Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"...the specific intent to remove the regime in Baghdad is not even remotely thought-out in terms of consequences..."

The latest excuses for Iraq from Charles Krauthamer and others spouting this line is that Iraq was lost in three bungles - not shooting enough looters, not setting up a provisional government of Iraqi exiles, and not squashing Muktada Sadr at the outset. Oh, that it should be so easy to align stars your own way. If Bush had trouble picking Jay Garner for the job of provisionally owning Iraq, consider how his choice of Ahmed Chalabi for president would have gone down, but anyway...

Iraq was lost 101 ways, starting well before the war, and only culminating in a far-worse-than-Katrina handling of everything that came after the splendid bit of shock and awe.

All this had to be obvious to every person in Washington in 2003.

I wrote to my senator in 2003 prior to the start of the war...

"...the specific intent to remove the regime in Baghdad is not even remotely thought-out in terms of consequences such as: costs in cash and blood; destruction and danger for US forces and local civilians; the challenges of governing Iraq and nation-building (that’s a joke); regional instability (can’t wait to have our soldiers stationed along hundreds of miles of Iran’s border); over-reaching; loss of allies; unpredictable consequences; the potential quagmire of war; a no-holds-barred precendent for bellicose and unaccountable “leaders” the world over; danger to the global economy; and, not least, the guarantee that such an action will provoke decades more of unstoppable anti-US terrorism..."

It's not that I am so prescient. Any "leader" who could not envision as a realistic scenario losing as many as 2/3 of these propositions is either lying to us, lying to him/herself and us, or so stupid that s/he has forfeited the right to lead and should resign or be fired. Certainly all who voted for the war must fit in one these categories.

There is a story which speaks so loudly of crucial errors made long before the fateful, forceful entry of Iraq, but the Mark Foley scandal blew the doors off it, making it the most fascinating pre-election untold story.

Curiously, the Mark Foley scandal blew the doors off the most fascinating pre-election untold story, one which speaks so loudly of crucial errors made long before the fateful, forceful entry of Iraq. If you think about it, Foley has been a net blessing to the White House - one of the best diversions ever.

About 3 days before Foley's brilliantly-lit stage-entry, it was revealed that Condeleeza Rice had received, in July, 2001, an extraordinary, out-of-schedule briefing by CIA Director George Tenet, who described the strong likelihood of an imminent spectacular attack by al Qaida upon the United States. She actually claims not to remember anything about that briefing, while admitting the meeting happened for that purpose. That is so inconceivable that truly a person would have to be in great dementia or a coma not to remember such a briefing.

It was then revealed that both Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft recieved the same extraordinary briefing a few days later. Ashcroft at first denied it, but was soon shown to have stopped taking commercial flights because of the news. Rumsfeld, by the way, I would think, would have to have been shown the door at this point... and then Foley hit. So... what's the latest on this story? Anyone got the stomach for it? If I were in charge in Washington, I'd now say I want Rice's head for this.

In full, I wrote this letter to my senator in 2003 prior to the start of the war...

Dear Senator Boxer,

President Bush has made a major mistake in the direction he has taken US foreign policy in recent months. I am speaking, of course, of his policy of “pre-emption”; his surreal message to Iraq, “obey or don’t obey - we are going to crush you no matter what you do”; his thumbing his nose at foreign opinions and partnerships; his offensive taunting of the United Nations; his abandonment of the hard-won framework of international law; his flippant dismissal of containment and deterrence; his blatant manipulative use of fear-mongering; his disregard for our civil liberties; and, frankly, his callow disregard for your own august institution, the U.S. Congress.

Senator, if you do not act by speaking out forcefully against his errors, you will, with Mr. Bush, lead America to stumble into deep chaos and self-inflicted suffering. If you do not oppose Bush’s Iraq plans, you will have failed us all.

It is not just that the president’s foreign-policy stance is out of control; the specific intent to remove the regime in Baghdad is not even remotely thought-out in terms of consequences such as: costs in cash and blood; destruction and danger for US forces and local civilians; the challenges of governing Iraq and nation-building (that’s a joke); regional instability (can’t wait to have our soldiers stationed along hundreds of miles of Iran’s border); over-reaching; loss of allies; unpredictable consequences; the potential quagmire of war; a no-holds-barred precendent for bellicose and unaccountable “leaders” the world over; danger to the global economy; and, not least, the guarantee that such an action will provoke decades more of unstoppable anti-US terrorism.

This administration is dangerous. It is beginning to run completely out of control because a weak-minded leader is being yanked around by an aggressive, willfull, deeply paranoid senior staff. Just listen to him - he is a man who has lost all sense of himself and what he himself believes or stands for. He is being pulled around by his neck. Do not be a party to this madness. The Democratic Party does not need to help this man. Please stake out your position forcefully in opposition to the drive for war in Iraq, and please do so immediately. If you do not, I can assure you you will come to regret your allegiances.

Yours, Nate Binzen Oakland, CA

Monday, September 11, 2006

Untruth and Consequences

I have heard a lot of insightful examination and truth-telling by our TV news pundits, in the past couple weeks, concerning our present challenges in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “war on terror.” I hear intelligent, realistic recognition of the complex mix of motives behind the terror, the diversity of Muslim opinion, the tangled histories that make for unruly allegiances and animosities in the Middle East, the limitations of military power to affect these forces, the need for deep analysis before action, the pursuit of hearts and minds, the suspicion of cheap rhetoric, the toxic effects of our oil addiction, the need, in a time of war, for sacrifice and genuine involvement, and the thousand shades of gray that our foreign policy demands.

It’s infuriating. The TV heavyweights are now, for the first time, saying on the air things that I and many others privately discussed ad nauseum, three, four, five years ago.

I welcome their newfound honesty. The window has been opened, the fresh air is in the room now. But what bothers me is that these media bobbleheads are intelligent people, they had back then the same facts before them that I did, and more. They also must have had, in private during the past five years, some conversations at the level of reality. But only now, after a year of opinion polls have given them the buoyancy they feel they need, are they willing to go on the air with it.

What a disservice they have rendered us. All that precious time lost making us swallow you’re-with-us-or-you’re-with-the-terrorists, they-hate-our-freedoms, dead-or-alive, there-is-no-doubt, mushroom-cloud, shock-and-awe, welcome-us-with-flowers, mission-accomplished, “reconstruction,” bring-it-on, Geneva-Conventions-are-quaint, dead-enders, final-throes, turning-a-corner…

It’s not that the truth didn’t squeak out here and there over the airwaves (and all over the blogosphere). It’s that the hierarchy of media orthodoxy always privileged the notion that reality-based thinking was na├»ve, dangerous, and, ultimately, not sufficiently robustly patriotic.

Now, all that the belated media truth-telling is good for is to help us start to think about digging ourselves out of a deep, deep hole. To see the same guys who took their paychecks spouting the party line now displaying their authentic intelligence, how can you respect that? It only goes to show how, when the nation really needed them to make good use of their perches, they sent their integrity to the back of the bus.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Put the River in Reverse

Listening to the radio today, I heard Elvis Costello’s new song, “The River in Reverse,” produced by New Orleans’s own Alan Toussaint, with its refrain “Wake me up, with a slap or a kiss.” A melodic and sinuous tune, it seemed to me to obliquely convey harsh, heavy, of-the-moment echoes of Hurricane Katrina, and of our present hell of idiotic terrorists and their perfect counterpart, the overbearing weight of our own freedom-compressing, reactionary overlords. The song is very present-tense.

Next up was Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” This song evoked for me both the early 1980s when I first discovered Van Morrison, and the early 1970s when he recorded it and I was a young child. Coming as it did after Costello’s quick musical soaking in our present moment, the disjunction I felt was striking.

Of course, Tupelo Honey is a finely crafted piece of sweet love emotion, a feel-good thing any time. Like any good song you love, it opens up a personal matrix of feeling-memory-evocation. But the juxtaposition with The River in Reverse brought, for me, something more. Immediately I felt the frame of history rising around this song, Tupelo Honey, this artifact. I felt the memory of a time when a rockin’ pop song could still rise above our background cynicism and dread, and just feel good.

Okay… that’s still possible. But not, for me, in this instance. This song, which I have cherished, now seemed to me like a piece in a museum of modern art.

(And I suppose I suddenly seem old enough to have been contemporaneous with the art of the generation now passed, recently acquired into the permanent collection.)

Tupelo Honey is simply a love song, but it reminds me of a time when, yes, there was war, and mistakes, and bad judgments, and poverty and pollution and all the rest. And it reminds me of a time when there was a terrible enemy, and uncertainty about whether our world would survive intact. But above all, what I heard today was the echo of the many years now past when we could hear Van sing his song, and feel that love-vibe in his craft, the art of our time, a pleasure we could all share, somehow unknowingly reassured that our nation is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, sometimes sublime, sometimes despicable… but on balance, healthy.

Nowadays that simple reassurance is gone for me. We hate to look around us. We inextricably plunged ourselves into an international catastrophe, the complete rupture of a poor but proud country into a pit of violence with no escape, initiated by our relentless, senseless, unnecessary bombing of a capital city millennia older than our own. We blithely started a high-stakes game, the outcome of which was fore-ordained as, at best, barely tolerable, and, at worst, a total loss.

At home, the powerful use fear as a tool to beat us down has won, and we, once proud Americans, are now just bobble-headed, overworked, blinkered, compliant debtor-consumers. We are lied to, and we expect it – some of us even think it’s good for us. Neither media nor government cares to discuss or investigate serious charges that our electoral system is being rigged. We are saddled by a national debt so enormous that it will hang around our necks until I am beyond retirement and heading for the grave. The era of rising wages and expectations, a signal chord of the time of Tupelo Honey, is gone: only a difficult struggle against a global race to the bottom lies ahead. Recently I saw the global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth. No one can leave the theater without knowing we are responsible for what is coming, the end of nature’s magnificent equilibrium, and still we are doing nothing. I fear, heartsick, that the city of New Orleans, home of my alma mater, is starting to fade into the history. In the long term, the Crescent City doesn’t have the future that Baghdad has.

Sure, there are villains abroad. But they don’t matter so much to me as the question, what about us? What is our deal? Because now, as not back then, in the 20th century, we are unavoidably implicated in things that are terribly, irretrievably wrong. And I look around me at the good, intelligent people I know, and what I see is that it seems we are impotent to act to make right. I am an optimistic person. But it’s hard, any more, for a simple good love song to feel so good.
"Bush has borrowed more money from foreigners than all prior presidents COMBINED"

Ordinarily I do not do this, but the facts are as stark as any voter could possibly imagine, so I am quoting verbatim, Robert Freeman, July 5, 2006 on

"Bush has borrowed more money from foreigners than all prior presidents COMBINED. To fund his own record debts, Bush goes, hat in hand, to borrow more than $2 billion a day from the rest of the world… The national debt—the cumulation of all deficits since the founding of the republic—was $5.6 trillion when Bush took office but now approaches $9 trillion, up a breathtaking 50% in only five years…

"More than 100% of the growth in Gross Domestic Product over the past five years is attributable to the expansion of debt. GDP is up $2.8 trillion since 2001. But government debt alone is up over $3 trillion for the same period. Add in the explosion of home mortgage debt at over $5 trillion, and a cumulative $3.5 trillion in trade deficit, and you get a Real Economy that is literally going backwards. The illusion of affluence is only sustained by selling off the family china. Working Americans know this all too well…

"Real average hourly earnings are 14% below their 1973 post-War high. Real median household incomes are still 4% below where they were in 1999. Employment in the communications equipment industry is down 43% since 2000. Semiconductor employment is off 30%. Electrical equipment has shed one quarter of its industry’s jobs. Textiles, off 40%. These are the high-wage jobs on which the American middle class—the American standard of living—once rested…

"This evisceration of labor and labor-based income comes at a time when corporate profits are at their highest level as a percent of national income since 1947 while labor’s share is at its lowest level since 1946. The rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting dramatically poorer…

"As onerous as they are, the deficits… constitute only a small fraction of the total indebtedness of the U.S. economy. The official “national debt” is approaching $9 trillion, as noted, a substantial figure, to be sure. But the government’s “unfunded liabilities”—obligations it has committed to pay but for which there is no known source—are estimated at an incomprehensible $58 trillion. Add in revolving consumer debt, mortgage debt, and corporate debt, and the nation’s total obligations exceed $90 trillion, more than seven times GDP. At the time of the 1929 stock market crash, total debt stood at two times GDP. These obligations will never be paid.

"The reason is that the job drain from the U.S., while it looks like a torrent now, is still only a trickle. Though the U.S. won the Cold War, it is rapidly losing the Cold Peace, which began when China ended its communist isolation and joined the world market. The average wage in China is $.57 per hour. China has more than half a billion workers meaning the drain of good jobs from the U.S. to China can go on indefinitely—and will. …As many as 56 million U.S. jobs are susceptible to outsourcing...

"But this is exactly what Bush and… fellow “conservatives” intend… Globalization means liberating capital from all obligations to national well being, freeing it to pursue only the highest returns it can find, no matter where they may lie. That means seeking out the lowest paid labor and shifting all possible jobs there. That is China. Or India…

"[The new Treasury Secretary’s] job, then, is to arrange the write down of debt that must accompany the effective bankruptcy of the U.S. He will have to promise an IMF-like fiscal austerity to foreign lenders to keep the funding flowing until there is nothing left to take. This will mean draconian cuts in social spending, no tariffs, and the removal of all remaining controls on the mobility of, and returns to, capital. The dollar will be precipitously devalued with the consequence of massive inflation and stratospheric interest rates. These will only accelerate the decline. A new international reserve currency, based on a basket of currencies including the Euro, the Yen, the Chinese Yuan, and the dollar, will be devised…

"The U.S. worker and the U.S. economy will be left to their own devices. All social safety net systems must be dismantled for, given the colossal debt, they can no longer be afforded… The only government programs of substance that will be maintained will be police and military systems…"

- Robert Freeman, July 5, 2006 by

Monday, May 15, 2006

Leaks 101

To dispose of all the hot air lately about leaks – partisans on both sides declaring treason by leakers they don’t like, while giving a pass to leakers on their own teams – I will now help you understand whether a leak is good, bad, or just normal.

There are 3 kinds of leaks: whistleblower leaks (good), partisan leaks (business as usual), and abusive leaks (extraordinary and bad).

Whistleblower leaks are leaks of any government information, classified or not, that reveals improper or illegal conduct by the government that is being hidden from the public. The leaker may have to break a law in revealing their evidence of lawbreaking activity by others. Such whistleblower activity is fully justified and proportionate, and should be celebrated as a patriotic effort to defend the integrity of our government. It serves to enhance government transparency and accountability, two key requirements of good governance in the 21st century that we should absolutely demand of our government.

Partisan leaks are disclosures of unclassified government information for the purpose of tactical political advantage. While such leaks may not be admirable, they are utterly routine under any administration, and those who expend their breath deploring them are wasting their time and are most likely hypocrites who look the other way when their own guys do it. Everybody’s always done it, and everybody will continue to do it. It’s human nature, and it’s part of the mechanics of power. It’s just the way the game is played.

Abusive leaks are leaks intended to cover up or protect questionable or illegal activities by inflicting damage on political opponents. The key example is the attempt to damage the reputation of a whistleblower. Such leaks show a wretched disregard for both the law and the responsible limits of the political game. Worst of all are (highly unusual) leaks of classified government information for such purposes. This is the very definition of the abuse of power. If someone in your local government, or your workplace, or your posse, is exposed acting in like manner, you’ll say that person is a scumbag. Those who undertake such leaks have no place in the national leadership. They hurt our nation’s reputation and they damage the trust between the governed and their government.

Whistleblower leak: Joseph Wilson exposing Niger yellowcake uranium lies told by President Bush while he made the case for making war upon Iraq.

Partisan leak: too numerous to count. The cost of doing government business.

Abusive leak: Cheney, Rove, Libby, et al illegally exposing the classified identity of Joseph Wilson’s CIA operative wife in an effort at payback, undermining his story, and silencing similar voices.

So just remember: when you hear somebody spouting about a leak, refer to this handy guide and decide for yourself whether the speaker is correct, or just a windbag, or defending the indefensible.

Monday, May 08, 2006

This government is an abomination.

I woke up on fire and started writing. Looking at my words again, I still haven't thought better of them. So here is my letter to the editor, of what publication I know not.

I think you would be surprised at how many millions of Americans share the perspective I would like to share with you now.

I love my country and our constitution passionately. But...

I would not be going far enough in describing our present evolution if I were merely to say that the present administration is a nasty blot on our history.

This government is an abomination.

Both parties are parasites.

The greed and corruption of the people who hold the large measure of wealth and the political keys in our country are a disgrace upon their heads.

The military-industrial-"intelligence" complex has grown into the ruin of us all.

Washington DC is a howling vortex of bad karma. Responsibility has vacated.

With every passing day, we look more like a resurrected Babylon, or the declining Roman Empire.

For expedience, I am willing for a while longer to throw my support to the hollowed-out husk of the Democratic Party. But...

Before our national treasure, our climate, our hydrocarbons, our middle class, our civility, the last ounce of our prestige, and our ability to dream and deliver are gone...

We need to drop our illusions and distractions, and we need to start imagining, together. Then we need to act.

We need a vision of a nation 300 million strong that Thomas Jefferson, Chief Joseph, Walt Whitman, and Rosa Parks would anoint with their blessings.

We must melt the structures of power that are hardened and strangling us, and we must replace them. Renewing ourselves, it comes down to this:

Collectively, we must ensure that all are given the capability to flourish, and then left to their freedom. We must now dream, then build, a new United States government that helps us do that, and does nothing more. That is all.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

We rise from and return to the dust

See the origin of plants in the dust
The ground was fertile, fecund, ample
bearing within it many potentials,
readinesses waiting,
gift opportunities,
receptors waiting for your arrival,
welcoming you in.
Our protein-molecule hormone receptors
evolved as the fertile ground,
the gardens upon gardens within
over time that welcomed in
the wandering hormones that fit them,
keys for locks, and
have been the dust, fecund,
in which the plants of our nature have grown,
embedding the forest of a cell,
an evolving practice,
and the bed of higher things.