30 September 2007

Blade Runner

So a new DVD of Blade Runner is coming out with alternative cuts? This I must see. I love sci-fi. I wish they'd completely stop making all of the good-guys-kill-bad-guys revenge films and the dopey Hollywood romances and start making more films like Gattaca, Blade Runner, or Minority Report. At this point in our history, we need all the utopian/dystopian visions we can muster.

Canadian dollar

The Canadian dollar recently rose about the U.S. dollar--for the first time since 1976! In the world economy, we've all been given a pay cut.

28 September 2007

The latest out of Burma

Ko Htike has some recent pictures from the Burmese protests.

There are rumours of police siding with the demonstrators and of a coup led by Maung Aye. We can only hope they're true.

27 September 2007

Forget about the butter...

The U.S. military continues to expand. Despite the fact that the U.S. spends around half of what the rest of the world spends combined.

The refugees

Sanmantha Power has an interesting article in TIME:

The numbers are so staggering that they are hard to process mentally and impossible to process logistically: each month some 60,000 Iraqis are voting with their feet against the surge of U.S. forces by fleeing their homes. Since the invasion, more than 2.5 million Iraqis have left for neighboring countries, while 2.2 million have been forcibly displaced within Iraq - too poor to escape the country or blocked from transitioning through more peaceful provinces, which in recent months have erected checkpoints to keep them out. To put it in stark historical terms: the war has created the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948.

This should give pause to any American of any stripe who hopes to call the current war a success at any point in the near future. The fact is that a huge percentage of the Iraq population has left the country, figuring that life as a destitute refugee holds more hope than life in Iraq.

Here is what it looks like on the ground: in two short years, a million Iraqi refugees have poured into Syria, a country of 19 million. In U.S.-population terms, this would be the equivalent of 15 million Iraqis arriving on our shores. Overwhelmed by the deluge, Syria has said it will begin requiring visas for Iraqis next month, the practical equivalent of shutting its doors, while Jordan, which has admitted 750,000 Iraqis, closed most of its border crossings earlier this year.

And now the bordering countries are going to turn off the pressure valve!

Despite all this, the U.S. debate about withdrawal from Iraq seems remarkably indifferent to those whose lives have been upended. The Bush Administration talks of staying the course without expending nearly enough political or financial capital to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe that it pretends does not exist. Many advocates of withdrawal point to the humanitarian disaster as a ground for leaving without addressing how worse suffering might be averted.

Thus far, the American discussion of the refugee crisis has focused on the paltry number of Iraqis the U.S. has let in. Although the U.S. was the lead architect of the invasion, only 535 Iraqis were granted entry last year. Sweden, which opposed the war, took in 8,950. Ironically, in 2000, three years before the war, the U.S. admitted 3,145 Iraqis, whereas fewer than 1,700 Iraqis have been resettled on American soil in the four years since.

The situation has grown so desperate that even our mild-mannered ambassador, Ryan Crocker, sent a harsh cable to the State Department on Sept. 7, titled "Iraqi refugee processing: Can we speed it up?" He complained of the endless "bottlenecks" delaying entry even for those Iraqis who had risked their lives working for U.S. forces. Crocker pleaded with immigration and Homeland Security officials to fast-track the screening process so the State Department's recommended 7,000 asylum slots could be filled.

But while expeditious review and expanded quotas are urgently needed, they will not affect the welfare of the several million Iraqis who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. If the Administration is to ease the toll on Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria and persuade them to welcome Iraqis in need, it must extend massive assistance to those governments to help fund shelter, food, sanitation, health care and transportation for arriving Iraqis. Among the 200,000 Iraqi children who have fled to Jordan, only 20,000 started school in the past year, and 6,000 of them dropped out. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should have taught us, the grievances of refugees may start as humanitarian concerns, but they quickly become security problems.

That's all we need. More uneducated middle-Eastern youth with memories of fleeing their homeland due to America's actions during the "Great Game.'

President George W. Bush is in denial about the refugee crisis. He claimed this month that "ordinary life is beginning to return" and warned that with a U.S. departure, "Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare."

Well, at least it shouldn't face a housing shortage.

But he has refused to deal with the nightmare already under way. It is as if he fears doing so would mean conceding the costs of the U.S. invasion and would undermine his arguments for staying. As he argues that we have a moral responsibility to Iraqis, it would be inconvenient for him to draw attention to how we have shirked that responsibility.

In addition, if the President were actually to insist that the U.S. and its allies resettle Iraqi refugees in earnest, he would be making it that much harder for an educated, moderate Iraqi middle class to reconstitute itself. How would Iraq "unleash the talent of its people and be an anchor of stability in the region," as Bush promised, if its doctors were practicing medicine in Detroit and its English speakers were in Langley, Va., translating Arab press reports for the CIA?

The brain drain is a legitimate concern, but the welfare of Iraqis fleeing for their lives cannot be held hostage to Bush's romantic dreams for a "free Iraq." The U.S. lost the war in Iraq. At the heart of the debacle in Iraq has been the repeated failure to deliver a more secure life for Iraqis. It is long past time that we stop simply debating the "fate of Iraq" and start addressing the fate of Iraqis.

Burma

The dictatorship in Burma has turned again to violence:

YANGON, Myanmar - Security forces fired automatic weapons into thousands of pro-democracy protesters for a second day Thursday, and the military government said 9 people were killed and 11 wounded. Tens of thousands defied the ruling military junta's crackdown with a 10th straight day of demonstrations in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. Security forces also raided several monasteries overnight, beating monks and arresting more than 100, according to a monk at one monastery.

26 September 2007

Calculating the uncalculating choices

Vancouver Calling talks about using an online "candidate calculator" to see which candidate she should vote for based on her views. She makes the interesting comment that the list of top candidates selected by the site doesn't correspond to the list of top candidates that we see in news polls. Why is this? Is the candidate calculator algorhythm so messed up that it's spitting out screwy results? I doubt it. My guess is that the discrepancy can be contributed to two factors:

(1) Most people over-rely on the major media outlets to give them info on candidates and these outlets only cover the front runners who start out with extensive corporate funding, and
(2) many of us our worried about supporting a candidate that lacks the corporate/media imprimatur since we don't want to "just throw away our vote".

Dennis Kucinich tends to lead most of the Democratic pack, a fact that says volumes about people's actual views when divorced from the practicality of "picking someone who can actually win." The popularity of Kucinich turns much of conventional wisdom on its head--especially this bizarre idea that there's some tiny determined faction of far-left weirdos determined to drag the Democratic Party to the left. Kucinich is about as left as they come yet his views are immensely popular. Mike Gavel, who is ardently opposed to Shrub's War and is calling for an immediate withdrawal, is number one among all candidates.

24 September 2007

The Heaven of the Non-believers

Why are Christian apologists so confident in their diatribes against non-believers? It seems to me that once a person tosses the law of cause and effect out the window, pretty much anything is possible. One key element of the Christian narrative is that God is testing us here on Earth and will only deliver to heaven those who happen to have blind faith in a highly aburd scenario. Couldn't it also be possible that God is testing us and has decided that only those who are rational and steadfastly adhere to the dictates of their reason (regardless of whatever nonsense is being spouted within their enviroment) will go to Heaven? Maybe he plans to send all the gullible believers to hell and the doubting individualists to heaven so that he can spend eternity in dialogue with the most objective and critical minds among his creation.

Or maybe the Christian God doesn't exist. Or maybe the Greek Gods actually exist. Or maybe a religion that no one on our planet has acknowledged yet is actually the Truth. Or maybe some higher power zapped us into existence a second ago with all our memories intact and will zap us out of existence a second from now. Like I said, once we've abandoned reason along with causality, any scenario from amongst the infinite possibilities becomes possible.

Myanmar protests


Let us all hope that the Burmese military regime can be brought down through non-violent protests. The recent protests, led by Buddhist monks and nuns, are said to be the largest in the last two decades with over 100,000 protesters gathered in Yangon, the capital. It's always thrilling to watch the overthrow of corrupt regimes and even more thrilling when it happens without guns being fired.

23 September 2007

War is wonderful (for the draft-deferred)

The Republicans would do a lot better if they didn't try to play the "character card" since even the slightest bit of research digs up piles of smelly rubble and inconsistencies. Never-saw-a-war-he-didn't-love Giuliani is no different. It turns out that he was also milking every connection and angle he could find to avoid going off to fight in Vietnam. All so that he could survive and one day advocate a nebulous U.S. commitment to nebulous U.S. goals in Iraq. Something about all this sounds very familiar.

21 September 2007

The dark waters of national sovereignty

One has to chuckle at the delightful naiveté of some of these Iraqi "leaders" who have been living under the illusion that they're "running their own show."

American convoys under the protection of Blackwater USA resumed on Friday, four days after the U.S. Embassy suspended all land travel by its diplomats and other civilian officials in response to the alleged killing of civilians by the security firm. A top aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had earlier conceded it may prove difficult for the Iraqi government to follow through on threats to expel Blackwater and other Western security contractors.

It may prove difficult indeed. Since these mercenaries don't fall under Iraqi law and aren't part of the UCMJ, some of us are rightfully curious as to their legal status. Perhaps our Commander and Chief can help unmuddy the waters for us:

20 September 2007

In light of recent events...

BeggarsCanBeChoosers asks an interesting question: Hillary has returned the cash she received from Hsu. So when will Bush return the money he got from Enron? The company, after all, has won a permanent place in the history books as a paragon of corruption. And there's every indication that the company was buyings something with that contribution.

A couple trillion, and whadya get?

A new Congressional study estimates that Shrub's War will end up costing trillions of dollars, on top of the approximately $567 billion the war has already cost. That accounting assumes a significant troop drawdown and is arguably conservative. Meanwhile, a recent official UN report show things continuing to go downhill. For all that's being spent, should we be getting free gasoline at state-subsidized gas stations?

The Andrew Meyer incident

The video clips are out showing the student who was tasered at a Kerry speech. Our complacency about this incident, or worse yet, about the case of the Texas couple arrested for wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt, says volumes about how far we've come (and where we're headed) as a nation. The police work for us to provide for our safety. People who ask questions might be annoying, but they sure in the hell don't need to be led off in handcuffs. If Kerry, who was giving the speech, was willing to answer the question, it's hard to see how the person was threatening the public.

Other bloggers on the issue:

Spidel Blog looks at the difference in media response to the Andrew Meyer story and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. story. Much of the rightward blogosphere reaction, on the other hand, has focused on "important" aspect of Meyer's character (why this is important in a free-speech issue I know not)--his tendency to be um political and um independent (even comedic!), his unmachoness and wussy unSpartanlike academician tendencies, and his failure to immediately salute the policemen who walked up to him. Other writers decided that the whole focus should be on taser technology. (Once again, that great American belief that a new technology will be invented to keep us from ever having to face a difficult decision).

18 September 2007

Hillary's health plan and RLS

I ordinarily have nothing but harsh words for Hillary but I must praise her recent health care proposal for at least constituting a substantive policy statement at a time when most of her competitors are feeding us bowls of drivel with all the flavor of bleached rice gruel. As with most of her policies, it's essentially a Republican-sounding solution. That said, it will win her no friends since the Republicans (who should probably vote for her if they like Bush) can't stand her for being an uppity and competent woman. Most Dems and those further left, on the other hand, can't stand her since she's essential a Bush clone (albeit with a brain implant or two). While a valiant effort, Hillary's plan unfortunately does little to deal with many of the most disadvantaged. Take, as just one example, the growing population of elderly rural gentlemen who have recently been stricken by Restless Leg Syndrome. It's one thing to deal with the tremendous stygma of the disease but quite another to try to get Medicare or even private insurers to pay for it. Hillary's plan doesn't even mention this! For this reason, I've decided to temporarily give up my precious bandwith here at Swerve Left to air a short public service announcement highlighting the issue:





16 September 2007

A northwest passage

A northern passage has now opened in the Arctic, raising the possibility that at some point in the lives of at least some of you younger bloggers, you'll take a summer cruise across the North Pole. The warmer Earth is a reality. I have no idea what it means in the long-term. Of course, those who are going to be whisked up to heaven in 10 or 20 years might not need to worry about any of this long-term "nonsense" but the rest of us hell-bound denizens of Mother Earth have a right to be concerned.

14 September 2007

It's "Shrub's War" Newt!

Gingrich has criticized the latest Bush speech to the nation saying that Shrub's War should be marketed by Petraeus and the Ambassador to Iraq Whassis-name. This is an interesting comment from the party who was supposed to give us righteous and decisive testerone-empowered leadership. Gingrich, as a history buff, should have read somewhere at some point that it's the president who is supposed to rally us on to war. None of us are impressed when the White House writes up their latest list of talking points and then asks a general to read it for them. On the other hand, Newt's recommendation to the Republican Party for a clean break from Bush is certainly politically savvy. And I do agree that it would be good to have Bush's smirking visage off of our TV screens. Fortunately, I don't have cable.

13 September 2007

Re the Marketer in Chief

This is what happens when you hire an accountant as president. We're being told of troop reductions after a surge. Wait a minute here. Doesn't a "surge" imply only a temporary increase in troops? If only these troops leave, aren't we in the tail end of the "surge" rather than in a period of "troop reduction." Our country is now being run like a glitzy department story where we all get 20% off of cheap items that have been marked up by 50%. And only if we agree to put the whole purchase on credit.

12 September 2007

Withdrawal?

Talk about a misleading headline. Some article in the paper this morning talked about Bush's intentions to start reducing U.S. troops in Iraq . . . a year from now . . . if everything goes well . . . if a scientist in Berkeley discovers cheap cold fusion . . . and if mana falls from the sky. Otherwise, the plan is to stay in Iraq forever. Actually, that's pretty always the plan with U.S. occupations. The U.S. government was building giant hotels on U.S. bases at the very time that it was talking about moving troops out of South Korea. The U.S. sheeple really need some classes on reading between the lines.

9 September 2007

Riverbend returns!

Riverbend (the famous Iraqi blogger) has finally posted on her blog after a long hiatus. She has successfully fled to Syria.
Hat tip to Diana for seeing this.

5 September 2007

Regime change starts at home

The Federal government recently had to pay $80,000 in compensation (our tax dollars) to a Texas couple who were arrested prior to an address by President Bush on July 4, 2004. The crime? They were peaceably assembling in a public place while expressing their opinion by wearing T-shirts with anti-Bush slogans. The front of the Ranks’ T-shirts bore the international symbol for the word no superimposed over the word Bush. The back of Nicole’s T-shirt said “Love America, hate Bush.” On the back of Jeffery’s T-shirt was the message “Regime change starts at home.” The couple was handcuffed and led off to the gulag, er, I mean, the jail.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not ambiguous on this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The idea that a couple would be arrested and charged for wearing the wrong T-shirt in public is so outlandish that it's really hard to get one's mind around it. Maybe the newspapers got this wrong and it really happened in North Korea or perhaps Stalinist Russia. Certainly not here in the-land-of-the-free hunkydory America.

And now we're being treated to countless photo ops of soldiers hugging Bush during his last trip to Iraq. Where are the pictures of the soldiers who glared at him with their arms crossed. Were these people sent to the back of the crowd for failing to voice a "patriotic opinion"? Were they turned down for a promotion? Are we to believe that this president who can't even brook the subtlest forms of dissent here at home is going to passionately push for democratic values abroad?