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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

September 17, 2007

 

Asking the White House

Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA chief, hosted my favorite White House interactive, "Ask the White House" on September 7. Of course, it's only interactive if you happen to ask a question which they want to answer. In any event, it's a good place to see just how the Bush administration is going to treat any given issue at a given time.

JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everyone. It's a pleasure to join you once again on this forum to share how the U.S. is working cooperatively with our international partners to address the long-term challenge of global climate change.
MADMAN: Well, at least they're finally admitting that there really is climate change. Now what?

JOHNSON: This week, President Bush traveled to Sydney, Australia, where he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. Meeting with the leaders of 21 member countries, the President had an opportunity to discuss America's commitment to the economic and environmental health of the region.
MADMAN: Just as a reminder, President Bush referred to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (a.k.a. APEC) as OPEC, confusing the gathering of real US allies (and some not-so-allied, who are intent on controlling the world's pollution and getting a handle on global warming and climate change) with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. But who wouldn't get that one wrong, right?

JOHNSON: Working with the countries of APEC to address the interlinked challenges of climate change, energy security and clean development is an important part of the President's strategy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This week's meetings built on the progress we saw earlier this year at the G8 Summit in Germany, and it created momentum for the first Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change, to be hosted by the President here in Washington, D.C.
MADMAN: Of course "working with" is code for taking a photo-op, shaking your head a lot, but getting nothing done.

MICHAEL (from California): Why was APEC started?
JOHNSON: Your question is a good place to begin this discussion.
MADMAN: Nothing like a softball to get the ball rolling, I always say. Part of Johnson's answer will require my our famous "Bush-to-Reality" translation. In other words (as President Bush likes to say)...
JOHNSON: We are working with APEC countries to help them understand that environmental progress should be linked with their growing economic influence.
MADMAN: In other words... The Bushies are going to apply pressure, cajole, and connive their way into forcing our "partners" into doing what we want. and in the Bush administration's case, what "we" want is to make sure that Big Oil has no restrictions; third world nations have no control over their own natural resources; and Bush's "base" of "haves and have mores" get to keep the control, influence and obtain the "even-more" which they so richly feel they deserve. After all, to the victors go the spoils.
JOHNSON: This is the first time the issue of global climate change has been on their agenda.
MADMAN: After seven years in office and ally upon ally begging the US, through the Bush administration, to take the lead on Climate Change and Global Warming, they're finally just acknowledging the issue. That's the definition of Bush progress.
JOHNSON: through EPA’s Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, we are developing and deploying new technologies and voluntary approaches to help our international neighbors responsibly grow their economies.
MADMAN: Ah - there's that word "voluntary". Let's face facts. "voluntary doesn't work. We have seen "voluntary" in Bush policies such as The Clean Air and Fresh Water Acts. If "voluntary" is all they have to offer, truly, nothing will get done. But they know that already.

JOYCE (from Singapore): Good afternoon Will the U.S. government reconsidering ratifying the Kyoto Protocol? And also, I'm a Geography teacher and I'm currently teaching the topic on "Global Warming and Ozone Depletion". What message would you like to convey to them?
JOHNSON: With the Kyoto agreements expiring in 2012, President Bush is bringing together the world's economic leaders later this month... Blah, blah, blah
MADMAN: Here we got the ol' Bushco shuffle. Lots of words and rhetoric. Bottom line, Joyce, the answer is "No".

Herein lies the most outrageous Q & A of them all:
THERESE (from Illinois): Many scientists do not believe that gas emissions, have nothing to do with global warming, and that the warming is a natural phenomenon. Why should the United States submit to more rules and regulations, that continue to destroy our freedom ?
JOHNSON: Earlier this year, scientists from around the world concluded that the global climate change we have seen over the last 50 years is very likely the result of human activity. As a scientist myself, and someone who has worked at EPA for over 27 years, I support this conclusion.
Like you, the Bush Administration believes that U.S. efforts to address climate change should not adversely impact the continued growth of the U.S. economy, and such efforts must also be done in concert with international efforts to effectively address this global issue.
MADMAN: In other words, we know it's happening; we know it's a problem; and we know that we're more than just a contributing factor to global warming and global climate change. But we aren't going to do anything about it.
Next question...

And there were more of the same-type questions from the lackeys the Bushies like to take questions from. But when it comes to saving our planet and our children's futures, the answer is "Business First". As long as the money still flows to Bush's "base" of "haves and have mores", the planet will have to suffer.

-Noah Greenberg



SHELL GAME
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.


George W. Bush was succinct in his speech on September 13th: The war on Iraq is no longer his problem, it’s America’s problem and more importantly, the war has now become the deadly inheritance of whomever is unlucky enough to be elected president in November 2008. Because, as the President stated unequivocally, American troops will be in Iraq “well beyond my presidency.”

The morning-after news spin on the speech seemed not to have heard this part, however, because the entire focus was on Bush’s assertion that some troops would be coming home at Christmas. That these same troops that may be home at Christmas have already been deployed for twice their normal rotation, never made it into the President’s speech or the after-spin. The announcement of a “troop pull out” as the media referred to it, was the lollipop given to the American people increasingly angry and frustrated over the war to assuage the pain of the news that the war will be ongoing indefinitely.

There was more that *wasn’t* said in the President’s speech than was. Back in January, when the troop surge plan was presented, Bush declared he was sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq. But according to the Pentagon, the total number deployed was actually 32,000–11,500 more than he had told America he was sending.

Bringing home and not redeploying a few thousand troops at Christmas looks a little different in context, particularly given the caveats the President proffered. Bush calls bringing some troops home “return on success.” The more successful the troops, said Bush, the more troops can come home. Which seems to put the onus for the war on the troops, since Bush is still talking about victory in Iraq, something no one, not even Gen. David Petraeus, has mentioned.

Does “return on success” mean that all the troops in Iraq for the past four and a half years have been unsuccessful up to this point, since troop levels have remained at the same level throughout the war and not one soldier or Marine has been allowed to come home without someone taking his or her place?

This was another statement by Bush given no consideration by the pundits or the media.

The day after the November 2006 election, when Republicans lost more than 30 seats in Congress due to American voters anger over the war and Democrats gained a narrow majority (one seat in the Senate, 24 in the House) for the first time in 12 years, in a press conference a stunned George Bush said he’d misjudged the American people’s distress over the war. He asserted, “The message yesterday was clear: The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner, and work together to address the challenges facing our nation.”

And then, as he has throughout his presidency, Bush just continued on the same track as if the election never happened, vetoing two bills presented by the Democrats that included a time line for withdrawal from Iraq. Within a few frustrating months, Americans were as dissatisfied with the Democrats as they had been with the Republicans, due mostly to the misperception that the Democrats could augur change without additional votes from the other side of the aisle or support from the President.

By January 2007, President Bush seemed to have forgotten that there had even been an election and had frozen the Democratic leadership out of any discourse on the war. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried bringing her complaints to TV reporters, but the President was intransigent. He had decided on a new strategy for Iraq-- “troop surge”–which was, in reality, the opposite of what the American people voted for in November 2006. Rather than a drawing down of troops, Bush was sending in another 32,000. He called this a new strategy for the war.

It isn’t surprising that Bush had forgotten what Americans had voted for in the election. The President has a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to Iraq.

More than 60 percent of Americans are opposed to the war. More than 70 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war–up 18 percent since January. Nearly every member of the Democratic Congress is opposed to the war and wants a deadline for withdrawal of troops.

Sen. John Warner (R-VA), minority leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a former Marine who served in Korea and former Secretary of the Navy in the Nixon Administration, has called the war “ill-advised” and recently urged both the President and his fellow Republicans to support a time line for American troops to leave Iraq.

President Bush isn’t interested in what millions of Americans, including significant numbers of his own party, think, however. Implied in everything he said in his speech: Dissent over the war is wrong, intolerable and to the President, irrelevant. He’s doing what he wants, which is to stay in Iraq. Indefinitely.

Back in January, Bush promised that there would be a report on the impact of the troop surge in July. That date got pushed back to September.

On September 10th and 11th–dates chosen to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 and therefore once again make the false link between the war on Iraq and the attack on America–Gen. David Petraeus finally gave his report.

At best the report could be described as opportunistic, at worst a bald-faced lie. Petraeus said there was “evidence” that the troop surge was working and used as his litmus the Anbar province. But the majority of the violence has been in Baghdad and in the past three months sectarian violence has not diminished. In fact those three months saw the highest number of civilian casualties in two years.

When grilled by various members of Congress, Petraeus could not actually say when or even whether the Iraq war would end. Rather he suggested an open-ended stay in Iraq.

That Petraeus’ report would say the surge was succeeding was a foregone conclusion. Bush wants the war to continue to “victory” and that’s what he demanded of the report: the intimation of victory. But the facts on the ground simply don’t match what Petraeus reported. Left out of the equation: Petraeus and his cohort do not factor in the number of Iraqis killed in sectarian violence when they discuss improved security. And while it is true that American deaths are down in the past three months, American troop injuries are up. Way up.

I’ve watched other generals do this dance for Bush in the past seven years. The most upsetting perhaps was Gen. Colin Powell, who in his role as former Secretary of State sat before the UN and insisted that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was Bush’s initial rationale for invading Iraq.

Powell lied. Now Petraeus is following in his and so many other generals’ ignominious footsteps.

In his speech, Bush invoked Petraeus. The report that, as the Beatles song goes, “it’s getting better all the time” in Iraq was Bush’s reason for America to “stay the course” in Iraq.

Things are so good, according to the President, that he “hopes” to bring home the a significant portion of the troops that were sent in with the surge by March 2008. Six months from now. But–because there is always a “but” in this kind of speech–any troop withdrawal will be contingent on how well things are going in Iraq when Petraeus gives his *next* report. In March 2008. Because Bush’s new mantra is “return with success.”

In January, the President promised to bring troops home after a report in July. That report was pushed back to September. Now we have the report and things are going so *well* that troop levels must be maintained for another six months, at least. And Americans need to be prepared for a long-term presence in Iraq and the Middle East, according to the President’s speech.

Bush is like one of those guys playing three card Monty in the subway. This is a shell game, pure and simple, and no American should stand for it, least of all those who have family members in the military.

What are we doing in Iraq? If we went in to find WMD and there were none, our job is done. If we went in to depose Saddam Hussein, our job is done.

In the Democratic response to the President’s speech, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a former career military man who attended West Point and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “The President failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it.”

Reed also asserted, “Soldiers take a solemn oath to protect our nation, and we have a solemn responsibility to send them into battle only with clear and achievable missions. The President provided neither.”

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Admiral, has been on the airwaves himself, noting what the Pentagon has already intimated: That our military forces are so overused and overstretched due to Iraq, that there are no troops to actually protect America.

Bush said in his speech that our presence in Iraq protects us from attacks from terrorists like the one that happened on 9/11. But there was never a connection between Iraq and 9/11, except in Bush’s constant repetition of that lie. There were no Iraqis involved in the attacks on 9/11. Saddam Hussein was not a sponsor of terrorists nor of al-Qaeda. The influx of terrorists into Iraq has occurred *since* the U.S. invasion of Iraq and according to reports from the Pentagon and international intelligence agencies, it is the war itself that has been responsible for the increase in global terrorist acts, none of which has happened in the U.S.

Once again, Bush has used the searing images of 9/11 to bolster his claim that the U.S. should be in Iraq.

During the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Hitler’s Chief of Staff, Hermann Goering, noted the following: “Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Goering was explaining how the Third Reich got the German people to go along with the invasion of Poland, then Czechoslovakia, then the rest of Europe and carry out the annihilation of six million Jews and nearly ten million other “undesirables.”

Despite the hyperbole of some anti-war protesters worldwide linking the two, Bush is not Hitler. However, Goering’s words ring true with regard to how the Bush Administration has promoted the war. Bush and his cohort have consistently raised the specter of fear that America will be attacked again like it was on 9/11. But terrorism experts note that in the 230 odd years of American sovereignty, there has been only this one act of terror, while in so many other countries there have been myriad acts of terror.

Repeat a lie often enough and it begins to sound like truth. The lie Bush has been repeating since 2003 is that Iraq and 9/11 are inextricably connected and therefore in order to avenge the deaths of the 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11, we must continue to have American soldiers–now nearly 3,800–killed in Iraq.

Bush has put yet another spin on the war: that we are now winning, even though his own generals can’t support that reasoning and the Iraqi government has failed in 11 of the 13 requirements demanded by Bush in January as a condition of the troop surge.

Bush’s speech was perhaps the most arrogant and unfeeling of his entire presidency. I know that after hearing it, I have never felt so hopeless about our ability to extricate ourselves from this war.

With 49 Senators, the Democrats do not have enough votes for even a simple 60 vote majority, let alone the 67 required to override a presidential veto.

There will be no change before March 2008. All that the majority of Americans opposed to the war can do now is to force the candidates running for president to hear our outrage so that they know our votes depend on their stance on the war.

It will be a long road to November 2008. Made longer still by the arrogance and intransigence of George Bush and the blood on his and our hands.



In response to Pat Thompson's Government by Committee, Jenny Hanniver writes:

You're describing a government by committee, which is called oligarchy.

The High Middle Ages were relatively progressive politically. Almost every educated person can name great Medieval philosophers like the early scientists Avicenna, Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon, superb logicians like Abelard, Maimonides and Ockham, poets like Dante, Petrarch and Chaucer, theologians like Aquinas, Wyclif and Hus--and ALL of these offered constructive ideas on political science. Every one of our modern democratic ideals of economic, social and political justice, including women's suffrage and social leveling, were rediscovered or invented either theoretically or in practice between 1200 and 1400 in advanced nations like England, Flanders and Holland. The "secret" was the development of CHECKS AND BALANCES between constitutional monarchies, barons in Parliament (who were often reformers and who jealously held on to control of royal spending until the 15th century), and the whole broad range of the commons (who were frequent rebels). This is the era where Habeas Corpus, impeachment, representation from the commons, fair pay for women workers, along with well-known concepts like "the community of the realm", "government by the weightier part of the people" , "the truce of God" and "the law of Christ is the law of liberty" come from--and a lot more. Jefferson based many of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence, and some of the language, on Scotland's early 14th century "Declaration of Arbroath." And for poetry you oughta read John Barbour's 14th century paean to Scotland's liberator, THE BRUCE, especially "Ah, freedom is a noble thing!. . ."

Then along came the "Renaissance", which I define as the "rebirth of the Pharaonic Principle". It was an era of great poets, and some like Shakespeare and Cervantes were shrewd analysts of politics, a lot of scientists like Galileo and Leonardo, and a few theologians still worth reading like Erasmus and Luther. But philosophers? There were a few good ones, but only two that people remember: Descartes and, yuck, Machiavelli! This is the era (15th-17th century in England; lasted 1 or 2 centuries longer in most countries) of Divine Right kings in their Versailles palaces, endless assassinations, a huge gap between rich and poor, colonial invasion and rape of the New World, chattel slavery, impoverished and starving peasants, women stripped of the right to vote or hold property, city slums and street beggars, Italian oligarchies ruled under-the-table by one tyrant and practicing unbelievable corruption, enclosures of the common lands--well I could go on. It was not a nice period politically, and we are still paying for that. If the Anabaptist "Radical Reformation" hadn't kept the Middle Ages going (underground), if the English Parliament that led to the Civil War of the mid-1600s hadn't rediscovered the power of the purse by reading Medieval Parliament rolls, we would have had no freedom at all in the Western world.

Study the political history of the Italian Renaissance and you may decide that oligarchy is the WORST of all forms of government. Churchill and others have felt that it is. I'm afraid that the only hope is to restore checks and balances and to redistribute the wealth a lot more equitably. Because that works.

Oligarchy? Even with Kucinich on the committee? No thanks. Because in short order the good people get assassinated.


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-Noah Greenberg