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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

President Bush is making his way to Europe over the weekend, (uh oh, there goes the neighborhood!). Yep, W is headed to Italy and France to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day, at least that's the public reasoning for the trip. In reality, Bush's trip represents a fence-mending mission with the very same world leaders he shunned in his run-up to war with Iraq. Undoubtedly, all involved parties will put on a happy face, but not everyone is thrilled with the president's plans to hop the pond and set his imperialist boots onto European soil. His first stop is Italy, where he's scheduled to meet with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the most crooked Western leader since, well, George W. Bush.

Since the eviction of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and the tumultous firestorm surrounding Tony Blair, Mr. Berlusconi has become W's staunchest European ally in the War on Terror. But the widespread majority of the Italian public is opposed to its government's involvement in the Iraqi misadventure, and the intensity of protest expected in Rome during Bush's visit is extreme. In fact, several prominent public figures, including former President Francesco Cossiga, have questioned why Bush is visiting in the first place. His drop-in on Rome has prompted the "militarization of the capital", according to la Repubblica newspaper. The November murder of 19 Italian soldiers and the recent Italian hostage episode has only inflamed hatred for the US president. Luca Casarini, a well-known Italian anti-globalization figure, commented, "If a criminal of the caliber of Bush is given the red carpet treatment, then rage is the right reaction." A Roman Holiday indeed Mr. Bush. Good luck.

While he's in Italy, the devout W will also pay a visit to the Pope. His pontiffness was a vocal opponent of Mr. Bush's war, and so the meeting should be interesting to say the least. I'm sure Bush will deliver some pleasantries and perhaps recite a Psalm or two to impress John Paul II, but the Pope may have some harsh words - in between drooling spats - for the president. Aside from his disparaging remarks about Bush's run-up to Shock and Awe, JP2 is particularly unhappy with the American value system, commenting last week that America has become a "soulless" wasteland of materialism (yeah? what of it motherfucker?!). The Pope suggested to visiting American bishops last week that they needed to "study contemporary culture to find a way to appeal to youths." Apparently, the Catholic Church is finally abandoning its policy of appealing to youth through communal molestation and groping.

Seems like there is a new 'crucial juncture' just about every week in Iraq, doesn't it? But yesterday's news that the Iraqi Governing Council had dissolved itself and appointed interim leaders is a welcome development. I've argued long and hard that my problem with this administration lies in the execution, not necessarily the theory. Clearly, terrorism is a significant threat that needs to be dealt with, no one is arguing against that. My problem has been in how the threat has been dealt with: brute force, intimidation, and an arrogant, holier-than-thou, God-is-on-our-side attitude. But the appointment of Sunni tribal leader Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawar, a frequent critic of the American occupation, as interim president is an encouraging sign and represents a slight departure from that attitude. I will give credit where credit is due, but credit is not necessarily due to the Bush administration, which has made the transition even more difficult than it was already destined to be. The administration certainly didn't want Mr. Ajil al-Yawar to assume the post, but yesterday they relented, finally, and allowed him to take the podium as president, and I'll give them credit for that.

This 'credit' in no way diminishes the fact that invading Iraq on false pretenses has done more to harm the war on terrorism than to help it. Iraq is only the central front in the war on terror because Bush made it so. There are/were smarter ways to fight this scourge of terrorism. This pre-emptive invasion and resulting, mis-managed occupation have only inflamed the massive hatred of America across the globe, which is not a good way to stamp out terrorism. But now that we've sunk our teeth in, there's really no turning back, and so any progress in Iraq is welcome, and yesterday's news represented progress.

Of course, as the new president was being sworn in, rocket attacks and suicide bombs continued to rock Baghdad, so we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach over the next several months. But Bush seemed upbeat yesterday during his impromptu press conference commenting on the transition. When asked about the mood of the Iraqi people, Bush replied that people who have been in Iraq report that things are better than the American media have portrayed them to be, that, in fact, "They report people have got a sparkle in their eye." No, no Mr. President, that's not a sparkle, that's shrapnel.

There's a lot of work to be done, no doubt. My question remains: Did it have to come to this?

So, Democrats say that the economy has fallen into recession on George W's watch, citing as primary evidence spiraling unemployment figures, continued corporate malfeasance and the current need to take out a personal loan in order to fill up the gas tank. But hold on a minute Dems, the economy is on the upswing... in certain sectors. Check out what the Bush administration did for Alliant Techsystems of Missouri, the nation's leading manufacturer of ammunition:

Dan Murphy, chief executive at bullet supplier Alliant Techsystems Inc., said the company's Army ammunition plant in Missouri has gone through its fastest increase in production since the Vietnam War. It has hired 1,000 workers in the past three years, and some production lines are running around the clock.
Or how about Certified Safety Manufacturing, a small, family-owned business who supplies field dressings to all those wounded American men and women in Iraq. If it weren't for George W's hard-headed determination, Certified Safety wouldn't have been able to add 24 positions to its payroll. Every flesh-ripping gunshot wound to an American soldier equals profits for this mom-and-pop operation, just listen to Pam Gerson, daughter of the founder:

"A lot of people are benefiting from the situation. That also causes negativity, in that war is no fun," says Ms Gerson. "Everything here is based around business. That's what the war is about. Unfortunately, for some it doesn't come out so sweet. But for others, it does."
See, War is "sweet" for some.

And what about Halliburton? If it weren't for the Cheney administration, the Houston-based corporate monolith would've actually had to compete with other companies for its big fat Iraqi reconstruction contract. And just because Dick Cheney says, "I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the federal government," it was his influence of, involvement in and knowledge of the contracts led by the Corps of Engineers that greased the wheels for Halliburton to secure its sweetheart reconstruction contract -- and profit magnificently from it, as was proven in the e-mail recently uncovered by Time Magazine.

So you see, this administration is good for the economy. War is good for the economy! These guys are brilliant!

Of course, outside of industries directly supplying the war effort, times are not so good. In April of 2003, President Bush used the Timken Co., a Canton, Ohio-based ball-bearing manufacturer, as the backdrop for a speech on economic recovery. Standing proudly in front of a "Jobs and Growth" banner, Bush told thousands of workers gathered at the plant that the "greatest strength of the American economy is found right here, right in this room, found in the pride and skill of the American work force." Last month, Timken Co. announced that it was closing its three manufacturing facilities in Canton and laying off 1,300 workers, many of whom undoubtedly were right there in that room.

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