Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive

Fish in a barrel, and me with a gun...I dunno, doesn't seem fair. But, if the fish paints a bull's eye on its back, jumps into the barrel and says "Hello, Sailor", then I'm pretty sure it's OK to take aim.

In that vein, we examine Elizabeth Bumiller's latest love note in today's NYTimes:

President Bush's opening statement at his news conference on Wednesday was striking for what it left out: any mention of the 31 Americans who died overnight in the crash of a Marine helicopter in Iraq, the largest number of American deaths in a single incident since the war began.

Coming from Mr. Sensitive ("I call upon all countries to denounce terrorism. Now, watch this swing"), it hardly causes any mental anguish. After, Freedom is on the marchTM! But it comes. The most far reaching rationalization I've heard in a long time:

The president's words were part of an aggressive White House communications strategy this week and next to frame the risky Iraqi election - a critical test of his assertion that the country is on the path to stability - in the best possible light.

Wow! That's heavy. Did you follow that? Let me repeat it for our hearing impaired viewers:

OUR TOP STORY...sorry. I'll try again.

The President didn't mention the war in Iraq where folks are, you know, DYING, so he could put a rosy face on the bull**it elections happening on Sunday.

I see two possibilities here:

1. She's right, and he made a careful decision to spin the day this way.

2. She's wrong, and he is so devoid of feelings and is so disconnected from the reality based world that he has no empathy for the feelings of the families of the newly dead.

Well, as has been seen many many many times, the guy really doesn't do well extemporaneously. Anyone remember the debates? As coached as he was, in the moment, he choked.

So what happened today? My guess is that he wasn't able to skip around his prefab message because of his natural tendency to stumble, and also felt a need to present that message to the exclusion of all else. A normal politician would have prefaced his remarks with something indicating sadness and regret.

So the correct answer is both 1 & 2. What a class guy. Always there to comfort the anguished and devastated families in their time of grief. Not only does he look like Alfred E, Newmann, but he's adopted his slogan: "What, me worry?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I fought the law and the law won

I heard John Yoo on NPR tonight. Remember him? Here's a bit of his bio:

Professor Yoo joined the Boalt faculty in 1993, then clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as general counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995-96. From 2001 to 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security and the separation of powers.

He has been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago and the Free University of Amsterdam. He has received research fellowships from the University of California, Berkeley, the Olin Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Professor Yoo also has received the Paul M. Bator Award for excellence in legal scholarship and teaching from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. He has testified before the judiciary committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and has advised the State of California on constitutional issues.

I dunno, clerked for Clarence Thomas, Fellow of the Olin Foundation, visiting scholar at the AEI...I think I'm detecting a trend here. I'm not sure, I'm just saying, he could have an agenda.

So he tells Terry Gross on Fresh Air that (and I'm paraphrasing):

The Geneva Conventions didn't apply to Al Qaeda detainees (have we ever proven that we have any? just asking) because they didn't wear uniforms, and were not state actors.

And as re: The Taliban (loved them when they opened for Santana at Woodstock), They kinda were protected by the Geneva Conventions because they were the de facto government of Afghanistan when we came crashing down on them, but maybe not, 'cause they didn't wear uniforms either.

Well, I'm no lawyer, although oft times I wish I were. But I found this in the text of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, that I think may offer some insight:

Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof.

So, even if the enemy is not a signatory, maybe we have to actually act like we are. Interesting.

And this:

Art. 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:[ (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

So, if you are:

1. being commanded by a leader
2. have a fixed distinctive sign (like maybe arab garb as vs. American Army duds)
3. carrying arms
4. fighting, shooting, etc.

then you are accorded the Geneva Conventions, and all their protection.

And then there's these folks too:

(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

And this:

Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

Makes me wonder what the British should have done with any Minutemen they captured. After all, the proto-American revolutionaries likely didn't wear uniforms, but were distinguished from the British by the absence of specific uniforms. And they likely didn't always follow specific commanders, since things were, well, in a state of war. Still, should they have been tortured by the minions of King George (how like today) or should they have been protected by some liberal idea of fair play?

I'm not equating the insurgents in Iraq with The Minutemen, at least, not perhaps until now. Imagine if the French had invaded the US to overthrow the British, and had then stuck around, throwing their weight around, and appointing Prime Ministers and staging suspect elections.

I think we might have gotten cranky, just a bit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

He hit me, and it felt like a kiss

I've been working on this for a while, and I'm not finished, but here it is anyway.

Many people are having trouble with Alberto Gonzalez's ideas on torture. While certainly we want to be more vigilant after 9/11, we ought not throw the Constitution out with the bathwater. We know now from the incredibly flawed 9/11 Committee report that virtually every mechanism for predicting and preventing the hijacking failed; the existing laws, practices & rules were not applied. So now do we need loads of new laws, or just, you know, people in power who actually do their job.

Gonzalez seems driven in his zeal to help GWBush get anything he wants. And somebody wants some severe kick ass. Among the many problems is that it probably won't work:

Torture of enemy combatants as done by American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan was probably not productive and probably not needed, even though there might be emergency, life-and-death situations where you would have to try it.

I was trained as an Army interrogator. I might try and write for you a short piece on field interrogation of combatants -- even though I was never in combat.

I do know a lot about interrogation, including that coercion, threats, and terror will -- as you might suspect -- often produce unreliable intelligence. People will say anything to get out of a dangerous situation, but they know "instinctively" that they don't owe the truth to anyone torturing them.

If you rely on coercion or torture -- or terror -- to induce information, you may well wind up bombing your own positions.

And torture of prisoners in custody will inevitably show the world that your side is evil.

Nice. As countless others have pointed out, that part of the world that previously thought the US might be a kind of Satan now has proof that the US is indeed The Great Satan. Right wingers would likely respond "so what? we don't care about any danged furriners!" but, what with the growing economies in the EU and China, and ours having a little bit of trouble lately, that's a tragically short sighted view.

Some really macho guys who I'm pretty sure have some experience with stuff like war and fighting have some interesting thoughts, too:

A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step yesterday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, marking a rare military foray into the debate over a civilian post.

The group includes retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officers are one of several groups to separately urge the Senate to sharply question Gonzales during a confirmation hearing Thursday about his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods.

"Today, it is clear that these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world," the officers wrote, referring to the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies.

In addition to Shalikashvili, other prominent signatories to the letter include retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former chief of the Central Command; former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak; and Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, the Army's first female three-star general. Several, including Shalikashvili, supported the failed presidential candidacy of Democrat John F. Kerry.

Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in military-civilian affairs, said the letter is extremely rare, if not unprecedented.

I dunno, these guys might have something here. They seem fairly strong in their convictions. And, they have some familiarity with Armies and guns and stuff.

Here is some more military stuff we can look to to shed some light on torture and abuse, from the Air Force (note: much good info at this link): Here's another pertinent link, and here's the actual law:

928. ART. 128. ASSAULT
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
(b) Any person subject to this chapter who--
(1) commits an assault with a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm; or
(2) commits an assault and intentionally inflicts grievous bodily harm with or without a weapon;
is guilty of aggravated assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Here's more:

And some of the usual suspects in the wimpy leftie human rights communities also weigh in on this too:

“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding we have proclaimed every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value.” These were the words of President Bush as he took the oath of office for his second term. They fairly reflect the principle on which the United States was founded: all people, by virtue of their humanity, have inalienable rights under law.

Torture and calculated cruelty inflicted by the government cannot be reconciled with this principle. Such conduct strips those subject to it of their dignity, and deprives them of their humanity. It is for this reason such treatment has long been prohibited by the laws of the United States, and by treaties the United States urged the world to embrace.

Alberto Gonzales, the President’s nominee to be the United States’ chief law enforcer, is without question familiar with this first principle of human rights. An experienced lawyer, he has served successfully in private practice, as a judge and as counsel to the President. He has an inspiring personal history of struggle and opportunity that is, in many ways, uniquely American. But during the past four years, Mr. Gonzales has helped to steer America away from its commitment to human rights under law. For this reason, we must oppose his nomination.

So I'm starting to have a bad feeling about this guy. And this doesn't help:

Senate Democrats put off a vote on White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's nomination to be attorney general, complaining he had provided evasive answers to questions about torture and the mistreatment of prisoners. But Gonzales's most surprising answer may have come on a different subject: his role in helping President Bush escape jury duty in a drunken-driving case involving a dancer at an Austin strip club in 1996. The judge and other lawyers in the case last week disputed a written account of the matter provided by Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It's a complete misrepresentation," said David Wahlberg, lawyer for the dancer, about Gonzales's account.

While Gonzales's account tracks with the official court transcript, it leaves out a key part of what happened that day, according to Travis County Judge David Crain. In separate interviews, Crain—along with Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica—told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge's chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to "consider" striking Bush from the jury, making the novel "conflict of interest" argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar's), the judge said. "He [Gonzales] raised the issue," Crain said. Crain said he found Gonzales's argument surprising, since it was "extremely unlikely" that a drunken-driving conviction would ever lead to a pardon petition to Bush. But "out of deference" to the governor, Crain said, the other lawyers went along. Wahlberg said he agreed to make the motion striking Bush because he didn't want the hard-line governor on his jury anyway. But there was little doubt among the participants as to what was going on. "In public, they were making a big show of how he was prepared to serve," said Crain. "In the back room, they were trying to get him off."

So, what do we have, a true legal scholar who can help the US navigate the troubled waters of the 21st century, and make sure American citizens are safe in their own country, or a Texas Mafia consigliere, whose allegiance to Don George is fixed and unassailable?

You be the judge. All I know is, I don't want him to be.

The Letter

Armando at Kos has the right idea here:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.
As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Convention, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Please go there and sign on.

Blogger is fixed, all OK

Sunday, January 23, 2005

That's the story of, that's the glory of...

The reactionary right is on the march again.

But first, let's go to the dictionary:

  1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
  2. The branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of analysis, as opposed to practice
Now that we have that straight, let's look at "Intelligent Design":

In today's NYTimes, we find that:

Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution.

One can't help wonder what they are afraid of. Many professed Christians, including me, have no trouble reconciling an "Intelligent Designer" with the reality of evolution. After all, how dare we presume that God, in his/her omnipotent wisdom must follow a course of action that makes any sense to us mortal humans. If time is immaterial, it must make sense that God can do anything and take any amount of time to do it.

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have" and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

It's just sad, really. God/G-d/Allah has to be understood in human terms to be believed, rather than in transcendental glory. "My God Is An Awesome God" somehow loses much of its impact if we decide that God has to act like us. Lord knows we aren't awesome.

The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania became the first in the country to place intelligent design before its students, albeit mostly one step removed from the classroom. Last week school administrators read a brief statement to ninth-grade biology classes (the teachers refused to do it) asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact, that it had gaps for which there was no evidence, that intelligent design was a differing explanation of the origin of life, and that a book on intelligent design was available for interested students, who were, of course, encouraged to keep an open mind. That policy, which is being challenged in the courts, suffers from some of the same defects found in the Georgia sticker. It denigrates evolution as a theory, not a fact, and adds weight to that message by having administrators deliver it aloud.

Well, I have a theory. It's that evolution is far more decided than, perhaps Anne Elk's theory. A least we have some evidence for evolution, excepting, of course, the lower life forms that want to limit scientific method and discourse.

Friday, January 21, 2005


"Hallelujah" is a Leonard Cohen song, but the best version is by Jeff Buckley. It was used to great effect in the West Wing episode where C.J. Cregg's FBI guard was shot dead in a market robbery. It's also an exclaimation of great joy, as used here.

There are 2 reasons some bloggers have so much more import in the blogworld:

1. They got there first
2. They are just simply really good

There are some we've lost, as well. The incomparable & to name a few.

But some return to our everlasting joy. Like the mighty billmon.

He took a hiatus last year, but most of us hoped that since the site was still up, he might come back. And he has, with a vengeance.

He has a unique voice, strong, angry, confrontational, but smart, very, very smart. And no one does comparison/contrast better than he. Some examples:

From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth . . . So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

George W. Bush
Second Inaugural Speech
January 20, 2005

Officers of the Central Intelligence Agency and other nonmilitary personnel fall outside the bounds of a 2002 directive issued by President George W. Bush that pledged the humane treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, said in a document.

In written responses to questions posed by senators as part of their consideration of his nomination to be attorney general, Gonzales also said a separate congressional ban on cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment had "a limited reach" and did not aply in all cases to "aliens overseas."

New York Times
Gonzales excludes CIA from rules on prisoners
January 20, 2005

and this:

President Bush plans to reactivate his reelection campaign's network of donors and activists to build pressure on lawmakers to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market . . . The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support — contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away.

Washington Post
Social Security Push to Tap the GOP Faithful
January 14, 2005

The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas . . . only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on the memory of the crowd.

Adolph Hitler
Mein Kampf

Good stuff. Do him the honor of reading and responding, hopefully he'll stick around and provide more of his fine commentary.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Dream weaver

Georgetown University has an annual award they like to give. It's an award about freedom and stuff, and since it's being given today, we might even assume that it has something to do with Dr. King. From their website:

MLK Concert with Colin Powell, Aaron Neville & Tom Joyner...
This year, the Legacy of a Dream Award will be presented to Secretary and Mrs. Colin L. Powell

Well, not everyone thinks this is such a good idea. Here's a reader's letter to the editor of The Daily Hoya, Georgetown's paper of record:

Georgetown University is right to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. It is crucial for young people to learn from his example of nonviolent struggle and his dream of racial equality.

Precisely for this reason, presenting Georgetown’s “Legacy of a Dream” Award to Colin Powell is deeply offensive. While Secretary Powell's success as an African American man is laudable, his actions do not in any way embody Dr. King’s powerful legacy.

Dr. King spoke out against racial oppression and U.S. aggression around the world — and he never faltered from a path of nonviolence.

and this:

Powell used his position as secretary of state to deceive the world that Iraq posed an imminent threat and has supported and defended President Bush’s pre-emptive war on Iraq. Over 1,300 U.S. troops and at least 16,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of this pre-emptive war.

This war is not Martin Luther King's legacy. By presenting Secretary Powell with the “Legacy of the Dream” Award, Georgetown dishonors Martin Luther King’s dream and — more damagingly — misleads today's youth about what he stood for.

Melinda St. Louis (GPPI ’06)

All I have to add is nice job, Melinda.

Simple song of freedom

As long as we're being nostalgic about '60s "protest" songs (what a crappy label! Many of these so-called protest songs were not negative, but rather an affirmation of what most decent humans felt were some pretty basic rights, emotions, and covenants) we should include this wonderful simple lovely song.

Bobby Darin has undergone somewhat of a media metamorphosis lately, largely due to Kevin Spacey's brilliant revival of Darin's career in the movie "Beyond The Sea." In truth, I had forgotten just how strong a personality Darin was, as he navigated his career from the early Brill Building formulaic rock of "Splish Splash" through "Mack The Knife" and landing eventually at this thoughtful song.

Written in 1969 at perhaps the nexus of the early '60s Cold War with the civil rights movement and anti-war movement of the late '60s/early '70s, it simply and humbly asked for a chance to consider what was at stake. While politicians were carving out great chunks of constituencies to plunder for power, many people in America were growing increasingly weary of the Cold War, and, shaken by the loss of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, more and more people were coming to question the direction of the country. The Viet Nam war was making less sense, and many people were truly horrified by the images from the freedom marches of Selma and Birmingham.

Into this confusion came Darin's "Simple Song Of Freedom":

Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you've never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don't want a war.

Hey, there, mister black man, can you hear me?
I don't want your diamonds or your game
I just want to be someone known to you as me
And I will bet my life you want the same.

Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you’ve never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don’t want a war.

Seven hundred million are ya list'nin’?
Most of what you read is made of lies
But, speakin’ one to one ain't it everybody's sun
To wake to in the mornin’ when we rise?

Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you’ve never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don’t want a war.

Brother Solzhenitsyn, are you busy?
If not, won't you drop this friend a line
Tell me if the man who is plowin' up your land
Has got the war machine upon his mind?

Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you’ve never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don’t want a war.

Now, no doubt some folks enjoy doin' battle
Like presidents, prime ministers and kings
So, let's all build them shelves
Where they can fight among themselves
Leave the people be who love to sing.

Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you’ve never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don’t want a war.

I say … let it fill the air …
Tellin’ people everywhere …
We, the people, here don't want a war.

Long time gone...

I'm such an old '60s lefty that this somewhat silly but heartfelt song still gets to me everytime I hear it.

I very clearly remember JFK's assassination; I was in 10th grade. That something so violent could happen to my country was startling to a 14 year old.

Years later when Dr. King was gunned down, it was wrenching. The civil rights movement, which, away from the violence of the south, had seemed to be somewhat 'civil', had been blown apart. And two months later, when we lost RFK, I remember thinking and feeling that it all had been for nothing. It was over. Put a fork in it, it was done, the consciousness raising effort of the mid-60s was just a feeble and failed attempt to divert the juggernaut that was them. "Them" was the so-called mainstream in America that favored American intervention in Viet Nam, that was sullenly hostile to equal voting rights, and deeply concerned with the threat that eventually proved to be hollow, Communism.

Anyway, here's this song, as sung by Dion DiMucci in 1968:

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day ...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walk up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Happy Birthday

You can sing with sorrow, or in this case, bewilderment, reverence, and joy:

You know it doesn't make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I'm sure you would agree
It couldn't fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
that they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated
all throughout the world

The time is overdue
For people like me and you
Who know the way to truth
Is love and unity to all God's children
It should never be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people
So let us all begin
We know that love can win
Let it out don't hold it in
Sing it loud as you can

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Ooh yeah
Happy birthday...
We know the key to unify all people
Is in the dream that you had so long ago
That lives in all of the hearts of people
That believe in unity
We'll make the dream become a reality
I know we will
Because our hearts tell us so

® & © 1980 Stevie Wonder

All I have to do is dream...

Xan at corrente asks the unanswerable: what might Dr. Martin Luther King have said had he not been assassinated. Poignant question. Here's my feeble take on the question:

"My friends, we stand at a crossroads. This arrogant, illegal war continues to steal the life from young Negro, & White boys. Meanwhile, we have made strides against the institutionalized racism that permeated America just a few years ago. But in this unjust war, where the terrible swift sword of justice seems to be swinging not at our purported enemies but at our young men who fight for a corrupt ideology, there are far too many young Negro men who feel the bullet of the enemy.

So we see that for all the strides we have made, there is still too much injustice in the world. Injustice for our Negro brothers, who still have to give more than they receive; injustice for the poor, who through no fault of their own have slipped between the cracks of society into the quiet Hell of oblivion; injustice for the youth of this country, who yearn to reclaim the purpose and moral authority which made this country the land of the free and the home of the brave.

We have a dream, that the color that divides our races may become just another part of the texture and tapestry of humankind; that the poor among us may not be denied a full measure of human dignity and experience; that our strength as a country may yet be used to further Democracy and freedom and not tyranny against poor people half a world away, and that the greatness of America may be visited upon all its peoples, and not just those who can contribute gold to the campaign chests of politicians.

And so, my fellow Americans, let us work to make us equal, not only in the eyes of the lord but in the eyes of the law; equal in the power of the vote; equal in the rights of education; equal in the hearts and minds of our brothers of all colors and races. For My dream is that America may yet rise above its current bitterness, and reclaim the place that we all so earnestly believe it may deserve, as the home of the free, and not just the brave."

Or something like that.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Isn't anybody going to listen to my story...

I started this blog because I wanted to write, to put voice to my own ideas and opinions. Many times I add my own spin to the good work of others.

But sometimes, no original or additional commentary is needed, when someone says something pure and righteous. Like Paul Krugman's latest piece, his idea of the Great American Novel:

I've been thinking of writing a political novel. It will be a bad novel because there won't be any nuance: the villains won't just espouse an ideology I disagree with - they'll be hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels.

In my bad novel, a famous moralist who demanded national outrage over an affair and writes best-selling books about virtue will turn out to be hiding an expensive gambling habit. A talk radio host who advocates harsh penalties for drug violators will turn out to be hiding his own drug addiction.

In my bad novel, crusaders for moral values will be driven by strange obsessions. One senator's diatribe against gay marriage will link it to "man on dog" sex. Another will rant about the dangers of lesbians in high school bathrooms.

In my bad novel, the president will choose as head of homeland security a "good man" who turns out to have been the subject of an arrest warrant, who turned an apartment set aside for rescue workers into his personal love nest and who stalked at least one of his ex-lovers.

In my bad novel, a TV personality who claims to stand up for regular Americans against the elite will pay a large settlement in a sexual harassment case, in which he used his position of power to - on second thought, that story is too embarrassing even for a bad novel.

In my bad novel, apologists for the administration will charge foreign policy critics with anti-Semitism. But they will be silent when a prominent conservative declares that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

In my bad novel the administration will use the slogan "support the troops" to suppress criticism of its war policy. But it will ignore repeated complaints that the troops lack armor.

The secretary of defense - another "good man," according to the president - won't even bother signing letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.

Last but not least, in my bad novel the president, who portrays himself as the defender of good against evil, will preside over the widespread use of torture.

How did we find ourselves living in a bad novel? It was not ever thus. Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

The public became unwilling to believe bad things about those who claim to be defending the nation against terrorism. And the hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels of the right, empowered by the public's credulity, have come out in unprecedented force.

Apologists for the administration would like us to forget all about the Kerik affair, but Bernard Kerik perfectly symbolizes the times we live in. Like Rudolph Giuliani and, yes, President Bush, he wasn't a hero of 9/11, but he played one on TV. And like Mr. Giuliani, he was quick to cash in, literally, on his undeserved reputation.

Once the New York newspapers began digging, it became clear that Mr. Kerik is, professionally and personally, a real piece of work. But that's not unusual these days among people who successfully pass themselves off as patriots and defenders of moral values. Mr. Kerik must still be wondering why he, unlike so many others, didn't get away with it.

And Alberto Gonzales must be hoping that senators don't bring up the subject.

The principal objection to making Mr. Gonzales attorney general is that doing so will tell the world that America thinks it's acceptable to torture people. But his confirmation will also be a statement about ethics.

As White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales was charged with vetting Mr. Kerik. He must have realized what kind of man he was dealing with - yet he declared Mr. Kerik fit to oversee homeland security.

Did Mr. Gonzales defer to the wishes of a president who wanted Mr. Kerik anyway, or did he decide that his boss wouldn't want to know? (The Nelson Report, a respected newsletter, reports that Mr. Bush has made it clear to his subordinates that he doesn't want to hear bad news about Iraq.)

Either way, when the Senate confirms Mr. Gonzales, it will mean that Iokiyar remains in effect, that the basic rules of ethics don't apply to people aligned with the ruling party. And reality will continue to be worse than any fiction I could write.

Nothing I could add would be of any help here, this is just too perfect.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I love Kofi, I love tea...

Alt. title: On Annan, he just keeps on trying,
and he smiles when he feels like crying,
on and on, on and on, on Annan

Alterman and Buzzflash linked to this already from The Nation, but I felt a need to chime in on a tangential note.

First, Dr. Eric says this:
Did you know that the entire attack on Kofi Annan by the conservative press is wholly manufactured and untrue? Did you know that Annan has not even been accused of any form of wrongdoing? I didn’t, until I read this cover story in The Nation...’s a revelation, not merely about Annan, but once again of the incredible dishonesty and lack of responsibility of the conservative media, most particularly, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and William Safire.
The NYTimes also had this today at the end of a long article in the usual "he said, she said" format outlining many of the administrations criticisms about Annan as if they were, you know, conventional wisdom:
He (John G. Ruggie, assistant secretary general for strategic planning from 1997 to 2001 and now a professor of international relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard) continued, "The attackers of the U.N. for too long have had a free ride in exaggerating the magnitude of the problem, sometimes deliberately distorting the facts, escalating their accusations and demands for his resignation, and frankly the response on the part of the U.N. has been inept."
Here's the main thesis of The Nation's piece:
Last June UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the media coverage of the so-called Oil for Food Scandal, "It's a bit like lynching, actually." By December the vigilantes were lining up, swinging their ropes. The neoconservative and paleoconservative assault on him and the UN has been like a slightly slower version of the Swift Boat veterans' campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry--right down to the halfhearted and belated disavowals by George W. Bush.

Listening to the cable pundits, you would never suspect that there is no proof at this point that Annan, or indeed anyone else at the UN, did anything wrong. Charges of corruption against UN official Benon Sevan are suspect at best, given that they come via Ahmad Chalabi, who was also the source of the discredited information about Iraq's illusory weapons, as well as the assurances that Iraqis would greet US and British forces as liberators. Nor is there any evidence that Annan used his influence to give Cotecna, a company that employed his son, the job of monitoring contracts under the oil-for-food program, and no proof that Cotecna did anything illegal or corrupt. Although Annan's son certainly let his father down by not telling him of Cotecna's continuing "non-compete" payments to him, paternal resignations in response to the sins of prodigal sons have not been a great American tradition--certainly not under the Bush dynasty

There are real questions about Saddam Hussein's oil sales, both inside and outside the oil-for-food program, but all the serious investigations, such as that by the US Government Accountability Office, make it clear that most of the revenue he raised had nothing to do with the UN, and that the UN did nothing without the explicit or implicit support of the United States acting through the Security Council.

The reality is that the current calls for Annan's head are provoked by his opposition to America's pre-emptive war in Iraq. On December 4 the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the hometown newspaper of Senator Norm Coleman, who has called for Annan's resignation, provided perhaps the most succinct explanation of what lies behind the attacks. Describing Coleman's call as a "sordid move," the editorial explained: "For months before the election, the right-wing constellation of blogs and talk radio was alive with incendiary rhetoric about Annan and the oil-for-food scandal.... This is really all about Annan's refusal to toe the Bush line on Iraq and the administration's generally unilateral approach to foreign affairs. The right-wingers hate Annan and saw in the food-for-oil program a possible chink in his armor. They went after it with a venomous fury."
Kids, this is the morality of the Right. Dissent is not allowed, and facts are fungible. If Der Leader's mouthpieces say that Kofi Annan is a bad dude, then it must be so. As this piece points out, EVERY decision regarding the food-for-oil program was approved by the US as a member of the Security Council. First you're for food-for-oil, then your against it. Flip flop...

To continue:
The idea that the UN has "failed" by not backing the US invasion of Iraq and that everything Saddam did could be laid at its door was very much part of the house philosophy of FDD, whose masthead is a comprehensive list of those who pushed for the invasion of Iraq. The organization itself, as one observer commented, is the Project for the New American Century--the major cheerleader for the Iraq war--in another form. Its board includes Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Frank Lautenberg, Newt Gingrich and James Woolsey, not to mention Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer. Tom Barry, policy director of the International Relations Center and historian of the neocon network, says FDD "has suddenly become a major player on the right and among neocon policy institutes, one reason being that it is so richly endowed." As its own website boasts, it is closely connected with the Iraqis around the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi.

Clifford May, FDD president and former RNC spokesman, is eager to admit that "oil for food is something we have been working hard on" but denies "that either Claudia or I have called for [Annan's] resignation." That's not because May admires the UN; he calls it "an institution badly in need of reform, whether it's for the sex scandals in the Congo or for the pretense some people in it have to become a super government for the world, or a world Supreme Court." Asked her opinion about the use others have made of her work, Rosett says, "I have focused on reporting the story, and where I have so far called for changes at the UN, have urged much greater transparency and accountability."

There is indeed a lack of transparency at the UN, but all those contracts were examined by the sanctions committee and the US State Department. Rosett denies "going after" the UN and says that "whatever was done wrong should be brought to light." But she is adamant that the UN is most at fault and she has neglected to give similar attention to US diplomats and other actors.
The real issue here is the message and the process. The MSM, as it increasingly does, takes little nuggets of "news" like this alleged food-for-oil/SwiftBoat Vets/Kerry is a flip-flopper/Bush served nobly in the TANG/Willie Horton raped your mom/Saddam had WMDs/Aristede was victim of a legitimate coup idea and reports it with NO FACT CHECKING! For this, Brokaw/Rather/Jennings get paid millions? I can fire their asses, hire a court stenographer to read and transcribe AP/UP wire copy, and still have money left over to buy a large Carribean island.

Maybe I should buy an island, and start my own government. At least I would tell the truth to myself, because if I didn't I would suffer immediate consequences. Unlike the major news delivery sources in this country, my life depends on dealing with reality and truth. If I'm late home from a job and don't call my wife, I can't dissemble by saying "Some say that being late from work is indicative of greater performance output, thus leading to increased income." Likely she would say "Some say that delay in returning home might be due to death, a condition I would not tolerate well."

So we have on the Right the current "moral" imperatives:

Destroy Kofi Annan

Confirm Alberto Gonzalez, he who wrote the "torture" memos (from Digby)

Write new rules of Ethics for Tom Delay (from Kos)

Privatize Social Security to improve the income of Wall Street (from Krugman)

Aw, hell, I could go on.

And I will, on Annan, and on.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Thai a yellow ribbon

So GWBush is sending Colin Powell and First Brother Jeb Bush to Asia to check out the tsunami disaster there.


Powell's credentials at this point seem to be his frequent flier miles. Lord knows his diplomatic efforts the last couple of years have been less than optimal.

Jeb's credentials, however, are a little more curious. According the Saint Petersburg Times:

The governor was chosen by his brother, President Bush, because of his experience with the four hurricanes that caused extensive damage to Florida in 2004. He will serve as co-chairman of a U.S. delegation with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Thing is, he has no standing as a representative of the US. None. Zero. Yes, he's a governor, but that's not a Federal office. So why was he chosen? Consider this: HE'S GOING TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN '08. That's it, that's his portfolio. It's a blatant and clear political maneuver to raise his profile to the electorate here in the US of A.

In a reality-based world, the correct person to send would be, you know, the person who was best qualified to cope with disasters. I know, how about the head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency? That would seem to be a really qualified person, wouldn't it?

Well, in this administration, I guess not. We had Joe Allbaugh for a while, but he had some problems:

In case you are wondering how Joe Allbaugh came to be FEMA Director, we need to briefly review his past credentials. He has been a very busy critter indeed. Prior to his appointment as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he served as Chief of Staff to then-Governor Bush. He was the point person for nine presidential disaster declarations and more than 20 state level emergencies. He also happened to serve as National Campaign Manager for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, with the responsibility and oversight for all related activities. He had a lot of experience having already served as Campaign Manager for Bush's first run for governor of Texas and also worked on the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984. Allbaugh is obviously well-connected and quoted as saying, "There isn't anything more important than protecting Governor Bush and the first lady. I'm the heavy in the literal sense of the word."

So why in the world did Allbaugh resign? Here's where it starts to get interesting, tangled, and quite disturbing. Judge for yourself and I will reserve my comments until the end. The Austin Chronicle broke new ground about Bush's involvement in an influence-buying scandal regarding SCI, Service Corporation International, the world's largest cemetery company based in Houston. Reporter Robert Bryce said, "Bush got $35,000 in contributions from SCI. It appears Bush then helped them thwart an investigation by the Texas Funeral Commission. The former director of the Commission, Eliza May, was pressured by Bush's Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager Joe Allbaugh. She has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit." May said she was fired after resisting pressure from the governor's staff to end her investigation, which resulted in a $445,000 fine against the company for a range of offences including using unlicensed embalmers.
One could offer the opinion that his best qualification was to deal with emergencies in campaign and funeral home issues. I guess that counts.

But now we have Michael Brown, who has much better credentials:

It's impossible to make any sense of the payouts because, citing privacy laws, FEMA does not identify aid applicants, or recipients, and refuses to provide a breakdown of claims beyond the aggregated dispersals to counties. Reps. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, are properly outraged by the numbers and also FEMA's stonewalling. Rep. Shaw told FEMA Director Michael Brown that he was "disgusted" about how the agency was doing its business. Rep. Foley wonders why "a county that should have been able to go it alone needs FEMA assistance." Both want FEMA to open its records and show them individual claims, and they are promising action if they're not satisfied.

Making the records public would deter abuses and enhance confidence in the agency's ability to distribute relief money fairly. Mr. Brown insists that accusations of misappropriation are "just flat wrong," yet he offers nothing but assurance to make his case. He says the agency will review Miami-Dade's claims, but that promise doesn't go far enough. Taxpayers have the right to know where their money is going, and Congress needs a breakdown of the distribution to perform its oversight role.

So I guess it all makes sense now. Neither the former nor current director of FEMA has any experience with, you know, real life threatening emergencies, so that makes Jeb the guy.

Perhaps he can draw upon brother Neil's experience in Thailand:

During a divorce deposition on March 4, 2003, Neil detailed financial relationships with firms in Taiwan and China and admitted to having had sex on several occasions with unidentified women who simply came to his hotel door in Thailand and Hong Kong, according to the UPI on Nov 26, 2003.

Lets skip past the sex talk that's been covered in other articles in this series and go to the area of the transcript that deals with Neil's contract with one Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing. With no background whatsoever in semiconductors, Neil entered into a 5-year consultant contract, with an annual retainer of $400,000 in stock, with this company.
Busy guy, Neil.

Well, with Jeb and Neil involved with Thailand, the poor Thai folks will not only need to bury their dead, but check their wallets. Perhaps the 15, no 35, no 350 million dollars will help. They certainly don't need any lessons in morality from us.