Thursday, June 30, 2005

About Time

When the Veteran's Administration announced earlier this week that the agency which provides health care for veterans would be in the red to the tune of at least one billion dollars this year, certain Republican officials hit the roof. Their assumption, of course, was that the VA had incompetently over-spent. The fact that in terms of real dollars, the VA had been one of the targets of cuts the last few federal budgets didn't enter into the conversation.

Apparently the Republican response didn't sit well with an important constituency: veterans. With a mid-term election coming up, and with falling poll numbers, a different tune was whistled in short order.

The Washington Post reported today that the Senate acted quickly:

The Senate, after a series of angry partisan exchanges, unanimously approved yesterday $1.5 billion in emergency funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care programs. The action is the first step in what now appears to become a total increase of at least $2.5 billion in fiscal 2005 and 2006.

Three times in the recent past, Democrats had offered bills or amendments which would have increased the VA budget and each time the bills were defeated. The difference this time?

Virtually all veterans groups -- including the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- have complained bitterly that the administration and the Republican leadership have abandoned a commitment to treat VA health care as an integral "cost of war." John Furgess, commander in chief of the VFW, denounced Bush's spending proposals for the department as "especially shameful during a time of war."

Here, shamefully, is one of the reasons for the VA shortfall in the first place:

Nicholson told lawmakers Tuesday that the administration had vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who would seek VA medical treatment. The estimates had been based on outdated assumptions from 2002, he said.

Good grief! Can't this mal-administration get anything right?

Hard Time For Silence

The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of the two journalists who have been found in contempt of court for refusing to identify the source who leaked the identity of a field operative of the CIA. Valerie Plame was outed in print by Robert Novak, who printed the story in his syndicated column. Because the identification of a spy is against Federal Law, and because Novak indicated he got the information from a White House 'source,' a federal investigation into the identity of the miscreant leaker was initiated.

Both Judith Miller (New York Times) and Matthew Cooper (Time) refused to reveal the source of the information they also received on the story, they were slapped with the contempt charge. It's important to note that neither has been charged with violating the federal law, merely for refusing to reveal their source, the actual violator. Still, they now face up to eighteen months in jail for their refusal to name names.

There has been plenty of fulmination and bloviation on the press's right to keep anonymous sources anonymous. However, that right, like all of the First Amendment rights, is not absolute. That is what makes this whole issue so complicated and so ticklish.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, however, laid out the whole issue quite neatly.

Whether Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, and Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, spend time in jail for contempt of court is of first concern to Miller, Cooper and those who practice the craft of journalism. But it should matter also to Americans generally, for the question at issue -- the ability of journalists to protect confidential sources -- bears directly on the ability of journalists to keep Americans informed.

That having been said, the STrib also acknowledges that limits even on the press occasionally have to be imposed when it is a matter of public need:

Sad as that outcome would be, legally it is correct. When the requirements of justice and the duties of journalists come into irreconcilable conflict, justice must prevail if its advocates can make a compelling case 1) that the information required from the journalists is relevant to a criminal case; 2) it can't be gotten elsewhere and 3) there is an overriding interest requiring its disclosure.

The honorable choice is to go to jail; they lose personally but they win professionally because no one, ultimately, can force them to break a confidence. But the prospect of jail time for Miller and Cooper is not Fitzgerald's fault, nor the courts'; it is the result of a clash between two ultimately irreconcilable responsibilities. For the reporters, it is the obligation to confidential sources -- without which much of what the public needs to know would be unavailable. For Fitzgerald and the courts, it is the obligation to justice -- without which this society could not function.

This remarkable newspaper (currently under attack by conservative pundit and blogger Hugh Hewitt for some of its 'liberal' opinions) not only got it right, but it also clearly laid out the reasons for their opinion.

Unlike most of the press these days, The STrib is doing its job cleanly and with dignity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Manipulated Elections

No, I'm not talking about 2004 in the US. I'm referring to the US stance on the recent Iranian elections in which a relative unknown beat one of the political big boys of Iran. I watched the elections with some interest because of the current concerns that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons and the strident and militant language coming from the Bush Administration over this.

I decided to check out one of the regional news outlets to get a sense of how Middle East folks view the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Here's one take:

It may take some time before all the winners and losers in Iran's latest presidential election are identified. Nevertheless, it is already clear who the main winners and losers are.

The big winner on a tactical level is, of course, the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei who had to wait more than 16 years to seize control of all levers of government and thus hope to exercise the near-absolute power that the Khomeinist Constitution grants him.

Now, this is pretty much what I thought, but my understanding of Iranian politics is woefully inadequate. The author of this article (Amir Taheri) lays out a very interesting analysis:

From a broader perspective, Ahmadinejad's election may well signal the beginning of the end for the domination of Iran by the Khomeinist mullahs. In recent years the mullahs have lost many positions of power to the military.

Today the military represent a majority of the provincial governors. Politicians with backgrounds in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard also form the biggest bloc within the Islamic Majlis (parliament). ...

The danger that Ahmadinejad faces is that he may get carried away by his own radical rhetoric and get the country involved in foreign adventures that it can ill afford. ...

His best bet would be to focus on the real domestic issues that have turned Iran into a ticking time-bomb. Corruption, which has run out of control in the past eight years, is not the only problem.

Unemployment is one of the key sources of resentment towards the regime as a whole.

So is poverty which, as Ahmadinejad said during his campaign, is much more widespread than it was before the Khomeinist revolution.

Two things occur to me:

First, Mr. Ahmadinejad is going to have his hands full if he intends to clean up the corruption which has been engendered by the mullahs, especially with respect to oil reserves.

Second, if in fact the Iranian military has managed to garner more power than the governing council of mullahs, the US would be well-advised to be more cautious in its mouthing off about how they intend to stop Iranian nuclear development, especially since China has already begun reaching energy agreements with Iran.

Now might be a good time for a little rational discourse amongst nations.

Good News File

On June 22, the House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag burning. The House has passed such a bill with some regularity throughout my adult life. It has always gotten shot down in the Senate, although the last time it was only by two votes. Given the current make-up of Congress, I suspect that this time it may make it through.

While that is depressing, there was some good news issued by the First Amendment Center :

Another key finding of the 2005 survey is that 63% of those surveyed oppose adopting a constitutional amendment to give Congress the power to punish flag desecration as a form of protest — up from 53% in 2004.

The survey was conducted before to the 286-130 vote in the U.S. House on June 22 to approve a proposed amendment that would give Congress the right to pass laws prohibiting “physical desecration” of the American flag. The measure is now before U.S. Senate, which is expected to consider it sometime after July 4.

“This is a very emotional issue that asks Congress and the nation to balance two powerful considerations: A widespread desire to honor this most-venerated symbol of the nation and a bedrock element of American democracy, freedom of speech,” Policinski [director of the First Amendment Center] said. “The survey results show that an increasing majority of Americans have second thoughts about amending the Constitution to deal with the issue of flag desecration.”

Hopefully there will be enough senators this time to resoundingly defeat such a proposal, but if not, it does appear that there are enough Americans around who understand the true significance of and the necessity for free speech in America.

Good news.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Some Spooky Stuff

I confess: I enjoy watching entrenched federal bureaucracies fight over turf, especially when those bureaucracies are the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

As we all know, everything changed after 9/11. National security has become the number one priority (some would say obsession) to the extent that two new bureaucracies have been created: one under the Director of Homeland Security, the other under the Director of Intelligence. Once that happened, the scramble to protect and/or expand turf was on.

So far, the biggest loser appears to be the C.I.A. Porter Goss, Director, no longer is the one briefing the President each day. That now falls to John Negroponte, the Direct of Intelligence. Today's New York Times carries an article indicating that the C.I.A. has finally won a round.

The White House has decided to reject classified recommendations by a presidential commission that would have given the Pentagon greater authority to conduct covert action, senior government officials said Monday.

The White House will also designate the C.I.A. as the main manager of the government's human spying operations, even those conducted by the Pentagon and the F.B.I., the officials said.

The decision marks the second time in a year that the White House has rejected a high-level recommendation to transfer some C.I.A. powers to the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 commission recommended that the agency's special paramilitary unit be transferred to the Pentagon, but the White House decided in November to maintain that capacity at the C.I.A., while also moving to strengthen the Pentagon's paramilitary capacities.

The full announcement by the White House is due out later this week. That announcement will include the various recommendations made by the presidential commission studying various aspects of spying and covert action.

Frankly, I am not all that thrilled about spying, covert and clandestine actions by this or any other civilized nation. I am even less thrilled, however, about giving any more of this kind of power to the military, especially under the current Administration.

Chew on that, Donald Rumsfeld.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sexual Repression, American Style

I was really upset at the news contained in this Star Tribune editorial:

For as long as he's occupied the White House, President Bush has been denying U.S. funding to the U.N. Population Fund, an agency which is generally thought to have averted more abortions, assured more safe births and saved the lives of more mothers and infants than any other entity on Earth. By denying it U.S. funding, Bush is fueling the very fire he wants to extinguish: abortion.

This UN agency provides contraceptive and other reproductive health advice to women in developing countries, especially in those countries where women traditionally have few rights. Burdening them with unwanted pregnancies and keeping them ignorant on such issues as pre-natal and post-natal care only adds to the hopelessness of those women and their children and their nations.

The surest way to reduce all these troubling numbers is to guarantee that women everywhere have access to contraception and other reproductive health services. Yet as the UNFPA notes, nearly a quarter-billion women lack such access -- virtually all of them in developing countries.

The President and his Administration, hopelessly mired in the rhetoric of the Religious Reich, have refused our share of funds to this agency which has aggressively worked to stop the policies of such nations as China which required abortions in the past in addition to providing vitally needed assistance which prevents conception. The result?

More abortions, more hopeless families, and, quite probably, more "insurgents" and "terrorists." Why? Because some folks are having sex and have to pay the price.

I think this not only mean-spirited but also obscene. I also believe that this philosophy is also, at its root, quite anti-Christian.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


News has been filtering out of the Far East that the avian flu is still around and affecting humans as well as birds. Influenza experts have been a little freaked out by the possibility of the current strain mutating and becoming dangerously communicable between humans. If that occurs, these same experts fear that we will face a pandemic somewhere between the 1918 and 1968 pandemics in deadliness.

Trust For America's Health issued its report on this problem June 24, 2005. That report (the full report, also in PDF, can be found at the website just linked) finds that the U.S. is woefully underprepared for such a pandemic which could conceivably result in the deaths of over half a million Americans:

Some of the TFAH report’s other findings include:

• While estimates find that over two million Americans may need to be hospitalized during a pandemic outbreak, the U.S. currently only has approximately 965,256 staffed hospital beds.

• The U.S. has not adequately planned for the disruption a flu pandemic could cause to the economy, daily life, food and supply distributions, or homeland security.

• The U.S. lags in pandemic preparations compared to Great Britain and Canada based on an examination of leadership, vaccine development, vaccine and antiviral planning, health care system surge capacity planning, coordination between public and private sectors, and emergency communications planning....

I think it clear that Congress needs to take immediate action in light of this report. I think a good place to start would be an emergency appropriation bill for the CDC not unlike those being given to the military for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This issue is obviously one of security and defense, so the money should be found.

One of the members of Trust For America's Health will be appearing before the House Government Reform Committee on June 30,2005. I sincerely hope that the members of that House Committee listen seriously to Dr. Hearne and then begin considering ways for us to catch up in this deadly race.


(Another in a series of comments on blogs I visit regularly.)

One of the wonderous aspects of the internet is that it allows for the open and free transmission of information in ways other than just typed words. These three blogs are my current favorites. They incorporate words, pictures, and sounds in ways that I consider nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, they do all of this in ways I am incapable of, so I'm afraid you'll just have to trust my descriptions.

Jeffraham Prestonian uses video, primarily of his cat Curly. Curly is one fun and funny cat, according to JP. You can see and purchase his videos at the blog. Jeffraham also has other goodies worth exploring.

NTodd is a world-class photographer and includes a lot of them on his blog. He also has thoughtful 'word' essays and a link to his podcasts (which are both enlightening and easy to listen to).

Eli is another brilliant photographer who posts regularly. Additionally, his political rants are some of the best I've read in yarons. His take on things often takes my breath away.

I really haven't done justice to these blogs because you have to see and hear them to get the full flavor. I suggest you hurry your backsides over to each as soon as possible.

The Religious Reich Strikes Again

Political discourse has really sunk to new lows in the past weeks. The episode I found most disturbing involved a spat on the House Floor. Rep. David Obey (Dem) proposed legislation that would clean up the mess at the Air Force Academy and was promptly shot down in deplorable fashion.

E. J. Dionne comments on the brouhaha:

There was no obvious political benefit in David Obey's decision to take on the defense of religious minorities at the Air Force Academy. Because he stood up for their rights on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Wisconsin Democrat found himself accused of "denigrating and demonizing Christians."

This is tragically ironic because Mr. Obey is a Roman Catholic who was banned from Holy Communion by a bishop for his votes on abortion rights. As Dionne notes in his column, Obey has refrained from asking for communion because he didn't want to put any priest on the spot. Obey introduced the measure because he actually believes in religious liberty, not because he is opposed to it.

More from Dionne:

Let's be clear: The academy's brass are not in trouble because they allowed evangelical Christian cadets to speak of their faith to other cadets. That is their right. The issue is whether officers higher in the chain of command used their positions of authority to promote their faith. That is coercion, and it is neither right nor just.

Thus did Obey offer an amendment to the military appropriations bill calling on the secretary of the Air Force to "develop a plan to ensure that the Air Force Academy maintains a climate free from coercive intimidation and inappropriate proselytizing."

Obey's all-American assertion of religious liberty was, for Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), part of "the long war on Christianity in America [that] continues today on the floor of the House of Representatives. It continues unabated with aid and comfort to those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage being supplied by the usual suspects, the Democrats. . . . Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians."

Now comes the good part:

Obey rose to his feet and demanded that Hostettler's last words be stricken from the record, which they eventually were. "If Jesus is watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives, with people behaving in such a blasphemous fashion," Obey said this week, "well, I am reminded of that passage, 'Jesus wept.' "

Rep. Obey did exactly the right thing, first by introducing the bill and then by responding strongly to the outrageous comments of Rep. Hostettler. That is the way all of us should be responding to the intimidation tactics currently being used by allegedly Christian politicians.

Way to go, David Obey. You are a patriot of the highest kind, and my kind of Christian.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Talking Mule

One of the things about the Bush administration that just mystifies me is the insistence and persistence on things that not only won't work, but that nobody wants anyway. Take the social security 'plan' the president keeps promoting. It's clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't want private accounts and don't want their social security messed with or messed up. If it needs fixing, by way of an increase in the cap, then so be it. But that's about the extent of what folks will put up with. Yet President Bush keeps hopping all over the country to speak to carefully screened audiences about the virtues of his private account plan.

Or take the Bolton nomination to the UN. Now this is one of those "wrong guy for the wrong job" situations, and the nomination would be better left up in the hills for the wild animals to feast on. In a rare display of spine, the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to filibuster any attempt to bring the nomination to vote. The excuse is that the White House has not been forthcoming with important information, but the fact is that Bolton just isn't the man for the job. Senator Frist, the majority leader, knows this and after the last vote for cloture pretty much signalled his belief that the nomination is dead. The White House returned the signal with one demanding another go at it. Amazing and mystifying.

Apparently I'm not the only one confused by this behavior. David Ignatius (someone I usually disagree with, but also usually read) had a column in the Washington Post recently dealing with this issue.

There's a relaxed, mature kind of leader who knows, in the words of country music singer Kenny Rogers, when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. That leader is not George W. Bush. ...

Bush's supporters see that uncompromising style as a sign of inner strength, but to me it has always seemed more a sign of insecurity. Embattled, vulnerable leaders sometimes imagine that one compromise or defeat will undermine their ability to govern, but strong leaders are more confident. They know they can fold a losing hand because they have a big pile of chips in reserve. That confidence is still missing in the Bush presidency, more than four years on. ...

Bush's problem in this second term is that rigidity will limit his ability to govern effectively. Refusing to give ground on little things will eventually erode his power to sustain the big things. To successfully govern a sharply divided country, Bush will have to stop painting himself into corners.

Now, I've always seen Mr. Bush as the typical scion of a wealthy, well-connected family who has never been told 'no' in his life, and he's not about to hear that word now. Still, I have to admit that Mr. Ignatius may be on to something. Whatever the diagnosis, it's clear that right now, things are not going well for the Administration, and, let's face it, when the government isn't working, things don't go well for the governed.

I have this sinking feeling that it's going to be a long three and a half years.


I am a functional illiterate when it comes to working the internets. It took me three tries to actually get a site meter to load, and I'm not even sure why I thought I needed one, except all the cool kids have them, and so...

At any rate, I'm still not up to figuring out how to do a blog roll on this site, so I thought I'd do a series of posts on blogs I do check out on a regular basis. Consider this the first in that ongoing series. Oh, and the listings are not meant to be exhaustive or in any particular order of excellence.

Here are three sites that I go to a lot, especially when the news has been grimmer than usual. I've included a sample of the contents of each blog that I think pretty much characterizes the tone.


Mr. Preznit: I was noticing, I have not seen a "bat signal" against the night sky. I think that would be cool -- don't you think that would be cool General?

General Myers: Um, sure, I guess Mr. President. I suppose I could look into it.

Mr. Preznit: And I'd like it with one of those special extra bright search light things, and make sure its a really bad-ass bat thing, looking real tough. And when it flashes, I'll take the motorcade over, and people will know that George W. President is Batman, not Bruce Wayne.
[with picture]

Dear Leader

But when you go up to a brown guy with a berd and a towel and say are you a terrorist he is gonna say "no way"

So you have to interrigate them which is when you chain them up to the wall and shock their nuts, you would be surprised how many of them brown guys change their mind after a good nut shocking...
[with picture]


Rather than succumb to the demands by the Senate Armed Services committee for answers on Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld took his own life by driving his depleted uranium-tipped index finger into his cranium. [with picture]

Go visit these folks. If you're not in a good mood before the visit, you certainly will be after. Guaranteed.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Sen. Durbin Should Have Waited A Few Days...

before apologizing.

In news of what I consider huge proportions, the US has admitted it has engaged in torture.

GENEVA (AFP) - Washington has for the first time acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at US detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on on condition of anonymity.

Unfortunately, the US didn't actually come clean, according to this article:

"They said it was a question of isolated cases, that there was nothing systematic and that the guilty were in the process of being punished."

The US report said that those involved were low-ranking members of the military and that their acts were not approved by their superiors, the member added.

In other words, the Administration is willing to admit a soldier inadvertently pissed on a detainee, and some other soldier inadvertently mishandled a Koran, but there's nothing else to see here, folks. Fortunately, the UN feels differently:

Four UN human rights experts on Thursday slammed the United States for stalling on a request to allow visits to terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, and said they planned to carry out an indirect probe of conditions there.

[Thanks to rorschach, whose blog everyone should read, for the tip.]

They Just Don't Get It

Even the President is beginning to get the message that the American public does not want private accounts and does not want Social Security destroyed. Unfortunately, some members of Congress havn't progressed that far.

The Star Tribune got it right on the latest Republican attempt to insert private accounts into Social Security:

The plan announced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., relies on the fact that Social Security is projected to run budget surpluses until the year 2016 as a result of substantial payroll tax increases enacted during the 1980s. Unlike President Bush's plan, which would let younger workers keep a portion of their payroll taxes and invest them in private accounts, the DeMint plan would transfer Social Security's surpluses from the government to private accounts between now and 2016.

...this plan does nothing to restore fiscal discipline in Washington or reduce federal deficits. ...

In fact, the DeMint plan subverts federal and private finances in several other ways:

• The Social Security Administration estimates that it would increase federal debt by more than $1 trillion over the next decade because revenues now credited to the government would be credited to private accounts instead.

• Social Security's surpluses simply aren't big enough to fund significant private accounts, and they will shrink rapidly starting in less than a decade.

• The plan would require $422 billion in transfers from the government's general fund to cover administrative expenses and other costs, driving up what already are dangerous federal budget deficits.

• The plan would increase retirement risk for anyone who chooses to participate. If you sign up, the government would cut your future Social Security benefits by the amount deposited in your account plus a market rate of return. If your account performed well, you would come out ahead. If not, you would come out behind. Many Americans are quite happy to take on investment risk as they prepare for retirement, but Social Security was supposed to be the one leg of the retirement stool without market risk.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the DeMint plan is that it does almost nothing to address the solvency problem that faces Social Security in a few decades, a problem that Bush has emphasized relentlessly in recent months. If members of Congress want to take the initiative on Social Security this year, they should start there rather than playing old shell games they know to be phony.

The Senate Bill (S 857) needs to die in committee.

I Can't Come Into Work Today Cuz...

Homie is Now Home Posted by Hello

I picked up the little fella (I think...he really is too small to be sure) yesterday afternoon. The reaction to his arrival has so far been mixed.

Raptor, the old cat, is less than pleased, but she has kept things mainly at the hissing stage and leaves the room if Homie heads towards her.

MacLir, the old and blind cocker spaniel found Homie boring after one sniff and pretty much ignores him.

Mia, the big lab-mix is entranced and, I think, in love with Homie. She allows the kitten to bat and bite her tail, follows him from room to room, and whimpers if the kitten leaves her to follow me towards the food bowl.

Homie fits easily into one hand, yet he was strong enough to wake me from a sound sleep several times during the night for more food and for more play. At the moment, he is snoozing in my lap. I obviously can't get up and go shower and prepare for work right now. I'll have to stay home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Boys Will Be Boys

On June 5, I posted "Christianizing America" which started off with a cite to a Washington Post article which revealed some rather serious complaints about the pressures being brought to bear on non-evangelical Christian cadets:

THE REPORTS OF the religious climate at the Air Force Academy are unsettling: A chaplain instructs cadets to try to convert classmates by warning that they "will burn in the fires of hell" if they do not accept Christ. During basic training, freshman cadets who decline to attend after-dinner chapel are marched back to their dormitories in "heathen flights" organized by upperclassmen. A Jewish student is taunted as a Christ killer and told that the Holocaust was the just punishment for that offense. The academy's head football coach posts a banner in the locker room that proclaims, "I am a Christian first and last. . . . I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

The complaints (and the news articles) prompted an investigation, and today a preliminary report has issued from the Pentagon:

The U.S. Air Force Academy failed to accommodate the diverse religious needs of cadets and staff, although there has been no overt discrimination, a military investigative panel concluded Wednesday.

"The (Air Force) team found a religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members' needs and a lack of awareness where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs," the report says.

Brady said he found seven specific incidents that he referred to the military's chain of command for possible investigation. He did not provide details.

The Air Force report cites some incidents but does not go into details: religious slurs and disparaging remarks between cadets and statements from faculty and staff with strong religious beliefs that some cadets found offensive.

"There is a lack of awareness on the part of some faculty and staff, and perhaps some senior cadets, as to what constitutes appropriate expressions of faith," said Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, in a press conference at the Pentagon.

Careful, Lt. Gen. Brady: people are already upset at how Christians are being hounded and discriminated against. I mean, after all, how can we expect our military to operate honorably if they are constantly under attack by heathens, Jews, and such like.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Homey the Cat Posted by Hello

Homey, the first of two new denizens at Chez Diane, is set to arrive Thursday afternoon. The Rescue Saint was kind enough to provide the pic today, and I just couldn't wait until Friday for cat blogging.

Thank You, Nancy Reagan

I must admit that Nancy Reagan was never my cup of tea. Still, these past few years she has proved to me that she is serious about fighting to find a cure for Alzheimer's, an horrific disease that claimed both my father and my brother and which took down her husband. She is even willing to take on a sitting president on the issue, in this case, specifically on the issue of stem cell research.

An AP report, cited at StemPac, shows that she is currently involved in quietly lobbying the US Senate as they prepare to vote on a bill that would remove some of the President Bush's restrictions on stem cell research:

WASHINGTON (June 17) - Nancy Reagan is poised for a quiet entrance into the Senate's embryonic stem cell debate in much the same role she played during the fierce fight in the House, calling up waveringlawmakers to help win passage of legislation in the shadow of President Bush's veto threat.

Now Mrs. Reagan and other advocates have turned their sights on the Senate, where a bipartisan group of sponsors say they have at lest 58 votes in favor of the House-passed bill - two short of the numberrequired to stop a promised filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician and White House ally, said he expects the chamber to act on the bill next month.

''She makes a very good case for why this is something that somebody who cares very much about respect for life also cares very much for the respect for the living,'' said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

I hope those senators all take her phone call and listen carefully to her. Then I hope they pass a veto-proof bill as much out of a sense of it being the right and decent thing to do as out of a sense of reverence for the late Ronald Reagan.

StemPac has a "thank you" letter to Mrs. Reagan on their site. I've signed it, and I hope you will as well.

Then I hope you will call or write your senators and ask them to vote in favor of the stem cell bill. Tell them that you expect them to.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Senator Durbin Should Not Apologize

I am appalled at all the little-dog-yapping going on about Senator Durbin's recent speech on the Senate floor. Just about everyone who has looked into the Guantanamo Bay prison camp have concluded that the conditions for and treatment of detainees there are atrocious and clear violations of international human rights law.

We're not talking about a few bad apples here: it appears that these violations are standard operating procedure. The military is actually training the guards to behave abominably. One of those training sessions went awry, and one soldier had to be medically retired after the beating he took at the hands of those guards:

A U.S. military policeman who was beaten by fellow MPs during a botched training drill at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison for detainees has sued the Pentagon for $15 million, alleging that the incident violated his constitutional rights.

Spc. Sean D. Baker, 38, was assaulted in January 2003 after he volunteered to wear an orange jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee. Baker said the MPs, who were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant, inflicted a beating that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

The description of the beating is chilling:

The drill took place in a prison isolation wing reserved for suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees who were disruptive or had attacked MPs.
Baker said he put on the jumpsuit and squeezed under a prison bunk after being told by a lieutenant that he would be portraying an unruly detainee. He said he was assured that MPs conducting the "extraction drill" knew it was a training exercise and that Baker was an American soldier.

As he was being choked and beaten, Baker said, he screamed a code word, "red," and shouted: "I'm a U.S. soldier! I'm a U.S. soldier!" He said the beating continued until the jumpsuit was yanked down during the struggle, revealing his military uniform.

The MPs were clearly out of control, and as a result of his beating, Baker was discharged with a "medical retirement." To make matters even worse,

The Pentagon initially said that Baker's hospitalization following the training incident was not related to the beating. Later, officials conceded that he was treated for injuries suffered when a five-man MP "internal reaction force" choked him, slammed his head several times against a concrete floor and sprayed him with pepper gas.

And the horrible punch line to this awful story?

"While it is unfortunate that Spc. Baker was injured, the standards of professionalism we expect of our soldiers mandate that our training be as realistic as possible," the spokesman said. [emphasis added]

What was that you said, Senator Frist?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

And the Evidence Piles Up...

The Times of London has published yet another memo from classified British files on the machinations in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. This time it deals with the illegality of the increased bombing raids early in 2002.

A [sharp] increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war “to put pressure on the regime” was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice. The advice was first provided to senior ministers in March 2002. Two months later RAF and USAF jets began “spikes of activity” designed to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the allies a pretext for war.

It is clear that the Blair government was to some extent nervous about proceeding with the bombing campaign the Bush government felt was necessary, or they wouldn't have asked an expert in international law for his opinion.

The Foreign Office advice shows military action to pressurise the regime was “not consistent with” UN law, despite American claims that it was.

Although the legality of the war has been more of an issue in Britain than in America, the revelations indicate Bush may also have acted illegally, since Congress did not authorise military action until October 11 2002.

The air war had already begun six weeks earlier and the spikes of activity had been underway for five months.

In effect, the US, with British assistance, moved to take out key Iraqi air defense systems early so that any invasion would not have to. The battle field was being prepared, and if Saddam retaliated, so much the better. It is important to note that all of this activity took place prior to the Congressional vote authorizing the President to go to war if it was deemed necessary. It is also important to note that the increased bombing was not ever mentioned in any public forum in this country.

Bush lied and quite probably violated international law. Over 1,700 members of our military have died in this war, and thousands more have been grievously wounded. If this nation doesn't do something about his malfeasance, other nations might have to.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Everybody's Doin' It

I confess: I am a life-long baseball fan. I love the game, love it to death, and have loved it since the day I blackmailed my older brother into taking me along with him to a Milwaukee Braves game on a school day when I was eight. That was over fifty years ago.

It's actually a simple game in many respects. Nine men to a side, a minimum of necessary equipment, universally accepted dimensions for the infield, general agreement on the size of the outfield. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. The players don't have to be seven feet tall or weigh four hundred pounds. The little guy with good hands and speed can do just as well as the large power hitter and can win just as many games.

It's also a symmetrical game, from the clean white lines designating the playing surface to the fixed batting order to the agreement on the rules. The pace of the game is intentionally leisurely. Watching a game from the stands , a cold drink in one hand, a hot dog in the other, a program with a scorecard in one's lap: what a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon or evening.

This year, however, has not been a good year for the game. Even before Spring Training, itself an all-American ritual, the news of steroid use among the biggest stars in the game exposed a side of baseball I had always preferred to ignore. The game had been infected with a "win at any cost" mentality. So embarrassing were the revelations that the player's union and the commissioner had no problems in arriving at a mutually acceptable change in drug testing policy.

Last week, the game suffered another blow:
[Angels pitcher]Brendan Donnelly was suspended for 10 games by Major League Baseball for having pine tar on his glove during a game against the Nationals, according to the AP. Donnelly appealed the suspension and will play until his case is heard.

Using pine tar to get a better grip on the baseball gives the pitcher an extra advantage over the batter. For that reason, there are rules against the use of 'foreign substances' by pitchers. It's in the rule book. As Yogi Berra would say, "You could look it up." And Donnelly was caught red-handed. The umpires examined his glove, found the pine tar, and tossed him from the game.

That's bad enough, but, wait, there's more:

The Angels said using pine tar is a longstanding practice and that managers normally don't ask umpires to look for it because their own pitchers probably have it on their gloves, too. The Washington Nationals said Donnelly was cheating.

"There's etiquette in the game and there's a lack of it," Donnelly said. "It's a safety issue. Would you rather have the ball slip out of my hand and smoke someone in the head? Go ask the hitters. I'm saying it's out there."

I was about ten years old when I discovered that the old "but everybody else gets to..." excuse just didn't work. My parents never bought it. I stopped using it after the third attempt. One would think that baseball players, all of them putative adults, would have learned that same lesson somewhere along the line. Apparently that is not the case.

The game has been spoiled for me right now. I hope professional baseball will once again try to clean up its act, and soon. I would hate to have this kind of cheating, this emphasis on winning at all costs leak into the non-sports world. The results could be overwhelming. We could have elected officials taking bribes from government contractors to ensure favorable contract awards, or officials lying about the reasons for going to war, or an administration deciding to ignore human rights treaties when dealing with prisoners of war.

And that would be very sad for America.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Quod Veritas Est?

Senator Dick Durbin spoke in the United States Senate about conditions and interrogations techniques in at the US Prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. His comments must have struck a nerve, because the Republican attack dogs came out in full force accusing Mr. Durbin of placing our brave soldiers all over the world in danger.

Here is what Senator Durbin said (with emphasis added):

Numerous FBI agents who observed interrogations at Guantanamo Bay complained to their supervisors. In one e-mail that has been made public, an FBI agent complained that interrogators were using “torture techniques.” That phrase did not come from a reporter or politician. It came from an FBI agent describing what Americans were doing to these prisoners.

Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand andfoot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinatedor defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot,but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

And here is what Senator Frist on the record in response to what Senator Durbin had said:

[a] Senate colleague who, this week, called Guantanamo a ‘‘death camp’’ and drew parallels to Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s gulags, and Pol Pot’s killing fields. This was a heinous slander againstour country, and against the brave men and women who have taken great care to treat the captured terrorists with more respect than they would ever have received in any point in human history. ...Do we know how many havebeen killed at Guantanamo? Zero.That’s right: zero people. And yet we have members of this body who have come to the Senate floor to level the most egregious charges, compare our troops to Nazis,and charge the United States with crimes against humanity. To accuse our sons and daughters, who are serving proudly to keep killers from the battlefield, with committing genocide and war crimes is beyond the pale.

But comparing our Nation, our Government and our military to the regimes of Hitler’s Germany,Stalin’s Soviet Russia, and PolPot’s Cambodia is the height of irresponsibility.

See the disconnect? The disassembling?

No, Senator Frist. Lying from the Senate floor is the height of irresponsibility. Ignoring the truth of the message brought by Senator Durbin is the height of irresponsibility. You owe Senator Durbin and the people of this nation an apology.

For Shame

On June 13, 2005, the United States Senate finally passed a resolution apologizing for that body's failure to pass anti-lynching legislation fifty years ago. Each time a bill came before the Senate outlawing that particularly loathsome act of racism, it was filibustered out of existence. The passage of the resolution was not without drama and intrigue, however.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist refused to allow a roll call vote, even though it turned out that several of the more than seventy sponsors of the resolution had requested it:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) refused repeated requests for a roll call vote that would have put senators on the record on a resolution apologizing for past failures to pass anti-lynching laws, officials involved in the negotiations said Tuesday.

Apparently some senators didn't want their vote on the record, fearing the wrath of their constitutents. Instead, Frist arranged for the vote to be done under the 'unanimous consent' provision of the Senate rules, making the passage of the bill a matter of 'acclamation' without any record of who voted how.

Jan Cohen, the wife of former Defense Secretary William Cohen and one of the key figures in the Committee for a Formal Apology, expressed outrage over the lack of a roll call vote.

"America is home of the brave, but I'm afraid there may be a few cowards who have to cower to their very narrow-minded and backward, hateful constituency," Cohen told ABC News. "They're hiding out, and it's reminiscent of a pattern of hiding out under a hood, in the night, riding past, scaring people."

At the time of the 'unanimous consent,' however, there were approximately 80 co-sponsors, and their names were on the record. By a process of elimination, it soon became clear who the cowards were, and those names were soon outed via the blog world and other brave (if not main stream) news outlets.

Some constituents of the hold-outs apparently started bringing some pressure to bear, and gradually some new names began appearing on the co-sponsor list after the vote had been taken (a procedure which apparently not only happens but is considered acceptable).

As of June 17, however, there were still 13 United States Senators who had not signed on to the co-sponsorship. Here is the most current list I could find:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN) - (202) 224-4944
Robert Bennett (R-UT) - (202) 224-5444
Thad Cochran (R-MS) - (202) 224-5054
John Cornyn (R-TX) - (202) 224-2934
Michael Enzi (R-WY) - (202) 224-3424
Judd Gregg (R-NH) - (202) 224-3324
Kay Hutchison (R-TX) - (202) 224-5922
Jon Kyl (R-AZ) - (202) 224-4521
Trent Lott (R-MS) - (202) 224-6253
Richard Shelby (R-AL) - (202) 224-5744
John Sununu (R-NH) - (202) 224-2841
Craig Thomas (R-WY) - (202) 224-6441

Shameful cowards.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

K Street Legislation

I'm sure that local leaders all over the US are going to be grateful to U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas for his help in keeping municipal budgets focussed on the right things.

His bill (H.R. 2726) to keep broadband infrastructure in private hands is designed to keep that infrastructure out of municipal hands, where it might be provided to people for free.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) wants to take state and local governments out of the broadband business. It's for their own good, the former Southwestern Bell executive said.

Under the terms of the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act (H.R. 2726) introduced by Sessions, state and local governments would be prohibited from offering telecommunications, telecommunications services, information services or cable service in any geographic area in which a private entity is already offering a substantially similar service.

"By choosing to invest their limited resources in telecommunications infrastructures, municipal governments often duplicate services already provided by a private entity."

Of course, Mr. Sessions (a former Southwestern Bell executive) is probably unaware that cities just might benefit from providing the service in their down town areas. People might actually stay downtown during their lunch hours or in between sales calls, purchase a meal or a cup of coffee, perhaps even do a little shopping while checking into their office networks to report sales, read email and the like.

Perhaps Mr. Sessions should also explore a bill which prohibits municipal governments from offering road repairs and garbage disposal. It's clear there are private industries already capable of providing those services. He might also look into a ban on cities providing public schools and public libraries. After all, there are any number of Christian Academies, Inc. and Walmarts already in place who could do the job nicely.

In fact, maybe Mr. Sessions should consider introducing a bill banning city governments outright: they are just duplications of organizations that could easily handle everything, for a price.


[Thanks to QL in NY for the tip]

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Connecting the Dots

It appears that the so-called liberal mainstream media has finally heard about the Downing Street Memo. It has taken six weeks for them to do so, but the excuse has been a variation of "it's old news."

Kevin Drum, someone whose formulations I generally appreciate, has this to say:

Was the Iraq war a foregone conclusion by early 2002? Of course it was. These new memos provide further evidence of that, but I'm not sure there's anyone who really doubted it in the first place.

Hello? What the press reported all had to do with Weapons of Mass Destruction about to be catapulted our way. If reporters knew the Administration had other reasons, why didn't they tell us? Isn't that what their job is?

Since the press apparently doesn't have the time or the inclination to present an article which sets forth the machinations leading up to the war (which has cost us billions of dollars, at least 1700 American lives and thousands of Iraqi lives, not to mention our national integrity). allow me to list a very bare bones time line.


Mickey Herskowitz was selected to ghost-write candidate George W. Bush's autobiography during the campaign.

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”


Richard Clark told CBS news that within days after 9/11, the Administration wanted to lash out at Iraq:

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush ordered his then top anti-terrorism adviser to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn't seem to be one.


The Times of London printed a leaked memo regarding the significantly increased bombing of Iraq:

The RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown. The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.


The Times of London releases the Downing Street Memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Get the picture?

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Rabid Badger

Representative Sensenbrenner (he of HR 1528, the bill that requires jail sentences for people, including parents and siblings, who observe drug usage and fail to report the crime to the police) showed his contempt for the Congressional hearing process yesterday.

Sensenbrenner is Chair of the panel holding hearings on the Patriot Act. Apparently he was unhappy with the witnesses and the Democrats on the panel and showed his disdain by simply walking out:

WASHINGTON Jun 10, 2005 — The Republican chairman walked off with the gavel, leaving Democrats shouting into turned-off microphones at a raucous hearing Friday on the Patriot Act.

His excuse?

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the panel, abruptly gaveled the meeting to an end and walked out, followed by other Republicans. Sensenbrenner declared that much of the testimony, which veered into debate over the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, was irrelevant.

The Patriot Act, much of which is due to sunset this year, contains some of the most egregious violations of due process and civil liberties imaginable. That Democrats might want to take another look at a bill that was passed so quickly after 9/11 is certainly understandable, well, understandable to those of us who are concerned about freedom and civil liberty. Apparently Mr. Sensenbrenner is not in our camp.

He left, taking his fellow Republicans and the gavel with him, leaving the Democrats on the panel and the witnesses in the room, the microphones turned off until someone figured out how to get them back on.

To see this travesty of democracy in action, I urge you to go here. Click on the videos (both of them). I believe you will find Mr. Sensenbrenner's behavior both appalling and dangerous.

As I reminded someone today, Wisconsin gave us Robert LaFollette, but it also gave us Joseph McCarthy.

Bye-bye Big Bird

The Democracy Cell Project has put the call out to folks and directed them to a Washington Post article about funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:

A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow," "Arthur" and "Postcards From Buster." In addition, the subcommittee acted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which passes federal funds to public broadcasters -- starting with a 25 percent reduction in CPB's budget for next year, from $400 million to $300 million.

My first thought was, "Good! Once the government stops sending their piddling 15% to public broadcasting they stop having any say in or control over the programming. We can stop this "balanced" coverage which balances the truth of a news story with some right wing blathering lies."

While that may be a good thing (at least in the long run), there is a very important down side to this callous vote. As noted in the WaPo article,

Small public radio stations, particularly those in rural areas and those serving minority audiences, may be the most vulnerable to federal cuts because they currently operate on shoestring budgets.

In some parts of Alaska, NPR is the ONLY radio station which provides important emergency information.

The Democracy Cell Project has asked that we contact members of the House Appropriations Committee (names and communications links located here ) and urge that adequate funding for CPB be found. I join in their call and urge you to send those emails and make those phone calls.


A Perfect Storm?

As the economy lurches along and the war in Iraq stumbles daily, it came as no surprise that Dear Leader's popularity is slipping badly. An AP Ipsos poll has some bad news for the Administration:

About one-third of adults, 35 percent, said they think the country is headed in the right direction, while 43 percent said they approve of the job being done by Bush. Just 41 percent say they support his handling of the war, also a low-water mark.

Congress certainly isn't scoring with Americans either:

Congress gets even lower grades than Bush, a potentially troubling development for those seeking re-election next year.

Only about three in 10 polled said they approve of the job being done by Congress, while 64 percent disapprove.

With the 2006 elections looming, most Congress critters are getting nervous about these numbers, and it is unlikely that the Resident is going to have the easy time during his second term that he had in the first.

But wait, there's more!

Republicans are beginning to worry about the effect Tom DeLay's ethics problems are going to have on the off-year elections:

In what Republican strategists call "the DeLay effect," questions plaguing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are starting to hurt his fellow party members, who are facing news coverage of their own trips and use of relatives on their campaign payrolls. Liberal interest groups have begun running advertising in districts where Republicans may be in trouble, trying to tie the incumbents to their leaders' troubles.

The once invulnerable now sense there's trouble brewing. The Democrats actually do have a chance to pull off the improbable, the unthinkable, but only if they use their brains and their spines.

Instead of toadying up to the rich and wealthy, the corporate sponsors, and, yes, the Republican power-brokers, Democrats need to speak out loudly against what has happened to this country and they need to explain in as blunt terms as necessary why it has happened. They need to start the truth-telling now.

The Democrats also need to shut the hell up when it comes to criticism of Howard Dean, the DNC chairman. He has managed to get the press's attention on key issues, he has forced the Republicans to a defensive posture, and he has raised more money in his first several months than his predecessor, all without relying on George Soros and the Hollywood high rollers.

If the Democrats will do this now, there is a very good chance that the party of the people can return the government and the nation to what it was designed to be.

It's time.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Just a Friend of the Family

I've found that one of the real joys of skipping around the blogosphere is chancing upon a post that happens to cover a subject I am currently obsessing over. I had one of those serendipitous experiences today.

Russ Baker has a wonderful post on Mickey Herskowitz and his failed attempt to ghost write a campaign autobiography of George W. Bush. Mr. Herskowitz apparently had pretty substantial access to the candidate because of a friendship which he had developed with George H. W. Bush, the candidate's father. Note the dates mentioned carefully:

Houston: Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

The project was pulled from Mr. Herskowitz when campaign managers began to think the material he was producing wasn't particularly helpful.

I think it safe to say that Dear Leader's decision to go to war with Iraq was more than just some Oedipal hang-up, but clearly, if Mr. Herskowitz is being straight, this certainly entered into the equation. I also think that Mr. Bush's current claims that he tried hard to get the world (via the United Nations) to convince Saddam Hussein to cooperate rings even more hollow than it did after the release of the Downing Street Memo.

Either/or, the dude is still a liar, and nearly 1700 young Americans have paid the price for his lies. I say, "impeachment now."


The Downing Street Memo makes it clear that the Administration intended to go to war at least by July, 2002. Later revelations in the Times of London push the time line even further back by pointing to the intentional increase of US and British bombing of Iraq in the hopes of provoking Saddam into a response that would have given the allies an excuse for going in to take him out.

Yet President Bush continued to prattle on about wanting a peaceful resolution. A handy list of quotes from Dear Leader (with the dates of their utterance) can be found at Thinkprogress. Here are just a few of the cites:

Bush: “Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq.” [10/1/02]

Bush:“Hopefully, we can do this peacefully – don’t get me wrong. And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there’s a chance he may decide to do that. And war is not my first choice, don’t – it’s my last choice.” [11/7/02]

Bush: “This is our attempt to work with the world community to create peace. And the best way for peace is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. It’s up to him to make his decision.” [12/4/02]

I was beginning to think that no one but progressive bloggers had been able to connect the dots, but I was disabused of that misconception yesterday. I saw a bumpersticker that read, "Bush is a LIAR." It was positioned right next to a union sticker on a pick-up truck. The bed of the truck contained a lot of tools and a bright yellow hard hat, and the truck was being driven by a man with as much gray hair as I have.

I think this is going to be an interesting summer.

[Thanks to Atrios for the tip.]

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Christianizing America

The United States Air Force Academy has been in the news a lot lately, which must be a real source of aggravation in these days of recruiting problems. Sexual harrassment and sexual assault among the cadets was last year's scandal. This year it's the harrassment of cadets who are not sufficiently 'evangelical' in their Christianity.

As noted in the Washington Post yesterday:

THE REPORTS OF the religious climate at the Air Force Academy are unsettling:

A chaplain instructs cadets to try to convert classmates by warning that they "will burn in the fires of hell" if they do not accept Christ. During basic training, freshman cadets who decline to attend after-dinner chapel are marched back to their dormitories in "heathen flights" organized by upperclassmen. A Jewish student is taunted as a Christ killer and told that the Holocaust was the just punishment for that offense. The academy's head football coach posts a banner in the locker room that proclaims, "I am a Christian first and last. . . . I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

Although this is shocking, it certainly is no surprise. The Commander in Chief has already promised to veto a stem cell research bill recently passed by the House because it conflicted with his "moral values" involving the 'culture of life.'
At the same time, it appears that more progressive Christians are finally getting off the couch to combat the takeover of our government by the Religious Reich. From what I can tell, two separate approaches are being used.

The first approach, ostensibly designed to take back the framing of arguments from the Religious Reich can be represented by Christian Alliance for Progress. The subtitle for this group pretty well reflects its intentions: "The Movement to Reclaim Christianity and Transform American Politics. We turn to God as our spiritual foundation."

The following is the group's statement of principles:

Compassion and Care for "The Least of These"
We follow Jesus' call to compassion and his command to "love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Responsibility and Obligation
We heed the call to take up our cross - to transform our lives, but also to do more: to move beyond the "personal" and to take responsibility in our communities and country.

Justice for All
We stand against powerful systems of human injustice in our world as Jesus stood against them in his.

Equality and Inclusiveness
Like Jesus did among women, tax collectors, Samaritans and others, we reject hurtful exclusionary distinctions between "us" and "them."

Faithful Stewardship
We follow Jesus' call for responsible stewardship - caring protection for the environment and sharing of our worldly treasure.

Right Use of Power
We turn away from fear; we use the power of God that flows through us to protect the innocent and build justice in the world, not to coerce others to our will or force others to accept our vision.

I think this group is mostly on the right track in its reframing of the argument, but I am still uncomfortable with this approach insofar as it still places emphasis on "transforming American politics." Yes, we want political leaders whose morality and ethics parallel that of Jesus, but it is important that we do not place so much emphasis on the religion part that we exclude Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, and other non-Christian groups from the conversation and the government.

The second approach, that of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, works from the premise that this nation's founders intentionally separated the government from religion--any religion.

An example of this group's approach involves some activity in Texas:

"The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that a letter and e-mail from Perry's campaign said that Perry backers "want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us" and said they might film the event for TV political advertising later.

"This is one of the most outrageous misuses of a house of worship for political gain that I've ever seen," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's of highly dubious legality and could put the church's tax-exemption in jeopardy."

A campaign of letter writing and media alerts followed.

In my opinion, this is the approach to take: making certain that the wall erected between church and state be maintained assiduously. This is not inconsistent with Christianity, whose founder advised we "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Club Guantanamo

Not too long ago, this Administration excoriated Newsweek magazine for a brief blurb which mentioned an incident in which a Koran was flushed down a toilet at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay. Because Newsweek had not adequately sourced the story, it was forced first to apologize and then to retract the story.

Last week, Amnesty International, a respected human rights watchdog, issued its annual report in which it listed the US as a serious violator of human rights and refered to the detention center in Guantanamo Bay as a gulag. Once again, the Administration pulled out all the stops: every attack dog from the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shrilly objected to the conclusions of this report. Unlike Newsweek, Amnesty International had the ovaries not to back down, and for good reason.

Last night, in what has been another example of a "Friday Dump" (releasing potentially embarrassing information at a time after the nightly newscasts are already in the can and when most people are not paying too close attention as they prepare for the weekend), the report of an investigation done by the military came out.

A military inquiry has found that guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba kicked, stepped on and splashed urine on the Koran, in some cases intentionally but in others by accident, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The splashing of urine was among the cases described as inadvertent. It was said to have occurred when a guard urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into a detainee's cell. The detainee was given a fresh uniform and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded and assigned to guard duty that kept him from contact with detainees for the remainder of his time at Guantánamo, according to the military inquiry.

The investigation into allegations that the Koran had been mishandled also found that in one instance detainees' Korans were wet because guards on the night shift had thrown water balloons on the cellblock.

These incidents are clearly outrageous, but the military would have us believe that they have been rare and the perpetrators punished. That stance seems to be at odds with a military linguist working at the base. In an interview for Mother Jones, Erik Saar offers this assessment:

In 1998, Erik Saar, a marketing major fresh out of college, signed up to become a military linguist. Four years later, having been trained in Arabic and intelligence work, he volunteered to work as a translator at the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, over a period of six months, he translated for guards and interrogators. Proud to be working, as he saw it, to defend his country from terrorism, Saar quickly became alarmed and disgusted at the incompetent running of Guantanamo and the inhumane treatment of the detainees there, an evolution he traces in his recent book, Inside the Wire, co-written with Viveca Novak.

"Essentially, I feel as though the camp as a whole represents a moral and strategic failure in the war on terrorism. In the long run, it could be doing more harm than good, and possibly producing more terrorists...

"It's not humane and not effective. We have people there and we don't know what their affiliations with terrorism are. We ourselves cannot verify that they were enemy combatants picked up on the battlefield, as General Miller has repeatedly said to the media. A number of them were turned over to us by foreign governments, and the Northern Alliance, who were paid a bounty for them. There wasn't this extensive vetting process, as the Pentagon would lead you to believe. What extensive vetting process allows an 88-year-old to end up at Guantanamo Bay? And we are operating outside of the scope of the Geneva Conventions. Some of the things I saw were not only what I would consider unethical, but ineffective. We're not getting enough of a benefit for the price we're paying in terms of our reputation in the world. I don't know how, as country, we can say we're going to promote democracy and human dignity and justice throughout the Arab and Muslim world and at the same time defy some of those very same principles at Guantanamo Bay."

In the face of the Amnesty International report, at least some members of Congress were stunned enough to propose that further, more independent investigation was needed:

On May 27, Rep. Henry Waxman (CA), minority ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform, was joined by senior congressional leaders to announce that they would introduce legislation to open the door for meaningful examination and change. The bill would establish a bi-partisan House select committee to investigate the genesis and extent of abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody in connection with the war in Iraq and the global war on terrorism.

In light of the June 3, 2005 'dump' from the Pentagon, such legislation seems to me to be a pretty good idea. Getting the majority party to go along with it also seems to be a long-shot, as does getting the cooperation of the Administration and the Pentagon. If Congress does not demand such an inquiry, then the world will see the Amnesty International report as unrebutted. And then?

"The Hague, bitches!"

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Impeachable Ewe

Deep Throat finally revealed himself yesterday as W. Mark Felt, the number two man of the FBI at the time. The talking heads hired by the mainstream media characterized him as a "disgruntled employee" angry he was passed over for promotion, a "traitor," as "dishonorable," with a few calling him "hero" and "patriot." Whatever his motivation, Mr. Felt did pass information to Woodward and Bernstein that showed that the Nixon Administration was shoulder deep into dirty tricks they hoped would steal an election.

The timing of the revelation by Mr. Felt was one of those wonderful moments in history when facts, forces, and ideals seem to coalesce into some sudden insight. The "I" word returned to the American vocabulary.

In an op-ed piece written jointly by Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese, we find the following:

Regarding unmanned bombers highlighted by Bush, the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center concluded they could not carry weapons spray devices. The Defense Intelligence Agency told the president in June 2002 that the unmanned aerial bombers were unproven. Further, there was no reliable information showing Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical weapons or whether it had established chemical agent production facilities.

When discussing WMD the CIA used words like ''might" and ''could." The case was always circumstantial with equivocations, unlike the president and vice president, e.g., Cheney said on Aug. 26, 2002: ''Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

The State Department in 2003 said: ''The activities we have detected do not . . . add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing . . . an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."

The National Intelligence Estimate issued in October 2002 said ''We have no specific intelligence information that Saddam's regime has directed attacks against US territory."

The UN, IAEA, the State and Energy departments, the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center, US inspectors, and even the CIA concluded there was no basis for the Bush-Cheney public assertions. Yet, President Bush told the public in September 2002 that Iraq ''could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given." And, just before the invasion, President Bush said: ''Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Their conclusion is that we have clear grounds for impeachment, and I tend to agree.

When combined with the information now leaking out to the Times of London (see my previous post here) that the US and Great Britain were busy fixing facts and dropping bombs as early as May, 2002, we see that a war plan was being put into place to go to war against Iraq for reasons that had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. We were lied to.

I don't particularly like quoting Ralph Nader for anything as important as this, mainly because his campaigns in 2000 and 2004 are part of the reasons we are where we are, but at least he's right this time.

But wait, there's more!

Now, a couple of human rights groups are urging other nations to bring war crimes charges against officials of our government: In a thought provoking article on Alternet, we learn that the US has violated the Geneva Accords in many different ways:

The Bush Administration's legal troubles don't end with Sanchez or Gonzales. They go right to the top: to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush himself. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA say there is "prima facie" evidence against Rumsfeld for war crimes and torture. And Amnesty International USA says there is also "prima facie" evidence against Bush for war crimes and torture. (According to Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, "prima facie evidence" is "evidence sufficient to establish a fact or to raise a presumption of fact unless rebutted.")

In other words, we can try perjuring presidents and cabinet members here, showing that the United States of America is truly a country based on laws, or we can allow our neighbors to try them at the Hague.

I say, let's urge the House of Representatives to demand that the Administration answer the charges raised by the Downing Street Memo and subsequent revelations. If the Administration refuses, then Articles of Impeachment should be drafted.

It's time.