Your Thoughts Exactly: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Iraqi Policeman Sentenced to Death

Ibrahim Hassan Awad was arrested by coalition forces after killing U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jerry E. Shumate Jr. in the town of Hamdaniya, west of Baghdad, in April. Awad and seven fellow policemen kidnapped Shumate from a coffee shop in Hamdaniya while Shumate was off-duty, dragged him outside, bound and gagged him, and placed him in a roadside hole. Under the orders of their superior, the eight men then shot Shumate, killing him. Awad himself fired at least ten rounds into Shumate’s body.

The murderers then placed a stolen AK-47 rifle and a shovel next to Shumate’s body to support a fake report that Shumate was killed by insurgents.

At his trial, Awad tried to argue that he was only carrying out the orders of his superior officer, and under the regulations governing the Iraq police force, he could not disobey his superior. This did not persuade the coalition tribunal that tried Awad to offer a lighter sentence, convicting him of murder and sentencing him to death.

Sounds appropriate, right? If you do not believe in the death penalty, then perhaps this is disturbing, but he at least should be sentenced to life imprisonment, or some very long term.

What if I told you that I changed just a few facts of the story? Awad’s name is actually Hashim Ibrahim Awad. He was a retired Iraqi police officer. He was a father of 11.

Instead of the story above, Lance Corporal Shumate and 7 other American marines broke into Awad’s home, bound and gagged Awad, dragged him outside, placed him in a roadside hole and shot him to death under the orders of Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins. Shumate fired at least ten rounds. The men then placed a stolen AK-47 and shovel next to him to support their false report which suggested that Awad was an insurgent.

This is the true story, and nearly identical to the one above – I simply switched the murder and the victim and altered a few facts to make the story work.

Oh yeah – I also changed the punishment. Lance Corporal Shumate was sentenced to 21 months in prison and dishonorably discharged. 21 months. He was originally sentenced to a whopping 8 years in prison, but despite admitting he knew his actions were illegal, he was able to reach a plea bargain to the reduced sentence of 21 months and a conviction of aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, in exchange for his testimony against the other Marines and in part because the incident occurred during his first tour of duty.

If you ever wonder why we were not welcomed in Iraq as liberators, why we are hated around the world, this is a good reason.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I-Raq, go do it, when you want to go to it

I would like to write about the Nintendo Wii, but i've only played for four hours, and I want to get my total gameplay at least up to a full work week before I give my full thoughts. Ok I'm going to name it the greatest thing ever, but we already know that

So instead, let's talk about some hot Sunni on Shia action. And some hot Shia on Sunni action.

Is Iraq in the midst of a civil war? President Bush says no. Instead Iraq is victim to Al-Qaeda forces who are continually bombing and attacking peaceful Iraqis. Those acts, and the reactions of those who are attacked, make it look like a civil war; but it's not actually a civil war. Just another step in the Global War on Extremism or the War on Terror, of Fight Against Badness or whatever disgusting label the current Administration gives to justify all their illegal actions.

Political Scientists, in their attempts to put the science in their field of expertise, like to have definitions for conflicts (terrorism, war, guerilla warfare, etc.) A Civil War, according to the esteemed academic site wikipedia, is defined by political scientists through two criteria. First, warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second criterion is that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.

Well hot diggity, but under that definition, I am pretty damn sure that Iraq is in the middle of a Civil War. The only reason people like our President can argue that there is no civil war is that the country is so fucked up, with so many different groups committing acts of violence against each other no one knows what is really the ultimate cause. Is it the presence of American troops? Fighters coming over the borders that have been trained by Al-Qaeda? Shia militia's that have been getting money from Iran? Ex Sadaam loyalists? Corrupt policemen? Sand penguins?

In defeating Sadaam, then undermining their own authority to maintain martial law through Abu Gharib and mismangement of Sunni-Shia-Kurd relations, the U.S. has effectively turned the area of "Iraq" into a frontier land, a true failed state. Think "Deadwood."

The most infuriating thing about Bush is his absolute inability to acknowledge that things are not proceeding as planned, and that the possibility for failure is all too real. Making comments like "we will stay until the job is finished," no longer give off the impression as a strong leader, rather as a buffoon. It continues to destroy our credibility internationally when we need help to remedy this situation.

Where can that help come from? What can be done other than pulling out and leaving the Iraqis to figure shit out for themselves?

To be honest, I don't have an answer. I really feel like the best option is to pull out of Iraq, (in phases) apologize profusely for ruining some people's lives, explain that we really had good intentions, did some good in getting rid of Sadaam, and pull our troops out. What will this accomplish?

1) It will save American lives
2) It will save American dollars
3) There is a chance, it could actually help stabalize the country

What are the possible negative consequences?

1) Iraq could totally collapse, without the overbearing presence of the American military, a loony like Al-Sadr could gain control. The Kurds could also freak out and decide they need to create their own state, which would in turn freak out Turkey and Iran.

2) It will make us look like losers internationally. Other countries like North Korea/Iran/Canada, could become emboldened to do nasty things.

How to avoid these setbacks? The first can be minimized by phased withdrawal, negotiated with the security needs of the Iraqi government in mind. Sure some people will die, but whatever

The second one? Well there will no doubt be some annoying gloating from the Chavez/Ahmenidjad/Kim Jong Il crowd about how the emperor has been declothed or whatever. Words hurt, for sure, but the American army will be strengthed by not being bogged down in Iraq. The American economy will be strenghthed by not having to sink money into Iraq. And the American image will probably increase in countries that actual matter like the EU, China, and Japan, who will remember that they need us at least as much as they need them. Let the little dictators have their fun for now, take a long term view of security, and work towards making the world a better place. Right now, I don't think we are doing that in Iraq

Monday, November 20, 2006


Ideas for the Dems

Wait the Democrats win the House and Senate and we get two blogs in the same week? In fairness, these blogs were two weeks after the fact so we arent being total Democratic homers. Plus, I would not necessairly categorize myself a Democratic homer; in reality as Stu and some commenters have mentioned, I am one of those who was just happy to have the Republicans lose power.

Stuart and I diverge on what we want from the Democratic Congress. Actually let me rephrase that, we differ on what we want from our government in general. What I want is some sort of political and social reformation, akin to the kind that occured in the early 1900s under the Teddy Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson progressives (times about 10.) Anti-Trust laws, directly elected Senators, and the Women's Suffrage were some of the major changes in the political landscape that we take for granted now; I am ready for the next revolution. Cue the Rage Against the Machine.

I do not see the current Democratic leadership being the winds that blow in change. So what should we demand of the Democrats as leaders of , as those who elected them?
The number one priority for the Democrats as representatives of the people is to re-establish a balance of power by overturning powers given to the executive branch by the Republicans post 9/11. The two main legislative leviathans are the PATRIOT Act and powers of detention, suspension of habeus corpus, and torture tactics thatn have been legitimzed for use against foreign nationals and US citizens that have been deemed terrorists. While Bush will not give up these powers voluntairly, there is a way to force his hand.

We can guess as to what the Bush Administration may have authorized, or known about, in Iraq, in Guantanamo, in who knows where over the last five years, but up until this point, we have been shielded from getting any real information due to the protection of Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Into these powerful leadership positions now come crusty liberals who have been casterated from power by the Republican leadership for the last 12 years. These people are looking for revenge from personal slights and the embarressment of being continually lied to by the Bush Administration. Payback will be a bitch.
The Democrats should have a gameplan for how they go about digging up dirt, to leverage such expositions (which will come,) into getting Bush to agree to roll back executive powers. Start with Guantanamo and Abu Gharib, the two most undemocratic, unamerican symbols of the tyranny of the Bush Administration. Americans, like most human beings, are disgusted by torture; let's try and find out exactly what has been happening and who knew and authorized it. Second, move onto investigating the Energy Task Force. How much did oil play into policy towards Iraq? Did it have anything to do with "sexing up" of pre-war intelligence regarding the possibility of weapons of mass destruction? Once you have fully exposed the current executive branch as devious and oppressive, start focusing on surveilance of American citizens at home. How much is the DOH really up in the average Americans business? Make every American fear the looming spectre of the government. Played correctly, this will either force Bush's hand into comprimising or drum up enough support from Congress to override vetos.

Domestic policy can be shored up by the Democrats by reducing deficits, which will involve raising taxes. Hey I don't like paying taxes either, but I also don't like being in debt. The National Deficit is everyone's combined problem, and it's time we all bit the bullet and started paying it off. Another way to limit the deficit is to keep Bush from blowing all of our cash on wars that go nowhere. Next time he comes and asks for 87 billion dollars, don't give it to him. That we can count on the Democrats to do.

Regardless it should be interesting to see where this all goes. I will be following with interest, ready as ever to be disapointed by the fact that politicians are still politicians.


Elections 'n Stuff

Well, I guess you'd have to say that went about as well as the Democrats could have hoped. I'd like to say I'm happy that they pulled it off, but like I said it my last post, it was the Dems election to lose; so relief is the more appropriate word choice.

But I couldn't help thinking while watching election coverage that it was all so very depresssing. It wasn't that I didn't vote (that debate is over, I hope), it wasn't that it seemed that the Senate was going to stay Republican. What depressed me was knowing that none of the results we saw were 100% correct. It was a crappy, sickening, feeling back in 2000 whenever we heard about election problems in Miami-Dade, but it was even worse when we heard about them again in Ohio (and other places) in 2004. At least in 2000 we thought it was innocent mistakes, not voter disenfranchisement and fraud in 2004.

Now, most people are probably thinking that the vote went pretty smoothly; they didn't hear about any problems. That's true. Just like in 2004, I think that the general voting spirit of the American people was accurately represented. But in 2000, when we're talking about percentages of less than .1%, and when the winner of the popular vote loses the election, it's hard to really get an accurate feel for what the general voting spirit of the public was. Nobody cares if a few votes get misplaced in a landslide, but when one county in the entire nation can decide an election, it gets a little more important.

That there were reports of incompetence at the voting booths is not especially surprising. E-voting machines failed, memory cards were lost, ballots misplaced. People make mistakes, and elections probably won't be any different. But when there seems to be no commitment to the cause (and I think the cause is accurate and fair elections), and when "pretty good" seems to be around 98% accurate for our elections, shouldn't this be cause for concern? When the margin of error trumps the actual margin of victory, what's the point of counting at all?

I've never voted, but this isn't me trying to point out the futility of our actions and the very existence of humanity. I'm trying to say simply that for those that CARE about elections, where the vote and the participation in democracy is important, doesn't it bother you that a man can go into a voting booth, destroy the voting machine after he gets angry (this did happen) and invalidate everyone (ok, no, just their votes) who voted in that booth before him?

I don't know. Maybe 98% is pretty good, and flipping a coin for those close races is ok. But I doubt that what people think when they go to the polling places is "I'm participating in our government- that is, if I'm not denied a ballot, my ballot gets read correctly/vote gets recorded properly on this not-at-all-secure voting machine, manages to not get deleted/misplaced by apparently incompetent voting officials!" (whose average age is 72, by the way). Not that old people are incompetent; they just don't necessarily "get technology", "listen to directions", "know what they're talking about", or "care about life". Ok, that was unnecessary.

But you get my point. I think that for most of these elections, the public got what they wanted. Maybe that's a product of gerrymandering. Maybe it's because they reached consensus. But it isn't because everyone who voted got their say in the matter. Are we going to see a repeat of 2000 in 2008? I think it's certainly possible.

But our saving grace is that it doesn't really matter as much anymore. No, I'm not being nihilistic. Time magazine's latest headline is "Why the Center is the Place to Be" I'm sure they got the idea from my Unity post. After all, we are tasked with telling people how to think. But it really does represent what the elections should represent: more than choosing a person or candidate, but rather values and a direction. That's why people didn't really migrate to Canada in masses after 2004. The US isn't so simple as to be controlled by one person, even by the purported most powerful buffoon on the planet. Sure, we got pissed off, but we continued on with our lives, because progress doesn't stop (or start) with one party or person; it happens in spite of setbacks, it happens in spite of idiocy, and sometimes it doesn't despite good intentions. To end with a great quote:
"One step forward and two steps back: nobody gets too far like that. Unless you're walking backwards, in which case you'd be moving at half speed."
The battle cry for the '00 decade!

Monday, November 06, 2006


Remember when...?

We blogged about the last election? Tomorrow marks the halfway point of the 2nd Bush debacle, and I thought that was enough reason to come back after a 5 month hiatus. In fact, I guess it should be: Remember when we blogged about anything at all? Yes, we're sorry (well, dave isn't), and though I can't promise blogs of the frequency that we once had, I'll at least try to post more than twice a year.

Anyway, tomorrow may usher in the end of the 12 years of Republican Congress, and my first reaction is that it can't come soon enough. I'm cautiously optimistic about the results of the election as well as the results of the elected representatives themselves; but that doesn't mean I'm going to move to Canada if it doesn't happen. The democrat in me doesn't care about which issues are driving people to the polls; or that the incredibly stupid Mark Foley scandal seems to have been what broke the camel's back (not the 500,000 dead in Iraq, or the President's total ineptitude in regards to North Korea, Iran, or the Geneva Convention). It should just be over.

It has to have been tempting for democratic campaign managers to write a slogan that says "Come on, there's no way we can do worse than these guys!" But the conventional wisdom says that that kind of rhetoric doesn't exactly get people excited about voting. You could argue that Kerry ran that kind of campaign and lost. I don't know if that's true- it very well could be. But even with (or maybe because of) that mindset, these elections really seem like they're in the Democratic party's hands. Over the past month, Democrats seem like they're doing their best to throw it away. In that sense, it seems like tomorrow will be a disappointment in at least some regards- the number of close races is more than it was a few weeks ago; and if any of those go to the republicans, it will seem like a missed opportunity- a blown lead in the fourth quarter, if you will.

But this is coming from someone whose last blog was pushing Unity '08 as the way forward for America. something that would get us focused on the real issues, and away from partisanship. Well, I'm not backtracking on that, because I still believe that our priorities are the bigger problem, not the execution. But these '06 elections represent something different- a change of scenery, and an admission that there simply hasn't been enough done with the current government in place. Is that going to be solved with a new Congress?

Almost certainly not. In fact, there may be reason to think that Bush's presidency may become even lamer. But you know what? At this point, Bush needs to be reined in anyway. And you never know, maybe he'll forget to veto their bills as well.

But that's tactical talk. To me, refocusing priorities is what we really need. Both parties are increasingly trying to promise the same thing but with different language; but do we really need a bill that protects our children from the Internet, or do we need universal health care? Do we need a committee hearing on steroids, or environmental and fuel standards? If we actually agreed that public education needed to be fixed, it would get done, regardless of whether democrats or republicans were in office. Instead, they spend time thinking of how they can tell their constituents they voted for more money in schools and how their opponents hate children and babies. Tomorrow may not be the cure, but at least it can be the start, right?

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