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March 31, 2003

Stupid is as stupid does

This front page story from Sunday's London Times by Mike Franchetti is a must read. Seems like a credible story, and is getting a lot of attention outside the US. Seems to me like it shows how the US is using exactly the wrong tactics. You don't drive right through a town just because the highway does. Take a freaking detour. It's not exactly the Himalayas. Its a flat barren desert. Bridges are the only real problem and tend to be near cities, but we have the capability to build our own bridges in a matter of days, not weeks. Sounds like we should have taken that approach, not counted on towns like Nasariyah to raise the white flag, when Saddam has tens of thousands of mercenaries spread around the country, just hoping we will take the main highways where they are sitting and waiting for us. Where was the CIA? Were they fooled?

Hopefully we will rethink our tactics and keep anything like this from happening again. Instead of telling people to stay in their homes, we should have been begging them to leave so they wouldn't get caught in the crossfire. I hear they are starting to do that now, changing the message in the leaflets. At the same time, the Saddam loyalists are terrorizing people so they're afraid to leave now. Basra should be the example to follow though, not Nasariyah, when we go into Baghdad. That's not to say the approach the British are taking in Basra is perfect either. We need more special forces on the ground working the scene. Most importantly, the front line soldiers need interpreters there with them who can speak the language and work with local opposition to organize the townsfolk and weed out Ba'ath party supporters. We can not just sit on the outskirts of town, and wait to see how the situation unfolds. Once again, I support this war, but really do not agree with the way that they are doing it. Who besides Bush would have gone along with such a simplistic, monocultural battle plan as this?

I hope this level of complexity in my view is not just dismissed as second guessing. I think the whole problem is over simplification, and overlooking all the non-military details, on the part of our military planners, combined with massive cross-cultural breakdown in communicating with the Iraqi people. Oh well, here's the article, I hope more American's will see it, and that it will change our tactics. The advantage to embedded reporters is that we hear the story as it happens, and can influence it to change things for the better. Good luck organizing a support the troops but use different tactics rally. I doubt I could fit that on a poster board, or generate a buzz and mass movement around a position that's not so black and white. Regardless, one thing is for sure. With all the debate over whether to go in or not, there was almost no discussion of how. We left it all up to the same folks who brought us Vietnam. It's too late to pull out, or Saddam will massacre what opposition there is, just like in 1991. I only hope we will use this pause to rethink many of our tactics.

Here are some of the most disturbing parts reprinted by UPI:

One such report from An Nasiriyah was prominently displayed on the front page of the Sunday Times, whose embedded reporter detailed the death of a dozen Iraqi men, women and children from "young American Marines with orders to shoot anything that moved."

Reporter Mark Franchetti said the U.S. Marines he had crossed into Iraq with a few days ago were "bright-eyed, small-town boys" who had expected a welcome, or at least a swift surrender.

Instead they had found themselves lured into a bloody battle in which several Marines were killed, wounded, missing or captured.

While one Marine lieutenant reportedly almost cried as he buried the body of a baby girl killed by his Marines, Francetti quoted Cpl. Ryan Dupre as saying: "I am starting to hate this country. Wait until I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."

Posted by Mike at 11:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Basra shows promise, needs time

I think the bright side of the pause in the Allied forces advance on Baghdad is two fold. First, they can use air strikes to pick off the Republican Guard, with less risk of civilian casualties than if ground forces did the same task. (Think about it. The bombers use precision weapons and can take their time to get it right. Ground forces often have to shoot first, and ask questions later, or risk being hit by an anti-tank round themselves). Second, I believe in the next few weeks things will take a turn for the better in Basra. If the Allies get their act together and bring in the supplies of humanitarian aid, then flush out the last minders and spies for the Ba'ath party, the people will be much more appreciative of the Allied effort, and not afraid to show it. This positive press should help weaken the rabid anti-Americanism that is increasing every day around the mideast. It should also provide voices and representatives who can help us with the conflict by spreading the word that many Iraqi's do support the effort to overthrow Saddam. It will be much easier to take Baghdad with the Shi'ites from southern Iraq on our side. After all, the majority of the population in Baghdad is Shi'ite, as well.

Here is an excerpt from Arab News in Saudi Arabia:

The people I spoke with at Umm Qasr said they were happy about the removal of Saddam, as he had held them in terror for years. They took me to see the local Baath Party headquarters. They told me that many bad things happened there and that most of those picked up in the middle of the night and taken to that building were never seen again.

I entered the building and walked around. I couldn’t help noticing the excitement in the people’s voices as they pointed out the bullet holes and the charred remains of where the building burned.

That was when I first got the sense that these people were really eager to see Saddam and Baath gone.

I asked several what they thought of the US/UK plan to remove Saddam. They told me: “Now that they have started to remove him, they cannot stop. If they do, then we are all as good as dead. He still has informants in Umm Qasr and he knows who is against him and who isn’t.”

When asked about what they think of this war, most Iraqis said that they were against the loss of innocent life and the destruction of their cities, but they seemed adamant about the removal of Saddam. They were happy about the “liberation” of Umm Qasr but were disappointed in the US/UK for not keeping their promises to provide humanitarian aid.

Here is an excerpt from a story on Radio Free Europe:

One man, an agricultural specialist who asked to remain anonymous, said he does not feel personally engaged in the war and hopes only that it spares civilians. Asked to sit in his car and speak quietly into the microphone slightly apart from the listening crowd, he said he regards the fight for Basra as between the U.S. and Saddam's regime alone.

"Everybody is looking for a better future, of course, and they are saying let the Americans and the Iraqi forces fight between each other, we are not a part of that fight. So [people in Basra] have bunkers and everything and they don't intend to fight the Americans, or [Saddam's forces]. They say let both armies fight and we will stay away from this," he said.

He also said that the people of Basra "would love to meet the Americans with flowers." But he said they are afraid that the Americans will treat them the same way as they did in 1991.

In 1991, U.S. forces advanced beyond Kuwait and into southern Iraq to conclude the Gulf War. But they withdrew soon afterward amid a rebellion in Shia-populated southern Iraq against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, Baghdad restored its control through a military crackdown that killed several thousand people.

Posted by Mike at 06:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Late, great political cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil

Although he passed away February 11th, after a failed operation at a British hospital, Mahmoud Kahil's work is well known around the world and still very relevant to the conflicts in the Middle East. If you're not familiar with him, as I was not until after his death, it is worth checking out. It is a sad feeling to stumble upon something new and enlightening like his cartoons, and then discover right afterwards the creator passed away over a month ago. Arab News, an English language news service from Saudi Arabia, still publishes his political cartoon of the day and has an archive of his work you can view.

Here is part of a February 12th piece from Arab News in tribute to Kahil:

Kahil was at heart a humanist. He cared for the poor, the oppressed and the dispossessed. It did not matter what the ethnic or religious beliefs these people held.

He was also a great supporter of the Palestinian people and their just cause for independence.

Some of his best cartoons were exhibited during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

No one has exposed Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon’s bloody history better than he, with his fine lines.

As an Israeli recently wrote, “I admire your cartoonist M. Kahil. He has such an incisive, unassuming style. A style that is so lacking in our miserable region. It is relieving to find that the ‘enemy’ is human.”

Here's one of Kahil's cartoons, reprinted by Arab News on March 27th:

Here's one that was reprinted on March 9th:

Posted by Mike at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tamala M. Edwards

At the risk of sounding like I'm obsessed here, I think Tamala Edwards is the best journalist on Earth (and the most beautiful, as well). I wish that she would get more air time than she does. Used to look forward to seeing her on Hardball with Chris Matthews at MSNBC. Her once a week segments as White House Correspondent for the Sunday Edition of the ABC Evening News are just not enough for someone with her skills. Now that Tamala is an embedded reporter in Kuwait, I haven't seen her in weeks.

Here's all I can find on the ABCNews website, from March 26th:

Tamala Edwards with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing
2 p.m. ET; 10 p.m. Iraq

These F-16s can get from here into Iraq in the space of five minutes, but even those guys complain about how much of their fuel is drained often getting to where — into the box, as they call it — they want to be. The A-10s, while a powerful plane, does move slower. There's definitely a cause and a need, as far as the Air Force sees it, to get further into the arena.

The New York Daily News has an interesting story on women reporting in the Gulf, which includes a detailed interview with Edwards:

ABC's Edwards landed her assignment late in the process.

"Being a reporter, the first impulse was yes," she said.

Edwards is not on the front lines, but at an air base from which fighter pilots make bombing runs around the clock.

She admits there was some uncertainty about a woman's presence "just because people weren't sure how it would work because of the customs in the region."

But once she arrived, Edwards said, she found the pilots were used to having women around, both as part of the military and as reporters.

"It's not odd to be here," she said.

Edwards doesn't believe being a woman in a war zone presents a disadvantage, either in terms of physical danger or in access to sources.

"Not in this embed," she said of her post. "Some of the others where you're just dirty and filthy all the time, maybe. But I see women just at the front as I see men — they're all there just smelling bad together."

Posted by Mike at 02:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 29, 2003

First affirmative action, now outreach programs

Apparently the Bush administration and its supporters are in favor of helping minorities, as long as there is no proof that minorities are being targeted for this help. Am I trapped in George Orwell's 1984? Enough with the double speak. Which is it gonna be? I think we know the answer. Bush wants to seem like he's helping, not actually help.

From the New York Times:

As the Supreme Court prepares itself to tackle affirmative action in university admissions this week, a new offensive is well under way against scholarships and summer programs intended to ease minority students into college life.

The Center for Equal Opportunity and the American Civil Rights Institute, two groups that oppose affirmative action, have threatened to file federal complaints against about 30 universities, contending that their reliance on race to determine eligibility for certain awards and academic enrichment programs violates civil rights law. The groups are also backing the case against the University of Michigan's admissions policies before the Supreme Court.

In the weeks since the letters have gone out, at least five universities have agreed to open their programs to white students or possibly cancel them. They are the University of Virginia, Iowa State University, the University of Delaware, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first to be challenged by the two groups and the only one under review by the Department of Education.

Another university put on notice, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, unexpectedly eliminated its affirmative action policies this month under pressure from the state attorney general's office, but, after an outcry from students, faculty members and administrators, its board agreed to reconsider.

Posted by Mike at 08:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kentucky loses big

I'm glad I didn't put any money on the Big Dance this year. My picks are falling like flies. Kentucky, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Maryland, all take an early bow. Probably for the best I haven't had much time to watch.

Posted by Mike at 08:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rick Leventhal shows soldiers' perspective

While for the most part the war coverage leaves a lot to be desired, and provides more misinformation and recycled stories than any real news, if you haven't seen Rick Leventhal's live reports from Fox News you should check it out. "Well Shep, that noise you hear is the turret turning. We've engaged the enemy." He's with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Unit of the 1st Marine Division, which was one of the first to begin the ground assault, crossing the Iraqi border 90 minutes after air strikes by Marine aviators in southern Iraq.

I know, it's Fox, and the studio talking heads are all conservatives who would avoid criticizing the adminstration at pain of death, but it's worth sitting through to catch Leventhal's updates from Iraq. Unlike most of the other embedded reporters, you can tell that Rick fits in as part of the unit he is travelling with deep in the front lines south of Baghdad. He gets interviews with all the troops, and leaders. He even mentioned they asked him to brief the Marines on what was going on in the rest of the world at the end of a weekly operations meeting.

His live reports are usually on between 10pm and 2am EST, morning Baghdad time, and give both a soldier's perspective and details you don't get from the other reporters. Helps you get a picture of the war as it unfolds. From the American perspective of course. The Iraqi citizens' side is not really being told anywhere in the US media. Anyways, it beats listening to Forrest Sawyer, Aaron Brown, or Shepard Smith drivel on about things they know next to nothing about. First it was "shock and awe" then "unexpected stiff resistance." Give me a break. Look at the deeper issues, not just the cosmetic surface.

Posted by Mike at 08:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

What's up with Howard Dean?

Let me start by saying that I would not be criticizing Dean if he had not publicly criticized John Edwards and other Democratic candidates by name. However, given that he's started it, I think we need to drive Dean out of the primaries by showing him that the game goes both way. If you can give it, you can take it.

It seems I'm not the only one who's starting to wonder what Howard Dean is thinking. First he starts right off negative campaigning against the other Democratic candidates, something the rest have tried hard to avoid. Then he keeps shifting his own positions on issues depending on who he's talking to, and at the same time publicly accuses other candidates of doing the same thing, when they are not. He later apologizes for these accusations, admitting he did not actually hear what they said, and was merely speculating what he thought they might say. Then he keeps right on accusing them of the same thing.

From the very beginning, Dean has tried to establish himself as the candidate who represents the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party." First of all, this buzz phrase can have a dual meaning. Is he saying that all the others are actually "Bush lite" Republicans in disguise? Is he saying that he is just more liberal than the rest of the field? I think the phrase is designed to mean different things to different audiences and appeal to both the elite liberal wing and the progressive base at once. Pretending to mean two things at once seems to be a recurring theme in the Dean campaign.

Don't take it from me. Here's what some political journalists have been saying.

From Glen Johnson at the Boston Globe:

In animated conversation on the floor of the US Senate on Wednesday, Kerry placed a hand on Edwards's shoulder and nodded in agreement as the North Carolinian spoke to him with visible passion. Then, pointing at the podium where the Senate's presiding officer sits, Edwards said to Kerry in a voice loud enough for a reporter in the overhead press gallery to hear, ''He got up there and lied.''

Edwards was referring to the speech Dean delivered to California Democrats last weekend, in which he stood at the podium at the party's annual convention in Sacramento and lambasted Edwards and Kerry by name for supporting the war. Dean, who has won a following with his antiwar pronouncements, sought to distinguish himself further by telling the delegates that both of his rivals had refused to stand by their position during their speeches to the crowd. The remark triggered cheers for Dean - even though he would later acknowledge it was wasn't true.

Edwards had been booed an hour earlier for reiterating his support for the war. Kerry, of Massachusetts, also faced catcalls the night before when he made an oblique reference to his position.

Now Dean is facing questions about his rhetoric surrounding the war.

Early last week, after Dean had been in South Carolina, Lee Bandy, a longtime political reporter for The State newspaper of Columbia, wrote that Dean ''will tone down his criticism of President Bush in the weeks ahead.'' Bandy quoted Dean as saying, ''It's hard to criticize the president when you've got troops in the field.''

The same day, USA Today reported, ''One of the most outspoken Democratic presidential candidates, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, calls it `the wrong war at the wrong time' and says he will continue criticizing Bush's policies.''

On Friday, Dean sought a correction from the Los Angeles Times after it published an interview that quoted Dean as saying he was ''uncomfortable'' offering his usual criticism of the war because it might be misinterpreted abroad now that the fighting has begun. The Times stood by its story.

From Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register:

"Senator Edwards has been clear and consistent about his position on Iraq everywhere he goes," Edwards' Iowa campaign spokeswoman, Kim Rubey, said. "He does think that Governor Dean has mischaracterized his position."

During a speech to the California Democratic convention the weekend before the war started, Dean accused Edwards and Kerry by name of supporting the war but declining to stand by their positions.

However, Edwards, in his speech to the convention, stated his support for the war and was angered by Dean's comments, according to news reports.

Dean admitted the mistake over Edwards' remarks in California and said Monday he had apologized to Edwards. But Dean came back to say Edwards was ambivalent about his position in another speech he had given the night before the convention in Sacramento.

"The night before, he gave a speech that basically was ambivalent, in which I thought he was trying to mitigate his position," Dean said.

"It seems to me that his position has changed. But I think he stood up for his position at the convention, and he deserves credit for it."

Dean's reference to ambivalence the night before is directly contradicted by a first hand account from Lawrence Lessig, an Edwards supporter and chair of the Creative Commons project, who attended one of those events:

Someone asked him whether he would go into Iraq without a second resolution, and he understood that here in San Francisco, peace capital of the Americas, the “correct” answer is “no”. But he looked straight into the eyes of the questioner and said he would: he believed Bush had totally fumbled the lead up to this war, and he was sickened by how much we had lost in the build up to this war, but he believed the Iraqi president had to go.

I would not normally cite the National Review, as they are definitely not known for fair and balanced reporting, but Jim Geraghty has the most complete list of Dean's recent statements on Iraq, and why some describe him as incoherent:

On January 31, Dean told Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times that "if Bush presents what he considered to be persuasive evidence that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, he would support military action, even without U.N. authorization."

And then on Feb. 20, Dean told that "if the U.N. in the end chooses not to enforce its own resolutions, then the U.S. should give Saddam 30 to 60 days to disarm, and if he doesn't, unilateral action is a regrettable, but unavoidable, choice."

But a day later, he told the Associated Press that he would not support sending U.S. troops to Iraq unless the United Nations specifically approves the move and backs it with action of its own. "They have to send troops," he said.

Four days later on PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Dean said United Nations authorization was a prerequisite for war. "We need to respect the legal rights that are involved here," Dean said. "Unless they are an imminent threat, we do not have a legal right, in my view, to attack them."

One Democrat, who is already supporting another candidate, is baffled that Dean is attempting to earn a reputation for principled views, labeling the former governor as "incoherent."

"Here's a guy posing as a McCainiac, but talking out of both sides of his mouth," the Democrat said.

Enough said.

Posted by Mike at 07:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Badr Corps responds to Rumsfeld's warning

According to the Associated Press, Abu Eslam al-Saqir, a top adviser to council leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, said the Badr Corps would not seek confrontation with U.S. and allied forces.

''Our Badr army is not seeking any military confrontation with coalition forces. We only fight Saddam,'' al-Saqir told The Associated Press.

As for the Iranian government, their spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh was quoted Saturday by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying:

Tehran is surprised that Americans have come from the other side of the globe and are interfering in Iraq's internal affairs but say if Iraqi opposition carries out any action it would be interference in the internal affairs of their own country.

He added that Iran believes that the war is ''meaningless'' and ''illegitimate'' and that ''only American warmongers will benefit.''

Posted by Mike at 02:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Something I don't support

Why does Don Rumsfeld feel compelled to inflame every ally that we have? Today, he issued a warning that any Iraqi exiles in Iran re-entering the country near Basrah to fight with us against Saddam, would be considered a threat to coalition forces and "treated as combatants." He said:

Lastly, the entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence
personnel, or proxies not under the direct operational control of
General Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition
forces. This includes the Badr Corps, the military wing of the Supreme Council on Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Badr Corps is trained, equipped and directed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and we will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions, and will view Badr Corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful. Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants.

What the hell is Rumsfeld thinking? Is he trying to turn every Iraqi against us? People are starving in Basrah, the Ba'ath party is terrorizing them and killing them if they try to leave. They are trying to rise up against the Ba'ath party anyways, but they just don't have the means. We don't want to send our own troops in because it would be risky urban combat. So what do we tell the Badr Corps, with 10,000 to 15,000 Iraqi exiles willing to fight Saddam? We tell them that if they cross into Basrah to fight the Ba'ath party, they will be treated as hostile combatants.

Obviously, their name, the Supreme Council on Islamic Revolution in Iraq, could be seen as threatening to US interests if you think they mean fundamentalism. Let's look deeper than that. Eyewitness reports as of March 15th, put some 5,000 Iraqi Arabs of the Badr Corps, the armed wing of the Shia Supreme Council based in Iran, having moved into Iraqi Kurdistan already. Are we planning to bomb these troops as they fight against Saddam with us in northern Iraq?

For the last few months, leaders of the Shi'ite Badr Corps with links to the Shi'ite communities in southern Iraq have been meeting with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. Have the Americans been at any of these meetings? Here's a description of one of these meetings from an Iranian newspaper:

During the second conference of the Iraq dissidents in Salaheddin
held from February (26-28), the Follow Up Committee of the Iraqi
dissidents chose a five-man Supreme Leadership council.

They included the leader of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan
Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Jalal
Talabani, member of the Leadership Council of National Congress of
Iraq Ahmad Chalabi, former Iraqi foreign minister in 1960s Adnan
Pachechi, member of the Supreme Assembly of the Iraq Islamic
Revolution Seyed Abdolaziz Hakim, and member of the National Unity Movement Ayad Alavi.

A figure close to Seyed Abdolaziz Hakim quoted him as saying,
"The members of the leadership council during their
meetings stressed on the significant role of the Iraqi nation in the
course of the past, present and future developments of Iraq, and
emphasized on the need to respect their will in planning for the
future of the country."

"An important meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday was between
the high ranking commanders of the Badr Corps stationed in the region, with the head of the Jihadi Bureau of the SAIIR Abdolaziz Hakim," he said.

"During that meeting the Badr Corps commanders explained the
US-British forces' operations during the first three days of the war,
as well as the Iraqi army's moves, while planning for the probable
future involvements of the dissidents' forces in the next few days'
developments," said Hakim.

He said that the Badr Corps commanders stressed their forces are
quite ready, and fully motivated to play a decisive role in ousting
Saddam's regime.

At the same time the Shi'ites draw analogies between Israel and the US and would fiercely opposed US occupation of Iraq if it lasts too long after Saddam is gone. They draw a direct parallel to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and actually fear tthat he US may have similar goals in mind in Iraq, establishing an American state within Iraq for means of exporting oil. Along these lines, Hakim has also promised that his Badr Brigades will wage war against the Americans if they reveal themselves to be occupiers. Why are we provoking these people, not reassuring them that their fears have no basis in reality? Are we listening?

From the same story in the Asian Times:

A Lebanese source confirms that about 700 Hezbollah warriors are already in Iraq. They are familiar with Najaf and Karbala, are in tune with the parallels being drawn across the Arab world between the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The Lebanese Shi'ites at the time received the Israelis as liberators. But when the Israelis revealed themselves as an occupying force, the Shi'ites turned on them.

Instinctively, the majority of Arabs, Sunni or Shi'ite, view the whole American policy in the Middle East as anti-Arab. They are quick to point out how after the 1991 Gulf War, for example, the Kurds in northern Iraq got their autonomous zone, unlike the Shi'ites in the south. In operation "Iraqi Freedom", the Pentagon has been forced to face the hard reality of the Iraqis' fighting spirit as the Saddam Hussein regime resists. Now this is a real war - in the full scope of its tragedy. More (at least 120,000) American troops in the war theater. More bombings. More targets. More civilian victims. And the main victims of the renewed war in southern Iraq - essential to secure humanitarian operations - will remain Shi'ite civilians.

Now Rumsfeld plans to treat these Shi'ite rebels as enemy combatants? In combination with starving the Shi'ite's in Basra by not getting aide to them in a timely manner and letting Saddam fight it out with us and desecrating Shi'ite Muslim holy places like Karbala and Najaf, I'm not sure what more we could do to get on the Shiite's nerves. Remember, these are the one's who don't like Saddam. They fought two bloody civil wars against his regime in the past. We need to get them on board, because these Shiites will play a major role in post-Saddam Iraq whether we like it or not. They may not like Americans or American policy, but as we saw in Afghanistan, the enemy of an enemy can be a friend, and it is going to be their country when the war is over, not ours. I just have a bad feeling Rumsfeld is setting us up to fight both Saddam, and Saddam's Shi'ite enemies. I hope there is still time to stop that from happening.

Posted by Mike at 04:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Why I support John Edwards for President

In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King, Jr. describes many of his views on how to achieve full human rights and equality in the world. At the same time, he expresses his frustration at the slow pace of change in society. In one of the most powerful metaphors I've heard, he compares the struggle for a just society to waves breaking against the sides of a rock that juts up from the water in stormy seas. The waves can crash and crash against the rock with great force and a tremendous roar, but the rock will still be there once they recede. In fact, the rock will still be there long after we and our children are dead. In geological time, it could take thousands if not millions of years for the waves to erode that rock completely.

My hope is that the world can prove Doctor King wrong in this regard. My hope is that we can show his fears were unfounded, and his analogy does not apply. Things have changed greatly the last forty years, but we are still far from ending inequality. There are still many people who feel the effects of discrimination every day. It's not blantant, it's not enforced by law in the US, but we don't stop it either. Children with poor parents still have poor nutrition, go to poor schools, and have much poorer chances of getting ahead than the children of richer parents. Millions of adults still read at a grade school level. Tens of millions more don't have full access to medical care due to the cost. All this in the richest nation in the history of the world. It's not much better in poorer nations, either. In reality, it's often much, much worse. Technology is improving things, but population growth is keeping pace, meaning that change is not enough, exponential change for the better is needed, and soon.

John Edwards is the first national politician that I've heard take a serious look at these things lately. Maybe I'm just young, but he is saying things I've never heard national politicians say before. Take education. He has actual lists of specific proposals. They include practical concerns like providing funds for after school programs, helping parents save for college, and ensuring all students can take college-level advanced placement courses. But unlike most politicians, he doesn't stop there just because everyone else does. He also proposes paying the first year of college tuition at state universities for any high school student who commits to the rules and requirements of his program, which he calls College for Everyone. I agree with his belief that once they are there, these students will see the options availabe that can make state college affordable, in combination with a part time job to save money and those AP courses shortening their stay. As it is now, many students who could go to college don't, simply because they don't see it as an option due to the cost. He also asks universities to end legacy admissions and early admissions, both of which give poor kids a disadvantage in the application process. On the local level, he wants to subsidize local school districts with federal funds to help pay teachers in poor districts as much as teachers in wealthier districts.

Not only are these original ideas, that happen to meet a large set of public needs, but they take an approach that I believe fits very well with American ideals and could be accepted by most citizens. I think the same is true of his ideas on the economy, domestic security, foreign policy, health care, civil rights, and the environment. But my support for Edwards is not just based on the issues. It's also based on his strength of mind, character, and belief, his natural charisma and speaking skills, and his ability to both grasp and explain to average Americans the complex issues that will be critical to our future. If the Democratic party is looking for a messenger, Edwards is that candidate. After watching him and the other Democratic candidates speak on C-SPAN on several occasions, I've become more and more convinced each time that Edwards is the best choice to beat Bush in 2004. Even without considering the issues, Edwards is the engaging, likeable type of politician that George W. Bush and other past Presidents have been, but Al Gore just was not. The American people will not elect someone they don't like or someone they don't think can relate to them. I think Edwards' stance on the issues gives him an advantage over Bush on the second of those two points and his personality and style keep him at pace with Bush on the first.

Some politicians have built careers on creative deception. Testing the winds of public opinion and shifting their views to fill their sails, then tacking a course of least resistance. John Edwards is not that type of politician. In fact, he has only been a politician since 1998, when he left a successful law practice to challenge incumbent Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) for his position in the Senate representing North Carolina. As Edwards learned from years speaking to juries in courtrooms across the South, "Regular Americans have an incredible ability to figure out who's being straight with them, who cares about them, who has the capacity to represent them." Unfortunately, voters rarely get the chance to vote for those types of candidate. Instead, they often feel they're choosing between the lesser of two evils, and voter turnout hoovers near fifty percent as a result.

Are the American people just not interested in politics? No, they care a lot about their rights and freedoms, the environment, their children's education, their health care, their safety, and the economy, just to name a few things. Where people lose interest is when it comes to the politicians. While everyone knows a few good lawyer jokes, politicians are the one group of people that American's trust even less. John Edwards is different. He grew up in a working class family, worked his way through state college and law school, then became a lawyer with the goal of protecting people - like those he grew up with in Robbins - from powerful corporate interests. By the time he decided to run for the Senate, Edwards had gained acclaim for his speaking skills, his ability to connect with jurors, and knack for breaking complex issues down without leaving anything out or losing his audience along the way. Who better to make the case for Democrats, and deliver our message to voters in 2004, than the most respected trial lawyer in North Carolina? I don't think there is a better choice than John Edwards for America in 2004. Both for the Democratic party, and for the human struggle against injustice, I hope that he succeeds.

Posted by Mike at 01:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 28, 2003

Why I support the War in Iraq

Dictators don't just fade away. They use their power to gain more power over their people every day. Imagine Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris with martial law, armed thugs in pickups, and jack booted death squads. Now you have an idea what life is like every day in some parts of Iraq. You thought there were problems with election fraud in Florida? In Iraq, there were officially no votes cast against Saddam Hussein in the last election. Not even a single error. I guess they don't use punch cards.

To wrench power from a dictator's hands, it takes an international effort by forces not under his control. The United Nations charter is not designed to do that job. In reality, it's rules often do the opposite and help keep them in power by focusing on conflicts between nations and not on what happens within their borders. As long as a problem is contained within a sovereign nation state, the United Nations generally does not get involved. The eight hundred thousand killed in Rwanda are just one horrifying example of why this needs to change. Iraq seems like a good place to start. I wish it could have been done by the UN, without a single innocent life lost.

Yet, the UN avoids taking coordinated action against member nations at all cost, while doing little to prevent genocide, slavery, or ethnic cleansing within those nations until it's too late. Think of the UN approach as the state's rights approach to enforcing international human rights laws. All such rules can simply be ignored by UN member nations, without any real consequences. I'm not a state's rights advocate, and doubt if many people protesting this war are either. Maybe they should fine tune their message to avoid missing that point? On the other hand, I can understand why there is so much opposition to anything Bush tries to do. He's not trustworthy. After what happened in the 2000 election, I was skeptical of this war effort, too, but opposing someone's politics does not mean you blindly oppose everything they suggest. I support deposing Saddam, so I can't attack Bush for wanting to do it, simply because I dislike Bush.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't agree with Bush's methods, or how he handled this in the UN. I am still skeptical of his reasons for going to war. Did Rove realize his numbers were sagging because the 9/11 boost was wearing off? Perhaps. Was he afraid we might start focusing on problems here in our own country again? Probably. Was he trying to make Democrats look soft on national security so Republicans would do better in the 2002 elections by bringing it up right before the election? Of course. (It worked, too). Does he really plan to help build a fair democracy in Iraq? I hope he does, but I also hoped he could bring more nations to our side. Why not focus on the selfless cause, ending Saddam's human rights abuses, not just the selfish US cause, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Maybe Bush really only cares about the weapons, or maybe human rights alone could not have gotten the UN to act. Who knows.

I support the war, but still don't like George W. Bush, and I'm not alone.

Posted by Mike at 06:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Who is TOPDOG04?

I'm a 23-year-old computer programmer who lives in New York. No, not New York City. Just look at a map. There's more to New York than Manhattan. I am not black, and do not think I'm Jalen Rose. He's just my favorite player of all time, and one of the most under rated in the game today. Check out his stats, watch him play, then tell me he shouldn't be an NBA All Star. He's also the prototype of a concept I want to describe to those who might not be familiar with it. The Top Dog, and how a Top Dog is different than a Big Dog.

While a Big Dog is obviously big, powerful, feared, respected, and so forth, a Top Dog is a different animal entirely. Top Dogs don't earn the name by size or strength alone. Instead, they earn this title with their skills, intelligence, or leadership. I chose TOPDOG04 in part because my boss called me his 'Top Dog' programmer once and I thought it was funny, but also because I think we need a Top Dog in the White House in 2004, and let me put it this way: Bush ain't it.

What do I hope to achieve by starting this blog?

1-Meet Tamala Edwards from ABCNews.
2-Elect John Edwards (no relation) President in 2004.
3-Gain acceptance for myself and my ideas in the political arena.

Ya heard?

Posted by Mike at 02:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)