Monday, April 21, 2008

Define "quagmire" for me again?

Many of the experts outside of the White House's influence tell us that the presence of foreign troops only inflames the locals. When you poll the Iraqis, they tell us that they want us the hell out of their country. Most Americans are in agreement with the Iraqis on that point.

And common sense tells us one other thing. If we, as Americans, were to find our country suddenly occupied by a foreign power, and said foreign power were to have no interest in our rights as citizens, and seemed incapable and/or unwilling to protect us from the "lawless" elements, and occasionally killed our citizens for no apparent reason (and never seemed to suffer any consequences for it), what would the reaction of the American citizenry be? Three of the most obvious options would be:
1. Some would try to just get along and make a living.

2. Some (many) would fight back against the invaders, who would be the visible target for their wrath.

3. Some would start killing for little or no reason, and set up their own little fiefdoms, violently removing any opposition.
Does this sound like any country that you can think of?

Every time an American troop shoots an Iraqi, that's one more death to inflame public opinion against us.

Every time American troops break into a house, the neighbors don't say "Oh, that must have been an insurgent." They think "Oh, the American's have broken into another house again. I wonder if anyone was killed." (And, of course, to a certain extent, "I wonder if there's anything in there I need?")

Every time an American convoy runs over a goat, drives through a planted field, or even takes a turn too wide and damages a building/a car/a storefront, the average Iraqi only sees another of the few things of value that they own getting destroyed by the Americans.

And I can't imagine that the American compounds, with their own generators and water supply, make the average Iraqi (who has neither on a regular basis) particularly cheerful.

We do more harm than good by being there. We do considerably more harm than good by doing "peacekeeping" missions.

Pulling out completely may or may not be a good idea. But at the very least, we need to pull all of our forces inside the embassy grounds and seal it up. No shooting unless we are shot at. (I would also recommend a building outside of city limits, so that we can set up an established 100m "dead zone," clearly delineated with concertina wire and signs in Arabic.)

The best thing we can do to improve our image among the Iraqis would be to stop killing the Iraqis!!

Then, having done that, we let the Iraqi government dig itself out of its hole. If they don't have the First Armored Cavalry charging in to blow the crap out of the "enemy," I suspect that they'll have a much easier time seeing the sense in compromise. In finding a diplomatic solution rather than running in, guns blazing.

Or maybe they'll all kill each other, and the survivors will set up a functional government. Either way, they're in the middle of a civil war with overtones of ethnic/religious cleansing, and there isn't a damned thing we can do about that.

Bush's latest excuse for why we can't leave Iraq is that the terrorists would get all the oil. Which probably makes sense in the alternate reality that he lives in, but not here on earth. Once we leave Iraq, the locals won't have a lot of use for al Qaeda, and that organization will disappear faster than it came into being. One way or another.

By the way, those mercenary troops we call "contract security" (remember them? Blackwater? Custer Battles?) — they're only making things worse. We tell every American company to pull up stakes and get the fuck out, because we won't be saving their stupid butts. Anybody who stays is subject to Iraqi law.

Yes, it might be nice if we kept a presence there. A similar presence to what we have in most other countries. We call it an embassy, it's run by the State Department, and its purpose is to provide access to diplomatic channels.

We ask the neighboring countries (you know, the ones the Iraqis don't hate quite as much as us) to try to provide diplomatic solutions. We might set up some system of border security, to keep armed insurgents from other countries (yes, those same other countries mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph) from going in and inflaming the situation. We provide medical supplies and food as aid (preferably without actually delivering the stuff and allowing our forces to get shot at), and we let them settle it. Once we aren't there stirring up bigger problems, they have a much better chance of doing just that.

We also openly announce that we are doing this very thing, and why. We might even consider turning to the United Nations, to see if any of them have any ideas on how to fix the country we broke.

As long as the bull remains in the china shop, things will continue to be broken.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter? Maybe a little...

So, here's what we know.

Hillary Clinton has been pointing her finger at Obama and calling him "out of touch" and "elitist." She says that, because he said that people are bitter, or clinging to religion because they don't have anything else, he doesn't know how the people think any more.
Describing Mr Obama as elitist and out of touch, Mrs Clinton suggested that nominating him would be a way of ensuring a Democratic defeat once again.

"We had two very good men and men of faith run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life," she said...

At the same event, Mrs Clinton said: "I believe that people don't cling to religion, they value their faith. You don't cling to guns, you enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting. I don't think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you."
Wow. You know, if there wasn't any context for Obama's remarks, she might actually have a point. Unfortunately, here's what Barack Obama actually said.
So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laughter), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing.
Why is it that every time Barack Obama talks to America as if they were adults, Hillary Clinton pulls 2 words and three phrases out, and twists them to her own ends?

Maybe it's a trick she learned when she was running from the snipers in Bosnia.

Yeah, I tried to be open-minded, but the stink of desperation around the Klinton Kampaign is starting to get really hard to live with.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Have We Reached "Peak Beer"?

Friends, you may want to sit down before you read this. I bring news of a great catastrophe that threatens our lives, our livelihood and all we hold dear.

There is a global shortage of hops and malt. Our beer, that which makes our lives brighter and better, is threatened.

A combination of factors has led to this sad state. A drought in Australia two years ago killed much of thier hops supply. In Europe, too much rain did the same. Many farmers worldwide have abandoned hops (which were a dicey crop to begin with, financially) and began to grow corn, often fueled by a rising demand for ethanol. And with the corn going to ethanol, the malt has often became feed for livestock.

More strongly-flavored brews have suffered most. Some brewers have realized that they are going to have to raise prices to keep up the quality of their product. Some have scrambled to refigure their seasonal menu, using less hops in each batch.
Otter Creek [Brewery in Vermont]'s spring seasonal has traditionally been an extra special bitter — commonly abbreviated ESB — but this year they could not get the specific English hops called for in the recipe and instead made a German-style Kolsch, a lighter beer.

"It was very much a last-minute, pull-it-out-of-your-hat type of thing," he said. "There were some very old hops lying around at triple the price and we weren't willing to do that."

Ray McNeill, owner of McNeill's Brewery in Brattleboro, told a similar story, saying his Imperial Stout and Imperial India Pale Ale will not be available in bottles until next year.

"If I put the Imperial IPA out there, we'll burn up our hops and not be able to make any more beer," he said. "It would be suicide."

In their place, McNeill said he may produce low-hop lagers, Belgian strong beer and Scottish brown ale.
In the face of this tragedy, some heroes are standing together to ensure that we might weather this crisis. One of America's largest craft breweries, Boston Beer Co., makers of the Samuel Adams brand (and headquartered, strangely enough, in Massachusetts) surveyed their supply of hops, notified other, smaller breweries, and held a lottery, selling hops, at cost, to 108 brewers around the country.
About six weeks ago Boston Beer sent out notifications to small brewers that it wanted to help them by making available some of its hops at cost. The company said it received 352 requests totaling about 100,000 pounds, much more than it could give away.

"It shows how great the need is and I felt really bad," said Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch. "We even fudged it a little and went over the 20,000 pounds, but we just don't have the capability of filling this hole ourselves."

Koch said the company looked at its supply of hops and decided to live up a long established culture among craft brewers.

"We view each other as colleagues not as competitors," he said.
Even state and local government is doing their best to assist in this time of need: In Columbia, SC, the city is issuing licenses to sell beer and wine on Sundays for the first time since the Prohibition, while in San Francisco, the ban on alcohol has been lifted from this year's North Beach Festival. But not all of America is dealing with this crisis with that same nobility of spirit. Beer-related crimes appear to be on the rise: two Illinois teens beat a homeless man to death over a can of beer; a man stealing a backpack loaded with beer got caught in the straps while scaling a chainlink fence, and choked to death. The Arizona government is exploiting this tragedy as an opportunity to double the state taxes on alcoholic beverages.

As always, politics have entered the arena: beer heiress Cindy McCain has been sharing the stage with her husband John at rallies, while bartenders in Brooklyn are saying that a limited production ale named Hop Obama is their best selling brew ever.

While the struggle rages around them, beer drinkers around the world are left to wonder what the future holds.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Ms. Clinton,

Let me preface this by saying that, if you gain the Democratic nomination, I will vote for you. However, if Mr. Obama is the one to make it to the final round, I will vote for him. But to tell the truth, based on your actions in these last few months, I will be happier to pull the lever for Barack Obama than for you.

I believe that you have the potential to be an excellent president. Whichever of you gets elected, I believe that our country will be placed on the road to recovery. Which is why I have to ask you to please stop the negative campaigning against Barack Obama.

When you attack Mr. Obama, you give ammunition to the McCain campaign, if the eventual result is Obama vs. McCain. Are you willing to risk our country's future with your "win at any cost" philosophy?

We have a failed experiment in nation-building, and a civil war that our presence is only inflaming, and we need to back out of that country as soon as possible. We have a collapsing economy that needs a firm hand on the tiller in order to recover. We need to rebuild our status with the rest of the world.

More importantly than that, there will most likely be at least one, and possibly two, openings in the Supreme Court within the next few years. And we need to ensure that another Harriet Miers doesn't end up deciding the future of our country.

Of late, Ms. Clinton, your campaign tactics resemble those used by Karl Rove. Is that a comparison that you enjoy? Is that something you feel you can be proud of?

Do you remember Richard Mellon Scaife? The millionaire who, according to insiders, was the leader of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" you mentioned during your husband's presidency?

Why are you granting interviews with Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where you show no forgiveness for Rev. Wright, despite (as Donna Brazile, one of the superdelegates who you are pinning your hopes on, points out) the fact that Wright, along with dozens of other religious leaders, was willing to attend the White House Prayer Breakfast on the eve of the Starr Report? Wright may have disapproved of your husband's actions, but he didn't turn his back on you.

The mirror image doesn't hold true, though. You disapprove of some of Wright's words, and in that interview, you turned your back on him. That doesn't sound like the action of a leader; it sounds like the action of a political opportunist.

As I said, either of you has the ability to make an excellent president. But of the two of you, only one is showing the restraint, the dignity, and the party loyalty that you expect out of a nascent president.

And more than that, Mrs Clinton, you also have to look at reality. Barack Obama has done something that you have not been able to do. Something that your husband was almost able to do, but in the end, he failed. Barack Obama is capable of doing something that John Kerry, as smart and principled as he may have been, stood absolutely no chance of doing.

Barack Obama has brought the youth into the electorate. And not just a few. He brought them in droves. He has pulled the disinterested, callow, superficial youths, a group driven only by the latest trends in electronics, in music, in body modification; and he has brought them into the body politic. And he has done this with something that is the polar opposite of every tactic that you have used.

He has done it with a message of hope.

Barack Obama, and his message of "yes, we can" has appealed to a generation and a culture that prides itself on cynicism. Young people who watched every episode of Jackass as if it were the Gospel of Saint Johnny on direct-to-cable release. The callow youths who have made Girls Gone Wild into a multi-billion dollar business. The thugs who buy ridiculously oversized jewelry and brag about drugs and fights and sex.

One out of every nine black men between 19 and 35 is in jail. And Barack Obama has just given black America a better role model than Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent.

And now, you are facing a choice. You can continue to follow the Karl Rove School of Politics, and perhaps beat Barack Obama by using every dirty trick that was ever pulled on you, by brokering back-room deals and compromising every principle that you once thought you had, and guess what you'll do?

You will prove to that newly-integrated voting populace that it is, like they thought, a rigged game. A C-O-N-Spiracy. Brother can't catch a break. The game is rigged, and you might as well not play, because you're going to lose.

You will show those same young people that they were right all along. Would that make you proud, Ms. Clinton?

And you are many things, Ms. Clinton, but very few would say you are "inspiring." By all accounts, you failed even to inspire your staff. (Why is Ms. Solis-Doyle no longer working for you again?)

You keep saying how important your experience is, Ms. Clinton. You say that you know what to do when that Red Phone rings at 3:00 a.m. That you'll be ready from Day One. But let's be honest.

Yes, Barack Obama is a one-term Senator from Illinois, your home state. But you are a two-term Senator from New York. And he, at least, spent three terms in the Illinois State Senate.

And I'm sorry to be the one to point this out, Ms. Clinton, but when you claim that your experience as First Lady prepares you to be President, you are, in essence, saying that the head cheerleader could run a perfect game, because she was there when the plays were being decided.

You claim that you have a better grasp of global politics because you were there when the hard decisions were being made. And you claim that you were under fire in Bosnia... oops. Sorry. I guess Sinbad was right about your memories of that particular trip.

(Oh, yeah, and on top of that, you claim to care about the troops, but you inflicted Sinbad on them? How could you?)

But apparently, Ms. Clinton, you weren't there for every decision that Bill made, were you? It seems like Bill made at least a few of his decisions without your input, didn't he?

Do you own a blue dress, Ms. Clinton?

So, Barack Obama has a similar pool of political experience to draw from, he's more inspiring than you seem capable of being, and he is running a more "honorable" campaign (if that word can be said to mean anything any more) than you.

I am not saying that you need to pull out of the race. Certainly, you have as much right as Mr. Obama to try and be elected President of the United States.

However, for the sake of the American people, for the sake of the Democratic Party, and perhaps for your own peace of mind (assuming that you still have any of those noble ideals that I suspect you held in your youth), I would ask that you stop the divisiveness.

Stop the arguing, the sniping, the insults that are causing such hard feelings among your fellow Democrats. Act for the good of our Party. Act for the good of our country.

There's more at stake here than just your chance at the presidency.

Thank you for your time.