December 03, 2005

Mixed bag

A few "must-reads" for the weekend:

The Nation warns that when Congress gets back to work on Monday (why do they get such a long Thanksgiving break anyway?), special attention must be paid to the Graham Amendment, which in essence eliminates the legal rights of Guantanamo detainees.
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Joe Conason of The New York Observer weighs in on the "culture of corruption" running rampant through the Republican party, and its latest poster-boy, California's "Duke" Cunningham.
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Mother Jones' Paul Rogat Loeb writes about a subject with which I'm all too familiar - the common dilemma of middle-aged workers who've fallen victim to greed-driven corporate "downsizing", leaving them to scramble for a meager existence at the very time they should be enjoying the fruits of a dedicated career.
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David Cole notes in the Los Angeles Times how the Administration's continued backing of torture as an interrogation tool "makes justice impossible."
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And don't forget to add your voice to the outcry against ongoing atrocities in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

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December 02, 2005

Church and state

Here's a disturbing item, brought to light by journalist Max Blumenthal via HuffPo concerning a private meeting between Focus on the Family's James Dobson and U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. Tell me again, now - what was that about the separation of church and state?

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Let's talk about sex

Or more accurately, same-sex.

As today's Washington Post reports, on Thursday South Africa's highest court recognized the constitutional legality of same-sex marriage, and gave the nation's Parliament no more than twelve months "to extend legal marital rights to all same-sex couples." In fact, the only dissent was from a justice who felt that a year was too long to wait, and that existing prohibitions on same-sex marriage should be overturned immediately.

I can't help but second Andrew Sullivan's observation that:
Who would have guessed twenty years ago that the land of apartheid would now be ahead of the United States in its support for civil rights and equal protection of laws?
Compare the news from Johannesburg with this story from the good ol' American heartland (an ironic nickname these days, if ever there was one). Republican Senator Thomas E. Brinkman Jr. of Ohio is suing one of the state's top colleges, because it provides benefits to long-term partners of the university's gay employees. In an article published Monday, The Chronicle of Higher Education writes:
An Ohio lawmaker has filed a lawsuit alleging that Miami University's policy of offering benefits to its employees' same-sex domestic partners violates an amendment to the state's Constitution banning civil unions. The suit puts Ohio among a growing number of states where the ability of public colleges to offer such benefits has been challenged in state legislatures or the courts... Laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage have been adopted by 45 states, 41 of them since 1996.
45 states. Good Lord, what a petty, pathetic, paranoid society America has become. There's no denying that this is our apartheid - or that the entire nation should be thoroughly ashamed of those numbers.

I mean, really, I just don't get it. To this day I've yet to hear one convincing, factual argument for the increasing marginalization and persecution of this group of fellow human beings, who differ from the straight population in no respect other than their God-given sexual orientation.

Let me say that once again. Their God-given sexual orientation.

Why, even a majority of those who oppose same-sex unions acknowledge that none of us choose our sexuality. It is a force beyond our control, no more a voluntary selection than the color of our skin. How then can we as a culture continue to justify this ridiculous campaign of legislated prejudice against our fellow citizens for a single characteristic which is A) nobody's business; B) nothing more than an accident of birth; and C) nothing less than a recurring aspect of the rich and varied fabric of human existence that's been around since... well, since human existence?!

So I challenge conservative readers of this column to step up to the plate and offer some compelling arguments as to why monogamous couples in love should be denied the right to participate in this joyous ritual of commitment called marriage, simply for the particular way in which their puzzle pieces fit. These are our neighbors, our friends, our children, after all, individuals who, according to many of you, have been "intelligently designed" to be exactly who they are by the Big Kahuna himself.

And if I'm preaching to the choir here, I'd ask that liberal visitors send this link to their conservative friends, and ask them to offer some manner of coherent response to the question at hand.

I really want to know what the homophobes responsible for America's deplorable, ongoing bigotry against the gay community have in their corner that remotely resembles fact, reason, or even simple human compassion. You know, something other than the usual disingenuous litany of "the foundation of society" and "for reproduction of the species" and "they're a danger to the children" and "the Bible told me so", all of which have been repeatedly shown to be as rooted in truth as our reasons for invading Iraq.

The alarming, officially-sanctioned policy of apartheid against our gay brothers and sisters must end, and soon. If not, it may truly be time to rethink whether the label "American" is a source of pride, or a badge of shame.

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December 01, 2005


Reflecting the reactions of many of us to the President's "Plan For Victory", the New York Times serves up three thought-provoking editorials:
The paper as a whole describes Mr. Bush as "less in touch with reality than Richard Nixon."

Columnist Bob Herbert comments on the tiring spectacle of "a computerized bundle of administration talking points."

And David Brooks, with whom I almost never agree, observes how Iraq is launching an age of skepticism that threatens "the future of American self-confidence."
(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", both Mr. Herbert's and Mr. Brooks' articles are reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the complete editorials.)

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November 30, 2005

Plan For Victory

I suppose I'd be remiss if I let the evening pass by without some comment on Mr. Bush's "Plan For Victory" speech, which left me with an empty and overwhelming feeling of despair for most of the day. It wasn't so much the immediate mention of 9/11, or the carefully chosen audience, or the ludicrous game of semantics being played with the words "insurgent" and "rejectionist", or even the obvious fact that there is no new plan at all - just a glossy repackaging of the same open-ended and presumptuous "goals".

I mean, those items are certainly depressing in their own right, but not one of them came as any real surprise. And there are already legions of excellent writers in the blogosphere and MSM taking issue with each of those redundantly disingenuous points.

No, the thing that threw me deeper and deeper into a funk with each twitch of the President's lips was the horrifying confirmation of his true vision for the world's future. I realized with greater clarity than ever before that his is not a dream of global peace achieved through diplomacy, brotherhood, education, scientific development, tolerance, inclusiveness, honesty, accountability, intelligence, compassion, or even simple planning.

His dream is of a world at war.

Speaking with more energy and passion than he's displayed in quite some time, Mr. Bush employed shocking phrases like:
...the importance of their service in the first war of the 21st century...

...naval aviators who will fly combat missions over the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere...

...In the years ahead, you'll join them in the fight...

...If our military leaders tell me we need more troops, I will send them...
The President seemed rejuvenated, almost gleeful at times, while he described what he sees as our continued success in turning the "new" Iraq into a military society. A society where every patriotic Shiite and Sunni takes up a gun with our blessing. A society where the rebuilding of the nation's infrastructure and the creation of new business falls under the Iraqi (or American) army's control.

A society where progress is measured by the number of citizens who are proficient at killing.

Oh, I know that Mr. Bush, standing triumphantly this morning before a young and gung-ho military crowd (in which he fancies himself an honored member) while wrapping himself in the romantic cloak of World War II, did mention the word "peace" several times as a distant ideal, and gave limited lip service to the issue of establishing an elected government, and ultimate Iraqi autonomy. But this speech was about little more than a celebration of combat readiness and death with honor, and his commitment, "as long as I'm Commander in Chief," to send untold thousands more American kids to their dutiful demise.

As I sat at the dinner table tonight and looked across at the carefree face of my 17-year-old son, I found it impossible to erase the image from my mind of the President almost salivating with delight, as he contended that his determination to continue the carnage for years to come is the sole viable option before us. And I shuddered to recall his conclusion that:
There's only one way to honor the sacrifice of Corporal Starr (ph) and his fallen comrades. And that is to take up their mantle, carry on the fight and complete their mission.
Many have complained today that Mr. Bush once again failed to tell us what that mission actually is. But I think he may have spelled it out with disturbing clarity, and, in an unusual moment of forthrightness, warned us all to brace ourselves for the inevitable.

As long as he remains in power, George's mission is all war, all the time, a neo-con vision of a globe transformed by American military domination. The President sees his place in history very clearly. And he let us know today that he plans to sacrifice even more of our sons and daughters to achieve it.

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Pandora's Box

Here's an interesting read by Cenk Uygur, courtesy of HuffPo, about the candor of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Pandora's Box he admits the President has opened not only in Iraq, but in the entire Middle East as well.

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Less than Kosher

The Los Angeles Times reported late Tuesday that "the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq." Many of these articles appear to have been submitted under false pretenses, and have been presented in Iraqi papers as the work of independent journalists when they were actually penned by military "information operations" personnel.

The word that immediately comes to mind is sad. It seems to me that whether or not these stories prove to have been deliberately misleading exaggerations (or outright fabrications), this practice serves as yet one additional example of an ingrained mindset that begins at the White House, one which subverts democracy while simultaneously claiming to revere it.

And how many more examples do we need before demanding a change in Washington?

Despite the fact that the specific articles cited by the Times seem - in all honesty - to be fairly benign, I nevertheless have to wonder once again: Why the subterfuge? Why does every act of information dissemination initiated under this President continue to be staged, scripted, secretly purchased, cherry-picked, manipulated, and based on "facts" that aren't?

What does it say about our belief in the righteousness of our mission, our attitude toward the intelligence of the Iraqi people, our respect for the editorial freedom of their press, to feel the need to plant propaganda pieces under the guise of objective reporting? Is it just me, or is it extremely disturbing that seemingly every policy or statement or tidbit of information emanating from this Administration is eventually exposed as being slightly less than Kosher?

Additionally worrisome is the real probability that false or disingenuously optimistic "news" appearing in the Iraqi press will be reported as evidence of U.S. "successes" by the media here at home even if those successes are non-existent, in essence propagandizing what the American people are being led to believe is reliably objective information. The Times notes:
U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda with American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon's efforts are carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably "bleeds" into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.

"There is no longer any way to separate foreign media from domestic media. Those neat lines don't exist anymore," said one private contractor who does information operations work for the Pentagon.
This whole episode strikes me as particularly Nixonian, and adds further doubt as to the veracity of any and all "official" information we receive. It should be increasingly apparent to every American that we cannot trust those in power to distribute factual information honestly and openly either here or abroad.

How, then, can we trust them to run our nation?

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November 29, 2005

Finding the political will

For some time now, it has seemed that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is the only person in America (and, quite possibly, the world) who is paying any attention whatsoever to the genocidal horrors taking place in Darfur. The systematic policies of ethnic cleansing, gang rape, and torture endorsed and encouraged by the Sudanese government should have caused an outcry of public outrage in the global community long ago. Instead, this horrific situation is barely a blip on the radar, receiving essentially zero coverage in the MSM, and scant attention from Congress or the White House.

As Mr. Kristof notes, "President Bush is acquiescing in the first genocide of the 21st century."

In today's NYT editorial, the columnist specifically details six steps which need to be taken by the Administration, our Washington legislators, and the United Nations to put an end to this inexcusable tragedy. But we cannot simply stop there, with accusatory fingers pointed toward our government officials. Every American bears a share of the responsibility for our national apathy toward the suffering in Darfur - and "We the people" have the moral obligation to raise our voices against the continued barbarity of the Sudanese government. Mr. Kristoff writes:
Ordinary readers can push for all these moves. Before he died, Senator Paul Simon said that if only 100 people in each Congressional district had demanded a stop to the Rwandan genocide, that effort would have generated a determination to stop it. But Americans didn't write such letters to their members of Congress then, and they're not writing them now.

Finding the right policy tools to confront genocide is an excruciating challenge, but it's not the biggest problem. The hardest thing to find is the political will.
One further ugly thought has been troubling me as well, concerning our apparent lack of collective outrage. It's hard to ignore the recent parallels to U.S. involvement in the Balkans, a place in which there also were official policies of ethnic cleansing, torture, gang rape, mass execution. That situation was met with public outcry and swift government action.

Similarly, Saddam's acts of genocide, his official "rape rooms", his consistent violations of human rights have been cited as integral motivations for our unprovoked invasion of, and forcible regime change in, Iraq. Why, I wonder, has this similar (if not worse) scenario in Darfur not been addressed in the same way, with the same urgency?

Though I hope against hope to be wrong, I can't help but think that these polar opposites of national reaction have been significantly influenced by an insidious cancer that continues to infect the American soul, one we've seen on recent display in the cause of the Toledo riot, in the popularity and notoriety of the Gaede twins, in continuing sluggish government response to Katrina. Simon Deng, a Sudanese activist living in the U.S., asks:
"Tell me why we have Milosevic and Saddam Hussein on trial for their crimes, but we do nothing in Sudan. When it comes to black people being slaughtered, do we look the other way?"
We should all hope that Mr. Deng is wrong - and do something about it today.

Let's pledge to be among those "100 people in each Congressional district" that make a noise about the inexcusable atrocities being committed daily in Darfur. Let the House, the Senate, the White House know that we expect them to live up to Mr. Bush's inaugural promise to the downtrodden and abused of the world that "the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors." Each day that we wait another home is burned, another woman is forced to accept an endless cycle of rape and beating, another man or child is murdered for nothing more than the color of his skin.

And that we simply must not allow.
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(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Mr. Kristof's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.

I've also included his preceding op-ed, filed from a refugee camp inside Sudan, which describes in more detail the routine horrors faced by the victims in Darfur.)

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November 28, 2005

A sensible plan

The New York Observer's Joe Conason writes today about a sensible plan of action aimed at ending the debacle in Iraq. Drawing on last weekend's demand by the Arab League for "the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable," and echoing the desire of over 75% of the Iraqi people themselves for a swift, scheduled reduction of American troop presence in their nation, Mr. Conason proposes the logical alternative of a "negotiated ceasefire." He notes:
Working through the Iraqi government, U.S. officials should set forth a clear timetable for the departure of our troops -- in exchange for an end to armed attacks by Sunni guerrillas. Spokesmen for the rebels, including leaders of the Association of Muslim Scholars, have often hinted at the possibilities for such a settlement.
The issue of a viable exit strategy can no longer be ignored and misrepresented by our stubbornly inept Obfuscator in Chief, nor can we allow him to press on with the same tired, empty talking points and disingenuous attacks on his critics. We need a plan now to bring an end to Mr. Bush's shameful little war - and a negotiated ceasefire sounds like a smart and workable place to start.

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End run

Sunday, a report in the Washington Post indicated that the Pentagon plans to expand its powers and activities in the area of domestic surveillance, including a push for legislation that would create broad exceptions to the Privacy Act. This move is apparently backed by the Administration...
...[which] is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
Now I have to say that, at first glance, such an expansion of investigative jurisdiction doesn't seem completely unreasonable. After all, let's be realistic for a moment - there are an increasing number of motivated radical individuals around the globe with an active desire to do physical violence to the citizens and institutions of the West. That a large part of the blame for the upswing in said activity falls on the shoulders of the Bush Administration might be relevant, but... well, that's a topic for another time.

Nevertheless, it is logical that defending against a 21st Century terrorist attack (i.e. one requiring a precise coordination of foreign and domestic civilian, military, and economic components) would necessitate a widening of cooperation among U.S. law-enforcement, intelligence, and military institutions. And, as a matter of course, we know we can rely on Congressional review and oversight to ensure that our essential civil liberties remain protected from potential abuse.

Except that's not what's happening. WaPo continues:
[T]he Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.

"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
The White House should not be so eager to back a plan which, in the words of Center for National Security Studies director Kate Martin, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." It certainly should not be doing so by once again attempting to bypass Congressional debate. Is it just me, or is it more than a little unsettling to hear that the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee...
...said in a recent interview that CIFA has performed well in the past and today has no domestic intelligence collection activities. He was not aware of moves to enhance its authority. (emphasis added)
Do you mean to tell me that even the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is out of the loop?! Or, worse yet, in on the scam?

We owe a debt of thanks to Senator Wyden for keeping an eye on things to the extent he, and he alone, has so far. And we need to remind our elected representatives that they, too, have a responsibility to take an interest in any expansion of domestic military powers, and should want to know why plans are moving forward without Congressional involvement.

There does come a moment when threat of "Presidential directive" begins to sound much more like a sinister end run around democracy itself.

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November 27, 2005

"Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt..."

Echoing the thoughts of a nation, the New York Times' Frank Rich fires this volley at the Bush Administration, citing the increasingly overwhelming evidence that the White House did mislead the country into war with Iraq. As I said last week, it should be obvious by now that the time has come for the American people to demand the removal of this Administration by next year's midterm election.

(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Mr. Rich's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.)

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Here are links to the articles referenced by Mr. Rich in his NYT piece: Los Angeles Times, Murray Waas, Scott Shane, and Rolling Stone.

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