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Candide’s Latest: December 20, 2006

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From the Department of Duh
“We’re Not Winning”

Time for a sequel

Disarray in the White House continues to snowball. And Bush is now in open defiance of U.S. Generals, just as they are in open rebellion with him. That should get him a terrific response from the men in the field who, say what you will about all those myths surrounding the “Commander in Chief,” and this commander in particular, follow the men in uniform first, not the men with the bigger mouths. Last week from Bush it was “absolutely we’re winning” in Iraq, according to President Bush (it’s becoming increasingly difficult to include that predicate, president, before his name, even if the office is bigger than the man). Yesterday, it was “we’re not winning, we’re not losing.” The stalemate-à-la-Vietnam approach that, even for a lousy history major, should have taught him that it’s as good as an admission of defeat. Stalemate in a foreign land where the United States is unwanted, in a region where the United States is despised, in a world where the United States has few allies, and facing even a domestic audience that has lost confidence in its own president, is not just stalemate. It’s begging for more disastrous consequences, something Bush seems ready to do: His solution to this is to increase the size of the U.S. military, perhaps by 70,000 (that’s the figure floating around the Pentagon), and increase the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. His reasoning: the war on terror requires it. The thinking is catastrophic on two counts. First, Iraq has proved that the war on terror cannot and will not be won militarily. It will be won in the shadows, by special forces and local intelligence (American intelligence having proved again and again to be part of the problem, not part of the solution). Military engagements like Iraq is what expands terrorism’s reach, not what constrains it. Second, taking care of an overstretched military doesn’t happen by stretching it further. The solution is to retrench from Iraq, not to feed it more cannon fodder. But the Bush administration is all about consumption. If we have an energy crisis, its solution is to drill more oil wells in the ocean, in Alaska, in pristine lands on the mainland, and feed the consumer more of the stuff that got him addicted in the first place. If we have a military crisis, the solution is to militarize further, and march ever closer to a draft. Feed the machinery of war. It’s insanity by any other name.

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On the Approach of 3,000
Our Mournless President

E. L. Doctorow wrote this more than two years ago, in September 2004, when the death toll in Iraq was 1,000 American soldiers and, back then, a largely, effectively undisclosed number of Iraqis (the 3,000 th American death will be recorded shortly after the new year; it is now at 2950). The piece is worth a fresh read. It’s as good today as it was then:

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear. But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be. […] How then can he mourn?Read the rest…

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Darfur
Genocide Without Borders

From the UK Independent: “The village is still smouldering. A girl combs through the remains of a burnt-down hut with her bare hands, trying to salvage knife blades and rakes that were not consumed by the fire. Two women, with tears in their eyes, have broken down in front of a pile of ash, wailing violently. A band of youths is patrolling the ruins near Koukou-Angarana, bows and arrows slung over their shoulders, boomerangs and knives at the ready. But their decision to form a self-defence group has come too late. The Arab horsemen who swept through the village on their bloody rampage have long since vanished. It is a tragically familiar scene in Darfur, the province of western Sudan where more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least two million brutally forced from their homes - a genocide unleashed and sustained by the Islamist government in Khartoum - but this man-made inferno now sweeping across the plains is taking place across the Sudanese border in Chad. The pattern is identical to events in Darfur, where the well-armed Arab raiders allied to the Sudanese government set villages ablaze, rape the women, and leave a trail of dead black Africans in their wake. Just as in Darfur, the Sudanese government is being accused of being behind the violence in Chad, an accusation which is rejected by Khartoum. Mahamat Abdurasset surveys the steaming rubble of Aradipe, a remote Chadian village close to the Sudanese border. His village was attacked by a force of 500 Arab militiamen. "We knew most of them. They are from this village," said Mr Abdurasset, the leader of the self-defence group, pointing to a cluster of huts right next to Aradipe. About 90,000 Chadians have fled their villages to find shelter in nearby towns, with many of them arriving in camps already crowded with 232,000 refugees who fled the violence in Darfur.” The full story…

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IV to Corruption
Terror War on Drugs

From McClatchy: “Desperate for vaccines and medicines to ward off such deadly threats as anthrax, Ebola, smallpox and avian flu, Congress wants to give drug companies a new incentive: cash up front. President Bush signed legislation Tuesday that creates a somewhat controversial bureaucracy that would give tax dollars to private companies and universities to develop vaccines and treatments. Scientists would contract with the federal government to take on manmade terrorist threats and naturally occurring pandemics, as well as chemical and radiological threats. The public-private partnership - akin to the way the Defense Department buys fighter jets - could be a boon for the growing number of biotechnology companies. But some of the new program's work also would be shielded from public scrutiny, which critics say could stymie necessary oversight and lend the false impression internationally that the United States is developing biological weapons. The bill was shepherded through Congress by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who spent two years fending off critics and trying to shape a new program palpable to biotechnology companies and to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt.” The full story…

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Israel and Palestine
Worse Than Apartheid

Chris Hedges at Truthdig: Palestinians in Gaza live encased in a squalid, overcrowded ghetto, surrounded by the Israeli military and a massive electric fence, unable to leave or enter the strip and under daily assault. The word “apartheid,” given the wanton violence employed against the Palestinians, is tepid. This is more than apartheid. The concerted Israeli attempts to orchestrate a breakdown in law and order, to foster chaos and rampant deprivation, are on public display in the streets of Gaza City, where Palestinians walk past the rubble of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Economy, the office of the Palestinian prime minister and a number of educational institutions that have been bombed by Israeli jets. The electricity generation plant, providing 45 percent of the electricity of the Gaza Strip, has been wiped out, and even the primitive electricity networks and transmitters that remain have been repeatedly bombed. Six bridges linking Gaza City with the central Gaza Strip have been blown up and main arteries cratered into obliteration. And the West Bank is rapidly descending into a crisis of Gaza proportions. The juxtaposition of what is happening in Gaza and what is being debated on the U.S. airwaves about a book that is little more than a basic primer on the conflict reinforces the impression most outside our gates have of Americans living in a distorted, bizarre reality of our own creation.” The full piece…

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Fear and Hope in U.S.
Immigrants’ Furtive Existence

It didn’t used to be that way in the United States. Immigrants, legal or illegal, mostly enjoyed a parity of opportunity and acceptance. Now they enjoy a parity of suspicion. Americans have turned on immigrants—ostensibly on illegal immigrants, but the wages of racism being what they are, turning on “illegals” has its trickle-down effect on all immigrants, legal or not. Illegal immigrants now more than ever live in the shadows, in fear, in doubt. Our American democracy has turned them into America’s own East Germans, spied on and chased after. This story from the Times illustrates the dilemma:

Verónica keeps her foot steady on the pedal. She turns onto a side street, where trouble is easier to avoid. A yellow traffic light flashes and she stops; running it is not an option. Verónica, 31, does not take chances. In her mind, she already took the biggest chance of her life by moving here illegally from Monterrey, Mexico, with a husband and three young children. Now she has too much to lose. Border Patrol agents routinely monitor the main roads near her house on the outskirts of this sprawling city in south-central Texas, so Verónica and her friends and relatives have informal alert networks in place. “My husband just called to tell me he saw them right now on the street,” she said, clicking shut her cellphone, before leaving the house. Spanish-language radio also does its part; “limones verdes” — or green limes — “are sprouting” near the highway, an announcer warns over the radio, using shorthand for the agents’ green uniforms. “We’re careful,” Verónica said. And why not. After six years in America, her list of accomplishments would be the envy of most everyone in the ramshackle neighborhood where she grew up. There is the little house, stone and stucco, with a browning yard, a battered trampoline and rusty plumbing. The family’s two used cars (a minivan and a Ford Focus) sit in the driveway. Her common-law husband, José, has a job other immigrants covet, $15 an hour working for a boss who offers no benefits but gives generous presents: a refrigerator, a washing machine, tickets to SeaWorld. Her children speak to each other in English and bring home mostly A’s and B’s. Her eighth grader is in the National Honor Society, and a son was recently rewarded with a GameCube for doing well in school. It may not seem like much, Verónica says, but in Monterrey’s working-class “colonias” she lived in houses with cardboard walls and zinc roofs. Growing up, she shared a single damp box spring with eight siblings and coffee cans. The cans were there to catch the rain. And Verónica was the lucky one of the bunch, she said: she made it to eighth grade, with the help of her siblings’ wages, and, as the baby of the family, escaped her father’s beatings.

The full story here…

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GDP’s Prozac
The pursuit of Happiness

From The Economist: “HAVING grown at an annual rate of 3.2% per head since 2000, the world economy is over half way towards notching up its best decade ever. If it keeps going at this clip, it will beat both the supposedly idyllic 1950s and the 1960s. Market capitalism, the engine that runs most of the world economy, seems to be doing its job well. But is it? Once upon a time, that job was generally agreed to be to make people better off. Nowadays that's not so clear. A number of economists, in search of big problems to solve, and politicians, looking for bold promises to make, think that it ought to be doing something else: making people happy. The view that economics should be about more than money is widely held in continental Europe. In debates with Anglo-American capitalists, wily bons vivants have tended to cite the idea of “quality of life” to excuse slower economic growth. But now David Cameron, the latest leader of Britain's once rather materialistic Conservative Party, has espoused the notion of “general well-being” ( GWB) as an alternative to the more traditional GDP. In America, meanwhile, inequality, over-work and other hidden costs of prosperity were much discussed in the mid-term elections; and “wellness” (as opposed to health) has become a huge industry, catering especially to the prosperous discontent of the baby-boomers.” The full editorial…

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Free-Fall
The Dying of Japan

From Japan’s Kyodo: “Japan's population is expected to fall to less than 90 million in 2055, compared with the current level of around 127.8 million, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday. The forecast is based on an estimate by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, an affiliate of the ministry, which made the projection on the assumption that a woman will give birth to 1.26 children during her lifetime -- the birthrate for 2005. In January 2002, when it issued a similar forecast for future population, the institute estimated that the birthrate would recover to 1.39. According to the latest estimate, the percentage of Japanese people aged 65 or older will double from the current level to around 41 percent of the total population, while the percentage of Japanese people aged 14 or younger will drop to about 8 percent.” The full story…

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