August 04, 2006

Ad hominem

Today, I just have to relax my sense of propriety (insert laugh here), and level a strictly personal attack on our Dear Leader. Take objection if you will, call me shamelessly partisan, anti-American, liberally elitist (which I'm sure many of you may), but there's an elephant in the room from which none of us can avert our eyes any longer.

George Bush is an embarrassment to his office.

I don't mean that on a political level, or a foreign and domestic policy level, or a financial management level, or an environmental level - though God knows he's been not only an embarrassment, but incompetently and criminally negligent in all those areas.

No, I'm talking about his unwritten responsibility to be the human face of America. Our personal representative to the globe. An individual whose very bearing and behavior telegraphs our official, collective attitude as a nation toward education, intelligence, and plain ol' good manners.

And this man is just a boor.

He's Bluto Blutarsky in a suit - but holding the nuclear "football." From his recent performance in Russia at the G8 Summit (you remember - the pig, the grope, the food-in-the mouth "Yo"), to his ridiculous "surprise" visit at the closing of the White House press corps briefing room yesterday, his public conduct should repeatedly prompt but one incredulous question in all our minds:

"This is the President of the United States?!"

Good grief, Charlie Brown! It's one thing, mind-numbingly stupid as it may be, to elect a politician because he seems like a "regular Joe," someone with whom you'd like to share a beer and a personal anecdote or two. But get real. This guy's style would have disqualified him from the Duke lacrosse team! Given what we've witnessed for five and a half years from the man, would anyone in his right mind even want to be seen with him at the local watering hole?

The job title he holds isn't "Manager at Blockbuster," or "Camp Lackawana Head Counselor" - though, on average, their public conduct puts Dubyah's to shame. No, the last time I looked, his nameplate reads "President of the United States," for Chrissakes. And this overgrown fratboy and his Animal House antics aren't endearing or disarming - they're a downright disgrace to the leadership position Bush so undeservedly enjoys.

And for that alone we should all agree that the man must be removed from office.

Oh, it's obvious who Georgie believes he's emulating. The iconic spiritual leader of the Conservative movement. The "Great Communicator." But, despite my political and ideological opposition to the Reagan years, I've always had to admit one thing about his Presidency. In the greatest role of his acting career, Mr. Reagan knew in his mind and heart how to play the role of "Leader of the Free World" - while brilliantly projecting a casual, folksy image that never slipped into boorish territory. Why, after eight years, even I came to grudgingly respect Ronnie's unwavering ability to look and sound like a real Chief Executive.

And our current Moron in Chief doesn't even hold a candle.

The man or woman who seeks the title of U.S. President should accept in advance that there's more to the job than simple ineptitude, cronyism, corruption, and Constitutional betrayal. There's a basic image to be upheld. There's decorum to be observed and respected. There's an appearance that must be maintained.

And there's a reasonable, unspoken expectation that the American President will at least act presidential in public.

Sadly, George Bush has never had the capability to live up to that oh-so-important demand of his chosen position. I'm tired of cringing every time our President appears on my TV screen. And I do know one thing for certain. If the mismanagement of this Administration doesn't kill us first, two more years of Bush's public buffoonery will surely make us all die of embarrassment.

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August 03, 2006

Moral superiority

As our leaders continue to herald our moral and social superiority over that of our enemies in their "war on terror." it's unbelievably disturbing to note the recent words of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee. From the AFP:
"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," said Gonzales...

"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them."
What? For "the duration of the hostilities"?! But, allegedly, these are "hostilities" with no end in sight. So the way I read it, the top law enforcement officer in the United States of America stood before members of the American Congress, proudly and matter-of-factly supporting a policy of life imprisonment without expectation of trial, let alone charges being filed. Ever. Depending on the whim of the White House.

These are the people we've allowed to take control of our nation?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that attitude toward the inmates of Guantanamo Bay is what we were taught, as children, that was so utterly reprehensible about the Soviet Union and its Gulag Archipelago. About Communist China. About South Africa. About North Korea. About the repressive dictatorships that peppered South America and the African continent.

And here I thought that, even in times of "war," America was better than that

In addition:
Gonzales has proposed [that] to prevent terrorists from having access to confidential information, judges handling the cases must be able to temporarily exclude defendants from their own trial if deemed necessary for national security...

The Washington Post, quoting anonymous Bush administration officials, reported Wednesday that the White House also hopes to allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to the military court's jurisdiction.
"Add crimes at will"? "Exclude defendants from their own trial"?! Did you ever think these would be official, government-sanctioned policies of the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?

And all because of a collectively disproportionate fear of something far less likely to kill or injure us than driving to the mall.

Time to grow up, America. Time to make it clear just which side of the line you're standin' on. Because anyone still in the Administration's camp is simply an opponent of the very things "America" is supposed to represent.

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like an "enemy combatant" to me...

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August 01, 2006

A perpetual cycle of revenge

"In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior." -Sir Francis Bacon
Today, as on most days since Al Qaeda's surprise attacks on the U.S. five years ago, my thoughts turn to war. Not any war in particular - and there are certainly more than enough from which to choose - but rather, the insanity of war in general.

For as we look today at a Middle East rapidly spiraling toward a wider and more devastating level of regional violence, it seems only rational to give voice to the fundamental question, "What good is being accomplished?" That basic query is the one which should be foremost on the mind of an enlightened society, any enlightened society, in its search for a solution to human conflict.
"Little, vicious minds abound with anger and revenge..." -Earl of Chesterfield
But, sadly, it is the single important question that has been left intentionally unanswered, willfully ignored and glossed over by petty leaders around the globe, who too often are consumed only by self-righteous justifications for their policies of murderous revenge against an "evil" enemy - even when they've had a hand, however slight, in creating that enemy to begin with.
"Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." -Confucius
So what will be accomplished, realistically, by a continuation of the killing in Lebanon, Gaza, and Israel, or an expansion of that bloodletting to Syria, or Iran? To me, the only guaranteed outcome will be a perpetual cycle of revenge, a never-ending pattern of guttural, animal lust to strike back at those who've struck "first."

And why not? For each dead Lebanese child or parent or lover or friend, it's only logical to assume that there will be at least two survivors who will dedicate themselves to the destruction of Israel 'til their last breath. Just as every civilian death in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Jerusalem has left in its wake an Israeli devoted to the total eradication of those even obliquely responsible for the senseless slaughter.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." -Mahatma Gandhi
Which leaves me wondering: How does either side in a cycle of revenge really believe that war will solve the problem? That it will win allies and converts to "the cause"? That it will do anything other than affirm the grievances of the opposing party, and push millions of moderate thinkers from a place of rational and nuanced thought to one convinced of the "necessity" of tit-for-tat vengeance?

Where are the great statesmen, I fret rhetorically, who will strive for Francis Bacon's "superior" behavior, those who would see the bigger picture and seek restrained, long-term, peaceful solutions, rather than the quick and facile squeezing of an arbitrarily pointed trigger? Rotten luck for all of us that leaders of that caliber are in woefully short supply.
"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also." -Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 3:39)
And what of our own Dear Leader, whose unwarranted military escapade continues its own downward spiral in Iraq? The belligerent, violent policies and actions of our Administration in its crusade to "spread democracy" at the working end of an M-16 have made us no safer from acts of terror. They have only unleashed a deepening hatred of America throughout the Islamic world, glibly exacerbating very real problems and misunderstandings by perpetuating that cycle of revenge instead of working to interrupt it.

While the attacks of September 11, 2001 were a shocking, inexcusable act of callous murder, they were not the "unmistakable declaration of war" our leaders self-servingly made them out to be. They were a desperate and despicable use of violence by a motley band of criminal fanatics, for publicity, for spectacle.

Of course, the perpetrators and planners deserved swift and decisive justice for their crimes. But, as of this writing, they are still roaming free, their pursuit abandoned by a group of small-minded would-be despots with delusions of broader world conquest and subjugation.
"Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk." -Joaquin Setani
What we needed during that September five years ago was a leader who would put our grievous loss into perspective. One who would promise to find and punish those specifically responsible for the outrage of 9/11, and to simultaneously work to erase the underlying causes of a hatred so great.

A leader who would have recognized that, yes, even on September 12th, America was essentially still a nation at peace - and would have done everything within his power to preserve, protect, and strengthen that peace. One who would have diffused the knee-jerk bloodlust of the wounded American citizenry, cautioning and counseling us to move forward with diplomacy and restraint, despite the instinctive temptation to answer violence with violence.
"Control thy passions, lest they take vengeance on thee." -Epictetus
Instead, what we got was a wannabe cowboy with a bullhorn, exhorting a vulnerable populace with shortsighted phrases like "dead or alive" and "bring 'em on." A petty opportunist, surrounded by equally petty confidants, who sought only to capitalize on a horrible tragedy by fanning the flame of mob passion which naturally followed 9/11.

And to what end? An actual awakening to the root causes of anti-American sentiments in the Muslim community? Or an excuse to rattle America's global saber, a rationalization for putting a long-standing, PNAC-inspired plan of military conquest into motion, knowing full well that a vengeful nation would easily accept the spilling of any blood, as long as it was Arab blood being spilled?
"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." -Robert E. Lee
How unfortunate that the individuals who've so blithely rushed to war, and, in so doing, made America into a global pariah, were never in a position to fully understand General Lee's admonition. This manipulative campaign of pre-emptive revenge was fabricated and sold to a willing public by men who'd spent considerable energies in their lifetimes avoiding the potential horror of military service.

And so, with no first-hand experience of the brutality and depravity of war, they cloaked themselves in the flag, and callously sent tens of thousands of other people's children to be maimed or killed for their deceitful "cause," worried only about keeping the U.S. in such a state of irrational fear that their insidious machinations would not be exposed for the sham they so truly are.
"War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace." -Thomas Mann
I suppose that, on the surface, it's easy to reject that contention. Cowardly? Surely, the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform can only be described as brave. And certainly, there have been countless acts of individual heroism displayed on the field of battle by those who want to believe they're doing the right thing.

But there have been far too many acts of inexcusable savagery as well, which is an inevitable by-product of war - and yet another reason it must be avoided at all costs. The cowardice on display for the past three and a half years is that of the architects of our invasion of Iraq, who, with that long forgotten sympathy of the entire world that we once enjoyed, had a real choice in 2003 to stop the cycle of mindless revenge, simply by focusing on those actually responsible for the 2001 attacks - and changing the attitudes that had enabled their influential rise.
"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." -Jeannette Rankin
Instead, the actions of this Administration have brought us demonstrably closer each and every day to losing the supposed "war on terror." It doesn't take a genius to see that killing begets more killing. That hatred begets more hatred. And that a people exposed to hourly chaos, destruction, and death cares less about the benefits of their alleged "freedom" than about payback toward those who've put them in the midst of such a ceaseless nightmare.

Unless clear and strong voices rise up in opposition to the very idea of war as a lasting solution to regional differences, we should have every expectation that the current violence in the Middle East will only intensify. And as the "little people" who are bound to suffer most as a result of these wrong-headed policies of subjectively "righteous vengeance," it is incumbent on us to demand that our leaders put an end to the killing, and recognize it for what it is - the counterproductive folly of mean, small minds.
"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation." -Martin Luther King Jr.
Amen, Reverend. Amen.

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July 31, 2006

New blood

Yesterday, I was thrilled to see what I hope will be a decisive refutation of the misleading myth that Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont's campaign against Joe Lieberman is "an attempt by hysterical antiwar bloggers to oust a giant of the Senate for the crime of bipartisanship."

In a detailed and persuasive editorial, the New York Times gave its official endorsement to Mr. Lamont. Highlights:
At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman's ability to command Republicans' attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president's defender...

Mr. Lieberman prides himself on being a legal thinker and a champion of civil liberties. But he appointed himself defender of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the administration's policy of holding hundreds of foreign citizens in prison without any due process. He seconded Mr. Gonzales's sneering reference to the "quaint" provisions of the Geneva Conventions. He has shown no interest in prodding his Republican friends into investigating how the administration misled the nation about Iraq's weapons. There is no use having a senator famous for getting along with Republicans if he never challenges them on issues of profound importance.

If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.
Hear, hear! The time has come for new blood in Washington - and I, for one, can't think of a better place to start than with Ned Lamont.

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