November 26, 2005

Of interest...

Journalist Judith Coburn delivers this terrific editorial on the Bush Administration's campaign to "destroy American democracy at home in order to save the world for democracy," courtesy of Mother Jones.
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Here's an aspect of the story in Iraq that we don't often hear about. The always excellent Smithsonian Magazine profiles the resilient Kurdish minority.
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Can this possibly be true? The Nation's Jeremy Scahill ponders British press allegations that President Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera's international headquarters in Qatar in April 2004.

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Christmas spirit

Proving once again that our species has most definitely descended from primates, frenzied shoppers on "Black Friday" displayed somewhat less-than-civilized behavior at a number of stores around the nation, in a mad rush to extend that true spirit of Christmas to their fellow man.

As these five separate stories detail, yesterday's discount-seekers not only expressed a zealous degree of real patriotism (I mean, shopping is the one concrete directive we've been given by the Bush White House as a way to combat terrorism, isn't it?), but also showed that the average citizen is indeed in admirable fightin' shape, ready to take on even 73-year-old grandmothers and 13-year-old girls who dare to stand in the way of the day's best bargains. Why, it just makes me so proud to be an American, I could burst!

This story is nothing new. Similar events take place every year. It's become our warped paean to unbridled consumerism, the ritual spilling of (actual) blood in honor of the retail gods. But people should be ashamed of themselves. My God, if there's this kind of chaos every year over cheap laptops and affordable plasma TV's, what are we to expect should our populace have to face a real crisis requiring cooperation, manners, and sharing of limited supplies in the face of inadequate official supervision?

Oops, I forgot - we've already seen the answer to that question played out in September, down on the Bayou.

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November 25, 2005

Holiday hangover

Speaking of FEMA, the appalling inadequacies of the federal response to areas devastated by Katrina are still on display, with no foreseeable end in sight.
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It's hard to tell which is more pathetic - the fact that the Senate recently passed a symbolic resolution honoring Carrie Underwood for winning "American Idol", or that a similar measure lauding Bruce Springsteen was blocked by Senator Bill "I Didn't Even Know I Had Those Stocks" Frist from even reaching the floor for consideration.
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Fair is fair. A Vermont teacher is facing sharp criticism for injecting liberal politics into a high-school vocabulary quiz (I was flabbergasted by the example cited in the Breitbart story). No excuse, Mr. Chenkin - despite the fact that I might agree with your political stance. If the situation were reversed, and the test question had been worded to lambast Darwinian theory, I'd be screaming bloody murder.
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And finally, maybe we need to amend the Second Amendment to read: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed so long as the people demonstrate the law-abiding track record and basic goddamn common-sense needed to bear them." Concern grows in the Northeast over lax gun laws and rising levels of firearms-related violence. Are you listening, America?

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Heckuva job, chapter two

From the department of "Are you kidding me?!" comes this news item, concerning former FEMA Director Michael Brown's plans to open a disaster preparedness consulting firm. Let me say that again - Michael Brown plans to open a disaster preparedness consulting firm.

And already he has corporate backers expressing interest in his services!

As a person who's spent his entire adult career working hard to be among the best at my chosen profession (and, yet, still finding it difficult in today's economy to attract and hold steady clients), I see Mr. Brown's latest venture as personally insulting - and, in a broader sense, terribly depressing. Too often, it seems, our society worships and rewards the mediocre or incompetent, while casting aside those with real knowledge and experience, labeling them "elitist", "unaffordable", "overqualified". And success in our culture is increasingly equated with who you know (or which reality show you've won), rather than how much you know.

So, once again, heckuva job, Brownie. Good luck with your new endeavor. Of course, with your connections, it's not like you'll need it.

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November 24, 2005

Grandfather William

In the course of a recent genealogy project assigned to my son's 5th-grade class, he and I discovered that we are among the direct descendents of William Bradford, second Governor of Plymouth Colony, author of the Mayflower Compact, Pilgrim with a capital "P". I guess that makes me just about as invested as you can get in the world-altering advancements, embarrassing excesses, and shameful injustices that all are a part of the still-evolving American experiment.

Grandfather William (well he is family now!) would also have been among the hungry diners at that harvest festival that's come to be known as the "First Thanksgiving". I doubt that he realized as he sat there, grateful merely to have survived the torturous journey and weathered the harsh conditions of the Massachusetts coast, what an amazing contribution he'd helped make to the essential principle of the nation. For while the good William certainly possessed a distasteful degree of religious separatist fundamentalism, he and his disparate compatriots somehow stumbled upon an idea that is the very foundation of a democratic society. Mr. Bradford wrote,
"...it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose..."
And so, on this Thanksgiving Day 384 years later, I'm additionally thankful to live in a nation where we do have the right and power to shape our society "as we should by common consent agree to make and choose." That ours is a system strong enough at its roots to withstand the abuses and incompetence of the last five years, and still rebound, retool, and revive if our commitment to doing the right thing is strong enough as a people. And that the dialogue necessary to reach that common consent can draw us closer together, not polarize the populace as a handful of extremists on both Right and Left have attempted to do.

But enough politics. Time to eat, drink, and drown ourselves in an orgy of televised football! My best to everyone, and warm wishes for a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving. Remember to be grateful for families and loved ones; for the genuine bounty we enjoy in the U.S.; for the dedicated volunteers and veterans of the military, fire, medical, education and police professions who walk the walk, protecting us and preserving our freedoms every day; for the wonders of the planet on which we each get to rent a little time. If you have the chance today, reach out to someone less fortunate, here or around the globe, and start some momentum for the better in the world around you.

And thanks, Grandfather William, for that belief in having an equal say in the choice of those who govern - and the right and responsibility to make a change when necessary for the good of the colony.

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November 23, 2005

Dishonest and reprehensible

OK, now I'm really mad.

Murray Waas of the National Journal has revealed that on September 21, 2001,
President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.
So, tell me again now - who's being "dishonest and reprehensible" in their memories of the run-up to Iraq?

Mr. Waas continues (emphasis added):
One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources.
If I'm reading this correctly, this is an indication that Hussein could actually have been useful in the fight against terrorism. And the President, Vice President, and senior Administration officials knew these little tidbits of information a year and a half before invading Iraq for our "protection".

Despite constant claims to the contrary, it is more than obvious that those in power manipulated, misled, and lied this nation into an unnecessary and criminally counter-productive war that has crippled our economy, has tarnished our global reputation, and has led to the death and maiming of tens of thousands. The evidence couldn't be clearer that this White House cannot be trusted, and our righteous outrage at this indisputable fact must now be transformed into swift and decisive action.

The Bush Administration has to be held accountable for its egregious acts of duplicity and deception. It's time for an immediate change of personnel in the White House. Three more years is simply too damn long to wait.

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Vital gardeners

Newsweek's Anna Quindlen provides an important reminder of what we as a society owe to our teachers, and what our public education system must do to reaffirm just how vital they are. As Ms. Quindlen so poetically states, teachers are "the gardeners of the landscape of the human race."
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"Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army." --Edward Everett (Governor of Massachusetts, Harvard University President, and U.S. Secretary of State, 1836-1853)

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Inviting America's decline

Here's an excellent read, courtesy of The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, about the hard choices facing the President in this, his de facto "third term." Quoting author David Rothkopf, Mr. Friedman notes:
"If President Bush doesn't rise to this challenge, our children and grandchildren will look at the burden he has placed on their shoulders and see this moment as the hinge between the American Century and the Chinese Century. George W. Bush may well be seen as the president who, by refusing to address these urgent questions when they needed to be addressed, invited America's decline."
(NOTE: For those of you who still admirably refuse to submit to the highway robbery of the NYT's "Times Select", I've reprinted Mr. Friedman's article in the comments section. Click "add your opinion" below to access the full editorial.)

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Dr. Dobson's Thanksgiving Balls

Good Lord! The inimitable Dr. James Dobson is at it again.

Apparently, this embarrassment to the true tenets of Christian principle intends to distribute 5,000 "stress balls" at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, promoting a new website affiliated with Focus on the Family that offers to "cure" homosexuality through faith. Dobson's group also plans to run related TV commercials in the New York market, and already has ads displayed on an electronic billboard in Times Square.

The unintended irony of Dr. Dobson's squeezable, anti-gay balls would be extremely funny if he weren't so serious - and if his factually fraudulent views weren't as visibly influential with millions of U.S. conservatives, including our Theocrat in Chief.

And I can't help but wonder if the leader of Focus on the Family wouldn't have demonstrated more genuine holiday charity and Christian concern by spending his flock's money on a few Thanksgiving meals for American families in need, instead of wasting it on self-serving advertisements, ridiculous rubber orbs, and homophobic misinformation.

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November 22, 2005

Breaking with tradition

It's not that I'm addicted to the Washington Post, or that I rely on that one publication as my sole source of pertinent information. It's just that the following four editorials in today's edition so thoroughly summarize my feelings about the Administration, Congress, and Iraq that I'd be ridiculously conceited to believe I could say things any better.
Richard Cohen addresses the one man in America with the least right to call anyone "dishonest and reprehensible".

Eugene Robinson lambasts the continuing muddled rationale for the war, and the unbelievable lack of accountability suffered by anyone in the Bush Administration.

E.J. Dionne Jr. notes that our own Congress needs a lesson in the workings of democracy.

And blogger Emily Messner provides a wide array of important links relevant to the intelligence that was, at the very least, misrepresented by the White House as it sold its case for pre-emptive invasion.
Is it not obvious to a majority of Americans by now that the Bush Administration no longer deserves to operate with official impunity on our "behalf"? That this group in Washington have more than proven their ineptitude, and lost the privilege of remaining in power? That every day they do retain their positions of authority, that fact weakens our nation, makes us more vulnerable to attack, destroys our credibility and global image, and brings us one step closer to financial ruin?

Can we afford as a nation to wait more than three years longer for this Administration's contract to run its course?

The upcoming mid-term elections should be about more than deciding the fate of a handful of Congressional representatives. It's time to begin thinking in earnest about demanding a special referendum in 2006 on the competence of Mr. Bush and his minions. We need to remember as a people that America is our nation to protect and preserve, and it would simply be irresponsible to sit idly by and watch this country further harmed by an unqualified CEO and his reprehensible management team.

Wake up, America. Precedent be damned! The Bush Administration has already demonstrated its disregard for precedent by launching an unprovoked war against a sovereign nation for the first time in our history and then dismissing the time-honored Geneva Conventions as "outdated and quaint." It seems to me that the hour has come to return the favor, and break with electoral tradition ourselves.

The stakes are too high for us as a citizenry not to act now, and use the mid-term election cycle as an opportunity to make a vitally needed change in leadership. An Administration with nothing to fear, one that is proud of its performance and stands by its plans for the future, should have no concerns about putting that reputation to a vote in a special election. And for the sake of our survival as an enlightened nation, we need to demand that we be given the chance to cast our ballots now.

"The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." --Frederick Douglass

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November 21, 2005

Doing the smart thing

Looks like cooler heads will prevail after all - at least in this round. And I have to say, after urging the Administration for months (at this blog, on other sites, in e-mails to Washington) to adopt a calmer approach toward the Iranian nuclear issue, I'm relieved to see common sense triumph - and in virtually the exact fashion I wrote about earlier today.

Though the cynic in me is sure that those low poll numbers played more than a small part in the Administration's change of heart, credit where credit is due. You did the smart thing today, boys and girls. And the world can, temporarily at least, breathe a little easier.

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Is this your America?

From The Village Voice's Nat Hentoff, a look at hunger strikers held for years without charge in Guantanamo - and the "humane" treatment they continue to enjoy, courtesy of official Administration policy.

Are we outraged yet, America?!

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The trouble with Tehran

With the November 24 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency fast approaching, and efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear issue whirring through the air at a furious pace, there's been a steady flow of variously disappointing, unsettling, surprising and even encouraging developments which, sadly, have received little attention from most news organizations here at home.

First of all (and despite my hopes to the contrary), Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ancillary officials have demonstrated through their recent misbehavior that they are either woefully amateurish statesmen who are stubbornly unwilling to improve, or are, instead, completely and dangerously unhinged.

At the precise moment that Ahmadinejad was receiving strong editorial, diplomatic, and IAEA support for his contention that U.S. accusations against Iran were unfounded and inflammatory, he began an inexplicable series of belligerent, defiant statements, revelations, and actions which have lent credence to his detractors, and distressed even Iranian allies in the global community.

Further lie was given to Ahmadinejad's statesmanship and promise of a "modern" Persian state by his cabinet's unapologetic rebuttal of a weekend U.N. resolution expressing "serious concern" about Iranian human rights violations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi disingenuously stated,
"It is politically motivated and this selfish attitude threatens human rights in the world. This resolution is part of an attempt to divert public opinion and its content has nothing to do with the real situation in Iran."
Encouragingly, however, the Iranian President's behavior has generated a considerable amount of opposition reaction at the highest government levels in Tehran, including concerns among leading clerics. According to The Guardian:
In a sign of divisions at the top of the clerical establishment, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has until now supported Mr Ahmadinejad, said "irregularities" in the government's behaviour would not be tolerated.
This should be taken by the Bush Administration as an optimistic sign, and a window of opportunity to work diplomatically within the U.N. in a way that will not bully and sanction, but instead will appeal to those moderate elements who can help enforce some checks on Ahmadinejad from inside Tehran.

Indeed, the White House's familiar, aggressive approach thus far has only exacerbated tensions. The obvious importance of changing that approach is underscored by an Iranian source, who warned that
western threats of economic sanctions or military action against Iran were strengthening Mr Ahmadinejad at the expense of moderate conservatives, liberals and reformers.
It doesn't get much clearer than that - and the Administration would be wise to take note.

Mr. Bush should also carefully contemplate the weakened state of credibility in which the U.S. now finds itself, thanks to his duplicity and ineptitude in Iraq, and not be quite so arrogant with his bluster when alternative approaches to Tehran exist - and they certainly seem to. As evidenced by recent global skepticism toward "laptop computer evidence" of Iran's nuclear weapons plans, the American reputation for reliability has been seriously compromised by our Commander in Chief.

In addition, U.S. forgiveness of Pakistani subterfuge in Iran has come under scrutiny by India, itself a key player that is passionately divided on the Iranian question. At times, world opinion seems to be that, much like Ahmadinejad, Mr. Bush and his ancillary officials are either woefully amateurish statesmen who are stubbornly unwilling to improve, or they are, instead, completely and dangerously unhinged.

In fairness, though, Friday's announcement by the President that he supports Russia's compromise plan is a tremendous sign from Mr. Bush that perhaps, just perhaps, the Administration is beginning to realize that a slower pace with Iran might be the smart move after all. And whether that realization is because of a spurt of sudden wisdom, or simply abject resignation to the low political standing of the current neo-con game plan, a more measured response can only be a good thing.

There are hopeful indications that a diplomatic solution can be reached among all the nations involved in Iran's nuclear issue without further military threat - or escalation. It may be a fortuitous coincidence that the Administration enters this week's IAEA meeting battered and bruised, doubted and scorned, in that it lessens the chance that the drastic step of U.S.-backed Security Council condemnation and sanctions will be voted into effect.

Nevertheless, the recent glimpses Ahmadinejad has given us into his recklessly aggressive vision for Iran have raised the stakes considerably higher. That's why it is more important now than ever to try and supervise (and, if necessary, restrain) the excesses of the Iranian President through diplomatic negotiation, and policies that provide support for moderate factions within the Iranian government itself.

It's my fervent hope that the White House will finally recognize the delicacy of this issue - and that this time around, it will abandon its unproductive lust for confrontation.

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November 20, 2005

Dangerous diversion

The always eloquent Frank Rich of the New York Times adds his voice to the existing chorus of opinion, shared by many of us, that Mr. Bush's folly in Iraq has been a dangerous diversion from the real struggle we still face against anti-Western terrorists. Mr. Rich notes:
One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other... Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.
(NOTE: For those of you who still admirably refuse to submit to the highway robbery of the NYT's "Times Select", I've reprinted Mr. Rich's article in the comments section. Click "add your opinion" below to access the full editorial.)

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"The president has undermined trust."

Offering more proof that Congress did not, in fact, have access to complete intelligence information before authorizing the use of force against Iraq, former Senator Bob Graham writes in today's Washington Post:
In the past week President Bush has twice attacked Democrats for being hypocrites on the Iraq war. "[M]ore than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power," he said.

The president's attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100 Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the legitimate belief that the president and his administration were truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering menace -- that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud.

The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine the truth.
Awfully hard to doubt the word of someone who was actually there, and saw the Administration's fabrications for precisely what they were.

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The Fighting Democrat

From David Goodman of Mother Jones, here's a terrific profile of Paul Hackett, the Democratic Iraqi veteran who nearly did the impossible in Ohio's deep-red 2nd Congressional District a few months ago. Passionate, salty, combative, and refreshingly candid, Major Hackett looks like precisely the example that Progressives need to follow if they want to reclaim a seat at the table. As he says, "You gotta get out there and fight the fight."

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It's about time

The front page headline in the Washington Post sums up everything that needs to be said: Iraq War Debate Eclipses All Other Issues. As has been recently apparent, our elected officials have been forced to put the topic of the war ahead of pet pork projects, estate tax cuts, marriage amendments, and other more pressing items on their social calendars.

And it's about damn time.

Funny, though, but there appears to be a bit of whining coming from some individuals about the amount of time and attention demanded by the war. The Post reports:
"Iraq is now a cloud over everything," said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst specializing in Congress. "It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room."

"I feel like every morning, I wake up, get a concrete block and have to walk around with it all day," said first-term Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who came to the Senate with an ambitious agenda to overhaul Social Security and the tax code. "We can't even address the issues."
The issues, Congressman? It seems to me that a government decision to send our children and siblings and spouses off to fight and die by the thousands should already have been the top issue of each and every Congressional day.

It also strikes me that those Americans sent to risk and sacrifice their lives for a hasty invasion (that's had questionable justification from the start), would automatically deserve a few moments of serious critical thought at the start of daily business. Especially from the officials who are responsible for sending them there in the first place.

And it occurs to me that the issue of Iraq should have been the 800-pound gorilla from the instant this Administration recklessly decided to violate every military precedent in the history of the nation, and put our troops in harm's way as unprovoked invaders in the name of a fabricated cause. C'mon - don't tell me you didn't have doubts.

But, that's just me. And I suppose I should be glad that Congress (and the majority of the American people) have finally caught on to what a few of us have been saying since the beginning of this suspect, cavalier, and reprehensible misstep by the Bush White House - namely, that it shouldn't have started, and it's simply gotta stop.

The topic of Iraq must remain a top Congressional priority, because it is the very event that has sent America's self-image hurtling in a negative direction for three long years. And until that downward spiral is reversed, and our national soul made respectable again, those other pet issues are just gonna have to wait.

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