Friday, December 30, 2005

It's about Strategy Stupid

Lost in the cosmos of Iraq, Plamegate, Secret Illegal Wiretaps, Abramoff, and the various other scandals embroiling the Republican party at the moment is some much needed perspective. It's natural for people to focus on the individual offenses, but at some point, the big picture is more relevant. Yes, King George should be impeached, if not indicted, for lying to Congress, cherry picking intelligence tidbits to build a case for WMDs, aiding and abetting torture, etc. No, impeachment is not going to happen. Unless I've missed something, Washington is still controlled by a Republican majority. And yes, the Dems should still skewer, investigate, pontificate, and preach the word about how corrupt, untruthful, deceptive, deceitful, slimy, and outright Machiavellian this incarnation of Republicanism has become. I'm all for that and I think the Dems are pretty good at hammering home that message.

HOWEVER, as recent history has demonstrated, continually hammering home a negative message about the opposition without selling yourself is a recipe for disaster. The GOP tried it with Clinton and it didn't work. The Dems have been fighting King George with negative messages from the start and that's failed. No, what's needed is a credible, unified message from the Democrats. Kerry tried it in '04, but was just not clever enough in front of the cameras to pull it off. Hillary or whomever needs to learn from that example. And failing that, they need to realize the simplistic brilliance of this quote from King George issued last May 24th in Greece, NY:

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."

So what's the message? I think it should be a big picture type of message. Micro-debates about privatizing social security vs. keeping it as is, for example, are certainly important, but are not things you can sell to the public. Americans want to know one thing about that: there's going to be money coming when they retire. No, what's really needed is the big picture.

When I think about this issue, I'm always drawn back to Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He was, as usual, very crafty in his approach and I think Democrats should learn from that. Instead of just stating that King George lied about WMD (or what have you), Clinton presented the issues as two sides, firmly emplacing the Democrats on the side of truth and justice (Democrats don't do corruption well).

This strategy could be particularly effective in 2006 and 2008. For example, a rising politician could say:

"The Republicans in Washington think it's honorable to ruin someone's career when they disagree with your position like they did with Valerie Plame. Our way is different. When people oppose our views, we don't retaliate against their families, we respectfully listen to their views, even if we do go the other way."


"The Republicans think it's a good idea to spend $500 billion of the taxpayer's money to fund a dubious war in Iraq. Our way is different. We think that money could have been better spent at home providing health insurance, job training, and other social services that millions of Americans desperately need."


"The Republicans in Washington think it's a good idea to skirt the law and illegally spy on US citizens without court authorization. Our way is different. We think that it's a good idea to have judicial oversight to prevent the government from spying on peaceful, constitutionally protected groups like Grandmothers for Peace (or whatever it was)."

You get the point. Political debates need to revolve more about the strategy and vision of the nation than the microcosms of the issues. Yes, candidates are forced to talk in more detail about issues. But my point is that there are overarching themes that clearly divide Democrats and Republicans that, up to this point, the Democrats have been unable to express adequately.

If I were running in an election in 2006, I would focus on a couple of things:

1. Economics: I'm not an expert and each state has its own host of problems, but I think it's generally unhealthy for the Federal government to be carrying a debt load of $7 trillion. This is an easy sell. Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, this nation enjoyed the largest surplus in history. King George and his cronies eviscerated that surplus in less than a year. Our way is better.

2. Privacy: Let's face it. The right to privacy in America is under assault and has been for a long time. I don't think it's right that the government can spy on its citizens without warrants. This links back into a lot of different areas that can be exploited for political gain (abortion rights, gun rights, sexual rights, etc). The point is, privacy is an issue people from both the left and right need and value. Effectively communicating why eliminating privacy in one area can risk privacy in other areas is something that must be done.

3. Foreign Policy: The Bush administration's strategy when engaging the world was and is to position the United States in Central Asia. We went into Iraq not because of a vendetta or because of oil. We went into Iraq because it gives the US military a permanent base of operations in which to secure US interests in Central Asia. Oil is obviously a large part of the equation, but so too is the fear of a resurgent Russia and a fundamentalist Iran. To achieve this mission, King George did whatever he had to do - break treaties, disregard allies, lie to the American public, make friends with torturous dictators, etc.

I believe that's the wrong way to use American influence and power. I believe that if you make an agreement with foreign powers, you don't try to weasel out of it when it's convenient. I believe we shouldn't condone torture, we shouldn't give half a billion dollars a year to dictatorships like the one in Uzbekistan. Our values say it's not ok to sleep with the enemy of freedom. I believe we shouldn't ignore our allies. I believe we should cooperate with our allies - share information, work together to fight terrorism, negotiate to reduce trade barriers, and address the root cause of terror - poverty.

4. Health Care: Millions of Americans survive without health insurance, often times having to pay exorbant funds to receive basic health care. I should know because I'm one of them and have been for almost 3 years. America can do better. The Republicans think that the free market can and should provide the necessary services. I truly wish that was the case. But for millions of Americans that's not the case and I believe the government should step up to the plate and deliver a basic level of health insurance for those that have no other options.

5. Family Values: The Republicans talk a lot about traditional family values, which I can appreciate, but people concerned with family values don't ruin the career of a man's wife in vengeance for that man's political position like King George's cronies did to Valerie Plame. People concerned about the American family don't send young men and women abroad to die in unnecessary wars.

Fifty percent of marriages in this country end in divorce. No amount of politicking is going to change that. But I do believe in family values. I love my (soon to be) wife. I love my family. But the concept of a traditional family with a stay at home mother and two perfect kids just isn't a reality for millions of Americans. It's time to stop glorifying an era that is past. Both parents have to work these days just to make. Instead of trying to turn the clock back, we need to be working to find ways for the modern American family to survive. That means low cost daycare, after school programs, school breakfasts, and a commitment to education that is equal, equitable, and fair for all.

6. Immigration. I feel strongly about Immigration (for obvious reasons) but we should all realize that the critical defining feature of the American experiment is that this country always has been the world's melting pot. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," was once the motto of this country and I believe it should still be. That means providing job training, English language courses, and other services aimed at integrating immigrants into American culture. It doesn't mean harassing day laborers or opposing benefits. America needs immigrants just as much as immigrants need America. What we don't need are armed militia groups patrolling the US-Mexico border in a hunt for illegals or retired gentlemen undergoing video surveillance of day laborers.

That's the basics. You get the idea. Obviously this could all be wordsmithed and expounded upon, but I'll spare the few readers still following this thread any more torture. My big point is: there's nothing too controversial about the Democratic agenda. Not only that, it's not about what you're selling, it's about how you're selling (even if you're selling the good stuff).

(Note: Two noticeable omissions - abortion and gay rights. We don't need to polarize this election or take chances on that. We can play some offense/defense on it - "I think all Americans should have the same rights and responsibilities regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation..." without making it a huge issue. I'll never understand why the gay marriage lobby decided to push for it so soon. Not only did it not work, it directly contributed to Democratic losses and it was totally unnecessary. Let's work on getting rid of all the anti-sodomy statutes still remaining first. Then we can tackle same-sex benefits. And then, someday, if we reach that point, we can start a credible campaign for gay marriage. But not yet, not now.)

Addendum: Just like King George, I forgot about that whole Katrina thing. We should hammer them on the hurricane. Play the Bob Dylan song "Hurricane" all the time, show tons of graphic images, stress that the Republicans/King George ain't done sh*t, and roll. It's a national disgrace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Scary Craptacularity

First came Swift Boat Veterans, now comes Jackasses for Iraqi WMDs. It is becoming quite evident that there is a strong contingent of politically motivated people in this country that seriously believe that the American people will believe any load of sh*t that you shovel, no matter how far from the truth. I'm not sure what's more shocking: that we allow utter lies to be passed on as "fact" in political advertisements or that people buy into this sh*t. I'm going to go throw up in my mouth for the next hour.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sports and Race

I don't write much about sports in this space, but I couldn't let this one pass. We hear a lot in sports media about race. Can black quarterbacks succeed in the NFL? Terrell Owens. Randy Moss. Etc. There are frequent vague allusions to racism in sports that ultimately play a disservice to race struggle in this country because they play little more than lip service. Reporters, sensitized to race issues, ask, "Would we be calling out Terrell Owens if he was white?" It's a softball question. The obvious answer is, yes, it's his behavior, not his skin pigmentation.

At least that's how I normally think. Today I'm not so sure.

As I was pondering the race question, one thought has frequented my brain in the last few months: Brett Favre. For those not in the know, he's the Quarterback from Green Bay that has won exactly one Super Bowl and whose career will be remembered more for excellence than profligate interceptions or prescription drug abuse. This season, Favre has been abhorent under center. Sure, he's racked up the stats, but he's single-handedly cost his team multiple football games by throwing the ball to the other team. Still, it took 15 games for the media to turn on Favre, even though he's basically stunk as a QB since the start and has fairly stinking for several years. Compare Favre to Daunte Culpepper and you'll see where I'm headed with this. Culpepper, Minnesota's QB, is black, had a season for the ages a year ago (better than anything Favre ever did), and but was immediately brutalized by the media once he started throwing interceptions this year.

I'm not saying the media's racist. But it is odd that when it's a black QB, the media/public turns quick. I'm just saying.

Really, what sparked this interlude was this article by ESPN Page 2 columnist Scoop Jackson. I don't agree with everything that Scoop says, but I do think he makes two really thought provoking points.

First, Mr. Jackson points to Notre Dame's curious 10-year contract extension for Head Coach Charlie Weis. The backstory: Notre Dame had a black head coach, Ty Willingham. They dismissed him after three seasons and hired former Patriots Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis. Now, you give a 10-year extension to a white guy after 7 games but never even consider that option for a black guy? Scoop says it best:

So when the University of Notre Dame extended Charlie Weis' contract to secure his services for 10 years just months after firing a coach who only three years ago was in the same situation with a better record (8-0 after the first eight games for Willingham, 5-2 for Weis at the time of his extension) during his first year, the validation of racism that so many people tossed at the university's feet in the wake of excusing Willingham last December was totally eclipsed by an arrogance unseen in the NCAA since Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant thought "negroes" couldn't ball.

The other truly salient point from this article is about Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward and superstar. KG, as he's known, went straight from high school to the NBA, became one of the dominant players of his generation, and is pretty much a class act and an always entertaining basketball player. In the aftermath of Katrina, KG wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey that she read on air in which he pledged to build one house a month for 24 months with his own money to give to needy families in the devastated area. Scoop says the rest better than I could:

A gesture that should have landed him on the cover of Time alongside Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as Persons of The Year. A gesture that made Oprah -- read it again, Oprah -- break down.

But still, no member of the media wrote a story about it. USA Today scripted a blurb; made a mention. But overall -- nada.

Now, let Kevin Garnett or any other athlete run a stop light; let them miss a practice unexcused; let them miss a child support payment -- Bam! Lead story on "SportsCenter," forum discussion on "Rome Is Burning," breaking news on CNN.

In an era when it is too often publicly asked: "Where are our kids' role models?"; in a society that is starved for areas of positiveness to come from our professional athletes; in a world where we have been conditioned to believe that every one of these young superstars is unappreciative, ungrateful, undeserving and a void soul, a situation arose that could have shifted the entire perception of their existence. What Kevin Garnett did was just that big.

But guess who dropped the ball? Us. The media, for not saying anything about it, and the public, for not demanding that we do.

The moral of this story: How do you make the media not pay attention to you when you are a superstar athlete? Do something humane.

For shame. I'm not alleging racism, but damn, when is America going to wake up?

Bush "successes" of 2005 - Slim and None

I was thinking about this last week because I seriously could not remember the last time that Bush achieved a legislative success. The pre-Christmas maneuvering by the Democrats that iced down the GOP agenda reminded me that, aside from the Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court, Bush hasn't had any victories in recent memory. Well, today, there's an AP story that describes the King's recent "successes". The following are listed as 2005 "successes" for King George:

- A new bankruptcy law
- A law making multi-million dollar lawsuits more difficult
- Confirmation of John Roberts
- Free trade pact with 6 Latin American nations
- A highway bill
- An energy bill
- Extended the tax cut for another year

That's it folks. And the list isn't actually totally honest. In fact, it's one reporters attempt to have "balance" in the article since the report is a decidedly negative take on the last year of the Bush Kingship. For example, the free trade pact hasn't passed Congress. It's just a non-binding deal with 7 nations. The highway and energy bills were non-controversial, long-term funding provisions for transportation modernization and other bits and pieces. The tax cut extension (not mentioned in the article) was part of the budget that is still in the political trenches. And bankruptcy and lawsuits aren't exactly the type of successes that a King can sell to the people. No, in the end, John Roberts, a pretty much unopposed nomination, is about all the King George can claim as a "success" in 2005.

What will 2006 bring for our burgeoning royalty? It says here, not a whole lot. The Democrats have new found backbone that is likely to stick around because King George's popularity is hovering in the low 40's and there's a mid-term election coming in the Fall. The election means that very little is likely to pass - the Republicans don't want to make missteps and the Democrats don't want the Republicans to have any victories before the election. Legislative paralysis is the likely near term for the Congress. No, instead of progress, we're likely to see a filibuster on Alito and more symbolic fights than actual policy squabbles. In fact, it's a very real possibility that King George could fail to pass any major legislation for a second consecutive year.

...In other news, one particularly vexing adage I've heard trumpeted by right wing (pseudo) economic intellectuals is that budget deficits aren't really a big deal because they're manageable. This argument takes two basic forms. First, even at extraordinarily high levels, deficits are still only a meager percentage of the overall net revenue (economic output). So, in those terms, the deficit is relatively insignificant. In other words, if you looked at it on a personal level, a $3 trillion debt would account for a few percentage points of your yearly income and you wouldn't worry about it.

The other part of this argument, indeed the critical part, is that deficits are irrelevant because the conditions that lead to high deficits (lower taxes) stimulate economic growth in the long run sufficient to eventually pay off the debt. This is a curious sort of logic that seems akin to borrowing money from a bank to invest in that bank, knowing that the better the bank did, the lower your interest rate would drop, and the quicker you could pay off the loan. In other words, a dubious strategy at best.

The clear weakness of this strategy, much like day trading, is that you incur debt loads of a sufficient size that overcoming them with a low tax, high growth rate becomes near impossible. But don't take my word for it. The newly resigned former head of the Congressional Budget Office offers a more qualified editorial about it when he says: "don't even think about can't grow yourself out of this's just too big."

None of this is shocking to anyone who's really paying attention. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush led the Clinton administration to slash spending and raise taxes. The butcher had to be paid eventually, which certainly made political irony when a "big government, tax and spend" Democrat had to sort out the trickle down mess. Now, after squandering the largest budget surplus in history, King George is gearing up to leave the US in massive arrears, much like he did with the Texas Rangers and various other failed businesses. And, unlike 1992, this problem looks worse. Best of luck to the next Dem that has to sort this out, because that's an unenviable task.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Afternoon Update

...Imagine this conversation right after 9/11:

Dick: Why don't we round up all the Muslims and put them in a jail. We'll be safe then.
King George: Aw shucks Dick, we can't be doing that. Who's gonna make me those nice kebabs if we do that?
Dick: Fine, let's just sick the FBI on them and watch them all the time just to make sure those bastards don't nuke us.
King George: Don't we need a warrant for that?
Dick: Screw the courts. They're just holding back your kingship.
King George: Ok.

Not so far-fetched now is it?

...Beware of what you wish for.

King George was a bit too premature with the whole "democracy is working in Iraq" thing. Of course, those desperate for any victory always jump to conclusions. But look out now, the unrest has started. Rumor has it the Iraqi election was just as fair and balanced as the US elections of 00 and 04.


I'm quite tired today. So tired I don't feel much like reading, not to mention writing. So instead of a long diatribe, just a few tidbits:

1. Reading this article leaves one with the impression that Charles Krauthammer is the smartest dumb person alive.

2. Daschle says King George's claim that Congress authorized illegal wiretaps in the post 9/11 resolution granting the King the right to prosecute the war on terror is false. No shocker there.

3. Good week to be a Dem: Talk about outmaneuvering the GOP. The Dems knew they couldn't stop cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and student loans, but they did stop the Alaskan Drilling initiative and they did stop the Patriot Act. Not only that, and the tactician in me just loves this, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Senate Dems totally screwed over the House. After passing the budget, the House closed up and everyone left town. But, Pelosi forced changes in the budget that have to be approved by the House. So, either the House comes back into town two days before Christmas, or they wait until January to pass the budget.

It gets better.

The GOP doesn't want to bring the House back into session right away because they're hoping for a quick resolution to the DeLay scandal. Opening the House up again could spark a leadership battle that would divide the Republicans and be very messy. Thus, the House is scheduled to remain closed until the end of January. Now the GOP is stuck - either come through with the promised cuts and risk a divisive battle or wait until the end of January and lose the momentum of "victory".

Further complicating things is that the initial House budget only passed by six votes. Guess how many Democrats missed the vote? That's right. Six. Ten Republicans missed the vote as well, while nine voted againt the budget cuts. This is all very messy but one thing seems clear. By forcing a vote in 2006 - in the all important election season - the Democrats have created a situation in which it will be exceedingly difficult for the Republicans to get the budget passed in it's current form and, when it does pass, the GOP will be forced to answer tough questions to Senior Citizens about why they cut their benefits.

Not good times for the GOP.

4. Whatever happened to the Red/Orange/Yellow "terror" alerts? Funny how immediately after King George wins reelection we stop hearing daily changes in the threat level. I'm not going all Michael Moore on anyone, I'm just saying...

5. Speaking of the election, some may recall the story about Wally O'Dell, CEO of Diebold, Inc, the company that provided electronic voting machines to dozens of states and was famously quoted as telling King George that he would "deliver the election". Well, guess what? Jimmy Carter was right. All of those concerns about not being able to trace election results, hacking into voting machines and changing results, you know...election fraud...have proven true. A Tallahassee, Florida election official watched results hacked before his very eyes and decertified Diebold. And it's spreading. Florida, California, St. Louis, and maybe North Carolina are all decertifying Diebold. And good old Wally? He's out at Diebold. The national media has yet to pick up on this story. So, about that Kerry Administration...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

New template

Hope everyone likes the new template. I tinkered around a bit this evening because I was tired with the old look. It was a pain in the ass (HTML is not my strong suit) and there is more tinkering I want to do, but it's a start. The old look had overstayed it's welcome...

...In other news, glad to see the NYC transit strike come to a close. I have a lot to say on this but I'm not feeling up to the task of giving a full rundown. Instead, I'll give a little summary of how I feel about it and about leftist politics in general.

First and foremost, I'm not a leftist. I definitely lean to the left, but radical politics are not favored in my house of reason. I'm pragmatic. I don't expect war to miraculously disappear. I don't expect poverty to go away simply because of the government dole. Alternatively, I don't believe that we should live in a society where it's lawful to discriminate since the "free market" would regulate racism just like everything else. Nor do I believe that the Radical Right Christian Crazies are going to shut up and go away. Like it or not, America has just as many totally crazy nuts on both the Left and the Right and they're equally terrifying.

That being said, one area of constant contention I take with the leftist elements of the the Democratic party is their undying, unquestioned allegiance to all things unions. I do believe that unions have served our nation greatly in the past and still have a valuable role to play. However, that does not mean that every time a union goes on strike that Democrats should feel compelled to give kneejerk support. That type of reaction reveals the weakness of allegience to party politics and opens Democrats to easy attacks from the Right. Instead, the facts should be considered on a case by case basis. And in this case, the best I can tell, the facts are being manipulated by both sides.

I was going to delve into the specific merits of this case. Maybe tomorrow. What I will say is that it's very clear that the Union acheived absolutely nothing and, when all is said and done, will probably suffer crippling punishment that will weaken their cause in the long run. I can't say I'm happy about that, but I can say that it's no surprise.

I'll also state, as a general principle, that I fundamentally object to the idea that MTA employees should have the right to retire at the age of 55 with a full pension. I can't think of a single other industry that has that right. In fact, compared to a lot of other relatively low skilled industries, MTA employees appear to have it pretty well.

Another thing that must be said is that this strike was not about working conditions. I've read in some places around the blogosphere that the workers were striking for better conditions, equal rights, respect, honor, etc. None of that is true. In fact, if the conditions were entirely deplorable (which, having never ridden the NYC metro, I can't comment on) and they were striking to improve those conditions, then I would clearly be supporting their cause. But they weren't and everybody knows it. The TWU walked out on negotiations because they protested the MTAs proposed changes in benefits for future MTA employees. That's it.

Pick better leaders next time because this strike didn't do jack squat for MTA workers and might have just cost them the chance at future leverage...

...In other news, more evidence that the death penalty is objectionable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Power and the President

Getting back to the point of yesterday's post (which I merely alluded to in the title), the recent spate of stories out of Washington are painting a big picture that shouldn't be concealed by the details of the smaller stories. That is, that this administration believes that the power of the executive was weakened by the War Powers Act of 1973 and the post-Vietnam era. President Cheney, ahem, Vice President Cheney said as much in an interview with Bob Woodward last January:

"Cheney was especially critical of anything that would undermine the president's powers as commander in chief. He said he agrees with many who believe the War Powers Act, which was passed in 1973 and attempts to restrict the president's use of military force, is "unconstitutional," though that has not been fully tested in the courts.

"That made a change in the institutional arrangements that I don't think is healthy," the vice president said. "I don't think you should restrict the president's authority to deploy military forces because of the Vietnam experience."

As recently as yesterday, the erstwhile VP reiterated these remarks in the context of the wiretapping scandal:

"'I believe that the president is entitled and needs to have unfiltered advice in formulating policy. He ought to be able to seek the opinion of anybody he wants to and that he should not have to reveal, for example, who he talked to that morning.'"

And, in terms of the wiretaps, the VP was unapologetic:

"But I do believe that especially in the day and age we live in, the nature of the threats we face, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy."

Leaving aside the precise legal arguments (which are one-sided against the King, by the way), I really have three problems with this: 1. they lied, 2. they broke the law, and 3. power shouldn't be unlimited.


As reported elsewhere, Bush specifically said that all wiretaps were authorized by the FISA court in a speech last April:

"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

In fact, he repeatedly claimed that wiretaps needed a court order no less than five more times between April and July. Momma always told me not to lie. Then again, lying comes easy to this administration.

Law Breaking

There is little doubt that King George broke the law on at least one, if not more, occasions. I will not quibble with Cheney's argument that Presidential powers dwindled in the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and Iran-Contra. I fundamentally disagree with Cheney and think his position is the fast road to tyranny (as did a number of founding fathers), but I won't argue with him.

What I will state, however, is that if they truly believe that Presidential power was limited and needed expansion, especially in this particular area, then they should have made their case to Congress and changed the law. Subverting the legal process for extra-legal adventures smacks of an unfettered government of the exact nature that the Framer's of Constitution wished to prevent. It's called Checks and Balances for a reason.

Not only that, they broke the law! And Momma always told me not to break the law.

The fact we haven't had impeachment hearings reveals just how destitute our "robust" democracy is. American culture skewers the world for non-democratic processes, for corruption, for setting a bad example (someone call up Iverson and tell him he's off the hook), or for any reason that we wish. But now, when the CEO of America Inc. specifically and intentionally breaks the law on an issue that involves fundamental freedoms, we're hearing little more than media outrage? Sorry, football players have lost contracts over lesser offenses. CEOs have been imprisoned for a lack of transparency. Martha Stewart was imprisoned (sort of) for insider trading. This offense clearly trumps them all. King George shouldn't just be impeached; he should be jailed.

My sum analysis, however, suggests that the President didn't turn to Congress because he knew they wouldn't go for it. Now, if it was a democractically controlled Congress, I could understand that. But last time I checked, the GOP controls both the House and Senate. So, I can only conclude that King George's idea of a "strong presidency" resembles this.


My greatest fear from all of this is that America is slowly marching away from our freedoms toward a more controlled, less democratic state. One scholar once warned that freedom isn't lost over night; it's lost bit by bit until one day you wake up and find you don't have any left. This has long been a concern of mine. Support for gay rights, drug decriminalization, etc - my motivation for advocating that people have a right to do what they want in their homes is entirely selfish. Once the government gets into people's lives, into their bedrooms, etc, we lose the fundamental right to privacy and the rest of our liberties can't be far behind.

What is particularly troubling about this administration is that they seem to think two things:

1. that America is at war, and
2. that 'war' is a blank check.

But we're not at war. We haven't been at war since Iraq was smashed to bits and pieces. But even if we were at war, having a nameless, faceless enemy as a justification for slowly nibbling away at fundamental, Constitutional freedoms is a truly frightening thought. The entire foundation of the American democratic experience is checks and balances. Those don't just go away because "we're at war".

Whatever happened to "give me liberty or give me death?"

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Update: DoD calls gay rights groups "credible threats" on par with Al Quida

Read all about it.

I told you this was getting scary.

It's not about security, it's about power

The latest brouhaha to erupt from Mount White House deals with the illegal and unauthorized monitoring of private communication. I say "private communication" because I'm not convinced that this is solely a wiretapping issue as has been reported by the New York Times, Washington Post, and others. In fact, the more I think about it, the less likely it seems that this is about wiretapping. More than anything, why take the risk by conducting illegal wiretaps? It just doesn't make sense. First, a little background about wiretapping that I've learned.

The US government derives the legal authorization to monitor communications from two sources: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the criminal code. In this instance, it is is FISA that is the issue. To conduct legal wiretaps, FISA established "secret courts" that process classified wire tap requests. It's a relatively straightforward process. In fact, the whole claim but the Bush administration that they needed wiretaps without court approval because things are time sensitive is, in no other words, a bold faced lie. FISA specifically authorizes the Attorney General to issue wiretap orders upto 72 hours PRIOR to court approval. Which means, if there was a time sensitive, national security issue and a judge could not be reached, it wouldn't matter because under FISA, they could go forward with the tap and receive judicial approval up to three days later.

Title 50, Chapter 36, Subchapter 1, ยง 1805 of the US Code, (seen here) states that the "[Attorney General] may authorize the emergency employment of electronic surveillance if a judge having informed by the Attorney General or his designee at the time of such authorization that the decision has been made to employ emergency electronic surveillance and if an made to that judge as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance."

So enough with all the "time sensitive" nonsense. We'll just call that par and await the inevitable discovery by the mainstream media that Bushies are great liars.

In addition, dozens of wiretapps are approved each and every day, the process has worked effectively since initiation (four rejected wiretap applications since inception), and there are really no complaints. Judicial review has always been a critical element of "searches" and it's pretty much standard that any information collected in an extra-legal search is never going to be admissable in court. So why take the risk? It's obviously politically damaging and it won't aid in the prosecution of suspected terrorists.

And then this little nugget comes across cyberspace. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee writes that he is neither a legal expert nor a technical specialist and thus has not the expertise to determine the legality or intrusiveness of the classified communication monitoring strategy that has been labeled "wiretapping".

This letter, I believe, is the smoking gun. The National Security Agency (NSA), the agency tasked with monitoring and decoding foreign intelligence, has long been rumored to possess the technology to scan, record, and monitor email traffic. Forget your encryptions, the NSA can beat them all. Senator Rockefeller's use of the word "technician" obviously indicates that some type of technology is in play that he doesn't fully understand. It can't be mere wiretapping because not only is wiretapping not that complicated, the Senator has years of experience with simple wiretapping, so it has to be something more complicated. If I'm a betting man, I'm putting money down that the NSA has a filter program running that looks for keywords in all email traffic. By filtering all emails into "relevant" and "non-relevant" categories, they can then investigate more closely the ones that they believe are "relevant" and pursue military and/or criminal investigations. What they do with the "non-relevant" emails is anyone's guess.

If the NSA is really monitoring all of our emails, well, that's a really scary thought.

(By the way, Rockefeller's letter is a very nice "get out of jail free card". Talk about an excellent way to insulate yourself from an inevitable scandal.)

Update: An excellent question posed by the Washington Monthly: "What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it?"

One more thing is very clear: the President broke the law. FISA clearly does not authorize this level of survelliance and the President does not have any other legal mandate. So, why isn't he being impeached? They impeached Clinton for less.

Monday, December 19, 2005

President Declares War on Christmas, Allocates $90 Trillion

Washington, DC (assinine news agency) - Citing a recent assault on Saint Nick in America's shopping malls, President George Bush declared a war on the warmongers that have declared a war on Christmas. Without going into specifics, the President said in an address to the nation last night, "America is under attack and this time it's not Al Queda. This time, it's our own people who want to hunt down Father Christmas and kill him once and for all. The enemy is hidden; we can't see him. But he's there all the same and we have to try to root him out. To find him. We have to fight. We have hard work to do. And that's why I'm declaring war. America's under attack and I'll defend our values, our freedom, and our radical religions (as long as they're Christian)."

The President went on to explain that recent classified intelligence reports demonstrate that there are elements active in the US that are fundamentally opposed to Christmas. These elements, "Anti-Christ Wackos" or ACWs, the President explained, have already succeeded in removing the words "Christmas" from most of the seasons advertisements out of "sensitivity" to other, "less meaningful" religious groups. When asked if he was offending Muslim, Jewish, or other religious faiths, the President responded, "Mus..what?"

Later, a press release from Vice President Dick Cheney's office stated that "under no circumstances" would intelligence information pertaining to the surveillance, capture, internment or prosecution of the "anti-Christ nutjobs" be released to the media, an odd statement given that, as of the moment, no one was asking. The Vice-President's office later conceded that top intelligence reports had been confirmed by British and Italian intelligence agencies.

Still, the President warned Americans to be vigilant. "You never know who is truly on the side of Christ. Your neighbor might put up Christmas ornaments, but even that could be a facade. Be wary. Be brave. Be watchful. Only by spying on our citizens will we overcome this latest and perhaps greatest challenge to America." Not all was pessimistic, however. The President also offered his full confidence that the war would be won. "It's either defeat or victory and I aim for victory because that's what victorius people do. They aim at victory."

When asked why $90 trillion was necessary to prosecute this latest "war" the President answered crossly, "Look, I'm not going to sit here and explain every last detail of our war plan. We need that money because we need to win the war. This is a serious threat, a serious enemy. And it's going to take a serious effort with serious money to fight it. But I'm up to the task. I'm a serious guy with a serious task ahead and I'm putting in at least 6 hours of work a day so that we can save Christmas from all those anti-christ-ians."

Even with the President's warning that the ACWs could be anywhere, the President at least gave a clue to where the war would be fought, "Well, I can tell you one thing, we're definitely going to start rooting out this 'evil within' in California. Definitely California. And Detroit."

Disgruntled secularism contributed to this report.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Rrrradical Rrrrright Wing

Just when you thought the Radical Right's Fundies couldn't achieve a ranking beyond "criminally insane", two things come to my attention that propel the Fundies to "Full Blown Insanity". Like in Spaceballs, this has "gone from suck to blow."

First and foremost, a radical Christian group known as the American Family Association (AFA) is contemplating boycotting Ford Motor Company because of advertisements the company has in gay periodicals. Their wafer thin justification for this is that gays, "promote same-sex marriage" and that "supporting groups" in favor of same-sex marriage is "choosing sides in the cultural war." This is a curious description at best since, as far as I can tell, the act of purchasing a Ford does not in any way encourage one, gay or straight, to support, oppose, or in any way ponder the issue of gay marriage. Indeed, the only way this argument makes any sense (and I'm stretching the words "any sense" to the limit) is if the AFA seriously thinks that Ford pulling its adverts will cause the demise of gay periodicals like The Advocate. This argument rings of putressence, however, as that is never going to happen and the AFA knows it.

But, there's a whole 'nuther angle that bothers me in this and that's that the seemingly simple equation (gay = in favor of same-sex marriage) is absurdly stereotypical and, shockingly, flat wrong. I can immediately think of two friends that are gay, are out, and are in relationships that are strongly opposed to gay unions. But anecdotal analysis isn't really required. Common sense suggests that within any given group, there will be differences of opinion. Not only that, there's nary a mention of these "gay groups" advocating, supporting, or taking any position on gay marriage. I'd be shocked if The Advocate was not in favor of same-sex marriage, but then again, wouldn't you want to include that in the press release you issued if you were contemplating a boycott?

I suppose the bottom line is this: the Rrrradical Christian Minority is LYING when they say they have "no problem" with gays, they just oppose things like marriage, same-sex benefits, etc. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. These people believe that gays are unnatural and should never receive the same rights as all us "normal" people and groups like the AFA have no qualms with prosecuting their "war on gays" in any, despicable form. Mighty Christian of them....

...Speaking of Christian, Rrrradical Evangelical group Focus on the Family has a penchant to publish extremely conservative and obtuse paraphanalia that some people obviously absorb. Today's Focus on the Family Factophile (patent pending) features an article entitled, "How a Husband Should Handle His Wife's Submission," written by a best-selling bondage freak, ahem, I mean Christian, named Stormie Omartian (I couldn't have made up a better name if I tried). This article details a variety of helpful information and since I'm only a few months away from tying the knot myself, fortune has obviously shone on me in this moment for my greatest concern when dealing with my future wife's submission was how I should punish her if she didn't keep the house clean enough for me. But I digress.

Without further ado, the most valuable lessons from my new favorite source of S&M literature:

- Most women want to submit (even if they don't know it). This will be especially helpful for when my beautiful wife resists my demand that she stay "barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen". Fortunately, I'll know that her desire to stay an active, employed, and productive member of society is just a clever ploy to allow me to establish my dominance and manhood over her. Phew, women are tricky.

- The bible is full of snippets that justify and encourage female submission but warn that men should not belittle, be rude, or negative towards their submissive women. Instead, they should love them, as God's will is that women submit to men and that men treat women with respect and love. That's going to be especially useful for explaining to my wife that it's not just my desire to have her clean the house naked, but it's also God's desire and that as long as I'm respectful and caring, then God will nod his head and smugly approve of our decision.

- "Submission doesn't mean obey" which is the first clue to the average reader that there's a game in this whole S&M thing. So if my lovely wench doesn't do what I ask, I suppose I'll have to send her into the woods so that she can procure me a tree branch that I can beat her with. As long as it's a "loving" beating, then God will approve. After all, he put us on earth to keep them womenfolk in line!

- And last, if my wife doesn't submit and the beatings don't work, there's always prayer. As I'm not too handy with figuring out how to say things to the Lord Almighty, I'm ecstatic that this little "How To" article has provided me with a handy missive for those late nights when I'm exhausted from wailing on my wife's backside and I need a little sublime assistance from his Highness. Good thing it's numbered and isn't too long because I ain't too good with readin', writin', and 'rithmatic.

Please pray for your wife that:
1. She will understand what submission really is.
2. She will be able to submit in the way God wants her to.
3. You will be completely submitted to God.
4. She will trust God as He works in you.
5. You will take your position as spiritual leader.
6. She will trust you to be the head of the family.
7. Submission will not be a point of contention in your marriage.

Well now, I feel much more prepared for my impending marriage. Thank you Focus on the Family. I'll be sure to come back and look for spiritual and practical guidance in the future. With handy "FAQs" on how to have a good, Christian marriage, how could I stay away?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's Next on the Pu-Pu Platter

This morning I was planning on writing a lengthy diatribe about how Bush's neo-con strategy of remaking the world in his image one nation at a time raises the question of: what next? Is it Iran or Syria or both? Is Bush's claim that troops will be pulled out of Iraq sooner rather than later just code for "we're going after Syria next?" There was certainly a lot in his four speeches to suggest that either Syria/Iran are next or that Bush's Middle East strategy will be a failure if regime change doesn't spread across the region and, like domino's, cause democratic transitions in truly despotic regimes (haven't we heard a similar version of this theory before?)

But, as I'm totally exhausted and feeling sub-lingual, I have neither the energy nor the capacity to meet the standards of evidence that I would require for such a piece. So, instead, I'm just going to make a few, mostly unrelated observations.

- UN Ambassador John Bolton is, shockingly, shredding US diplomacy faster than Dick Cheney's staff is shredding those secret energy files. Good to see that all those "anti-Bolton" people (myself included) were correct when we warned that the man was the worst possible candidate for the job.

- Torture is still bad.

- Windows live is cool. Like Google Earth without requiring downloads.

- The Catholic Church is still a bad joke.

- The Death Penalty is still wrong, but even moreso when you think about the fallability of human nature and the likelihood of innocent people being murdered.

And, I'm spent. Maybe someday I'll get to some of the other thoughts I have. But not today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

DOD Spies on US Peace Movements

Lovely what our government is doing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Katrina relief?

I'm totally appalled by just how forgotten New Orleans and the surrounding area is in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I simply can't believe that the President of the United States is going to get away with bold face lying to the American public again. I shouldn't be shocked given his track record, but what the hell is going on down there? No aid package through Congress because the little bastard in charge won't push for it. Trailers are sitting by that FEMA won't release to people that desperately need them. And New Orleans is on the verge of disappearing from the map forever simply because Bush doesn't give a damn. Not only has he not been there in months, he appears to once more care more about his image than he does about rebuilding "higher and better" as he claimed in August. I understand Americans not giving a damn about a tragic foreign policy. But this is our backyard and New Orleans is falling apart, perhaps permanently, on the President's watch. For shame.


Last week, as everyone surely knows, US Air Marshals shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar at the Miami International Airport after believing him to be a terrorist. This was a shameful tragedy that is somehow, not really on the national media scene, but should be. I've been thinking about this incident and I wanted to say several things.

First and foremost, I want to urge everyone to resist "blaming the victim". I've had thoughts like, "his wife shouldn't have let him on the plane," "his wife should have told someone before he got on the plane that he was mentally ill and didn't have his medication," or, "he should never have traveled without his medication." It's only natural and human to think those things. But, I don't think any of those are fair. Of course if they had known what was to happen, they would never have stepped on the plane. Hindsight is always 20-20 and there was no way they could have expected this to happen. So I'm checking myself out of victim blaming here.

Continuing, I have no idea if the US anti-terrorism forces (Air Marshals, what have you) have a "shoot to kill" policy. I know that in the UK, when the Brazilian was shot in the Tube, the authorities simply acknowledged that they had a shoot to kill policy and defended it. The British have always had a bit of a stiff upper lip, so that's no surprise. But, I highly doubt the US will admit to something like that openly. In fact, they'll probably parrot out the line that my co-worker and Nob General said the other day: "the US doesn't have a 'shoot to kill' policy, we have a 'shoot to stop' policy." As if there is any difference.

I also want to make it clear that I have no idea what the optimal strategy is for dealing with would be terrorists or suspected terrorists. More qualified people than I have been grappling with that issue for quite some time and they probably don't have much in the way of answers. So, this post is in no means intended to denigrate the officers that shot and killed Mr. Alpizar last week. Instead, this post is an open question for which I have few answers and only a slight inclination.

Before I get to the meat of my issue, let me say that I believe (and the evidence is forthcoming) that Mr. Alpizar never said "bomb". In fact, I'd be shocked if any of the initial reports were true. This opinion isn't based on the facts on the ground in Florida. Instead, it's based on what happened to Mr. De Menezes in the London Tube in July. The initial reports were that De Menezes had run from the police, was wearing a heavy jacket in the summer, had wires coming out of the jacket, had jumped the ticket gates, and had not stopped when police identified themselves and ordered him to stop. While that version of the story gave great credence to the shooting, we later learned that none of it was true. Let me repeat: NONE OF IT WAS TRUE. He did not have a heavy jacket, did not have any loose wires, did not jump the ticket gate, did not run from police, and the police never identified themselves. Short of any conspiracy theories about state sanctioned murder, the police overreacted given the heightened tensions in the weeks after 7/7.

All of that influences my opinion on last week's shooting. I don't think initial media reports are very reliable in these types of situations. In fact, as reported in the Post last Friday, the first time the eyewitnesses (passengers) heard the word "bomb" was when the FBI brought it up in the questioning process. The relevant quote reads:

"The first time I heard the word 'bomb' was when I was interviewed by the FBI...They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, 'What is the B-word?' And they were like, 'Bomb.' I said no. They said, 'Are you sure?' And I am."

I fully expect, if the media decides to follow this story, that it will become clear that Alpizar freaked out because he didn't have his medicine, was acting strange, ran off the plane, and was shot and killed because that's how the Air Marshals are trained to respond. I also expect that the detail "he reached into his bag" is likely to be proven false as well. At any rate, I don't blame the Marshals in this situation. It was a tense moment where they undoubtedly believed that there was a grave risk of a serious incident and they took action to alleviate that risk. That's what they're trained to do.

That being said, innocent men have now been killed in two different countries because the police are trained to have the finger on the hairtrigger. I don't think that's right. My hunch is that terrorists aren't likely to announce to the world that they have bombs. My hunch is that terrorists aren't going to go through multiple security checks at an airport and make it to the plane with a bomb. My hunch is, we've taken a dangerous step that doesn't make any of us safer, but might make us feel a bit safer.

In fact, I'd go as far to say that the Alpizar shooting is just the latest in sacrifices our nation has made since 9/11 that have not made us one iota safer, but have applied a thin veneer of reassurance to a jumpy public anxious to avoid future incidents of terrorism, even if that means killing 100,000 Iraqi's in the process. From color coded threat levels to excessive government monitoring of US citizens (Patriot Act), to unwarranted prosecutions of innocents (still no Patriot Act convictions), to imprisonment and torture of combatants, and finally the latest shooting, America is paying a price for 9/11 that we should not bear. These things don't make us safer, but they might make some people feel safer, and that's enough for the average run of the mill politician.

One of the great things about this country is that we are open to the world, we have globally respected freedom, and that we are the land of opportunity. I like that society; I like those ideals. What I don't like is that all of our defiance in the face of terrorism, claims that we "won't change our way of life" because of terrorists are all false. We have changed our way of life. We do live in a culture where if you "act in an unsafe manner" you could be shot by the police. We are willing to sacrifice some of our fundamental freedoms to "increase security". I, for one, stand opposed to that. I like that I can say whatever they hell I want to say without the government hauling me away to jail. I like that I don't have to be nervously paranoid about the cops at the airport. I like that America is (was) universally respected for its freedoms and opportunities. And really, why should we allow 9/11 to fundamentally alter the landscape of American culture?

Really, the big question is not: Should the police have a shoot-to-kill policy? No, the big question is, do we want to live in a society where we shoot first and ask questions later?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Quote of the Day

From Wonkette: "The truth is, anytime someone starts talking to you about how Christians are persecuted in the United States, you are -- right then and right there -- talking to a retard."


Let's just shut down the "pro-torture" attitude once and for all.

The primary source for the US claim that Saddam was linked to Al Queda came from....drum roll....a guy who made up stories to stop the pain.

And the CIA knew it was false, as did the Bush admin, but they still trumpted the info to the American public as truth.

At some point, the mountain of evidence has to turn into an avalanche with one fundamental conclusion: Bush lied extensively when he sold the war to the American public.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Catholic Indoctrination Rituals and Me

As has been previously mentioned, I'm getting married in the Spring. But, since I wanted a real ceremony in Colombia, it has to be a Catholic wedding. I'm ok with that, except it involves one little detail that it's becoming a thorn in my side: I'm not confirmed. In the US, you can get married in the Catholic Church without being confirmed, but in Colombia, it appears I'll have to be confirmed. That's an obvious problem as confirmation usually occurs on Easter (for adults) and...that's when we're supposed to tie the knot. Conundrum.

Even with that knowledge, I've been a diligent little boy and joined an RCIA course at a local church. (RCIA stands for Real Catholic Indoctrination Action.) The first session was Wednesday. Let me say from the start that the fact that I'm attending the course and attempting to get confirmed is testimony to just how much I love my future wife. This is a very great sacrifice - essentially frontal lobe genocide of the worst kind. Before I get into gory details, I want to provide a bit of background.

I was born and raised Catholic. My parents diligently took all of the children to church every Sunday, had us follow the traditional rituals, and emplaced us in all the indoctrination courses. Over time, natural attrition took it's toll and the whole family (with the exception of my Mother) quit the experience at some point (although some have returned to the Church). I was no different from my siblings in that, while I liked to be high and mighty in my objections to the Church, I was mostly just bored witless with the inanity of it all (high and mighty came later). Thus, I dropped out of the confirmation process prior to joining actual confirmation courses. I had had enough.

My primary objections at the time (in addition to be bored, annoyed with the other students in the class, and having a greater desire to play video games) were:

- That if confirmation is such a "big deal", then why ask a 12 year old to make a commitment? I was barely capable of selecting my underwear in the morning, not to mention able to opt for a lifelong commitment to a church that had mostly annoyed me.

- The teachers were, shall we say, less than adept. I felt strongly at the time much like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction when he uttered the immortal phrase, "If my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions," (except that it would have been, "if my questions frighten you, then stopping raising scary points"). In short, "teachers" who barely understood the basics were unprepared to address an analytically minded 12-year old with a penchant for pedantry.

- They don't want you to ask the big questions because they don't have the big answers. In fact, it's my feeling that the Church asks the most basic and simple questions because they hope to mask the big ones that essentially don't have answers (or have answers they don't like).

For example, in Wednesday's session, the "teacher" read a passage from Genesis, and then asked us why God created us. The answer they wanted was "out of Love," when clearly the correct answer could have included: "because he was bored" or "because he's a scientist and wanted to conduct an experiment" or "because he wanted to piss off the angels and start a holy war" etc. Another example, there was a discussion of God creating "man in his image" which, to any analytical person, sounds incredibly silly. Man has always desired to appear more "Godly", which is evidenced in the spat of Renaissance Era paintings that depicts a European God, which is sort of funny since if Jesus was white, he would have spent most of his life peeling off itchy and painful sunburns being that he lived in a desert and all. Not to mention that the word "image" is most likely translated wrong which is why everyone thinks "image" refers to physical characteristics. I mean seriously, if you were an all powerful being that could do anything, would you want to be stuck in a body of flesh, bone, and gristle?

Anyway, as you can see, not much has changed for me or the Catholic church in the interceding years between when I quit and present day. I'm still asking/thinking about tough questions; they're still dodging them. Which is where the sacrifice comes in. As much as I want to riddle the very nice, but totally simple people who run the courses, I can't because I want something they can give me...and that's a certificate enabling me to get married in Colombia.

All of which, as some may clearly understand, reveals just how meaningless and unspiritual the entire process is. In fact, I'm fairly certain there are very few individuals that could ever make me interested in this process. I have a distinct and pronounced aversion to "lifelong" affiliation with any organization, not to mention one such as the Church whose dirty legacy goes without saying. Further divorcing myself from the Church is that I'm quite far from their politics, which I see as mostly silly, naive, and unproductive.

None of this, however, should indicate that I am not spiritual or an atheist. No, I certainly believe in God, I just increasingly feel areligious because I get absolutely nothing out of organized religion and I question their agendas. As I abhor lying, this pretty much puts me in a quandry during "confirmation", doesn't it?

Too juicy to pass up

Bush's "models" for Iraqi freedom and democracy. Clever guy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Taking the bait

This post was going to be about some other things, but given the length, detail, and..shall we say divisiveness of Vargas' comment, I feel it necessary to reply. I'll take issue with a couple things, but first, I'll fess up to being a bit dogmatic. What can I say.

Generally, Vargas' arguments boil down to a few points:

1. Overriding Ally concerns and sovereignty is justified to fight terrorism.
2. "Combatants" don't have protection under the Geneva Convention, so they don't have a right to due process (aka - only state violence is legitimate).
3. Propose solutions, criticism is boring.

The Role of our Allies

The Italy issue is not solely one of jurisdiction like some crass Law & Order episode as is asserted. It's not about "collars" it's about a huge invasion of Italian sovereignty which not only demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of "American Exceptionalism" but also reveals the lack of cooperation combating terrorism. Cooperation is built on trust, sharing, and transparency, something that the Bush administration has been requesting since 9/11 (and also happens to be featured in Bush's National Security Strategy) and pretty much everyone agrees is necessary to "defeat the terrorists". When the CIA goes around absconding with suspects in our allies' lands without informing them (or seeking permission) and then planting fake stories about those suspects fleeing to the Balkans, well, that bodes poorly for the whole "cooperating to fight terrorists" strategy and is likely to frustrate future efforts to prevent terrorism.

Not to mention the fact that we'd flip out if the Italians did that to us. Or that the clear implication is either that Bush is just flat out lying when he says we need to work with our allies to fight terrorism or he doesn't have a clue as to what his underlings are actually doing. Either way, this event speaks to the gross mismanagement of this "war".
I'll repeat my claim that if France or the UK had a secret prison on an air base that they leased from the US in Iowa where they were conducting extralegal interrogations and incarcerations, middle America would flip it's lid. Denying this invalidates affiliation to reason.
The Legal Case: Why Combatants always have legal rights

First and foremost, it's not about incarcerating criminals. As long as detainees have due process and fundamental human rights ensured, I'm not going to quibble. Legal systems are obviously fraught with errors and problems, but that's not an issue in this dispute. The issue is, should "combatants" receive basic legal rights as respected by the Geneva Convention, the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, etc. I think they should and so do all the treaties that we signed as well as world opinion. The whole point of due process is that people are innocent until proven guilty. That doesn't mean we let suspects walk around and blow sh*t up all the time, but that does mean we have to have minimally sufficient evidence to detain, prosecute, and incarcerate suspects. Remember, there has yet to be a single conviction of any of these alleged terrorists. Have you even considered that perhaps the reason no lawyers have been provided and no prosecutions have been conducted is because there isn't a shred of evidence to detain, not to mention convict the "combatants" around the world?

Not only that, detaining people without due process, regardless of "combatant" status is illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights (see article 5) which all members of Europe have signed (including Poland and Romania and 44 other states). In addition, all people that are in Europe (visitors, residents, etc) receive protection under this treaty and the right to due process (liberty) is an unconditional right. It is simply illegal to hold people without trying them, granting them access to lawyers, etc. in Europe and the US flaunts that at will.

Even beyond that, however, there are fundamental standards of what represents human decency and holding people without every trying them or facilitating in torture or torturous situations is something that we should not brush away because these are "bad" people. In fact, President Bush has staked his legacy on the claim that he is standing up for what is morally right, so it's utterly shocking that his morals could be so narrow as to exclude fundamental standards of human decency.

Re: Secret Prisons

I think I've dealt with most of this above but I wanted to address two concerns.

First, the claim that "enemy combatants" who are "not from a legitimate nation or government" don't warrant any rights protections under the Geneva Convention is, sadly, flat wrong. This claim is clever legal fiction from a Bush administration that frequently implies that all international laws flow forth from the Geneva Convention and that which is not included is thus not obligatory. Perhaps a re-reading of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (which every member of the UN has signed and is binding) would be in order for all the budding legal minds that wish to "legalize" fundamental violations of human rights (not to mention the dozens of other treaties that exist that guarantee these rights as well). Not only that, the Geneva Convention is not a "stand alone" document. There's plenty of case law to support the claim that the all detainees, regardless of status, should receive the basic fundamental rights contained in every human rights treaty in existence (life and liberty).

There's also concept called 'customary international law' that states that when a preponderance of nations act consistently in one particular way for a lengthy period of time, that behavior has become a "custom" and is thusly recognized as "international law". So, even if the Bush admin could win the argument that "combatants" don't receive protections under X treaties, they'll still not be able to have legal standing to detain "combatants" without due process.

Second, the claim that "combatants" don't have a right to legal protections lies on a heady premise that a "war on terror" means that the enemy does not originate from a state. This argument is that a strict reading of the Geneva Convention reveals that it is an accord between states during conflict, thus, to those that are "stateless", it does not apply. That logic, while indeed clever, appears to completely ignore several other parts of the Convention that bind the signatory state (US) to its treaty obligations regardless of the membership status of the opposition when dealing with Prisoners of War (see article 3).

It also conveniently ignores the fact that Afghans come from Afghanistan (a UN Member state), Iraqi's from Iraq, etc. In short, everyone has a state of origin and even those that don't still have international legal personality guaranteeing them fundamental rights and protections under international law. I mean, really, didn't we invade Afghanistan because they were a "terrorist nation"? Isn't that the same justification for Iraq?

Finally, there's no basis to separate "terrorists" from the "criminal" sections of those treaties, meaning that those individuals still receive basic protections - i.e. calling it a "war on terror" doesn't mean people lose citizenship and basic human rights any more than the "war on drugs" means that drug dealers lose citizenship and basic human rights.

In sum, the legal arguments are on the side of justice and there's only about 60 years of jurisprudence to back me up on this one, although I'm no lawyer.

Proposing Solutions

Finally, i'll admit to being pretty negative about the whole thing. Frankly, for someone like me, the state of US foreign policy is pretty depressing. But, I'll get off the horse and propose the solution (less eloquently now) that I proposed in my dissertation.

America is the unquestioned leader in the world. We have had and continue to have the opportunity to remake the international community in our image. Instead of isolating ourselves from our allies, breaking treaty commitments, unsigning treaties, and generally acting like a ass, we should be directing our energies toward promoting the values and ideals that we hold dear. We shouldn't torture or deny people their fundamental rights (or be ambiguous about torture) simply because it's the right thing to do, but also because we want others to uphold the same values we believe in. I'm not going to claim that sticking to our commitments and acting consistently will bring around rogue nations like Iran or North Korea, but neither will any of the neo-cons win that violating those commitments will make the world a better place. In short, I'll always be correct that we have a chance of improving the world by actually leading and that bullying and acting the ass always makes the world a more dangerous place.

Realist legend Morgenthau once said (paraphrasing) that "foreign policy should be conducted not on the basis of what we want the world to be, but on how the world really is." The neo-cons are making the same mistakes the Wilsonians made in the 1920's. I'm not a realist, but the mistakes he found in the Idealist tradition, mistakes that directly contributed to the failure of the League of Nations and World War 2 can be seen in the current US foreign policy strategy.

Since the preceding claims are a bit vague, as a start, here's a clear list of things that could be done to improve the situation:
- Fire George Bush and the entire administration
- Start sharing information with our allies and actually cooperate to combat terrorism as is our stated National Security Strategy
- Stop illegally detaining people without due process
- Be honest about the state of affairs in Iraq (i.e. stop treating the war as a PR venture and start an honest dialogue with the international community about the long term prospects of stability, democracy, and peace in Iraq)

As I said before, we can do better.


America, as some well know, is obsessed with the preservation of its sovereignty. The greatest threat imaginable to most Americans (apparently) is that the independent ability of the United States to act in any way it chooses would be curtailed by international commitments. How politics evolved to this position is mostly irrelevant to the likes of me. I'm not a historian, hell, I'm not anything really.

What is of interest, however, is that the national obsession with sovereignty manifests itself in unusual ways. For example, after a decade of negotiation, debate, and consideration, the US finally decided it would have no part in the final version of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The great paranoia about the ICC is that it would allow a foreign court to prosecute American citizens, potentially even the President of the United States. Even the staunchest opponent of the Court, assuming that a polemic could have an "off the record" moment of honesty, would concede that the ICC would never prosecute the US unless the US suddenly became Nazi Germany. The best example of how the ICC would have operated is found in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story. Lyddie England could have been charged in the ICC of committing war crimes, charges that would have been dismissed when the US initiated it's own domestic proceedings. Which is the whole point of the Court. When nations don't prosecute their own for committing international crimes, the ICC can step in and do the job.

Anyway, this isn't really about the ICC. This is about America's obsession with all things sovereignty. Just the hint that the ICC could erode some element of American independence was enough to trigger a fatalistic backlash against liberal internationalism which, of course, led us to the Neo-Con movement, a movement with political aspirations since the 1970s. Jesse Helms made a living off of selling the fear of declining American sovereignty to the uneducated masses for much of the 90's and the current elite have carried the torch admirably. All of this might be an excellent example of a particular American ethos for respecting sovereignty and independence except for two obvious factors.

First, America, as much as it likes to think and act this way, does not have complete and total independence. There are a myriad of treaties that constrain American action abroad as well as things we just won't do because at some level, allies are important. In this way, the US is constrained by a system of clearly defined rules and regulations spanning every issue in international affairs as well as inhibited from acting freely by the desire to stay friendly with certain countries. A great example of this is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The body of international rules issued forth from the GATT (predecessor to the WTO) and the WTO is vast and requires frequent adjustments to national trade policy to comply. In fact, it could easily be argued that the WTO is the most invasive international commitment that the US is a party to. In sum, the myth that the US is a free and independent actor and the myth that sovereignty is a zero-sum game should be dispelled. The US isn't totally independent and minor inroads of sovereignty don't lead to a slippery slope of world government or any such nonsense that the Helmsites like to rant about.

The other very interesting point, and the reason for this long diatribe, is that while the US apparently covets its sovereignty, it has no such concern for others sovereignty, be they friend or foe. Obviously, Iraq proves the foe part, but until late, it was not starkly apparent that the Neo-Cons have little concern for the sovereignty of our allies. Now, the covers off.

For those of you who missed it, it was reported yesterday that in 2003 the CIA abducted Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian national, off the streets of Milan, whisked him away to Eygpt, and "interrogated" (re: tortured) him. At the same time, the CIA informed the Italian authorities, who already had dude under surveillance, that he had fled to the Balkans. So, apparently, the US doesn't give a damn about fundamental laws of human rights, not to mention procedural laws on extradition or even cooperation with our allies in fighting terrorism. Not only that, we have secret prisons set up in Eastern Europe where we can take "suspects" for indeterminate lengths of time, interrogate them indefinitely, never charge them, and at the end of the day, turn them back out to the public when we decide they're innocent.

Think about it like this: Let's say France rented a warehouse in Des Moines, converted it into a prison, grabbed people off the streets of Miami or Houston, flew them to the secret facility, and interrogated them relentlessly for months without ever informing the US authorities. What's the over/under on how long it would take the US to turn Paris into a parking lot? Six hours? Seven? Seriously, it's times like these when I'm proud to be an American. In fact, I can't help but break out into song:

And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.

As Billy said, "America can do better."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm back

First and foremost, sorry about the long delay between posts. Thanksgiving took it's tole and I was pretty lazy last weekend. Now, I'm working and I'm getting back to a relatively normal lifestyle. I'll wrap up and the last few weeks and look toward the future.

The rest of our time in Chicago was great. We went to the Bears-Panthers game courtesy of a good friend of mine who lives in Chicago and has season tickets. Much as I expected, the Bears put the smackdown on a very suspect Panthers offense. That was my first live Pro football game and it was awesome. Fortunately, it wasn't too cold or unpleasant. Ms. Colombia went with us which I found quite endearing. A woman must really love a man to willinging sit in the cold and wind watching a game she knows nothing about simply because she wants to know about the things that he does. Especially when she's from the tropics and hates cold weather more than I do.

Our time in DC was very nice as well, but entirely busy. There was family in town from the Seattle area and my Dad and stepmom drove down from Rhode Island. The week was essentially one giant smorgashboard of excess and overabundance. Apparently I lost 15 pounds while living in London. I probably gained half that back in a week. We feasted on the traditional turkey, wild salmon, king crabs and dungeoness crabs, as well as two roast leg of lambs. We still have leftovers in the freezer.

The visits from family were great but didn't leave much room for rest or personal time. By the end of it, Ms. Colombia and I were just exhausted. We did pretty much nothing for a day or so before moving on to do some wedding planning. There was a lot of planning and budgeting to do and we had to get that done before she left as it becomes much more difficult when you're over the phone and out of the country. Consequently, we didn't do much in town. In fact, we only went down into DC once and that was to see the Holocaust Musuem (difficult) and have lunch with Crazy Ivan. I showed her a bit of the area as well (Washington Monument) but there really wasn't much time for anything else. Finally, I took Ms. Colombia to the airport (National) last Thursday for her flight back to Chicago. She flew to Bogota on Saturday.

I spent Friday and Saturday moping and killing (simulated). Ok, I also did some chores around the house, but I was quite ill on Friday so I had a legitimate excuse for doing nothing. I was either experiencing Ms. Colombia withdrawal symptoms (much like the heroin addict fresh off the smack), had an extremely severe migraine, or had food poisoning. (I doubt the latter. I had dinner with my best friend on Thursday night and it was a great meal at a nice restaurant. Not the kind of place you expect a little E. Coli in with the pasta sauce.)

I started work at a law firm yesterday. It's a decent sort of job with tons of perks (dinner, cab rides home, free gym, etc) but the work is mindnumbingly dull. I can deal with it though, as it's only for a few months and there's a serious and legitimate goal that I'm after.

Finally, I wanted to discuss the future of the blog. Obviously, this blog started more as a travelogue and evolved from there. I can't see myself stopping writing here anytime soon. But the kinds of posts I put in today are pretty much the ones I hate writing the most. Synapsis from the last two weeks doesn't exactly thrill me. So, the future will continue along these lines: More politics, more cultural observations. There will still be regular updates on my life and happenings, but that is becoming less of a feature of the blog.

Anyway, topics that I will be looking at in the near future: the fragile ego of American troops abroad, the Yin-Yang presidency, and the great Catholic indoctrination process known as Confirmation (only because I've got to share the pain of this one).

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