Saturday, September 30, 2006

Repubs for Torture - and other deviations from principle

I've been asked why the GOP ramrodded the torture bill through Congress this week, and instead of writing a personal response, I'm going to discuss it here. I've been thinking about this issue all week, but not just in terms of pro/con torture (as if that debate would take long), but also in terms of politics in general. First the specifics.

The primary motivating factor in passing the torture bill is the mid-term election. That has several implications.

1. The GOP is getting hammered on Iraq. Overall Congressional approval is at 25% and there's a very real chance that the GOP is going to lose a significant number of seats, possibly enough to have a Democratic Congress. Passing the torture bill is a symbolic act (since it eviscerates several constitutional rights and will quickly be overturned) that makes the GOP look strong on terror just before an election.

2. It's strategy. This has been Rove's strategy from the get go. The reason why Kerry "voted against the war in Iraq before voting for it" is because the GOP put something in the initial war authorization bill (can't remember exactly what - but a "poison pill" for sure) that the Dems would never support, SOLELY to get the Dems to vote against it. Say what you want about Rove, but he's a brilliant, if Machiavellian, political operative. This has been "pro-forma" for the GOP since 2000 and it's worked perfectly.

This time around, they pushed through a Pro-torture bill solely to make the Dems look weak on terror. They even got the 3 alleged GOP philosophers - Warner, McCain, and Specter - to vote for the damn thing. Hell, McCain actually said he thought it would pass a constitutional test. You know there's something afoot when a GOP Senator who was tortured in a POW camp in Vietnam and slandered by the Bush campaign in 2000 (just before the South Carolina primary, Rove alleged that McCain had fathered a black baby - and shockingly, race baiting worked, McCain lost to Bush and dropped out) votes for a pro-torture law after forcefully stating in the past that torture was wrong and only made US troops more vulnerable to harm. This whole thing smacks of a desperate last minute GOP ploy to put some W's in the win column in November.

And so far, it's working, because the Dems aren't standing up and forcefully arguing that torture is wrong - "give me liberty or give me death" type of stuff. I mean really, our nation is allegedly the greatest nation on earth and we just joined the company of Syria, North Korea, China, and all of the worst genocidal dictators of the 20th and 21st centuries in saying that limited torture is ok. Did we really just do that? I'm beyond shocked by this. Even Jack Bauer (24) breaks the law when he tortures a suspect. But apparently, 200+ years of principled history don't really matter. Our nation, a nation founded on principles, with a constitution that well articulates those principles, is just willing to throw away our core beliefs because of a bit of terrorism?

At any rate, the question is will it swing the election? I doubt it. There are too many other factors in play, but it certainly shows, once again, that the Dems are weak - not on terror or international affairs - but on message, unity, and force of advocacy. They should be up in arms about this - outraged - but once again they seem to have misjudged the public and the American people's sense of decency. This torture bill should work for them. Instead, I think it's going to be net neutral.

Of course, the other reason they ran it through the Congress is because Bush seems to actually believe the words that come out of his mouth. As incredibily unlikely that seems to be. So, in some way, it seems like Bush really wants to "reinterpret" the Geneva Convention to allow torture and degrading treatment. As if he could do that. The Bush administration seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that there is 50 or 60 years of case law interpreting and clarifying the Geneva Conventions. His desire to "reinterpret" the Geneva Conventions as allowing "limited torture" (sort of like "kinda pregnant") is akin to reinterpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mean that blacks don't have the right to vote. When he says "reinterpret" he really means "abolish".

At any rate, I've been reflecting on the last 6 years of politics in the US and I think that what we're seeing is the nadir of Republican dishonesty. I believe it started in 1994 with Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. Whether he was honestly presenting a principled plan or not, the aftereffect of the GOP sweep in the House and Senate was essentially a lesson in Machiavellian politics. Tell the public something, anything, keep saying it over and over again, whether it's true or not (see Whitewater), and you can win some elections.

Bush used this exact same strategy in 2000 when debating Al Gore he repeatedly used the phrase, "we have a difference of philosophy," instead of actually debating Gore on the merits. And honestly, he looked pretty credible doing it. In fact, Clinton used a similar tactic in his Democratic National Convention speech in July 2004 when he repeatedly said, "We believe [X], they believe different, our way is better." That type of political debate, to me, is the right kind of long as it's honest. We should be debating philosophy and practice on the national stage. We should be arguing about principles and strategy. But we're not.

Instead, the Bush administration has taken this tactic to a new level. Instead of telling the truth about Iraq and the war on terror, they're adamently repeating the same lines:

- Iraq is doing well
- We're winning the war on terror
- Opposition to our position makes us more unsafe

That's about all they ever say anymore. And, I for one, feel that this political approach makes us all more unsafe. We need to have an indepth and honest debate about the future of Iraq. We need to bring both sides of the aisle together on this because, let's face, neither side can sort out this mess alone. And the current Bush administration approach doesn't permit that. It knows that if it continues to obsfuscate and confuse, the Dems will waste all their time trying to prove that Bush is wrong about his predictions in Iraq instead of articulating a plan to fix it. It's Machiavellian politics, but better than Machiavelli could have imagined.

All of this is why I believe that Bush will go down as the worst president in US history. He knows the risks to the nation, he sees the intelligence reports every day, and he doesn't act on the merits. Instead, he continues with a solely political strategy aimed at preserving his and his party's power, at grave jeopardy to the nation.

And when it comes down to it, this is why I'm so anti-Republican at this time. It's not their philosophy, it's not their long forgotten ideals that I have a problem with. We can debate those on their merits - impassioned positions exist on both sides. No, instead, it's the clear fact that the GOP just isn't up to having that type of debate on politically charged issues. In academic terms, they're running scared, sacrificing their principles, and barely treading water. Of course, it's working because the Dems are either too divided or too jealous to see that taking the high road would work.

So what does all this mean. Well, I think that we, as a nation, have to do better because our politicians clearly aren't going to. We need to make better choices. We need to be better informed. We need to realize that sometimes a good 'ole boy isn't the kind of guy you want to lead the nation. And, in the end, we need to be more involved so that we can force accountability. These issues are too important for the nation, for the world, to be ignored. Sadly, the mainstream media appears to be completely ignorant of the big picture.

(And I'm not even going to wade in on the complete idiocy of the 700 mile wall that they're planning to build between Mexico and the US.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Well, it's been quite a busy week and today is no different. We're hosting some friends for dinner tonight (I'm cooking Japanese food) and I have to pick up Diana at the airport this afternoon. This will be our first occassion to entertain my friends, who include 3 Americans, 1 Bosnian, 1 Colombian, 2 Brazilians, and the Egyptian Ambassador. It's an international affair. (And yeah, it's pretty cool to think that on the Kevin Bacon "7 degrees of seperation" scale - I'm 1 step removed from both the President of Egypt and the Pope.)

Anyway, I wanted to comment on some absolutely shocking developments of the past week. As most of you probably know, there were two important stories involving Pakistan this week. First, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the President that, if he knew Bin Ladin's location in Pakistan, would he go after him with the US military, even though Pakistan has specifically forbidden the US from such and action and it would represent a grave violation of Pakistan's sovreignty. Bush, always the cowboy, didn't hesitate with a, "yeah, we'd go get 'em if we knew he was there."

The other piece of news, equally shocking, is the report that the US threatened to "bomb Pakistan back into the stone age" if they didn't climb on board with the US led effort to fight the Taliban and terrorism. While the Bush admin is currently throwing the alleged threat maker, Richard Armitage, under the bus, there seems little doubt in the accuracy of this report. Not only did the President of Pakistan confirm it, if the shoe fits...

These stories are shocking, although not really surprising. To think that the US would brazenly threaten a sovreign ally with utter devestation if they didn't climb on board with our foreign policy mission is a shockingly poor attempt at diplomacy. That's the kind of talk normally reserved for brash buffoonery in a smoky bar, not the halls of government.

Of course, this government always brandishes a sledgehammer when a screwdriver would do the trick, so, like I said, it's no real surprise.

Anyway, what's my point? I suppose it's this. There has been an implicit assumption in a lot of corners in America that Republicans were better at foreign policy than Democrats. This idea seemed to invade both sides of the aisle and without a doubt clearly influenced the outcome of the last presidential election.

Suddenly, this idea seems to be DOA. President Bush has led the US on the worst foreign misadventure in US history (probably), shredded any hint of a good reputation in global affairs, and bludgeoned our allies into joining our reckless and poorly planned strategy to confront the "great challenge of our time."

If there is one thing that is starkly apparent, it is that this administration has, without a doubt, been the most politically motivated and oriented administration since the Nixon years. Say what you like about Reagan and Bush 1, but at least they had some arguments loosely connected to fact to justify their foriegn policy decisions.

For example, Bush 1 successfully led a diplomatic effort through the UN to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He had qualified people at his side (James Baker) at his side, he listened to their advice, and pursued a responsible strategy in response to an international crisis. While I certainly don't agree with all of their decisions, I can certainly respect their decision making processes and the fact that their actions were not soley motivated by politics.

Clinton too fell into this category. I mean, the dude passed NAFTA, for F's sake! A Democrat! He wasn't overly political in the decision making process. In the case of NAFTA, he made a decision based on what he thought was best for the US and then fought his own party to ensure that it got passed. Yeah, he was pretty late in responding to the genocide in Bosnia, but hey, at least he acted. The world's legacy in responding to genocide is pretty much 1-20, with Bosnia being the tardy 1.

At any rate, the point isn't whether those foreign policy decisions were "successes" or not. The point is that they were at least based on a rational, realistic, and honest evaluation of all the available evidence. Highly qualified and intelligent people were on board, consulted, and valued. Decisions weren't based on what was best for the President's latest popularity rating. They were more often based on what the deciders thought was best for the country.

But Bush II? He has often said that he is making a "principled decision" and that his actions are based on the "best evidence available." But those were obvious lies or distortions. Instead of acting on good reason (say, ahem, maybe taking a look at North Korea's nuclear program), he's acted in a way that ensured his own political survival. He's the "post 9/11 President" or a "war-time President" and he has cultivated that image every step of the way - to the detriment of the lives of US soldiers, smart policy, and his own legacy.

Not sending enough troops into Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi army, not having sufficient body armor for our troops, lying to the world about WMD, ignoring the entire Palestinian problem (largely the root cause of all the US's problems in the Middle East), completely ignoring North Korea and, until late, mostly ignoring Iran - all of these things were motivated by short term political goals. Korea, Palestine, strategy - none of those things served the President. The American people doesn't know much about those things, and by all evidence, doesn't care. The Rove people know that, so does the President.

So, ultimately, it's no surprise that the war in Iraq has failed so catastrophically. The finer points of policy are largely irrelevant when decisions are based on politics. And it's no surprise that the Bush cronies aren't exactly the most qualified bunch (Rummy wanted to expand US action in Vietnam, not pull out!) since the contents of their resume's really wasn't important to the big man in charge - just their ability to bend knee and kiss ass.

In the end, Presidents usually like to try to build a legacy in their 2nd term. Clinton tried harder than any President since Carter to get a Middle East peace deal. It didn't happen, but he gave it his all. I don't know what Reagan tried to do (let's face it, he didn't either), but Bush II seems to have a complete inability to see past the first move. In chess, we call people like that "fresh meat".

I don't know what's in store for the US or the President. But I do think that Americans, as a people, need to be more careful with our choices. Bush II has completely eviscerated the notion that Republican President's are "good at foreign policy," so let's leave that nonsense behind forever. In fact, whenever someone makes that claim, we should collectively respond, "yeah, just look how great Prez Bush was internationally." His Presidency should become the collective joke that it deserves to be, if for no other reason, simply to continually remind the American people that party affiliation has little, if anything, to do with ability to act responsibly abroad.

There are two years left in his Presidency. I'm not a good prognosticator (come on, I always think the Redskins have a chance to win the Super Bowl, yet they never do), but I am very concerned with what is going to happen over the next two years. Let's face it, by late January 2009, any mess he creates won't be his responsibility. It will be the responsibility of the next President and the American people will ultimately pay the price (financially or in body bags).

In the end, there's nothing more frightening than a Cowboy Presidency with nothing to lose, forging ahead internationally, essentially going "all in" on yet another misadventure. Will it be Iran? North Korea? Or will he opt for a softer approach, AIDs in Africa, maybe?

Whatever happens, I expect things to get worse before they get better.

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's official...

...the Redskins suck.

I got to watch the game last night. In Spanish, of course. And I have to say, if it's not obvious to Coach Gibbs that Mark Brunell is D-O-N-E, then our problems are much deeper than just who's under center. Because Brunell has been terrible and he isn't getting better.

But not only is he statistically a nightmare (going back to week 17 last season, he's been just awful), but even more worrisome, he's completely failed in two key areas: mobility and smarts. While he clearly can't run anymore, it's becoming apparent that he just doesn't understand the offense he's running - even calling a confusion time out last night. Not only that, he has absolutely no touch on his deep throws (see last night's lofted INT at the 1 yard line) and can't throw on the run. I have a bad feeling about this season.


While there seems to be a lot of discussion about the hiring strategies of the Bush administration for "post-war" Iraq (a laughable term if there ever was one), I'm going to leave that story for others. To me, it's old news. In fact, it's more shocking to me that people are actually surprised by this. I mean, we did have a former Bush roommate turned horse track official in charge of FEMA during the gravest natural disaster in US history. And we all know how well that worked out.

No, instead, I want to focus on two stories of importance.

First, and more briefly, Time magazine has a cover story that's essentially a big, "what if..." story about a possible US invasion of Iran. There's been some rumblings about this before that I've mostly dismissed as unrealistic conjecture, but now I'm not so sure.

I've always said that there's no way that the US could invade Iran or North Korea because we're in too deep in Iraq and Afghanistan and we don't have the troops. But, reading the tea leaves, I think a few things are in the mix. First, as the time story makes clear, active war planning is underway. This doesn't appear to be the routine type of war planning you see frequently. No, this one included a "Ready to Deploy Order". The Navy has been ordered to be ready by October 1. What was really startling was that the order was followed by a second command to review the Navy's long standing war plan for blockading two Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf.

Would Bush really go ahead and do it? I think he just might. There are several factors that influence this perspective:

-Bush labelled Iran one part of the "axis of evil"
-Bush has hired James Baker III's strategy company to "fix" Iraq
-Iran is actively defying the administration over its nuclear capabilities
-The administration is wildly overstating Iran's WMD capabilities, much like the did with Iraq

Could this be a "wag the dog" situation? Bush's post 9/11 rememberance popularity bounce has crashed down to earth and he's once again below 40% (which is where he's been since as long as I can remember). The war in Iraq is getting worse. We're losing in Afghanistan. And by all counts it looks like a very real possibility that the GOP could lose the Senate, if not the House in November.

I don't know. I won't make any grandiose predictions. But it does look like Mr. Torture is a Good Idea is on the verge of leading our nation into another great misadventure.

For shame.


Ah, the Pope. Didn't take long for him to stir up the old controversy, now did it? For all of those who hoped for a more "moderate" or "liberal" Pope, keep dreaming. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For those not fully briefed about the weekend's missteps, the Pope gave a speech about the West's commitment to secularism (it's his pud boy) and briefly touching on radicalism in religion and how it breeds violence and is anti-thetical to the Word. He cited as examples some Protestant business from long past and, more notably, quoted a Byzantine emperor who referred to Islam as "evil and inhuman". I, for one, can't seem to understand how the quote fit into the context of his speech (although, in all fairness, I haven't seen the speech), but I can say, without a doubt, that the use of the quotation was just about as colassally stupid as one can get.

Now, I happen to have a bit of inside information on this one as one of my Spanish classmates works at the Vatican embassy and is a personal friend of the Pope (from the same place in Germany, while a pre-Pope mentored my classmate, etc). And all due defenses of the Pope's speech (it's not like he actually said that Islam is "evil"), there does seem to be an outbreak of fundamental stupidity.

Realists used to say, "see the world as it truly is, not as you want it to be." Helpful words, if not a bit nihilistic at times.

In politics, those words are absolutely vital. And the Muslim "world as it truly is" is one of the most hyper-paranoid and politicized of all time. You can't say anything negative about Islam without risk of having a Fatwa put on your head these days. Radicalism abounds in all religions (re: my disgust with American Christian Fundamentalism), but it's found in the absolute worst form in the Muslim world of today. The fact that the world's worst form of terrorism and repression of human rights (the rights of women primarily) are found in the Muslim world should come as no surprise.

What matters most, as I wrote in July 2005, is that there is a widespread perception that Islam is under assault from the West. True or not, statements from the Pope, in context or out, only serve to fuel the belief in the uneducated and easily manipulated Muslim world that the West is readying for a "new crusade" (our wonderful President pretty much gave creedence to that belief a few years back).

In fact, it is quite troublesome that the Pope and his crew don't have the minimum amount of common sense to realize that inflammatory quotations about Islam, no matter the context, are likely to be used by the forces of "evil" in the world to inflame Muslims and spark more violence. The defense that it was an "academic" speech to a specific audience is so incredibily ignorant of the Pope's position in the world as to belie credibility.

Presidents, UN Secretary General's, and Pope's don't have license to give "academic" speeches. EVERYTHING they say is on the public record. And, they have a responsibility to be careful and responsible with their speech, especially when discussing a religion with more self-confidence issues than the average teenage girl.

Of course, the Pope could have helped the situation if he had just said, "I'm sorry if I offended anyone with my remarks. I had no intention of slandering Islam. It's a wonderful religion that helps millions of people have a relationship with God," and left it at that. Instead, in all his arrogance, he said, "I'm sorry for the reaction."


Friday, September 08, 2006

The Path to 9/11

To the person who posted the rather silly comment about the ABC's "The Path to 9/11" with the following quotation:

"The ABC network has rejected criticism, saying the film was not a documentary..."

I'd like to say: This isn't a blog. It may look like a blog. It may act like a blog. Everyone might think it's a blog. But it's not. It's a Ferrari. You just don't know it.

Anyway, the point is, ABC's claims that it's "not a documentary" are belied by several critical pieces of information:

1. They pass it off as based on Fact. Every single advertisement includes the phrase, "Based on the 9/11 Commission Report." That claim is like me having a headline on the top of this Ferrari that states, "Based on a the curriculum of Webster's Graduate School London," because my opinions are marginally influenced by what I learned in my master's program, even though most of what I write is based on my own thoughts and readings and has little relation to what my professors taught me.

Doesn't sound bad enough for you?

2. ABC sent letters to 100,000 school teachers urging them to show the video (free, of course) to their students so that they could have a meaningful and accurate understanding of what caused 9/11. Fictionalized Bullshit shouldn't be paraded out in front of America's school children as fact.

Ouch. That's gotta hurt that smarmy attitude, huh?

3. All across the nation, today, there were newspaper advertisements sporting the following text: "The years that led up to it. Everything that might have prevented it." If that's not a DIRECT message marketing the movie as completely accurate (coupled with the "based on the 9/11 commission report), then what the hell is it?

4. IT'S 9/11 STUPID! Is it so difficult to comprehend that a fictionalized account about an extremely tragic event in very recent history that puts all of the blame on President Clinton and the Democrats is little more than partisan warfare two months before a critical election? The GOP message for 5 years has been that the Democrats are weak on terror. The President has been hammering this message (to little avail) in the last two weeks. The STRATEGY for the midterm elections is that the Democrats are weak on terror. And now comes a glamorized account of what happened passed off as the truth? Please. I'm sure my 4 year old niece could see through this (although she's awfully bright!).

5. If this narrative was even remotely accurate or unbiased wouldn't it have at least shown how Bush failed to respond AT ALL to the August 2001 briefing warning of an Al Queda plot to crash commercial jet liners into buildings in the United States? Instead, we have a farcical portrayal of our President stoicly listening to the news and demanding swift action. NEVER HAPPENED. Bush might have listened stoicly, but he did just about as much in August as he did for the first 7 minutes of the 9/11 crisis - stare blankly into space.

6. Don't take my word for it. Take the word of trusty Fox News commentator Chris Wallace. Even a right wing hack for the channel of right wing hackery calls the mockumentary "slanderous" and "defamatory".

One last tidbit before I spank you back into oblivion.

7. If ABC was releasing a "documentary" entitled, "Stealing an Election" with the slogan, "How President Bush rigged not one, but two elections," and "Based on an independent, non-partisan media evaluation of hanging chads, missing votes, electronic voting fraud, and other attempts to defraud the American people," would you be satisfied with the statement: "This film is based on actual events but at times has been dramatized to enhance the cinematic effect." Anyone who answers yes to the above question needs to answer this one:

Really now, what is the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union if right wing (or left wing) propaganda can be spun out as "mostly factual" in order to influence the hearts and minds of the American people?

So to whomever posted that lovely comment, I appreciate it, but before you write on my Ferrari again, I'd ask that you boost up your critical thinking skills, check that smarmy attitude at the door, and think about the words you're about to speak.

A forgettable week

So my wife sneezes on Monday and has back spasms so severe that there is no option except to take her directly to a hospital. Not exactly a great kickoff for the week. She's more or less fine, still getting physical therapy daily, but slowing getting back to normal.

But if that wasn't enough, somehow I contract tonsilitis acompanied by a 102 degree fever and aches and pains like I've never felt before. A sharp shot in the ass and two days of strong antibiotics later and I'm starting to get back to normal. Still exhausted most of the time, but at least I was able to go to Spanish class today. I'll get back to work on Monday.

Of course, now it seems like my lovely wife has caught it too. The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round...

Anyway, my stunning logic from the other day in reference to Al Queda ignored a very simple possibility. Video "warnings" could indeed signal new terrorism afoot, but not necessarily. The point of terrorism is to instill fear (to achieve political gain). You do that with violence. Now, with Al Queda's reputation as it is, perhaps these warnings are meant more to scare the beejeebees out of people than anything else. I don't know. But it's another option.


Not sure if anyone's been following this story about the ABC documentary on 9/11 that is supposed to air this Sunday and Monday, but I wanted to make a small comment. The basic story here is that a right-wing buddy of Rush Limbaugh wrote a screenplay on 9/11, sold it to ABC as a "documentary", made the movie for $40 million, and now is passing it off as "based on the 9/11 Commission report". What it is really is a partisan attack on the Clinton administration specifically and Democrats generally.

Essentially, the "mockumentary" puts all the blame on Clinton, arguing that he was distracted by the Lewinsky scandal and was afraid to take out Bin Laden. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Clinton specifically authorized the CIA to "use all means necessary" to find and eliminate Bin Laden. However, this movie has scenes involving Sandy Berger, for example, stating that the President hadn't given authority.

It's bad enough to capitalize on 9/11, but it's even worse to intentionally distort the facts behind one of the worst tragedies in US history. But, that wasn't sufficient for ABC. They went as far as to send letters to 100,000 school teachers urging them to show the "documentary" to their students. Even with the disclaimer that it is a fictionalized version of 9/11, the company is trying to pass it off as historical fact.

This is a terrible thing. And ABC is paying a price for this blunder as we speak. There has been a lot of press about the issue, the Democrats are mobilized, and important people (like famed historian Arthur Schlessinger) have chimed in with opposition. The latest reports indicate ABC is on the verge of caving.

You can do your part. Go to this link and fill out the petition. They've already collected over 100,000 and they want as many as they can get. This is an example of how an informed public can stop harmful right-wing propaganda before it invades the conscious of the unsuspecting. Do your part.


Ok, so the NFL season kicked off last night and in my fever induced delirium, I watched about half of the Steelers-Dolphins Spanish. And while I know my football comments bore some people, I can't resists making a few observations.

1. Miami is a very solid football team. They're not in the upper echelon in terms of talent, but they do things that a lot of teams don't. The don't have stupid penalties, they don't miss tackles, they're well coached and, excepting Culpepper's desperate attempt at a comeback, they aren't going to make too many mistakes. I like this team. In the first half last night I saw one missed tackle by the defense and that was more due to Willie Parker than anything else.

Ultimately, I can see Miami making the playoffs this year, but I can't see them winning any games once there. They just don't have enough athleticism. There were several times where the defense couldn't catch up with Parker and he turned would be losses into big gains. But also, on the offensive side, they just don't have any stars at wide receiver. Chris Chambers, the top guy on the team, is rather pedestrian and I can't even name any of their other WRs. Nor can I name their tight end.

I like the pickup of Culpepper. I love the defense. Ronnie Brown is decent. But absent a seriously talented TE or WR, I just can't see Miami making the leap. No matter, definitely a fun team to watch.

2. Pittsburgh, shockingly, is continuing in its role as the least impressive Super Bowl champs since the Baltimore Ravens. And they're good too. I like what they do. They know they have a great defense, that their offense isn't exactly spectacular (really - what is the difference between Batch and Rothlesberger?), but they make just enough plays to win games. It's a good formula in today's NFL. It doesn't always make for the most exciting football, but it does win games.

However, I'm a bit concerned with Pittsburgh this year. They have a lot of young players that they are depending on. For example, in the first half, rookie wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a variety of errors that cost the Steelers field position and stunted drives. The wide receiver position is troubling for the Steelers because they lost Randle-El to the Redskins, and while he wasn't ever particularly dominant, he added a twist to their offense that they have yet to replace.

In the end, I'm not expecting the Steelers to repeat as Champs. There's too much youth, too much upheaval, and too many negative karma factors. Plus, they can be just damn boring to watch, even if that Willie Parker is a stick of lit dynamite.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A bit of a shock

I'm not normally home at this hour (which is why I'm not writing frequently), but today is an exception. And when I loaded up the Washington Post, I discovered some shocking news:

Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, is dead.

I can't believe it. I thought that guy was invincible. Or at least, I thought he would get eaten by a croc or poisoned by a snake. Instead, it's a freak accident. Terrible. Nature shows will not be the same.

I am saddened.


At any rate, I've been quite busy since last I posted and events have clearly outpaced my ability to comment. There's a lot of political stuff going on at home and abroad, but the one I want to comment about is terrorism.

A week from today is the 5-year anniversary of 9/11. This date raises many issues, but mostly, are we any safer today than we were on September 10, 2001. I think the answer to that is a resounding no. I was discussing this issue with my wife and her brothers yesterday and the point they continually emphasized (which is logical given their experience of growing up here in Colombia) is that you can't beat terrorism with security. If they want to hurt you, they'll find away.

When you think about it, no truth has ever been as self-evident. For as much money and attention we spend on the airlines, the subways are undefensible. International ports have porous security at best. And hundreds of thousands of public places all across the US are distinctly vulnerable (Mall of America, anyone?). We simply don't have the security level they have here in Bogota (bomb smelling dogs, vehicle checks, security to enter all buildings including shopping malls, military checkpoints, etc) and even with the extreme security in Bogota, it's still not enough to stop terror. How can we possibly imagine that we are "secure"?

Beyond that however, I feel we are dangerously more vulnerable for two reasons:

1. We didn't finish the job in Afghanistan. By all reports, we had Al Queda on the run. We disrupted their operations, the world was sympathetic to our position, and while not finished, Al Queda was essentially rendered useless (See the CNN Amapour documentary playing now for more on this. It's actually quite good.) But, we didn't continue to focus on Afghanistan. Instead of having US/Brit soldiers do the job, we trusted warlords. Bin Laden escaped, Al Queda regrouped, and now, four years later, the Taliban is a significant force in the country again. In short, we blew it because we didn't have sufficient troops on the ground and we shifted our focus too quickly to ensure success.

2. Iraq, however, was an even greater mistake. There are many fine reasons why we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, but now, in retrospect, it seems clear that terrorism was the greatest reason. Where Afghanistan left Al Queda in shambles, Iraq was the resurrection. To many people in the world, the US invasion of Iraq (seen as unprovoked aggression) was telling evidence of a Western conspiracy to dominate the oil rich, developing world. Whether their perspective was correct or not is not the issue. What is the issue is that clearly the US invasion of Iraq played a critical role in reorganizing Al Queda. Support was up, recruits were up, and money rolled in, and internal criticism died down. In fact, it could be argued that invading Iraq was the best thing Bush could have done for Al Queda since it spread US forces thin, shifted global opinion, and provided a new base for Al Queda operations and training.

Mission Accomplished, George!

Now, five years after 9/11, one year after London, and two years after Madrid, the world stands once again on the precipice of terrorism. The warning issued on Saturday should not be ignored. The specific internal Al Queda criticism of 9/11 was twofold. First, while 9/11 was a tactical success, it was a strategic failure. The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan decimated the organization's logistics, communications, and training. But, more pressing, Bin Laden was specifically criticized for not giving the "heathens a chance to convert" or warning them of an impending attack - both of which are specific requirements prior to launching jihad, according to the Koran.

Well now, five years later, it is chilling to know that and to see a such a warning a week before the anniversary of 9/11. The spin on this story seems to be, don't worry, it's not a warning, it's an attempt to change Al Queda's image in the US. But I'm not buying that.

For a variety of reasons, I actually think that spin is either downright stupid, or intentional disinformation. Now, I'm not interested in being a scare monger like the current administration (although I'll upgrade the probability of me using profanity to Alert Status Red), I do think that the Western media should not be so trusting of Islamic media. Obviously I can't accuse anyone of anything, but it does occur to me that the Arab media are either a) too close to the situation to be objective (they want exclusives, sources, etc.) or b) directly complicit with the large bulk of terrorism that is ongoing in the world.

But not only is it self-evidently stupid to placidly follow the "opinions" of Arab media on this issue, it's also self-evidently stupid to think that Al Queda is niave enough to believe that "softening it's image" could help it recruit more Americans. It doesn't matter whether they are perceived as a religious movement or not - the point is, they use violence to accomplish their goals. You'd have to be a blithering idiot to be fooled by a suddenly "softer" Al Queda, especially when there are THOUSANDS of other Islamic "religious" movements that you could join that AREN'T on the world's most wanted list. Face it - joining Al Queda is an active choice to terminate your own life. Anybody who signs up knows EXACTLY what they're getting into - softer image or not. There are 3,000 dead Americans that will testify to this.

For these reasons, it is my belief that world should emotionally prepare itself for new terrorism on US soil. I have no idea when or if this will occur. But my gut says that with a reconstituted Al Queda that has a love for symbolism, 9/11/2006 is a pretty fair guess for a return of terrorist "shock and awe". If it does happen again, what will George do this time?

Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position