Saturday, September 24, 2005

Musharraf Sucking Up to Pakistani Fundamentalists

The unelected leader (i.e. dictator) of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, recently came out with a statement that denigrates the rights of women. He's playing the "blame the female rape victim" game for the religious fundamentalists. I find it very suspicious that Musharraf suddenly spews out a statement like that. Why should Musharraf suddenly throw a bone to Islamic fundamentalists with close ties to the Taliban? Granted, the fundamentalists are a very large and powerful group in Pakistan but why suck up to them at this particular time? I think he's getting nervous and he's not the only one making suspicious statements. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is trying to act like some type of Afghani patriot and whining about U.S. airstrikes and other abuses to civilians. Funny, it didn't seem to bother him before (snark). The Iraq War continues to deteriorate for the U.S. military and the public wants to withdraw troops. How long can the U.S. occupy Iraq and Afghanistan? If Bush cannot have both, he'll stay with the oil in Iraq. At least, he'll try. But, how much does he really care about Afghanistan? Karzai has good reason to be nervous given the fate of the last puppet ruler of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, in 1996. Click here if you want to see a gory picture. The Taliban dragged him out of a UN compound and hanged him from a street light. Recently, news reports state Iraqi insurgents have exported their guerrilla tactics and munitions to the Taliban. Thus, the Taliban have strong international support from the Middle East and from Pakistani religious fundamentalists. Granted, the recent elections seem to encourage Karzai's government and the Taliban are not the most popular group in the world, but historically, Afghanis hate foreign invaders. They've hated them for at least 2500 years and I don't think that will change in the near future. If we pull out of Afghanistan, will we keep throwing $billions to Pakistan and Musharraf? Can we even afford to keep on throwing money around with a massive budget deficit? The Iraqi insurgents will continue to support the Taliban and teach them urban guerrilla warfare. That must be making Karzai nervous. Will the Taliban teach these techniques to an insurgency in Pakistan? Is that making Musharraf nervous?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Inmates in Charge of the Asylum?

Is this for real? Or just some weird prank? From the Gainsville Sun: Gov. Bush & his mystical buddy After more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend. The rest of the article is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Watching the Train Wreck

I've been watching the HBO miniseries, Rome, but I have mixed feelings about the program. For starters, Rome compares poorly to I, Claudius which is an all-time classic in my opinion. I, Claudius was a sharp satire on government and human frailty while Rome plays it straight and relies too heavily on sex and nudity to maintain interest. The main problem for me, though, is watching the collapse of the Roman Republic; it's far too close to present-day America. I don't claim to have any formal training in Roman history but I do have some interest in the subject. In many ways, we are very close to Rome. Western culture is a direct descendent of Rome but the U.S. seems to have more in common with it than the rest of the world. Rome was an Etruscan-dominated monarchy which was alleged to be morally corrupt. The Romans claimed they revolted against the Etruscans for reasons of piety, patriotism, civic virtue, etc. The revolution resulted in a type of representative democracy which favored the aristocracy while giving a limited voice to the plebians. In some degree, this is reminiscent of the Puritans in the Colonial Era and the American Revolutionary War. In any case, Rome grew to dominate its neighbors. Her armies brought home plunder in the form of gold, slaves, and tribute. Rome conquered Egypt, whose farmers could bring in two crops per year. The grain surplus fed the Roman populace. Slaves from conquered nations fueled industry like oil does today. Rome's greatest rival was Carthage, which was eventually defeated in the Punic Wars. For Carthage, one could liken it to the USSR. After the defeat of Carthage, Rome grew far more prosperous and its aristocrats became incredibly wealthy. The vast majority of Roman citizens lived in poverty with high unemployment rates. They survived on a welfare system underwritten by war conquests and aristocrats who bought votes and support with their wealth. The people were pacified with bread and circuses, not unlike Monday Night Football and American Idol. Traditional Roman virtues decayed and sexual mores loosened. Divorce rates skyrocketed and lawyers became wealthy as Roman citizens constantly sued each other in civil lawsuits. Government corruption and cronyism was rampant. In a society like Rome which based its power on military conquest, reverses on the battlefield created fear and panic in their people. This made Roman society susceptible to ambitious aristocrats who sought more and more wealth and power. Generals battled each other and civil war raged for decades. Eventually, the senatorial ranks were decimated until there was little opposition to a monarchy/dictatorship which could provide stability to a war-weary country. Are we there yet? No, Bush is too incompetent. The U.S. military wouldn't follow him in a coup to topple the government. Who will follow Bush? In the aftermath of an economic breakdown, a demagogue could seize power by promising to reform government corruption. Bush isn't the fascist we should fear. It's the competent fascist who comes after him that scares me.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gretna, Louisiana

I was reading about the situation in Gretna, a predominately white city next to New Orleans. In order to keep the "violent and dangerous darkies" from contaminating their pure city, they've set up a roadblock manned by armed police officers. Effectively, they prevented thousands of New Orleans residents from escaping a flooded hell. As bad as this may seem, Gretna was not the only city to block escape routes. Other cities have blocked roads as well. There was a similar situation in the Great Mississippi Flood. Communities on opposing sides of the river could see the rising water begin to threaten their levees. Each side knew that if the levee broke on the opposing bank, the river would flood the other town. Their community would be saved. Both sides formed armed groups and patrolled the levees. As far as I know, no one purposefully destroyed a levee. So, in today's America, would we break our neighbor's levee?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Postscript to the Great Mississippi Flood

I forgot to mention one of the more disillusioning aspects of the story: How Hoover managed to bury the story. After his investigators confirmed the abuses in the concentration camps (that was the actual term used), Hoover formed a Colored Advisory Commission made up of blacks and led by Robert Russa Moton, a very prominent black conservative leader. Their report also confirmed the allegations. Hoover was relying on his successful handling of the crisis to win the presidency; he did NOT want any scandal to ruin his reputation as the "Great Humanitarian". I'm not kidding, they actually called him that. Hoover cut a deal with Moton to kill the story. Hoover would give Moton and his friends positions in government and give small plots of land to some sharecroppers. Moton jumped at the offer. A funny thing happens when you sell your integrity to the devil. The devil bends you over and screws you in the ass. Hoover broke all his promises to Moton. In 1932, Moton threw his support to FDR (who refused to desegregate the military in WWII, by the way). Many blacks left the Republican Party and never came back. The white plantation owners lost their slaves, erm, um, "workers", who left the poverty in the south to emigrate to Chicago and other northern cities. Greenville never regained its former prosperity. Why am I flashing on Mayor Nagin and how he changed his tune about George Bush?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Blacks in America are Just a Tad Paranoid

"It didn't really matter if these people were uncomfortable. It didn't really matter if they were starving. It probably wouldn't have really mattered a whole lot if a lot of 'em had died for one reason or another. They were gonna keep their laborers and that's just ruthless contempt for human beings." * Where is this from? The speaker is talking about thousands of poor blacks who were surrounded by floodwaters from a broken levee. A few white people were stranded with them. Transportation was available with room to evacuate all the flood victims but only the whites were taken to safety. The blacks were left behind without food, water or shelter. Eventually they were put in refugee camps patrolled by the armed National Guardsmen. A Republican in charge of federal government relief efforts engaged in a coverup of the refugee scandal. It was the aftermath of a natural disaster, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which devastated communities from Illinois to Mississippi. In all fairness, the local, state and federal government behaved much worse in 1927 than our current leaders do today. The city of Greenville, Mississippi was controlled by a few wealthy landowners who used thousands of poor black sharecroppers to farm cotton. When the Mississippi started to flood from excessive rainfall, the Greenville landowners forced black men and boys, at gunpoint, to shore up the levee. Unfortunately, the levee broke and many people died. Whites were evacuated out danger. Blacks were evacuated to the intact portion of the levee, an 8-foot-wide swath of land surrounded by the Mississippi River on one side and the flood on the other. They had no food, water or shelter and the rain continued to pour. Several boats arrived to rescue all the survivors on the levee but the landowners intervened. They were afraid of losing their workers; once gone, the sharecroppers might decide to look for a better life. So, the few (33) whites on the levee were evacuated and the blacks were left behind. The story gets worse. Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce for Calvin Coolidge and in charge of the overall disaster relief program, came to Greenville shortly after the levee break. The landowners convinced him that Greenville should be used as a hub for distribution of relief supplies. In order to supply the labor for the federal effort and clean up the town, blacks were forced into labor camps and worked under the supervision of armed National Guardsmen who abused their authority. Word got out that the guards were raping, beating, and killing blacks. Herbert Hoover initiated an investigation that confirmed the reports. However, Hoover did not want tarnish his image as a great leader who successfully saved flood victims; he was planning on running for president. He managed to kill the story of the brutal labor camps. People wonder why blacks in America are just a tad paranoid. *Pete Daniel, Historian from Fatal Flood, The American Experience, 2001 I wrote a very brief synopsis of the incident. For more information see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flood/filmmore/pt.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flood/timeline/timeline2.html

Monday, September 05, 2005

More Hurricanes

There are two possible storms brewing, a low-pressure area off the east coast of Florida, and one south of Bermuda. The Florida one has a good chance that it will turn into a tropical depression or worse. If another hurricane hits the U.S., I don't see how emergency services will be able to cope. With the Bush Administration in charge, the results will be horrifying. Even if this particular system doesn't turn nasty, the height of hurricane season is coming up. NOAA is predicting 6 more hurricanes and, historically, 1 of 3 hurricanes hit the U.S. So, statistics indicate a good chance for 2 more hurricanes to pummel the Gulf states. People who live in those areas should gather together an emergency kit to cope with another disaster. This link gives a list of supplies for the kit.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Assigning Blame

Forecasters predicted landfall and significant strengthening approximately 3 days in advance. Four out of five computer simulations showed a direct hit on New Orleans and they knew warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico would increase the hurricane to Cat 4 or 5. Given the topography of New Orleans, government agencies have known for decades that a direct hit by a Cat 4+ would swamp the area and possibly kill 40,000. Shortly before landfall, Katrina swerved slightly to the east so the strongest part of the hurricane struck to the east of New Orleans; the devastation could have been even worse. I do blame the federal government for their inability to respond both prior to and in the aftermath of the hurricane. I simply cannot understand why they didn't do SOME of the following BEFORE the hurricane hit: a) Commandeer every single bus in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and use them to evacuate people without cars. On the return trip, bring in supplies to the shelters in New Orleans and other coastal areas for those who aren't able to leave in time. b) Set up refugee centers in schools, auditoriums and military bases in areas safe from the hurricane, and bring in supplies and relief workers. c) Mobilize the national guard from other states. d) Commandeer supplies from ALL the supermarkets, sporting goods stores, etc. in and around New Orleans and Biloxi, and put them in the Superdome, the convention center and other shelters. e) Fill up every available container with water. For that matter, fill every bathtub in hotels near the Superdome, and other shelters. f) Put together a command and control center to be deployed immediately after the hurricane passes. BTW, doesn't FEMA have the equipment ready to go on whenever a disaster hits? If so, why did it take so long to implement it? Approximately 25% of New Orleans residents are below the poverty line and 50% of the children live in poverty. I have not seen ANY news reports that the poor were offered the opportunity to leave. Hundreds of buses are evacuating people now; why didn't they do that before? As it stands now, the lack of a timely response WILL result in a larger death toll if the news stories are accurate. CNN and MSNBC are reporting that many people in the shelters have gone without water since the hurricane hit, and there are people still trapped in their homes by floodwater. The emergency is going into its 5th day and the refugees aren't going to survive much longer without food, water and medical attention. Bush is getting a lot of negative coverage in the media. A lot of the national guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are in Iraq but it's unknown how that is affecting the relief efforts. Former goverment aid officials are severely criticizing FEMA for bungling the emergency, however. Congress is passing a bill for $10.5 billion for relief efforts but I'm suspicious that the money will be siphoned off to various corporations; I may be overly cynical but the Bush Admin hasn't shown much integrity in awarding government contracts. In any case, a recent opinion poll shows Bush's approval ratings on handling the crisis are very negative and gasoline prices are shooting through the roof which is not adding to his popularity. The bottom line is that federal and state emergency planning and execution was lacking. Even Bush is admitting that the government response has been problematic which is an amazing admission from a man who never admits errors or takes responsibility for anything. I also posted this comment on Pen and Sword: Several months ago, the NOAA predicted a heavy hurricane season, currently projected at 20 tropical storms and 10 hurricanes where 6 of them become major hurricanes. There's a distinct possibility that the gulf states will be hit by more hurricanes before the season ends on Nov. 30th.