Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The racists are quaking in their boots

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.



England has long had a terrible reputation for racism and hooliganism at their soccer grounds. But this black eye is a holdover from the 1970s ad 1980s when they truly deserved it. While English soccer authorities have made great strides in the last 15 years against the expression of hatred and violence at matches, other European countries have refused to tackle this issue. Racism and hooliganism has diminished in England partly due to efforts by the clubs and partly due to the gentrification of the once strongly working class game. But those illnesses still plague the game not only in Eastern Europe, but in other parts of supposedly sophisticated Western Europe.

Though the problem of racism and violence may not be any worse in Italy than in parts of Eastern Europe, it's more problematic since the Italian Serie A is one of the best and most high profile leagues in the world. As such, it draws a lot of black players, from Africa and Brazil.

A recent match between Messina and Inter Milan saw some Inter 'supporters' (henceforth known as morons) make monkey noises and other revolting chants at Messina's Ivorian defender Marc Zoro.

Zoro was so incensed by the lunacy that he tried to walk off the field in protest... though I'm not sure why he thought this would've displeased the morons. He was persuaded to remain on the pitch by a couple of Inter's black players, Obafemi Martins and Adriano. (That Inter itself has several black players was, not surprisingly, of no conesquence to the morons)

"They were very kind" said Zoro afterwards. "Martins and Adriano both said that this kind of thing happens to them a lot too, and not to let it provoke me. But they seemed more concerned with getting the game restarted and avoiding any complications than anything else. I came back on to avoid causing them problems."

I realize that fans will say a lot of things to unnerve opposing players. That's perfectly fine. But there has to be a line of decency that must not be crossed. Chanting monkey noises at black players is on the wrong side of that line.

The Italian soccer federation reacted as it usually does when faced with a serious issue: by burying its head in the sand.

The federation ordered that the next round of league matches be delayed by five minutes so that players could protest the treatment of Zoro.

So the morons will have five extra minutes to sing racist songs and make monkey noises. I'm sure that'll teach a lesson!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Saddam's trial

Putting aside for a moment what one might think of the US aggression against Iraq, the occupation or even the trial of Saddam Hussein itself, the judicial proceedings against the former dictator have more than their fair share of irony. And that's totally aside from the fact that he's being given a public, transparent trial with high profile defense lawyers, such as a former US attorney general.

One irony is that ordinary people who may or may not be al-Qaeda members and who may or may not have done anything bad, they are not afforded due process at all within the lovely confines of Guantanamo Bay (or Eastern Europe or wherever else the CIA might have secret prison camps). Yet, one of the world's most odious dictators is being given a public judicial trial with a chance to defend himself in front of the eyes of the world. Brutal tyrants are treated more fairly than men who may be guilty of nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another irony is that here you have an autocrat widely accused of genocide, using chemical weapons, torture, arbitrary arrests and generally some of the most unimaginable, stomach-turning atrocities. And during his trial, the former Tough Guy was snivelling about not having a pen and of having to walk up stairs because they elevator was broken.

I'm willing to send him a pack of Bics if he quits whining.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

John Murtha and the intricacies of credibility

The blogosphere was abuzz last week following the comments of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha. Murtha is a hawkish Democrat who originally backed the Iraq invasion but recently called for called for the quick withdrawal of US troops (not an 'immediate' one as some critics and even some journalists have wrongly attributed to him).

“We’re the targets,” Murtha said in a speech in the Capitol. “We’re uniting the enemy against us. And there’s terrorism all over the world that there wasn’t before we went into Iraq.

“This is a policy wrapped in an illusion.”


This could be more a reflection with the hawk's disillusionment with the way the occupation has been bungled since the start. Though I suppose such a frustration could only occur if you thought it ever had a chance of succeeding in the first place.

I've never been a fan of Murtha and one incident isn't going to magically change my mind (unlike some hypocrites who attack him with cheap shots like 'Hero to zero').

But some reaction has been telling. Dennis, over at the Moderate Republican blog, offered this comment.

You don't have to agree with an immediate withdrawl from Iraq-I don't. But you have to respect his words because he knows of what he speaks. Murtha is a Marine and knows war. If this guy who isn't a Michael Moore/MoveOn lefty, says that we should consider getting out of Iraq, maybe the Bushies should listen. Anyway, if the Bushies were paying attention, they would see Murtha wasn't saying we should totally cut and run... he was calling for withdrawal at 'the earliest practicable date.'

I want to focus on this one particular phrase:

If this guy who isn't a Michael Moore/MoveOn lefty, says that we should consider getting out of Iraq...

I'll qualify my comments by stating that I am not a big fan of Michael Moore or of MoveOn. I find them both extremely shrill and obnoxious. I think they're fairly good at preaching to the choir but I doubt they've convinced any of the undecided.

That said, I find the whole credibility thing curious.

Rep. Murtha voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq; like many other Democrats, he was complicit in the launching of this aggression. Now, he changes his mind about the wisdom of that excursion. What was so unexpected about what's happened that caused him to change his mind? And more cogently, WHY was it unexpected to him?

How is it that a guy who was complicit in launching the war has more credibility when he says 'withdraw' than a person or a group who opposed the war from day one? How is it that the judgement of a guy who says 'My bad' is revered but a man and a group who were right all along are blithely dismissed as loony 'lefties'? This is a sentiment I've seen quite a bit since Murtha's comments and it baffles me.

I do not criticize Murtha for changing his mind. Sure, maybe if he'd thought as carefully about it before.... well never mind. But I respect him for admitting his mistake, the refusal of which has been the only consistent principle of the Bush administration. At least Murtha's finally seen this debacle for what it is. Better late than never, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not quite so sure. There are no mulligans, no 'take backs' when it comes to war. That's why they should be launched only as an absolute last resort. Not because you think there might possibly be some undefined conceivable danger in 10 or 20 or 50 years time.

I'm glad Murtha changed his mind and realized what a mess he helped get us into. I'll give Murtha a smidge of credit for admitting his error. Just not the nearly as much as everyone else seems to think he deserves.

I suppose I should be happy every time a pro-war person sees the light. But I can't help but thinking that if the pro-war position hadn't had such overwhelming support in 2003, President Bush might not have dared launch the aggression in the first place. I know it's a little arrogant of me; I'm not right all the time so I shouldn't hold it against others. It's just frustrating when some people take so long to see what's seemed blindingly obvious for years. I know it comes across as smug, but I can't help it.

Murtha's ambivalence seems to mirror that of the American public. Right before the invasion, some 70 percent of Americans thought the war was a great idea. Now, only 35 percent polled thought that US troops should be kept in large numbers until a democracy is established (a prospect which only 32 percent were confident of). While most Americans were eager to rush into this unnecessary war on a wave of bravado, machismo and 'patriotism' (ie: the replacement for critical thinking), support has dropped once the realized what was really involved in a war and occupation. As they say, no one wants to know how sausage is made.

The response to Murtha did, however, demonstrate even more conservative hypocrisy. While the right normally advocates the propaganda slogan of 'Support our troops and veterans and their families' as a means to silence dissent, they're eager to make exceptions for those who refuse to cease dissent. The Swift Boat smears against veteran John Kerry (hardly a revoultionary firebrand). The 'media whore' charges against mom of a soldier Cindy Sheehan. This was no different.

Before his comments, the hawkish Murtha was a 'war hero' and a 'decorated veteran,' someone to be admired even though he was a Democrat. He reportedly even used to advise Dick Cheney on military matters. Now, some conservatives attack him with cheap shots like 'Hero to zero.'

A pathetic Congresswoman from Ohio read a letter on the floor of the House calling Murtha a "coward." Even more pathetically, she later claimed that she "[n]ever wished to attack Congressman Murtha."

But no, "disagreement, argument and debate" were welcome, according to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Except from 'lefites,' 'cowards,' 'media whores' and those who have 'dishonored their country.'



Update: In a Nov. 30 interview with the BBC World Service's Newshour program, journalist Seymour Hersch theorizes that the rabidly pro-military Murtha may have been echoing the views of the military hierarchy who feels that their views are being ignored or otherwise not heard by the White House.


2nd update: This piece in Alternet echoes some of my comments.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Culture in Glens Falls

While it may be more fashionable to badmouth the place, Glens Falls does have a wide array of cultural activities for a very small city... especially for an old mill town with not a lot of money. New York City it ain't, but then again Glens Falls is one of the safest cities in the country. Let's not forget that Glens Falls' population is not even 15,000 and, if you ask me, has a higher quality of life than most places.

How many cities the size of Glens Falls have a fantastic fine arts museum (The Hyde), a great new theatre, a professional symphony orchestra AND a theatre company that puts out high quality performances? And that's not even counting the historical museum or the children's museum.

However, clearly the most important cultural institution in the Glens Falls or the immediate area is the Crandall Public Library. Voters recently approved a bond issue to expand the cramped library building.

Back in the early 90s, Glens Falls and the neighboring towns of Queensbury and Moreau agreed to create a special library taxation district. That alone is quite astonishing. While taxes are popular nowhere, this part of upstate New York is more anti-tax than most. I still see bumper stickers that read "Queensbury: Taxtown USA." And Queensbury eliminated its town tax a few years ago.

Yet every year (except one) since the taxation district has been in existence, the library budget has been approved by a majority of voters in each of the three municipalities.

An earlier bond issue for expansion failed because it was seen as too "extravagent" (though I certainly didn't come to that conclusion) and the library leadership did a poor job selling it. So they developed a more modest expansion project and engaged in widespread public consultation. This one passed, with almost 60% in Glens Falls and Queensbury (a bit closer in Moreau).

That the famously anti-tax residents of this area would voluntarily increase their own taxes to support this most important cultural institution, instead of relying on 'free money' from Albany or Washington, is a testament to the esteem with which the library is held by the locals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Correction regarding white phosphorus

During the discussion over the US miltiary's use of white phosphorus [WP] in the attack on Fallujah (which I addressed here), many bloggers initially referred to it as a chemical weapon. Some later corrected themselves stating that WP was an incendiary weapon, not a chemical weapon, though such distinctions were irrelevant to the civilian victims of this horror.

In fact, those corrections were unnecessary. White phosphorus IS a chemical weapon, according to the Pentagon.

Since the US military admitted to using WP in Fallujah and the same military considers it a chemical weapon, then one can fairly say that the US military used chemical weapons in Fallujah.

So what horrors were supposed to be brought to an end by 'regime change'?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rule of law applied, no sign of Armageddon

For several years since the beginning of the war on civil liberties, some have argued that suspected terrorists can not be tried via the normal judicial system. For some reason, they were convinced that if those detained for suspected involvement in terrorism had to face a judge and jury and was accorded the same due process as any other criminal suspected, Armageddon would thrash us with more fury than a Dick Cheney condemnation.

The government has FINALLY indicted suspected dirty bomber Jose Padilla. Padilla had spent three years as a kidnapee while being imprisoned without charge.

The strange thing is this. The government finally decided to get around to granting Padilla due process and applying the rule of law. Granted, it took the government three years before they granted Padilla the 'right' to defend himself and answer the serious charges against him but contrary to the predictions of the anti-freedom right, the sky has not fallen just because we decided to treat a suspected terrorist in a constitutional manner.


Update: What's even more interesting and curious is this passage from the article:

absent from the indictment were the sensational allegations made earlier by top Justice Department officials: that Padilla sought to blow up U.S. hotels and apartment buildings and planned an attack on America with a radiological "dirty bomb."

Doesn't reflect well on the Justice Department's credibility, does it?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Iraq genocide trial opens

You have to wonder how Secretary of War Rumsfeld and other former Reagan administration officials would react to this piece of news from Radio Netherlands.


Dutchman on trial for Iraq genocide

The trial has opened in The Hague of a Dutch businessman accused of complicity in war crimes and genocide in Iraq and Iran. In 1980s Frans van Anraat allegedly supplied Saddam Hussein with chemicals which were used to manufacture the chemical weapons used by Iraq in the war against Iran and against the Kurds in northern Iraq. A poison gas attack in Halabja killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds.

Mr Van Anraat's defence lawyers claim he had no idea what the chemicals would be used for. However, several witnesses have stated that he knew exactly what the Iraqi regime would do with the chemicals.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Burning questions about Fallujah

Here's one story that didn't make much news in the mainstream media: the US military used the incendiary weapon white phosphorus during the 2004 assault on city of Fallujah, in Iraq, to allegedly horrific consequences.

First, a US official insisted that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons."

Then, the military denied that white phosphorus was used against civilians but defended use of the munition against insurgents.

It's a bit like saying that the US did not intentionally target civilians with the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or it's like insurgents in Iraq saying that it's okay to bomb hotels because even though there will a lot of 'secondary' carnage of innocent civilians, it's not their primary target. Such crude weapons do not distinguish between civilians and insurgents, unless a scientist or military official wishes to contradict me.

The use of white phosphorus against civilians or against military opponents within concentrations of civilians was banned by a international treaty, though the US did not sign the protocol that specifically dealt with white phosophorus and other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus is normally used as a smokescreen to hide troop movements. However, the heat from the weapons can burn a person to the bone.

It is a highly flammable incendiary material which ignites when exposed to oxygen, and will burn human skin until all the oxygen is used up. A doctor from Fallujah described victims in the US siege "who had their skin melted".

Iraq's acting human rights minister has said that a team from the sovereign government would be dispatched to Fallujah to investigate whether civilians were killed, maimed or injured by white phosphorus.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

And you thought 'Under God' was controversial

Genocide is a very powerful word, especially for one that has only been in the English language for about 60 years.

Mentioning a genocide can get you sued.

Denying one can get you arrested.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Snippets

-Children reared in a foreign country tend to be high achievers.

According to a piece in The Australian: In the 1990s, [Michigan St. Professor Ruth Hill] Useem conducted a survey of adult TCKs [kids who've lived in countries other than their own] that revealed that children reared abroad were different from their peers. Even those who had spent just a year overseas as a child were four times more likely to have earned a bachelor's degree than those who spent all their time at home. They were more likely to study foreign languages or international affairs and to seek jobs in fields that involve travelling, such as diplomacy, banking, trade and teaching. More than one-quarter had studied aboard and one-third established their own businesses.







-Canadians can distinguish between disliking President Bush and disliking America. Let's hope that intellectual honesty filters south of the border.

According to a piece in The National Post: Bush disliked by 73% in Canada. But 68% like Americans.







-The former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was accused by the organization's inspector general of meddling in PBS programming and of othersie violating CPB's own internal rules on overt politicking.

Shock of the year!

He resigned under pressure. What lessons were learned from the Tomlinson disgrace? None, apparently. He was succeeded by a former head of the Republican National Committee, an organization whose sole job is overt politicking.








-Think you can have guns AND butter?

Think again.

Demonstrating again that the costs of the Iraq war is not measured solely in thousands of American and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Iraqi lives, the House passed a bill cutting funding for Medicaid, student loans and food stamps. They tried to sneak in a provision to open up drilling in ANWAR in Alaska, but had to retreat when all the other provisions stirred up controversy.










-American foreign policy talk of freedom is only half right....

Americans must deal with justice as well, if they want to have any hope of convincing moderate Muslims to reject extremist interpretations of their religion. So argues George Perkovich in an excellent piece in Foreign Affairs..

President Bush is only half right to trumpet the spread of freedom as the main objective of U.S. foreign policy; the pursuit of justice is just as important. Broadening the focus would not only befit the United States' political tradition, but also help neutralize opposition from radical Islamists and critics of globalization. With its ringing invocation of "the force of freedom," President George W. Bush's second inaugural address exemplified and updated the long-standing American belief that liberty is an intrinsic human good and that its promotion will enhance the nation's security and prosperity. Critics who scoffed at Bush's attempt to put ethics at the heart of U.S. foreign policy were misguided, because such considerations have been a crucial part of policy debates since the country's founding. What they should have criticized instead was Bush's narrow focus on one particular principle, political freedom, in isolation from other components of the American creed. After all, the Pledge of Allegiance promises not only liberty, but justice as well. Unfortunately, the elision of the notion of justice from the president's speech matches its elision from his foreign policy, with the result that in recent years, U.S. diplomacy -- public and private -- has been limping along on one leg and stumbling.

It's a foregone conclusion that the president will ignore Perkovich's excellent advice but hopefully Bush's successor won't.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Adventures in customer (dis)service

I support the Major League Soccer club New England Revolution. For years, the Revs were infamous for being the worst club in the league as far as providing replica jerseys for sale to their fans. Only a handful were available in the stadium's pro shop, even though the pro shop sold NFL Patriots replica jerseys for the backuip punter and the third string waterboy. When I went to the stadium in 2004, they didn't even have replicas available in adult size. For years, they were the only team in the league for whom you couldn't buy a jersey online. This was probably related to the fact that the Revs seemed to have a different company providing its jerseys every year. And to the fact that they are a soccer afterthought grafted uncomfortably on to an NFL football organization. This is why MLS continues to lose money: you have fans like myself who are begging to give them $80 of my hard earned cash and they refuse to make that possible.

Before this season, the league signed a deal with Adidas, who would become the sole provider for jerseys for all of the league's teams. I was happy because I thought that hell would freeze over and I might be able to buy a Revs' jersey.

Silly me.

For much of the season, only the blue home jersey was available and only up to size XL (I require one larger).

Finally during the summer, the away white jersey became available and you could buy one in XXL.

And there was much rejoicing.

[Yay!]

I should've known better. Here's the sequence of events that followed.

Sept 3: I place an order on the MLS merchandise website MLSGear.com for a plain white XXL Revolution jersey. Cost: $80.

Sept 18: I notice the order hasn't arrived so I checked the My Account feature on MLSGear.com. It says my order hasn't shipped because it is 'awaiting customization.' I am baffled by this because I didn't order any customization, just a plain white jersey. I try calling the 800 number but am put on hold ad infinitum. So I dash off an email to MLSGear.com explaining the situation and asking what's up.

Oct 3: Exactly one month after I placed the order, nothing. Two weeks after my initial inquiry, nothing. So I dash off another email to MLSGear.com, this time more annoyed. I also send one to the MLS league office instructing them to tell the MLSGear people to either send me the dang shirt or cancel the bloody order. I am annoyed by this because though my debit card has not been billed, there is still a potential $80 debit hanging over my account. I have to make sure there is at least $81 in my account in case they decide to finally send me the shirt.

Nov 18: I FINALLY get a response, if you can call it that, to my Oct 3 email (from MLS league office, not MLSGear). It doesn't explain what the problem was. It doesn't promise to send me my shirt or to cancel my order. It reads:

Brain:

They didn't even spell my name right.

Thank you for your note and interest in MLS. We are sorry you were disappointed with your experience at MLSgear.com. Constructive criticism from fans such as you helps ensure that we continue to improve our overall product...

Six weeks for a response from MLS league regarding the ten weeks of non-response from MLSGear... and after all that, it was a non-response!

My constructive criticism: if someone orders a product, SEND THE DARN THING!

Does that qualify me for a masters in business administration?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

MLS math: #9 = #1

A grudging congratulations to Los Angeles Galaxy for winning MLS Cup 2005. On Sunday, they beat New England Revolution 1-0 in extra time to win their 2nd Major League Soccer championship. LA's other championship was also a 1-0 extra time win over New England back in 2002. New England's only other major final, in the 2001 US Open Cup (our answer to England's FA Cup), was also a one-goal extra time defeat to Los Angeles. All three of the Galaxy's trophies have come at the expense of the Revolution. It was another disappointing end for Revs fans, despite what was by far the best season in team history.

[For those more familiar with European soccer, MLS' title is decided by three rounds of playoffs following a 32 match (this year) regular season]

The championship-winning goal was scored by Pando Ramirez, who set an MLS record for offensive futility during the regular season: he took 61 shots from the run of play and he scored on 0 of them (he did score on a penalty that hit the post but rebounded in off the goalkeeper's back).

Seemingly every time he opens his mouth, US national team boss Bruce Arena gives headaches to the bureaucrats who run US Soccer. But it's precisely this direct, no-holds-barred style that endears Arena to most fans, or at least earns their respect: he often says what millions of fans think but no one inside the US soccer establishment is willing to say.

Last year, he caused a stir by saying that MLS regular season games aren't meaningful enough. Eventually, the powers that be chastised him for stirring the pot and he half-apologized. I'm glad he didn't fully apologize because he was absolutely right.

MLS plays 32 games only to eliminate the four teams out of 12. And it's not even necessarily the worst four teams. Four teams in each conference (eastern and western) make the playoffs, regardless of the overall league standings. If the eight playoff teams had been determined on a league-wide basis, Los Angeles wouldn't even have made the playoffs in the first place: they finished 9th (tied for 8th with Kansas City, but with a worse goal difference).

So this is the ultimate proof that the MLS regular season is virtually meaningless; some even argue that it's detrimental to the good teams (of the top five regular season teams, four were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs).

The 9th best team in a 12 team league is crowned "champion" and will represent American soccer in the continent-wide CONCACAF Champions Cup. That the higher seeded team has absolutely no home field advantage in the first round is another flaw MLS should fix.

I complain about LA's undeserved championship not out of sour grapes. En route to winning MLS Cup, they defeated the two best teams in the league, San Jose Earthquakes and New England, and won away to Colorado (one of the league's best teams at home). Furthermore, New England, my team, has been a beneficiary of MLS' lax playoff rules in the past. They came within a golden (sudden death) goal of being "champion" in 2002 despite losing more regular season games than they won. They came within another golden goal of playing for the championship last year, despite being tied for having the worst regular season record. Had they won either championship, I would've gladly accepted it. I don't blame LA; they won the championship under the system that was there. But it doesn't make it the right way to decide a champion.

Fixing this problem is long overdue for the league. MLS is trying desperately for credibility, both internationally and in the domestic sporting scene. When the 9th best team out of 12 wins the championship, it can't help the league's reputation. I'm realistic enough to know that MLS won't go to a European-style setup with no playoffs or to a pre-1969 baseball system where the two conference champions play each other in the final (even though either option would be sportingly fair). But the league should limit the playoffs to four teams to ensure that the title is not won by a team that accomplished little during the regular season and to ensure that regular season games are contested vigorously.

On a related note, I was interested to read that New England's owner Bob Kraft has expressed interest in investing in the English club and European champions Liverpool. (Ironically, New England's manager Steve Nicol was a long-time Liverpool player). Many New England fans would encourage Mr. Kraft to build a soccer-specific stadium for the Revolution so that they don't have to play in Gillette Stadium. Such a stadium doesn't have to be huge, maybe 20-25 thousand; but anything would be an improvement on Gillette, which is cavernous for MLS size crowds, atmosphere-free and has a very poor playing surface because use by the NFL New England Patriots. The Revs have long been treated as a burdenous appendage to a football machine, barely an afterthought (which explains the bizarre concurrence of decreasing attendance at Revs' games in recent years just as their fortunes on the field have started to rise). But one can dream, eh?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A plan for withdrawal? How about a plan for anything!

On Tuesday, the US Senate defeated a resolution that would've demanded a timetable for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. They did, however, require that the president provide regular reports on the situation in Iraq; this demand to be kept in the loop is a shocking departure for a Congress that had long resisted this Constitutional duty and it will certainly infuriate a White House that loathes accountability.

I've never called for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, much to the ire of people who normally agree with me on most things. Setting a timetable would allow the bad guys* a chance to 'run out the clock' as you might say.

[*-'Bad guys' being defined as those who massacre or otherwise target Iraqi civilians engaged in such highly political, collaborationist practices as, gasp!, holding a wedding party. Atrocities which should undermine legitimacy for their causes in the eyes of anyone who cares one iota about human rights]

While a timetable for withdrawal at this point** would be militarily foolish and a betrayal of the country that Americans voluntarily decided to ruin, that doesn't mean the public should be deprived of specifics altogether.

[**-I would, however, have no problem with a future withdrawal if either a) Iraq were capable of running its own country, b) the Iraqi government asked us to leave or c) US/UK forces were replaced by a UN peacekeeping/nation-building mission, since they have competence and experience in those things... or an Arab League one, since maybe the Arab countries could be told to put up or shut up]

The president and his apologists insist, "We must stay the course." They insist that 'premature withdrawal' would be disastrous.

If the administration wants to shore up flagging public support for the war and plummeting trust in President Bush's ethics and judgement, then they need to get specific. What is this course we must stay? At what point will withdrawal be timely, rather than premature?

Even the most diehard war supporters claim (perhaps with a wink and a nod) that they don't want US troops in Iraq forever, that Iraq will not be an American colony. If setting a specific date for American withdrawal would be wrong, what about specific EVENTS that would trigger or lead toward American withdrawal? What are the EVENTS that must occur for the exit strategy (if one exists) to be implemented?

Some argue that the presence of American troops is doing more harm than good. Even aside from Abu Ghraib and allegations of chemical weapons use, the American military is creating a culture of dependency that is slowing down the quest of Iraqis for self-sufficiency. Some argue that we are doing more harm than good because American troops remain a target of the insurgency and the American presence is a powerful recruiting tool both for insurgents in Iraq and terrorists outside it. That we have no long-term plan, clue or idea about anything furthers the belief in some quarters that we'll be their forever. Is this all paranoid? Perhaps. But US troops remain in Korea 52 years after the fighting stopped on the peninsula.

The 'Bring them home now' movement is getting stronger every day. The only way the administration can defuse this movement is by dropping their hostilty to self-critique and develop a coherent vision for a future Iraq to sell. A vision based in reality, pragmatism and the acknowledgement that a future sovereign Iraq might want to retain control of their natural resources; a vision not based on the self-delusion they relied upon before the invasion. The administration need to explain to people what the ultimate goals of this mission are, especially since the original reasons for the aggression have been discredited. And the goals have to be specific, concrete objectives, not some vague, manipulative pap about 'fighting Evil' or 'opposing terror.' People may be more inclined to patience if they know what they're looking for even if they don't know exactly when they're going to find it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'The Iron Lady' to become Madame President

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


Kudos to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was the convincing winner in Liberia's presidential runoff election. The 'Iron Lady' was credited with 59.4% of the vote against former soccer star George Weah. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf, 'Ellen' to supporters, thus becomes Africa's first elected female president (though Ruth Perry briefly served as Liberia's appointed interim head of state in the mid-90s).

While Weah's supporters originally took to the streets and their champion cried fraud, things appear to have settled down. Weah called on supporters to abandon protests and his concession is reported to be imminent.

Owukori over at Black Looks blog opines that George Weah never had a chance. I profess to being surprised by Ellen's victory and shocked by the margin of her win.

Weah is a high school dropout whose main claim to fame is as a soccer star and UN goodwill ambassador. He also achieved appreciation from Liberians for personally funding the country's national soccer team for several years. Ellen, for her part, has served as Liberia's finance minister and held positions with the UN, World Bank and Citicorp. She has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard.

There is no question who was the more qualified candidate, but as everyone knows, such candidates don't always win. Weah had strong support from young men, traditionally soccer fans. He was also endorsed by all the losers in the first round runoff, including former warlords Alhadji Kromah and Sekou Conneh (something which may have done more harm than good in the end). And frankly, she did have to overcome the perception that women don't belong in the presidency.

On the other hand, she probably appealed to those who figured: men have completely messed up Liberia for the last 150+ years, particularly the last quarter century, so why not give a woman the chance? She also stood up to former dictators Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, so there can be little question about her courage.

She has a very difficult task, rebuilding a completely destroyed country where corruption is rampant and the rule of law weak. The last three heads of state (save the appointed Perry) have left office involuntarily. But I can't think of a single Liberian more qualified for the job.

I also congratulate Liberians for looking beyond flashiness and celebrity and self-interested endorsements and choosing the most qualified person to lead their country.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Remembrance Day

This weekend, I went up with a friend of mine to Montreal to see a hockey game. Friday was Remembrance Day in Canada, just as it was Veterans Day here in the USA. Earlier in the day, I’d heard President Bush exploit the supposedly sacred Veterans Day ceremony to launch an angry attack against opponents of the Iraq aggression. The pot-calling-the-kettle-black nature of Bush’s vitriol ("it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began") is too breathtakingly Orwellian to lend itself to rational analysis.

Incidentally, many well-intentioned people think I'm nuts for saying that "Support our troops" has been made equivalent to "Support the war." They swear up and down that the two are completely separate. Yet even the president himself takes every opportunity to fusion the two.

Even if you forget about this shameless attempt by an increasingly mistrusted president to co-opt a supposedly sacred day to selflishlessly shore up his sagging poll numbers, the difference in tone of Remembrance Day ceremonies was striking.

Even when the honor of US Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies are respected, what is usually said at those ceremonies is something like this: “We honor these veterans/deceased who risked/gave their lives for our freedom.”

Though no soldier has died in a war for our freedom in the last 60 years, it’s right and proper to honor those few living veterans who HAVE risked their lives in such important wars.

Yet when I watched Canadian TV in Montreal, I saw that the tone of Remembrance Day ceremonies was a bit different. The ceremonies did honor those who died in Canadian uniform, particularly in World War II. But I was struck by the fact that officials made a point to honor those Canadians who’d died as international peacekeepers, trying to preserve a little peace and sanity around the world. It was then-Canadian foreign minister (later prime minister) Lester Pearson who conceived of the whole concept of international peacekeeping forces, an idea for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So Canadians rightly take pride at this.

[Interestingly, at this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies in my town, I saw a guy in a New Zealand military uniform, with a UN patch on the sleeve. When I asked, he said he’d served in a peacekeeping mission either in Papua New Guinea or East Timor. I don’t recall seeing anyone thanking him for his service.]

I commend Canadians for not only honoring those who defended their own country but who tried to help humanity as a whole.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Maybe the anti-evolution crowd has a point

I wonder how God feels about this joker pretending to be his spokesman.

On the other hand, maybe the anti-evolution crowd has a point. Doesn't some of the stuff coming out of the mouth of Robertson and those like him raise serious questions about humans being a species that is highly evolved and of superior intelligence?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

President Bush honors a real hero

My friend Matt often reminds people that while Martin Luther King Jr is almost universally remembered as a civil rights pioneer, far fewer people are aware of his activism against the Vietnam War. Muhammad Ali is another who has gone from outspoken anti-Vietnam protester to warm and fuzzy grandfatherly type.

Long before he was a generic hero to mainstream America, Muhammed Ali was one of the more hated men in the country. First, he converted to Islam and adopted a Muslim name. But what got raised people's ire is Ali's decision to go to prison rather than fight in Vietnam. Many people considered him a traitor, but Ali remained defiant. "I Ain't Got No Quarrel With The VietCong," he said. "No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger."

I'm not quite how he went from being so reviled to being widely loved (Jane Fonda still arouses much bile to this day), but that's what happened.

He's become such a universally admired figure that he was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Though it is pleasantly surprising to see President Bush lauding a courageous individual rather than rewarding incompetence, the award is a bit odd.

I wonder if the president realizes the irony of honoring a man who preferred to go to jail rather than fight in an immoral war.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Shows how much I know

In ballot propositions yesterday, New York state citizens decided two things:

-that New York state's highest-in-the-nation $46.9 billion debt wasn't high enough

and

-that having the nation's most dysfunctional budget process and 20 late budgets in the last 21 years was an acceptable status quo.

Just goes to show that this blog's endorsements aren't quite as influential as those of The New York Times.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hypocrisy, cowards and journalistic ethics

Today's poll question: Is hypocrisy a prerequisite to work for The Post-Star or a consequence of it?

After presenting the national hypocrite of the week ‘award’ yesterday to the Bush administration, the local version goes to the Glens Falls daily.

Every day, the paper runs a column which takes cheap shots and makes snide observations. Of course, the so-called professionals are too pathetic to actually sign their name to these petty little comments so they hide behind the pseudonym ‘Don Coyote.’ It’s pretty lame to attack people from behind the veil of anonymity (even in this amateur blog, I use my real name), especially when the paper has plenty of space to run signed commentary by reporters, editors and guests. I may not like managing editor Ken Tingley’s burn-the-witches hysteria about teen drinking but at least I can respect the fact that he had the guts to sign his name and defend what he wrote.

Maybe they’re so busy working on tough front page stories like dogs jumping off a bridge in Scotland (Aug. 4) or on hard-hitting investigative pieces on big events like the return of ambulant beer vendors to the local hockey arena (Nov. 6), that they don’t have time to worry about trivialities like journalistic ethics or basic decency.

Yesterday, ‘Don Coyote’ took a cheap shot at former Glens Falls mayoral aspirant Esmond Lyons, who withdrew from the race last week and endorsed Conservative candidate Peter McDevitt.

‘Don Coyote’ sniffed: I’ll bet Bud [Taylor, the Republican candidate] and Roy [Akins, the Democrat] breathed a sigh of relief when Esmond announced his endorsement and it turned out not to be one of them.

This was on the very same editorial page that ran its customary ‘bravo’ to all those who are running as candidates in [today’s] election.

Many people talk about what’s wrong with government and how to improve, the paper wrote, but few are willing to put in the time and effort to actually step up and make things better. The citizens need good public servants. Those who aspire to this job deserve our praise…

Maybe the reason there are so few ‘good public servants’ who ‘put in the time and effort to actually step up’ is because while they’re putting forth a vision and standing behind their ideas, they face ridicule from cowards like ‘Don Coyote’ who are too gutless to stand behind theirs.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Do as the Bush administration says, not as it does (pt. 4912)

From a US State Department press release on clashes in Ethiopia following contested elections in that country.

Senior opposition leaders arrested today [Nov. 2] should be treated humanely and, if charged, assured of a just and timely trial before an impartial court of law.

These people had been in prison for less than a day and the administration was deeply concerned, but there are detainees who've been in Guantanamo Bay for years without trial or charge and the folks in Washington don't seem to be the least bit bothered.

Despite the warning to the Ethiopian government, the Bush administration argues for the right to treat its own detainees inhumanely and for the right to deny them a just and timely trial before an impartial court of law.

Just click your heels and repeat after me, "They hate us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

Generally speaking, people tend to not give hypocrites much credibility, even when what they're saying is sensible. How the Bush administration expects to douse anti-American sentiment with such a yawning chasm between its words and its practices is beyond the reach of any rational person.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Asking the right questions of the right candidates

Mark over at The Moderate Republican blog comments on local elections in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Anyway, the trend I've really noticed in all of the races is how candidates will promise things that they'll persuade another governmental body to do, once they're elected. In other words, a library board candidate might be selling promises of what the city council will do for the library, once this person is sitting on the library board.

It is interesting how people and the media are so focused on particular issues that they don't distinguish who they ask solutions of.

Take the races here in Glens Falls (NY). One of the big issues locally is what to do about the Civic Center. The sports arena is being subsidized by the city to the tune of nearly a million dollars this year.

Citizens and the media ask candidates for mayor and Common Council what they’ll do about the Civic Center’s fiscal hemmoraghing. This is fair enough since the arena is owned and operated by the city.

Most candidates propose regionalizing the Center’s operations, sharing ownership (and thus costs) with the neighboring towns and the three local counties, all of whom derive economic spillover benefits from events at the arena.

But people ask questions about the Civic Center of city candidates to the COUNTY board of supervisors. This doesn’t make sense since the Warren County doesn’t, at this point, have any say over the venue.

So for a candidate to the county board to talk about regionalization is a vacuous promise, since the initiative must come from the city government.

What a candidate to the county legislature should be asked is HOW he or she would convince the rest of the board that regionalization would be a good idea.

What incentive will officials from the rest of the county have in taking on part of this nearly $1 million (this year alone) drain? The county and neighboring towns already receive whatever economic windfall the Center generates (sale taxes, spillover entertainment dollars, etc), so why would they choose to accept the large subsidy burden while gaining no additional economic benefit from their involvement with the building?

This is the sort of question county candidates from the city should be asked. But they are given a free pass whenever they propose the Mom and Apple Pie ‘regionalization’ utopia. Sure, we in the city would love for others to magnanimously help us heal our self-inflicted wounds, but it doesn't work that way. Governmental entities work under the principle of englightened self-interest and thus proposing Civic Center regionalization need to understand this if they are to have any hope of selling the idea to our would-be Saviors.

The devil is in the details and no one seems to have much of the latter.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The administration's Crusade against American values

In the midst of all the scandals and other problems plaguing the White House last week, Vice-President Cheney found time to renew his call for the legalization of torture. Even the hawkish Washington Post denounced the idea of giving public approval to this gross violation of human rights.

In addition to being un-American, torture is not even particularly useful in practical terms. When a suspect is being tortured, he will say what he thinks his torturers want to hear, whether it's the truth or not. Torture gets you a lot of information, not necessarily information that is useful, or even practical. One of the most potent denunciations of torture in recent times was made by the former French Gen.Jacques Massu. Torture was widely practice by the French army during the Algerian War, of which Gen. Massu was a prominent figure. French conservatives justified torture against Algerian suspects in much the same way some American conservatives defend it today. "They're the enemy. They deserve it, even though we only THINK they're guilty. What harm can come of it?"

Except Gen. Massu concluded that torture was counterproductive to the French effort on so many levels. It debased French soldiers on the ground, turning them into sadistic monsters no better than the enemy they were fighting. It undermined French public opinion by making Frenchmen question what the purpose of the war was if torture was going to be its result. It destroyed any hope of the French army getting cooperation from indigenous Algerians, which eventually proved fatal to the French military effort. (In colonial excursions, torture and human rights abuses always undermined to any effort to 'win hearts and minds'). It harded the attitudes of enraged locals who had a lot more motivation for a long, bloody war of attrition since they defending their homeland, a sentiment French soldiers generally didn't share. And Massu noted that much of the information extracted under torture was wrong, something which cost French lives. Massu concluded that the French would've been more likely to win the war (and let's not forget they lost it) if they hadn't used torture.

As for Cheney's call, The Washington Post notes that the US state department issues an annual report criticizing countries who practice torture and engage in other human rights abuses. That the vice-president seeks to legalize a practice so often decried when other regimes practice it is emblematic of this administration's hypocrisy. Is this legalization of torture part of the Crusade for 'freedom and liberty' (said breathless) the administration claims to be leading? Wasn't the horrific abuses of Saddam Hussein's regime an important justification for the aggression against Iraq?

Click your heels and repeat after me, "They hate us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

The paper's editorial noted: The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some dictatorships.

Click your heels and repeat after me, "They hate us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

The paper also reported that the CIA was running a secret prison camp in eastern Europe. Not just any secret prison camp, but a secret prison camp built by an ally of that Evil Empire, the Soviet Union. There are alleged to be other secret prison camps, where kidnapees are held, around the world.

The camps were likely set up to get around pesky restrictions, like US law, US-approved treaties and the Constitution, against inhumane treatment of prisoners. It is believed that over 100 kidnappees have been 'disappeared' (a term usually reserved for old Latin American banana republic dictatorships) into these camps.

The CIA refused to comment on the existence of such prisons.

Click your heels and repeat after me, "They hate us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

And even at the non-secret camps, things aren't so peachy.

LAST MONTH a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay military base excused himself from a conversation with his lawyer and stepped into a cell, where he slashed his arm and hung himself., notes another editorial in The Post.

No, the suicide wasn't because of alleged 'Koran abuse' or the chicken and rice dinners. But because of the torture of holding kidnapees indefinitely, without trial and without any hope of any resolution, without any hope of anything.

(Again, I call them kidnapees because they're not prisoners of war, according to the administration, and because they haven't been charged with a crime and there's no timetable for them to be so charged. The Post notes not a single al Qaeda leader has been prosecuted in the past four years. The Pentagon's system of hearings on the status of Guantanamo detainees, introduced only after a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court, has no way of resolving the long-term status of most detainees. The CIA has no long-term plan for its secret prisoners, whom one agency official described as "a horrible burden.")

The paper adds: This desperate attempted suicide by a detainee held for four years without charge, trial or any clear prospect of release was not isolated. At least 131 Guantanamo inmates began a hunger strike on Aug. 8 to protest their indefinite confinement

Click your heels and repeat after me, "They hate us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

Whether you think the Iraq war was a good idea or not, everyone should agree that torture should never be legalized. Not against convicts. Not against the accused. Not against suspects, which is what the kidnapees are.

The vice-president's and the administration's hostility toward basic standards of human decency is loathsome and detestable. This contempt for civilized behavior antithetical to the values almost all people in this country claim to believe in and should be condemned by all Americans with a conscience.

Friday, November 04, 2005

New address for this blog!

Please note that this blog has a new URL. It's mofyc.blogspot.com. Please change your bookmarks!

Note: Old links to previous entries in this blog may not work. But if you replace the first part of the link (popeyechicken) with mofyc then it should work.

Lyons withdraws from Glens Falls mayoral race, endorses McDevitt

The Post-Star FINALLY did an article on Esmond Lyons.

Unfortunately, it was an article on the progressive candidate's decision to withdraw (or 'abandon,' to use the daily's language) from the Glens Falls mayoral race.

It's too bad that the only way an independent candidate can get noticed in The Post-Star is by quitting.

The remaining candidates in the race are independent Bill Berg, Peter McDevitt (a Republican, but running on the Conservative Party line), Republican nominee Bud Taylor and Democrat Roy Akins.

Lyons endorsed McDevitt and the pair will be campaigning together during the last week of the election. Even while I was supporting Lyons, McDevitt was the only other candidate who made the slightest positive impression on me so I will probably be voting for him.

Berg is running largely as a result of his long-running feud with the Glens Falls Fire Department, his former employer. He speaks about political and judicial corruption in Glens Falls, but without getting specific.

Such vagueness is the great theme of Akins' candidacy. He's a master of broad platitudes and warm fuzzies; perhaps this emphasis on image over substance is a function of his former work in the tourism industry. He assiduously avoids specifics as much as possible. Mark Frost, editor of the weekly Chronicle, endorsed Akins on this basis: Roy stated that he would CUT TAXES, CUT TAXES, CUT TAXES and ELIMINATE the $1 MILLION tax drain to the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Cutting taxes is great, but how does he plan to do it?

Eliminating the almost $1 million tax drain of the Civic Center is great, but how does he plan to do it?

Some may be dazzled by such broad promises but in a local race, a few specifics can go a long way.

There's a fine line between consensus and paralysis; Republican Taylor does not seem to realize this. If someone proposed taking a 5-minute bathroom break at a Common Council meeting, I fear that a Mayor Taylor would insist on a series of committees to explore the feasibility of such a pause.

In addition to being the pick of the Republican establishment, Taylor seems to think he is owed the mayor's job. If you read his literature, it comes across as him trying to convince you that it's "his turn" based on his long record of public service. Taylor has been on the Common Council for eight years and while he's been active in beautification efforts to the city's wonderful Crandall Park, he's made little impression. In eight years, I can remember very few instances of him making his mark, except to sniff about some alleged slight by Mayor Bob Regan (who's leaving office after this year due to term limits).

With 28 years of prominent positions in city government (8 on the Council and 20 on the planning board), shouldn't he have made more of a mark? Shouldn't that long record give us a better idea of what he believes Glens Falls should be? Critics argue that his record suggests his preference for a Glens Falls controlled by big developers -- a Queensbury South, if you will.

McDevitt has caused controversy before. He got into hot water for referring to day laborers as 'marginal human beings,' though he insisted was quoted out of context (he claimed he meant they were marginal in terms of understanding the city's complex infrastructure and thus shouldn't be used on city projects). He does have a habit of shooting from the hip; there's a fine line between being direct and being offensive.

But McDevitt does really offer more details than any of the other remaining candidates (see here).

Taylor once criticized McDevitt for not having a website (he does now). While not having a website certainly isn't the best idea, especially when the main source of local information is running a campaign against you, it hardly disqualifies one from being mayor. This is the sort of ticky tacky stuff and focus on the trivial that's turned me off Taylor.

Though I haven't agreed with everything he's done, I've been a fan of Mayor Regan. He brought a lot of energy and ideas to the job. As a result, you feel a lot more good vibes in Glens Falls than you have in recent years. With Lyons' withdrawal, McDevitt is the only candidate who appears to have the energy, inventiveness and ideas to keep the city moving in the right direction.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Smokescreens big and little

Anti-war folks have been wetting themselves in glee over a maneuver by Senate minority leader Harry Reid. The Democratic chief used a parliamentary tactic to force the Senate into closed session. Reid's gambit was intended to speed up a stalled Senate investigation as to whether pre-Iraq invasion intelligence was misused or manipulated in selling the war to Congress and to the American public.

Bush's allies didn't appreciate Reid's move.

"Since I've been majority leader, I have to say, not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader, have I ever been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution," bemoaned Republican leader Bill Frist, with a melodramatic tone rarely seen outside the teenage girl set.

That the GOP views attempted accountability as a 'slap in the face' is fairly common knowledge.

"For the next year and a half I can't trust Sen. Reid," Frist sniffed, conveniently ignoring the fact that the real question raised by all this is if anyone should trust President Bush.

Many have suggested Reid for canonization because of what he did, but I am not one of them. While what he did is correct, the timing stinks.

In fact, Reid's move only serves as a bitter reminder of how spineless the Democrats have been in the last 3 1/2 years. Perhaps if they'd bothered to question the intelligence BEFORE the war, we might not be in this mess. Instead, a majority of Democratic senators approved the resolution that gave Pres. Bush a blank check to launch the aggression against Iraq. Now, they're calling for investigations to make people forget about their complicity.

I suspect that most of the Democratic senators knew at the time that invading Iraq was a horrible, counterproductive idea, but were cowed into voting for it by the president's then-sky high approval ratings. Now that the White House is weakened by many scandals and public confidence and trust in the administration are very low, Democrats smell blood in the water.

That's not courage, it's cowardice. While I've come to expect nothing more of national Democrats, I won't praise it. Too little, too late.

Maybe they can instead call for investigation into something current, such as why the CIA is allegedly running secret prison camps into eastern Europe to interrogate kidnapees without meddlesome restrictions like US law or the Constitution.

Just click your heels and repeat, "They hate us because us because we're free" until you delude yourself into believing it.

President Bush has steadfastly denounced increasing calls even for setting a timetable for gradual US withdrawal from Iraq. "We must stay until the job is finished," goes the conventional wisdom. The president doesn't like to be seen as caving in to pressure, even if it means refusing to do something blindlingly obvious.

Back in 1996, the Republican Congress passed a so-called welfare reform bill, which was signed into law by President Clinton. The law limited the amount of time welfare recipients could remain on the dole. Supporters (and it was a pet cause of conservatives who never liked the concept of welfare but saw this change as the next best thing to eliminating it) argued that without the pressure of a time limit, recipients would have no incentive to get a job or improve their skills. The bill didn't eliminate welfare altogether and it didn't say that people should be kicked of the rolls immediately; it said that if you are going to be subsidized by the money of American taxpayers, it ought to be for the purpose of helping you on the (not endless) road toward self-sufficiency. The time limit was pushed as a way to add a sense of urgency to those efforts toward self-sufficiency.

Fair enough. But can anyone explain why that same rationale does not apply to the American occupation of Iraq.

Without this sense of urgency, US troops will be in Iraq for decades. Chicken Little rantings, you say. Ask yourself how long American soldiers have been in South Korea. Are South Koreans not self-sufficient in terms of national defense more than half a century after the end of the war? They haven't needed to be because they knew the US would never leave.

Cynics have argued that decades of US military presence in the oil-rich country is precisely what some parts of the establishment want, but clearly most of the American people do not.

I don't advocate immediate withdrawal and I never have. I believe we made a mess and broke a previously stable (if autocratic) country. Therefore, we need to stay either until we clean up the mess we made or arrange for someone else to clean it up. If that means getting on our hands and knees and grovelling to the UN, who actually has both experience and competence in nation-building, then so be it. I can't and won't support an open-ended commitment of US troops and tax dollars in that country. Writing blank checks is an invitation for disaster; that's what got us into this mess in the first place.

Though I don't advocate immediate withdrawal, I would like to have confidence that our leadership had a clue about what it was doing, where it was going and how it intended to get there. President Bush's defiant callings of 'Stay the course' might be a little bit more compelling if Americans had faith that the commander-in-chief actually had some idea of what that course is; for years, the president has been under the delusion that macho, sneering rhetoric is an adequate substitute for a real plan. 'Getting specific will only aid the terrorists' and demagoguery like that don't cut it any more now than it did before.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Michael Parkhurst

Kudos to New England central defender Michael Parkhurst, who was named Major League Soccer's rookie of the year for 2005. He becomes the second straight Revs' player to win the award, following midfielder Clint Dempsey.

Parkhurst was only the second rookie in MLS history to play every minute of every game. He anchored a three-men backline that looked like New England's achilles heel at the beginning of the year. Yet the Revs conceded the second fewest goals in the league during the regular season, thanks in no small part to Parkhurst's calm and poise which belie his 21 years.

Parkhurst was only shown two yellow cards, and one was for a handball. More astonishingly, he committed only six fouls all season, an almost inconceivable stat considering the amount of time he played, the key position he manned and the attacking nature of the team.

The Wake Forest graduate led New England to their best ever regular season. They host Chicago on Sunday afternoon for a chance to go to their second MLS Cup championship final.

Go Revs!

Wanted: a good editor

While the Albany Eye blog likes taking shots at the poor quality of writing on CBS6 News' website, Capital News 9 could just as badly use an editor.

Take this story on the Time Warner-affiliated news site.

The title: Wood Theater celebrates 70th birthday.

As a Glens Falls resident, this caught my eye... since the theater opened in June 2004.

The shabbily written text of the article reads: It's one of the oldest community theater groups in the country and they're celebrating their 70th birthday this week with a compilation of musical performances from shows including the Wizard of Oz, Guys and Dolls, and Music Man. People are already lining up at the Charles R. Wood Theater box office to get their tickets. The big anniversary celebration is on Thursday and the show runs through Sunday.

The end.

Someone not familiar with the Glens Falls cultural scene might think that the Wood Theater refers to that community group, not to the building that houses that group.

Incidentally, the mysterious organization is the Glens Falls Community Theater.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Liberia holds (hopefully) landmark elections

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

The Globalist praises the Liberian general elections which were held recently. Despite difficult conditions and little democratic history (these being probably the first truly free and open multiparty elections in the country's history), some 75% of registered voters in the West African country cast a ballot. Voters conducted themselves well, despite long lines and bad weather.

The two leading presidential candidates, who will face each other in a Nov. 8 runoff, are former soccer star George Weah and former UN official and veteran opposition leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who hopes to become Africa's first popularly female elected head of state.

Johnson-Sirleaf is clearly the most qualified candidate and Weah the candidate most able to unify the once-divided country. So hopefully, Liberia will win either way.

The up-side is that none of the many former warlords who were running in the presidential election will make it to the runoff. Not only will they thus not win, but since they were so soundly trounced, one can hope that they will accept the result of the election and recognize the legitimacy of the next administration.

The Globalist also pointed out the important role played by UNAMIL, the UN mission in Liberia.

Moreover, most agree that UNMIL was crucial to the elections' success in providing an enabling environment and guaranteeing security through its 15,000 peacekeepers, currently the largest UN peace-keeping contingent in the world, it noted.

In addition, the UN provided critical expertise as well as logistical and financial support. A total of $18 million of UN funding went towards organizing the elections.

After 15 years of nearly non-stop and extremely savage war (with a brief interruption for a now-defunct dictatorship) and huge populations of citizens having fled the country, Liberians are ready for their state to become a normal country again. Let's hope these elections are a first step.