Saturday, March 22, 2003


Just a followup on my comment about coverage on NPR. After a surf through Blogistan, I agree that the best minute-by-minute war blogging is by Sean-Paul at The Agonist. I think he's glued to his computer, and getting reports from hundreds of volunteers around the world. Hesiod also has some good stuff. For the best in-depth commentary, my friend (if I may call him so) Markos at The Daily Kos is doing a bangup job, and was recognized by Forbes Magazine as "Best Warblog."

These bloggers, along with NPR, all have two things in common: they do it because they love it, and they get their money from donations. NPR's reporters are paid, although you can bet that NPR's Anne Garrels (sp?) doesn't get paid anywhere near as much as Geraldo. Still, their budget all comes from donations. Sean-Paul, Markos, and Atrios get paid nothing for their blogs. So if you turn to The Agonist or Daily Kos many times a day, you might make use of the button that says "Donate." None of the bloggers need it to live, but the donation keeps them from having to decide between maintaining a blog and taking their spouses out to dinner. So by donating, you may be saving a marriage.

(To The Barricades does not solicit donations. If you are motivated by this blog, donate to the progressive cause of your choice in our name.)

Lincoln, Nebraska is as liberal a town as you will find in the State of Nebraska. Popular myth (and it may well be true) holds that we have a higher per capita number of GLBT folks here than San Francisco. The University of Nebraska harbors a number of pretty uppity professors. For years we were home to Rabbi Michael Weisser, a major leader of the peace movement in the Midwest (who, sadly, is now gone overseas). That's why it's so unsurprising to see a number of "NO WAR" signs in yards among the political yard signs for our upcoming city elections.

One of my fellow actors in Hamlet (I play Yorrick) and her neighbor have such anti-war signs in their yards. At least, they did until the war started. Then an unknown helpful person took the signs down for them. Of course, my friend and her neighbor put the signs back up. These mysterious people took them down and laid them on these folks' front porches. The signs went up again. This time the signs were torn into pieces and scattered around the lawn -- the last act apparently done during the day.

The neighbor gave up. My friend, however, put another sign up, with a note attached to it, somewhat smaller, saying "In Baghdad they tear down signs. Is this Baghdad?"

The sign is still up.


Talked to the sign poster last night (about 8:00 PM). It's gone, note and all. So much for my hope that reason would prevail.

Having spent two days on the road, I discovered that NPR's coverage of the war is excellent. When I was near a TV I tried to find something equaling it -- anything that was as balanced, as in-depth, as intelligent as NPR's. There ain't none. CNN's is sound-bite and graphics-happy; MSNBC has disgusting gaps in it; the networks are self-serving and miss major information; and Fox -- okay, I didn't even look at Fox. So NPR doesn't have cool pictures. Their reports allow me to think -- and that's more important to me than anything. The only thing I miss is having maps, and I now have a good map of Iraq to follow what their reporters are talking about.

Worst war coverage: AM radio. In an area of Nebraska that doesn't have NPR coverage, I was reduced to tuning to an AM station (I won't mention its name) that was broadcasting a certain big fat loudmouth. Caller after caller applauded Rush's long-standing position that we should just go in to Iraq, kick their asses, and to hell with the UN. They're in hog heaven. When he's said in the past that he's not a journalist, he's an entertainer, he failed. He's not entertaining, he's an idiot.

As I think of it, if I had to blame this war at anyone's feet, I'd lay it at his feet and the feet of those who form his audience of twenty some million. If it weren't for them, the Cheney - Rumsfeld - Wolfowitz cabal would be an academic footnote somewhere. Instead, they were bolstered by Limbaugh's repeated calls for the US to disregard the UN, disregard world opinion, disregard long-term consequences, and just give in to childish whims. These three bought into the "dittohead" mentality and gave it an academic veneer of credibility. Limbaugh set the stage for them to walk into a cheering mob saying "Kick their asses" and believe that it was the Right Thing To Do -- because they had a crowd of True Believers.

It's a dangerous combination, academic policy research and popular fanaticism. When either one loses touch with reality, usually the other acts as a check to it. But when the two act in concert, all hell breaks loose.

I'm back from a bit of an unexpected trip out of town. Did you miss me? I sure missed you!

Thursday, March 20, 2003


Love the warrior, hate the war.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Slowly-approaching-Democratic Senator Ben Nelson voted to prevent drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve. Damn, Ben, keep this up and somebody's going to think you really are a Democrat!

Meanwhile, in the Unicameral, Dave Landis is getting pissed and may tell the chamber of commerce to go piss up a rope in what appears to be a strategic withdrawal. I'm going to see if he'll give me an interview tonight. Watch this space.


From This Is London.
British and American troops were involved in fierce fighting near Iraq's main port today as the war to topple Saddam Hussein began.

The firefight broke out near Basra as men of the Special Boat Service targeted the strategically vital city and the oilfields in southern Iraq.

At the same time allied troops were flooding into the demilitarised zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait 40 miles away to take up positions for an all-out invasion.
Beating them to the punch is good military tactics. Since we already threw world opinion out the window, why not?

I'm sure most folks have noticed that the web has slowed down, regardless of your bandwidth. That's because everyone in the world is using the web to get minute-by-minute updates as to what's going on in Iraq and the environs. It's even affected us on the Barricades. Our normal traffic runs around fifty or sixty page views a day; last couple of days I've gotten between 90 and 110.

If this war just keeps up, maybe I can give up the law practice and move into that beach house. . . .

Seriously, for almost minute-by-minute blogging of the war, have a look at Hesiod, who seems to be wired into every news service between Islamabad and San Fransico.

Two days before a European Union summit, bugging devices have been found in offices used by several countries, including France and Germany. The device is reportedly an American type device, although no one is claiming that it was placed by anyone with connections to the United States.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt:
The eavesdropping device that was unearthed was found, according to reports, on February 28th, eleven days after heads of state and government leaders of the 15 EU states met in the building to discuss their position with regard to the Iraq conflict. . . 'We have no indicaction that it was Americans, but we have no indication that it was not them, either,' said the chief police spokesman Dominique-Georges Marro [of Brussels]. The French newspaper Le Figaro, to the contrary, reported, "It was Americans." [my translation]
I hope it wasn't us. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that it was.

Comment c'est dit "les plomers incompetente?"

It's been raining here since Monday. That must mean that God approves of Bush's intervention in Iraq, since the Deity saw fit to break the drought in Nebraska at the same time Bush declared his intention to intervene.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003


I knew once the President set his deadline that I would have to consult with the one Mideast political expert I trust most: Hassan, the grill cook in downtown Lincoln. I last talked to him back in January -- and he had some choice words about Saddam Hussein. He also dropped some surprises.

Of course Hassan isn't really his name. He's Iranian, and has been in this country many years. He's a news junkie. He's the night manager, cook, bouncer, and political commentator at a gyro and hamburger grill in the heart of the the University bar district downtown. You can always find one of the news channels on in his place, usually CNN. You can also usually count on his commentary on whatever is going on. Tonight I knew he could put everything in perspective for me. He didn't fail me:

"Diplomacy? What diplomacy? Bush didn't do a damn thing about diplomacy! He planned to attack Iraq from the very first. He would have attacked Iraq if Saddam had let Bush himself go through the whole damn country."

"The Americans will not have to fight the Iraqis in Iraq. Most of them will surrender -- they're probably making American flags now." In response to my question about a report from NPR about Palestinian and other Arab nationals in Iraq: "That's who will fight the Americans. You see, Americans and Europeans forget that Saddam doesn't think about himself as an Iraqi. He's a member of one tribe. That tribe has people all the way from Saudi Arabia to Jordan and Syria and Iraq. He only uses people from that tribe for his bodyguard and in his government. All his people are from that tribe, and from his own family. Sometimes he doesn't even trust them. But the tribe goes beyond Iraq. Don't forget about that. That's who will fight the Americans. That's who will give you the real problems. Not the Iraqi army."

"Al-Qaeda is all Saudi. It's all Sunni. Not even Khomeini had idiots like that. That's why the Americans want Iraq: because the Saudi government is going to fall soon, and they want to be there to control Saudi Arabia, and to make sure they can replace the Saudi oil after the Saudi revolution comes."

"I hate Saddam Hussein. He attacked my village in the Iran-Iraq war and killed a lot of people. But I don't want to see anybody from here die to throw him out. Not unless there's a big coalition. Bush's father did it right, and should have finished the job. He didn't and now his son is going to mess it up."

"What kind of an idiot is Saddam, anyway? He has enough money stuck away that he could leave Iraq secretly, go live in exile like Reza Shah [Pahlavi] like a king. At least until somebody shoots him."

"The only problem with the United States setting up a government in Iraq is that they will get some thug like Saddam who won't be any better, but he will sell oil to Cheney."

Now, let me point out that while he is a well-educated man, Hassan doesn't have a bachelor's degree in political science. But I think we ought to get him on a talk show. He figured everything out pretty well, don't you think?


After consulting with my comrades on and behind the barricades, we've decided that it's time to raise the banner of Howard Dean as Democratic candidate for President in 2004. Here's why:

- He is not ashamed to be progressive. He's taken as his motto Paul Wellstone's statement that he represents the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party."

- He has a plan for health care that is a viable mix of public and private initiatives. I haven't seen much from any of the other candidates that goes beyond generalities.

- He has charisma. As a speaker, he's one of the best to come along since Ronald Reagan (I have to recognize his talents, even though I didn't like his policies). He galvanizes crowds and can inspire grassroots support, possibly more than any other candidate.

- He's outspoken. Far too few people recognize the attractiveness of this to voters. I think this is one reason why Bob Kerrey did as well as he did in Nebraska, despite his politics. He didn't mind telling someone to f*ck off. I heard him do it in a press conference and he got a standing ovation. Howard Dean completely overwhelmed the California Democratic convention last week, and he does this routinely. This might be able to motivate voters who otherwise would stay home. It also could get up good organizations.

- As a true progressive he offers a real alternative to the GOP, which may well suddenly try to move center again later on this year. ("Forget all that right wing stuff we tried the last few years. We're really compassionate. Honest.")

- If the Iraq war falls apart, he's the only candidate who can say "I told you so." (Of course, if it goes like clockwork, Dubya can say the same).

Dean has some weaknesses. He is a bit weak in the economics department -- he'll come across as a New England socialist, but he may be able to deal with that if he surrounds himself with good advisors and a good running mate. He's also not doing great in the money department, but he may be able to compensate somewhat with his ability to energize and build an organization.

I'm realistic enough to know that he doesn't have a great chance -- but he's someone I can get into. Most important to me, he feels right. Lots of voters make their choices on that basis, in addition to raw analysis.

Here's his statement on the Iraq matter:
Tonight, for better or worse, America is at war. Tonight, every American, regardless of party, devoutly supports the safety and success of our men and women in the field. Those of us who, over the past 6 months, have expressed deep concerns about this President's management of the crisis, mistreatment of our allies and misconstruction of international law, have never been in doubt about the evil of Saddam Hussein or the necessity of removing his weapons of mass destruction.

Those Americans who opposed our going to war with Iraq, who wanted the United Nations to remove those weapons without war, need not apologize for giving voice to their conscience, last year, this year or next year. In a country devoted to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is every citizen's patriotic duty to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and pray for their safe return. Congressman Abraham Lincoln did this in criticizing the Mexican War of 1846, as did Senator Robert F. Kennedy in calling the war in Vietnam "unsuitable, immoral and intolerable."

This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced --this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructive and humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so.
While others (including France, of all people) are suddenly falling over themselves to say "we didn't really mean it when we said opposed unilateral action," Dean sticks to his guns. That's why I like him: he's got guts.


Ben Nelson supports the move in Iraq. But, he said, he thinks that nobody took the US's "diplomatic efforts" seriously because we spent more time and effort on the military side than on the diplomatic side. (World-Herald story). The Journal Star's print story goes into a bit more detail on Nelson's remarks. They are by no means unsupportive -- but he does urge more emphasis on diplomacy up front, especially in the next crisis.

We on the Barricades applaud Ben Nelson's perception of what has happened here. He's called it pretty darned close to right, especially considering that he's still trying to tread that fine line between being a Democrat and keeping the second most conservative state in the north happy. Keep it up, Ben.

The debate on the first major modification of LB775, the Great Tax Giveaway for Businesses began yesterday. Senator Dave Landis of Lincoln, carrying the ball on the issue, pointed out that this giveaway has cost more than it's generated:
"It transferred taxes to other citizens," he said. "That's why your citizens are upset. It means a heavier burden for them."

Landis based his statements on a 2000 legislative study that showed $300 million in new taxes generated, compared with $1.3 billion in tax credits used by businesses.

Too often, Landis said, the state awards tax credits to business projects that probably would have occurred anyway. He would prefer a "narrower and deeper" program - one with tougher qualifications but better benefits.

I've said all along that the best thing that could happen to LB775 is to scrap the whole thing. As Landis points out in the Lincoln Journal Star story, "70 percent of the economic activity earning LB775 credits would have happened regardless; just 30 percent directly resulted from the incentives." (It's interesting how editorial bias colors how one paper digests quotes, isn't it?).

A 30 percent payoff is a loser -- anyone who makes that kind of investment in real business would be canned, fired, thrown out the window. But not in government. Isn't it clear that a program with this kind of a losing payoff needs to go altogether? But, as Landis pointed out, he faces "about 35 lobbyists, "all of them impeccably dressed," in the State Capitol Rotunda," all just waiting to buttonhole senators on this debate. You can bet that damn few of them want to get rid of the tax giveaways.

Bravo, Dave. Any change is better than none at all. It is better to light one candle -- maybe that's what we can ultimately use to set fire to the whole damn thing.

Monday, March 17, 2003


I got one of those down-home, folksy stories to tell. Like most such stories, it's true, sort of. When I was a kid a bunch of us went camping one summer along a creek in the woods of Wilkes County in North Carolina. Of course we stayed up all night talking and carrying on. At some point we started telling legends about animals and one kid said he had heard that if you pick up a skunk by the tail, it can't squirt you. This, of course, was greeted with derision, followed by challenges for the nature expert to prove it. He was stuck, and had to prove his point or lose face. So we took off from our campsite to find a skunk. It wasn't difficult to find one, and soon enough we had one facing us down in a clearing. "Okay, Billy, go get 'im" we called to the braggart. He wasn't quite sure how to go about picking this skunk up -- after all, if he got close enough to grab him by the tail, he was sure to get squirted up to the point where he got the skunk off the ground, thus losing the benefit of his experiment. Finally Billy decided to grab the skunk at a dead run. He got up a full head of steam, leaned down, grabbed the skunk by the tail, and sure enough, had a pissed off skunk -- but one that couldn't do anything but snarl and try to bite him.

We congratulated Billy and he was pretty full of himself. Then someone asked: "Hey, Billy, whatcha gonna do with 'im now that you got 'im?" That was a helluva good question, and Billy himself didn't have a good answer. Finally he decided to set the skunk down just as he picked him up -- at a dead run. Once again he got up a full head of steam, leaned down, put the skunk on the ground, and ran like the wind -- smack into a pine tree.

The skunk, seeing his chance for revenge, covered Billy with humiliation that stayed with him for days. We, on the other hand, didn't. We took off in all directions and wouldn't come near our buddy for at least a week. And he caught no end of teasing for years afterwards.

Now the moral of this story is this: we're about to get into Iraq, and I'll bet that Rumsfeld has a pretty good plan to get into the country and drive Saddam Hussein out. He may even have a plan to set up a military governorship so we can "establish democracy." But is he going to know what to do with it once he has it? Will Bush know how to get rid of Iraq if it starts to bite at him? And what's it going to take to hold on to Iraq?

Joe Galloway of the Miami Herald has a few thoughts on the subject. So does Tapped. Galloway points out one thing that hadn't occurred to me that now scares the living shit out of me: this Iraqi thing is the first war to be planned by civilians since McNamara's Vietnam strategy. We all know where that went. Galloway:
McNamara knew that he and his Whiz Kids and their computers had a much better grip on the situation than any uniformed military commander.

He ignored both their advice and their deep-seated reluctance to being drawn into a quagmire that took the lives of 58,229 Americans and ended with a devastating American retreat.

Not since then have a secretary of defense and his closest civilian advisers demonstrated so thorough a contempt for the counsel of America's military leaders, who incidentally are the last generation still wearing the uniform to have served in Vietnam. The last who know the true price of failed and flawed political leadership in war.

If there is any small group that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his closed circle of advisers - none of whom have worn a uniform since Boy Scouts - ought to be listening to, it is the four-star generals and admirals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It sounds to me like the well-intentioned gang at the Pentagon, like my buddy Billy, knows a little bit about skunks. They know how to stop a skunk from squirting poisonous chemicals. But once they catch him, what do they do with him -- and how do they get out of the situation without having it all blow back on them?

The answer, of course, is that they can't. LBJ got us inextricably bogged down in Vietnam, after listening to McNamara. Nixon got elected by simultaneously saying he would win Vietnam and get us out "with honor." Of course he did neither -- and destroyed confidence in the office of the President forever in the process.

There is nothing honorable about the beginning of this war. It is founded on lies from all sides; on diplomatic bungling; on using what should be a forum for all nations to work together for the benefit of one nation. There can be no "honorable" way to get out of it except to get out when Saddam is gone and the weapons factories that we suddenly "discover" are destroyed.

In a year or so, when we are bogged down in Iraq, after Saddam is gone but the Kurds are fighting the Turks, the Shi'ites are fighting the Sunni, those who got cut out of the new government are fighting to get cut back in, and we have a couple hundred thousand American troops trying to keep them apart (since the UN will tell us "you wanted in so badly, you deal with it yourself!"), somebody is going to offer to get us out of Iraq "with honor" or to "win in Iraq" and use that as his gimmick to get elected. Let's try to learn from last time. Let's be very careful about who we elect and what he's offering us. No secret plans to end the war. Just honesty. That would be a nice change.


I've struggled most of the day, in between doing legal things, with what to say about the coming war with Iraq. I've been through two wars and a few minor "police actions," some of which I was subject to participating in. Never before have I had such trepidation about anything my country was about to do as I have about the pending attack on Iraq.

Saddam Hussein needs to go. No question. He could make it easy on everybody if he did so -- just catch a night flight out of Baghdad and hide somewhere. As my friend "Hassan," the Iranian grill cook said back in December, ""For twenty years that f*ker Saddam was in Iraq and he was a f*ker and killing people. We knew it in Iran -- we fought him ourselves -- the Turks knew it, everybody knew it." That's not what bothers me.

I'm worried about my daughter and son in law. They're deployed now, one in the desert somewhere and one at an "undisclosed location." I pray for them, and ask you to do the same. But that's not what bothers me, either.

There's a certain threat of retribution by al-Qaeda after the balloon goes up. Any gathering of more than a hundred Americans anywhere is not safe. That's scary, but that's not what bothers me, or at least not too much.

No, what bothers me is that we still don't know what's going to happen in Iraq after we drive Saddam out. I have no doubt he will be driven out, whether it happens in seventy-two hours and no US casualties, or whether it takes months and hundreds of body bags start getting airlifted back home. One way or the other, he's dead meat. But once he's gone, how long will American soldiers stay in Baghdad? How many decades? How facetious is the discussion in the blogosphere of Newt Gingrich as governor of Iraq? What will be the next country to dare the US to come on? Will we take that dare? Is the UN now truly passe? Is France now our sworn enemy? If suicide bombers hit in the Mall of the Americas, will Minnesota call for martial law? Will it be declared? Will North Korea act in its predictably unpredictable manner and figure now is the time to shell Seoul?

Iraq will be occupied; that much is certain. Guerilla war against the US in Iraq is quite likely following an occupation -- as is retribution against guerillas. Iraq will provide a great powerbase for the Middle East and Central Asia.

What disturbs me is that I am watching the foundation of the American Empire. I wasn't kidding when I said that I didn't want to be part of an empire. The time has come for all of us who believe in what the country really stands for to join together. Yes, in an ideal world I'd like a pure liberal in the White House and a Congress full of the same. Now, I'll settle for someone who will make sure we pull out of Iraq quickly. Let's do all we can to make sure that, in two years, a President and Congress is elected who will stop this train while it can still be stopped. I don't know what else -- lawfully -- we can do.

Sunday, March 16, 2003


My previous post and the comments and emails I've received that prompted it are clear evidence of the real reason why Bush got elected: we on the left (or even on the left side of the center) spend more time beating up on each other than on beating up on the real problem.

Regardless of how he got there or whose fault it is, we have Bush to deal with now. I am doing my part to change that by becoming active in local Democratic politics. Maybe I irritate the "traditional Democrats" but I'm still out there walking the precincts, helping to raise funds, and adding my voice to local policy making meetings. So let's put away the blame game for 2000 and concentrate on getting a unified alternative to Bushism out there for people to get interested in. I'll mitigate some of my "radicalism" if you'll come off your "let's not piss anybody off fear of taking a stand." Deal?

Meanwhile I think Bush will do his part by driving the economy further in the toilet plus maybe -- just maybe -- completely botching this whole Iraq thing (except that would kill a lot of good American soldiers). Let's spend our energy and words fighting the real bad guys: the ones who want to build the New American Empire.

I think I've about had it with accusations that the "Nader voters" are the cause of all the evil George Bush brings. If the "traditional Democrats" would put half the energy into making the Demcratic Party appealing to real people, instead of being "column B" for corporations who want politicians to buy; if they would show some concern for all workers instead of just those union leaders who hold the checkbooks; if they would act like Democrats -- the party of JFK and Roosevelt and Harry Truman; the party that fought segregation and supported womens' rights -- instead of trying to pretend they're just as conservative as the GOP, just a little more warm and fuzzy; they might not have scared away so many traditional supporters.

Want to blame someone for putting Bush in the White House? Blame a state full of bigots who won't let someone's most loved person make the decision to let them die, all because they happen to be the same gender. And blame the party that won't speak up too loudly about that for fear it will annoy someone. Blame senators -- including a shitload of "traditional Democrats" who rushed to hand over their power to declare war to a President who, suddenly, all the "traditional" Democrats think got elected because of those who want real Democrats instead of conservatives in cheap clothing in office.

Blame the huge percent of Democrats who didn't bother to vote at all -- not for Nader, not for Bush, not for Gore, not for nobody -- because they just didn't give a damn, because the Democratic Party was too busy trying to be "GOP Lite" in order to snag votes from a middle that just didn't give a damn. And blame a "traditional Democratic party" that was too busy chasing corporate money to send people out to walk the precincts to get out a few more votes.

As for how effective "traditional Democrats" are, let's just look at that: Where were the "traditional Democrats" when they got the living shit beat out of them last year -- when "traditional Democrat" Terry McAuliffe and "traditional Democrat" Dick Gephard and "traditional Democrat" Daschele led the "traditional Democrat party" to its worst defeat in decades? And where were the "traditional Democrats" when the vote came up last fall to give -- or deny -- President Bush the authority to make war in Iraq? You don't have Nader to blame for any of that.

In Nebraska last year, the "traditional Democratic party" was so irrelevant that the state AFL-CIO did not support the Democratic candidate for governor. Neither did the state teachers' union. When the "traditional Democratic party" loses the unions, it might as well give up and go home. And you can't say that if Gore had been in office, it would have been better. The fact is that the Democratic party abandoned its roots, and some -- the whiners -- are trying to blame those of us who want to bring the Democratic party back from conservatism for their own failures.

Compassionate conservatism was a failure for the Democrats. Hows about we try going back to what worked for us? The "traditional Democratic approach" has been a collossal failure.