Friday, December 03, 2004

Poet Laureate to Remain at Post--and Other Things

CNN has the details, Slate has the poetry. I'll just note in passing that if beaucracy tends to award poor to mediocre performance, then perhaps it lauds downright incompetence.

In other news--it's starting to really look like Fallujah or bust went bust--insurgents have moved back into areas cleared by the US Military...that is according to...the US Military. I've heard that a common busy-work task assigned to young recruits involves something along the lines of digging a hole, then another, then taking the dirt from the first hole get the picture. Fallujah has all the signs of being a far deadlier version of the same.

Off topic, but: Howard Zinn has a good article over at the Progressive, something along the lines of my own rant from earlier today, but better written (hey, he's an academic, after all). I also chanced upon similar prose at Bad Attitudes.

From Needlenose, here's a good piece from the Asian Times that compares Fallujah to Guernica, which places the US in the uncomfortable position of the Luftwaffe, (and Allawi, fittingly, as sort of a peckerwood Francisco Franco). The Times reports that napalm and white phosphorus bombs were used during the "liberation," which was banned by the UN in 1980 (although these days apparently the UN is the source of all evil in the world, thanks to the corruption in the oil-for-food campaign in Iraq, which I guess is NOW the reason for invading in the first place or whatever)--but you know, even if the UN HADN'T banned napalm and white phosphorus bombs, they're still a pretty despicable thing to drop on a population you're supposedly "liberating." Liberating them from what? Their skin?

Oh--and TODAY'S bombing in Baghdad took place outside of a mosque--about twenty killed there--then there was an attack on a police station, killing roughly ten more. The other headline that will likely soon become an everyday news item concerns a plot on Allawi's life. If I was the editor, I'd keep that or an equivalent phrase handy on the autotext. And Juan Cole notes more violence in the quickly-fading-to-yellow-if-not-red Green Zone.

Here's to the holidays...
On Colonies

Besides having to work a bit over here, another reason why I've been a little slow in cranking out posts is because I've been trying to keep up with Steve Gilliard's series on colonial wars--now at seventeen posts and counting.

Though it's rather long, the series is very good, and I recommend it highly to anyone who'd like to learn a bit about the legacy of the "white man's burden" and how that continues to affect areas once slated for "uplifting and Christianization."
Bush: Still a Doofus

Work kept me busy yesterday; hence no posts...then, this morning, I came across this story (Atrios had a link yesterday, so you've probably seen it)--so the government is funding "abstinence" sex education programs that flat out the tune of $170 million dollars. Why am I not surprised?

Because...Bush is a doofus.

Why wouldn't Bush push this kind of bullshit? You can go to any era of George W. Bush's life--from his boozy, powdered youth to the present--and he all but shouts out from the rooftop, "I'm a moron."

"Now watch this drive."

You know, this country might be so insular, and enough of its citizens so isolationist that their voting preference becomes a matter of "who they'd rather have a beer with," but the issues facing the world are quite real, and will require decisive leadership--and no one can come up with a SINGLE case where George W. Bush has shown anything remotely resembling leadership. In fact, his life screams the opposite.

Take a look:

Bush's youth? Drinking, snorting, arranging for abortions for girlfriends, compulsory community service following what was probably an arrest for drugs, drunk driving, or something like that--you know, that almost makes me think he's not such a bad guy after all...except that Bush is a hypocrite, preaching a totally different message these days (except for when it comes to his daughters, who seem determined to do what he did, not what he says--and daddy apparently doesn't give a shit, although he had plenty of young men and women busted during his tenure as governor). Then there's the matter of his National Guard "service," , which could be summed up as "while many were called to serve their country, George W. Bush served...himself another glass of bourbon."

Bush as a businessman? See for yourself. Bush and profitability were in what I believe mathematicians call an inverse ratio. There's a shady stock deal thrown in for good measure, some international cronyism involving both the bin Laden family and the government of Bahrain, and, when it suited him, big bucks from the public till to build his team a baseball stadium.

Then there's his record as Governor of Toxins--I mean Texas. Short version: don't breathe too deeply and pray you don't get convicted of murder.

As for the Bush presidency? More bullshit, with an extra large side helping of lies. Commander Codpiece was straight out of the third world/banana republic playbook. Mission Accomplished and Bring em on are not only an insult to the troops, but display a profound ignorance of basic military principles and strategy--which isn't exactly what you want from a commander in chief. Bush could have done just as much by announcing "as a matter of fact, I AM a doofus" to the entire planet.

Consider: before Bush's foolish invasion of Iraq, the United States was in a position of overwhelming strength in the region. Now, thanks to Operation Go Fallujah Ourselves, we're in a position of profound weakness (mirroring what he did with the economy), hemorraging lives and money. The best Bush can claim is that he got rid of the Don Fanucci of the Middle East, which could have been accomplished in any one of myriad ways--if that's actually what we wanted to do in the first place. Given that our choice for the New Iraq was Ahmad Chalabi (before he managed to bite the hand that bribed him one too many times), then Iyad Allawi, i.e., the New Don Fanucci, there's no fucking way anyone can say the war was fought to end the "suffering of the Iraqi people."

Yes, the world notices this. They see through the lies designed to whip up war fever, they notice things like the fact that Bush's response to the August 6, 2001 p.d.b. (Title: bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.) was to go golfing and fishing, they're rightly appalled that the man who is PRESIDENT, for chrissakes, won't admit to a single error in judgment when, on his watch, we've seen Camp X-Ray, Camp Delta, the Gonzalez torture memos, Plamegate, Abu Ghraib, the whole shameful and wanton destruction of Iraq (including, in another display of third world/banana republic imagery, the ridiculous "Coalition of the Willing"), the giving up on working for a Palestinian/Israeli peace settlement, the active and tacit support for subversion of democracy in the Caribbean and South America, the A.D.D.-like loss of interest in catching bin Laden (which exposes the entire planet to danger, given that the "global war on terror"--unilaterally declared by Bush--happens to involve the GLOBE, as evidenced by tragedies like the Madrid train bombings, towards which the Americans responded by...accusing the Spanish of playing politics with tragedy--hmmmm, if I recall the GOP did their level best to fuse themselves with 9/11 almost from the moment it happened) and so on.

And yes, 55 million Americans, who don't equate public policy with NASCAR or professional wrestling notice all this too. And more. We see in Bush a man who refuses to show a shred of responsibility for ANY of the things he's done as president. And, unlike the wingnuts who have a bizarre, cult-like attitude towards him, we see, instead, a little man, more of a boy really, who, believe me, will one day be judged for the actions he's taken--and not judged for the better. History will serve a cold dish of revenge when Bush's administration is chronicled.

Now watch this drive.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Good Neighbor Policy, Bush-Style

From Bob Harris, here's a link to a Newsday story about the CIA's foreknowledge of an attempted coup d'etat against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez back in 2002:

The Bush administration has denied it was involved in the coup or knew one was being planned. At a White House briefing on April 17, 2002, just days after the 47-hour coup, a senior administration official who did not want to be named said, "The United States did not know that there was going to be an attempt of this kind to overthrow - or to get Chávez out of power."

Well, not really:

The documents - called Senior Executive Security Briefs - are one level below the highest-level Presidential Daily Briefs and are circulated among about 200 top-level U.S. officials, Kornbluh said.

Chávez was arrested and overthrown on April 12, 2002, after military dissidents blamed him for violence at an opposition protest march that left 19 people dead and 300 wounded. He was returned to power two days later.

All the CIA documents were heavily censored before being released. One, dated April 6, 2002, states that "dissident military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month."

The document adds: "The level of detail in the reported plans [censored] targets Chávez and 10 other senior officials for arrest - lends credence to the information, but military and civilian contacts note that neither group appears ready to lead a successful coup and may bungle the attempt by moving too quickly."

The brief also states, "To provoke military action, the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month or ongoing strikes at the state-owned oil company PSVSA."

While there is no requirement that one government inform another with which it has diplomatic relations that it may be facing a coup attempt, such an alert would be in keeping with the spirit of the Inter-American Democratic Charter of which both Washington and Venezuela are members, according to international relations experts.

Here's a thought experiment: imagine how the United States would react, if, say, Russia had advance knowledge of a coup attempt against, say, Poland, and did nothing...
War as Sport

Mathilde Soyer, in this BaltimoreChronicle news analysis, contrasts US media coverage of the Fallujah assault with other sources:

A review of international media coverage reveals that, in general, the US press, as in this instance, focuses on battle tactics and keeps score of US casualties, while elsewhere in the world the press is emphasizing the human costs of the war.

A USA Today story about the Iraq conflict on November 10 read: “US sends divert troops from Fallujah to Mosul to quell uprising,” sub-titled: “The US Army has diverted an infantry battalion from the fighting in Fallujah and sent them back to Mosul after an uprising there by insurgents...”

Contrast that with a British BBC news report on the same day that quoted Iraqi journalist Fadhil Badrani, a Fallujah resident who reports regularly for Reuters and “BBC World.” Referring to those who are outside the conflict, he says: “I want them to know about conditions inside this city--there are dead women and children lying on the streets....People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever.”

Le Monde relates this aspect too, titling its story on November 10: “There is no surgeon left in Fallujah.”

The International Herald Tribune quotes an Iraqi journalist: "People are afraid of even looking out the window because of snipers," he said, asking that he not be named for his own safety. "The Americans are shooting anything that moves."...

One thing is sure: if the suffering of Iraqis’ civilians in Fallujah is to be considered someday, it will not be through the US press, which all too often is just following the government line like embedded journalists can be expected to do.

From such lopsided media coverage of the Fallujah story, an observer can only conclude that the so-called “free press” no longer exists in the US. Either that, or the US press is choosing to mirror the worst in US society: indifference, cruelty, greed and selfishness. Which of these conditions, one wonders, is more difficult to cure?

And, to follow up from an earlier post, here's a link Holden over at Atrios provided about the airport road in Baghdad. Talk about a bumpy ride--compared to the drive, severe turbulence in flight is a walk in the park.

Finally, not that the wingnuts will bother to confuse themselves with the facts, here's a nice collection of US and British government documents about none other than Saddam Hussein himself. They make for good background to go with this famous photo of the Butcher and Rummy:
When Embedding Isn't Enough...

...then it's time for some good old-fashioned news manufacturing, as this L.A. Times article points out:

On the evening of Oct. 14, a young Marine spokesman near Fallouja appeared on CNN and made a dramatic announcement.

"Troops crossed the line of departure," 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert declared, using a common military expression signaling the start of a major campaign. "It's going to be a long night." CNN, which had been alerted to expect a major news development, reported that the long-awaited offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallouja had begun.

In fact, the Fallouja offensive would not kick off for another three weeks. Gilbert's carefully worded announcement was an elaborate psychological operation — or "psy-op" — intended to dupe insurgents in Fallouja and allow U.S. commanders to see how guerrillas would react if they believed U.S. troops were entering the city, according to several Pentagon officials...

Officials at the Pentagon and other U.S. national security agencies said the CNN incident was not an isolated feint — the type used throughout history by armies to deceive their enemies — but part of a broad effort underway within the Bush administration to use information to its advantage in the war on terrorism...

These efforts have set off a fight inside the Pentagon over the proper use of information in wartime. Several top officials see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs — disseminating truthful, accurate information to the media and the American public — and psychological and information operations, the use of often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle.

Several of those officials who oppose the use of misleading information spoke out against the practice on the condition of anonymity.

"The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world," one senior defense official said. "What's at stake is the credibility of people in uniform."

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said he recognized the concern of many inside the Defense Department, but that "everybody understands that there's a very important distinction between information operations and public affairs. Nobody has offered serious proposals that would blur the distinction between these two functions."

some in the military argue that the efforts at better "strategic communication" sometimes cross the line into propaganda, citing some recent media briefings held in Iraq. During a Nov. 10 briefing by Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, reporters were shown a video of Iraqi troops saluting their flag and singing the Iraqi national anthem.

"Pretty soon, we're going to have the 5 o'clock follies all over again, and it will take us another 30 years to restore our credibility," said a second senior Defense official, referring to the much-ridiculed daily media briefings in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

According to several Pentagon officials, the strategic communications programs at the Defense Department are being coordinated by the office of the undersecretary of Defense for policy, Douglas J. Feith...

So, it's Feith-based policy, as opposed to a reality-based one...
Back, by Wingnut Demand: Gulf War Syndrome--The Sequel

David Rose, writing in Vanity Fair, provides a number details about the effects of exposure to Depleted Uranium, which almost everyone--except the government--considers a likely culprit of the various ailments known as Gulf War Syndrome. The article is a bit long, but worth reading.

Short version: Veterans report symptoms ranging from loss of motor control to complete mental breakdown. Other symptoms include skin rashes, sexual disfunction--both impotence and physiological problems, children born with birth defects--you name it (on that note, Atrios linked to a multimedia presentation featuring sickening pictures of deformed Iraqi children born since the first Gulf War. If you can stand viewing it, you should take a look at what our tax dollars are doing).

Depleted Uranium is being used in the present Iraq war, with predictable results--the Iraqis bear the initial terrible brunt of a shell twice as dense as lead--but, as the exploding round turns to dust, all people in range of the battlefield eventually inhale toxic particles. So much for taking care not to target civilians...not that that's happening anyway.

By the way--Your Right Hand Thief has a picture up that presumably has our Commander-in-Chief's response to all this. I'm sure Dubya appreciates the sacrifice...
Update: Since Oyster seems to be having a little difficulty with the pic, I'll post it here as well. Lookie--our pResident can count to one...

On Taking the Low Road

Since most of y'all stopping by have likely seen the Talking Points Memo posts about the United Church of Christ's ad about tolerance being banned by CBS/UPN and NBC--or have maybe seen other takes on this, e.g., Timshel's post, I'll simply note that I'm just as appalled as they are. Welcome to the land of not-so-free-speech--don't forget to say your loyalty oath...

However, over at Cursor, this Washington Square News article caught my eye--it's the counterpoint to banning messages of tolerance from the airwaves:

George W. Bush ran the most negative presidential campaign in history, and the media never covered the story, an aide to Sen. John Kerry's campaign said last Monday at the journalism department.

Marco Trbovich, a United Steelworkers of America employee who advised Kerry on labor policy, told the 20 students gathered at Carter Hall that about 80 percent of Bush's campaign money was spent on negative advertising.

"If you can think of a few positive commercials that you saw, you saw all of them that were there," he said.

Bush's campaign played upon fear, using patriotic and religious fervor to make voters fear Kerry and the changes he might bring, Trbovich said.

"The Bush strategy worked, creating a big question mark over John Kerry's ability to lead," he said.

Trbovich, who spoke as part of the journalism department's "brown bag" lecture series, singled out two campaign phenomena that he said the media covered particularly poorly: a Bush ad about Kerry's health care plan that Trbovich called completely false, and the months-long smear campaign by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which claimed, among other things, that Kerry faked injuries in Vietnam.

"The Kerry campaign didn't act fast enough because it wasn't cynical enough about the media [to think] that controversy was more important than context," said Trbovich, who has reported for United Press International, the Detroit Free Press and The Boston Phoenix, among other news organizations.

"I think [Bush strategist Karl] Rove is appropriately cynical about the quality -- or lack of it -- in the American media these days," he said.

Re: Rove--no shit. I've been waiting, hoping for someone to emerge on the Democratic side who would recognize the need to, well, get down to the level of the GOP and hit back hard. No, it isn't pleasant or pretty--but, like taking out the garbage, it's necessary. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party didn't seem to grasp that point.

Trbovich also noted that the Democrats failed to enlarge their base. In particular, there was a failure to reach out to blue-collar voters. Instead, Kerry ran what he called a "yuppified campaign." This didn't sit well with the Trbovich--he noted that, in spite of having known the candidate for thirty years (and in spite of Kerry having, in his words, "more integrity and intelligence than almost anyone else" he knew), that "you've literally got to beat the shit out of John Kerry sometimes to get him where you want him to go."

The same could be said for the Democratic Party as a whole.
Have a Blast in Baghdad

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, notes that a bomb was discovered on an airplane in Iraq back on November 22nd. The British Embassy no longer provides transportation to Baghdad International--the airport road is too dangerous.

Juan Cole reports that on Monday, 5 more US deaths were confirmed by the government--4 in the vicinity of Baghdad, 1 near Kut, with 13 more wounded--while 5 US soldiers were wounded today.

On the other side of the coin, it looks more and more like the Fallujah offensive accomplished nothing beyond indiscriminate killing--well, that and the entire destruction of the city. The New York Times reports today that there are STILL pockets of resistance, mostly in the southern part of the city. As for rebuilding, if Najaf is any example, expect plenty of corruption and shoddy work--and who's to say that the city won't rebel again if/when they ever complete a VERY expensive reconstruction that requires pretty much starting from scratch.

By the way: Donald Rumsfeld probably won't be going to Germany any time soon, seeing as how 5 Iraqi nationals filed a lawsuit against him there, charging him with crimes against humanity. Others named in the suit include CIA director George Tenet, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven Cambone, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, Brigadier General Janis L. Karpinski, and more.

That's still probably better than what's in store for the average soldier.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Clown Posse

OK, I'm gonna try posting one more time before calling it a day. Blogger is functioning about as well as the average Iraqi military force, according to this New York Times article, which typically manages to sneak in a few positive statments, I guess in the interest of "balance." What a crock.

When Iraqi soldiers aren't being car-bombed at recruiting centers, or tipping off the resistance, they're busy trying to forget they're even soldiers. Most refuse to tell folks what they do for a living, with good reason: they're getting killed by resistance fighters.

So much for our invaluable allies.

But, to listen to the Bush administration, it's "just a few bad apples," sort of like the Abu Ghraib grab ass festival.

Oh--and, as for the new Iraq? Check out Riverbend's" latest post. The Iraqi gossip is suggesting that US TROOPS used chemical weapons in Fallujah, Baghad is a city of "mini-warzones," electricity and telephones are barely functioning--and elections are two months away. Watch for some serious Potemkin-type spin on the upcoming plebescite, even as whole regions find their votes ignored. Bush fiddles while Iraq burns.

And, if Bush is fiddling, you can bet Allawi is dancing--at least as long as the marionette pulls a few strings...

NOTE: This short post took at least twenty minutes--um, make that closer to forty-five minutes--to show up on blogger--speaking of crocks...enough of this shit. See y'all tomorrow.
The Clown Posse

OK, I'm gonna try posting one more time before calling it a day. Blogger is functioning about as well as the average Iraqi military force, according to this New York Times article, which typically manages to sneak in a few positive statments, I guess in the interest of "balance." What a crock.

When Iraqi soldiers aren't being car-bombed at recruiting centers, or tipping off the resistance, they're busy trying to forget they're even soldiers. Most refuse to tell folks what they do for a living, with good reason: they're getting killed by resistance fighters.

So much for our invaluable allies.

But, to listen to the Bush administration, it's "just a few bad apples," sort of like the Abu Ghraib grab ass festival.

Oh--and, as for the new Iraq? Check out Riverbend's latest post. The Iraqi gossip is suggesting that US TROOPS used chemical weapons in Fallujah, Baghad is a city of "mini-warzones," electricity and telephones are barely functioning--and elections are two months away. Watch for some serious Potemkin-type spin on the upcoming plebescite, even as whole regions find their votes ignored. Bush fiddles while Iraq burns.

And, if Bush is fiddling, you can bet Allawi is dancing--at least as long as the marionette pulls a few strings...

NOTE: This short post took at least twenty minutes to show up on blogger--speaking of crocks...enough of this shit. See y'all tomorrow.
A Little Methyl Isocynate Can Really Ruin Your Day Posted by Hello

Geez, blogger is even slower than normal today. I've been trying to crank out this post for about an hour--managed to get the pic above posted, then had to waaaiiiit...

Anyway, the above is an actual graphic from a Union Carbide Ad that ran in National Geographic (according to the website Chemical Industry Archives, in 1962). The tag line is a rather ominous statement: "A Hand in Things to Come." No shit.

Amnesty [Internation] found that 7,000 died in the immediate aftermath, and 15,000 more have died of related diseases since 1984. It reveals that 100,000 people still suffer from chronic or debilitating illnesses. "The company decided to store quantities of the 'ultra-hazardous' MIC in Bhopal in bulk, and did not equip the plant with a corresponding safety capacity," the report says.

The above quote is from Justin Huggler from the Independent, writing in Counterpunch. Huggler goes on to note that, 20 years after what Chemical Industry Archives calls "the worst industrial disaster of the 20th Century," most victims are still awaiting settlement. Those who HAVE been compensated received an average of about $550 dollars. Years ago, in a Nation article, one of the victims noted that this was less than the average price paid for a purebred dog.

So much for compassion. Perhaps this also explains why so few folks, particularly on the pro-war side, haven't said a thing about the horrors awaiting those who've been exposed to another danger--depleted uranium aerosols--in Iraq (both Iraqis AND our soldiers). But, I dunno--thinking about the victims can be such a downer out on the golf course...
Arbeit Macht Frei

The Guardian reports on the kind of routine abuse Palestinians suffer:

Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin.

The incident was not as shocking as the recording of an Israeli officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years old.

Nor was it as nauseating as the pictures in an Israeli newspaper of ultra-orthodox soldiers mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a man's head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth.

But the matter of the violin touched on something deeper about the way Israelis see themselves, and their conflict with the Palestinians.

The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to "play something sad" while soldiers made fun of him. After several minutes, he was told he could pass.

It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.

But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.

The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder. "What about Majdanek?" he asked, referring to the Nazi extermination camp.

But, as Rush Limbaugh might say, boys will be boys. Limbaugh--hmmm...what sort of name is that?
Interesting Friend of the Court Brief

Once again, I'm getting off to a late start, but I can't pass up noting this post from Timshel, who further links to The Advocate and Best of New Orleans. About what? The right of a state to control its marijuana laws, specifically in regards to physicians and compassionate use issues...

Who'd have thunk it...Louisiana taking a somewhat progressive stance on pot. Now, to be fair, the brief notes that Louisiana still has strong criminal laws regarding recreational use (which, if you ask me, is completely insane), but, surprisingly, has had compassionate use laws on the books since the late 70's. Now, I should have known about the laws, as I was acquainted with someone who received government pot at around that time while battling leukemia (he and his wife said it was low-quality ditch weed).

And, as the Best of New Orleans article notes, far stronger drugs are on the market AND prescribed--like morphine, for instance.

Last night I happened upon some of the anti-pot bleatings on C-Span, which I could stand to listen to for only a moment or so. The hysteria about pot hasn't changed all that much over the years--except that, instead of making racist appeals, the emphasis is on "protecting the children." Ha. Like Bill Hicks once said, kids are pretty smart--for instance, none of them have a full time job AND kids. And I don't think it can get any easier for kids to get their hands on pot these days. Hell, legalization of some variety might actually make it more difficult for kids to buy pot if it drove some street-level dealers out of business.

In the meantime--I wonder if there's a cure for what ails me....?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Mortars and Gun Battles are a Hell of a Wakeup Call

Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches catches us up on the day-to-day realities in "liberated" Iraq:

The cost of fuel now in the black market is 10 times what it normally is, and people either pay it or wait for 8 hours in a gas line, with no guarantee that the station of their choice won’t run dry before they get a chance to fill their tank.

Traffic jams form often when military patrols rumble down the street…cars stacked up behind them, nobody daring to venture too close to the heavy machine guns wielded by soldiers with their faces covered by goggles and masks. Already today 2 soldiers were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb in the northwest section of the capital. Also, up near Kut in eastern Iraq, another soldier was killed and two wounded in a “vehicle accident.”

The fuel crisis is driving the cost of everything up-vegetables, fruit, meat, you name it.

“We are living a disaster,” says Abu Abdulla, an unemployed engineer at a kebob stand today near the so-called green zone, “The price for benzene is 10 times now what it was on the black market, but there are 10 times less jobs and who is making 10 times as much money?”...

While Iraq appears to be conveniently slipping off the radar of the mainstream media, the failed occupation continues to grind on towards an end which nobody here can see.

Everywhere I go the signs of a society in decline abound. Even at a clinic where I had to go in order to obtain an HIV test to extend my visa, there is a telling event.

A doctor walks in and asks the nurse who is taking my blood what she does with the used needles. “We sterilize them after use then they are incinerated,” she replies. He waves his hand back and forth while telling her, “No more. We are now instructed by the Ministry of Environment there are no facilities for this, so we are to sterilize them and reuse them.”...

Apache helicopters rumble low over the city, their “whumping” blades leaving wakes of car alarms through the streets.

Back at my hotel I indulge my daily ritual of asking the owner if I have hot water yet. The cold showers are getting old now that the temperature has dropped and it remains chilly.

This morning I was awakened by the usual 7am gun battles nearby. They usually coincide with the morning mortar ritual of blasts hitting the so-called green zone.

Now as I type this evening, a huge explosion rattles my walls. A gun battle with heavy automatic weapons kicks off down the street, and the usual wailing sirens of ambulances and Iraqi Police begin blaring across the city-streaming in this direction.

And, courtesy of As'ad Abu Khalil, here are some images of the "liberation." Hope they don't disturb your holiday season...

Faith-Based Reality

Chuck Dupree, one of the writers at Bad Attitudes, has several posts up about Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (and, for the prurient minded, Jerome Doolittle has a post sandwiched in between with a just-barely-safe-for-work picture of Marilyn Chambers--hehehe). I point to them for pretty obvious reasons, perhaps best expressed by Gibbon himself when he noted that in his work, “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.” Food for thought in today's political climate of faith-based torture sanctioned both in word (Gonzalez's torture memos) and deed (Abu Ghraib and Iraq, just to name two examples).

For instance: The Rude Pundit, in the course of a much broader piece about the, um, decline of the American Empire (NOT his exact phraseology), links to this pretty scary ABC story about evangelicals who don't want to wait any longer in imposing their special brand of intolerance upon the country. "Dr." James Kennedy, who preaches at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offers two observations on those who might not share his peculiar tastes--"I couldn't care less," and "repent."

Michael Berube, perhaps following up on this (that's satire for the irony challenged), likewise culminates in the "repent" theme, prior to which he fulminates about his "foray" into the memes and themes of "New Christianity®," which he describes as:

Creationists and
Homophobes for a
Inquisition of the
Terrorists who

In other words, forget about The New Testament--well, except for Revelation.

Back to Gibbon, via Chuck Dupree, for a second, though. Dupree points out that Gibbon's footnotes contain fair amounts of wit and humor, one of which he offers by way of evidence:

I have somewhere heard or read the frank confession of a Benedictine abbot: “My vow of poverty has given me an hundred thousand crowns a year; my vow of obediance has raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince.” — I forget the consequences of his vow of chastity.

I can't think of a better description of those who consider themselves to be the true "faith-based" these days--between the mansions of dubious taste, the escapades and frolicking of some who "wear the cloth" (or their twin daughters), the absolute denial of humanity towards those who don't march in lockstep several paces behind--with heads bowed--and the sickening justifications of practices like torture, they are, quite frankly, a collection of charlatans whose only loyalty is to themselves and whose only faith is in accumulation of whatever they covet--money, power, objects of desire (sexual, material, etc.), you name it. They are literally a walking collection of deadly sins who simultaneously drown out dissent with proclamations of piety.

Sounds somewhat Romanesque, if you ask me.

At the same time, though, there's a bit of the old "alms-for-the-poor" in some of the bleating, as this wonderful article by Barbara Ehrenreich points out--although she notes virtually all right-leaning, church-based "charity" carries with it a political undertone that advises a destruction of any secular equivalent (along with ensuring that secular humanistic principles are abandoned in the process): "What makes the typical evangelicals' social welfare efforts sinister is their implicit--and sometimes not so implicit--linkage to a program for the destruction of public and secular services." Ehrenreich notes this cuts both ways, as it were: the destruction of state-based assistance accounts at least in part for a rise in religious based charity, and that some, i.e., the religious right, use this increase in what is basically power to strike additional blows against all things secular. Ehrenreich offers an interesting antidote: the example of the EARLY Christians, who took on the power of the Roman Empire, and, depending on your point of view, either defeated it, or at least managed to come to an acceptable compromise.

As for me, I'm watching and waiting. One thing I wonder about is how much more quickly the world moves these days. It took centuries of folly before the Roman behemoth was brought to its knees--the late 5th Century in the West, and not until the 15th in the East. But considering how much of this present empire is based, well, on faith, it will be interesting to see how long it takes before the tank reaches empty--and how we intend to pay for a refill.
Back to Work

To echo Timshel, this blog also lives. The time spent in New Iberia was good, though, as I visited with my family and cleared my head somewhat.

I took the time to check on something I'd suspected for a while, but hadn't confirmed--, yes, the local synagogue is literally located next door to The Hadrian Building, and I wonder how many locals realize the, um, irony.

Anyway, on the subject of irony, how this?

CHARD DUWAISH, Iraq, Nov. 28 - As marines aboard fast patrol boats roared up the Euphrates on a dawn raid on Sunday, images pressed in of another American war where troops moved up wide rivers on camouflaged boats, with machine-gunners nervously scanning riverbanks for the hidden enemy.

That war is rarely mentioned among the American troops in Iraq, many of whom were not yet born when the last American combat units withdrew from Vietnam more than 30 years ago. A war that America did not win is considered a bad talisman among those men and women, who privately admit to fears that this war could be lost.

But as an orange moon sank below the bulrushes on Sunday morning, thoughts of Vietnam were hard to avoid.

Marines waded ashore through soft silted mud that caused some to sink to their waists, M-16 rifles held skyward as others on solid land held out their rifle barrels as lifelines.

Ashore, sodden and with boots squelching mud, the troops began a five-hour tramp through dense palm groves and across paddies crisscrossed by deep irrigation canals.

There were snatches of dialogue from "Apocalypse Now," and a black joke from one marine about the landscape resembling "a Vietnam theme park."

John Burns continues to go both ways for his New York Times masters in the rest of his article, noting that US troops are teaming up with Iraqi commandos (many formerly employed as the equivalent of Green Berets by the Hussein regime)...which Burns calls a "qualified success" in one paragraph, before taking the time to record the less-than-stellar assessment by US ground forces in the rest of the story. Hmmm. John seems to be saying that, you know, the chicken shit DOES taste a little like chicken salad. Burns closes with an acknowledgement that the raid he accompanied was an unqualified failure--a hunt for weapons seized one shotgun and three Kalashnikovs--not exactly a backbreaker...

Speaking of which: Last week James Wolcott linked over to another excellent article by Lew Rockwell-type conservative William S. Lind (I'm still amazed at how the SCLM refuses to note dissatisfaction with the Bush regime FROM THE RIGHT). Lind has the correct response to claims that the Fallujah raid "broke the back" of the resistance: "Insurgencies, like octopi, are invertebrate."

Anyway, I've gotta get back to work over here (real work, as opposed to blogging, alas), but I'll have a few more things to note today, and expect to be back to normal posting, unless something comes up. I hope all y'all had decent holidays--now the real task of surviving the next four years begins in earnest.