Friday, July 11, 2003

Nation-Building Dubya Style

Armed police backed by bulldozers tore down illegally built homes and shops in the Nigerian capital Abuja today ahead of a visit by US President George W Bush.
The operation began yesterday after an order from President Olusegun Obasanjo to clean up the city ahead of his American counterpart's arrival, officials said.
In one residential quarter of the city reporter saw around 60 buildings - ranging from brick-built structures to makeshift wooden shanties - ploughed down as hundreds of residents looked on in despair.

Perhaps it's wrong to lay this at the feet of Bush Administration since the order came from the Nigerian President, but it's hard to get around the trend of destruction and repression that seems to follow Bush wherever he goes.

The Achilles Heel of the RNC

Earlier this week a friend of mine received a solicitation from the Republican National Committee. The solicitation proceeded to thank her for her continued support, glorify the supposed successes of the Bush administration, and respectfully request a donation for next year's big fight. My friend is a widowed retiree from Tennessee who tells great stories about her family's farm during the Great Depression. She also hasn't voted for a Republican in fifty years.

This isn't a new thing. Several times over the last year, friends and family members have received these mailings despite being registered Independents or Democrats. The method of the RNC seems to be one of simple demographics; age, race, and income level. What's really interesting is that instead of sending a mailing that makes a case for the Republican party, they word it assumming you already vote Republican. There's almost a Jedi mind trick ethos behind it. "You don't want to vote Democrat or Independent. In fact you never have. We're the party you want, the party you've always wanted."

The problem is that, particularly in the case of my friend, the mailings make people angry. She wrote a long letter back to the RNC detailing exactly why she didn't support the Republican Party and why she would never support Bush. She also made a copy of the solicitation and her reply to her alderman who is a well-liked progressive in her area. For her it proved everything she didn't like about Republicans. Because she is an elderly White woman from the South, they assumed she was prospective constituent, when in fact she's a longtime FDR Democrat.

This lack of understanding comes back to haunt the Republicans time and time again. The Democrats simply haven't used it against them. The DLC and all too often the DNC tend to cave in the face of the conservative spin machine. This is why there was no formidable Congressional opposition to the war on Iraq or tax cuts or the Patriot Act. They simply believe that the Republicans message is more effective than it is.

My friend's method gave me an idea. I'm not sure how effective it will be, but it may go a little way in restoring the DNC's confidence in a progressive platform. The next time you write a letter to the editor, a state representative, or in response to an RNC solicitation, mail a copy to the DNC. I'm not sure how new this idea is but I don't think enough people do it. There's been a little success as of late to get the DNC to listen to grassroots organizations, and this might be one other thing we can do to encourage them to keep listening to us.

Right now there is a petition for Congress to investigate WMD deceptions. After you send your letter, copy it to the DNC to let them know that this is important to you.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

There's a lot I want to cover today and I don't have a lot of time. So please excuse my rushed tone and muddled reasoning.

I almost definitely will return to the crisis in Africa as it progresses and to cap off this week's series, I urge you to read the excellent Liberia analysis over at Kos. It certainly filled in a lot my history gaps. Whatever we end up committing to in Liberia, it won't be nearly enough. As to whether we should be in Liberia--well under any other circumstaces--not to mention any other administration--I would probably say yes with some reservations. But to say yes is to ignore existing complications and to say no is to be coldly pragmatic in the face of devastation, and I have no stomach for that. So anybody looking for a definitive stance here is going to be disappointed.


For better or for worse we are committed to rebuilding Iraq, but situations like this are exactly what we were afraid of. (link via Atrios)

The military also reported that a soldier died Wednesday in what it described as a non-hostile gunshot incident. The military gave no more details. The names of the dead and wounded were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

An American soldier attached to the 101st Airborne Division died Monday in another non-hostile gunshot incident near Balad, 55 miles north of the capital. Soldiers at an air base near Balad said on condition of anonymity that the soldier had taken his own life.

If we are serious about peacekeeping we need to admit our failures.

 There is one group of nations with large numbers of well-trained troops, experienced in peacekeeping and in working with the United States Army. It’s called NATO. The problem for the Bush administration is that calling on NATO means bringing France and Germany back into the fold. My suggestion: get over it.

And in case you are completely out of the loop, they lied. Josh is on the case.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

I give up.

N'diaye and other residents of Goree, site of a famous slave trading station, said they had been taken to a football ground on the other side of the quaint island at 6 a.m. and told to wait there until Bush had departed, around midday.

(Thanks to Jeanne and Atrios for the link)

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The Poor Man on Hitch

He argues that the WMD finds in Iraq are a vindication, that it is a minor miracle we found them so quickly, and that there's more where that came from. And he reminds us of the mass graves which have been found around the country, which is something well worth remembering. But mainly he natters on about how Saddam Hussein was and probably still is a very bad guy. As bad as Hilter, or maybe Stalin, or maybe Jeffery Dahmer. As bad as Hilter plus Stalin times Satan squared. At this point in time, after hearing about Saddam Hussein with some regularity for more than a decade, I am prepared, nay, pleased, to conceed that Saddam Hussein is without a doubt a terrible person, as terrible and nasty and evil as you can imagine. And I'd like to request that there be, from this moment forward, a sharp decrease in the number of editorials making no point besides that Saddam is very bad, perhaps with a hard limit of one per month per paper, and complete end to the appearance of new and enlightening historical antecedents to his evil. I'm not saying this to silence anyone's opinion or anything, but I don't go around telling everyone every time the Sun rises in the east or gravity pulls something down. It's all true, but I think we can maybe start the process of moving on now, because life, unlike TV, can't survive as a rerun.

Message to war-torn, famine-stricken, AIDS-ravaged Africa: "Hey guys, sorry about that whole slavery thing."

As nice as it is to see that Bush's history studies have included a unit on the North American slave trade, it's hard not to want to smack him for this speech.

"At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold," the president said. "One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of the century."

Mr. Bush condemned slavery in unflinching and strikingly religious terms that seemed to be aimed as much at an audience at home as to the small crowd on the island that listened to him under the blazing sun.

"For 250 years the captives endured an assault on their culture and their dignity," Mr. Bush said. "The spirit of Africans in America did not break. Yet the spirit of their captors was corrupted.

Is it worthwhile to nitpick that there's a slight difference between a century and 250 years, or that mass kidnapping can't really be called migration? But those are just distractions from the real problem here. Could this speech be more condescending? "Hey don't worry that we're not committing any real help now. Just remember that we are really, really sorry about kidnapping your ancestors for slaves."

And could someone please tell him that invoking names of famous Americans and African Americans doesn't make a whole lot of sense in Africa?

Mr. Bush credited African-Americans with "exposing laws and habits contradicting" the ideals of God and political freedom. And he cited the contributions of both black and white people, from Frederick Douglas and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln, to ending slavery and addressing its legacy.

I think he missed the chaper where slavery continues long after the trans-Atlantic slave trade is over and American abolition didn't have a huge affect in Africa.

It's fascinating how in trying to prove how much he cares he ends up showing how little he understands. By now this is no longer surprising, but's still disgusting. It's not that the discussion of the slave trade has no place in how to solve the current problems, but it's never contextualized. The standard set by the slave trade made way for colonization, which in turn made way for Cold War maneuvering, which has a lot to with what's happening now.

It seems as though Bush's words rang pretty hollow live as well.

It was hard to get much sense of the reaction here to Mr. Bush's visit. His motorcade into Dakar from the airport this morning passed hundreds of Senegalese people, most of whom showed little emotion. The president's speech this morning on Goree Island was to an invited audience that did not fill the available seats and that applauded politely.

UPDATE: Apparently I misspoke. Bush wasn't giving a half-assed apology but rather a half-assed NON-apology.That first line should instead read, "Hey guys, slavery sucked so we'll kind of apologize but not really."

Monday, July 07, 2003

In my high school World Geography class, part of our unit on Africa involved debating the economic viability of each region. West Africa, rich in minerals and undeveloped land, won the debate. It was an interesting lesson, forcing us to look very closely at climate patterns, infant mortality, population etc. and make a decision divorced from history, bias, and emotion. It was a very interesting lesson. It was also exactly the wrong way to look at Africa.

The crisis in the Congo is allowed to go on because of exactly this approach of cold-eyed pragmatism, among other things. The wealth of the country has become its death. It creates complacency which creates reluctancy to disrupt the flow of riches.

The history of the Congo -- richer in mineral resources than any other country in Africa -- is one of bloody exploitation. Gold, diamonds, rubber and ivory have flowed to Europe and the Americas for a century from the area known first as the Belgian Congo, then as Zaire, under the West-backed regime of Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 to 1997. The present conflict started in 1998, after Laurent Kabila took power, renaming the country again as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Iraq gives us a handy excuse not to interfere. It also highlights the great lie of this administration's newfound committment to humantarian aid and nation building. Where are those compassionate voices now, so recently crying out against crimes against humanity in Iraq?

Today Bush goes to Africa, having grudgingly sent peace keeping troups to Liberia. He goes to show off is grand $15 billion AIDs package. I envy people like him, who so easily shut out reality in favor of their own sunnier worlds. I wonder how easy that will be when he sees the sick, the poor, the dead. I wonder if he will even see them.