Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Inauguration blues

It was a cold day in Washington on Inauguration Day, 2005. As I watched the $40-million extravaganza on the television in a warm room here in Florida, I shivered as if I was a member of a family waiting for a beloved relative to be fried in the electric chair.

When I saw George Bush raise his right hand and put his other one on an open Bible, it was, for me, like an old Hollywood movie where the lights in the prison go dim as the death switch is pulled.

There was George W., shifting from boot to boot, looking past dying Chief Justice William Renquist on a day cold as chastity and swearing in God’s name to do things this time that he didn’t do last time.

When he stopped swearing, the Marine Band played "Hail to the Chief."

From what he said in his speech a moment later, you would have thought that he had just been installed as president of the world. He spoke about freedom a lot. He sounded like a man who had discovered history and philosophy after the age of 50.

Then, there were hymns and loud trumpets, a 21-gun salute and high-flying, high-stepping, high-energy musical groups marching past the White House.

Folks who were there – Floridians among them – danced into the night and seemed to be having fun. But many in this world are appalled at the election of George Bush, according to everything I’ve heard from overseas.

How can an evangelical Christian like Bush start up a war and then seem to be so indifferent to other countries? That’s what perplexed folks in other nations are asking.
Bush, in his second inauguration speech, seemed to reach for Civil War references as if his Iraq war and Lincoln’s Civil War were somehow the same.

The Civil War, we must remember, was a war of rebellion by a region of our country against the central government.

The soldiers of the secessionist region were fighting for the preservation of slavery, a despicable institution but one that affected them very little. Most Americans (even Confederate Americans) were not slave holders. Most citizens profited little from the free labor of kidnapped Africans and their descendants.

Confederate soldiers fought to preserve an institution that benefited slave masters, an aristocracy that reaped all the benefits of slavery. Ordinary folks of the day struggled through a simple lifestyle not much better than that of the slaves. They had to compete in a system that was unfair because they couldn’t work for free. The slaves didn’t like the system either.

Only slave masters stood to profit big if the Confederates won the war.
If today’s Iraq war is won, the big beneficiaries will be another kind of aristocracy, without the good manners. In the meantime, we are engaged in this dreadful war and ordinary citizens fight for it, die for it and pay for it.

Capital punishment and capitol madness are not so much different.


Friday, January 14, 2005

A question of moral values

Things are looking up. At the time of this writing last week, no soldier from Florida has been killed in Iraq since December.

The last Floridian reported dead was Army Sgt. Arthur C. Williams IV of Edgewater, who was killed by small arms fire when his unit was conducting a dismounted patrol in Ramadi. Sgt. Williams was 31.

I know Arthur C. Williams I, II and III are weeping. I am. Even though I can’t help those generations of Williamses, I now have the solution to the problem of Americans being killed in the war in Iraq – more than 1,350 of them so far.

Practically everybody says we don’t have enough soldiers and Marines over there to do the job. In fact, we’re running out of troops. The number of regular enlistees got so thin that the National Guard and the Reserves were called up.

Now the enlistments in the Guard and Reserve are falling way down, too, so that the chances are pretty high of not having enough Americans to go over there to get blown up. Unless, of course, we conscript a whole lot of our country’s young men and women, we’re going to be short-staffed.
But the president says he is not going to draft anybody and I believe him.

OK. Are you ready? Here’s the way to solve the problem: mercenaries.

Why not just recruit people from other countries to get blown up in Iraq? Yes, I know we tried to get Iraqis to do it for themselves, but that plan doesn’t seem to be a huge success so far, does it?

Let’s get some guys who like to fight. Or for whom the desire to live is low. Or who are short on hope.

How about some guys from Sri Lanka to patrol Iraq the way Sgt. Williams did? They’ve got plenty of trained soldiers in that country once known as Ceylon. The government there has been fighting the rebel Tamil Tigers for decades. They sure need the money in Sri Lanka, so we could take advantage of the devastation caused there by the recent tsunami. Being in our army ought to be better than being jobless in a place where most of your neighbors are dead.

A couple of divisions of Sri Lankans on our side in Iraq ought to help. These chaps should give us a fighting force to be proud of like the gurkhas from Nepal in the British army.

Instead of going all over the world trying to help people who have lost their homes and have nothing to eat, let’s militarize them. We wouldn’t have to pay them squat, really. A couple of bucks a day ought to do it.

You see what a dandy idea this is? But you don’t have to thank me for thinking it up.

We could field an army of 500,000 men at very little cost by recruiting not only in Sri Lanka, but in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Burma, Seychelles, Bangladesh, Maldives, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and a few others.

Seems like a perfect solution.

Oh sure, I can hear you saying that this is like slavery or maybe indentured servitude or shanghai-ing sailors or taking advantage of people when they are down on their luck, but I say that it comes down to moral values.

And you’ll tell me we’re not supposed to joke about moral values.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Where's Jebbie?

I have to admit: I may not be as smart as you because sometimes I get downright baffled about what’s going on in this world.

Let me explain: I just got back from a little trip around much of our state. What I found out was that the damage from four hurricanes this summer is still with us. People all over Florida are hurting, homeless and helpless. You don’t have to be smart to see that the destruction is still widespread.

So, can you tell me why the head of our state government went to Asia?
The things that happened in south Asia – the tsunamis and all – are just horrible.

I have been to southern India and to Sri Lanka and to Indonesia. I thought the people there were wonderful and I hope things get better for them real soon. My advice to you is to give some money to one of the big international relief agencies to get the people the help they need.

But our problem here in Florida is not over. There is much to do. The person we need most to help relieve the misery is John Ellis Bush (known as Jeb), our governor.

With all the world’s attention and so many experts and much of the world’s emergency resources already in the Indian Ocean region, why did Jeb have to go?
The answer from Gov. Jeb, the president’s brother, is that the Asians will see how sincere our president is that he gave his little brother to the task. Jeb’s four-day trip through the region also may be intended to quash any lingering criticism of the administration's initial reaction to the tragedy (that is, a relatively small pledge of money).

Jeb’s visit also may give the impression that Thailand and Sri Lanka are almost ready to receive tourists again. That’s good for them, but a strange mission for governor of a state that needs to encourage resumption of tourism at home.

It is a very high-profile assignment, of course. Jeb went with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The cameras followed him. The visit should give Jeb an international credential. It helps him meet some unknown criteria for foreign experience when he runs for national office.

But Jeb says he will not be running for president or anything when his term as governor ends in two years. (Ha, ha.) I can’t help thinking that Jeb is being groomed for something. Is he like one of the television network talking heads who have never spent a day as a reporter, but who claim to be a journalist? Is Jeb engaged in a trip like the TV know-nothing who goes overseas for a few days to become an instant “foreign correspondent.”

I am glad Jeb wants to help people in desperate need, but I would remind him that we have plenty of desperate-need folks here in the state that he has sworn to protect and defend.

And one more thing:
If the Bushes want to know how to help folks overseas and win friends at the same time, here is the way to do it:
Cancel the $30-million Bush inauguration parties on Jan. 20 and give all the money raised to pay for them to Indonesia, the largest Muslin nation on earth, where 100,000 died in the tsunami.
Then the Bush boys can say: Take that, Osama, and stick it in your jihad.


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Bob Graham, great American

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham was in town the other day and the local Democrats were mighty proud to have

Graham is retiring after 18 years in he senate. He also
served two terms as Florida governor and in the state legislature. He
held public office for nearly 40 years. He is a true public servant and
person of integrity if not charisma. He wanted to be president, but his
campaign never quite got off the ground. He is no pretty boy and his
intelligence doesn't always come through. That's too bad. He would be a
Graham was the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence. I figure he knows what he's talking about when it comes
matters of intelligence.
In fact, that's almost the title of his new book:
Intelligence Matters The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of
America's War on Terror.
The book intrigued me, so I got a copy and read it.
I was surprised to learn that:
administration ordered Gen. Tommy Franks to move military assets from

country to Iraq. Franks told Graham that the job wasn't finished in
Afghanistan. Franks hoped to get Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the
Sept. 11 attack.
"The reality was at sharp variance with what the president
had been saying publicly about rooting out terrorists," Graham writes
in the
book. "And though President Bush packaged action in Iraq as part of the
on terror, the truth was that not only was it not a part of the war on
terror, it actively and demonstrably detracted from the war on terror."
U.S.-government-ordered shutdown of aviation, Saudi Arabians were

allowed to
fly on private and commercial airliners and to leave this country
even being interviewed by the FBI. By Sept. 19, more than 140 Saudis -
including several members of the bin Laden family - had been flown out
the United States. Remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers of the four
used in the attack on twin towers and the Pentagon were Saudis.
The Saudi exodus flights began hours after Prince Bandar,
the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., met secretly with President Bush.
"The only people who know what was discussed in their
meeting on that day are George W. Bush and Prince Bandar," Graham
president of Egypt, who said that he expected that Iraq's dictator,

Hussein, would be overthrown by his own people.
"You are making a big mistake if you attack Iraq," the
Egyptian told Graham. "A war will be seen on the streets of Cairo and
Damascus as an attack on Islam... If you succeed militarily - and you
will -
and if Iraq were to become a democracy, it would almost surely elect a
religious extremist government."
The Egyptian's words were echoed by Syrian President Bashar
Assad. "I do not belief [Iraq] represents a serious threat to anybody,"
Graham was told by the president of the country that shares a 300-mile
border with Iraq.
Graham, who maintains that President Bush has deceived the
public on his reasons for going to war in Iraq, considers only one
aside from intelligence in the book: Impeachment.
Graham quotes himself as saying, "If the standard of
impeachment that the Republicans set for Bill Clinton, that a personal,
consensual relationship was the basis for impeachment, would not a
who knowingly deceived the American people about something as important
gong to war meet the standard of impeachment?"

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