31 January 2007

Truth is hard ...

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski will offer this testimony tomorrow morning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"1.The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

"2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions."

And he goes on to explain those statements clearly and without pulling a single punch.

Read more of the clear, unvarnished, simple truth from one of America's greatest elder statesmen and diplomats over at The Washington Note, where the intrepid Steve Clemons, a public and foreign policy expert, is offering an advance look at Brzezinski's written testimony. You don't want to miss this.

So sophisticated ...

There have been some rumblings in the press that the Jan. 20 attack on the Karbala compound, in which Iraqi insurgents dressed in American military fatigues and driving SUVs were able to penetrate the compound’s security, was actually the work of Iranian or Iranian-trained operatives.

The reason? Well, the attack was so “sophisticated.”

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Pentagon is investigating whether a recent attack on a military compound in Karbala was carried out by Iranians or Iranian-trained operatives, two officials from separate U.S. government agencies said.

“People are looking at it seriously,” one of the officials said.

That official added the Iranian connection was a leading theory in the investigation into the January 20 attack that killed five soldiers.

The second official said: “We believe it's possible the executors of the attack were Iranian or Iranian-trained”

Five U.S. soldiers were abducted and killed in the sophisticated attack by men wearing U.S.-style uniforms, according to U.S. military reports.

Both officials stressed the Iranian-involvement theory is a preliminary view, and there is no final conclusion. They agreed this possibility is being looked at because of the sophistication of the attack and the level of coordination.

“This was beyond what we have seen militias or foreign fighters do,” the second official said.

As an excuse to start a war with Iran, this one sucks. Here’s why:

Imagine you’re an Iraqi insurgent or militia member. You want to attack and kill American forces inside a compound. Hmm. What might make that easier to do and give you a decent chance of succeeding?

Ahhh! Disguise yourself as an American soldier!

It just might work – it could get you through the guards, if you’re very cool about it. All you need is an American military uniform, a few SUVs and a little practice with English. If it doesn’t work and you get killed trying, well, that’s war. And even if it doesn’t, you’re going to give the enemy nightmares with the very idea that you’d try it.

So you sit down and talk to your superiors, work out whether or not this can be done.

“American uniforms?” they say. “Not easy, but sure, can do. We’ll put some pressure on Ahmed – he’s a traitor. He works in the base uniform shop in the Green Zone, but we figured he might come in handy some day. We’ll threaten his wife and children. That should work. How many uniforms do you want? What sizes do you need?”

“SUVs that look like American vehicles? A little harder, but yes, this can be done.”

It takes some planning, for sure. There are lots of small details to work out. But this attack is important, so it’s worth the time and effort.

You get the uniforms, you get the vehicles, and the day for the attack comes. You carry it out.

It works. You kill one American during the attack, kidnap four others, steal the laptop computer they were using for their meeting, and take off. Just before you abandon the SUVs, you kill the kidnapped Americans – using them as hostages was a bad idea after all. You and your compatriots strip off the American uniforms right there – you were wearing jeans and t-shirts under them -- and blend into the local populace, leaving the bodies and the vehicles behind.

As a terrorist attack, this is very effective. It frightens and undermines your enemy – his ability to identify his enemies becomes even harder. Not only does he have to try, under extremely dicey circumstances, to distinguish insurgents and militia members from the general civilian populace, now they might even be wearing his own uniform!

Tactic: Induce fear. Mission accomplished.

Now, there’s nothing special about my brain. I’m not any smarter than most people, but I’m not dumb, either. I know that clandestine operatives and soldiers have used tactics like this for centuries. It’s nothing new, this dressing up like the enemy in order to penetrate his security. The Iraqis may have a different culture from ours, but they’re a smart, modern and sophisticated people.

So why is the Bush administration (and the CIA) spinning this simple, we’ve-seen-this-technique-a-million-times-in-the-movies clandestine attack by Iraqi insurgents as so “advanced” and “sophisticated” that it could only be those wily, wicked Iranians who came up with it?

Do these reports expressing amazement and pointing fingers mean that the American forces never anticipated this sort of tactic from people we attacked without provocation?

If I were an Iraqi insurgent, I’d be deeply insulted. What, does he think I’m not smart enough to think this up? He thinks I’m an uneducated rube? He thinks that I’ve never read a book or seen a movie? That because I’m Iraqi, I’ve never done anything but herd goats? Does he think that just because my religion requires that I kneel on a prayer mat facing Mecca I don’t have a brain in my head?

Hmm. That must be what he thinks.

As an insurgent, I’d laugh, long and loud. Because honestly, who’s the real rube here?

As an American who has never supported this war, who wants American troops brought home immediately and who sure as hell doesn’t want her country to start yet another baseless war of opportunity, this time with Iran, I’m insulted that my government would even try to get me to take this bait.

I guess the Bush administration thinks I’m a rube, too.

30 January 2007

Simmering

This really burns me:

“Boosting U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 would create major logistical hurdles for the Army and Marine Corps, which are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces, U.S. officials said.

“The increase would also further degrade the readiness of U.S.-based ground forces, hampering their ability to respond quickly, fully trained and well equipped in the case of other military contingencies around the world and increasing the risk of U.S. casualties, according to Army and Marine Corps leaders.”

All over the nation there are SUVs and Lexus’s with “Support Our Troops” magnets stuck to them. Some are yellow, some are red, white and blue, but they all imply the driver of the vehicle is a troop supporter and dang it, you better be too.

Well, I don’t have a stupid magnet stuck to my car, but I do support the troops. They have my complete attention. I grieve every time I hear that more of them have died needlessly for the lie that is George W. Bush’s war of opportunity in Iraq. I note their ages: 20, 21, 32, 19, 43 ... and I think about my 25-year-old daughter and her 28-year-old boyfriend, their friends of the same ages, of friends of my own that are hardly older than 43. I wonder how a war like this can be sustained without a draft – and my blood runs cold.

I think of my daughter’s friend from high school who joined the Marines in 2002, right after graduating, and went to fight in Iraq. He came home nine months later – alive, thank goodness, and uninjured physically -- but so shattered mentally that even though he begged to be allowed to go back, the Marines refused to send him. He’s just 23 years old. He’s out of the military now, but who knows? They could tap him again.

And according to this story in the Washington Post I referred to above, if they do, he and others who’ll make up the soldiers that are forming this “surge” will go back just as badly supported by his country as they’ve been all along. Not enough “up-armored” vehicles. Not enough adequate body armor. Having to live in “bases” that aren’t adequately “hardened.”

“President Bush's plan to send five additional U.S. combat brigades into Iraq has left the Army and Marines scrambling to ensure that the troops could be supported with the necessary armored vehicles, jamming devices, radios and other gear, as well as lodging and other logistics.”

This is shameful while the people who can afford to drive those freakin’ SUVs and Lexus’s around with their stupid “Support Our Troops” magnets, those yellow ribbons, get nice, comfortable tax cuts. It’s shameful that our government, prosecuting a war that never needed to be, can’t even supply the soldiers who are being sent to risk their lives and limbs with adequate equipment and materiel.

“Trucks are in particularly short supply. For example, the Army would need 1,500 specially outfitted -- known as ‘up-armored’ -- 2 1/2 -ton and five-ton trucks in Iraq for the incoming units, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army's deputy chief of staff for force development.

“‘We don't have the [armor] kits, and we don't have the trucks,’ Speakes said in an interview. He said it will take the Army months, probably until summer, to supply and outfit the additional trucks. As a result, he said, combat units flowing into Iraq would have to share the trucks assigned to units now there, leading to increased use and maintenance.”

I hope members of Congress read this story. I hope they lose sleep. And I hope they act, quickly and decisively, to stop this madness. Sending troops to war in their nation’s defense is expected and right. Sending adequately supplied and armored troops to a just and necessary war is right as well. But to send America’s sons and daughters to war so that a few of their greedy countrymen can get filthy rich – and then quadruple the insult by sending them without the equipment they need to protect themselves, even after the war has gone on for nearly four years – that’s just reprehensible. Evil.

Support our troops. Bring them home.

Alpenglow

Last night I dreamed of rain.


It wasn’t a dream in which rain was one of the props, there only as context for some more complex plot. No, this dream was about a heavy rain, the drops beating down like giant, silvery ball bearings. In my dream, I saw it coming down outside my den window, soaking everything, sending up a thin mist of spray up from the cement sidewalk. It drummed and spatted. I could almost hear the dry earth saying ahhhhhh. I was delighted.

That’s it. That’s all of the dream I remember.

There was no rain this morning. But when the sun rose, it bathed and tinted everything pale salmon. My nearest neighbor has a light gray roof of composite tiles. Her roof was no longer gray, but orangey pink. The bare tree branches were pink. The world was washed in salmon light. But the sky above the taller trees was blue.

It was so unusual that I went outside so I could see the sunrise causing this odd phenomenon. I looked up, east, into the sky above the tall evergreens that surround us. There were a few flat, thin clouds up there, tinted with that strange pink, motionless in a robin's-egg sky. But that was all. There was no breath-taking, fiery sunrise, at least, not from my vantage point.

A moment or two after I stepped out, the fledgling came out too. “Isn’t this the strangest light?” she asked. “It’s beautiful, but it’s ... weird. I noticed through the living room window.”

Like anyone else, I’ve seen many, many sunrises, some of them truly spectacular. But I’ve never seen anything quite like this one before, even after living here for years. I was glad I wasn’t the only one standing out there, slack-jawed with wonder in that surreal salmon light.

The last time I was puzzled like this was on Sept. 11, when I turned my computer on to my MSN homepage, and saw a small photo of a fireball blooming, obscene and horrific, from high up the side of the first tower. I was disbelieving, even angry when I read the accompanying headline: “Airliner crashes into World Trade Center.” I thought, for the first minute or so, that it was someone’s really bad idea for a movie promotion.

Ever since then, I’ve turned my computer on in the early morning with a touch of trepidation; wary ... wondering what new, everything-changing horror I’ll find to greet me.

Paranoid? Heh.

This morning's salmon-painted world only lasted about 10 minutes. My neighbor’s roof is now its old, familiar, hard-edged pearl gray, as usual. The bare trees are the same as always. Those minutes of wonderment are over. Since the worst news on my Yahoo homepage is yet more totalitarian Bush shenanigans (he’s busily planting political officers in each government agency), I’m relieved that those strange minutes were caused by something as simple, predictable, natural and harmless as a sunrise.

But I do wish it would rain.

29 January 2007

Lady of leisure II

I can’t deny that I’m enjoying this time off work, now close to two months along. Unemployment, as long as the bills still get paid, the electricity stays on and there’s food in the pantry, has its appeals.

Still, I can’t continue playing house forever, even if it’s nice not to face deadlines, not to get into the car and commute day in and day out, not have to work with people I dislike. I’m not in the least bit bored, but I must find a good way to generate an income again soon.

“So, get a move on, Wren!” you say. Mmm. Yes. I should. I’ve sent out a few resumes already – without result -- but I should be spending these long, sunny, spring-like winter days working hard to find job openings that look promising. I should be shooting my resume out in all directions, by e-mail, by snail-mail. I should be ...

Yet I find myself becalmed, like a small sailboat in the middle of a glassy lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains, a sky like azure overhead. It’s both frustrating and mesmerizing.

Here are the voices in my head: “It’s been a long time since you’ve had to search for a job. Last time you did this, you were a lot younger (slimmer, bouncier).”

“But you have much more experience now! That counts!”

“Yes, but jobs in journalism and communications are scarce in this neck of the woods.”

“So, search for something down in the city!”

“Yeah, and face an hour or more’s commute both ways, every day. Gas will cost a fortune and I’ll be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, breathing exhaust fumes ... yech.”

And then I decide it’s time to clean up that rank of bookshelves in my den that’ve been gathering dust for two years. Or I go outside, sweep the patio and walkways. They look nice. I rearrange the garden art and listen to the Stellar’s jays, screeeing back and forth to each other in the cedars. I chuckle and cluck back at the chickens as I give them their scratch. Breathe the cool, fresh, smog-free air. Admire the yuletide camellias that are, incredibly, into their third month of bloom. Wonder if winter is going to arrive this year or not.

Maybe what I need to do is consider a complete change of careers. Instead of looking for those journalism/communications jobs down in the city, I should consider something I can do here, right here. There’s a mill in town – maybe they’ll hire me. There should be something I can do there. There are grocery stores within 10 miles. I’m sure I can run one of those newfangled cash registers. There’s ... hmm. Not much. What does an editor do if there’s nothing to edit?

Kitchen needs painted. I have the paint, I have the time.

It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. I want to fluff my feathers out, hunker down and rest. I’ve worked full time for more than 36 years. Maybe that’s why my get up and go got up and went.

28 January 2007

The price

One thing I've learned in my time on Earth is that everything -- everything -- has a price. And it seems that actions we take without much forethought, or those taken in the heat of the moment, always seem to have the highest prices of all.

Take a few minutes, if you will, to read "The True Cost of War" in the online version of the upcoming Feb. 5 issue of Newsweek.

Hat tip to Steve Kuusisto at Planet of the Blind.
The photo of yesterday's demonstration in Washington, DC is by Joe Tresh.

26 January 2007

Stomach

Vice President Dick Cheney questions whether Americans have “the stomach” to win the war in Iraq.

In Mr. Cheney's world, “stomach” is a twisted word for “courage.” But it really means to “accept,” “endure,” “bear,” “live with,” “submit to” and “tolerate.”

Is there courage involved when we bear pain, or live with an incurable disease, or tolerate abuse for the sake of keeping a roof over our children’s heads? Perhaps. But there’s also deep, deep resentment. Eventually, that resentment comes out somewhere.

Cheney's version of “stomach” is the word a redneck hunter uses to shame his reluctant son into putting a load of shot into the brain of a downed deer that Dad shot so incompetently it’s suffering terrible agony. “You just have to have the ‘stomach’ to do it, son,” he says, swaying and taking a pull on his flask.

It’s the word he uses for coldly lacing raw meat with rat poison to kill the wolves he’s convinced have slaughtered a couple of his calves out on the range, even though he knows it’s far more likely the culprits were domestic dogs. Fact is, he just doesn’t like wolves.

It’s the word he uses to gin up the cold-bloodedness it takes to drown a litter of unwanted kittens. That’s “stomach.” It’s the word that describes the deadness of spirit required for him to shoot imported quail on a designer hunting preserve, where the killing is fun and easy. It’s the word that best describes what it took for his elderly hunting buddy to apologize to him publicly after foolishly being in his tipsy line of fire and getting a face-full of birdshot.

But “stomach” can also mean “appetite,” “desire,” “relish” and “taste,” which gives me the uncomfortable feeling that Cheney is really enjoying this war, fought from his safe, comfortable, undisclosed location a world away from the battlefield. He thinks we should have the “stomach” for it, too.

In Dick Cheney’s skewed, dark world, not to have “stomach” is unmanly. Wimpy. Girly. Craven and cowardly.

And yet, “Cheney was of military age and a supporter of the Vietnam War but he did not serve in the war, applying for and receiving five draft deferments. In an interview with George C. Wilson that appeared in the April 5, 1989 issue of The Washington Post, when asked about his deferments the future Defense Secretary said, ‘I had other priorities in the '60s than military service.’”

Indeed.

Cheney has plenty of “stomach” for the war he started in Iraq because he isn’t fighting it personally. He doesn’t have to face roadside bombs, snipers or suicide bombers. He doesn’t have to endure the misery of carrying around heavy gear in temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. He doesn’t have to wonder each morning, as he rolls off his cot, whether he’ll still be alive by nightfall. He doesn’t have to worry about his family back home, who’re trying to make ends meet with a paycheck that’s ridiculously small. He doesn’t have to worry about whether, if he is badly injured, the budget-cut VA will be able to give him medical care for the rest of his life.

Mr. Cheney, our soldiers in Iraq might have other “priorities” for their lives than death or dismemberment, too. And all the Iraqi civilians – men, women and children – who’ve been and will continue to be maimed or killed in American mortar attacks?

Perhaps to you, they're just like those captive quail in Texas. Or unwanted kittens.

Mr. Cheney, Americans would have “the stomach” for this war if it was being fought for legitimate reasons. If there were a real, present danger, a real, imminent threat to our country from Iraq and Iraqis, Americans would be proud to sacrifice and fight. It’s what we thought, at first, we were fighting this war for, but you lied to us. There was no imminent threat. There were no WMD. Saddam had no power to threaten America and he had nothing to do with Sept. 11. You knew that, but you bald-face lied. And you continue to lie. Filthy falsehoods spew from your diseased “stomach” like steaming, stinking vomit.

It’s taken us a while to figure it out, but we know you now. We don’t believe you anymore. We know – and it sickens us – that we’re really fighting for your favorite company, Halliburton, and to make the American oil conglomerates even richer and more powerful. We’re fighting to make you and your cronies rich, which is the only priority you have – or have ever had.

And now, we’re fighting, and dying, and killing innocents so that you and your cronies can keep raking in the dough until the bitter end, when the term of this cancerous administration finally, finally ends.

That's the reason America no longer has "the stomach" for this fight. It has nothing to do with courage or patriotism -- and everything to do with honor.

We know who the real coward is. It’s you. And Mr. Cheney, we can’t “stomach” you for much longer.

25 January 2007

In your face, Cheney

“But the biggest problem we face right now is the danger that the United States will validate the terrorist strategy, that, in fact, what will happen here with all of the debate over whether or not we ought to stay in Iraq, with the pressures from some quarters to get out of Iraq, if we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy* that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task ...”

--VP Dick Cheney, Jan. 24, 2007

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

“Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”

--Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


America is a democracy. For it to survive as a democracy, there must always be the freedom to engage in democratic debate.

*Emphasis is mine.

24 January 2007

Soaring fledgling

Got a text message on my cell today from the fledgling -- she's created her own blog and wanted me to tell her how to link to Blue Wren.

Well, I sure wasn't going to type instructions into that teensy cell phone keypad, so I'll show her later. But I do think it's quite wonderful and very cool and rad and all that she's started her own blog, so I just had to boast a little here.

She's a fabulous artist of immense talent -- and she's a danged good writer too. Flew right on past me in both talents quite some time back, actually. Do go visit her at When Dragons Laugh, welcome her to the blogosphere, and enjoy her art and her writing. She's funny, astute, one of the kindest-hearted people I know, and of course, I think she's beautiful, inside and out. I'm not biased at all.

Oh. And she's ... illustrated. The photo above is Herself.

Legacy

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it.

The President of the United States of America prevaricated and postured his way through his State of the Union address to Congress and the American people, then toddled off to bed for another restful night’s sleep. It was way past his bedtime.

I didn’t watch the address on television. Frankly, I can’t stand to watch Bush. I did tune in my local NPR affiliate, though, so I could listen. I had good intentions. It was, I thought, the least I could do, given that I planned to put in my two cents worth about it here today.

But I could only stand to listen to about ten minutes of the SOTU. In that short time, Bush had already told so many lies – either outright or by omission -- I was afraid I was going to vomit, listening to Congress applaud him. I pointed my remote at the radio and hit “off.”

I felt better right away.

Congress didn’t turn their backs on him. I was hoping, I really was. They didn’t even, as one witty commenter wrote at the Carpetbagger Report blog this morning, let off one loud fart. That would’ve been appropriate, if crude. Another commenter at the same blog wished that Bush had been facing British Parliament members, who’d have been catcalling and booing and shouting questions and rebuttals at him. “His head would have exploded,” the commenter wrote.

What an image. This man is our President?

For the first time in my life, I wish we did have a parliament like Great Britain's here. At least we could be rowdy and honest, admit Bush a truly world-class fuck-up, and get rid of him. We could turn our full attention to cleaning up the monstrous mess he’s made. In fact, we might have gotten rid of him years ago, before he ran amok.

Instead, we’re stuck in rhetorical mud up to our waists. All we can do is wave our arms and cuss for the next two years while this spoiled psychopath continues to slash and burn the Constitution, shit on the American people and laugh at as it all sinks deeper and deeper into the mire of history’s failed governments.

If you’d told me six years ago that the democratic government the Founders of this country created would be helpless in the face of a megalomaniac presidency – helpless to stop him, to remove him from office, to do anything to halt the forward grinding roll of his insanity, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Well, I was wrong. It’s appalling that the only thing the 110th Congress will do – even with a Democratic majority in both Houses – is to come up with a toothless, non-binding resolution against Bush’s escalation of the war in Iraq. It has no power. It won’t stop him or his enablers. Bush will treat it with the contempt it deserves.

On the other hand, Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, who delivered the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union address, spoke the plain, unvarnished truth. His speech was simple, eloquent and damning. I didn’t hear it, either, but like the SOTU, I read it afterwards. As someone who has spent much of her life as either a member of the military or working closely with soldiers of all ranks and from all walks of life, I was gratified that he pointed out that these good American citizens serve their country knowing full well that they might be called upon to sacrifice their lives. Webb spoke of the trust they place in their leaders not to send them to their deaths for no good reason.

Bush has trampled all over that trust. He’s made a mockery of it, referring to himself as the “commander in chief,” wearing mock uniforms to puff up his ego and sending them into needless battle without enough troop strength, equipment, materiel, armor or support. He’s a dangerous liar, an incompetent criminal who’s been handed the keys to the country and turned loose. And what about all those failures in his previous life?

Well, he’s showing us, isn’t he. It’s all about his “legacy.”

George W. Bush’s “legacy” is nothing but death and destruction. I wanted my Congress, which represents me and the other 70 percent of the people in this nation who are horrified by him and his napalm administration to show some spine, have the courage turn their backs on this petty dictator and get down to the somber business of toppling him.

Didn’t happen. And here we are, 24 days into 2007, nearly four years since Bush started his war. We have over 3,000 American armed services members dead, tens of thousands more maimed for life, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead.

And the clock is still ticking.


23 January 2007

Pipe dreams

“On human rights, I emphasized that no nation’s efforts to counterterrorism should be used to justify suppressing minorities or silencing peaceful dissent.”
-- President Bush, October 25, 2002


My, my, how things change.

When President George W. Bush gives his State of the Union address tonight, it will be to a nation that knows he’s only going through the motions. A new poll by CBS, conducted among a random sample of 1,168 adults nationwide in telephone interviews between Jan. 18-21, indicates that only 28 percent of the people approve of the way he does his job.

Twenty-eight percent.

He’ll give his speech, and we’ll listen because it’s a time-honored January tradition that the President of the United States tells the nation how we’re doing and what the goals are for the coming year. This year, though, most of us know he’s lying. It took us six long, bloody years, but we finally figured it out.

I’m one of those dissenters who never thought much of him in the first place. I was convinced he was – and is still – little more than a wicked, woodenheaded puppet for his much smarter and seriously evil masters. I greeted all of his pronouncements prepared to disbelieve but because I’m a nice person, a little idealistc and yes, an optimist, I was willing to wait before passing judgment. After all, I told myself, could he – and they -- really be that bad?

Well, I no longer wait before I snort in disbelief. He really is that bad. George W. Bush has demonstrated over and over again that I shouldn’t trust him. When I read headlines on Yahoo.com like this morning’s, “Crackdown nets ‘600 Sadr forces’” from the BBC, my instant reaction is, “Yeah, right.” Oh, I’m sure the crackdown netted a whole bunch of miserable, terrified people – the number is probably exaggerated, but that’s to be expected in war – but I have my doubts that they were all dangerous Sadr insurgents. More likely, the vast majority did nothing wrong. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That seems to happen a lot in Baghdad. If a car bomb in a public marketplace, a sniper, a kidnapper or a simple criminal doesn’t get you, then there’s always the Americans and government security forces, ready to hood and herd you into yet another one of their triumphant little “sweeps.”

My pipe-dream is that when Bush takes the podium tonight on national television, the entire Congress – our representatives -- will turn their well-fed, well-upholstered backs on him.

I know it won’t happen. Too many of them still have their careers attached to his coattails. Too many have colluded with him for so long, they don’t dare show dissent. Too many know how truly dangerous this President really is, and they’re as morally corrupt as he is.

On Sunday, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard said on Fox News that skeptics in Congress should be silent about the escalation in Iraq for six to nine months. They should give it time to work, he said, and implied that by dissenting, they’re helping the enemy.

Another little dream of mine is to see Bill Kristol barred from his favorite restaurants, booed on the streets, stricken from the guest lists for national news programs and given his walking papers by the Weekly Standard. He’s a poisonous idiot.

Of course, I know that won’t happen, either.

Yesterday afternoon, e-mail alerts all over the nation popped up with this little jewel: Breaking news out from ABC News: ‘DOCUMENTS SEIZED IN IRAQ REVEAL INSURGENT PLAN FOR ATTACK IN U.S., ABC NEWS' PIERRE THOMAS HAS LEARNED’”

No kidding? I surfed all the major news websites last night and couldn’t find a word about it. You’d think this would be right at the top, wouldn’t you? We’re all in danger again! Grab the duct tape!

But I couldn’t find anything. So I went to the ABC website, looking for more details. Apparently, Charles Gibson reported Pierre’s exclusive on the ABC evening news broadcast, and there were links to the video of the broadcast and to a text story. I have a dial-up connection, so watching the video was out, but I read the text.

The gist? The “documents” in question were seized in a raid six months ago. They laid out an al Qaeda “plan” for “students” to infiltrate the U.S. and carry out an attack along the lines of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Sixteen “students” were arrested in the U.S. not long after; no news on whether or not they actually had anything to do with the plan. There is no present danger, according to the story.

Um, ABC? Pierre?

I looked for the story on ABC’s website this morning to link to it in this post. It was still there, but relegated to a liner hed along the top right of the webpage. When I clicked on it, a story about the new passport rules appeared. Oops.

Maybe you’ll have better luck, but so far, I can’t find another single report about this frightening planned attack, with its headline that suggests imminence, anywhere on the internets.

Is it just me, or does this feel like another of those scary bogus warnings of doom that the Bush administration trotted out again and again between Sept. 11, 2001 and the various election cycles? Remember? They hit the news just about the same time that Americans were starting to ask skeptical questions about the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq.

I thought the timing of this one was a little obvious, given that Bush’s credibility is completely shot, his approval ratings are in the crapper and he’s about to give us his State of the Union fabrication tonight.

Still, it pleases me to no end to see that no other news organization – not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, not CNN -- has given that stinker of an exclusive any column inches or air time.

Perhaps there’s hope, after all.

18 January 2007

'Legal' before, but now 'legaler.' Or something.

For the last year or so, the Bush administration has argued that warrantless wiretapping on Americans during overseas phone calls (just overseas? Mmm-hmmm) was legal, in spite of the fact that doing so without a warrant violated the FISA Act, which is a felony offence. The Act, enacted in the late 70s after Watergate as a check to keep government from spying on its own citizens without a very, very good reason, required that any wiretapping required a warrant.

Recognizing the covert nature of wiretapping, a special, secret court was set up. Called the FISA Court, its only purpose is to examine the reasonableness and evidence available to justify covert surveillance of American citizens and issue warrants to that effect.

The FISA Act was revised in the 80s. It became clear that sometimes, it was necessary to act immediately, and that gathering evidence to present to the court – and which could stand up to inquiry -- often took a little time. The bad guy might get away while the government was stuck in court. So Congress revised the so that government agencies could go ahead with the wiretapping, just so long as a warrant was applied for within 72 hours. It worked just fine until George W. Bush became president.

Severnty-two hours was not good enough for Bush and his administration. They decided they could wiretap U.S. citizens in secret without bothering to get a warrant at all. They called it, when it finally came to light in early 2006, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” arguing that with the country in the midst of a war on terrorism, the President has the right to do exactly as he pleases in order to “protect American citizens.” Warrantless wiretapping, they argued, was perfectly legal under the circumstances.

They also argued that they couldn’t get the Act revised again in a timely manner or in a way that would allow them to continue what they were doing, which was no doubt true. Their reasons for disregarding a perfectly workable law were pretty damned lame.

Well, it’s been 10 weeks since the mid-term elections. Republicans no longer have control of Congress, and it seems that the Bush administration knew they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on regarding warrantless wiretapping. More to the point, they no longer had a Congress controlled by cronies who would smirk and look away as they continued to break the law.

So now, they’ve managed to get the FISA Court to give them carte blanche. There’s no need to get a warrant, because if the wiretapping is part of the war on terror, they can proceed without oversight from the secret court under a “blanket” warrant. They weren’t doing anything illegal in the first place, they say, but this is ... well, legaler. Or something.

You know, I think this latest dog-and-pony show is nothing more than an attempt to throw a wrench in the works and keep the issue mired in the courts for the next two years, just as the “surge” was an attempt to buy more time for a failed, “preventive” war based on fairy dust so the president can leave office not having to concede defeat.

Wiretapping Americans, for whatever reason, is illegal if done without a warrant from the FISA Court. It’s very clear. All this revision to the law – which was carried out in secret and without Congressional oversight – does is make any further wiretapping legal.

Which makes me wonder why they didn’t do this back in 2002, when they started spying on us in the first place. Well, I know why. They knew they were breaking the law, that we’d be quite upset over it if we found out. So they kept it secret. They didn’t care if it was legal or not.

Just for kicks and giggles, please also note that yesterday Republicans in Congress killed Democratic legislation that would have restored some semblance of ethics to Congress and gone some way toward stopping corruption and cronyism. How’d they do that? They refused to sign it unless they could add legislation allowing the President a virtual line-item veto.

Naturally, the Democrats said “uh, no.”

If you’re a Republican who cares about your country – and indeed about the very tenets of your party -- you might want to make note of that when you vote again in 2008.

Glenn Greenwald, the author of “How Would a Patriot Act” and the writer of the blog, Unclaimed Territory, was until recently a litigator in New York City specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. Here’s what he has to say about this newest twist in the warrantless wiretapping scandal visited upon us by our government:

“...I have to say that I find the celebratory tone that I have seen here and there to be quite odd and unwarranted. There is nothing to celebrate here. We shouldn't be grateful when the administration agrees to abide by the law. That is expected and required, not something that occurs when the King deigns that it should and we then celebrate that he has agreed to comply with the laws we have enacted. Moreover, the administration has been violating the criminal law -- i.e., committing felonies -- for the past five years in how they have been eavesdropping on us.”

You can read his whole post on the latest attempt to defraud Americans and wiretap their phones here. It’s fascinating – and infuriating.

With each passing day, the reasons for impeaching Bush and his administration become clearer and more imperative. We simply cannot let them continue to destroy our rights and prosecute an illegal war, killing and maiming thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. George W. Bush and his administration are liars, criminals and war profiteers. Their dark presence at the very top of this democratic country’s leadership besmirches America and all Americans, both at home and abroad. They must be stopped and made to answer for their crimes. We simply can’t afford to wait.

16 January 2007

Chim-chiminee

Here in the wilds of northern California, it’s bright, sunny, and cold. We’re in Day 5 of sub-freezing nighttime and very chilly daytime temps. This is not a problem for me except as it applies to my wood stove.

I’ve nicknamed him Damnthing. He’s being very stubborn through this snowless cold snap. How stubborn?

A couple of weekends back, on a clear and very chilly morning, I was chunking a few fresh logs on the coals in his maw and noticed smoke rising up through the open stove door. This happens now and then – it’s temporary as the draft inside the stove reasserts itself and starts drawing up the chimney again. But this time, rather than disappearing as I grabbed another stovelength from the ring, the smoke began pouring out the open door.

I shut it quickly and watched through the heat-proof glass as it filled the stovebox and got thicker and thicker. And then, to my surprise, the dense, gray smoke started venting from beneath the stove itself, where the mechanism for the fan lives.

This was Not Good.

The fledgling happened to be passing through on her way to the laundry room with an armload of dirty clothes. “Check the chimney, will you?” I asked. “See if there’s any smoke coming out. I ... think we’ve got a problem here.” I went to open up windows.

Sometimes, creosote builds up on the screened cap that covers the chimney top. It’s there because of a regulation here that requires them to stop sparks and flakes of hot ash from escaping, potential fire-starters. Once in a while, the cap gets gunked up and one of us has to go out, turn on the hose and direct a sharp spray of water at it to break the gunk loose and open up the air flow. It’s a cold, wet way to spend five minutes, but worth it.

She checked the chimney. Smoke was trickling out. The cap wasn’t clogged.

But it was still pouring into the living room from beneath the stove. I closed the chimney damper. My theory was that doing so would rob the fire of oxygen, put it out, and solve the immediate problem. Well, the flames died down, but the smoke continued to billow, filling the room in spite of the open windows.

Really Not Good.

“Maybe there’s a chimney fire, Mom,” the fledgling said calmly. “Maybe you should call the fire department.” She fanned at hand at the smoke without effect.

We’re an unflappable lot here at the Wren’s Nest, not the panicky type at all. We generally avoid histrionics and drama-queen imitations.

“Look again and see if there are flames coming out of the chimney,” I said, not wanting to call out the big boys unless I really did have a crisis on my hands. Hoping. You know. I hate being an hysterical female. I turned on the whole house fan in the attic, which we use to keep the house cool in the summer. It’s huge, noisy, and sucks the uncomfortably warm air out of the house in the evenings, drawing in cooler air from outside. I love the thing, in spite of the roar. With the fan, we have no need for air conditioning beyond an old swamp-cooler for the bedrooms.

The fan worked, clearing the smoke as it pulled 40-degree air from outside through the windows. I put my jacket on.

Fledgling reported that there were no flames coming out the chimney. But the smoke continued to roll out from under the stove.

“Mom, call the fire department.” There was a little more urgency in her voice now.

Conceding defeat, I did. The local fire station is only about half-mile from my house, fortunately. Three minutes later, they showed up with two engines and an ambulance, no sirens, bless their hearts. I had two firefighters inside and at least four more outside. It seemed like overkill, but I’m not complaining.

The chimney wasn't on fire, I’m glad to report. The firefighters kindly cleared Damnthing of the smoldering logs and hot coals, checked the attic to make sure there was no fire up there under the roof beams, and told me that the chimney was badly clogged with creosote. So clogged, in fact, that it had finally almost blocked the draft off. Also, it looked like our firewood was wasn’t quite as seasoned as it might be, which was causing more creosote buildup. At any rate, there’d be no point in trying to use the stove again until I got the chimney cleaned.

We’d neglected to have that done -- and this was the second year we'd forgotten. Mr. Wren used to get up on the roof with a chimney brush and sweep the chimney himself each year in the autumn. But he hasn’t been able to do that the last couple of years because he can no longer safely climb a ladder or balance on the steep, sloped rooftop, and I – I’m embarrassed to admit – am a clucking chicken about heights. I hate ladders. I just know I’ll be my usual graceful self and tumble off.

It was a Saturday morning. I had very little hope that I’d be able to find a chimney sweep who’d come out to do an emergency sweeping. Chim-chim cheree? Forget it. But I got on the phone, shivering – the kitchen thermometer now read 49 degrees – and started working my way through the phone book.

I was right. No one could come, not on the weekend. They were either already booked or simply wouldn’t. Can’t say I blame them – winters are a really busy time for chimney sweeps around here because of people like me, who neglect to get our chimneys cleaned during the summer slow season, when the weather is still hot. And chimney sweeps need a little down-time, too.

But this was surely a conundrum. The Wren’s Nest is equipped with old, outdated electric baseboard heaters, but we haven’t used them since we moved into the house in November a decade ago and received our first electricity bill, which even then stunned us to wide-eyed, gape-mouthed silence. We'd lived here all of two weeks, and the bill was well over $200. So we’d shut off the breaker to those costly, energy-wasting suckers and from that time on, used only the stove for heat in the winter. I figure we’ve saved about $1,500 a year in heating costs, using that old bill in the equation. Probably more, now, since electricity rates are so much higher.

Since the electric heaters hadn’t been used in so long, I was a little nervous about turning them on now. Didn’t want to have to call those nice firefighters back again, this time to an electrical fire, even if they were young, polite and very easy on the eyes. And I didn’t want the sudden extra cost of even a couple of days of electricity-sucking.

If we were going to be warm again before the middle of the week, I was going to have to climb the damned ladder up to the roof and sweep that blasted chimney myself. As I considered this, wondering if I could somehow strap myself to the chimney so I wouldn’t fall off as I maneuvered the long broom (assuming I didn’t fall before I got that far), while balancing my bottom-heavy, clumsy self on the roof peak, the phone rang. It was one of the sweeps who’d just told me no, he couldn’t come up here today.

He said, “You know, I was thinking about taking my daughter sledding. Are you up that way?”

“Sure am,” I said. “There’s no snow here, but go on up the highway another 10 miles and you’ll find plenty of it. Great day for sledding, too! Sunny! And it’s so pretty!”

“OK,” he said. “We’ll just stop by on the way to the snow, then.”

Chim-chim cheroo! Bert to the rescue! Two hours later, he was here. Took him all of 20 minutes to clean the chimney. And, nice fellow that he was, he charged only his usual fee, rather than a higher rate for the weekend. He said it would cover his gas and buy him and his little daughter a nice dinner out after an afternoon of playing in the snow. I thanked him profusely.

Since then, Damnthing has kept his smoke to himself. But as the temperature outside has dropped, I’ve had a heck of a time getting the fires started and keeping them going. Then, it takes forever for the fan to click on and blow that nice, warm air out into the room. If I’m away from home and the fire goes out, I return to a very cold house.

I figure that nice almond wood we bought at the end of the summer will be just about right next winter. I’ve taken to pulling wood off the stack from the back, where the leftovers from last winter’s wood are. That’s helping.

The point of all this, I guess, is really a riff on how very lucky we actually were -- and are. The stove clogged up in the daytime as I was working with it, so no one was injured or died from smoke inhalation – this little emergency could easily have hit during the night, while we slept (and to my dismay, the smoke alarms did NOT go off! We've since changed the batteries. What a doof.) There was also no chimney fire, and thus, no house fire. The chimney sweep took pity on me and came on a weekend. Even with a stubborn stove since then, we aren’t freezing to death – we have power and small space heaters, hot soup, and clothes we can layer. Damnthing works, most of the time, if I keep tabs on him. We live in a region where even the really cold weather doesn’t compare to other parts of the country, where it gets even colder, and for longer. Really, we have just about everything we need.

Finally, we aren’t dodging bullets, getting kidnapped or wondering if our neighbors are going to shoot us because we’re paganish nature lovers, rather than good Christians. We don’t live in Baghdad, where formerly peaceful neighbors are killing each other because they have different ways of worshiping the same god. And we aren’t American soldiers, biding our time until our tours are over, hoping not to be killed, blown to bits or left with some terrible, lifelong disability just because our President is as brainless and stubborn as Damnthing -- and far more dangerous.

Lucky, indeed.

15 January 2007

'Chumps' report

This is my week to moderate a section of “Against the Day,” Thomas Pynchon’s latest heavyweight (literally) novel over at the rollicking, good-humored and, fortunately, forgiving Chumps of Choice group-read blog. You’ll find my 2,230-word post there.

Whew.

This book is nothing short of amazing. Fascinating. Compelling. Mind-boggling. Every single page is packed full of references to all kinds of arcana, that specialized knowledge or detail that is mysterious to the average person.

And boy, am I average.

As I finished reading up to and through my section, pages 81-118, I kept wondering, awestruck, who is this guy? Who is Thomas Pynchon? How did he do this? You can read all about him here, but I am convinced the last question is simply unanswerable.

Most artists – painters, writers, musicians, actors -- talk about that mysterious mind-shift they strive for (and only sometimes reach) that takes them out of this plane of existence and into some other mind-place and time, the place where knowledge, understanding, talent and imagination meet and meld, producing (if they’re lucky) an exhilarating burst of creativity.

Pynchon seems to live on this level all the time. He’d have to, to write “Against the Day.” He’s simply extraordinary.

In 2004 book critic Arthur Salm wrote of the notoriously reclusive Pynchon, “the man simply chooses not to be a public figure, an attitude that resonates on a frequency so out of phase with that of the prevailing culture that if Pynchon and Paris Hilton were ever to meet – the circumstances, I admit, are beyond imagining – the resulting matter/anti-matter explosion would vaporize everything from here to Tau Ceti IV.”

I believe that with all my heart. After all, he must be writing – or researching, or cogitating, or creating – continuously. The image of a great, pulsing brain the size of a city block comes to mind. Who has time for interviews? And for what possible reason?

If you’d like to join the Chumps in a lighthearted playhouse of “Against the Day” analysis, it’s not too late. Pop on over to The Chumps of Choice. After all, we’ve only read our way up to page 118. Don’t be intimidated. I’ve survived so far and it hardly hurt at all.

13 January 2007

Lunacy

Imagine the President of the United States of America jamming a big finger into each ear and squealing “Eeeeeeeeeeee – I can’t HEAR you! --- Eeeeeeeeeeeee!” while making ugly faces.

As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s what George Walker Bush is doing. We are locked in the sway of a 60-year-old child, who, told he can’t have what he wants and facing a long, long time-out in his room, refuses to listen to reason. Can’t you just see his face turning red as he stamps his feet? “Eeeeeeeeeeee! I can’t HEAR you! Eeeeeeeeeeee!”

Here he is, in his weekly radio address to America: "We recognize that many members of Congress are skeptical," he said regarding his already-underway plan (“Already did it, ha ha ha! You can’t stop me!) to escalate the war in Iraq. "Members of Congress have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully (“We’re taking names, assholes! You’ll be sorry!”). But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success. To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible."

I don’t know about you, but I think Bush is off his rocker — and has been since he was a young man, stuffing firecrackers into frogs to see them blow up and later, challenging his father to go “mano รก mano” and riding his bike as slowly as he could in front of his mother’s car because he was mad at them.

I think he’s a raving lunatic, a maniac. Unhinged, unzipped, and whacko. And what's worse, he’s out of control and the adults in the room are scared to death of him.

The “alternative” to escalating the war in Iraq by sending yet more soldiers into the abattoir is right there, across the room where he threw it against the wall in a fit of temper: The Iraq Study Group report. But it’s full of responsible “alternatives” that Bush won’t accept. Redeployment and eventual drawdown of troops. Diplomacy. Grim but grown-up alternatives.

Escalating and broadening the war is discarded by the study as a really, really bad idea.

And ISG report hasn’t been the only alternative offered by the adults around him, either. Democrat and Republican members of Congress have also offered reasoned solutions. But all of them contain the word “redeployment.” To Bush, that means failure. And he’s just not going to accept that.

“Eeeeeeeeeeee – I can’t HEAR you! --- Eeeeeeeeeeeee!”

If Bush was the spoiled, tantrum-throwing child he resembles, an adult would scoop him up and carry him off to his room, kicking and screaming. And there he’d stay until he was ready to listen to reason. This would have happened long ago – prosecuting war in Iraq, which most level-headed adults knew was nothing but bravado backed up by tremendous whoppers from the start – would never have been allowed.

But he was allowed. And instead of taking him to task and ending it the moment it was clear that he had no fucking idea what sort of mess and chaos and needless death he was causing with his play-war, the irresponsible adults around him just let him go on with it, allowing and allowing until an entire country was a bloody, sucking wound. The spoiled little man was allowed his vicious play-time, and now ...

Now.

I wonder if members of Congress can force a psychological evaluation on George W. Bush. I don’t know if such a thing is possible, but it seems to me that the Founders never intended for America to be led by a childish, violent, malevolent lunatic. Seems to me that if Bush could be shown to be mentally incompetent, even insane, there’d be no block to removing him from office and putting him away in a rubber room somewhere. Preferably for the rest of his life.

And then, we could get to the sad, grim, decades-long business of cleaning up the horrific mess he’s made.

12 January 2007

President Cliff Notes

After spending the best part of the day cleaning out closets and cleaning, tossing stuff out and rearranging the storage shelves in the laundry room, I don’t have much left over in the way of original thought tonight. They say that the new year is a good time to lighten the load, and I’m taking it to heart. Now, I’m just whupped.

But Keith Olberman seems never to be at a loss for words or razor-sharp eloquence. Here’s the transcript from his broadcast last night on MSNBC regarding The Decider’s war escalation speech:

And lastly, as promised, a Special Comment about the President's address last night.

Only this President, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even Messianic certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq, by offering an entrance strategy for Iran.

Only this President, could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say "where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me" — only to follow that, by proposing to repeat the identical mistake in Iran.

Only this President could extol the "thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," and then take its most far-sighted recommendation — "engage Syria and Iran" - and transform it into "threaten Syria and Iran" — when Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when President Ahmmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us.

This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes.

And to Iran and Syria — and, yes, also to the insurgents in Iraq — we must look like a country, run by the equivalent of the drunken pest, who gets battered to the floor of the saloon by one punch, then staggers to his feet, and shouts at the other guy's friends, "ok, which one of you is next?"

Mr. Bush, the question is no longer "what are you thinking?," but rather "are you thinking at all?"

"I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," you said last night.

And yet — without any authorization from the public who spoke so loudly and clearly to you in November's elections; without any consultation with a Congress (in which key members of your own party like Senator Brownback and Senator Coleman and Senator Hagel are fleeing for higher ground); without any awareness that you are doing exactly the opposite of what Baker-Hamilton urged you to do, you seem to be ready to make an open-ended commitment (on America's behalf) to do whatever you want, in Iran.

Our military, Mr. Bush, is already stretched so thin by this bogus adventure in Iraq, that even a majority of serving personnel are willing to tell pollsters that they are dissatisfied with your prosecution of the war.

It is so weary, that many of the troops you have just consigned to Iraq, will be on their second tours, or their third tours, or their fourth tours — and now you're going to make them take on Iran and Syria as well?

Who is left to go and fight, sir?

Who are you going to send to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria"? Laura and Barney?

The line is from the movie "Chinatown" and I quote it often. "Middle of a drought," the mortician chuckles, "and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.!"

'Middle of a debate over the lives and deaths of another 21,500 of our citizens in Iraq… and the President wants to saddle up against Iran and Syria.'

Maybe that's the point: to shift the attention away from just how absurd and childish, is this latest war strategy (strategy, that is, for the war already under way, and not the one, on deck).

We are to put 17,500 more troops into Baghdad and 4,000 more into Anbar Province to give the Iraqi government "breathing space."

In and of itself, that is an awful and insulting term.

The lives of 21,500 more Americans endangered, to give "breathing space" to a government that just turned the first and perhaps the most sober act of any Democracy — the capitol punishment of an ousted dictator — into a vengeance lynching so barbaric, and so lacking in the solemnities necessary for credible authority, that it might have offended the Ku Klux Klan of the 19th Century.

And what will our men and women in Iraq do?

The ones who will truly live — and die — during what Mr. Bush said last night will be a "year ahead" which "will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve"?

They will try to seal up Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad, in which the civil war is worst.

Mr. Bush did not mention that while our people are trying to do that, the factions in the civil war will no longer have to focus on killing each other but rather, they can focus anew on killing our people.

Because last night the President foolishly all but announced that we will be sending these 21,500 poor souls over — but, no more after that — and if the whole thing fizzles out, we're going home.

The plan fails militarily.

The plan fails symbolically.

The plan fails politically.

Most importantly, perhaps, Mr. Bush, the plan fails because it still depends on your credibility.

You speak of mistakes, and of the responsibility "resting" with you. But you do not admit to making those mistakes.

And you offer us nothing to justify this clenched fist towards Iran and Syria.

In fact, when you briefed news correspondents off-the-record before the speech, they were told, once again, "if you knew what we knew… if you saw what we saw…"

"If you knew what we knew," was how we got into this morass in Iraq, in the first place.

The problem arose, when it turned out that the question wasn't whether or not we knew what you knew but whether you knew what you knew.

You, sir, have become the President who cried wolf.

All that you say about Iraq now, could be gospel. All that you say about Iran and Syria now, could be prescient and essential.

We no longer have a clue, sir. We have heard too many stories.

Many of us are as inclined to believe you just shuffled the Director of National Intelligence over to the State Department, because he thought you were wrong about Iran.

Many of us are as inclined to believe you just put a pilot in charge of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because he would be truly useful in an air war next door in Iran.

Your assurances, sir, and your demands that we trust you, have lost all shape and texture.

They are now merely fertilizer for conspiracy theories.

They are now fertilizer indeed.

The pile has been built slowly and with seeming care.

I read this list last night, before the President's speech, and it bears repetition, because its shape and texture are perceptible only in such a context.

Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said nation-building was wrong for America. Now he says it is vital.

He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control. Last night he promised to embed them, in Iraqi units.

He told us about WMD. Mobile labs. Secret sources. Aluminum tubes. Yellow-cake.

He has told us the war is necessary because Saddam was a material threat. Because of 9/11. Because of Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda. Terrorism in General. To liberate Iraq. To spread freedom. To spread Democracy. To prevent terrorism by gas price increases. Because this was a guy who tried to kill his Dad.

Because 439 words in to the speech last night, he trotted out 9/11 again.

In advocating and prosecuting this war he passed on a chance to get Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. To get Muqtada Al-Sadr.
To get Bin Laden.

He sent in fewer troops than the Generals told him to.

He ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and the Iraqi government "De-Baathified."

He short-changed Iraqi training. He neglected to plan for widespread looting. He did not anticipate sectarian violence.

He sent in troops without life-saving equipment. Gave jobs to foreign contractors, and not Iraqis. He staffed U.S. positions there, based on partisanship, not professionalism.

He and his government told us "America had prevailed", "Mission Accomplished", the resistance was in its "last throes".

He has insisted more troops were not necessary. He has now insisted more troops are necessary.

He has insisted it's up to the generals, and then removed some of the generals who said more troops would not be necessary.

He has trumpeted the turning points: The fall of Baghdad; the death of Uday and Qusay; the capture of Saddam; A provisional government; a charter; a constitution; the trial of Saddam; elections; purple fingers; another government; the death of Saddam.

He has assured us: we would be greeted as liberators with flowers; as they stood up, we would stand down. We would stay the course; we were never about "stay the course." We would never have to go door-to-door in Baghdad. And last night, that to gain Iraqis' trust, we would go door-to-door in Baghdad.

He told us the enemy was Al-Qaeda, foreign fighters, terrorists, Baathists, and now Iran and Syria.

The war would pay for itself. It would cost 1.7 billion dollars. 100 billion. 400 billion. Half a trillion. Last night's speech alone cost another six billion.

And after all of that, now it is his credibility versus that of generals, diplomats, allies, Democrats, Republicans, the Iraq Study Group, past presidents, voters last November, and the majority of the American people.

Oh, and one more to add, tonight: Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Mr. Bush, this is madness.

You have lost the military.

You have lost the Congress to the Democrats.

You have lost most of the Iraqis.

You have lost many of the Republicans.

You have lost our Allies.

You are losing the credibility, not just of your Presidency, but more importantly of the office itself.

And most imperatively, you are guaranteeing that more American troops will be losing their lives, and more families their loved ones. You are guaranteeing it!

This becomes your legacy, sir: How many of those you addressed last night as your "fellow citizens" you just sent to their deaths?

And for what, Mr. Bush?

So the next President has to pull the survivors out of Iraq instead of you?

Good night and good luck.

Hat tip: Crooks and Liars

Warm thoughts

Heating a home with just a wood stove and good intentions can be an adventure.

Late last night, just before he came to bed, Mr. Wren kindly stacked logs of fragrant almond into our fireplace wood stove insert, closed the stove door, switched off the lights and turned in.

The idea is that the wood burns all night, leaving me with a nice, hot, glowing bed of coals in the very early morning. Then I repeat the process throughout the day. We stay warm.

Simple enough.

But as I write this, I’m wearing a jacket, have a down quilt over my lap and a tiny, office-type personal heater blowing on my flannel-clad legs. My outdoors cap is on my head, pulled down over my ears. The cat keeps trying to work his way between me and my jacket, which makes typing interesting. I grip my coffee cup in both hands for a minute, take a sip, put it down and type, quick, before my fingers stiffen up.

On Tuesday night a storm all the way from Alaska slid down the Pacific Northwest and into California, bringing us the coldest temperatures we’ve had this winter so far, but very little in the way of rain or snow. I’m wondering why the National Weather Service called it a “storm” at all – the all-caps severe weather warnings on my Yahoo weather feature started last Friday.

When I think of storms and severe weather, I think of dark skies and blowing rain or snow, the kind of weather that makes me glad I have shelter and a warm fire. But nothing much happened with this storm, except the mercury in the thermometer dropped dramatically. Yesterday was sunny most of the day, then it clouded up for a little while. Miniscule, dry snowflakes fell. It was pretty. I entertained thoughts of a white winter wonderland.

Then the lonely snow cloud moved on and the sun came back out, dashing my hopes.

This morning it’s clear and sunny – and 18 degrees outside. It’s 52 degrees in my kitchen, which is better than 32, of course. The reason it’s so cold indoors? Mr. Wren turned off the powerful little fan under the stove while he loaded it full of wood – and forgot to turn it back on. So overnight, the stove warmed an area of about six feet around it, and nothing else.

As you might have surmised from previous posts, I do love winter. I enjoy the cold, as long as I can stay warm. Snow makes me smile with its pristine beauty and silence, and I don’t mind gray skies and rain in the least. Rain on the roof is a peaceful sound. I even like the sound of my windshield wipers in the car and the shoosh of the tires on the wet pavement.

Yes, I’m a little odd.

But this wood stove business does have its drawbacks, even as I enjoy the delicious heat it produces when we’ve done everything right. One thing is for sure – I never know what I’ll wake up to on winter mornings.

11 January 2007

Happiness 101

Top ten e-mailed New York Times stories at 7 a.m., PST, today:

1. Appreciations: Mr. Noodle [about the death of the inventor of ramen instant noodles];

2. Happiness 101 [about a class at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, which, by using psychological building blocks, teaches students the difference between feeling good and doing good];

3. Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying [obvious];

4. Hot Stuff [all about those cool silicon kitchen tools, like pot holders and squishy, reusable cupcake cups];

5. Agency Affirms Human Influence on Climate [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Bush White House says “unequivocally” that a buildup of greenhouse gases is helping warm the climate. Really?? Whoulda thunk it??];

6. The Breakfast Wars [Starbucks’ new breakfast sandwich or McMuffin? You decide];

7. Apple Introduces Innovative Cellphone [Steve Jobs unveils the new iPhone, which does everything but babysit at only about $450 per phone,but it won’t be on the market until June. Sure, I’ve got the throwaway cash for that];

8. Fitness: When It’s OK to Run Hurt [orthopedist says exercise is good even if you’re hurt. Sometimes.];

9. State of the Art: Apple Waves It’s Wand at the Phone [more iPhone. Woohoo.];

10. S.M.U. Faculty Complains About Bush Library [Can’t blame them]

At 6 p.m. PST last night, George W. Bush appeared on TV to tell America that, in spite of its strong antipathy for his vanity war in Iraq, he’s going to escalate it. Again. He might as well have flipped America the bird, because in reality, that’s what he did.

Instead of “listening to his constituents,” like he told us just last month he always does, he listened to no one but those in his inner circle who agreed with him. In fact, while he told us he was working hard, coming up with a “new way forward” in Iraq (this took nearly three months), he was lying through his teeth. Again.

George W. Bush already had a plan to escalate and prolong his war long enough to see him out of office in 2009. It’s already underway. According to ABC News, 90 advance troops from the 82d Airborne Division arrived in Baghdad yesterday, before he gave his speech. Eight hundred more are expected to arrive there today.

Five additional brigades, or about 16,000 soldiers, will descend into the hellish meatgrinder of Iraq between now and April. He said nothing of what happens if this latest “change” in tactics doesn’t work. There are no timetables, no milestones, no benchmarks. America’s occupation forces in Iraq are there indefinitely.

George W. Bush isn’t going to bring our troops home, no way no-how. Doing that would be admitting that he lost his vanity war. That he misjudged. That he blew it. That he’s responsible for the injury, maiming and deaths of thousands and thousands of people, Americans and Iraqis alike. Him. Dubya. Alone.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of the few Americans who’ve taken the time and effort to understand what Bush and his administration have done to America, her Constitution, the rights of her citizens, and her standing in the world since he was gifted by a stunningly partisan Supreme Court with the presidency in 2000. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably as dismayed and disgusted as I am over this latest “fuck off” from the President of the United States to the people of his country – and to the world.

But it appears that many Americans haven’t even noticed. The most interesting news to them today is Mr. Noodle’s passing and Apple’s whiz-bang iPhone.

Oh -- and how to be happy. America is so screwed.

Photo hugs to W. R.