to the point where they'll engage in such horrific acts, while at the same time it induces a fear on the part of the victims' families to report such crimes.

By viewing Central America as a cold war sideshow, Reagan contributed to the emergence of conditions seen throughout the region. The wars themselves were bad enough. Now Central America is once again off the radar screen (back to "the backyard," I guess). Desperate poverty is the norm for the majority of people. Combine this with an ease and availibility of weapons, and it's not surprising that crime is an enormous problem. El Salvador, in particular, has seen a large rise in gang related violence--Salvadoran gangs operate in Los Angeles, and arrestees are often deported.

By the way: John Negroponte, soon to be Super-Ambassador in Iraq, was plain old Ambassador to Honduras during the more murderous years (1981-1985). Honduras became the Thailand of Central America at the time--essentially an non-mobile aircraft carrier. Contra and US troops used it as staging point for raids into Nicaragua--and as safe haven following said raids.

Not that I'm much of a god-worshipper, but if there is a heaven, I hope that those standing in judgement of Reagan include the seven nuns killed by the army he funded in El Salvador--and, to round out the jury, it'd be nice if the young women noted in the article above were added to the list.
The Politics of Hope

Hope as in we-hope-like-hell-this-works. Iyad Allawi, the sub-Prime Minister of Iraq, announced that nine militias will disband and/or be absorbed into the new, improved Iraqi military.

Juan Cole advises his readers to not believe the hype.
Revisionist History

The New York Times has a report on a controversy at Foreign Affairs magazine. It involves, in their words, "an intense competition under way to shape the way that history is told, particularly regarding the United States involvement in Chile, as more and more documents touching on Mr. Kissinger's legacy are released."

Ah, controversy and Henry Kissinger. Imagine that. Henry, through his hack underling William Rogers, demands "the last word" in a dispute regarding US actions in Chile during the 1960's and 1970's. Remember that the US government considered the 1973 coup an acceptable alternative to democracy, and supported the murderous Pinochet regime until the very end of his reign. So much for being a beacon of freedom down there--or anywhere else.

Link via As'ad Abu Khalil.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

The Triumph of Myth

Most of the bloggers--and the websites--I read have weighed in on the demise of Ronald Wilson Reagan. The range of opinion goes from give-credit where-credit-is-due to good riddance. Forgive me if I don't link to other posts, although, believe me, I've read them. In particular, though, I think Billmon covered the bases in his two pieces--the first one concedes Reagan's SIGNIFICANCE, without applying the term great, while the second focuses more on the movie aspect of his legacy, i.e., he was less of a great man and more of "he played the role of a great man on TV."

My own take on the Reagan legacy revolves around the troublesome aspect of myth. As the media pulls out archival footage of this sound byte or that, it becomes a de facto given that certain things were accomplished during the Reagan era--like, for instance, he "rebuilt" the decripit military, he shrunk the federal government, he pulled the country out of the malaise it found itself in during the Carter years, etc., ad nauseum. No doubt there will be a renewed fervor amongst the right to add Reagan's name to as many things Federal as possible, and maybe another attempt to carve his visage onto Mount Rushmore. The former is somewhat ironic, given the Gipper's public statements regarding government, although a closer examination of his record reveals his antipathy was largely rhetorical.

His rebuilding of the military must also be taken with several grains, if not a shaker, of salt. Military spending has largely been kept at constant levels, both as a percentage of GDP and in real dollar terms since the end of World War II. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone who genuinely studies this sort of thing: The Cold War was as much a means of priming the economic pump as it was a face off against evil godless communism. The idea was to keep the nation's economic engine humming at high levels. After all, it was the war that really spelled the end of the depression.

Reagan cut taxes, sure. He then raised taxes several times, and didn't really cut government spending so much as he redirected a bit more of the pie towards the military. Again, someone who really knows how a modern, developed economy functions would know that "cutting" government is akin to cutting the nation's throat. The Reagan recession of the early 80's (which hurt myself and a lot of other people quite badly) would have been far worse had Ronnie genuinely reduced the size of government.

Then there's the belief that he somehow brought America back, if not to the promised land itself, then certainly within striking distance. I'll suggest that those who hold this particular belief consider the SECOND Reagan recession (which hit Louisiana especially hard), which lasted through the Bush years. A number of people, again, myself included, were caught up in this particular downturn--it was one reason why I moved out of state.

I haven't even touched on the uglier aspects of the Reagan legacy: the support of Saddam Hussein, the support of the mujahadeen (which led to the formation of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in one of the more severe examples of "blowback" ever recorded), the support of murderous thugs in Central America (Billmon notes his comical warning that the Sandinistas were "only two days drive from Harlingen, Texas), the pathetic support of Iran in exchange for--well, everytime one hostage was released another was taken, so you couldn't really call it much of a swap--and then there's the entire sorry legacy best commented upon by an old, now deceased, political science professor of mine named Paul Grosser. Dr. Grosser noted that, prior to Reagan, the poor were pitied. Under Reagan, the poor were held in contempt.

The political legacy of the Gipper, then, should be measured in light of the brutality in Central America, where his hands were drenched in blood, and his Middle East policy, which set the stage for the mess we have today. To be fair, the Middle East can't be entirely laid on his shoulders--his predecessors have plenty of culpability--but you can certainly assign him a share of the blame.

Then there's the myth that he somehow busted the Soviet Union. True, there is some evidence that the Soviets tried for a time to match his high level of military spending, and that might have brought about the downfall slightly more quickly (slightly on the order of perhaps a year quicker than otherwise), but again, ask someone who's actually studied the Soviet Union. They'll tell you the handwriting was on the wall, military buildup or no military buildup. The fact was that they simply never had the resources to maintain sustained growth in their economic system (which, interestingly, is a capitalist concept, yet was the cornerstone of Soviet planning). At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns worked its magic on them, and that--along with dedicated activism, and the eyes of the world being upon the region--was what brought about the end of the Soviet bloc.

However, the true believers never are ones to let facts get in the way of a good myth. And that will be the ultimate legacy of Reagan: a caretaker president who mostly blundered his way through office was somehow held by some to be the grand man of the era. Certainly he appealed to those folks who couldn't, or wouldn't, examine their country in light of the revealations post Vietnam, and our nation's cavalier attitude towards democracy, both here and abroad. Because of their refusal to consider the darker nature of the United States, they've hitched their lantern to the man who best spoke for them--a genial, and affable man to be sure, but one who never really backed up his rhetoric with anything. In fact, the argument can be made that George W. Bush is sort of a peckerwood Ronald Reagan. Those who supported the Gipper once again prefer fantasy to reality. Their myth is, thus far, secure.

Waking up from a good dream can be a difficult thing. But what started with the Gipper I think will end with Dubya. Good. The myth of Reagan will unfortunately last for some time--it's almost as if the believers have already invested too much in it to see the reality--but, over time, it will become apparent to all but a few that Ronald Reagan was the ultimate television personality--now that he's gone, it was almost like he was never really there, even if his true believers continue to haunt the corridors of power in DC and even as his rhetoric infects those who crave simplicity over reality.