What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Catching up - and winding down for the year. I haven’t been keeping up with my observations of the passing parade of late and I probably won’t be recording any comments here for another week or so - maybe more. Partially because of the holidays - a time when I like to relax and contemplate my navel rather than tax what’s left of my rapidly deteriorating brain. And partially because my excruciating sciatic pain makes it difficult to sit at the computer and type. Plus the annoyance and danger of not being able to blink. Seven weeks since Bell’s Palsy hit me in the gut - in the face actually - and while people say I look better, I still can’t blink, smile, speak clearly, whistle high notes or chew my food without getting some stuck between gum and lip.

I don’t imagine I’ll be missed. I heard some numbers recently about how many blogs are being created on a daily basis - and how many millions are already in existence. I asked Google how many were out there and got 47,800,000 hits - and the cyberjournalist site says there are 50,000,000 and counting. And who’s looking at them? Well I don’t know who - but I saw or heard one report somewhere that said the average number of readers per blog is one!! I assume that’s in addition to the blog writer - otherwise it would be a minus statistic. I guess I’m above average, I know at least three people who read this blog and one of them may even look for it daily!!

Anyway - enough about blogging. Oops. Wait a minute. I can’t just leave that subject without at least acknowledging the honor bestowed upon me by Time Magazine. Person of the year no less. And with only three confirmed readers. Thank you Time And thank you on behalf of the other me’s - or is it you’s - who share this honor. I don’t post any videos and I didn’t sell any version of a You Tube to Google for a billion or two, but the way I understand the selection, I and my blog qualify.

Or do I??

I don’t subscribe to Time and I don’t read the magazine - so there’s a little bit of a conundrum connected to the selection and my acceptance of the honor. It’s something akin to the question of whether or not a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if no one is there to hear it. If I don’t actually hold the issue of Time in my hand and see my reflection in its mirrored cover - can I truly claim to be among the honored?? Can I be a remote, non-subscribing "you?"

Anyway - back to catching up and winding down. I guess the big story of the year has been the same as last year and will probably dominate next year too. Iraq. America’s quagmire of the "zeroes" - 2003 to whenever we can say it’s over.

I’ve been wondering what happened to all those complaining about the lack of "good news" coverage out of Iraq. The school and hospital openings. The new football fields. That’s soccer football. The Iraqis don’t play our nutty contact sport.

All we’ve been hearing about lately is the daily death toll and the Iraqi study group telling the president how bad conditions are. It took some comments by Laura Bush to remind us that there are good things happening in Iraq. We haven’t been hearing about them because the press hasn’t been reporting them and that’s why only two out of ten Americans think that her husband is doing good job "managing" the quagmire.

Well good for Laura. Standing by her man like a good wife should. And providing comic relief at the same time. Still, you gotta wonder about the 20% of us who buy into such silliness. I find myself looking at neighbors or just people on the street or in the supermarket and asking myself - are they one of them - and should I avert my eyes as I pass them by??

On a more serious note, one couldn’t help notice the stark revelation of one of the truths of our Middle East policy as 2006 wound down. Dick Cheney went to visit our Saudi Arabian friends - and according to news reports - got read the riot act. The Saudis told us that if we pull out of Iraq and their fellow Sunni Muslims get into trouble, they’ll step in to help them.

Well, of course we’re not going to pull out of Iraq anytime soon. In fact all indications from Mr. Bush are are that having been exposed to the Iraq Study Group recommendations and having gone through the motions of "listening" to a lot of other people’s ideas - our new, forward looking Iraq policy is to pretty much continue to do what we’ve been doing. Maybe with a "surge" - the new word for putting a few thousand more kids in harms way.

The Saudis also don’t want us talking to Iran - and clearly we’re not about to do that either. So the Saudis don’t have to worry. But maybe we have to worry about who is pulling who’s strings. Are the Saudis the tail that’s wagging super dog? I know the Saudi royal family and the Bush family are practically kissing cousins and that they are big suppliers of our much needed oil - but you have to wonder how far we’d go as a nation to keep them happy.

Well, here’s a couple of indications of how far we’d go - us and our primary ally - the Brits.

Just a few days ago, I was reading about Majid al-Massari - the son of a Saudi dissident working out of London who advocates the overthrow of the royal family. The son is in the United States but he’s close to being deported back to Saudi Arabia for reasons that have the smell of make believe about them. He says he’ll be tortured if he’s sent back to Saudi Arabia - but a Saudi official in Washington said no - we won’t hold his father’s sins against him - he’ll be O.K. - and the immigration review board said that was good enough for them. Now a US Court of Appeals has reviewed and upheld their decision and al-Massari could be on his way to torture and death at any time now.

If you read the story, the actions against al-Massari up to now aren’t that much different from actions taken against nameless people who wound up in Gitmo for no good reason and were kept there without an opportunity to challenge the charges against them. Except for one little twist. The Saudis want to get their hands on the guy and it looks like there has been collusion between us and the Saudis ever since he applied for asylum nine years ago - and his application got buried in an endless paper shuffle.

And just this morning, we hear that the Brits have suddenly dropped a two year investigation into allegations that BAE SYSTEMS - a major defense contractor - had been shoveling out millions of pounds in bribes for years to secure Saudi Arabian defense business.

They didn’t drop the investigation because they couldn’t find the evidence or prove a criminal case. They dropped it because the Saudis more or less said drop it or else!! And the Brits virtually admitted that that was why the case was dropped. At least there’s more honesty there than in the al-Massari case. I don’t hold out much hope for al-Massari. Staying on the good side of the Saudis is just too important for us to worry about one man’s rights - specially someone who isn’t even a US citizen. We’ll send him back, avert our eyes and do the Saudi’s bidding. Such is the power of oil.

There are a lot of voices out there that say we invaded Iraq to do Israel’s bidding - that this little country, so dependent on our financial and diplomatic support, can manipulate the foreign policy of this great nation. It’s nonsense of course - but it’s about as clear as it can be that we can be and are being influenced by the nation that furnished fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 murderers.

When the Democratic Congress convenes next year and - I hope - starts peeling away the layers of secrecy that the Bush administration has placed around so much of its actions - and the true reasons for those actions, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of what I think of as "The Saudi House Rules." But don’t look for any big changes in our "Pact With the Devil." Not as long as the oil keeps pumping.

I can’t sign off for the year without saying a word or two in favor of our British cousins - having lumped them together with us as Saudi yes men.

I was watching Question Time in the House a few nights ago. That’s the House of Parliament. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and even Labour (English spelling) members were pounding away at Tony Blair. No similarity to a presidential press conference here. Tony doesn’t have the opportunity to pick questioners with likely ‘soft" questions. Nor do questioners have to ask permission to pose a follow up question if they’re not satisfied with Blair’s answers. Conservative party leader David Cameron didn’t like anything Blair was saying about improvements in the National Health System - and he let him know it with question after question and counter argument and at one point asking when the hell Blair was going to resign. He didn’t say "when the hell" - but his demeanor said it in spades. To Blair’s credit, he kept his cool and hewed to his party line.

It was interesting to watch - more so than the one time when my wife and I were there in person in the visitor’s gallery. No "question time" on that occasion. Just boring debate about boring subjects with a sparse attendance by M.P.’s. But while I was watching, I was reminded of the one huge difference between our politics and theirs. Obviously a totally different system. The Prime Minister isn’t elected nationally like our President. He just has to win election as an MP in his district and his party elevates him to the top job when they are in the majority. But that wasn’t the difference that I was reminded of. It was that Blair- or Cameron if the Conservatives ever win - doesn’t have to pander to anyone’s narrow beliefs or prejudices to get elected or stay in power. . It isn’t necessary for either of the leaders of the two major parties to be officially for or against gay marriage or abortion or stem cell research or any of the other issues that we seem to insist that our politicians address before the single issue groups of voters decide to support or oppose them. And the difference shows up at question time in the House where there is every opportunity to bring up such issues - and they just don’t arise.

And then the other day, another big difference between the British Prime Minister and the President of the United States cropped up as a news item. Not a big one. It rated four or five lines buried on the inside of my morning newspaper. It was that a British Airways jet had overshot the runway as it landed in Miami. No one was hurt. The plane taxied to its assigned gate and there was no appreciable delay. But what was "news" about the incident was that Tony Blair and his family were aboard - on their way to a vacation in the U.S. Traveling on a commercial flight.

No deep philosophical point to make here - just a simple observation about how different our two great democracies are - even though we’re first cousins. Can you just imagine George W Bush taking a commercial flight to his Texas ranch? Or to an overseas vacation spot? There wouldn’t be room for any ordinary passengers on any commercial jet carrying Mr. Bush. There’d probably be a need for a second jet just to accommodate the overflow of secret service agents and reporters!!

I think the fact that Tony Blair can travel that way and that it would be unthinkable for George Bush to do so, speaks multitudes about how these two leaders are regarded by the world community and by their own countrymen.