Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Death Valley Bound

I’m off tomorrow for what I try to make an annual ride…the 12th Annual Death Valley Daze. The Daze is a motorcycle rally that attracts riders who are, for the most part, from the Southwest, although one year a hardy rider rode out from Florida. Some will stay at the Furnace Creek Lodge, but the real rally goers (the purists) will camp---on the grounds that if you ain’t camping you ain’t at the rally.

A week or so ago the night-time temperatures dropped into the low twenties, which was pretty appalling, but it looks now that days will be close to 70 and the nights in the low 30s.
The advantage of taking the hack is that I can haul enough gear to camp like King Farouk: Extra sleeping bag, folding chair, plenty of cooking gear, and extra down to wear around the camp site in the morning.

Death Valley is my favorite scenic spot in t
he Southwest…even in mid summer, when the bike can get so hot that you can't touch the brake and clutch levers with your bare hands. I’m looking forward to sitting around the campfire with old (and I do mean old) friends, kicking lies and telling tires.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Big Push in Iraq

An articl
e over at AterNet.Org once again reminds us of the dangers of ignoring history. Perhaps the biggest “surge” in military history took place A little over ninety years ago---July1st 1916---when the British launched “the big push” that was to break through the German trench system and open the way for a victorious cavalry charge that would end the war.

The meat-grinding battle (The Battle of the Somme) ended on November 18th, 1916.

According to the British Imperial War Museum site:

“Over a million men became casualties in the long and bitter struggle on the Somme. The offensive cost Britain and the Empire 419,654 casualties, 125,000 of them dead. In Britain the impact of the losses was severe, particularly in the north of England where many of the Pals battalions had been recruited.

“French casualties numbered 204,253. Estimates of German casualties vary widely between 437,000 and 680,000. A German staff officer described the Somme as ‘the muddy grave of the German field army.’ "

Adam Hochschild, the author of the AlterNet article is well aware of the obvious differences between the Somme and Iraq, but his attention to the situational similarities is fascinating.

Hochschild comment
s: “There are huge differences, of course, between the First World War and the current fighting in Iraq. But, even beyond the optimistic talk of the Big Push, there is another eerie resemblance between the two conflicts.In both cases, a great power was itching to launch an invasion, and seized on a handy excuse to do so.

The whole article may be read here.

The Imperial War Museum site is fascinating. Take a look.

Incidentally, as we approach the hundredth anniversary of The Great War I expect we’ll see histori
ans revisiting the event the transformed the politics of our world.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Where Is The Outrage?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t think ‘non-binding resolutions’ or ‘sense of the Congress’ expressions are going to get us out of Iraq; neither does Salon commentator Gary Kamiya, who asks “Where is The Outrage?”

Kamiya is profoundly skeptical about the Democrats ever cutting off funds for the war--- still spooked by the Conservatives’ strategy of tying the ‘soft on security’ can to their tails. A real anti-war movement, a thunderous presence in the streets, would support the radical move of cutting funds, but no such anti-war movement exists.

Although disapproval of Bush’s mismanagement of the
war is huge there is really no outrage at the suffering that war has caused. After all, there have ‘only’ been 3000 deaths and for no one is the suffering of the thousands of wounded a reality. When even the dead are just numbers, the wounded become only medical statistics.

Kamiya writes: “The fact is, except for that comparatively small number of Americans who have fought there, Iraq is just a name on a map. The deaths there, too, are unreal. And if by chance their reality becomes undeniable, they happen to other people.”

” American casualties have remained discreetly hidden from view. (To say nothing of the horrendous numbers of Iraqis who have been killed as the result of the war, which the U.S. government has callously avoided
tallying.) The Bush administration has tried to keep the dead and wounded out of sight, and the media, cowed by "taste" rules and patriotism, has mostly played along. The result is an abstract war, a play war, a dream war.”

During World War One it was the war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and (after the war) novelist Erich Maria Remarque, who raised our consciousness of the horror, making it explicit and terrible.

Iraq has produced a soldier poet of extraordinary talent, Brian Turner. Kamiya quotes him in the Salon article. It will break your heart.

In a poem titled "2000 lbs," Turner opens with a
description of a suicide bomber in Mosul's Ashur Square, who is watching in his rearview mirror for a convoy. He writes of two men, an Iraqi taxi driver named Sefwan and an American Guardsman named Sgt. Ledouix, who are also in Ashur Square.

A flight of gold, that's what Sefwan thinks
as he lights a Miami, draws in the smoke
and waits in his taxi at the traffic circle.
He thinks of summer 1974, lifting
pitchforks of grain high in the air,
the slow drift of it like the fall of Shatha's hair,
and although it was decades ago, he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebrake
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street's concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreck
age, with no one there
to whisper him gone.

Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard
speaks but cannot hear the words coming out,
and it's just as well his eardrums ruptured
because it lends the world a certain calm,
though the traffic circle is filled with people
running in panic, their legs a blur
like horses in a carousel, turning
and turning the way the tires spin
on the Humvee flipped to its side,
the gunner's hatch he was thrown from
a mystery to him now, a dark hole
in metal the color of sand, and if he could,
he would crawl back inside of it,
and though his fingertips scratch at the asphalt
he hasn't the strength to move:
shrapnel has torn into his ribcage
and he will bleed to death in minutes,
but he finds himself surrounded by a strange
beauty, the shine of light on the broken,
a woman's hand touching his face, tenderly
the way his wife might, amazed to find
a wedding ring on his crushed hand,
the bright gold sinking in flesh
going to bone.

The poem appears in a collection of Turner's poetry titled, 'Here, Bullet'

Read more about Turner here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ignoring and Repeating History

If Bush and his neo-con conspirators had even the most rudimentary knowledge of the history of the region would they have led us all into the Iraq disaster? One hopes not.

Sadly, they were either ignorant of the history of the area, or they knew it and were too dumb to think for a moment about the lesson of an earlier empire’s Iraq adventure.

Consider this quotation from an article at AterNet.Org by Barry Lando.

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia [Iraq] into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information…..We are today not far from disaster.”

So wrote Colonel T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) in the London Sunday Times, August 1920.

Lando’s outline of the stages of the British invasion, and its ultimate failure, reads like a shockingly contemporary account of our own bloody disaster.

When the British forces marched into Baghdad in 1917 they did so announcing that they were liberators, not conquerors.

In fact, they were no more interested in liberating the local inhabitants and their lands than were any of the conquerors who had preceded them, nor the one who followed. Their major concern was bases to support their sprawling empire and oil to fuel their economy and war-making machine.

The British attempt to pacify the region was carried out by aircraft, armored cars, machine guns, firing squads and 130,000 British soldiers, more than 1600 of whom were killed. The British established the Sunnis as rulers in Baghdad and the Shiites of course considered them occupiers.

The British attempted to maintain control of the region by establishing the Hashemite prince Faisal (who had never been to Iraq) as the King of the new nation, in the process betraying the Kurds who had been promised an independent homeland at the end of World War I.

Winston Churchill, who was then Home Secretary, argued that Britain should give up its attempts to control Kurdish Mosul and Sunni-dominated Baghdad and retain only the Shiite province of Basra in the south, which was a strategic link to British possessions in Persia. If the British Cabinet had followed his advice, each of the principle peoples of Iraq—Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds—would have had its own government; the groups who were bound together as Iraqis might have had a much less tragic history.

Churchill was right. It's my judgment that in addition to simply advocating a withdrawl from Iraq Progressives should consider support of the 'three state solution.' However, the devil is in the details and this might mean we have to stay in Iraq longer than a simple 'withdraw now' policy implies.

Quotations from Barry Lando’s article are in Italics. Read the complete article here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Getting Out of Iraq

The following note was distributed on each chair at last Saturday’s organizational meeting of the Pima County Democratic Party.

First we take impeachment off the table
Then we take war funding off the table
Then when George Bush sends in more troops
We throw up our hands and explain
There is nothing we can do to stop him.

The circulator of that also asked a couple of questions: Why have so many left the Democratic Party to register as independents? How come they call us “spineless” and “brain-dead”?

It begins to look like “Today’s Script” is tomorrow’s action plan and that we’ll be in Iraq through 2008.

I think it’s clear that the vast majority of Americans want us out of Iraq. I think it’s safe to say that the sooner and more completely out of Iraq you want us to be, the more likely it is that you count yourself a Progressive.

If so, that makes me a Progressive.

But while Progressives mount campaigns to put pressure on Congress to get out, it seems appropriate that we discuss exactly how we propose that be done and what our post-exit relationship to Iraq ought to be.

More important, and so far as I can see not considered at all, is the question of what our moral obligation to the people of Irag is and how we should respond to that obligation.

Perhaps one of our most active Progressives, Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW could lead us in such a discussion.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

AZ CD-8: Giffords' First Vote

Representative Gabrielle Giffords took her first action in Congress today, voting on a package of ethics reform measures.

A Ban on Gifts from Lobbyists: Members of Congress and their staff are not allowed to accept gifts or expensive meals that could sway legislators' opinions, create unethical relationships between lobbyists and legislators, or give the appearance of impropriety. This is also a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists and the organizations that employ them, and requires that tickets to sporting and other events given to Members and staff are valued at market prices

A Ban on Lobbyist Travel: Lobbyists and the organizations that employ them cannot plan, organize, request, finance, arrange, or participate in travel for Members of Congress or their staff.

Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes: This measure ends the revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms, in which jobs were exchanged for political access.

A Ban on Arm Twisting for Votes: The measure prohibits the practice of holding votes open for undue amounts of time for the sole purpose of twisting arms and affecting the outcome of a vote.

A Requirement on fiscal and budgetary responsibility: Congress must use "pay-as-you-go" budget rules to stop any new deficit spending as the first step toward reversing record deficits mortgaging our children's future.

Earmark Reform: There will be no secret deals between legislators and special interests -- there will be full disclosure of all earmarks, requiring Members to certify that earmarks provided would be for the public good -- not financially benefiting
themselves or their spouses.

In case you missed it, here’s an interesting story from the New York Daily News.

“WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.”

The great decider strikes again.