May 23, 2003

A thought for the Memorial Day Weekend:
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,--
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers."
Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.

But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue. We see a lot of this today in politics. I see a lot of it -- more than I would ever have believed -- right on this Senate Floor.

Regarding the situation in Iraq, it appears to this Senator that the American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing International law, under false premises. There is ample evidence that the horrific events of September 11 have been carefully manipulated to switch public focus from Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda who masterminded the September 11th attacks, to Saddam Hussein who did not. The run up to our invasion of Iraq featured the President and members of his cabinet invoking every frightening image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ laden death in our major cities. We were treated to a heavy dose of overstatement concerning Saddam Hussein's direct threat to our freedoms. The tactic was guaranteed to provoke a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination of post traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks of 911. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for the anger.

Since the war's end, every subsequent revelation which has seemed to refute the previous dire claims of the Bush Administration has been brushed aside. Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject. No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up, but we are told that they will in time. Perhaps they yet will. But, our costly and destructive bunker busting attack on Iraq seems to have proven, in the main, precisely the opposite of what we were told was the urgent reason to go in. It seems also to have, for the present, verified the assertions of Hans Blix and the inspection team he led, which President Bush and company so derided. As Blix always said, a lot of time will be needed to find such weapons, if they do, indeed, exist. Meanwhile Bin Laden is still on the loose and Saddam Hussein has come up missing.

The Administration assured the U.S. public and the world, over and over again, that an attack was necessary to protect our people and the world from terrorism. It assiduously worked to alarm the public and blur the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden until they virtually became one.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the U.S. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq's threatening death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. Their missiles proved to be outdated and of limited range. Their army was quickly overwhelmed by our technology and our well trained troops.

Presently our loyal military personnel continue their mission of diligently searching for WMD. They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons, and the occasional buried swimming pool. They are misused on such a mission and they continue to be at grave risk. But, the Bush team's extensive hype of WMD in Iraq as justification for a preemptive invasion has become more than embarrassing. It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?

What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are "liberators." The facts don't seem to support the label we have so euphemistically attached to ourselves. True, we have unseated a brutal, despicable despot, but "liberation" implies the follow up of freedom, self-determination and a better life for the common people. In fact, if the situation in Iraq is the result of "liberation," we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years.

Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people, water is scarce, and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi people have been looted, and nuclear material may have been disseminated to heaven knows where, while U.S. troops, on orders, looked on and guarded the oil supply.

Meanwhile, lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and refurbish its oil industry are awarded to Administration cronies, without benefit of competitive bidding, and the U.S. steadfastly resists offers of U.N. assistance to participate. Is there any wonder that the real motives of the U.S. government are the subject of worldwide speculation and mistrust?

And in what may be the most damaging development, the U.S. appears to be pushing off Iraq's clamor for self-government. Jay Garner has been summarily replaced, and it is becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the U.S. as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier. The image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom. Chaos and rioting only exacerbate that image, as U.S. soldiers try to sustain order in a land ravaged by poverty and disease. "Regime change" in Iraq has so far meant anarchy, curbed only by an occupying military force and a U.S. administrative presence that is evasive about if and when it intends to depart.

Democracy and Freedom cannot be force fed at the point of an occupier's gun. To think otherwise is folly. One has to stop and ponder. How could we have been so impossibly naive? How could we expect to easily plant a clone of U.S. culture, values, and government in a country so riven with religious, territorial, and tribal rivalries, so suspicious of U.S. motives, and so at odds with the galloping materialism which drives the western-style economies?

As so many warned this Administration before it launched its misguided war on Iraq, there is evidence that our crack down in Iraq is likely to convince 1,000 new Bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we have seen in the past several days. Instead of damaging the terrorists, we have given them new fuel for their fury. We did not complete our mission in Afghanistan because we were so eager to attack Iraq. Now it appears that Al Queda is back with a vengeance. We have returned to orange alert in the U.S., and we may well have destabilized the Mideast region, a region we have never fully understood. We have alienated friends around the globe with our dissembling and our haughty insistence on punishing former friends who may not see things quite our way.

The path of diplomacy and reason have gone out the window to be replaced by force, unilateralism, and punishment for transgressions. I read most recently with amazement our harsh castigation of Turkey, our longtime friend and strategic ally. It is astonishing that our government is berating the new Turkish government for conducting its affairs in accordance with its own Constitution and its democratic institutions.

Indeed, we may have sparked a new international arms race as countries move ahead to develop WMD as a last ditch attempt to ward off a possible preemptive strike from a newly belligerent U.S. which claims the right to hit where it wants. In fact, there is little to constrain this President. Congress, in what will go down in history as its most unfortunate act, handed away its power to declare war for the foreseeable future and empowered this President to wage war at will.

As if that were not bad enough, members of Congress are reluctant to ask questions which are begging to be asked. How long will we occupy Iraq? We have already heard disputes on the numbers of troops which will be needed to retain order. What is the truth? How costly will the occupation and rebuilding be? No one has given a straight answer. How will we afford this long-term massive commitment, fight terrorism at home, address a serious crisis in domestic healthcare, afford behemoth military spending and give away billions in tax cuts amidst a deficit which has climbed to over $340 billion for this year alone? If the President's tax cut passes it will be $400 billion. We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate. We accept soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly.

But, I contend that, through it all, the people know. The American people unfortunately are used to political shading, spin, and the usual chicanery they hear from public officials. They patiently tolerate it up to a point. But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood - - when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie - - not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody's grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory.

And mark my words, the calculated intimidation which we see so often of late by the "powers that be" will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.

--Sen. Robert Byrd, May 21, 2003

May 22, 2003

Quickie Golf Trivia Question: What do Mark Brooks, Steve Elkington, Bob Estes, Sergio Garcia and Tom Lehman all have in common? First to answer gets a free night of drinking at Over/Under in Santa Monica....
Ari Fleischer's first day back in civilian life is off to a rough start....

May 21, 2003

Here's something for fans of Hans Gruber: his own website.
P.C. Watch: Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Chris Hedges of the NY Times was booed off the stage and had his microphone cut off by angry students at Rockford College in Illinois, when he gave a commencement speech critical of US war aims in Iraq. This is less a free speech issue (the audience has just as much of a right to boo and heckle a speaker, something Jeane Kirkpatrick found out when she gave a lecture at Berkeley 20 years ago) than it is a sign that a substantial portion of the country is not interested in having its views challenged, and will get mighty defensive about it when you try. Further evidence, of course, that modern conservatism is as intolerant of dissident views as your typical campus leftist.

May 19, 2003

William Buckley again proves that, agree or disagree, his columns are always provocative. His take on the Jayson Blair controversy is perhaps the first by a conservative that doesn't reflexively blame affirmative action for the fiasco; in fact, he brings up two obvious issues that would mediate against that argument, that Blair is an immensely talented writer (albeit a dishonest one) and that the stories he was writing were real (it was the quotes and sources that were fabricated). It is a useful tonic to the conventional wisdom now emerging, that somehow this problem never would have happened with a white reporter.

His second column, on the Bennett gambling controversy, has been widely disseminated in the blogosphere for his prediction that Mr. Virtue is...objectively discredited. He will not be proffered any public post by any president into the foreseeable future. He will not publish another book on another virtue, if there is any he has neglected to write about. It is possible that the books written by him on the subject, sitting in bookstores, will work their way to the remainder houses.

OUCH !! What isn't commented on is Buckley's more important point, regarding Bennett's right to a private life and the advocacy of "virtue". The whole notion that casinos are now trading the gambling records of patrons to the fourth estate strikes me as contemptible, and I'm glad that he agrees. His more important point, though, concerns the glee which many of my compatriots on the left have expressed concerning this whole sordid tale. Even granting the rather banal point that Bennett is a hypocrite, I have yet to hear a compelling argument that everything Bennett believes in should now be discredited.

What is the larger point about hypocrisy, anyway? For example, if Pope John Paul II has a secret wife and children, his hypocrisy would speak to the unnaturalness of the Church's policy towards sex, marriage by priests, etc. In other words, it would concern a policy within the Church that has nothing to do with morality, vice, or anything beyond the fact that it was imposed centuries ago to prevent clerical leaders from passing church property on to their descendents. The hypocrisy would reflect how wrong the policy is, not vindicate my unrelated positions on choice and contraception. No one could plausibly believe that because the Pope had been shown to be a hypocrite on this one issue somehow discredits the Church's teaching on the Immaculate Conception.

Gambling is clearly not like that. A significant percentage of people view it as a vice, and, as with drinking, most people believe that it is wrong if done to excess. In a not-altogether convincing article last weekend, Frank Rich argues that Bennett's downfall stems as much from his destination (Las Vegas) as his choice of vices, since he could play the slots to his heart's content in Delaware, rather than in a city that still celebrates the memory of Bugsy Siegel, and in which Crazy Horse II is one of the most popular tourist destinations.

Still, one can oppose gambling and still have difficulty walking away from a blackjack table. William Bennett is no more discredited now, on this or any other issue, than he was two weeks ago. More to the point, Bennett should not be discredited because he is a hypocrite who preached virtue while practicing vice. He should be discredited because he was an unforgiving, bigoted, sanctimonious, partisan scold, a fact that was not changed by the events of the last two weeks.

Jeez, Scott Weiland just got popped for possession of drugs. The "unidentified narcotics" were reportedly discovered by police after they pulled him over last night for driving without his lights. This is the type of story that you are never quite sure if it actually happened, or whether it just gets spit out automatically by the A.P. wire every five months.
The perils of writing under the influence: Mr. Samgrass attempts to "set the record straight" concerning his former friend Sid Blumenthal. Someone please do me the courtesy of translating this into English....

May 18, 2003

I plan on editing the blogroll to the right in the next couple of days. I have some ideas as to what sites I want to add, delete, etc.(while maintaining all of the sites of bloggers who've honored my life's work by linking to Smythe's World), but I am open to suggestions. If anyone has a favorite link that they access here, let me know, either in the comments box or by e-mail, so that I don't remove it.

The incomparable Ms. Annette Summersett now has a website. It's still under construction, but you can download some of her choicest tunes, and for those of you who can't make it to the Sherman Oaks Lounge every Saturday night, you can hear what all the buzz is about. Unfortunately, the two of us are feuding right now, due to her determined, unqualified hatred of the Mighty Ducks.