April 29, 2006

Random ramblings

Whatever your personal thoughts on the immigration debate (and mine are that it's somewhat oxymoronic for millions who've snuck into the country illegally to be complaining that their "inalienable rights" are being violated), you can't help but marvel at the magnificent organization and coordination of the public protests that have already occurred, and those planned for this coming Monday.

It makes me wonder, though, what might have happened had these same masses bothered to pool similar energies and passions to force meaningful change in the nation(s) they abandoned, those whose flags they so defiantly wave today? Or if all that fire and drive had been directed at streamlining legal visa and immigration processes, or pursuing actual U.S. citizenship through existing channels during the decades (in many cases) these visitors have been looking over their shoulders, dreading the arrival of the INS?

Hey, it's just a rhetorical question. And it's one that my Cuban-born, suffered-through-the-red-tape-and-obtained-legal-citizenship, significant other wonders as well...

- - - - -

I decided this morning to blame everything on Monica Lewinsky. Oh, say what you want about Bubba's smooth and irresistible charm, and his utter lack of self-control. And anyone who knows me can certify my feminist bona fides, so don't even think about going there. No, Monica was all grown up and knew exactly what she was doing - and that, in so doing, she was betraying a fellow sister without one shred of conscience, solidarity, or guilt.

So I blame Monica. Without Monica, Al Gore would undoubtedly be guiding the nation in a positive direction for the sixth straight year of his Presidency. Without Monica, our federal budget wouldn't be lying in shambles. Without Monica, the U.S. would be leading the way in combating global warming and developing alternative energy sources. Without Monica, FEMA would still be the effective agency it had become during the Clinton years, and its Katrina response would have set the gold standard for disaster preparedness. Without Monica, our Constitution would not be under relentless assault from the very people charged with its defense. Without Monica, there would be no quagmire in Iraq.

Sure, Bubba was weak, and should have had the moral fiber to just say no. But I blame Monica for making America the unrecognizable theocratic monarchy it is today.

- - - - -

With gas prices soaring, the SUV has come under withering attack from all corners. I feel compelled to rise to its defense.

Personally, I'd love to drive a Prius or other "environmentally friendly" vehicle on those occasions where circumstance requires me to put pedal to metal. But what's a family of 6 to do? I didn't purchase my SUV for reasons of status or vanity or callousness toward Mother Earth. I got it simply because it was the most practical solution to the transportation needs of my growing family - and because auto manufacturers had done away with the available alternative of a good ol' wood-paneled station wagon.

And to me, the issue shouldn't be comparative fuel efficiency of a Ford Explorer and a Volkswagen GTI. Bigger, heavier vehicles are by nature going to suck more fuel than their lightweight cousins. The question at hand is what's going into that oversized tank. 'Cause if my fellow SUV owners and I were filling up with ethanol or bio-diesel, or cruising to that weekday soccer game on electric cells, I'd be willing to guarantee we wouldn't be the social pariahs we are today.

So, in the charitable spirit of Christian forgiveness and compassion, pity the beleaguered SUV. Until we suburbanites have something else with which we can transport 5 kids, 3 equipment bags, and 2 coolers of Gatorade to baseball practice, we're just gonna have to keep using them. In the meantime, I guess I'll simply have to endure your misplaced scorn and derision.

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Had enough?

Former Congressman Tim Roemer writes in today's New York Times about the simple slogan he believes should drive Democratic campaign efforts to reclaim our nation from the clutches of a corrupt and woefully inefficient Republican Congress. Mr. Roemer notes:
"Had enough?" will speak to both Democrats and disillusioned Republicans. Liberals can use "Had Enough?" to reach out to voters enraged over the incompetent management of Iraq. Moderates might use "Had Enough?" to persuade swing voters on fiscal issues. And the implicit rejection of neoconservative politics will appeal to all voters who seek to spurn tainted Republican candidates.

"Had Enough?" also pre-empts Democrats' worst habits. Too often we've made campaigns complicated and policy-heavy. We love to unveil 40-page position papers and wonky diagrams. "Had Enough?" clears a broad path through such minutiae. "Public sentiment is everything," Abraham Lincoln said 150 years ago. "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."

Karl Frost's simple words can serve as the cavalry charge to help win the coming electoral battles - something Democrats are in an incredibly strong position to do. But make no mistake: new ideas matter. Democrats will also need the artillery of a disciplined, focused set of core proposals to complement their criticism of Republican excesses.
Had enough, America? I know I certainly have!

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April 28, 2006

Early weekend reading

- The New York Observer's Joe Conason discusses the "etiquette and morality of leaking." Translation: leaking isn't leaking when it benefits the Republican agenda.

- Though this shocking piece is already over a week old, it first caught my attention today. Lefty at A la Gauche comments on four "detention camps, currently being built by a subsidiary of Halliburton, under contract from the U.S. government... in undisclosed locations across the United States." I shit you not!

- Via Informed Dissent, check out this post by Congressman John Conyers concerning his lawsuit against President Bush (and 11 additional cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs) over February's budget reconciliation bill. At least somebody in Washington is still defending the Constitutional process of government.

- Who'd have guessed? Seems like Rush Limbaugh, America's favorite defender of truth, honor, and clean livin', has gotten into a bit of trouble in Florida. Jane Hamsher dishes the dirt at firedoglake. And the phrase "double standard" keeps ringing in my ears for some reason...

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The shoe and the other foot

In a stunning development, the New York Times reports today on the United Nations Security Council's decision to invoke Chapter VII of its charter, and immediately sanction the United States for a series of "threats to the peace, breaches of peace, and acts of aggression," which have culminated in its recent hints that strategic nuclear strikes might justifiably be launched against a weaponless Iran:
The President vowed today to defy any United Nations Security Council resolution on its nuclear activities hours before the release of a major report the status of its Mid-Eastern military plans.

Speaking at a rally in Montana, President Bush said the country would not compromise with the Council on its "right" to irresponsibly use nuclear technology for preventing the irresponsible use of nuclear technology.

"Enemies think they can make Americans give up their honorable path through propaganda, false publicity, political threats and imposition of sanctions," he said, according to FOX news channel. "America is a nuk-u-ler country. This slogan that nuk-u-ler power is our inalienable right is the will of the people and a national security issue."

His comments also echoed earlier statements made by The Decider about being "with us or against us", urging the resolution's largely-Arab backers against doing anything that would "cause trouble for other countries."

"Be careful and think about the consequences of your actions. I urge you not to put yourself and the region into trouble," he warned. "Avoid taking a measure that will put others into trouble as well."

John Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York that the U.S. would consider illegitimate any Council resolution calling on America to stop invasion plans that invoked the so-called Chapter 7 clause, which could open the door to penalties and possibly to military action.
OK, OK - I'll stop now. The real Times article (*which, as of this afternoon, had been updated and reworded to the point of rendering my little name- swapping parody completely unrecognizable, dammit!) is here, and reads much more as you might have expected it to.

It occurs to me, among other unintended ironies, that the U.S. and other supporters of a Security Council condemnation of Iran would be wise to pay special attention to Chapter VII's Article 51, which states:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations...
Let's at least be clear, kids, that if this Administration is foolish enough to keep pressing forward with its punitive agenda, all that "retribution" promised us lately by Iranian leaders is pretty much protected under international law. Just as the Persian nation's pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy is guaranteed by the NPT, a treaty whose rules and regulations the United States has agreed to observe "without discrimination" (Article IV).

And it strikes me, as I said yesterday, how easily the ongoing stance of the U.S. toward Tehran slips into the role-reversal exercise above. How perfectly American military incursion into Iraq and open discussion of war with Iran qualify as "threats to the peace, breaches of peace, and acts of aggression."

How well this shoe fits on the other foot.

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April 27, 2006

Madness

I don't even know what to say anymore about the still-escalating "crisis" with Iran. Let's start with the language of fear, as exemplified by headlines in today's New York Times and Washington Post:
"Iran Threatens Retaliation if Attacked" shouts the Times.

"Iranian Leader Warns U.S. Of Reprisal: Khamenei Is Defiant Ahead of U.N. Report" screams the Post, in an even more frightening front-page banner.
OK, I know what you're thinking. These headlines are, after all, technically correct. The Iranian Ayatollah did in fact issue a number of strong statements, promising a swift and terrible response to any unprovoked military attack on his nation.

Nevertheless, the specific language chosen to introduce both stories is prejudicial and inflammatory, because it skirts the complete picture. It would have been still more accurate to title these articles with something like, "Iran's Highest Religious Official Responds To Continuously Exaggerated Western Provocation." And the real question we should all be asking is, "Why wouldn't he?"

As long as there is ongoing, public, official, cavalier discussion of launching pre-emptive strikes against Tehran, to solve a "crisis" that doesn't demonstrably exist, it only seems logical that Iran's leaders would pledge to hit back. And consistently lost in the heated rhetoric surrounding this issue are several undeniable facts:
1. Iran has no nuclear weapons, and by all reasonable estimates is 5 to 10 years away from even having the fledgling capability to manufacture one.

2. To this day, there is no concrete evidence to support the wild speculation of Bush Administration officials and hawkish Israeli Defense Ministers that Tehran's clandestine intention is to develop an atomic bomb and immediately launch it against Israel.

3. Unlike our "friends" Israel, Pakistan, and India, all of whom DO have nuclear arsenals that have been developed in secret, Iran is a signator of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

4. As such, Iran has "the inalienable right," by charter, "to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination."
Has Tehran spoken out belligerently? Sadly, yes. The Iranian President, Mamoud Ahmadinejad, has been particularly guilty of radical, threatening rhetoric, designed to appeal to his fundamentalist political base. I guess because this dynamic is so unimaginable in America, it's easy to see why we would be so unsettled, and unable to differentiate between partisan posturing and actionable threats.

Uhhhh, right.

Of course, the official Iranian position on Israel's right to exist is simply unacceptable. And reckless statements about wiping the Jewish state "off the map" are as deplorable as they come, as indefensible as... oh, say, calling for the assassination of Venezuela's popularly elected president. Tehran's attitudes must change. Period.

But does any rational human being believe that, even if Ahmadinejad had The Bomb today, he would initiate a nuclear attack on Israel? Good God, he may be offensive, but he's not suicidal. Every Iranian knows that such a move would automatically result in the complete and total obliteration of his nation. Within minutes. From a variety of sources.

Deservedly so.

At the same time, however, hyperbole like the type being shoveled by Israel's Shaul Mofaz, is doing little but fanning the flames of irrational fear while exacerbating the already tense situation. Mofaz said Monday:
"Pressure must be applied on the Iranians to ensure that they realise there is no returning from the path they are taking."

He added: "Since Hitler we have not faced such a threat."
Sounds like calm, intelligent thinking to me! So let's review, shall we?

Iran has no nuclear weapons. It has the inalienable right, by treaty, to develop a peaceful, non-military nuclear fuel cycle without interference from outside nations. It is being overtly threatened, every day, with sanctions, invasion, and even strategic nuclear attack by one nation that's developed its own nuclear arsenal in secret and refuses to sign the NPT, and one nation with the largest nuclear stockpile in the world which has A) just violated the NPT in a deal with India, and B) already demonstrated its willingness to arbitrarily invade and destroy an Islamic nation over fabricated allegations.

Who is actually the bigger threat here? Is it any wonder that Iranian leaders are raising a defiant middle finger to the West, and promising retaliation for any unwarranted action against them?

Surprisingly, one of the most rational American voices concerning this situation belongs to Pat Buchanan. Now, those of you familiar with this site know that I'd rather be hit by a speeding bus than sing the praises of Pat, but in a consistent series of essays and editorials, Mr. Buchanan has proved to be a glimmer of reason amidst the relentless insanity. Speaking recently on The McLaughlin Group, Buchanan stated:
"First, this big media hype -- Ahmadinejad -- let me tell you, putting on a show like this, I think it's phony. I don't think he's got anything over there. This 164 centrifuges -- I understand a number of them were broken. They haven't been able to gasify yellow cake. And all of a sudden, in a couple of weeks, hey, we discovered and did it...

"Ahmadinejad -- he wants to, as Eleanor said, put himself on a par. He's standing up to the Israelis. He's standing up to Bush. He's making himself a world figure. That's what this is all about. And we're playing right into his hands. They are years away from the ability to construct one bomb, and the Israelis have got hundreds of them...

"The best thing we could do is go in there ourselves, frankly, build these things ourselves, control it, monitor every single step of it -- engage with these guys."
George Bush has a historic opportunity in front of him with Iran, one which could help to salvage his legacy, win some Muslim hearts and minds, protect Israel, repair the estranged relationship we've had with Tehran since our installation and support of the Shah, and actually take a constructive step toward stabilizing the Middle East.

By following Buchanan's suggestion and actively assisting the Iranians in the development and monitoring of a peaceful nuclear program, the President could solve this "crisis" without a shot being fired, or a further voice raised in anger. And it is the responsibility of all American citizens to move past the rhetoric and hyperbole, and demand that our leaders not follow the same reckless and illegal path that put us in Iraq, especially when they have the chance to do something meaningful and fact-based for a change. Let's reject the misleading language of fear that pervades our discussions about Iran, and instead pursue a course of genuine vision, diplomacy, and long-range peace.

To do anything else is, in a word, madness.

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April 26, 2006

999 days

I was going to jump back into the fray today with thousands of words on the state of the world - and the overwhelming percentage of global misery that's directly attributable to the reign of George the Younger. Why, after my short absence from this site, I see that there's even an abundance of new topics to choose from that can be added to the already endless list of Administration missteps and failures. Outrageous oil prices. Immigration. Personnel "shakeups" at the White House. Continued stupidity in our interaction with Iran.

Add that to the proven lies about Iraq, leaking of classified information, collusion with corporate robber barons, more lies about Iraq, election tampering, financial irresponsibility, bigger lies about Iraq, illegal domestic surveillance, cronyism, disaster unpreparedness, and MORE AND BIGGER LIES ABOUT IRAQ, and there would seem to be enough material to fill at least 10 separate posts.

But I just can't do it.

Because, to me, there is still only one central story buried among all these juicy choices. It's the single issue which encompasses all the others, but ironically is the one topic rarely mentioned by the traditional media, and only sporadically discussed in a blogosphere that's too often obsessed with just the catch of the day.

It's the "bigger picture," the proverbial forest that's getting missed in our frantic rush from tree to individual tree. It is the solitary course of action absolutely necessary before any meaningful change can occur in a nation hurtling perilously downhill, the thing without which any other specific analyses are nothing more than entertaining literary exercises.

And that's the removal of the entire Bush Administration from office.

To continue discussing each additional example of this group's incompetence as it arises in a sort of self-contained bubble, has not only had the effect of leaving a host of troubling and vital issues perpetually unanswered, but is missing the overall point. We already have enough proof that this Administration is keeping the country on the wrong heading, and that its "master plan" - whether domestic or international - JUST AIN'T WORKIN'!

It seems irrational to me for the citizenry to debate any beneficial shift in policy, or truly effective reform, or serious investigation into wrongdoing, as long as the chief obstacle to each of those vital changes is allowed to retain the title of Executive Puppetmaster. Is it not obvious to us all by now that anything heralded as a "new direction" is not really about long term solutions, but about the appearance of change as a means of bolstering poll numbers?

With this group, it's always been about the short-term. Obfuscation. PR campaigns. Smoke and mirrors. Style over substance.

And have you really watched the President lately? He doesn't look too good - in fact, he's beginning to appear and sound quite mad at times, disconnected from reality, revealing the petulant child at the core of his entire presidency with statements like, "I'm the decider" and his constant, almost infantile insistence that we simply trust what he says is true, though he's given the public little reason so far to do so.

He's become the Captain Queeg piloting our ship of state, keeping his rudder hard to starboard while cutting his own towline. I can literally picture him obsessively rolling those ball-bearings in his clenched hand, muttering about "the shtrawberries" as his crew's morale and performance sink further into the abyss. Is this the person we're content to call "President" for even one more moment?

His mike-in-one-hand, stalking-the-stage speaking performances, while undoubtedly intended as a viable strategy to re-capture Bush's folksy appeal to the masses, instead convey the aura of a slightly unhinged revival preacher. What we need now to solve the messes created by this band of self-serving cronies is a President, not Elmer Gantry. What we need is an individual committed to changing the course, not a snake-oil salesman who blindly delivers the same tired pitch to his disbelieving audience irregardless of well-known fact. What we need right now is a head of state.

And without one - and soon - all else is just so much meaningless chatter.

Oh, I know I'll return by tomorrow to some of those individual issues, because they are important, each in its own right, and must be pursued vigorously with the eternal optimism that one day all the cogs in our broken government machine can be repaired. And it is encouraging to see that some U.S. states are attempting in their own ways to seek accountability from Bush and friends for the crimes they've committed against our democracy.

But until we rise with a collective voice and demand a sweeping change in management, this corporation known as America will only continue to operate in a manner that's proved to be disastrous for the past 5+ years. As we flit from scandal to scandal, mindlessly "moving on" from yesterday's headlines, we're somehow failing to grasp the story - and obvious solution - at the center of it all. Whatever the existing difficulties are with the process of firing the President and his minions, to not do so would be an indefensibly lazy, almost lemming-like act of self destruction, and an inexplicable abandonment of basic common sense.

George Bush has nearly three years left on his contract, and shows no signs of supporting any meaningful change in his domestic or foreign policies. Can we afford to simply wait out his final 999 days at the helm? Have we become so spoiled and complacent about our freedom that we're unwilling to lift a finger, even if just to point, at the true culprits at the root of what has been a relentless attack on that freedom? Are we unwilling to face the single step necessary to obtaining any real shift in national direction?

When will our evening newscasts, our front page articles, our most-linked blog stars, our water cooler conversations and heated barroom debates repeatedly begin with, "More scandalous revelations about the White House's complicity in [take your pick]. But the real question today is how much longer the Bush Administration can be left in power - for the good of the nation, and the safety of the world?"

Every day that we fail to address that question, another Iraqi citizen perishes in the hell we've created - and another American enemy is born. Every day that we fail to address that question, another American son or daughter is lost overseas. Every day that we fail to address that question, another middle-class family loses a job, a home, a pension, an insurance policy, while another corporate White House ally absconds with hundreds of millions in profit.

Every day that we fail to address that question, another chance to do something about saving our planet from environmental catastrophe is wasted. Every day that we fail to address that question, our global leadership position in scientific research and medical breakthrough is further eroded. Every day that we fail to address that question, another gay or female or simply progressive citizen suffers an assault on his or her civil liberties. Every day that we fail to address that question, the Bush Administration moves us closer to another unwarranted, unjustified, unprovoked Middle Eastern war.

Every day for the next 999. And beyond that, there's really nothing much to say.

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