October 22, 2005

Club Gitmo

For all those insensitive buffoons who've bought into Rush Limbaugh's repellent attitude toward the abuses perpetrated at Guantanamo Bay, I offer this horrific tale from one of Club Gitmo's former guests. Is this the United States you thought you knew?

Here's more world coverage of what Rush has jokingly described as "fraternity hazing" for quite some time. Hang your head, America.

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October 21, 2005

Update from Dover

Yeah, I know - I've decided to drop the whole "God v. Darwin" thing. Too flippant for a topic whose implications include the separation of Church and State, and the ability of American students to one day compete in the global scientific marketplace.

Here are two interesting takes on the Dover, PA "Monkey Trial", courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sounds like Intelligent Design backers are already getting nervous about the outcome. Let's hope their fears are well founded.

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Rights for sale

You know, this one really infuriates me. And whether you're a committed proponent of gun control or a responsible and legal gun owner, it should infuriate you too.

Because passage Thursday of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is about something bigger than whether you'd like to see more or fewer firearms on our streets. It's about our elected officials selling their votes to an inexcusably powerful lobby, and in so doing, selectively exempting a lucrative industry from being responsible to every American citizen for its unique product. It's about a government stripping us of one of our fundamental rights to address grievances in situations where those grievances are warranted, and demand responsibility of those who profit from the distribution of weapons in our society. It's about an NRA-funded White House and Congress creating binding, federal legislation as a solution to a problem that never existed.

It's about buying the law.

Manufacturers and distributors of firearms argue that other products, and their creators, are not threatened when those products are misused by irresponsible individuals. That is true, for the most part. People do have responsibilities for their behavior, and for using their purchases in the manner intended.

That's just it, though. In the manner intended. The firearms industry doesn't make cars, or refrigerators, or crown molding. The firearms industry makes and sells a product whose very purpose is to destroy, injure, and kill. And please, no "target practice" arguments. If The Quest For A Bullseye is your thing, 21st Century technology offers you plenty of alternatives to a loaded 9mm.

Of course, these companies have the absolute American right to manufacture and distribute that product. Even I would concede that, sadly, the human species hasn't yet grown up enough not to need weapons in certain desperate situations. And private gun ownership is a Constitutionally guaranteed privilege, whatever your personal view.

But let's tell it like it is, kids. Guns are designed with one ultimate consumer use in mind. It only seems logical, then, that the industry should have a spontaneous, genuine, vigorous interest in making sure that this deadly product is distributed under the strictest of guidelines - and many tough regulations already exist. That just makes sense, for the safety and protection of gun opponents and gun owners alike.

And in those few instances where there is enough negligence, or complicity, or carelessness during that process that it's a demonstrable factor in the commission of a crime, shouldn't we the people have a guaranteed right to punish all the offenders? There aren't many that fit that description, so what possible reason could there be to protect a handful of rotten apples from any and all accountability - at our expense - and to immediately dismiss those pending cases which obviously had enough merit to have made it to trial in the first place?!

This is not a partisan howl, nor even a pro-gun/anti-gun debate. This is Red, White and Blue disgust with the unmistakable image of our government leaders, standing on a secluded street corner and whoring their wares to the highest bidder, instead of ensuring the legal protection of their constituents. Our laws should not be dictated by lobbyists or corporate contributions - and our rights as American citizens should not be on the market at any price.

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Curiouser and curiouser

"I quite agree with you," said the Duchess; "and the moral of that is - Be what you would seem to be - or if you'd like it put more simply - Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." --Alice In Wonderland
Reading this description of the mood pervading the White House in today's Washington Post, I couldn't quite decide if I was in the presence of Lewis Carroll, or watching The Godfather, Part IV. A few surreal examples:
"There's some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining," Bush said. (Did he really just call this situation "background noise" and "opining"?)
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At the White House and among its close allies, discussion about Rove's fate is 'verboten'... "Anyone who talks about that kind of stuff should be shot," (said a) Republican with close ties to the White House. (And thank God and S.397 that you can blast away without worrying that your victim's family might sue the poor, starving, persecuted gun dealer that "loaned" you the piece without any of that "bothersome paperwork".)
Bush apologists also attribute some of the White House's woes to "fatigue". Fatigue?! In an Administration that's spent more time "down on the ranch" than any other in American history? Tell that to any one of us who's been out here working 24/7 to try and survive in an economy and business culture you've helped to poison, Georgie boy. My heart's bleedin'.

Now any good drama has a classic quote, and this one's no different. My nominee?
Another former administration official said... "Everyone in the Republican Party needs to figure out how to stick together and get things done in a constructive manner. That hides all sorts of fault lines."
Amused yet? At least the President plans to bring in Ken Mehlman as a "trusted adviser." That, I'm sure, will make everything a whole lot better.

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October 20, 2005

Persian bazaar

Interesting to see the Arab take on Dr. Rice's recent comments, summed up in today's Aljazeera headline - U.S. considers military attack against Iran, Syria. I guess the Administration still isn't fully aware of how its body language is undermining that whole "winning hearts and minds" thing. How else to explain statements like,
"I don't want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers," Rice said when asked whether the administration would have to return to Congress to seek authorization in using the military option against Iraq's neighbours.

"I think you'll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the 'war on terrorism' and in the war in Iraq... Syria and indeed Iran must decide whether they wish to side with the cause of war or with the cause of peace."
At the same time, tension continues to escalate between Tehran and London; India, in its cameo role as a surprisingly key player, struggles with internal dissent over which team to bet on; and the IAEA (the only organization that is demonstrating common sense and restraint in this dynamic) quietly moves forward with deliberate objectivity, and seems pleased with the information it's receiving so far. Reuters notes:
(An) EU diplomat said Tehran appeared to be working hard to avoid a Council referral and warned that being too confrontational with Iran could be counterproductive.

"If it's significant cooperation, then I would imagine people would want to think very carefully about whether to do anything that would upset that cooperation," he said.
Much to the chagrin of our State Department, I might add.

I know it's an old complaint, but it continues to annoy me that our "news" organizations aren't doing a better job keeping the public abreast of this situation. Even in the blogosphere, events surrounding Iran and Syria are receiving scant attention, with a few notable exceptions. But don't be fooled - the outcome of this tango is not only important in the realm of global stability, but also in what it says to us about the individuals calling the shots at home.

Despite the fact that they cannot seem to publicly admit to any foreign policy mistakes, I would hope that privately at least, the members of this Administration will learn something from their counterproductive blunders in the Islamic world thus far, and apply that knowledge to their future plans. If not, it will be up to the rest of us to demand an immediate change of direction in American policy - and an immediate change of personnel in Washington.

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Early morning reruns

Here's a taste of America's favorite daily sitcom, "Busy As A Beaver"

George W. Bush as Ward Cleaver
Harriet Miers as June Cleaver
Tom DeLay as Wally Cleaver
Condi Rice as Mary Ellen Rogers
Karl Rove and Scooter Libby as Lumpy and Eddie
Scotty McClellan as The Beaver

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October 19, 2005

Dangerous dance

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once again left open the possibility that the Administration might pursue military action against Iran, a frighteningly stupid approach I've written about a great deal of late. The Guardian notes:
Rice said the U.S. was using diplomacy to urge a change in the behavior of Syria and Iran. But she stopped short of ruling out military force. "I'm not going to get into what the president's options might be," Rice said. "I don't think the president ever takes any of his options off the table concerning anything to do with military force."
Simultaneously, however, Dr. Rice also indicated that "the Bush administration was considering opening direct contact with Iran as part of a broader effort to gain greater cooperation from Iraq's neighbors in quelling the insurgency that grips large swaths of the country."

Could it be that the White House is beginning to sense opposition to its relentlessly hostile stance toward Tehran? Or is this just a smokescreen to placate those who, like me, are deeply troubled by what looks like a familiar prelude to war in the Middle East?

On a related note, the U.S.-India Defense Relationship Agreement, signed this past June, is coming under close scrutiny given India's surprising vote to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council. The vote has been interpreted by many as "sucking up" to the U.S., in exchange for the Administration's pledge to give India "access to sophisticated missile technology under the guise of aiding its space program." The FPIF article states:
While the Bush administration is telling the U.S. Congress that the pact will encourage civilian over military uses of nuclear technology, Manmohan Singh told the Indian Parliament, "there is nothing in this joint statement that amounts to limiting or inhibiting our strategic nuclear weapons program."

Indeed, by allowing India to buy uranium on the open market, the pact will let India divert all of its domestic uranium supplies to weapons production. That would allow it to produce up to 1,000 warheads, making it the third largest arsenal in the world behind the United States and Russia.
Meanwhile, back in Tehran, the Iranians are, to their credit, moving forward toward resumption of talks with the EU3. SNSC Secretary Ali Larijani said today,
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has met all its commitments toward the IAEA and quite naturally expects that the Iranian nation's right in the field of nuclear technology should be preserved...All countries should respect the international laws and the ups and downs observed in the course of Iran's nuclear negotiations show that this is not a field for playing tricks. Iran has paved this path frankly and its efforts are aimed at creating the favorable conditions for establishment of mutual trust in the course of the negotiations and all engaged sides, too, should bear in mind the need to observe transparency in this business."
It's also encouraging to hear that Mohamed ElBaradei believes that negotiations with Tehran will resume soon. According to reports:
"Things are moving in the right direction," said ElBaradei, noting that Iran was cooperating with United Nations nuclear inspectors and several "third parties" were urging Tehran to return to the negotiating table.

ElBaradei, who led the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize, said that South Africa had notably suggested a compromise to end the standoff between Iran and Western powers over its nuclear program.
I'm still hopeful that cooler heads will prevail in this developing situation; certainly, today's statements from Messrs. ElBaradei and Larijani are positive signs that things will move in the direction of diplomacy. But America's backdoor contribution to India's military nuclear ambitions seems incredibly hypocritical in light of the debate at hand, and Condi's nebulous position still leaves open the option of continued U.S. belligerence and/or the use of aggressive force toward Iran.

This dangerous dance deserves our full attention, given the potential consequences - and continued Administration shenanigans in the region are something we simply cannot afford to allow.

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Safety first?

Here are some more disturbing signs of "business as usual" in the Senate, as it debates whether or not to treat funds earmarked for actual homeland security as just another ATM for pork-scented stupidity. It's so comforting to see our elected officials setting aside parochial greed to work towards the best allocation of these funds for our safety. Yeah, right.

This is another issue that's worth a note to your Senators. Please take a minute, and insist that they remove their collective head from their collective ass. The life you save could be your own.

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Pot and Kettle, continued

One of life's little thorns that galls me the most is the hypocritical tendency of so many on the Right to lambast opponents for behavior that, in actuality, is the very behavior of which they themselves are egregiously guilty. Like The Hammer accusing Ronnie Earle of partisanship and unethical coercion. Like religious leaders who've prayed for the death of... well, of anyone they claim defies the tenets of Christianity. Like Presidents that cloak themselves in the words "liberty" and "integrity" and "human compassion", and then approve of torture; spin and obfuscate; and send thousands of our children off to die because of deliberately fabricated information.

The latest petty player in the game of pot and kettle is Mister Spin himself, Bill O'Reilly. Poor Billy. Seems he's had enough of his role as one of our chief Directors of Misinformation, because for some reason people dislike him passionately. Doing his best Claude Rains declaration of "I'm shocked," O'Reilly plaintively states,
Now it's so bad that I spend an enormous amount of money protecting myself against evil... I never felt sorry for people like Lindsay Lohan in my life. I thought they were dopey little movie stars. Now I feel sorry for those people. That poor little girl is 19 and can't leave the house without some idiot doing something.
Boo-hoo, Billy. Here's a "Talking Points Memo" for you. That fear you feel is the flip side of the fear you've had a big hand in perpetuating throughout the land. The fear of every parent with a child misled into a non-existent "cause", whose authors you continue to defend. The fear of every gay man and Liberal and voice for peace that you've vilified and demonized for years. The fear we all have that we're being piloted in Washington by Captain Queeg, whose ineptitude and criminality you've played a vigorous part in legitimizing.

That flame of anger that's gotten too close for comfort is the very one you've fanned for far too long, through your malice, misdirection, and misguided loyalties. Welcome to the real "No Spin Zone", Billy Boy - we've all just been waitin' to share.

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October 18, 2005

Broken promise

As Pat Fitzgerald's investigation appears to be drawing to its breathtaking conclusion, and both the MSM and Washington sit salivating and fretting, respectively, over the anticipated results, it's occurred to me that the President has a real opportunity to regain some of the public's waning trust, and demonstrate to the American people that he's made of the stuff of true leadership.

Sadly, as he has done since first stealing the office, George the Younger is again falling short.

A terrific column by Terry Neal of the Washington Post takes Mr. Bush to task for this very thing, and for the broader betrayal of his promise in 2000 to restore "honor and dignity to the White House". Mr. Neal writes,
Given the opportunity on Monday to reassure the public that he meant all of those things he said back in 2000 during the campaign and specifically what he said in June 2004 about the Plame scandal, the president punted.

"There's a serious investigation," Bush said when asked by reporters during a White House photo-op with the Bulgarian prime minister. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

But Bush wasn't being asked by the press to "prejudge" the outcome. He was, essentially, being asked to define his standard of propriety. Does someone have to be indicted and convicted of a specific crime in the Plame case to deserve dismissal from Bush's staff? Or does a person merely have to have engaged in questionable, or possibly unethical, behavior?
A real leader, regardless of political stripe, would seize this opportunity to take back the reins of his faltering Administration, and show some of the character and moral backbone he pledged to those trusting voters who gave him the job. At the very least, the President of the United States should display some evidence that he's demanded the truth from his hand-picked subordinates in the West Wing, instead of falling back on the irrelevant mantra of "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

But we don't have that kind of President. So I ask my Conservative friends one more time: "Do you get it now?"

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You've got to hand it to defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. The way he puts it, the standard legal practice of offering an accused individual the chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge (or be indicted on a stronger one) comes out sounding like Mafia-style coercion. I bet DeGuerin could make Santa's yearly visits look like some sort of terrorist home invasion, if he worked hard enough at it.

Nice try, Dick. But your dog and pony show won't erase one essential fact - The Hammer is dirty. And your boy is goin' down this time.

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Same old, same old

It would seem that Mr. Bush actually has been successful in exporting American style democracy to Iraq after all! Here's more about possible election "irregularities" in the recent Constitutional vote.

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October 17, 2005

Laying the groundwork for war

In what is still a pathetically under-reported story with genuinely grave consequences, the U.K. continues full steam ahead with its hostile allegations toward Iran, apparently taking the lead for the moment in the deadly dance being performed by Washington, London, and Tehran. I'm especially intrigued by the BBC's report that,
The prime minister said evidence linked the attacks either to Iran or its militant, Lebanese allies Hezbollah, but added that officials could not be sure. (emphasis added)
Sounds suspiciously like some other uncertain evidence that put British troops in Basra in the first place.

Simultaneously, Iran has fired counter-accusations at England over Saturday's terrorist bombings in the city of Ahwaz, in what is quickly degenerating into a "Did NOT."-"Did SO!" dynamic that's helping to further unsettle an area I thought we were trying to pacify.

Whether a matter of simple misperception, or the result of intentional U.K./U.S. agitation, this situation is already heading toward a place of dangerous instability in the Mid East. Tehran today is taking definite steps to retaliate against the aggressive and largely unsubstantiated Anglo American stance. Official comments on the topic are routinely beginning to employ some terrifying language. The International Herald Tribune story I've linked contains this passage:
Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine who was head of the United Nations inspection team in Iraq, insists that the war with Iran has already started. Not only are covert operations ongoing, he insists, but the Pentagon's planners are right now drawing up an air-strike and invasion strategy that will see a period of concerted bombardment followed by four divisions of U.S. troops invading Iran through Azerbaijan and heading straight for the Iranian capital. Although little-discussed by the international media, the Azerbaijan invasion route is the most practical as it bypasses conflict-wracked launch-points such as Iran (sic) or Afghanistan.
Frustratingly, all we can really do is to remain vigilant, and to pester our elected officials at every opportunity to pay closer attention. It's up to a concerned citizenry to get informed and involved, and to raise a unified voice in opposition to our current policies toward Tehran. Apparently, we can't rely on the MSM to bring this issue to the forefront.

Nor can we afford to sit idly by while our government once again begins laying the groundwork for war. We've seen this tactic before, and we've got to be smarter this time around.

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Morning muffin

A handful of bran muffins to have with your coffee:
Remember when Donald Rumsfeld said in February 2003 that our blow for freedom in Iraq would last "six days, six weeks. I doubt six months"? Here's more news from Washington, confirming that this Administration is as full of s#%t as we always thought it was.
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Maybe, when the reign of George the Younger has finally come to an end, those Bushies not serving criminal sentences should start an Ad Agency. Let's face it, these guys can re-brand and re-package anything (e.g. WMD's to imminent danger to capturing Saddam to spreading democracy to fightin' 'em over ther- well, you know the drill). Read here about the release of Harriet 2.0
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Poor Scotty McClellan. That adorable cherub turned Mouth of Sauron defends his newly combative style.
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And meanwhile, back in Toledo... What can anyone say but stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid that there are actually people who proudly call themselves "The American Nazi Party". Stupid that by law the Police are forced into appearing to have chosen sides, thereby automatically arousing the ire of counter-protesters. Stupid that what should have been an inspiring, justified, unified community statement against hate, was used instead as an excuse for looting and random violence - the very f#%ing things the Nazis were complaining about to begin with!
I know, I know - not a very uplifting way to start the day. But, hey, cheer up. Going to work doesn't seem so bad now after all, does it?

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October 16, 2005

Hijacking democracy

More interesting analysis of the Plame affair, and the little known White House Iraq Group, from the New York Times' Frank Rich.

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Liar, liar, pants on fire

I was disturbed this morning to read more inflammatory rhetoric from the U.K. concerning Iranian nuclear ambitions, and the ongoing (and escalating) confrontation brewing within the U.N. Note that the linked stories make a number of aggressive doomsday accusations against Tehran, but provide no credible evidence to support those claims other than the usual litany of nebulous statements beginning with, "officials believe that..." or "we think it's probable..." or "her view is..."

America's favorite diplomatic tough-guy, John Bolton, weighed in on BBC2's Newsnight with similar certainty, saying that,
"(Iran was) determined to get nuclear weapons deliverable on ballistic missiles it can then use to intimidate not only its own region but possibly to supply to terrorists."
Gee, John, that would be really scary news, if it were backed up by anything remotely resembling fact from IAEA inspectors who've actually been in Iran. I'm reminded constantly in this developing scenario of Tom Cruise's response to unsupported allegations in the film A Few Good Men, when his character dismissively states,
"He did? That's great! And, of course, you have proof? Oh, I keep forgetting, you were sick the day they taught law at law school..."
Now, as I've written repeatedly, I have no abundance of love for the theocratic state of Iran. It is certainly no friend to the U.S. or Israel, and needs to be monitored closely, as the IAEA has promised to do. But given the track record of this Administration (anyone remember "aluminum tubes" and "yellowcake uranium" and "stockpiles of WMD's" and "the spectre of mushroom clouds"?), we have no reason to trust that the accusations made daily by Bush minions and their pals in the U.K. are based on factual evidence either.

The New York Observer's Joe Conason echoes these thoughts in new commentary about IAEA head (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Mohammed ElBaradei. Mr. Conason writes:
Failing to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons will someday lead to consequences even more dire than the worst hurricane or earthquake. Yet the geniuses now in charge of the world's most powerful government have consistently botched and undermined that effort.

The invasion of Iraq was among the worst blows in recent years to the international campaign against the expansion of nuclear weapons. Back when President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other U.S. officials accused Saddam Hussein of seeking to build a nuclear capability, other nations feared that this charge would merely serve as a pretext for pre-planned aggression.

Those same nations noticed how U.S. officials accepted the most dubious proof of an Iraqi nuclear program, swept aside all contradictory evidence, and precipitated war before the IAEA could complete its intrusive inspections.
My 22-year-old son told me recently that he's shocked at the apparent lack of objective MSM coverage of this volatile situation, and that he's forced to regularly rely on this blog for any semblance of information. And that, while flattering, is simultaneously a terrible shame. The frighteningly familiar campaign of "Liar, liar, pants on fire" being waged against Iran by the Bushies deserves wider attention and criticism in the American press before things cross, once again, a point of no return. And American citizens need to demand that their leaders produce more clear-cut evidence this time around than dubious slide shows of mobile weapons labs and a reckless official position of "'Cause we say so."

In this debate, the stakes are a lot higher than Harriet Miers' church of choice.

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