28 February 2005

Suicide bombing

It was just reported that a suicide car bomber blasted a crowd of police and national guard recruits as they gathered for physicals outside a medical clinic south of Baghdad, leaving at least 110 people dead and 133 injured! The recurring violence combines with the sharpening of ethnic faultlines to create a negative outlook for Iraq.

Of course, a lot of people would disagree with my negative view of the situation. In conversations with a conservative businessman shortly after the U.S. attack, I was told that my negative view of Iraq is wrong, for the simple reason that Iraq has so much wealth. The businessman basically claimed that all hell could break lose in Iraq and the foreign investors will stay simply because they know the money's there--in the form of black gold beneath the ground.

I would counter that nations require more than money, that there needs to be some ideological glue, no matter how tenuous, that binds people together. With Saddam, that glue was the Baath Party--aided by oppression of political enemies and a certain amount of plain terror. One can only wonder what will replace it. The American optimism that forsees a secular regime knitting together the various ethnicities strikes me as pollyanic optimism. Not that Bush and his cronies necessarily share this naivate. I suspect that they simply want to replace the old CIA-installed Saddam with another CIA-installed flunkey, every bit as awful as Saddam, who will adhere more closely to the American playbook. Whether the Shrub officials can micro-manage the country to be a bulwark of pro-Americanism in the Middle East waits to be seen. Meanwhile, the recent bombing makes the point, with red exclamation marks, that even the most meticulous planning in pristine rooms in Washington often fails to take into account the realities on the Iraqi street.

Other blogments can be found at: Backcountry Conservative.

24 February 2005

Place buy order for swimsuit stocks

The recent consensus voiced by 99.999999999% of the scientific community seems to be that THINGS ARE WARMING UP here on Earth. While this is good news to sunscreen salesmen, most sane people are concerned about the trend. Of course, those in the Shrub Yellow House are still afraid to do anything lest they piss off their corporate brethren. Evidently, Shrub and Co. have the inside scoop on how Jesus will soon swoop down and rescue the Chosen from their past sins and environmental folly. I only wish these conservatives would show more compassion for us sinners who will be left behind as Jesus flies away with all the Fox News viewers in tow. I recently came across an article by Geoffrey Lean that gets right to the point:

BAD NEWS FOR THE BUSHTHUGS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Warns Leading Climate Expert

The Independent January 23, 2005

Global warning has already hit the danger point that international attempts to curb it are designed to avoid, according to the world's top climate watchdog.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told an international conference attended by 114 governments in Mauritius this month that he personally believes that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and called for immediate and "very deep" cuts in the pollution if humanity is to "survive".

His comments rocked the Bush administration - which immediately tried to slap him down - not least because it put him in his post after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too "aggressive" on the issue.

A memorandum from Exxon to the White House in early 2001 specifically asked it to get the previous chairman, Dr Robert Watson, the chief scientist of the World Bank, "replaced at the request of the US". The Bush administration then lobbied other countries in favour of Dr Pachauri - whom the former vice-president Al Gore called the "let's drag our feet" candidate, and got him elected to replace Dr Watson, a British-born naturalised American, who had repeatedly called for urgent action.

But this month, at a conference of Small Island Developing States on the Indian Ocean island, the new chairman, a former head of India's Tata Energy Research Institute, himself issued what top United Nations officials described as a "very courageous" challenge.

He told delegates: "Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose."

Afterwards he told The Independent on Sunday that widespread dying of coral reefs, and rapid melting of ice in the Arctic, had driven him to the conclusion that the danger point the IPCC had been set up to avoid had already been reached.

Reefs throughout the world are perishing as the seas warm up: as water temperatures rise, they lose their colors and turn a ghostly white. Partly as a result, up to a quarter of the world's corals have been destroyed.

And in November, a multi-year study by 300 scientists concluded that the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and that its ice-cap had shrunk by up to 20 per cent in the past three decades.

The ice is also 40 per cent thinner than it was in the 1970s and is expected to disappear altogether by 2070. And while Dr Pachauri was speaking, parts of the Arctic were having a January "heatwave", with temperatures eight to nine degrees centigrade higher than normal.

He also cited alarming measurements, first reported in The Independent on Sunday, showing that levels of carbon dioxide (the main cause of global warming) have leapt abruptly over the past two years, suggesting that climate change may be accelerating out of control.

He added that, because of inertia built into the Earth's natural systems, the world was now only experiencing the result of pollution emitted in the 1960s, and much greater effects would occur as the increased pollution of later decades worked its way through. He concluded: "We are risking the ability of the human race to survive."

23 February 2005

Waves of Hot Air

The American Street has a good post on how lies are transmogrified into truth via the rightwing hot-air waves.

17 February 2005

Franken-armies

I recently came across Delftsman's post on the glories of R2D2 soldiers. I can't help but feel a bit apprehensive about the steady stream of technological improvements that make war a more abstract and safe activity.



I've often imagined what war must have been like for Stone Age cultures. We always imagine some burly caveman running down the hill confidently whacking to death his foe who is a few inches shorter and suffers from weaker biceps. I think the reality must have been much more grisly. Anyone, even a skinny 100-pound teenager with a bad stomach flu, could probably be a ferocious opponent if fighting for his or her life. I think any serious stone-age battle where life was really on the line would be terrifying. You could be as bad-ass as you want, but with a little slip on some wet moss or a hangover from last-night's magic-mushroom stew, some 50-year-old woman is plunging a sharpened stick through your gut.



The point I'm making here is that war, while being a favorite past-time since Cain and Abel, has traditionally involved at least some danger for the aggressors. The newest weapons are likely to shift the calculus of risk, making war, for the party with the weapons, a very casual affair that costs a few more dollars of taxes.

Of course, those on the right will argue that America, which is by definition always in the right, should have and use any weapons it can get its imperial hands on. And I would certainly agree with this sentiment if I were behind an American flag on a battlefied with bullets whizzing past. Of course, those of us more skeptical of America's manifest destiny have our own qualms in principle regarding America's imperial project. But putting these aside, for the moment, the new robotic weapons should make everyone on both the left and right a bit uneasy about the possibility for abuse. At some point, will robotic armies equipped with an effective combination of conventional, biological, and nuclear weapons empower small elite groups to control entire populations? It all sounds like science-fiction fare now, but one has to wonder at the new possibilities for totalitarian rule. Totalitarian projects have had some great successes but they've always had to struggle to maintain power over the individual. When most of the flesh-and-blood soldiers exit the battlefield, those in power will no longer need to appeal to the hearts and minds of the masses. Everyone loves shiny new weapons to rain down on their enemy. But the new Franken-armies can just as easily be turned around and used against their creators.

You can also check out the L.A. Times article or the NY Times article (copied below). Other blogments on the story can be found at Daily Kos and Mahatmama. The latter makes the point that when we get to the point of having purely robotic armies, the leaders can just play chess to settle disputes. (Hmmm. A world ruled by the three great powers of Russia, Germany, and Iceland).



A New Model Army Soldier Rolls Closer to Battle

by Tim Weiner (February 16, 2005)

The American military is working on a new generation of soldiers, far different from the army it has.

"They don't get hungry," said Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon. "They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."

The robot soldier is coming.

The Pentagon predicts that robots will be a major fighting force in the American military in less than a decade, hunting and killing enemies in combat. Robots are a crucial part of the Army's effort to rebuild itself as a 21st-century fighting force, and a $127 billion project called Future Combat Systems is the biggest military contract in American history.

The military plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in automated armed forces. The costs of that transformation will help drive the Defense Department's budget up almost 20 percent, from a requested $419.3 billion for next year to $502.3 billion in 2010, excluding the costs of war. The annual costs of buying new weapons is scheduled to rise 52 percent, from $78 billion to $118.6 billion.

Military planners say robot soldiers will think, see and react increasingly like humans. In the beginning, they will be remote-controlled, looking and acting like lethal toy trucks. As the technology develops, they may take many shapes. And as their intelligence grows, so will their autonomy.

The robot soldier has been a dream at the Pentagon for 30 years. And some involved in the work say it may take at least 30 more years to realize in full. Well before then, they say, the military will have to answer tough questions if it intends to trust robots with the responsibility of distinguishing friend from foe, combatant from bystander.

Even the strongest advocates of automatons say war will always be a human endeavor, with death and disaster. And supporters like Robert Finkelstein, president of Robotic Technology in Potomac, Md., are telling the Pentagon it could take until 2035 to develop a robot that looks, thinks and fights like a soldier. The Pentagon's "goal is there," he said, "but the path is not totally clear."

Robots in battle, as envisioned by their builders, may look and move like humans or hummingbirds, tractors or tanks, cockroaches or crickets. With the development of nanotechnology - the science of very small structures - they may become swarms of "smart dust." The Pentagon intends for robots to haul munitions, gather intelligence, search buildings or blow them up.

All these are in the works, but not yet in battle. Already, however, several hundred robots are digging up roadside bombs in Iraq, scouring caves in Afghanistan and serving as armed sentries at weapons depots.

By April, an armed version of the bomb-disposal robot will be in Baghdad, capable of firing 1,000 rounds a minute. Though controlled by a soldier with a laptop, the robot will be the first thinking machine of its kind to take up a front-line infantry position, ready to kill enemies.

"The real world is not Hollywood," said Rodney A. Brooks, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at M.I.T. and a co-founder of the iRobot Corporation. "Right now we have the first few robots that are actually useful to the military."

Despite the obstacles, Congress ordered in 2000 that a third of the ground vehicles and a third of deep-strike aircraft in the military must become robotic within a decade. If that mandate is to be met, the United States will spend many billions of dollars on military robots by 2010.

As the first lethal robots head for Iraq, the role of the robot soldier as a killing machine has barely been debated. The history of warfare suggests that every new technological leap - the longbow, the tank, the atomic bomb - outraces the strategy and doctrine to control it.

"The lawyers tell me there are no prohibitions against robots making life-or-death decisions," said Mr. Johnson, who leads robotics efforts at the Joint Forces Command research center in Suffolk, Va. "I have been asked what happens if the robot destroys a school bus rather than a tank parked nearby. We will not entrust a robot with that decision until we are confident they can make it."

Trusting robots with potentially lethal decision-making may require a leap of faith in technology not everyone is ready to make. Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has worried aloud that 21st-century robotics and nanotechnology may become "so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses."

Learning for the Real World

David Pieski, a Florida HS chemistry teacher, was recently arrested for teaching his kids how to make bombs. High school seems to have become much more interesting than it was back in my day. Evidently, Shrub's Leave No Child Behind policy is beginning to have an effect, with more teachers providing lessons that have practical application in the real world.

15 February 2005

MCI Joins the Gang

Verizon has agreed to acquire MCI (MCIP) for more than $6.7 billion. As a broke working-man who lives in the red (both politically and financially), I normally have as much interest in mergers as I have in Barbara Bush's memoirs. However, when I saw Verizon in the news again, touted as a rock-solid company, I began to see red. As loyal Swerve Left readers will remember, my karmic connections with the gangsters at Verizon have left me with some very bitter feelings. First, the bastards charged me about $25 dollars for the little piece of cardboard filler that was missing from the packing of a box when I took back a cell phone (that wasn't working!) Then they refused to cancel my service with them, even after I sent a number of letters and called them repeatedly (and yelled at their computerized answer machine for many hours). And last but not least, they billed me about $40 for some obscure charge (call-waiting after I'd already cancelled my phone?) and sent a collection agency after me when I refused to pay the charge.


I really think we should pass a law that requires all CEOs to stand before the public every two or three years with their back to a cement wall. Those of us who've lost hours of our time (along with handfulls of invaluable hair), should be allowed to step forward first and stone the bastards. We're told that we have some wonderful democratic rights that allow us to sue corporations but I have yet to meet (or even hear about) a single person who has successfully done so on their own without the backing of some large organization. I can't imagine it myself...what am I to do? Give up my job, take out a loan for 20 or 30 grand, go to Florida or wherever the hell the gangsters keep their office, and then spend a week or two on an attorney in court so that I can then get counter-sued for thousands by a team of corporate lawyer-thugs.



My only resort is to call for a general boycott of the idiots:

Swerving Round the Blogosphere

Where We're Bound has a couple thoughtful posts, one titled Humans Losing Our Way and another commenting on how 200 scientists were ordered to lie. Scrutiny Hooligans has a biting commentary on Bush's compassionate conservatism as evinced by a recent encounter with one of the less-heeled. And last but not least, American Amnesia has a good article on extraordinary rendition.

14 February 2005

DU (or duh for short)

A few comments back, Delftsman questioned the dangers of DU armor-piercing shells. I recommend the doubters take a look at the following article (a bit dated now) by Scott Peterson. Visiting various sites (some randomly chosen), investigators found significant radiation from the 75 tons of DU the U.S. used in Iraq. At one site, radiation exceeded 1,300 times that of background levels. The article mentions the fact that "six American vehicles struck with DU friendly fire in 1991 were deemed to be too contaminated to take home, and were buried in Saudi Arabia. Of 16 more brought back to a purpose-built facility in South Carolina, six had to be buried in a low-level radioactive waste dump." It doesn't sound like the sort of things you'd want your children playing around after dinner.



Much is still not known about DU bullets. We can only "have faith" that the U.S. military (which has every reason to lie) has people's best interest in mind. (DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years - the age of the solar system.)

10 February 2005

Bush's innovative plans

The Bush Administration has unfairly taken a lot of flak for its ardent attempts to fix the budget. In a secret Swerve Left interview arranged through confidential sources (if I told you their names, I'd have to torture you), Bush laid out some of his plans to add a few dollars to the national treasury:

Swerve Left: Didn't the administration misunderestimate the extent of the U.S. fiscal crisis when it submitted it's recent budget? After all, the budget completely ignores cost from the war in Iraq while putting forth, uhmmm, highly creative figures predicting future economic trends.

King Bush, who like the Sun benevolently bestows his light of wisdom on all before him (shining even extra-brightly towards the well-heeled and well connected): It's enough that I allow this interview with one of my obscure less-heeled subjects from the internets; you don't have to ask questions too. But out of conservative compassion and as an expression of my folksy at-one-ness with you prolz, I will stoop to answer your queschun.

The administration is putting forth a number of cost-cutting measures. As just one example, in the future the U.S. will no longer be granting a golden parachute to all would-be tyrants on the administration's pay-roll. As the Chalabi debacle shows, we will be asking tyrants-for-hire to demonstrate the same accountability as our skool-teachers: Either put out or get out. Government bureaucrats will expect a steady tally of tortured enemy teenagers and gutted state treasuries. Instead of spending extra millions out of some sense of blind loyalty, the U.S. government will thereby be introducing competition into the tryant market.

Likewise, the administration will begin downsizing. Instead of having a highly-paid presidential spokesman and money tossed at random educational institutions, we will begin to subcontract these jobs with people in the private sector. This makes perfect economic sense: Why pay millions to think-tank yes-men and other semi-governmental institutions in order to sway the media and public opinion when we can simply hire reporters directly. This is capitalist democracy in action. Everyone is free to read what they want as long as it's written and vetted by us.

Down the road, we forsee even more ways to squeeze the chubby body politic. In a rational democracy, there's really no need for people to vote when statistics clearly show that everyone loves their great leader. That's why we've hired Diebold to create a new voting machine that will produce statistically accurate predictions of election turn-out through an analysis of the Fox News audience. This innovation is sure to save millions a day in unnecessary campaign costs, without anyone needing to put their hotdog down or turn off their TV.


--end of transcript--




Those seeking additional illumination should head over to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo or Cut to the Chase.

NK nukes

North Korea has officially declared that it has nuclear weapons. North Korea, perhaps taking a lesson from Iraq, says it needs the weapons as protection against an increasingly hostile United States. It's hard to tell whether the current statements are nothing more than NK's trying to bolster its bargaining position or as a warning against possible U.S. belligerence. If NK has gone nuclear, it seems like Japan would have little reason not to follow suit.

The Barking Dingo has a much more detailed post on this.

Walking Wounded article

In order to provide equal time for some of our conservative brethren from across the political aisle, I've decided to quote in full an article by Fred Reed that appeared in the January 31, 2005 issue of The American Conservative:

Walking Wounded


Old soldiers don’t fade away


The observant will have noticed that we hear little from the troops in Iraq and see almost nothing of the wounded. Why, one might wonder, does not CNN put an enlisted Marine before a camera and, for 15 minutes without editing, let him say what he thinks? Is he not an adult and a citizen? Is he not engaged in important events on our behalf?

Sound political reasons exist. Soldiers are a risk PR-wise, the wounded a liability. No one can tell what they might say, and conspicuous dismemberment is bad for recruiting. An enlisted man in front of a camera is dangerous. He could wreck the governmental spin apparatus in five minutes. It is better to keep soldiers discreetly out of sight.

So we do not see much of the casualties, ours or theirs. Yet they are there, somewhere, with missing legs, blind, becoming accustomed to groping at things in their new darkness, learning to use the wheelchairs that will be theirs for 50 years. Some face worse fates than others. Quadriplegics will be warehoused in VA hospitals where nurses will turn them at intervals, like hamburgers, to prevent bedsores. Friends and relatives will soon forget them. Suicide will be a frequent thought. The less damaged will get around.

For a brief moment perhaps the casualties will believe, then try desperately to keep believing, that they did something brave and worthy and terribly important for that abstraction, country. Some will expect thanks. But there will be no thanks, or few, and those quickly forgotten. It will be worse. People will ask how they lost the leg. In Iraq, they will say, hoping for sympathy, or respect, or understanding. The response, often unvoiced but unmistakable, will be, “What did you do that for?” The wounded will realize that they are not only crippled, but freaks.

The years will go by. Iraq will fade into the mist. Wars always do. A generation will rise for whom it will be just history. The dismembered veterans will find first that almost nobody appreciates what they did, then that few even remember it. If—when, many would say—the United States is driven out of Iraq, the soldiers will look back and realize that the whole affair was a fraud. Wars are just wars. They seem important at the time. At any rate, we are told that they are important.

Yet the wounds will remain. Arms do not grow back. For the paralyzed there will never be girlfriends, dancing, rolling in the grass with children. The blind will adapt as best they can. Those with merely a missing leg will count themselves lucky. They will hobble about, managing to lead semi-normal lives, and people will say, “How well he handles it.” An admirable freak. For others it will be less good. A colostomy bag is a sorry companion on a wedding night.

These men will come to hate. It will not be the Iraqis they hate. This we do not talk about.

It is hard to admit that one has been used. Some of the crippled will forever insist that the war was needed, that they were protecting their sisters from an Islamic invasion, or Vietnamese, or Chinese. Others will keep quiet and drink too much. Still others will read, grow older and wiser—and bitter. They will remember that their vice president, a man named Cheney, said that during his war, the one in Asia, he “had other priorities.” The veterans will remember this when everyone else has long since forgotten Cheney.

I once watched the first meeting between a young Marine from the South, blind, much of his face shot away, and his high-school sweetheart, who had come from Tennessee to Bethesda Naval Hospital to see him.

Hatred comes easily. There are wounds and there are wounds. A friend of mine spent two tours in Asia in that war now little remembered. He killed many people, not all of them soldiers. It is what happens in wars. The memory haunts him. Jack is a hard man from a tough neighborhood, quick with his fists, intelligent but uneducated—not a liberal flower vain over his sensitivity. He lives in Mexican bars few would enter and has no politics beyond an anger toward government. He was not a joyous killer. He remembers what he did, knows now that he was had. It gnaws at him. One is wise to stay away from him when he is drinking.

People say that this war isn’t like Vietnam. They are correct. Washington fights its war in Iraq with no better understanding of Iraq than it had of Vietnam, but with much better understanding of the United States. The Pentagon learned from Asia. This time around it has controlled the press well. Here is the great lesson of Southeast Asia: the press is dangerous, not because it is inaccurate, which it often is, but because it often isn’t. So we don’t much see the caskets —for reasons of privacy, you understand.

The war in Iraq is fought by volunteers, which means people that no one in power cares about. No one in the mysteriously named “elite” gives a damn about some kid from a town in Tennessee that has one gas station and a beer hall with a stuffed buck’s head. Such a kid is a redneck at best, pretty much from another planet, and certainly not someone you would let your daughter date. If conscription came back, and college students with rich parents learned to live in fear of The Envelope, riots would blossom as before. Now Yale can rest easy. Thank God for throwaway people.

The nearly perfect separation between the military and the rest of the country, or at least the influential in the country, is wonderful for the war effort. It prevents concern. How many people with a college degree even know a soldier? Yes, some, and I will get e-mail from them, but they are a minority. How many Americans have been on a military base? Or, to be truly absurd, how many men in combat arms went to, say, Harvard? Ah, but they have other priorities.

In 15 years in Washington, I knew many, many reporters and intellectuals and educated people. Almost none had worn boots. So it is. Those who count do not have to go, and do not know anyone who has gone, and don’t interest themselves. There is a price for this, though not one Washington cares about. Across America, in places where you might not expect it—in Legion halls and VFW posts, among those who carry membership cards from the Disabled American Veterans—there are men who hate. They don’t hate America. They hate those who sent them. Talk to the wounded from Iraq in five years. [End of Article]


9 February 2005

Israel

Since recent talk in the comments has turned to Israel, I recommend that those who lack sympathy for the Palestinian cause read some of the quotes of Israeli leaders on The Front Line blog.

7 February 2005

Them good ol' petra dollars

Evidently, Chalabi's finally headed for the slammer. As we all now know (in spite of much media silence), Chalabi, after founding Bank Petra in the late 1970s, was convicted and sentenced in absentia for bank fraud by a Jordanian military court in 1992. Before his fall from favor, the exiled leader and his organization received millions of U.S. tax dollars. Chalabi was then flown to Iraq on an American aircraft after Saddam was deposed, with rumors that he was going to be Washington's man. Of course, the idea of choosing a felon for America's hand-picked leader may strike a few of as a bit odd. But as they say in the biznuss world, it's all who you are and who you know. If you're an ex-Iraqi on beer-drinking terms with some neocons in the CIA, a past felony or two evidently qualifies you to be a leader of a major oil-producing state. If, on the other hand, you get caught with a large bag of weed at a Grateful Dead concert, you get tossed in the pen and lose your voting rights for the rest of your life.

I found this story via Relative Path.

Bushwhacking the American dream

A Common Dreams article (found via 12th Harmonic) has some interesting stats to reflect on as we ponder the new Bush budget:

  • In the EU, there are 322 physicians per 100,00 people; in the United States, 279.
  • The U.S. ranks 26th among the industrial nations in infant mortality.
  • The U.S. ranks 24th among the industrial nations in terms of economic equality. (All 18 of the most developed European countries have less income inequality between rich and poor.)
  • The U.S. homicide rate is four times higher than the EU's with the rates of childhood homicides, suicides and firearms-related deaths in the United States exceed those of the other 25 wealthiest nations.
  • The United States has only 4% of the world's population but contains one-quarter of the world's entire prison population.
  • The average paid vacation time in Europe is now six weeks a year compared to two weeks in the U.S.

And yet the U.S. continues to dump massive amounts of money in its military, ignoring programs that could reduce crime. Under Bush, the U.S. tax structure has been revised to make the rich-poor gap even wider. The Bush budget includes a 10% increase over FY 2004 for the Department of Homeland Security and $2.6 billion for Department of Justice counterterrorism operations (a 19% increase over FY 2004 levels) while gutting social programs. The new budget would slice a $600 million grant program for local police agencies to $60 million next year and grants to local firefighters to $500 million. The Environmental Protection Agency's $8.1 billion would drop by about 6 percent and the $2.2 billion program that provides low-income people with home-heating aid would be cut to $2 billion.

Other blogments on the Bush can be found at: Daily Kos, Nick Douglas, At Ease, and Talk Left.

4 February 2005

Swerving en masse

I came across another new site called Swerve Left. Who knows? Maybe I've started a movement. Everyone will soon be swerving leftward. I can see it now--whole chains and affiliates of this blog. We'll have T-shirts, expensive marketing, confusing membership plans, inside stock trading--all the marking's of success in MacEmpire.

3 February 2005

The familiar ring of "success, culmination, and legitimacy"

As we reflect fondly on the Iraqi elections, it's good to look back for inspiration at previous pre-emptive precursors. This little gem has been bouncing around the blogosophere.

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote:
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror


by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown by a military junta.

Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

Significance Not Diminished

The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration's view, diminish the significance of the constitutional step that has been taken.

The hope here is that the new government will be able to maneuver with a confidence and legitimacy long lacking in South Vietnamese politics. That hope could have been dashed either by a small turnout, indicating widespread scorn or a lack of interest in constitutional development, or by the Vietcong's disruption of the balloting.

American officials had hoped for an 80 per cent turnout. That was the figure in the election in September for the Constituent Assembly. Seventy-eight per cent of the registered voters went to the polls in elections for local officials last spring.

Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States Presidential election was 62 per cent.

Captured documents and interrogations indicated in the last week a serious concern among Vietcong leaders that a major effort would be required to render the election meaningless. This effort has not succeeded, judging from the reports from Saigon.


As Empire Notes points out, the parallels only go so far:


  • "The NLF was not allowed to compete in those elections. Similarly, there really isn't a group representing the resistance. In the case of South Vietnam, it's likely the NLF would have won a substantial victory in free elections (and had elections been held in Vietnam in 1956, as mandated by the Geneva Accords of 1954, the Vietminh would have won an overwhelming victory). Although the vast majority of Iraqis opposes the occupation, it's not clear how much of the vote a party representing the resistance would win."
  • "Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky, the people who were 'elected,' had already taken power in a coup and were running a military dictatorship fully backed by and collaborating with the U.S. forces in South Vietnam. Ayad Allawi was picked by U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer to be the dictator of Iraq until the elections and all other major politicians who will get any substantial portion of the vote, including those from SCIRI, Dawa, the KDP, and the PUK, were also picked by the United States to serve on the Governing Council and have been supported by and collaborating with U.S. occupying forces ever since."


In spite of the differences, there's much in common--a leadership that distorts the views and realities on the ground and a U.S. population that has jumped on the bandwagon in America's latest campaign of imperial hubris.

2 February 2005

Growing older together

The Washington Post has an interesting article today on the projected increase in federal spending on the elderly. It predicts that by 2015 approximately half (48%) of the federal budget will be spent on programs for the elderly, up from a third of the budget (31%) in 1980. Of course this same demographic problem will be hitting elsewhere. By 2040, over a quarter of China's population will be over sixty (in spite of the efforts of tobacco companies to reverse that trend). These numbers bode ill for the world economy. On the other hand, I wonder if an older world population will be a little wiser and less bellicose. Once the world gets a little older and more mature, maybe we can start beating our swords into plowshares.

1 February 2005

Just Say No . . . to sex?

A new study has shown the absistence education has had no effect on the lust-filled, decadent minds of Texas teens who actually became increasingly sex-crazed after the program. Come on everyone! Can you tell me you're really surprised about any of this? Evidently, no voting age male can remember being a horny teenager walking around with an acute case of zits compounded by boneritus. And the teens are supposed to stop having sex because their parents (gaffaw) order them to (somehow ignoring the sex-crazed culture that otherwise surrounds them the other 23.99999 hours of the day). I've copied the original article below. The last paragraph is particularly telling--the programs that don't mention sex at all do have some effect.


Texas Teens Increased Sex After Abstinence Program


HOUSTON (Reuters) - Abstinence-only sex education programs, a major plank in President Bush (news - web sites)'s education plan, have had no impact on teenagers' behavior in his home state of Texas, according to a new study.

Despite taking courses emphasizing abstinence-only themes, teenagers in 29 high schools became increasingly sexually active, mirroring the overall state trends, according to the study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University.

"We didn't see any strong indications that these programs were having an impact in the direction desired," said Dr. Buzz Pruitt, who directed the study. The study was delivered to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which commissioned it. The federal government is expected to spend about $130 million to fund programs advocating abstinence in 2005, despite a lack of evidence that they work, Pruitt said.

"The jury is still out, but most of what we've discovered shows there's no evidence the large amount of money spent is having an effect," he said.

The study showed about 23 percent of ninth-grade girls, typically 13 to 14 years old, had sex before receiving abstinence education. After taking the course, 29 percent of the girls in the same group said they had had sex. Boys in the tenth grade, about 14 to 15 years old, showed a more marked increase, from 24 percent to 39 percent, after receiving abstinence education.

Abstinence-only programs, which have sprouted up in schools across the nation, cannot offer information about birth control and must promote the social and health benefits of abstaining from sex.

Pruitt said he hoped the study would bring about changes in the content of abstinence-promoting programs. "These programs seem to be much more concerned about politics than kids, and we need to get over that," he said.

One program technique has been to try to bolster students' self-esteem, based on the theory that self-confident teenagers would not have sex. Those programs, which sometimes do not even mention sex, have shown no effect, Pruitt said. Other programs that focus on the social norms and expectations appear to be more successful, he said.