Sunday, September 19, 2004

More hostages in Iraq

I have been having a stomach ache all day, so when I turned on the national news and saw the new group of hostages in Iraq talking to the camera, I just had to turn it off. It is literally sickening. Most likely these unfortunate men will be brutally murdered. Whomever is elected, I hope we can find some way to extricate ourselves from this mess.

Kerry and Bush on nuclear war

From today's New York Times, editorial, excerpt, so much for our war on terrorism:

The cold war generation grew up worrying about the bomb, the Russians and World War III. Today's nuclear nightmares are more varied, but no less scary. The list of nuclear-armed states is lengthening alarmingly, and each new entry increases the chances that some nasty regional war could turn nuclear. Nuclear terrorism has emerged as a terrifying new threat. Russia has huge, poorly guarded stockpiles of nuclear bomb fuel and there is a small but increasing possibility that its decaying early warning system could trigger an accidental launch.

President Bush often says he means to halt the nuclear arms programs of North Korea and Iran, although he has yet to produce any workable plans for doing so. In February, he rightly called for tighter controls over nuclear fuel processing, used by several countries to produce bomb ingredients.

As a senator and a candidate, John Kerry has offered constructive proposals addressing almost every aspect of current nuclear dangers. While Mr. Bush has tended to focus narrowly on rogue states like North Korea and Iran, Mr. Kerry wisely favors a more comprehensive approach that would combine crisis diplomacy on these two priority cases with accelerated efforts to protect Russian stockpiles. The North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs are at the top of the nation's agenda. But it is disingenuous to ignore the fact that 95 percent of the nuclear bombs and most of the nuclear weapons fuel are in the hands of Russia and the United States.

Mr. Kerry would also break with Bush policies that unintentionally encourage nuclear proliferation, like the Strangelovian plans for research on unneeded new nuclear weapons....

.... Mr. Bush once lumped Iraq, Iran and North Korea together as an "axis of evil." But his decision to invade Iraq limited the diplomatic and military tools left available to influence North Korea and Iran - which were undoubtedly taught by the Iraq experience that the best protection against a pre-emptive strike is a nuclear arsenal.

In both cases, precious time has been lost while the administration has followed largely unproductive diplomatic strategies. Mr. Bush now wants to ask the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran. But many Council members, including major European allies, are not ready to do so. On North Korea, the administration has insisted on discussions including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea as well as North Korea and the United States. These have made no discernible progress, in part because Washington waited until this summer to put its first serious negotiating proposal on the table. With the talks stalled, North Korea has all the time it needs to reprocess its plutonium into several nuclear bombs. ...

No Stars, just cuffs

From today's New York Times, excerpt:

No Stars, Just Cuffs
September 19, 2004

WASHINGTON - In World Wars I and II, gold star mothers were
the queens of their neighborhoods, the stars in their
windows ensuring that they would be treated with great
respect for their sacrifice in sending sons overseas to
fight and die against the Germans and Japanese.
Instead of a gold star, Sue Niederer, 55, of Hopewell,
N.J., got handcuffed, arrested and charged with a crime for
daring to challenge the Bush policy in Iraq, where her son,
Army First Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, died in February while
attempting to disarm a bomb.

She came to a Laura Bush rally last week at a firehouse in
Hamilton, N.J., wearing a T-shirt that blazed with her
agony and anger: "President Bush You Killed My Son."
Mrs. Niederer tried to shout while the first lady was
delivering her standard ode to her husband's efforts to
fight terrorism. She wanted to know why the Bush twins
weren't serving in Iraq "if it's such a justified war," as
she put it afterward. The Record of Hackensack, N.J.,
reported that the mother of the dead soldier was boxed in
by Bush supporters yelling "Four more years!" and wielding
"Bush/Cheney" signs. Though she eventually left
voluntarily, she was charged with trespassing while talking
to reporters.

The moment was emblematic of how far the Bushies will go to
squelch any voice that presents a view of Iraq that's
different from the sunny party line, which they continue to
dish out despite a torrent of alarming evidence to the


Rather v. Bush

I have to confess I was looking forward to the CBS 60 Minutes show that discussed George W. Bush's Air National Guard service. Not that I believe what he or Kerry did during the Vietnam war is a reason to vote for or against them. I am just so fed up with all the spurious attacks on Kerry for his military service, that it seems like payback time for Bush.

But the show turned out to be a disaster, as virtually everyone knows now. Apparently Dan Rather and his staff did not do adequate research in authenticating the four memos that formed a basis for their allegation that Bush's commanding officer Killian was unhappy with his slacking off during the last two years of his service. When it first came up I thought perhaps the memos had been typed on an IBM Executive model typerwriter, originally developed in the 1950s, because I once had one of those typewriters and it did have proportional spacing. But from what I have read since then it seems more likely that the documents were forged, and the person who most often is hinted at being the source of these documents is an ex National Guard officer living near Abeliene, Texas.

I got into an argument with someone over at a conservative blog site over the whole matter. He felt I could not be reasoned with because I found Killian's secretary to be credible when she said that, while she believes the documents are fake, she did type similar memos for him and they reflect what he felt at the time. Furthermore, I was accused of being dishonest because I did not share the opinion that Dan Rather and CBS network were engaged in a "bald-faced" attempt to influence the outcome of the election through "throwing mud" at Bush with this report.

The idea that I must agree with a certain position on this controversy or otherwise I am dishonest and unreasonable seems pretty intolerant to me. The authoritarian mentality at work, especially so in demanding that I share his assessment of Dan Rather's or CBS's motives on this matter. It has always been my view that one should be careful in assesing the motives of others.

Certainly it was sloppy journalism, but what about the substance of the charges against Bush? There are three basic accusations here:

1. That Bush got into the Air National Guard through intervention on his behalf because of his privileged standing. There seems very little dispute on this point..

2. That over the last two years of his service, he slacked off noticeably in his fulfillment of duty, to the point where some have accused him of going AWOL. This doesn't seem to be that disputed either.

3. That Bush's commanding officer(s) were unhappy about this development. The memos aside, there is some testimony to support this view, but in any case it isn't as important as points 1 and 2.

The conservative news magazine U.S. News and World Report also investigated this issue and concluded that Bush did indeed slack off noticeably in his last two years:

"Bush's records show that he did his duty for much of the first four years of his commitment. But as the Vietnam War wound down, his performance slumped, and his attendance at required drills fell off markedly. He did no drills for one five-month period in 1972. He also missed his flight physical. By May 2, 1973, his superiors said they could not evaluate his performance because he 'has not been observed.'"

It also said: "Some experts say they remain mystified as to how Bush obtained an honorable discharge. Lawrence Korb, a former top Defense Department official in the Reagan administration, says the military records clearly show that Bush 'had not fulfilled his obligation' and 'should have been called to active duty.'"

For the entire article, see:

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Seymour Hersh on Iraq

Yesterday evening CSPAN broadcast a speech given by Seymour Hersh to a college in Virginia. He was speaking about Iraq. Earlier this year, Hersh wrote an article for the New Yorker on the torture of Iraqi prisoners atAbu Ghraib. See:

He was discussing the war in more general terms. Basically he does not think we went in there for oil, but rather because the neo-conservatives in the Bush adminisration were convinced that invading Iraq would be a cakewalk and would lead to the collapse of other authoritarian regimes throughout the Mideast, based on the assumption that the region was like Eastern Europe and the people lovers of democracy. Of course that did not happen and now we are bogged down in a war with no foreseeable end or even improvement. He says Bush or Kerry must develop an exit strategy, but neither have in his view.

The Bush administration seems to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder in its approach toward Iraq and Afghanistan, poorly prepared for what would develop after we went into these countries. We the people will have to pay the price for generations to come.

Will music save us?

The other day as I was driving to work, quite depressed over the failure of most Americans to perceive the dangerous direction in which Bush is leading this country, I wondered if it might have something to do with the music. There was a time when the music of youth was closely identified with an emerging new counter culture. It began with rock and roll of the fifties and its sense of rebelliousness, but it was really the folk music and then the folk rock music of the sixties that delivered a new message of hope and idealism, of fighting for social justice and peace.

The music evolved to disco, then punk rock and its variants, which is mostly where it is now. And the problem with this music is that it doesn't seem to present that same spirit, the impetus for young people to become involved in various movements to change society in a positive way. Most of the performers touring in support of John Kerry, for example, are people like Bruce Springsteen or John Mellenkamp whose music belongs to the baby boomer generation.

On the other side is country western music. Every form of music can be beautiful to listen to, and that is certainly true of country and western music. But the heartland "red state" culture it conveys shows little tolerance for people of different values, religions, cultures or nations. And this is the music that has become the driving force in our society with our cowboy president. Unfortunately it is a music and culture that now underlies the ignorant direction in which we are heading under President Bush -- building up record deficits in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our society, openingup the environment to be exploited without restrictions by lumber, mining and other interests, inventing a new policy of preemptive foreign invasion, and so on. The costs to future generations of such misguided and thoughtless policies will be heavy indeed.

Later in the day, as I was walking through Sproul Plaze of UC Berkeley where I work, there was a Dixieland band playing away cheerfully. About six old men, in their 70s and 80s I would guess, but the music was quite good and uplifting. They call themselves the "Spirit of 29", which I guess is where our country is now. Something about this group of old men playing to the students though.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Al Gore, in the New Yorker

The current issue of New Yorker has a lengthy and rather poignant article by David Remnick on Al Gore, based on spending time with him around the time of the Democrat convention. It can be viewed online at:

Crimes against Nature

I have been reading Crimes against Nature, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council. It is quite systematic and therefore quite depressing in detailing how the Bush administration has given over the future of our natural resources to the companies that plunder them.

The behavior of the Bush administration on this matter is nothing less than criminal. It dwarfs Watergate and Whitewater combined. But unfortunately it is barely noticed by our corporate media.

An article Kennedy wrote for Rolling Stone last December summarizes the main points of this book:

Here is the opening paragraph of the article:

George W. Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental president. In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America's environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country's air, water, public lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation's most important environmental laws by the end of the year. Under the guidance of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the Bush White House has actively hidden its anti-environmental program behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats. The Bush attack was not entirely unexpected. George W. Bush had the grimmest environmental record of any governor during his tenure in Texas. Texas became number one in air and water pollution and in the release of toxic chemicals. In his six years in Austin, he championed a short-term pollution-based prosperity, which enriched his political contributors and corporate cronies by lowering the quality of life for everyone else. Now President Bush is set to do the same to America. After three years, his policies are already bearing fruit, diminishing standards of living for millions of Americans.

Richard Clarke: Country Still Vulnerable to Terror

Richard Clarke: Country Still Vulnerable to Terror
Former Presidential Advisor Points to U.S. Intelligence Flaws
Contributing Writers
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Daily Californian

For full text of article, see:

At a time when Dick Cheney is warning that if we don't reelect him we will have another 9/11, this article on Clarke's speech here at UC Berkeley presents an alternative view on Bush/Cheney and how they have dealt with the threat of terrorism.

The flat tax proposal

A recent editorial from the Contra Costa Times, a relatively conservative paper, discussed a flat tax proposal and national sales tax, both of which Bush is reported to be considering. According to the editorial, these measures would shift the tax burden signficantly from the wealthy to the middle-class in our society. Bush accuses Kerry of wanting to raise our taxes because he wants to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of our country; on the other hand a flat tax or replacing income tax with sales tax as Bush is considering would significantly shift the tax burden from the very rich to the middle class and working poor. A welfare society for the rich.


The twin attractions of a flat-tax are simplicity and apparent fairness. Unfortunately, under virtually every flat-tax proposal, the price of simplicity is higher taxes for most middle-income families and individuals, while upper-income taxpayers pay less, sometimes a lot less.

Now the top few percent of income-earners pay the lion's share of the tax burden. With the current graduated income tax those in higher incomes pay considerably higher tax rates that generally far offset any tax deductions or 'loopholes' they take advantage of.

Under flat-tax proposals, the tax burden would be shifted to middle-income taxpayers.

To compound the fallacy of a simpler and fairer flat tax, a senior Bush officials also said the president would consider replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. If there is a worse idea than the flat tax, it is a national sales tax.

To replace income tax revenues, a national sales tax would have to be exorbitant, perhaps in the 35 percent-plus range.

It also would place a heavier burden on middle-income families who spend a larger proportion of their incomes on taxable goods than do wealthy wage earners...

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