Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Feeling Confused? Just Ask Mao!

Unsure of what the next move is? What your next step should be? Unsure of your place in the cosmos? Can't decide what's for dinner?

Well, your ship has come in...your Chinese Communist ship, that is.

So, why don't you take a "Great Leap Forward" into a new "Cultural Revolution," and ask Chairman Mao himself with the Chairman Mao Saying Generator!

Simply key in your question and the Chairman's wisdom will flow forth like the mighty waters of the Yangtse.

You never know what part of the "Little Red Book" could have the answers, so hit old Mao with your best shot.

I also love, by the way, that the website says that it "takes the stress out of Socialism." My response is you cannot be stressed when you are dead.

Give it a try! The impending victory of Mao Tse-tung Thought is upon us!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Madison's Snow Problem: Too Much, Not Enough, And Echoes Of Bilandic

...and no, I am not talking about the favorite recreational Bolivian export of futures traders, Robert Downey Jr. and Eurotrash everywhere. Although, if you know the right people to ask on Langdon Street...

I am talking about something that we used to be up to our ears in at this point of the year: snow.

South Central Wisconsin got its first appreciable snowfall Saturday and Sunday and this, as you may have guessed, generated something that made me mad. Two things, actually.

First, a question. What is the stupidest thing to do when you have a snow-themed event and you know snow is coming your way. Why, buy sixty dumptrucks full of the stuff beforehand!

I am not joking, for this is what happened to facilitate the "Capital Square Sprints" skiing tournament this weekend. Forget egg on the face of the City of Madison...the sixty trucks of snow are plenty embarassing enough.

They actually had to do this last year for the same event and it causes one to wonder: how much revenue could a skiing tournament possibly generate versus all the money wasted putting it on? How much is generated in revenue for the city and local businesses to make it worthwhile to truck in snow for what amounts a lot of people going around in circles. Maybe it is that I am not a skiing enthusiast (big surprise there, I know), but it seems like a colossal boondoggle that probably operates as a loss for the city.

I will not forget this when, in four years, I make my unsuccessful bid for mayor.

The other story comes this morning, another tale of smart use of public funds. Apparently, Madison is getting GPS tracking for, wait for it, its snowplows. According to the story in the Wisconsin State Journal, this will save money in the long run by cutting running costs, wear on equipment and prevent areas already plowed from being done again.

To plow an area again it must first be done, well, a first time. This sometimes does not happen for days, in a centralized urban area in the state capital of a state where it snows all the time.

Look, Mayor Dave, I'll save you the money and give you some advice. There is an urban area to the southeast of you called Chicago, and there, a very different philosophy prevails on the subject of snowplowing.

For you see, there was a mayor named Michael Bilandic and he basically handed Streets and Sanitation (who oversaw snowplowing) to the Outfit and they promptly pillaged all of the city's funds for snow removal. In a year when there was little snowfall, this would not have been a problem.

Fate, unfortunately, had another card to play for Mr. Bilandic.

On Friday night, January 12, 1979, it began to snow steadily in Chicago. It stopped at 2:00 on Sunday morning, January 14. On top of a ten inch base left over from a storm on New Year's Day were a fresh 20.9 inches of snow. With depleted funds and crews of the sorts of people who don't let their day jobs interfere with their regular lives, the city, rapid transit and all, came to a grinding halt. Garbage piled up, bodies went unburied and rats flourished. Bilandic was powerless to do anything as he watched while his corrupt and inadequate Streets and San crews lumbered throughout the city.

Also fatefully inconvienent for Bilandic was the fact that there was to be a mayoral election in February. When Chicagoans went to the polls, feet still caked in dirty snow, they dealt the mayor a resounding defeat, due in no small part to the corrupt and inept handling of the Blizzard of 1979, as it came to be called.

How did this change things in the metro area, you ask? The minute flakes begin to fall, the plow trucks roll, not like Madison where they wait until it is done, packed down and frozen over to fire up the now GPS equipped plow trucks.

So, Mayor Dave, take a page out of the Chicago playbook...forget GPS and just, well, get out there and plow and salt the roads. Oh yeah, and don't allow the Outfit to get hold of jobs and cash in City Hall. Somehow, I don't see that happening here. Politics are shrill yet boring in Madison, a lot of heat without a lot of light. I guess I like a good and corrupt city government; makes for better reading in the papers.

In your new plowing efforts, why not start with South Franklin Street, hmm?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Would "Go Deep" Work And De-Lurk Already!

Thanks go first to Greg for his always august commentary on the commentary on this site.

Second, following up on yesterday's consideration of Iraq, there was an interesting opinion piece in the Times today by Amir Taheri. In the rubric of proposals dubbed "go big," "go long," or "go home," Taheri suggests an interesting fourth choice: "go deep." Read it here and see what you think.

Lastly, I have been informed by the blogs of a few dear friends that it is National De-Lurking Week in the "blogosphere," a word that I personally dislike.

So, if you regularly stop here (or have unfortunately landed here due to the vagaries of Google), surface, identify yourself and say hello.

Just so you know, you do not need an account with Blogger to leave a comment; on the comment form, simply click "other" and type in your name, pseudonym, prison ID number, whatever.

If you are ashamed that you read my ravings, well, I understand. Really, I do.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What I Think About Iraq

It is the biggest news story of the day (and has been for some time), yet I have barely given it a mention in this space. Why, you ask? We get blitzed by so much information about the situation (or so we think) on a daily basis that the absolutely dire situation on the ground has become so much white noise to us and seemingly to our leadership.

There is some gruesome truth to the words of Josef Stalin: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

So, with the risk of oversimplyfying an extraordinarly complex situation, here are two possible scenarios:
  • We go with what seems to be President Bush's new plan...the vaunted "surge." We will know for sure on Wednesday, but if press leaks are to be believed (they seem to be one of the few clear channels of communication anymore), Mr. Bush wants to make a final surge with 20,000 new troops to quell the violence in Baghdad, rid the city of Sunni insurgents, Shi'ite militias, Ba'athist loyalists and then get on with the program of rebuilding civil society so that political stability can flourish and our troops can finally come home.
  • We go with the plan proposed by the Iraq Study Group and (as it seems) the one supported by the new Democratic majority in Congress. This would not give the president a "blank check" to spend more money and would instead couple phased troop reductions with a diplomatic offensive in the region to attempt to enlist the support of other states in the region in quelling violence and re-establishing some semblance of order, especially in and around Baghdad.

Will either of these new strategies work? Of course not.

Let's take the President Bush plan first, shall we? The notion of a "final push," one last effort by a bewildered fighting force to give it a final go and maybe defeat the enemy is as misguided for overall policy as it is suicidal for the troops involved. 20,000 new troops? From where? Even if we can field this many people, it will be little more than a drop in the roiling bucket that is Baghdad. A final push? When, in modern warfare, has this ever worked? All it will succeed in doing is sending more troops, condemned by this damnable strategy, to the morgue.

Why would the president suggest such a plan? Surely he has heard the heel and cry from all corners, official and otherwise, that this war has no popular support left to fuel it. People from top military brass to Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to Henry Kissinger have said that a military victory is impossible. Why then the continued drive to such an elusive victory?

I can say it no better than it was said by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in a commentary on his show "Countdown" last week. Watch the video here. In fact, peruse the list of all of his special comments here. They are all outstanding.

The president is never wrong. He never apologizes. He is consumed by his own superinflated ego and backed by a vice president who is likely the mastermind behind this total and unmitigated failure. A grim echo of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, indeed.

What then of the Iraq Study Group plan, and the one that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to support? Equally unworkable. Diplomatic offensive in the region? To whom will we be dispatching these armies of diplomats? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

The best that could be hoped for diplomatically is to become more engaged in the Israel-Palestine peace process, something that has not occured in the State Department under Condoleeza Rice. What will this do? Maybe nothing, but it sure seems (and when did you ever expect to hear this) that there is a greater chance of success dealing with the Palestinians and their elected leadership (which we wish had not been elected) than, well, whatever else is on offer.

Can Iran be dealt with diplomatically? After all, it has been the case for some time that the dominant political and economic mover in the region is no longer the predominantly Sunni areas led by Saudi Arabia, but the Shi'ite orbit headed by Iran. Years of feeble sanctions and diplomatic buck-passing put us in the situation we are in with Iran and allowed them, with considerable help in the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed when it did, to get the knowledge and materials to go nuclear.

So, no, to answer the question, Iran COULD have been dealt with diplomatically but it is too late for that. Any diplomatic overtures to Iran, seen in the light of their incessant baiting of Israel, will call into jeopardy our relationship with the Israelis, as these overtures will be seen as ignoring Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and aggressive nuclear strategy. If anything gets started with Iran it will be by Israel, who has dealt with Iran's funding of Hizbollah for years now. We must prevail on Israel that, despite having a possibly plausible reason for going after Iran, the result could be regional nuclear conflict.

This only scratches the surface and probably does more to confuse you, dear reader, than to clarify things.

What will happen in Iraq in 2007 and beyond? I suspect that we will all be reacquainted with the term and concept of "ethnic cleansing" as the sectarian violence will spread as the Sunni minority in the center of the country is systematically killed or chased off by the Shi'ite majority.

The idea of revenge cannot be forgotten: the majority of the Iraqi poulation are Shi'ites and they lived under the frightful thumb of Saddam Hussein for the better part of 40 years. They are in control and will do everything they can to destroy the Sunnis in their midst.

As this process continues, and the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing spreads west from Baghdad, the country will be split into two halves, one in control of the Shi'ite government in Baghdad and the other by the Kurds in the north. What Sunnis are not killed to forced to flee (creating a refugee crisis elsewhere, possibly in Jordan, Syria or Turkey) will have no part in the real "new" government of Iraq.

This new government, as it will emerge, will at best be a loose confederation of a partitioned Iraq of Kurds in the north and Shi'ites (fully backed by Iran) in the south. At worst, these two partitions will engage in a new cross border war with each other over the terms of the partition and anything resembling the "devolved government" of the new Iraqi constitution. The Shi'ite south will then become nothing more than a client state of Iran, a satellite of the growing power in the region.

This, in turn, could also cause the aformentioned attack by a jittery Israel, seeing an Iran on the march as a credible threat (which it would be). Then comes that regional war that everyone does not want to admit is possible but that, um, really is.

What of the U.S. role in all of this? We can merely serve as a catalyst, an accellerant to the mounting conflict if we continue as we have. Our presence there serves as a short term deterrent and stabilizing factor, but this is the proverbial Band-Aid on the gaping head wound. In the long run, we are not making it better, just helping it to bleed for longer.

So, you are no doubt saying, Will is in favor of cut-and-run now? Not really. What I am saying is that what we are doing now is not working and I doubt that sentencing more innocent U.S. forces to death will make it any better.

What I am saying is that the situation is not ours to direct anymore. This will be decided by Iraqis and Iraqis alone, not anything we decide to do or say. Peace will not come until the machinery of a post-war Iraq can be concieved and then erected, something that will not come soon or at a cheap price in human life.

It is the Iraqis situation to deal with now, not ours. While we cannot wash our hands of responsibility for it, neither can we pretend that we are completely in control anymore. We made our bed in Iraq, but we are no longer welcome to lie in it.

Who is to blame for all of this? Easiest question I have answered yet in this piece. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and George Tenet with complicit support from Colin Powell.

Feeling powerless, cornered and friendless is never easy, is it?

We would all do well to consider what this feeling means for us, our country and our world.

If we don't, then it's all over. For all of us. Forever.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gerald Ford, The Bush Family And What If?

Now that the bunting is down, the crowds have dissipated and the ceremonials are over, what are we to make of the legacy of Gerald R. Ford and the media blitz surrounding his funeral.

Taking the easier question first, the media coverage was, to say the least, extensive. While I would not go as far as Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg in saying that it deserved little or no coverage or observance at all, I would say that equal time needed to be given to all parts of the Ford legacy.

For example, Ford seemed all too willing to bow to wonderful dictators like Pinochet and the Shah of Iran (under the tutelage of Henry Kissinger, no doubt). While this can be said of all presidents (that they deal with people that do not exactly fit our picture of a just and fair leader), Ford did not break the chain. And, as the Guardian points out, Ford can also be seen to be complicit in the East Timor massacre in 1975.

On the positive side, after years of complex, difficult men in the White House (namely Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon), America needed a boring guy from Michigan to calm things down a little. His pardon of Nixon was the supreme act of political self-sacrifice and quelled a potential constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

This was all mentioned in the hours of coverage spanning six entire days.

Then I got to speculating.

I remembered that, during the 1980 presidential election, George H.W. Bush was not Ronald Reagan's first choice for the office of vice president. Care to guess who it was?

Yes, the aforementioned boring guy from Michigan.

During the 198o Republican Convention, when it was sure that Reagan would get the nod, the search for the veep candidate was on. Reagan's first inclination was to offer the job to Ford. Read a reminiscence of the event by a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean here. The deal could not be struck, unfortunately, and the job was given to former CIA director George H.W. Bush.

Here is my speculation. Had Gerald Ford been given the vice presidency in 1980, the political fortunes of the Bush family would have been dealt a significant blow, perhaps even a death blow. G.H.W. Bush perhaps would have ran for the presidency in 1988, but he would have been an obscure figure from years before instead of the vice president of one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century.

With this scenario of a lessened impact of the Bush family on national politics, one naturally extends it to our current president. Given the above scenario, I think that it is entirely possible that he would have never been governor of Texas and certainly not president.

I know that such speculation about the course of history is dangerous and not advised for historians such as myself. But still...