Archives up to 2002/03

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* Includes special focus on off-the-newswire stuff from living in Japan.

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At this point it really feels like no news is good news, and so I'm happy that there doesn't seem to be much news. The new year is off to a nicely boring start. Today there are two feature articles in one local paper about economic hard times continuing, and another paper featured nothing of note, except perhaps a couple of bits about helping in Afghanistan (this time around). Still no solid estimates of how many people died there.

Perhaps a response to reading one of Chomsky's lectures recently, though he didn't say anything exactly like this... However, my thought is that the rationale for calling Dubya the right man for these times is the same as saying we need a cold-blooded killer to be in charge. The fact is that most Americans are nice people and would have serious qualms about killing anyone, and especially about acting in a way that would painfully kill millions of people. It's possible that he had some qualms, but he certainly didn't show them as he acted against Afghanistan. He was very concerned about acting like a tough guy for the Americans, making demands and refusing any negotiations. It's possible that he had the illusion that the Taliban would collapse instantly and there would be no significant disruption in the food shipments, though he'd already been disrupting the shipments for several weeks before the attack. The actual fight took two months, which is actually pretty remarkable when you consider the military disparities, though half of the delay was due to ineffective strategies. Actually, it isn't certain that the fight is over, since most of the senior Taliban leaders apparently escaped, perhaps to fight again next spring.

However, and just as predicted, the primary victims were innocents. No, I'm not writing about the thousands of conscripted kids that were murdered 'fighting' for the Taliban. Anyway, how were they fighting? By shouting at the jets they couldn't even see? I'm not even concerned about the several thousand documented civilian fatalities from our direct bombing. No, my focus is the millions of Afghanis that are now starving or freezing to death. The mainstream press will never say much about that, and certainly not in comparison to the voluminous reporting about 9/11. It's mostly old news, and there are no solid estimates of how many have already died, though it is certainly many times the number of innocent Americans that died on 9/11. A friend recently emailed me a dramatic story of someone escaping from the WTC just before it collapsed. A terribly sad and horrifying story, but at least he survived and has the ability to write movingly about the experience, and he has access to the Internet so his story can be shared. We'll never hear much about the starvation in Afghanistan, and the stories would be pretty boring anyway, even for the survivors. We're having a bit of foul weather in Japan just now, but it's surely much worse in Afghanistan. Probably at least a 15,000-deaths day there. If you do the math for the three-month season, the average is about 10,000 per day per 1,000,000 deaths, which is an extremely low estimate. At the high end of 7 million dead, it averages 70,000 per day, so it might be more interesting to consider it on an hourly basis, where on the average it would take about 2 hours to match all the American deaths of 9/11, except for the detail that the Bushies don't care and aren't counting any Afghani deaths.

So what does Dubya care if the actual number is one million or seven million? Who cares about Afghanis? Certainly Dubya doesn't care, or he would have at least made some effort to pursue the various other options. And the 'funny' part is that the whole thing apparently failed. The original non-mutant objective was supposed to be to get Bin Ladin, but he apparently got clean away. Perhaps it will hinder his future actions a bit, but it's not like he's ever been operating out of a regular office. Now he'll keep a lower profile, and though I rather think someone will nail Bin Ladin some day, it certainly isn't clear that the billions of dollars we spent helping the Russians' old friends take over Afghanistan (again) will speed things up.

All it seems to prove is that we are the best killers on the block, and don't mess with Dubya. I actually agree with that, but because I believe Dubya is a coward of the dangerous kind. When confronted with personal danger, his personal response has been consistently cowardly, and he knows it. Yet therefore he has to prove his 'bravery', and as long as there's no personal danger to himself, he will 'bravely' kill other people. I don't think he's indifferent to killing. I think he actually enjoys it, even though in the end it can't change the truth, since he can't escape his knowledge of his own cowardice. I'd like to think Americans deserve to be represented by something better than that. It goes beyond embarrassment to actual shame. And it also seems to prove Bin Ladin's original point. The only thing the American rulers apparently understand is the law of the jungle, though Afghanistan was more like a gang of school bullies in a playground.

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Remembered something I was supposed to comment on, but had forgotten. Already a couple of weeks ago, but there was a fairly vigorous anti-war protest at the neighboring station. Main emphasis was actually on collecting donations to help in Afghanistan. My guess is that it was organized by the communists, since they've been increasingly visible recently. Can't remember exactly when, but surely after the Taliban had been disposed of, which also means too late to make much difference this winter. Not a big noisy demonstration, but this is a sleepy little suburban area, and it was rather surprising to see anything around here. I was actually reminded of the anti-war protest by seeing them at it again a few days ago, but with some kind of petition this time. My own station is really subsuburban, but the communists have been recognizably visible there on some mornings with banners and handing out flyers. Seems unlikely they'll be any major political threat, however. The LDP has done quite well in the recent elections, even though they're tacking even a bit farther to the right than usual.

More interesting was seeing some international poll results yesterday. This was actually a supplement from a Chicago paper which is carried in Japan once a week. Basically it showed that American opinion is diverging from world opinion, apparently even more so than usual. In particular, I remember a very interesting question about whether the American response to 9/11 was appropriate. Over 40% of the European respondents said America was overreacting, while 0% of the Americans said that. Makes me curious about the unreported percentage of Americans who felt the reaction was inadequate. I guess I'm American enough that I hadn't even thought of it that way, though now that I do think of it, I can sort of understand. America blatantly attacked and destroyed the government of another country, incidentally causing far more innocent deaths than America had suffered. There was no international approval requested, no real international discussion, and not even an accusation that the government which was being destroyed had been in any way directly involved in or had known anything about the attack on America. Yes, now I see how that could be taken as a bit of an overreaction, and I wouldn't be surprised if Japanese opinion was even higher than that...

In the same paper there was an interesting editorial saying Dubya was the right person for this job. It also viciously and unfairly attacked Gore's completely imaginary reactions, which certainly left me wondering about the sincerity of the author's claim to have once been a Gore supporter. However, the aspect that most bothered me was the kernel rationale that this was a time for mindless and unthinking violence, and it's a good thing Dubya is there to respond quickly in a mindless and unthinking way. Actually that's just about the way Bin Ladin described the Americans, when you think about it. I'd prefer to think Bin Ladin was wrong about that, too, but obviously many Americans approve of such killing, as long as the Americans are the ones doing it. At least we can say most of our killings (this time) are more accidental. And pish on international law.

Obviously, I do have the feeling that there were many alternatives that were not pursued, and that the bottom line result shows that our reactions to date have not been enormously successful for the billions spent. Yes, several of the senior leaders of Al Qaeda have been killed, but it seems that most of the Taliban leaders escaped, perhaps to fight again another day. Bin Ladin is also missing, though it isn't clear if he's escaped and is hiding more carefully now or if he's dead and arranged for his body to be destroyed. The effectiveness of the American response also remains in question pending the successes or failures of the next terrorist attacks. Actually, the power source driving the terrorism has been weakened, but not the way Dubya was planning--the American economy looks to be in pretty serious trouble.

In American news, I heard about the death of Bill Clinton's dog followed by strange gloatings in the newsgroups. What political theory is possibly related to the death of your adversary's dog? Today I read about a new suicide pilot. A 15-year-old kid in Florida who flew a Cessna into a bank building. This was a prosperous kid with enough money to afford flying lessons. Sorry, but no matter how nice Dubya's pronunciation when reading his latest new year's message, these are NOT the signs of a healthy society. Right now I feel like they are the signs of a society sick beyond recovery, and the 'wisdom to know the difference' would be to quit worrying about it.

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Not writing much lately. Partly a lack of Japan-related news, but mostly a lack of motivational energy. On the first one, just haven't spotted much Dubya-related news involving Japan these days. The attack of the killer pretzel didn't get much notice here, though I've been wondering about it. I've seen quite a bit of speculation about what really happened there, but I would actually consider it a good thing that people are developing so much skepticism about what Dubya says. More Enron news, of course, but that belongs with the other Enron stuff.

The lack of motivational energy is more dangerous. That's what Dubya is counting on when the elections come around. It's already the case that half the voters don't care enough to vote, with the main reason being they don't believe their votes matter. Truest things are said in jest, and Dubya really does want the simplicity of a dictatorship, though I believe that there is going to be at least one more real election that could make a real difference, and that's the one this coming November. I expect it will be a really nasty one, especially in Florida. The Bushies need credibility beyond what Bin Ladin can supply, and it would look very bad if the REAL election in Florida goes very strongly against them.

However, when you look at the overall situation, it's really hard to sustain hope, and that is really sapping my energy. The famous expression is 'The strength to make change, patience to endure the unchangeable, and the wisdom to know the difference.' Dubya's reign of error more and more looks like one of those things that can't be changed, but fortunately I'm not wise enough to quit trying. In fact, I think I'll donate to Reno's campaign in Florida, even though I don't vote there. Unfortunately, if it comes down to money, the GOPpies always have more...

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Still not much relevant news getting to Japan these days... Yeah, one of the papers did print the text of Dubya's big speech, but the big news just now is more business scandals by the food company with the snowflake logo. Apparently Dubya is too busy helping Cheney stonewall questions about Enron to do much else just now. Anyway, I'm trying to keep busy with speculations on why "Nothing Succeeds like Failure", AKA the story of Dubya's failure to handle the terrorists.

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National holiday in Japan, but still not hearing much locally relevant news about Dubya, except for some stuff about his impending visit. Given his hoodoo, maybe that will be when the big quake hits... Mostly it's just the regular wire service feeds, here as everywhere. I remember hearing that Dubya is supposed to offer some kind of alternative to the Kyoto Accords he squashed, but one can scarcely expect anything positive there. The propagandistic spin these days is kind of overwhelming, from downplaying Enron and the suicide or murder of Baxter, to truly bizarre FAVORABLE comparisons of Dubya with Teddy Roosevelt--talk about the REALLY Odd Couple.

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American Public. Nothing but the truth shall be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about (the president) than about anyone else." -- President Theodore Roosevelt

Doesn't seem to match up very well. Then we could start in on the anti-environmental positions and come back to the pro-business and pro-rich-people leanings.

In a display of rare graciousness, Dubya announced that the Taliban prisoners would, after all, be regarded as military captives and treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. Mighty white of him, I suppose. Too bad he's unlikely to see the same 'favor' extended to American citizens who are being treated by some other country in accord with Dubya's new precedent: He who has the power gets to grant or deny any human rights. Let's not be confused by any legal or philosophic bantering!

Actually, I'm having a lot of trouble imaging what kind of legal reasoning can be twisted to apply to the new situations, though I suppose that's mighty convenient as the Bushies rewrite the rules. To me it looks like we have military prisoners, who should be handled in accord with such agreement as the Geneva Conventions, or we have non-military prisoners, which is actually how I regard the terrorists. Non-military prisoners are called criminals, and they still have certain rights--and those rights are also being ignored or tentatively granted only at the discretion of the lawless powers-that-be. Doesn't really matter which way you slice it. No matter which LEGAL system you want to handle them under, the accused would still have some legal rights. But I guess alegal behavior is natural for someone who seized office alegally. Remember, rogue nations don't need no stinkin' rule of law.

Of course the special factors here are that most of the military prisoners were only involved in a civil war that had no legal involvement of the United States, and most of the non-military prisoners had not yet committed any actual crimes against anyone. Sort of need to classify them as willful supporters of crimes they had no knowledge of, I guess. However, that's really a tricky and slippery slope. To cite the most obvious example, there is very solid international consensus that America supported violent crimes against the citizens of Nicaragua. So why shouldn't some fine American 'patriots' be put away? "Might makes right" is not a great answer.

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I suppose the main reason I'm not writing recently is because there is just no special Dubya-related news here. (Minor reason is that I'm being converted to Palm Pilotism by my new CLIE.) Dubya is still doing bad and harmful things, but the big focus is on Enron, and of course the Bushies' version is that this is not really news and the idea is to downplay everything. Failing that, their main strategy is to claim it's a business scandal, not political, which is a pretty humorous claim. Enron was NOT trying to to bribe a few politicians. Enron was trying to collect the entire set. About the most optimistic thing you can say in their defense is that perhaps 'Kenny Boy' Lay sincerely believed that he could fix things up once he got HIS boy into the White House.

Minor Enron-related item is more evidence that Baxter was murdered. Not exactly a big surprise, but I doubt they'll ever prove anything. Anyway, it would have been interesting to hear his testimony on the political shopping list, along with the names, amounts, and expected returns on investments. He probably would have reported things like: "At that meeting we all agreed that Bush was dumb, but reliable enough, and he never asked any awkward questions, so we bumped his donations up another $100,000." Just too embarrassing. Much more convenient for Baxter to be dead.

Interesting wrinkle is that President Clinton apparently smelled something fishy, and the banking legislation that Clinton proposed and which Gramm killed in committee was apparently also intended to hinder the kind of creative international accounting that Enron was using, though the main pitch for the law was apparently to block terrorist funding. Of course Gramm doesn't admit that he ever did anything wrong, and it's purely coincidental that he decided to retire.

Dubya did visit Japan, and in spite of his improved coaching managed to commit a fairly annoying gaffe. He wanted to say something about deflation, but managed to confuse it with devaluation. Right now no one is in favor of unstable currencies, especially for any of the majors. A recent but fairly minor secondary story involves the release of Dubya's sort-of-harshly worded 'advice' to Prime Minister Koizumi. This was about the Japanese banking situation, and kind of hard to see what business Dubya has sticking his nose into it, regardless of who actually wrote the thing.

Apart from that, Dubya continues to seek simple-minded solutions to complicated problems. He recently endorsed a Saudi proposal for peace treaties based on Israel returning to the pre-1967 boundaries. I suppose the funny thing is that I've suggested basically the same thing in the past, but can't see it as a very realistic proposal. The only way to make it work now would be with the Palestinians in the position of hostages in a demilitarized zone. That's from the Israeli side, but the Arabs would never buy it, and especially not the Palestinians. Almost all of them are religious loonies, including Dubya, and the chances of any rational settlement seem pretty slim.

In India, the situation seems to be getting worse again, and the Bushies are doing nothing. Of course the Indians are less likely to listen to his advice, but I also suspect there's a conflict of interests there. Dubya would actually benefit from a war with Pakistan, as long as he doesn't get any of the blame for it. He would leverage it for more personal political power in order to handle yet another crisis he should have averted, and this time be packaged as the 'peace seeker'. If Bin Ladin is still alive, he wants the chaos of war and the chance to get some nuclear weapons. That means two of the three crazed dictators are hoping for war with India. Only Musharraf is opposed, because he knows he'd lose every which way. There was a recent attack on some Indian nationalists followed by riots and killings of Muslins. It's been like this for months now, and if the situation is not defused, at some point there will be a major war.

Not sure where to put it, so I'll stick it in here at the end. It was recently revealed that there was a large department in the Pentagon dedicated to creating propaganda. Apparently there was no problem with becoming famous liars and propagandists, no matter how much we criticize our opponents for lying. The only problem was that some of the propaganda came back to the States, and there is some trivial law on the books that says the military isn't supposed to lie to Americans. There were a few days of shouting and then it was announced the the propaganda department was being disbanded. And if you really believe that, I'd like to talk with you about a nice bridge I got real cheap. I'm sure it's just the thing you want to buy.

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Still remiss in my duties, but still not hearing much here. Some news travels far, but mostly there hasn't been much. Reports of the Stevie Wonder debacle did make it this far. Dubya started waving at him, and then suddenly remembered that he's blind, yet then managed to compound the error by claiming he was just an enthusiastic fan. What kind of sincere fan would not know that his idol was blind? I don't know diddly about music, but even I know THAT much about Stevie Wonder. Or maybe the rude egocentricity is more remarkable? Even if the artist could see, why should Dubya interrupt him as he prepares to give his performance? Oh yeah, I forgot. He thinks he's the president. Or perhaps the most remarkable part was seeing vigorous defenses of Dubya for once again showing his true colors. Every little demonstration of his lack of qualifications has to be defended, and how. Of course, from my perspective Dubya did not magically become a different person on 12 December 2000 or 11 September 2001, so nothing surprising here. What Dubya doesn't know would fill volumes. Unfortunately, they are volumes that could be read, understood, and even used by normal elementary school children. And Dubya is still a reeking hypocrite.

The Enron stuff continues to unravel, but slowly. Lately it looks like they want to pin it on the accountants, but I think that's not a very bright strategy. The average accountant is not like Cheney--put the squeeze on and the accountants will start singing. Cheney, on the other hand, wouldn't tell his mother his own birthday. So the bad joke of the day is:

Oh, you say you're an accountant, eh? Well, you don't look so tough. Let's see how you handle that six-blade shredder.

Anyway, my own belief is that there are some very politically dangerous links to Cheney, and they are quite scared of certain linked people being put under oath. It sure seems like they are willing to take the issue of the concealment of those links all the way to SCOTUS, even at risk of another 5-4 bogus decision. They can't be too eager to play that card too many times, but this looks to be one of them. They are going to try to keep Enron defined as 'just a business scandal' for as long as they can. I think that may fail, since it's pretty obvious that Enron was a VERY political company.

The Palestinian situation seems to be rather worse than usual these days, with various suicide attacks and violent retaliations. There were some rather laughable claims that the situation has hit the bottom. More propaganda, or are they really that lacking in imagination? After the Palestinians are pushed into unilaterally declaring independence, THEN it will get messy. However, it looks like the Indian thing may calm down, which was actually the bigger danger. Everyone's used to the constant violence in and around Israel, but India and Pakistan would be a big one. Dubya seems to be realizing that the Iraqi mess is too messy to clean up without a sure-fire plan and reliable international support. Israel and England just aren't enough.

One of my main news and and grapevine sources has been very flaky lately, and I actually think it is being targeted for DoS attacks. That's negative propaganda techniques, and meanwhile Dubya is reported to be using positive propaganda techniques, basically turning the polls upside down. Dubya apparently doesn't use the polls to figure out what people want. He already knows what he wants, and he's going to do it anyway. His goal with polls is just to figure out how to lie to... Er, persuade the voters most effectively. Actually, I'm sure Dubya isn't clever enough to have figured this out by himself, but there is only speculation about who is actually coming up with these 'strategeries'.

I'll try to keep my ears and eyes open, but things are pretty quiet for now.

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