Monday, October 31, 2005

Ending the Fraudulence

Krugman has a good op/ed in the Times -- particularly this point:
 
Apologists can shout all they like that no laws were broken, that hardball politics is nothing new, or whatever. The fact remains that officials close to both Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush leaked the identity of an undercover operative for political reasons. Whether or not that act was illegal, it was clearly unpatriotic.
 
Given this administration's propensity to label dissent as 'unpatriotic' this fact seems especially poignant...

Hussein took 11th-hour exile deal

From an AP story:
Saddam Hussein accepted an 11th-hour offer to flee into exile weeks ahead of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, but Arab League officials scuttled the proposal, officials in this Gulf state claimed.
If true, it represents yet another way that we could have avoided 10,000+ dead or injured Americans and thousands of dead Iraqi's. It would've required our government to have worked with other Gulf states as opposed to standing in front of the world declaring "you're either with us, or against us."
My friend's thoughts are right on the mark:
Now we learn that Saddam was WILLING TO RELINQUISH POWER AND LEAVE IRAQ weeks before we invaded. We could have achieved the stated goals (which were bogus to begin with) without firing a shot. Are we seriously to believe that while we were making war preparations, the administration was unaware of the goings-on at the Arab League meeting? Either these people were actually that abysmally ignorant, or they conciously chose war anyway. Can any excuse whatsoever be offered for not pursuing this goal, rather than attacking, if it was known? Perhaps that no compromise should have been made that would allow Saddam to escape prosecution? Bin Laden murdered thousands of Americans when the Towers fell, and bragged about it. Why would it be OK for Bin Laden merely to be "marginalized" [as our President has said publically], and not Saddam, who never attacked us and was no threat?
This country is being run by either spectacular fools or monsters, take your pick.
I have an agenda for those who persist in supporting this administration.

First, attend a week long technical conference put on by our engineers and scientists presenting what we could accomplish in advancing our energy infrastructure with a $100 billion research effort, less than half the cost of this war.

Second, GIVE a presentation to the thousands of American families of our service people explaining to them why it's better that their loved one is dead or horribly maimed for life than it would have been to let Saddam give up power on his own, so that free elections could have been held in the fall of 2003.

Finally, go to Iraq. Explain to the families of the 26,000 dead who live in poverty and cower in fear from a pervasive and well-organized insurgency, while Americans in the Green Zone are choosing from three different flavors of ice cream for dessert, how much better off they because we invaded their country, rather than just let Saddam leave on his own. To lift their spirits, lead them in song. I'm sure they'll particularly be inspired to learn how "god shed his grace on" us. And not them.

Friday, October 28, 2005

VP indicted?

One down (Libby), a few to go...
 
As information about the Valerie Plame case trickles out of the investigation we're getting a glimpse at how far our highest government officials will go to "smear the messenger".

It's not like we haven't seen it before with the likes of Swift Boat Vets for Truth... and push-polling to smear McCain in the 2000 campaign. In both instances the tatic wasn't to discredit the message -- it was simply to discredit the messenger. Never mind if the policy or position being advocated was sensible... by discrediting the messenger all of the utterances of the accused become suspect.
 
At least that's how the administration operates and, unfortunately, what much of the American public buys-into.
 
Since this administration can't rely on the logic and common-sense of it's policies, it has to resort to McCarthy-era tatics to slime dissenters. But we're starting to see some of the machinery that keeps this administrations image afloat... and it isn't pretty.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Broken government

I know I've been ranting lately, but I have another:

I'm tired of conservatives comparing the upcoming indictments to those handed down during Clinton's second term. Yes, there are likely to be for perjury and obstruction of justice: but the similarity stops there.

Let's review:

Clinton was investigated by a special prosecutor for his involvement in a land speculation deal that took place approximately 10 years before he became president... and everyone accepted the fact that the Clintons LOST money in the deal.

The original Republican special prosecutor, Fiske, was preparing to dismiss the case without any indictments - a conclusion that was in line with those reached in the Pillsbury Report (another investigation into the matter) - when he was replaced with independent council Ken Starr.

Making a long story short, that should still be about the end of it. Ken Starr when on a multi-year witch hunt using the power of the independent council to not only look into the Clinton's Whitewater investment, but Paula Jones sexual harassment suit - and any other 'sleezy' report regarding the presidents behavior he could find. What we wound up with was a perjury and obstruction charge based on the fact that the president lied about his relationship with Monica.

Ok, the president lied under oath about his "indiscretion" with an intern... This was the result of a multi-year (+70 million dollar) investigation that started out looking into an investment he made a decade earlier. Why was Ken Starr even interviewing people about the president's sexual conduct? Sounds like a witch hunt to me.

Fast-forward to today.

The United States is at war. Actually we're fighting two wars: one in Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize a country that was run by a bunch of religious zealots who aided and harbored those who attacked us. The other, a war against a bunch of nationalists who oppose our presence and machinations in their country (they are supported by a relatively small number of terrorists). This second war has only the remotest of links to terrorism: a claim that democracy in Iraq will somehow quell the ground-swell of violent Islamic fundamentalism.

I doubt the outcome, but I guess we will see the results in the next 5-10 years. But I am drifting off topic.

So here we are: The current investigation centers on decisions and the subsequent actions high-level officials in the government made regarding the lead-up to war: Specifically, how the government used intimidation, lies and propaganda to convince the country that war with Iraq was necessary.

Ok, so here we are. Reader's Digest version:

  1. Bush administration: We have an investigation into specific allegations surrounding the public release, by high-level administration officials, of a covert operative's name. The indictments are likely to focus on "who said what and when", but perjury and obstruction of justice charges surrounding the issue seem directly applicable to the original topic of the investigation. If Rove and Libby perjured themselves, they should pay the price.
  2. Clinton administration: We had an investigation into Clinton's supposed use of 'undue pressure' in securing loans for a failing land deal. Three separate investigations resulted in no charges related to the matter. However, the special prosecutor did catch the president in a lie about who he had consensual sex with...
  3. Reagan administration (just to complete the picture): We had a president who authorized his operatives (North, Poindexter and others) to directly violate federal law by continuing aid to the Contra's in Nicaragua (after the Congress passed a law ending support for this group that had been killing civilians by the thousands). Additionally, the money used to support the Contras was obtained by illegally selling weapons systems to the Iranians - weapons systems we as tax payers paid for. Also remember, the Iranians were holding some of our citizens hostage in Lebanon (via their proxies) and considered us the 'Great Satan'.

You judge...

But for my money the people who claim to be the most religious, most "moral" seem to turn out to be the ones we have to worry about most.

Miers Withdraws Supreme Court Nomination

Miers just withdrew her nomination.

Now it gets scary: This president will now nominate someone who not only has a strong legal background -- but appeals to his base of evangelical nut-cases who think its their job to impose their version of christian values on the rest of us...

I have no problem with people of faith -- I just wish they'd quit trying to impose their beliefs on me through the government.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

GM parts co. bankrupt - morally...

What's really bankrupt is the leadership of large-corporate America.
 
Come-on, American car manufacturers are not loosing jobs/market to Japan and Germany because of 'cheaper labor'. We've already outsourced a lot of factory jobs (not all thankfully).
 
The foreign companies that have been eating our lunch for the last 3 decades come from countries that are considered bigger welfare states than our own... with expensive labor.
 
The crux of the problem: How can the Japanese, 6000 miles away, better anticipate the American auto market than executives sitting in Detroit?
 
The answer: Auto industry management is only concerned about keeping the company around long enough to collect their large salaries, outrageous pensions and golden parachutes. There is no incentive to innovate -- to anticipate the market. Large company CEO salaries aren't based on corporate profits -- we've seen that for decades now. As long as you know the right board members you can hang in there for a few years, make your millions, and leave the company/employees holding the bag.
 
We all know that Delphi executives will make our very well throughout this bankruptcy. Isn't it funny that the Congress just passed laws making it far more difficult for you or I to file for bankruptcy, but corporate America can do it and have us taxpayers pick up the tab (can you say Airline bailout? Saving and loan bailout? etc?).
 
This rant isn't directed at American companies in general. But once a company hits a certain size (HUGE) its no longer about innovation, efficiency and quality. It's about political contacts and downsizing while lining your own pockets.
 
Unfortunately these are the very companies that have the most influence in our government.

The White House Cabal

There's a good op/ed by Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson on the LATimes website.
 
He points out the now obvious fact that post-war Iraq was "planned" by a select few administration officials -- essentially Cheney and Rumsfeld.
 
For me, the idea -- demonstrated over and over -- of making huge decisions without soliciting dissenting opinions is central to the problem with this administration. They are so sure they have the right answers that there is no need to "second guess myself" -- as the president would say.
 
Wilkerson points out that bureaucracies will be very inefficient in carrying out policies they had no hand in crafting. Not to mention that the fractured way in which various agencies end up getting asked to work together on plans they have no insights into.
 
Don't you long for the days when we had a president that sat up all night crafting policy over pizza with experts from across the spectrum? Now we have one that says god tells him what to do.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Savior of the Right?

I used to think David Brook, the conservative columnist at the NY Times, was reasoned -- even though I didn't agree with many of his conclusions. But he's jumped off the sanity wagon this week with his editorial about Bush and "new conservatism".
 
In the editorial Brook argues that Bush is really the savior of conservatism since he has "modernized and saved it". Central to his argument is that 90's conservatism was "adrift and bereft of ideas" and that voters preferred Democratic ideas on domestic and international policies issues by 20 point margins.
 
So what has Bush done to "save" the right? Well, he's adopted some of the rhetoric of the left with compassionate conservatism but left the job of implementing social and international policy to corporate America and "the market". We've seen the result of that: energy and pharmaceutical company profits are breaking records each quarter while the cost of drugs and oil continues to climb... Spending on homeland security has gone through the roof while we are demonstrably less able to cope with disasters at home than we were 6 years ago. His foreign policy -- well, bankrupt in a word... (didn't we just take 5 years to come to an agreement with N. Korea that is essentially the same as where we left off with Clinton?).
 
Far from saving conservatism (or the country) all he's done is spend twice the money on half the return. Just look at interest payment on the debt as expressed as a percentage of federal spending: It is climbing rapidly and will be likely be a huge problem for future administrations and a huge drag on the economy. Look at entitlement spending (prescription drugs). It has sky-rocketed but the benefit seems to have accrued to the pharmaceutical companies more than medicare patients.
 
Alternately, the long-help premise of non-interference in your private life -- a long held conservative value - has been abandoned. This administration feels that it is its duty to dictate morality from on-high.
 
What's Bush has figured out is that people want government to address our social problems -- but in a fiscally responsible way. By playing to that desire he was able to get elected. But once there, he's done less-than-nothing to address those wishes. I say "less-than-nothing " because he and his administration have a contempt for government involvement in the market and believe that unbridled capitalism is really the cure for what ails us. His policies exemplify this: give money back to corporate America and they (in the context of the free market) will address the public's needs. Bush uses the language of compassion, but governs with a laisser-faire attitude with a healthy dose of cronyism.
 
The result is a government that spends our money but has little direct accountability as to the results.
 
When this administration has "mobilized government", he's done it with a complete lack of sincerity and understanding of the agency's relevance: e.g. - Anyone that would put a Horse Association adjudicator in the top disaster preparedness organization in the country clearly has no interest in using government to address our problems. This is just the tip of the iceberg...
 
If Bush has saved conservatism, it would have been better for us to pull the plug. Failing that, we should shoot it and put it out of our collective misery.

Today's Republicans - Morally bankrupt

For all their talk about morality and responsibility, I find our current crop of Republican legislators completely morally bankrupt...
 
Our "conservative Republican" leaders not only push pork through the Congress, but defend it even in the face of 'real need'. This is the real moral deficit in the country today.
 
Take Senator Steven's, from Alaska -- How can he sleep at night?
 
He sponsored and pushed through ~$400 MILLION worth of Pork in the form of two bridges to nowhere (the communities they serve have less than 100 people between them). The icing on the cake: he considers re-directing those funds to LA reconstruction as 'unconscionable'.

From the CSMonitor article:

In a rare display of intraparty passions, the fight transformed the staid Senate floor into a rhetorical shooting gallery last week, as freshman Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma took on one of the Senate's most powerful chairmen over the now-infamous "bridge to nowhere."

"We need to wake up.... No more low-priority projects in the face of half-trillion-dollar deficits. No more exorbitant bridges to nowhere," he said, referring to $453 million earmarked for two Alaskan bridges added to the highway bill by that state's senior senator, Ted Stevens. Senator Coburn proposed redirecting those funds to repair bridges in Louisiana destroyed by hurricane Katrina.

In a response laced with shouts, Senator Stevens denounced the Coburn amendment as a threat to state sovereignty. "This amendment is an offense to me.... It is a threat to every person in my state," he said. The amendment failed 15-82.

No sir: YOU are an offense... and offense to the idea of sane government.

At the same time House Republicans are still pushing for more tax cuts.

What is it gonna take for the American people to wake up and throw these people out of our government?

The Fed

Looks like Bush made a wise decision in naming Mr. Bernanke to the Fed.
 
From the little I've read about him at Wikipedia and the NYTimes, he sounds like he has all the right qualifications: both in terms of experience and education.
 
Now we only need to convince Bush that the Supreme Court deserves that same calibre of person...

Why God?

A friend at work pointed me at a good show that's currently airing on PBS: The Questions of God.
 
The series is based on the perspectives of Freud and CS Lewis -- an atheist and a believer.
 
My understanding is that the show uses a round-table forum of a cross-section of society to argue the perspectives of each man.  Both Freud and Lewis agreed that reason was central to the defense of their world-view... but they came to opposite answers as to what is "true".
 
I am very curious to hear Lewis' defense of the Christian faith. While I like the majority of the teachings of Jesus -- that doesn't make him the 'son of god'.
 
Most-all theologians agree that that faith entails a belief 'beyond the facts' . My question then is "which leap do you take?": Islamic, Hindu, Christian or any number of other 'revealed' religions? They all claim the same footing: divine revelation of "truth" ...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Better late than never...

The Kansas Supreme Court made a stand for equality last Friday.
 
The state had sentenced an 18 year old (Limon) to 17 years in prison for having "gay sex" with a 14 year old. While I certainly don't condone statutory rape, the maximum sentence for a heterosexual crime in this case is 15 months.
 
Kansas law prohibits any sexual activity involving a person under 16, regardless of the context. The 1999 "Romeo and Juliet" law specifies short prison sentences or probation for sexual activity when an offender is under 19 and the age difference between participants is less than four years — but only for opposite-sex encounters.
 
Justice Marla Luckert, writing for the high court said "Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest.": Common sense a Red State ... I'm sure Justice Luckert will be labeled an 'activist'.

Unfortunately the defendant has already spent 4+ years in prison.

Limon and the other boy, identified only as M.A.R., lived at a group home for the developmentally disabled. In court, an official described M.A.R. as mildly mentally retarded and Limon as functioning at a slightly higher level but not as an 18-year-old.

No matter what your personal feeling regarding homosexuality, isn't "lady justice" supposed to be blind?

Bush Meltdown?

David Brooks, the conservative columnist from the NYTimes, published a good editorial yesterday.
 
He notes that moderate Republicans are in a state of outrage regarding our government and this administrations policies.

In the past few days I've been speaking with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill (mostly Republicans) about the mood back home. I've learned that it's one thing to read in the paper that two-thirds of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. It's an altogether more bracing experience to go to town meetings and church and the supermarket and find this sentiment blasting you in the face.

The most interesting tales came from Republicans elected from districts President Bush carried by fewer than 10 points. Those districts were once moderately supportive of the president, but now, as one member of Congress said, the anger at Bush is so deep it's almost indescribable.

It's a generalized feeling of betrayal. At town meetings, big subjects like Iraq and the deficits barely come up. But there is a sense that this guy Bush promised to make us feel safe, and it's clear from the Katrina fiasco and everything else that we are not safe.

Brooks also points out that many of these same Republicans aren't extremely worried (yet) about the upcoming election since the Democratic response to all the cronyism, idiocy and out-right corruption has been feeble at best.
 
Why can't the democrats just come out and call this the most corrupt administration since Reagan and Iran-Contra? I just don't get it...
 
This administration simply doesn't believe government has a major role in anything from disaster preparedness (unless it involves the military and fighting overseas) to regulating the influence of big-business on government. How did they convince the majority of Americans that the "invisible hand of the market" will address these things?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Leading by Bad Example...

Friedman has a great editorial today in the NYTimes... He exposes the utter hypocrisy of this administration.

He points out that this administration is a "do as I say, not as I do" purveyor of democracy. Friedman uses a fictitious Iraqi delegation visiting the US to get his point across.

Let's start with the separation of church and state and the idea that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States".

[...] after two years of being lectured to by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad about the need to separate "mosque from state" in the new Iraq, he was also floored to read that the former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now a law school dean, said on the radio show of the conservative James Dobson that Miers deserved support because she was "a very, very strong Christian [who] should be a source of great comfort and assistance to people in the households of faith around the country."

"Now let me get this straight," Judge Mithaqi said. "You are lecturing us about keeping religion out of politics, and then your own president and conservative legal scholars go and tell your public to endorse Miers as a Supreme Court justice because she is an evangelical Christian.

"How would you feel if you picked up your newspapers next week and read that the president of Iraq justified the appointment of an Iraqi Supreme Court justice by telling Iraqis: 'Don't pay attention to his lack of legal expertise. Pay attention to the fact that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and prays at a Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque.' Is that the Iraq you sent your sons to build and to die for? I don't think so. We can't have our people exposed to such talk."

How about torture:

A fellow delegation member [...] said he did not want to spend another day in Washington after listening to the Bush team defend its right to use torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfi said he was heartened by the fact that the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban U.S. torture of military prisoners. But he said he was depressed by reports that the White House might veto the bill because of that amendment, which would ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of P.O.W.'s.

And finally the Pravda-like control this administration imposes on all communication:

[...] he wanted to go home after watching a televised videoconference last Thursday between soldiers in Iraq and President Bush. The soldiers, 10 Americans and an Iraqi, were coached by a Pentagon aide on how to respond to Mr. Bush.

"It was right from the Saddam playbook. I was particularly upset to hear the Iraqi sergeant major, Akeel Shakir Nasser, tell Mr. Bush: 'Thank you very much for everything. I like you.' It was exactly the kind of staged encounter that Saddam used to have with his troops."

If our leaders understood what it means to live and work in a democracy they wouldn't have this attitude -- that the ends justify the means. Somehow they think they can spread democracy abroad if only they didn't have to deal with its "constraints" here at home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Missed opportunities... the price of hubris

I was reading a post on Human Voices blog... It got me thinking about the incredible opportunity we missed in Afghanistan. An opportunity that, since we’ve so badly tarnished our image in Iraq, will likely not come again in my lifetime.

After the attacks on this country we were justified in going after the perpetrators -- and those that harbored them -- in Afghanistan. I was frankly amazed that we were able to defeat and evict the Taliban so quickly. Just looking back on the Soviets efforts in the region had me convinced it would be hard fight. But it was a necessary fight.

In October 2001 the hunt for Osama was on in earnest. Our administration was making all the right noises: we’d deal with Osama and help the Afghans rebuild there country: a country that has seen nothing but strife for decades. By November 2001 Kabul had fallen, the Taliban were retreating into the hills and Osama was soon to be cornered in the Tora Bora Mountains.

But just as things were looking better than I had hoped, our focus changed … Osama was no longer the priority – and neither was truly stabilizing Afghanistan and seeing the effort through.

We all know what happened next.

But what did we loose by changing our focus? What would have happened if we’d continued our efforts in that rugged and impoverished country? What if we had spent the money and effort we’re currently spending in Iraq in Afghanistan?

Here’s what I think would have happened.

We’d have captured or killed the leader of the movement that spawned the 9/11 attacks. We would have created and stabilized a fragile democracy in one of the cradles of radical Islamic fundamentalism. We’d have swiftly dealt justice to the terrorists who committed atrocities on our soil.

What a message: a demonstration of American might while simultaneously establishing a democracy in the former home of not only radical fundamentalism, but a region of the world where the Soviets (our former foe) spent a decade to no avail.

Such a message may have given pause to other terrorist cells and to other middle-east leaders who harbor terrorists… but the signal of American military prowess would have been noticed throughout the world – by the Chinese, the Russians and any other power that harbored doubts about American resolve.

Maybe I’m extrapolating too freely – but it seems a likely outcome given the way events were unfolding.

So Afghanistan, not Iraq, was the perfect laboratory for Bush’s ‘democracy on the march’ experiment. Not because I think spreading democracy at the point of a gun is the solution to terrorism (it can be part of it), but because the particular set of circumstances in that country called for a course of action that included fixing the Afghan government once we toppled it.

But we’ll never know... The administration had a far more grandiose plan. Bush and the Project-for-New-American-Century crowd decided going after the people that attacked us wasn’t enough. Afghanistan wasn’t ‘central’ to the image of the new middle-east the neo-cons at PNAC had envisioned. So, they used the situation to catalyze their pet project – remaking the middle-east – with Iraq firmly placed at central stage.

We all know what happened next.

Instead of a demonstration of American might, justice and charity we’re stuck … stuck both in Iraq and stuck trying to convince ourselves, and the world, that it was the right thing to do.

The All-Spin Zone!

If you're a fan of the Daily Show it looks like the spin-off, "The Colbert Report", is gonna be just as hilarious -- while pointing a stick in the eye of the likes of Bill O'Reilly and his kind.
 
The article is on Salon... I've extracted a few bits.
 
"The Colbert Report" [...] is an extended play on the fact that, in the age of "The Daily Show" or "Hardball" [...], not only can't people differentiate between real news and slanted, self-serving blather, they can't distinguish between real journalists and those who play journalists on TV. If the guy's name is flashing all over the place, he must be important.

In keeping with this trend, Colbert's name is scattered all over the set -- [...] During the opening credits, an eagle flies around his head, and words flash across the screen: "POWERFUL," "COURAGEOUS," "EXCEPTIONAL," and also "DOMINEERING," "RELENTLESS," "GRIPPY." Yes, you read that right: Grippy. Soon, Colbert tells us about his own personal brand of no-nonsense, hard-hitting ... well, nonsense. Somewhere out there, Bill O'Reilly is fidgeting and twitching like the villain whose voodoo doll just took a thumb tack to the forehead.

In a nice play on O'Reilly's "No-Spin Zone" foolishness, Colbert wants us to know that even though his name is all over the place, the show isn't all about him. "No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes!" he bellows. "And who are the heroes? The people who watch this show -- average, hardworking Americans. You're not the elites, you're not the country club crowd. I know for a fact that my country club would never let you in. But you get it! And you come from a long line of it-getters!"

Immediately, Colbert has his finger on the throbbing pulse of right-wing punditry, the dexterity with which they pander to the working class without getting any mud on their Italian wing-tip loafers. "On this show, your voice will be heard," Colbert reassures us, "in the form of my voice."

We need more of this stuff. One way to take the wind out of the sails of these self-appointed conservative crusaders (like O'Reilly) is to use satire to show what they really are.

 


Yeah, it's a cheap shot but it is soooooo true.

The conservatives still decry liberal intellectualism... But aren't these the guys who planned a war strategy using a bunch of guys from a Washington think-tank? ... and didn't all of those predictions and assessments turn out to be wrong?

Maybe we need to get some real intellectuals back in government. Not the kind that substitute faith for fact and belief for reason.

Monday, October 17, 2005

What is God?

The Boston Globe has a great editorial on god and religion in the US...
 
I'll point you here, to the progressive Common Dreams website where you can read it.
 
The thrust: if god is truly everything the bible indicates "he" is, he's a lot more 'unknowable' than the right has conveniently made him out to be. Maybe that should be a call to a little more humbleness when dictating policy in his name -- as opposed to the absolutes we hear from religious/government leaders.

A faultering image...

The president held a supposedly 'impromptu' chat with troops in Tikrit that was actually (surprise surprise) a staged  propaganda event. We don't even have to speculate about this fact since the Pentagon inadvertently transmitted (by satellite) footage of the dress rehearsal to major media outlets, who, for once, pointed the finger at this administration and called bull-shit.
 
Should we be surprised? No... this administration has managed it's image with PR firm like efficiency. Should we be outraged? Of course!
 
Check out the audio story/transcript at On The Media.
 
This weekend we got a rare look at how low they will sink and how little their regard for the principle of democracy.
 
As I've pointed out before, a democracy is founded on informed consent of the governed. This administration not only doesn't understand that, they have contempt for us, the governed. In their view, we can't be trusted with actual information -- our expectations and reactions must be actively managed.
 
All administrations do this of course. What's amazing is the degree to which this administration will stoop -- especially on issues of substance. Staging a question and answer session with our soldiers is only the latest 'red light' flashing in the face of the public.

Religion...

Having an interesting debate with another blogger on the subject of religion and government.
 
The gentlemen involved is a lawyer, so obviously his focus is on the legal basis and rulings related to the establishment clause.
 
My point it that looking only at the "legal debate" misses the greater lessons of history -- and the brilliance of our founders who had to invest a Constitutionally based government at a time when all of the other governments of the world claimed to derive their basis from 'god'.
 
Here's my latest retort (read the original here):
 

The issue (for me) isn't what would carry the day in court, but what makes sense given world history regarding the influence of religious belief on government. I think history shows that far more often than not such influence is negative.

 

I realize this isn't what you are debating -- however, I'm an engineer, not a lawyer. My interest is not in the legal basis for the intent of the establishment clause: What is smart and what is legal are two different questions.

 

The founders set up a form of government unseen in the world at that time. They invented it out of whole-cloth based on their personal experience, and their view of the larger world. Their personal writing and beliefs are extremely relevant to a discussion since they formed the very basis of the government they invented! Central to their belief system is the belief that religious influence on government was something to be avoided at all costs. Again, I point to a myriad of letters from Jefferson, Franklin , Washington, Madison , etc. etc. These beliefs are the very foundation of the "Godless Constitution". To simply dismiss them because they are not admissible in a court of law completely misses the wisdom in the creation of our system of government and laws in the first place!

 

As to the legal battles surrounding religion and government we need not look very deep to find the roots of the controversy. How many Supreme Court justices self-identify as "Christian" … All of them.

 

Hence the crux of the (legal) debate: how can you expect a person, who acknowledges that they hold beliefs in revealed, absolute truth that are neither founded on demonstrable facts or evidence accountable to a law made by men? We can't  – and that's why we have people like Scalia on the court who actually believe the Ten Commandments form part of the basis of our laws and "scholarly debate" on the subject (again, refer to Jefferson's writing on this subject where he coolly dismantled the argument that the Ten Commandments form the basis of common law: British common law, on which much American law was based, existed before Christianity had arrived in England.). [My aside: which Ten Commandments should we display anyway? Those in Exodus 30 or 34… they are VERY different yet the chapter 34 says they are the same as those Moses supposedly brought down from the mountain. I prefer the later ref in which we find 10- Thou Shalt Not Seethe a Kid in it's Mother's Milk.)

 

Could Abraham Lincoln, who wrote a manuscript arguing against the divinity of Christ and the divine inspiration of the Bible and stated:

 

"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them."

 

be elected to office today? Of course not…This leads back to my original point: 'coming out Christian doesn't take ANY moral courage. It is akin to identifying as a republican while sitting in front of Tom Delay's Congress.

 

The mad-men have the keys to the kingdom.

 

As to Christianity itself, I doubt there would be many who professed to be Christian if they actually read the entire bible: and spent a bit of time really digesting what it says. I find it paints a picture of an ugly, vindictive god who would do such things as torment a good person (such as Job) simply to make a point to 'satan' (so god makes good people suffer so he can prove a point to the devil? Seems awfully vain to a rational person). It includes specific instructions on how and when to sell your children into sexual slavery… decrees to slaughter entire cities except for the virgins which were to be taken as spoils… the list goes on.

 

I do not doubt your intelligence, but I cannot understand how anyone who has put an effort into studying the foundations of the Christian belief system ( i.e. – the bible) could profess faith in such barbarism. And to deny the wisdom of the most brilliant people of an age (the founders) because their codification of that wisdom (separation of church and state) is legally debatable misses the larger lesson of history – which this country is well on it's way to repeating.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Cronyism revisited...

I just had to come back to this topic...
 
This administration is very good at portraying the IMAGE that safeguarding our citizens is number one on its agenda... but a cursory look at how they are preparing and protecting generates a completely different picture:
 
Remember Brown, the FEMA director? The Arabian Horse judge? Great qualifications huh? Clinton's appointee (James Witt) had more than 20 years of disaster management experience and was regarded by both parties as eminently qualified. He even received praise from Bush himself. From a Slate article:

What must make this irony especially painful for Bush is that he knew how good Witt was. In fact, Bush knew it coming and going. When he was helping run his father's 1992 re-election campaign, he saw the miserable federal response from FEMA when it was still a dumping ground for political hacks. As a governor, Bush was so impressed by the agency's renaissance under Witt that he singled him out for praise in his first presidential debate with Al Gore:

You know, as governor, one of the things you have to deal with is catastrophe. I can remember the fires that swept Parker County, Texas. I remember the floods that swept our state. I remember going down to Del Rio, Texas. I have to pay the administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis.

 
How about Simonson as Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness, the administration's point man for Emergency Preparedness. As I've blogged his last job was as council for AMTRAK.
 
Clinton had William Clark as his Deputy Director in the Office of Emergency Preparedness...
 
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

My name is Bill Clark, and I am the deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I have over 40 years of experience at the city, county, state and federal level in emergency services. I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the Nation's readiness to medically respond to acts of biological terrorism against civilian populations within the United States .

How about the Bush appointee for Deputy Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Alex Michael Azar

Prior to joining HHS, Azar was a partner with the firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding in Washington, D.C., where he specialized in litigation and appellate practice involving white collar criminal defense and internal investigations, congressional investigations, government ethics, administrative law and employment counseling.
 
Every time I do a bit of research -- scratch the surface of this administrations image -- I find cronyism and a complete lack of understanding of the importance these agencies play in our public health, safety and defense.
 
Our current leaders simply do not believe that these government agencies have a real role in helping/protecting our citizens. I only hope they are all tossed out of office before something really devastating happens.
 
 

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Our President - grandstanding or forgetful? or...

Read a good post on the Info-Theory blog...
 
From the President's speech on 16 Sept:
 
Yet the system, at every level of government, was not well-coordinated, and was overwhelmed in the first few days. It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.

From the US Military's Northern Command website:

The Department of Defense established U.S. Northern Command in 2002 to consolidate under a single unified command existing missions that were previously executed by other military organizations.

The command's mission is homeland defense and civil support, specifically:

  • Conduct operations to deter, prevent, and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories, and interests within the assigned area of responsibility; and
  • As directed by the President or Secretary of Defense, provide defense support of civil authorities including consequence management operations.

U.S. Northern Command plans, organizes, and executes homeland defense and civil support missions, but has few permanently assigned forces. The command will be assigned forces whenever necessary to execute missions as ordered by the President.

So, what are we looking into with regard to a military role in disaster relief/preparedness? Isn't their support already authorized.
 
Maybe the problem is that this administration doesn't see a role for government in disaster preparedness.

Priorities and the Christian right...

The organization that moves known child molesters from parish to parish says that boxing is immoral.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9684942/

The Christian right is simply sick and hypocritical. They understand morals about as well as they do science.
 
From a friend at work -- sums up my feelings on the subject perfectly:

Religion is an act of intellectual cowardice.   Preaching it fire-and-brimstone style is philosophical terrorism.  No amount of fervor can change a belief into a fact.  Only hard questions and competent experimentation can do that.   Faith, the acceptance of belief without question, renders all errors permanent.  Most churches institutionalize ignorance.

Avian Flu...

Human Voices has a great blog on the potential avian flu pandemic... and how we're (not) prepared for it.

In characteristic style our administration has a crony, Stewart Simonson, as Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness at HHS. You guessed it: looks like his only qualifications for the job are his connections. He previously worked as a corporate secretary and counsel for AMTRAK... Before that, he was as a staff lawyer for Wisconsin Gov Tommy Thomson (before Tommy became the HHS Secretary).

So Simonson, a lawyer from the transit industry, is the point man for health emergencies in this country.

Sounds like just the man to make sure we're prepared for a biological and public health emergency doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I HAVE to feel good...

A friend pointed me at this quote by William Rivers Pitt: I think it hits close to home.
 
Although we have much to be proud of as Americans, we also have to face the fact that the majority of our citizens somehow believe we can do no wrong. It appears to take a hell of a lot of corruption, lies and plain 'ole incompetence to convince the public otherwise:
 
Americans, by and large, have a fundamental need to feel like they are part of something great, above the fray and beyond the rest of the world. They are fed American exceptionalism with mother's milk, and will fight like rabid wolverines to avoid being forced to believe otherwise. Anyone mystified by the public support Bush has enjoyed until very recently, despite the endless litany of disasters that have befallen us, can look to this bone-deep need as the main reason for that support. It isn't just about 9/11. Americans need to feel good about America in the same way fish need water. Americans need to believe, and will thrash around like boated marlin if that belief is undercut. That belief serves as a kind of ideological Prozac, shoving bad thoughts to the background.

Iraq. Afghanistan. The continued freedom enjoyed by Osama bin Laden. Katrina. Abu Ghraib. Frist and insider stock trading. DeLay and a handful of indictments. Rove and Libby staring down the barrel of more indictments. Bush's approval ratings are plummeting, and the entire country is beginning to wilt under the depressing reality that we are, in fact, getting screwed with our pants on. Any conceits of moral authority being put forth by the White House and the Republican Party have been washed away in a flood of graft, death, lies and corruption.

Our supply of Prozac is running short. The belief in American excellence so desperately necessary to the mental balance of the populace is being eroded by the hour, and there will be hell to pay because of it

Drug industry and American Laziness...

The Intellectual Insurgent has a great blog on pharmaceuticals , marketing and American laziness...
 
Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Soccer Mom in the Middle East

On the Media had a great piece on how The Messenger is the Message. The story points out that aside from what the government propagandists say, it's really a country's actions, along with the image of its leader who carries out those actions, that dictates how we are viewed.
 
Karen Huges, Bush's latest State Department Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, recently traveled to the Middle East to peddle the administration's image of America as the "bringers of democracy"... Of course, using a white, Texas soccer mom to sell the idea to middle eastern women in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey may seem like craziness to us, but to the Bush administration what possible better representation of America could there be?
 
Well, for starters, how about a Muslim-American... someone who may actually have lived in the Middle East; someone who speaks the language, understands their customs, concerns and priorities yet can speak to the benefits of the American social and political system.
 
Nah, that would be too complicated -- come'on: democracy and western values sell themselves right?
 
On top of picking Huges, consider our president is threatening a veto on a bill that would publicly renounce the use of torture. When you put the picture together you can at least understand why Arabs, Persians and others look at the disconnect between our message and actions and ask "is this guy serious?"
 
Until someone in this administration pulls the rose-colored glasses off of our president (and gives him a brain transplant) we'll never make real progress against anti-Americanism.

Domestic spying...

The Pentagon is asking the legislature if it can start to "covertly" gather intelligence on US citizens.
 
As someone involved in this area I find this disturbing...
 
The argument is that by covertly 'spying' on American citizens (mostly in Muslim communities), the DoD and intelligence agencies will be able to "assess their suitability as sources" for information related to our operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and where ever we are engaged with violent Islamic fundamentalists.
 
Sounds good on the surface. However, I find this disturbing for a couple reasons.
 
First, our system of government is based on the precept that we are all free to live our lives; to express our beliefs & opinions and to act (as long as those actions do not violate the law) without government interference. This precept was best codified by a former US Attorney General: Attorney General, Harlan Fiske Stone. He definitively defined the charter of the Dept of Justice. To paraphrase: 
 
The Dept is not interested in the opinions or beliefs of US citizens. Our jurisdiction only extends to actions... and only when those actions violate the law.
 
Out system of government relies on its citizens expression of their opinions...  and our citizens must be able to express those opinions without fear that they will bring some type of retribution. If we start treating a group of people with one set of beliefs differently, we open the door to government persecution based on beliefs -- and we've seen it before (McCarthyism). 
 
Which leads me to my second concern: our government has historically abused this power. It was only 40 years ago that individuals like Martin Luther King and other civic leaders were investigated by the FBI for "Un-American activities" ... a term never really defined. This 'criteria' was used to start investigations of thousands of US Citizens who's only 'crime' was to be opposed to a particular government policy. Check out some of these abuses by the government which occured in the '56-'71 time frame.
 
I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this proposal: but on the surface, it stinks. The job of our military and intelligence infrastructure is to protect us from our enemies... But in doing so we cannot give up the essential freedoms that define who we are.

When Stone appointed J. Edgar Hoover as Acting Director of the Bureau of Investigation, he instructed Hoover to adhere to this standard:

The activities of the Bureau are to be limited strictly to investigations of violations of law, under my direction or under the direction of an Assistant Attorney General regularly conducting the work of the Department of Justice.

Nevertheless, beginning in the mid-thirties, at White House direction, the FBI reentered the realm of collecting intelligence about ideas and associations.

Do we really want to start down that path again?

 

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Vetoing democracy

I'm simply amazed...
 
We have a president who (now) justifies the war in Iraq on the premise that we're "spreading democracy and bringing freedom" to its inhabitants -- with the hope of that freedom spreading to the larger middle east.
 
Wouldn't it seem prudent then not to do things perceived as going against the values of a free society? To actually put our values into practice and demonstrate them -- especially with our enemies?
 
John McCain, the Republican senator from my home state has appended a bill which "regulates the detention, interrogation and treatment of prisoners held by the American military." It would seem that McCain, a former POW in Vietnam, understands more about our values as Americans than our "values president" who seems to view the world through some kind of rose colored glasses in which all of the worlds inhabitants will understand the need for the disconnect between our rhetoric and our actions.

Today, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that President Bush will likely veto the defense budget if the amendment remains part of the spending bill.

"We have put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying that his advisors would recommend that he vetoes it if it contains such language," said Mr. McClellan.

More than two dozen retired senior military officers, including Colin L. Powell and John M. Shalikashvili, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the amendment, which would ban use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in United States government custody.

I'm sure the house will try to strip the amendment from the spending bill.
 
But what kind of leader claims the moral high ground while insisting to keep his options open with regard to torture?
 
I think McCain sums up my feelings best:

Mr. McCain, who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, added in closing Wednesday night: "Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us - every single one of us - knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies."

Apparently some Americans still believe we are different from our enemies... I only wish our president was one of them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

States rights ... and individual choice

We're seeing it again: a disconnect between the conservative manifesto of "state's rights" and this administration's actions.

I thought conservatism was about small, financially responsible government that left matters of conscience to individuals and their families... But once again, we see this administration is NOT conservative: it is theocratic and hell-bent (irony intended!) on dictating your morals...
 
More than 8 years ago Oregon adopted an assisted suicide law that applied to terminally ill patients. Essentially, if a terminally ill patient was diagnosed with less than 6 months to live he/she could request a lethal prescription from their doctor that they could use (at the time of the patients choosing) to end their life. This allows terminally ill individuals to decide when 'enough was enough' and end their suffering.
 
From the statistics I've read, most people requesting these prescriptions had diseases like bone cancer, lung cancer, etc: degenerative conditions that usually result in an extended and painful end-of-life experience. Again, from the statistics I've read, the majority of people requesting these prescriptions are middle class Americans who have health insurance. Although many request and fill these prescriptions - many never use them. But, as the guy with bone cancer up in Oregon said, "It's somewhat comforting to know you have that option."
 
John Ashcroft has been trying to get the federal government to overturn the Oregon voter-approved law (Janet Reno wouldn't even have the case tried). In 2004 a federal appeals court ordered the administration not to interfere with the Oregon law... But now the Bush administration is about to have it's day in court: The supreme court.
 
The issue for me is two-fold: the rights of local voters (citizens of Oregon in this case) to decide what's best for themselves -- medical practice is state-regulated -- and the rights of the individual to decide what to do with their lives.
 
Once again, this administration demonstrates that it is focused on dictating personal choices in the name of 'morality' rather than securing the rights of an individual to make personal choices that are obviously best made by family members with support from their doctor.
 
How can we get the 'this' federal government out of our personal decision making?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Delay defended...

Just got through reading David Frum's blog on the National Review online... along with a piece in the Wash Post.

What passes for political analysis is really just partisan spin. David Frum tries to point out that "The corporations that forked over the cash to DeLay's PAC did so not because their hearts were filled with affection for those particular Texas legislative candidates but because they recognized DeLay's power over federal legislation." (Italics addes.)

But next comes the asinine part:

"The case against DeLay charges that he conspired with corporations to help them circumvent this law by routing the money through political action committees he controlled. But as Dionne [WashPost] acknowledges, the corporations in question did not care about Texas politics. They wanted to give to DeLay's political action committees, which was perfectly legal."

Come 'on!

Of course: most of these corporations didn't give a rat's-ass about TX politics... What they DO give a hoot about was maintaining a Republican majority in congress... A majority controlled by The Hammer... Could that be the purpose behind supporting the election of Republican representatives not from your state? Of course!!

If this spinner (Frum) successfully passes himself off as a political analysts we're in more trouble than I originally though.

Think people! Think!