Explainer: Benazir Bhutto

If you heard of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday and exclaimed, “Dear God, what will this mean for geo-political relations and the state of democracy in the Middle East?” you likely don’t need this post. If, however, you thought, “Who the hell is Benazir Bhutto and why is CNN.com all gloomy looking?” you’ve come to the right place.

–Who is Benazir Bhutto? A Harvard and Oxford graduate, she was the first female prime minister in the modern-day Islamic world. That’s big doings in a society that won’t let women even drive a damn car. She was chased out of office twice on charges of corruption but always contended it was opposition politics.

–In recent months, she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to rally supporters in advance of elections, originally scheduled for January 8 but now up in the air. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is at best left with a hair-trigger nation ready to revolt – make that nuclear nation – and at worst, behind the assassination himself.

–What does this mean for the US? It’s another blow to the Bush administration, who at one time had strong influence over Pakistan, and who won’t stop beating the dead horse that is democracy in the Middle East. I’m unsure how many different ways these folks can say, “WE’RE NOT INTERESTED.”

In short, it’s another event that could trigger complete chaos in a part of the world that really doesn’t need one ounce more. Keep an eye on developments to find out if Captain America will finally get the armageddon for which he’s worked so darn hard.

In Memoriam: Benazir Bhutto

“If it means sacrificing our lives, if it means sacrificing our liberties to save Pakistan, then we are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberties, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants,” – Benazir Bhutto.

Taken from Andrew Sullivan‘s Daily Dish.

Take a moment today to remember Bhutto, a brave, ballsy woman who sacrificed all for her country.

All Politics Is Simple Stupid

Imagine for a moment that I’m a political activist. A couple of us Sharp Skirts were once.

Now I’m a raving mad lunatic who can’t believe what passes for political activity today. I’ve threatened to not even lift as much as my little finger for 2008…I might exercise a different digit instead. So, the frustration started with an overcrowded inbox. Is e-mail such a tricky medium? If you’re keeping me informed, you’re welcome in my inbox. If you’re burying me under the same old pitch over and over again, you’re not doing anything for me. It’s all about you and I’m over it.

I thought I had made great strides to simplify my life but I still wasn’t prepared for the simpletons in today’s news…

Anger at Giuliani 9/11 fundraiser–Imagine the man who was mayor of NYC asking supporters to contribute $9.11 to his campaign and not suspecting NYC firefighters and first repsonders might be a bit troubled over it. Men and women lost their lives. Giuliani is taking it to the bank.

Iran leader defiant in UN speech–Just as we suspected. Can we bomb Iran now? He muddled science, religion, and politics and suggested Iran doesn’t have any homosexuals. We laughed at him and felt good about ourselves over it. We know a little something about crusades too…bomb Iran as a supporter of terrorism and ban abortion once and for all.

Then there’s the story that won’t go away–Craig won’t attend hearing on guilty plea. What are we supposed to think of this system of justice when an elected representative trusted to participate in the system can’t understand it well enough to do the right thing? Let’s make that campaign ad and get it up on YouTube…I was innocent before I was guilty and I’m still innocent so I’m skipping my court date.

And, my fellow countrymen, are we sure our leader didn’t look as ridiculous as Ahmadinejad when he spoke to the UN–Bush to urge UN to fight for freedom. There’s the real leader in this bunch of lab rats. I’m sure the U.N. just couldn’t wait to hear more about this fancy thing called f-r-e-e-d-o-m from a man who wasn’t troubled for a moment to permanently detain people without charges, explanations, or proper representation at Guantanamo. We wouldn’t even release their names for God’s sake.

I’m not stupid and I’m not as simple as these maneuvers would like to think I am. Is it any wonder that the thinking public chooses to avoid these junior high campaign stunts and instead wonder who will be the next Wonder Woman?

On Iraq: The Truth Speaks Out and the Administration Phones it In

It starts with an assessment of the situation due in September–3 progress reports to Congress and a September 15th report from General Petraueus, the US Multi-National Force Commander in Iraq. And all of this before discussing continued funding.

But the real trouble is that so many voices want aren’t waiting to have the debate on this time line.

In a NY Times op-ed titled “The War as We Saw It,” a group of Army specialists chose to speak out and provide their own assessment. Describing the debate in Washington as surreal, they’re words resonate with clarity:

Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

Then, on Thursday, the National Intelligence Estimate provided its key judgments, including…

…the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; al-Qa’ida in Iraq retains the ability to conduct high-profile attackes; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.

Is our current troop surge re-shaping the facts on the ground? The NEI reports…

Political and security trajectories in Iraq continued to be driven primarily by Shia insecurity about retaining political dominances, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in an armed conflict, and the actions of extremists…that try to fuel sectarian violence.

Senator Warner, former chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a Virginian Republican thinks it all adds up. He told the President it’s time to bring the troops home and the GOP’s presidential candidates need respite from the issue. The Bush administration has to be working overtime to work out their September message!

But, no…they could have phoned this one in: No Big Shifts Planned After Report on Iraq. They must have left their Out of Office assistant to manage the media while they’re vacationing in Crawford.

QUOD: British Take the Nag to the Streets

What if your local government found a way to effectively combat litter or late hour loitering on your street? What if this plan included cameras and closed-circuit TVs monitored by city officials whose orders to cease and desist are piped through loudspeakers?

The British are doing it and it appears to work…

Middlesbrough has 21 of the talking cameras, which have a separate pair of speakers mounted on the same pole. They, along with 116 nontalking cameras, are monitored by two or three people in a control room.

When a miscreant is spotted, the operators work from a script, taking care to identify the person so there’s no mistaking to whom the disembodied voice is speaking.

Example: “Lady/Male in (whatever clothes), you have been seen to drop litter. Kindly pick it up and put it in the bin provided.”

They have also have a pretty good idea as to how it works…

City officials say the effect of a loud, disembodied voice telling litterers to pick up their trash generally startles the bejesus out of them — and prompts quick compliance.

So, let’s sidestep the reference to Big Brother and resist the temptation to harrumph over privacy.

What would you like to hear shouted at unsuspecting people on the street?

God Goes Green

Last summer Pope Benedict had an important message for Christians…go green. He used a lot more words of course, by calling Christians to unite to “take care of creation without squandering its resources and sharing them in a convivial manner.”

(It’s the Catholic church…doing anything in a convivial manner is highly suspicious.)

Next year, however, pilgrims attending services in the Vatican’s 6,300 seat Paul VI Auditorium will bask in the glory of God in a whole new way. The Vatican plans to replace the roof with photovoltaic cells to convert the Italian sun into enough energy to power the whole production.

And, in this edition of all good news is green news, let’s turn our attention to one of this Irish girl’s favorites…POTATOES. This super food could be the next plastic. Replacing products currently made from the excrement of oil and petroleum, potato crops could soon become carpeting, upholstery fabric, and recyclable plastic bottles.

And the best news of all…you don’t have to wait for some weird scienceVegware is available now!

***All props go out to Gary Gnu at The Great Space Coaster news network for inspiring the line “all good news is green news.” You’re green, you’re great, and you’re the gnu.

Terrifying Truth in Iraq

A sense of dread crept across my desk as I read “Iraq’s Curse: A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory.”

Do you know the Iraqi word “sahel?”It means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the street. So, more importantly, did George W. Bush know this word when he decided to lead our country to war?

Here’s a genuinely bone-chilling perspective to consider…

Four years on, Sunni and Shiite attacks against the Americans are expanding. There is little love among Iraqi civilians for the troops, though many fear the anarchy that could follow an American withdrawal.

“I’m still sticking by my principle, which is against the occupation,” Mr. Qaisi said in an interview here while visiting from his new home in Tikrit. “I’m Iraqi, and I think the Iraqi people should have this principle. We have the right to defend our country as George Washington did.”

As long as I have known him, Mr. Qaisi has rejected the idea that the Sunni Arabs are the minority in this country. To him and many other Sunni Arabs, the borders of Iraq do not delineate the boundaries of the war. The conflict is set, instead, against the backdrop of the entire Islamic world, in which demography and history have always favored the Sunnis. That sense of entitlement is fed by the notion that Iraq’s Shiite Arabs are just proxies for Iran’s Persian rulers.

I’d like to propose a book for Bush’s summer reading list. Published in 1986, Thinking in Time by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May present “the uses of history for decision makers.” Oh what I’d give for a decision maker who would read it!

When reviewing the implications of their work, the authors note the success of George Marshall’s tendency to view time as a stream.The first component of this particular habit of mind is “recognition that the future has no place to come from but the past.”

Put that together with sahel, patriotic opposition to the American occupation, and a backdrop of the entire Islamic world and it’s easy to see a retired lieutenant general from Iraq recent conclusion that the best outcome to hope for now is to “stave off defeat.”

The terrifying truth–past and present–must become part of our strategy in Iraq.

***So I just couldn’t conclude this post without telling you that I first read Thinking in Time after it showed up on President Bill Clinton’s summer reading list!