Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sweeto Alito

Now that the Democrats have lived up to all expectations on the filibuster, it might be good to review the kind of judical opinion that we can expect from the soon-to-be new Supreme Court justice.

Against all normative judicial opinion, Alito rendered a glimpse of his temperment in a memo regarding the shooting death of a teenager who was fleeing from police. The teen had apparently stolen $10 in a home burglary and when the cops arrived, he bolted. The police shot the perp in the back as he ran away. Deadly force, usually advocated in life and death situations, appeared to be a rather extreme measure in this situation.

However, Alito opined,
I think the shooting can be justified as reasonable.
The Supreme Court later smacked down that judgement, stating that the shooting was clearly an "unreasonable seizure" and further would claim that the ruling was meant to "set a firm national rule against the routine use of ‘deadly force’ against fleeing suspects who pose no danger."

As they say, rules are meant to be broken. In Samuel Alito's vision for the country, any and all police action is reasonable and Alito will be one jurist who will no doubt advocate chipping away at those unnecessarily restrictive rules on the state's employment of deadly force in controlling its unruly population.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Moral Values Republicans

We have all heard the occasional, okay, maybe not so occasional, stories and anecdotes about various Republican leaders and legislators touting "moral values," while they have engaged in rather less than moral behaviour themselves. James West, former mayor of Seattle, springs to mind; a man who championed his opposition to gay rights and vigourously excoriated America's collapsing moral framework. Despite his avowed opposition to gay rights legislation and promotion of discrmination against gays in the work place, he was discovered to have been trolling gay websites for "relationships with adult men." Even after the discovery, West still maintained that he was not gay and that there was no conflict between his public persona and his private life.

While these various stories popped out once in awhile and a clear sense of the rampant hypocrisy within the ranks of the Republican party regarding their moral values caterwauling was certainly there, their actual behaviour as a group was hard to come by. Until now. Some enterprising researchers at the DU have put together an enormous list of Republican ne'er-do-wells, their public stances and their documented behaviour, including the many resultant convictions. It is a daunting list and crimes range from mere adultery to child pornography to rape and on. One particular creep pops out in this list:
Nicholas Morency, Republican anti-abortion activist, pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography on his computer and offering a bounty to anybody who murders an abortion doctor.
Apparently, Morency must have viewed abortion as a threat to his child porn habits. This is one of many, many examples.

This is an interesting reference document, though I can't really advocate reading through the whole thing; beyond the gut-churning it might invoke, it will also infuriated a reader and the next time anyone says that Republicans are the party of moral values, something might just snap.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Integrity Publishers Clearing ShitHouse

In the previous post, I discussed the bias in blogging about the NY Sun's story about General Georges Sada claims that Saddam Hussein had shipped WMDs to Syria during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Sada's claims were, as pointed out, hearsay. The right wing seized the story, the left ignored it. I cautioned the claims of Sada but noted that, for something this significant, no one was picking up the Sun piece. I further suggested some investigation.

First to be noted is the author of the NY Sun piece, Ira Stoll. Stoll is a known right wing crackpot who has championed the Iraq war since the beginning:
Seth Lipsky and Ira Stoll assembled their staff for a Champagne toast to mass death on the commencement of hostilities against Iraq. Stoll called it "my war."
And a cursory look at Stoll's blogroll would certainly confirm this quality.

As was also discussed, Sada is now closely linked with Terry Law's World Compassion organisation and is the president of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad and chairman of the Assembly of Iraqi Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. He was also tossed into to prison by Hussein, so he would conceivably have a bone to pick, despite vengence being reserved for the Lord.

But things get interesting when looking at the publisher of Sada's book, Saddam's Secrets. Integrity Publishers is a Christian imprint. One of the things that will strike oddly is how out of sorts Sada's book appears next to Pat Robertson's Miracles Can be Yours Today. (Admittedly, Saddam's Secrets might not look as conspicuous next to Robertson's highly anticipated future tomes, Bring Me Chavez's Head! and the sure-to-be-harrowing Smite Dover!) Indeed, that a book containing the "major revelations" brought forth by Sada appear courtesy of a Christian imprint is nothing, if not strange.

But the integrity of Integrity has, heretofore, been called into question. Dr. Gary Adams of edresearch.com documents a run-in with Integrity that occurred in 2003. Integrity published a book called Discover Your Child’s DQ Factor by a one Greg Cynaumon. In the promotion of his book, Cynaumon had claimed many titles and that he was many things, chief among them psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and radio talk show host. He was and still is none of those. In other words, the author of the Integrity Publishers' proud treatise in child psychology was a fraud. Adams called the publisher, told them this and was assurred that they would look into the issue. Adams called back after some months to ask why the book was still on the shelves and the Joey Paul, senior vice president of Integrity, told Adams to bug off, he had nothing to say. Adams named Integrity Publisher to his Hall of Shame.

All of which is enough to give enormous pause regarding any of Sada's claims, possibly even those about himself.

Though I may have expressed some ire regarding the lefties for ignoring this, if for no other reason than the fact that it should have been brought down swiftly, it seems likely that many of them were probably just shaking heads at this latest attempt by Ira Stoll to further agitate the players in his war. He'd like nothing better than for the US to invade Syria looking for all those tonnes of WMD that surely must be there. And the invasion of Syria would then be the product of yet more faulty intelligence delivered by yet another singular voice, crying out from the wilderness. Just like Chalabi. But it should have been obvious from the first moment this came out that, for the White House not to jump all over it, it had to be some pretty bad fiction. Weren't the righties wondering why the White House ignored this? This is something the White House has been trying to claim all along, so for them to studiously ignore Sada ... well, like I said, something stinks.

Of course, fellow blog mate and the ever trusty Cernig at Newshog hammered on Sada and his claims, pounded them into submission and left them a dangling, bloodied mess.

Blog Logic and WMDs

This has long been a known feature of the blogworld: hype up (or make up) bad news about your opponent, further trumpet the good of your side, downplay or, more likely, completely ignore something you and your political stripe would deem as bad news in your cause.

Well, just such a blog-logic moment occurred a couple of days ago. It was the revelation by a senior Iraqi official under Saddam Hussein, Gen. Georges Sada, that Hussein had ordered chemical and biological agents sent to Syria in June of 2002. Naturally enough, the right wingers were all over it, the story swooshing across rightie blogs like Gondor signal fires.

On the left? It doesn't surprise me that the lefties are quiet but I guess I am surprised by the magnitude of the silence. I mean, I can't find anything. And what I was really looking for was some sort of skeptical inquiry into the nature of Sada: does he have an agenda? any unseemly motivations, etc.. Because, frankly, the existence of the quantity of WMD that Sada claimed -- 56 cargo planes -- is more baffling than its well-documented non-existence.

He is promoting a book, the book wherein these revelations are made. Now, my own first question for this guy is, why now? Sada has known this since mid-2004. One would think a good Christian would be screaming toward the White House that Syria is in possession of tonnes of WMD. I mean, wouldn't you? Something stinks, and it ain't the fish.

Of course, what I am skeptical about is the fact that Sada's claims are based on hearsay. He didn't actually know this had even happened until two sc-called friends -- pilots -- told him this. This part of the story alone gives me qualms. Sada is stated to have been the "no. 2 official in Saddam Hussein's air force," and yet he never knew that two Iraqi airliners had made 56 flights to Syria hauling WMD under the guise of humanitarian relief (Syria had just experienced a burst dam with resultant flooding). Although, given the level of cluelessness about the US military the SecDef of this country seems to possess, I guess I can't be too critical.

There is one other possible avenue of investigation. Sada is apparently a Christian and was so even as Hussein's air force number 2. Now with Hussein gone, Sada will be free to conduct his ministrations for Terry Law's World Compassion Christian organisation. It might be an interesting avenue of inquiry to see if there is any connection between Law and Bush (Terry Law, that is. We already know there is no connection between
the law and Bush). Nothing jumped out at me quickly, which is surprising. Not finding connections between Bush and Christian organisations, especially one with connections in Iraq, seems an unlikely scenario.

This blog stuff is really making me cynical.

Harpy's Bazaar

Whenever I'm looking for some amusement, LGF is usually a place to go to see what the wayward radicals are fretting about. I actually went over there to see how they were responding to the reports of violent demonstrations in Palestine by Fatah supporters. Oddly, no posts had appeared but an open thread showed a few mentions.

Which is a bit odd. This normally would be something they'd all be howling about, demonstrating how crazed the Palestinians are. Of course, a few seemed happy and were actually hoping for more internal violence, perhaps in their fluttery-hearted hope that the Palestinians would self-exterminate:
How about we hook these brothers up with some C4 and encourage them to finish what they've started?
Oh well, not much there. A bit disappointing, really.

However, not to be discouraged, I did manage to find some amusement in the far off outposts of the tightie-whitie land. This is from just before the PC War on Christmas had begun and so there was a bit of a lull in PC-rage-o-meter. Here's one chap demanding that the children be left to play with the war toys that god-fearing Republicans would dole out rather than the ones lefties would foist upon them:
Today that innocence of youth wants to be stolen by PC groups who want nothing more than to turn our young boys into 'pink' wearing pansies.
Truly, this is the liberal agenda.

Palestinian In Fight

The Palestinians are not presenting a very admirable face to the world, even to those who might normally be sympathic to their larger cause. Reports that Fatah supporters, including police, stormed the Palestinian parliament buildings in Ramallah with guns ablazing does not convey to anyone that the Palestinians are reasonably employed toward the goal of peace.

This is a disasterous performance by the Fatah, which most were claiming was the legimate party and that Hamas, with its armed militia, was simply a terrorist organisation. Opinionating was forced into the position that Hamas would necessarily reform simply because, as a governing party, it would need to conduct itself with considerably greater diplomacy and with less, much less, violence. Others simply believe that Hamas is unreformable and its election had delegitimized Palestinian efforts.

So what is one to think when Fatah now appears comprised of gunmen who would storm parliament rather than accept the outcome of an election. I think that the reports I have read of this incident might be elevating the mood of the anger of violence above that which was actually there but nonetheless, such behaviour really does the Palestinians no good at all. If anyone should know that the media would gobble up and amplify even the slightest displays of internal discontent, it should be the Palestinians themselves.

Despite the punditry that predicts Hamas will have to mellow, Hamas itself is insisting that it won't drop the hard line against the state of Israel. And it seeems that probably more than a few Israelis think that the election of Hamas demonstrates fully that the Palestinians are all nothing but a bunch of terrorists. I am afraid that this demonstration by the Fatah does nothing to dispell that notion.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Blow back

The Jill Carroll story has just taken on new meaning today.

Recall that Carroll had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom: the release of all female prisoners (11) being held by US forces. The US had recently released five of the female detainees, while claiming that their release had already been scheduled and was not, repeat not, the result of the insurgent demands.

I remember wondering, if females are acting in the insurgency, why are there only eleven of them? If they are not, why are there any at all? Puzzling, indeed.

Today, we just learned that the reason these woman have been and are likely being held is that they were being taken as ... hostages in order to gain "leverage" with terrorist subjects. That's right, the US military has been taking hostages in the war on terror. That sure sounds like non grata military behaviour from a country that says it won't bargain with terrorists. Apparently, that ideal only applies when the terrorists are the one who have the hostages.

Naturally, the Pentagon calls what others might describe as terrorist activity as a "tactic" and that they were not kidnapped but rather, "seized."

But still, readers might be inclined toward the idea that this isn't necessarily a bad move, war is hell and all that and that those woman were probably bad-asses anyway. One woman had three children, one six months old and still nursing, a real bad ass bent on raising the next generation of jihadists.

Not likely. But do you know what would raise the next generation of jihadists? Seeing your mother kidnapped by the US military.

A 14-year US intelligence officer testified that
During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF [Task Force] personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's surrender.

The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing.
After the officer complained, she was released.

Despite the eye witness testimony of a uniformed US officer, Deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, stated that such claims were "outrageous," that hostage taking was something Saddam did. This reasoning apparently exonerates the US military, because no one would ever do what Saddam used to do. Mr. Ali seems not to have been informed of whatever became of Saddam's former torture prison, Abu Graib. Nor is he apparently aware of the tacitly supported, El Salvadoran-style death squads that seem to be roaming about the war torn land. I'm fairly sure Saddam had death squads.

Anyway, Carroll's kidnapping seems to me to be demonstrating that it is now pay back time. You grab our women, we grab yours. Battling hostage-takers.

Winning hearts and mind, one hostage at time. This is just great.

Living the Dream

It looked like some momentum had been building for the filibuster when Clinton flip-flopped and now is saying that she will support the move. Maybe she's not as worthless as I thought. Whoa! what am I saying?

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, however, is quite another matter and is basically saying, forget it:
Everyone knows there is not enough votes to support a filibuster.
Everyone knows this? If a few more Democratic flip-floppers do their thing, then no, everyone does not know this.

But how is that for a slumpy, self-fulfilling prophesy? What a pathetic take on the situation. As minority leader, Reid should be leading the push for a filibuster. Instead, he resigns himself to his own inaction, even as others are changing their minds at the same time because they are getting hammered by their own constituents.

But Reid insists that all the Dems can do is
express their opinion as to what a bad choice it was to replace (retiring Justice) Sandra Day O’Connor with Alito
I'm not exactly sensing a fire in the belly, here.

It's wake up time, Harry.

Legislating for Dummies

This is friggin' unbelievable.

With a racheting deficit and no end of it in sight, wars and rumours of wars abounding, a devastated region of the country receiving inadequate post-Katrina assistance, and corruption and scandal rife throughout the GOP, what does a valiant state senator from Florida decide is a terribly pressing issue? Why that ol' distractive standby, "assaults" on the godly nature of the Pledge of Allegiance. And Boy Scouts.

By way of Pensacola Beach Blog comes this ridiculous little item. State senator Ken Pruitt has introduced the -- ready? -- The Boy Scouts and Pledge of Allegiance Protection Act, designed, it appears, to fight the good fight and oppose godless liberals and "anti-God forces." Pruitt is soliciting money, of course, for his "push" on the legislation. As Pruitt claims,
Part of my purpose is to force liberals in the Florida Senate to take a stand one way or the other.
And he intends to
impeach any judge in Florida who votes to overturn this law.
What the other part of his purpose is remains unclear, though I expect it can be gleaned from the existence of just those very calamities listed above. When things look bad, toss out the God card.

I would like to believe the majority of Americans are getting a little weary of this Republican ploy, but who knows. I thought religious pandering had peaked when resident House moron Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) introduced H.R 579, titled,
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected
I guess that was incorrect.

By attaching the Boy Scouts to the Pledge of Allegiance fight, Pruitt has effectively offered a piece of legislation, though I am loathe to use that word to describe this piece of shit, which no one could vote against without some qualms. After all, who can be against the Boy Scouts? Not child pornographer Boy Scout leaders. Only America-haters are against the Boy Scouts.

Divide and Get Conquered

Democratic Party disunity is legion. Sometimes this is not necessarily a bad thing and, on occasion, it indicates a little independence from the party line, which is something Republicans rarely ever seem to manage. But sometimes disunity is clearly ill-advised.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the several Democratic senators who are currently opposing a potential filibuster of the Alito nomination. Though reasons abound which cast Alito in a suspicious light, some of the Dems -- Dems who one might have expected more from -- just don't seem to get what is going on here. Alito is, if anything, a jurist who will confirm the current Bush administration's reasoning that the president has "unitary executive power" right now.

Though many legal scholars have portrayed such reasoning as hovering on the "fringe" of constitutional law, Alito does not view it that way. He will do nothing but confirm this reasoning. He might even help peck away at Roe v. Wade, but that is really an aside for Bush, something to keep his fundamentalist "base" happy. And mostly, I expect, that pecking away will following along the lines of permitting intrusive government agencies to search medical records, like Ascroft and some state's attorneys have already tried to do, in ad hoc persecutions of women who had sought abortions. Certainly Lawrence v. Texas might come into jeopardy at some point.

Save the Court has an online letter asking visitors to send a letter to some "key senators" demanding they filibuster Alito. What is interesting is the list of senators, many of whom have publicly stated that filibustering Alito is a no-no. The list is interesting, to say the least:
Bayh, Evan (Democrat - IN) Phone: (202) 224-5623
Obama, Barack (Democrat - IL) Phone: (202) 224-2854
Dodd, Christopher (Democrat - CT) Phone: (202) 224-2823
Lieberman, Joseph (Democrat - CT) Phone: (202) 224-4041
Biden, Joseph (Democrat - DE) Phone: 202-224-5042
Nelson, Bill (Democrat - FL) Phone: 202-224-5274
Durbin, Richard (Democrat - IL) Phone: (202) 224-2152
Snowe, Olympia (Republican - ME) Phone: (202) 224-1946
Reid, Harry (Democrat - NV) Phone: 202-224-3542
Schumer, Charles (Democrat - NY) Phone: 202-224-6542
Clinton, Hillary (Democrat - NY) Phone: (202) 224-4451
Chafee, Lincoln (Republican - RI) Phone: (202) 224-2921
Feingold, Russell (Democrat - WI) Phone: (202) 224-5323
Hearing that Obama would oppose the filibuster is more than disappointing. Biden is there, as usual. Despite that blowhard's voluminous babbling in the hearings, he can't bring himself to filibuster. He would probably view this as tarnish on his record when he makes his Rove-backed run for prez in 2008. Clinton, worthless as ever. Leiberman? Yeah, big surprise. Reid is a puzzle here. The glorious leader?

The only one on the list that is surprising is Feingold, but maybe he is just too much in the pocket of McCain. Other than that, his opposition to a Democratic filibuster makes no sense.

But this really demonstrates all this is wrong with the Dems these days. Many of these senators are party seniors and leaders. And if they can't get together with the rest of the party on this, when will they? They seem to have learned nothing from the onslaught of GOP unity that that party demonstrates on almost everything. Yeah, a few in the GOP will make noises about things once in awhile, but when it comes to voting, it is rare to see this kind of discord on the Republican side of things. And that is why the GOP has pretty much done what they have wanted to do, with little resistance from these whelps.

Mikulski on Alito: Opposed

Senator Mikulski's opinion on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is excellent. She opposes Alito and she does so for very good reasons. The reasoning is well laid out and extensive. I encourage anyone who is not entirely familiar with the issues surrounding the character and legal underpinnings of Alito and his nomination hearings to check it out. Clear, concise and loaded with all the facts.
With the hearings over, I am still asking: ‘Who is the real Judge Alito?’

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Conflicted Opinion

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

The Army is "in a race against time" to adjust to the demands of war "or risk `breaking' the force in the form of a catastrophic decline" in recruitment and re-enlistment.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday strongly rejected warnings in a Pentagon-contracted study that the Iraq war risks "breaking" the U.S. Army ...

"The force is not broken," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press briefing yesterday. "I just can't imagine someone looking at the United States armed forces today and suggesting that they're close to breaking. That's just not the case.

The forces are stretched ... and I don't think there's any question of that ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

God Hates You

earthtogod has an amusing post up about the inimitable Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Of course, it is pretty hard not be amusing when talking about Phelps. The man is just plain nuts, in a hateful yet godly way.

Apparently dispatched by Phelps to do god's work, a group of godly hate monkeys arrived in Baltimore to protest the showing of the play, The Laramie Project, by Moisés Kaufman. The play is a documentary that gives voice to a number of residents of Laramie, Wyoming. Kaufman conducted more than 200 interviews and the play is based upon the personal outlooks regarding the death of Mathew Sheppard and larger societal issues, which that lynching brought into sharp relief. As Techtonic Theatre Project says,
The Laramie Project chronicles the life of the town of Laramie in the year after the murder, using eight actors to embody more than sixty different people in their own words - from rural ranchers to university professors. The result is a complex portrayal that dispels the simplistic media stereotypes and explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.
Sounds compelling to me. Fred Phelps and his ministry of dirty thoughts have, of course, quite a different take on tolerance and understanding. I can easily imagine Westboro members cheering on Sheppard's lynch mob, if not actively participating. Whoa! That's harsh, you might be saying. It is not nearly as harsh as Phelps himself.

Remember, this is the same church that celebrated the deaths of 5,000 Swedes in the tsunami because Sweden has tolerant laws that do not discrimminate against same-sex couples. Phelps has also claimed to be plotting the assissination of the King of Sweden because of this gay couple tolerance. Phelps dispatched followers to a soldier's funeral and displayed signs that read, "GOD HATES YOU." Phelps' position is that soldiers are dying because they are fighting for a government that supports abortion, etc., and therefore deserve to die. Wrap your head around that one.

But I'm also left wondering: what is it that these Phelps freaks do that let's them buggar off from Kansas in the middle of the week to protest a play in Baltimore?

Another Investigation is Business as Usual

The White House is, once again, refusing to cooperate with an investigation of executive incompetence surrounding the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. This is exactly the same behaviour it exhibited with the 9/11 commission when that panel was investigating executive incompetence surrounding the failure of the upper management of various intelligence agencies to "connect the dots," despite there having been a hell of a lot of dots. The White House does not like people prying into its incompetence and always claims executive privilege in order to keep the inner workings of that obvious incompetence a secret.

The White House is denying congressional requests for executive branch communications before and after the hurricane, citing the usual confidentiality requirement. Just what could be so secretive about conversations regarding disaster response is anyone's guess. I might suggest that such communication would reveal just how lax this administration was regarding the disaster.

We all remember at the time that Bush was on vacation and remained there, Cheney was on vacation and remained there, Chertoff appeared to have no idea what was going on, Condi was up in New York buying shoes until some woman accosteded her for her inattention, and Brown was busy rolling up his sleeves, making dinner reservations and doing ... nothing else. I'm sure those communications would be quite revealing. And lest we forget, these are the same top level officials who tell us their "first priority" is the safety and security of Americans. After Katrina, I cannot believe people buy that bilge.

But of course, the White House is now saying, just as it did about it's stonewalling the 9/11 commission, that it is acceding congressional requests even though it is not:
The White House and the administration are cooperating with both the House and Senate.
-- White House spokesman, Trent Duffy.

There has been a near total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation that we have a responsibility to do.
-- Joe Leiberman
Joe Leiberman said that, for god's sakes. Given his usual obsequious position with the White House, this has got to prick one's attention. That and the historic behaviour of the White House should make it obvious which statement is closer to the truth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Alaska Vote Data: Can't Touch This

A month ago, in December, 2005, Democrats in Alaska were busy making pests of themselves and were then demanding a public audit of the vote totals from the 2004 election, both by district and state-wide. They did so because the public record provided made no sense at all. It will be noted at this point that Diebold has the state contract in Alaska to provide election machines, the very ones that have been shown to be easily hackable.

For instance, district-by-district vote count addition yields a total of 292,267 votes for Bush whereas his official state total was reported as 190,889. More than 100,000 votes in various districts are unaccounted for in the state total. Whitney Brewster claims that the reported results are accurate and consistent and that the Dems are grousing because the voting data,
is just not being reported in the form the Democratic Party would prefer.
By "prefer" Brewster is casting the calls for arithmetic consistency as a political maneuver. That's right, using arithmetic to demonstrate a problem in the voting record is now a devisive partisan attack.

Needless to say, Brewster never did provide an acceptable answer for why these numbers, and many others throughout the state, failed to add up. Brewster does provide what appears to be an explanation, but the Dems remained unconvinced and wanted to actually see that data and verify the explanation. The Dems are not asserting that hacking had happend, only that they are
trying to determine how many votes each candidate got in each district, and we can't tell that from the public data.
Well, it appears that the Dems will not be allowed to do this, at least not right away. The Alaska State Division of Elections has just denied access to the voting data, which by most legal reckoning should be publically accessible. And what does the Elections Division claim is the reason?
They claim the electronic computer file that contains all the final vote tallies is proprietary information belonging to Diebold Election Systems.
Public voting data is now the proprietary information of a corporate entity, Diebold Inc. and cannot be revealed to ... anyone. How much time was going to pass before this defense would be trotted out? Well, there it is, right now. Hilariously, Diebold claims that handing over the data
"could give away the secret of how their software works." I'll bet it could.

This voting machine situation is just getting absurd, although it has been following that path for sometime now. How have we allowed corporate interests to conduct and manage the most crucial public function of any democracy, corporate interests whose very executives have a clear and undenied partisan bias?

And now, when concerns arise and public data is demanded for scrutiny, corporations claim property rights over such data to keep investigation at bay. If such a claim is allowed to stand, election transparency has effectively disappeared. This has got to come to an end!

Dangers, Fathomed and Not

Paul Roberts has been on a tear. After citing his piece on Iran in the previous post, he now has a bit up about the new Secret Service Uniformed Division presidential police force. Though his title is Unfathomed Dangers in PATRIOT Act Reauthorization, I have already opined that at least some of the dangers are entirely fathomable.

Roberts points out something that I initially overlooked and that is that this police force will have jurisdiction at any
an event designated under section 3056(e) of title 18 as a special event of national significance.
Just what qualifies as a SENS is unstated and therefore, arbitrary. They do not necessarily need to be events at which Bush or any of the designated protectees in the Act are even in attendance. They will be whatever George Bush says they are.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ira_ is a Nuclear Threat

Former editor and columnist at the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, Paul Craig Roberts has the kind of conservative creds and opinions that actually make me respect conservatives. Indeed, an actual conservative perspective is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the fetid rancour most Bush supporters expel in defense of the president.

Lately, Roberts has been articulating any number of criticisms of the Bush administration. His latest is well worth a look, as he discusses the implications of an attack on Iran:
Unlike Israel, which does have nuclear weapons, Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.Under the treaty countries are permitted nuclear energy. Inspections make certain no weapons are produced. Iran agrees to abide by the treaty and to have the inspections.

Israel, however, and its neocon allies in the Bush administration, claim without any evidence that Iran is making a bomb. The nuclear inspectors find no evidence of a weapons program. Israel and its neocon allies reply that once Iran has the know-how for nuclear power, it will be able to make the material from which to make a bomb, therefore, Iran must not be permitted its rights under the non-proliferation treaty.

Since Iran refuses to give up its treaty rights to develop nuclear energy, Israel and the neocons maintain that Iran’s facilities must be bombed and destroyed.

Americans will pay a heavy price for Israeli paranoia.


If tactical nuclear weapons are used in the bombing of Iran, as the neoconservatives advocate, America will be reviled throughout the world. Americans will never recover from the burden of shame and war crimes inflicted upon them by the Bush administration.

An attack on Iran could be the death knell for our troops in Iraq and for our puppets in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The majority Iraqi Shi’ites have tolerated the US occupation because the majority Shi’ites are the gainers from the US insistence on majority rule. The Iraqi Shi’ites are allied with Shi’ite Iran. They will recognize an attack on Iran as a blow struck against Shi’ite power. If the Iraqi Shi’ites turn on our troops, US casualties will soar.

The best way to ensure US defeat in Iraq is to attack Iran.
Roberts is exactly correct here. Probably by design, he chooses not to delve into the "source" of the intelligence being used by the Bush administration to make the claims that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Cernig has been all over this and has oft pointed out that the so-called intelligence appears to be coming from the Mujahedeen e-Kalqh, aka MEK, a Hussein-supported terrorist group that has had designs on bringing down the Iranian regime for years.

Irony is rich here. At least one of the initial rationales for the Iraq invasion was Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda and his sponsorship of terrorism, which the Bush administration claimed were one and the same. While the latter was certainly true, as Larry Johnson as detailed (a highly recommeded read, by the way), the former was clearly not. Nonetheless, Hussein did actively support terrrorism and one of his chief terrorist beneficiaries was the ... MEK, the very organisation whose claims the Bush administration is now using to drum up the fear about Iran:
Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, MEK is led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK was added to the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997.
As is well known at this point, the Bush administration will dip into any old shit pile looking for an external "opinion" that supports its own preconceived agenda. I say agenda specifically because, as with Iraqi WMD, the Bushies never believed they existed until 9/11 happened. With the new agenda track that incident provided, suddenly Hussein's Iraq went from being contained and "not a threat," to being the most dangerous regime on the planet in, oh, about a year:
Cheney, Sep, 2001: "Saddam Hussein's bottled up."
Cheney, Jan, 2003: "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

Rice, July, 2001: "We are able to keep arms from [Saddam]. His military forces have not been rebuilt."
Rice, Nov, 2002: "[Iraq is] armed with weapons of mass destruction."

Rumsfeld, 1998: the whole Iraq WMD program was smoke-and-mirrors*
Rumsfeld, Jan, 2003: "Saddam Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons"

Powell, Feb, 2001: Iraq is "contained" and "threatens not the United States."
Powell, Feb, 2003: Iraq's WMD pose a "real and present danger to the region and to the world."
And we now know fully, whence much of this disinformation came: Ahmed Chalabi and other disaffected Iraqis who wanted to see the overthrow of Hussein. Should it not be signalling bells that this very same condition is being met over the Iran dispute?

With two elections and a referedum that have seen sectarian splits and a dominant Shi'a majority making nice with Tehran, what is the Bush agenda now? Why is the quest for democracy in Iraq now on the back-burner? Iraq reconstruction swirling down the toilet of broken dreams? Why, because we need to nuke them, before they nuke us. Isn't it obvious?

The Bush administration does indeed seem to be gunning for fight and the rest of the world can neither figure out why nor how it will happen. But the why isn't that much of a mystery. With the Iraq democracy model leaning toward ties with the Iranian Shiites, the White House can think of no option but to now threaten that country. Which, of course, is exactly the wrong tack to take. This is a no-win situation, militarily.

Any attack on Iran will spell the beginning of the end of US hegemony, such as it is, in the region. As Simon Jenkins points out, Iran a far bigger power than Iraq ever was. Russia and China have no interest in harming economic relations with Iran over wholly discredited neo-con fantasies of secular democracy and rose petals. And Russia is in a win-win situation should the UN vote for sanctions. Shutting off Iranian oil will do nothing but increase dependency by Europe on Russian petroleum. I can't see the Euros being too keen on that and George Bush and his administration must be viewed by much of the world as the biggest blundering band of idiots ever to have stepped foot in the White House.

Invasion, of course, is completely out of the question. We can barely maintain force levels in Iraq, let alone launch into Iran, a country with an army of some 350,000 troops (2004). But that has not been the option the Bushies have ever really spelled out. What they have been indicating, and for sometime now, is the air strike option, possibly using tactical nuclear weapons. And you know guys like Cheney and Rumsfeld have big ol' hard on to drop a few of those babies on somebody. Anybody!

Nothing the Bush administration has done lately dispells any such speculation. In fact, they have primarily been the ones espousing it. Which shows just how out of touch with the real world situation they actually are. The White House seems not to have the slightest clue as to the repercussions of either economic sanctions or a military strike on Iran. And given that they are again threatening to attack a country based on phoney intelligence, one wonders how much it will take before the world decides they need to stop the crazy bastards.

Unguarded Moments

We now are presented, as news, the fact that the President of the United States has lately been taking "unscripted audience questions" during speeches. This is, ostensibly, a "throwback" to the "folksy style" he employed so lovingly during his campaign. While the questions per se may not be "prescreened," as with Bush's campaign appearances, the audiences most assuredly are filtered through a fine pro-Bush mesh of "invitation only" attendance.

So, it is difficult to understand this statement in the NY Times story, which claims that Bush's pre-screened audience appearances are vastly different than his pre-screened audience campaign appearances:
It's a throwback to the folksy style on the campaign trail that helped him win re-election and a departure from the heavily scripted speeches that were the norm last year.
A departure? While it had been the case that "questions" like "Why are you so wonderful, George Bush?" were only kind that were pre-approved on the campaign trail, the invitation-only nature of these recent venues is hardly a "departure" from Bush's innate fear of confrontation.

In what can only be described as a striking moment, Bush answers a question about what is the best and worst things about being president. To Bush, the best thing for him is inviting "childhood friends" over to the White House and impressing the hell out of them. Yes, it seems our president lives simply to goad long-time friends and acquiantences with his Commander-in-chief status. Just what we need, a puerile gloater with a finger on The Button.

Along with a large swath of the American public, the people who have known Bush since kindergarten also seem mystified by his ascension,
They walk in there and, kind of (say), `What are you doing here, Bush?'
Indeed. We haven't heard a good answer to this rather loaded question, really. None is expected to be forth coming. However, two words do come to mind: "Karl" and "Rove."

Geheime Staatspolizei

Otherwise known as the Gestapo, this official secret police force existed under the umbrella administration of the Schutzstaffel (SS) in Nazi Germany but was directly administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA), the Reich Central Security Office. Think of the RHSA as the Bush administration's Orwellian Department of Homeland Security. The Gestapo had authority to combat "all tendencies dangerous to the State."

Though the official scope of today's DHS is rather larger than the duty of the RHSA's, as the respsonse to Katrina demonstrated, the functional scope of the DHS does not extend beyond the regime of terrorism, a term that comes with it an ability to morph on demand. The RHSA's mandate was to fight "enemies of the Reich." In today's lexicon, these enemies would be labelled "evil doers," or in the preferred legalistic jargon of the White House, "enemy combatants." That has appeared to be all the DHS concerns itself with, though it has done a spectacularly bad job of that, having received a failing grade from post-9/11 commission group.

How does the Gestapo fit into comparison of the USDHS and the RHSA? Ben Frank has been diving into the Patriot Act that is coming up for renewal, again, and has uncloaked a rather interesting provision within the bowels of that dastardly piece of legislation. Under the purview of the DHS, Section 605 of the USA Patriot Act provides for the establishment of National Secret Service Police Force:
here is hereby created and established a permanent police force, to be known as the `United States Secret Service Uniformed Division'. Subject to the supervision of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division shall perform such duties as the Director, United States Secret Service, may prescribe in connection with the protection of the following:
(1) The White House in the District of Columbia.
(2) Any building in which Presidential offices are located.
(3) The Treasury Building and grounds.
This subsection goes onto list more specific duties and targets of "protection"; various members of the executive, but the salient point is the overriding concern for the protection of the executive and especially the president and vice president. As Frank points out, the US has never had a federal police force and this will operate exclusively at the behest of the president, without oversight by any other branch of the federal government. Lack of oversight, especially judicial oversight, was a prized feature of the Gestapo. As we have seen this administration argue, the courts have no authority over presidential decrees of "enemy combatant" and that such decrees are his purview and his alone. A secret service police force adds considerable muscle to such a stance.

The establishment of the SSUD is of a piece with another provision in the Patriot Act that would allow the arrest and imprisonment of "disruptors" of public events, specifically, public appearances of George Bush or Dick Cheney. The term is purposefully vague and would allow the newly established SSUD to arrest anyone, anywhere who might be inclined toward protest, which could be as benign as pointed questioning.
A "little-noticed provision" in the latest version of the Patriot Act will empower Secret Service to charge protesters with a new crime of "disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics." Secret Service would also be empowered to charge persons with "breaching security" and to charge for "entering a restricted area" which is "where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting."
No one really knows, of course, just what a "disruptor" would have to do in order to get themselves arrested. But that is the point. Since the American public can't know what is and is not allowed, then they must think that any -- any -- dissent could lead to jail time and a criminal record. Such a condition naturally has a chilling effect on that sort of behaviour, which is just what Bush wants. As was noted about the Gestapo:
By February and March 1942, student protests were calling for an end to the Nazi regime. Despite the significant popular support for the removal of Hitler, would-be revolutionaries were stalled into inaction by the well-placed fear of reprisals from the Gestapo. In fact, reprisals did come in response to the protests.
With the potential passage of the Patriot Act, Bush (or Cheney, most likely) seeks to establish his modern day Gestapo, a state police force that will imprison anyone who publicly demonstrates against his presidential authority. In Bush's America, patriots do not question authority. Arrest and imprisonment are your only rewards for such behaviour.

How long will the American public remain stultified by Cheetos and American Idol?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Poop the Troops

Knowing Halliburton's past performances and their unbridled disregard for contracting propriety and the safety of their own employees in Iraq, it comes as no surprise to learn that they may have covered up a contaminated water condition for more than a year.
Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents....
Responsible contractor, Halliburton,... I think the author might be working in a few yucks with that one.

But this is par for the course, really. Apart from fuel pricing scams, food service contract scams, The Bonehead Compendium previously noted a Halliburton scam that had endangered lives:
The latest ill-conceived scam has drivers driving around the Iraqi desert in empty trucks and charging this against their lucrative Pentagon contracts. Of course, this might seem like typical Halliburton swindling but, in fact, has a much more dangerous element since the trucks are traversing a war zone where drivers are routinely shot at and dodge bricks and homemade bombs. Many drivers have been injured while driving empty trucks.
Then there was the prickly and deadly attitude Halliburton adopted after the Iraqi government awarded the fuel contract that had been abused by Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to a British firm, also noted by The BHC:
KBR's behaviour, which has apparently been directed by Halliburton managers, has become so churlish that when LOI convoys arrive at military sites and have suffered insurgent attack, KBR staff have refused to help the survivors. KBR claims that LOI does not have a contract with the US military, which is true, and so KBR is under no obligation to provide assistance.
And now comes the relevelation that KBR exposed civilians and troops at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, to untreated water containing raw sewage. The allegations are coming from one of KBR's own employees, William Granger.

An Halliburton spokesperson of doubtless redoubtable integrity has assured all parties that nothing of the sort happened and even military officials are saying that the "allegations appear not to have merit." Such claims are apparently belied by internal KBR memos, which say things like,
I don't want to turn it into a big issue right now....
Nope. The last thing a war contract profiteer needs is bad publicity like poisoning the troops, doing nothing about it and then attempting to cover it up. That would be bad.

Although, frankly, just how bad could it get? Halliburtion is under any number of investigations right now and nothing has happened nor does it appear that the DoD will ever mete out any "accountability." They must know that they have immunity with this administration.

Clooney Tunes

George Clooney decide to use his podium time at the Golden Globes to take an ill-advised shot at Jack Abramoff. Indeed, Clooney's remarks were entirely snide and graceless.

That being said, I still can't help but work up some amusement about Frank Abramoff (dear old dad) and his open letter to Clooney, castigating the actor for his crude comment, something which I will shortly engage myself. It's filled with invective but a couple of passages stand out:
We have had to endure two years of unmitigated, outrageous falsehood directed at my son and his record of achievement on behalf of his clients and friends.
Who could help but ask, Does Daddy Abramoff know his son copped a deal, pled guilty to fraud and conspiracy and that he snitched on who knows how many Republicans in an effort to reduce the time he will inevitably spend in the Big House getting hammered up the ass?

This next one seems even more clueless:
Not that it matters to you, I am sure, but the worst part of your tirade is that it played out in front of many young people, including my sweet 12-year-old granddaughter, one of Jack's five children. Jack did not waste his time watching the garbage spewing from your mouth, but his daughter did. You drove her to a fit of tears.
As much as I could see that Clooney's remarks would have such an effect, I wonder how teary the tyke will be on visiting days, when she sees Daddy in an orange jumpsuit walking toward her as he exits his cell.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ripping the Media

Joe Bageant is on a tear. Check out his latest about the media -- especially NPR -- and its loathesome inability to report the facts in the face of the right wing juggernaut, which has colluded for years to, not only defile the functions of government, but to cow the media into not reporting about much of any of it. He begins,
Having come to understand that mainstream media are in the business of selling fried chicken and cars, giving Wall Street head, and stealing bandwidth from the public's airwaves, none of us expect them to question anything afoot in the empire. We quite understand they cannot be wasting profitable air time on a nation whose collective memory is 30 seconds long.
And keeps on rolling....

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Wicked Wide Web

More on the connections between Cunningham, DeLay and Brent Wilkes....

In December of last year, Joe Cannon at Cannonfire and Sherlock Google at dKos had detailed an intricate network of Brent Wilkes/Mitchell Wade front corporations that appeared to be nothing more than GOP money funnels for various congressional Republican candidates around the country. The companies, so set up, began receiving DoD contracts that had been awarded by none other than Randy "Duke" Cunningham's House Intelligence and Appropriations Committee. Cunningham, of course, has since pleaded guilty to bribery charges for receiving graft in exchange for directing contracts to at least one of Wilkes' DoD contractors, MZM Inc.. The media immediately fell silent or, at best, reported that other investigations of congressional Republicans, including the case against Tom DeLay, were "unrelated."

When this story started burbling up, the UnCap Journal had proposed that the Cunningham plea had been designed for just this purpose:
It seems clear now that Cunnnigham's confession was designed for one thing: to shut down further investigation of his ties to Wilkes and these front companies. Local authorities may have been lulled into to a sense of satisfaction with the guilty plea but it certainly looks like they're being played because it was Duke Cunningham who, in 1997, said that anyone questioning his lobbying actions and DoD contract awards could "go to hell." His contrition carries a great deal of suspicion.
Indeed, the larger media has barely mentioned these subsequent investigations of Wilkes/DeLay. While the media may have been happy to make claims of unrelatedness, either through ignorance or sloth, at least one party decided that DeLay/Cunningham/Wilkes were, in fact, connected.

Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, the man responsible for DeLay's indictment and one who has demonstrated remarkable investigative vigor, subpoenaed the bank records of several of Wilkes' companies:
District Attorney Ronnie Earle issued subpoenas late Monday afternoon for California businessmen Brent Wilkes and Max Gelwix, records of Perfect Wave Technologies LLC, Wilkes Corp. and ADCS Inc. in connection with a contribution to a fundraising committee at the center of the investigation that led to DeLay's indictment on money laundering charges.
To this, DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin said,
He can subpoena all he wants, there's nothing there.
Well, Earle took DeGuerin's advice. No doubt the initial round of subpoenas led to some interesting findings and Earle has now subpoenaed further documents surrounding the monetary machinations of Wilkes' companies.

Despite DeGuerin's assurrances that "there's nothing there," the subpoenaed documents do appear to have exposed some interesting connections. One of Wilkes' alleged front companies, PerfectWave Technologies, was given $40,000 by William Bain Adams on Sept 18, 2002. Two days later, PerfectrWave then donated $15K of the "investment" to Tom DeLay's political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, aka TRMPAC. The rest of the initial $40 thousand was then donated directly to an event that was to honour Randy Cunningham, the "Tribute to Heroes" gala, which was organised by Brent Wilkes.

DeLay is under indictment for money laundering, specifically regarding the shifting of $190,000 in corporate donations to the Republican National Committee (RNC), which then sent the same amount to DeLay's Texas Republican comrades. In what DeLay's lawyer will surely call a coincidence, PerfectWave sent their $15,000 to TRMPAC at almost exactly the same time that TRMPAC received the money from the RNC. Earles is no doubt curious as to why a San Diego-based defense contractor would be sending money to Texas state Republicans.

DeGuerin, DeLay's lawyer, just can't keep his mouth shut. He keeps egging on Ronnie Earle, who seems only too happy to issue more and more subpoenas,
any lawyer worth his salt will see the subpoenas are not worth so much toilet paper.
I'm guessing Earle is on a salt-free diet these days.

Stay tuned. This can only get better.

[via: Josh Marshall]

Down some Brown

There couldn't have been many who were not bemused by the irony that disgraced former FEMA director Michael Brown, a man who displayed his mammoth incompetence to the Senate when he asked the senators themselves what it was he should have be doing in response to Katrina, announced that he was starting his own "disaster preparedness" consulting firm. Well, that tale just keeps getting better, or worse, depending on one's perspective.

Though his incompetence was apparent to everyone except himself, Brown seems to have finally come around and has admitted his shortcomings. And, in a truly awakened moment, even says that
I still do believe that things weren't working too well down there.
How's that for going out on a limb? He makes it sound like his "belief" ran counter to wider misperceptions that the response to Katrina went pretty well, that he has been on some mission to correct those misguided notions. Will someone ever tell this guy he'd be much better off if he would just stop speaking in public.

That hasn't happened yet, though. Somehow, he has managed to sqwank his way into being a keynote speaker at the Broadcast and National Weather Service Meteorologists meeting in California. I expect he'll be hinting at some of his techniques for storm preparedness:
1) Buy clothing at Nordstrom's.
2) Roll up sleeves on said clothing.
4) Look busy! This should be greatly aided by 2)
5) Make reservations for dinner.
6) Avoid using email, if at all possible.

Your Liberal Mainstream Media

Glenn Beck, a radio personality heard on nearly 200 stations nationwide, is joining CNN Headline News to host "Glenn Beck," a topical talk show.
CNN -- Jan. 17, 2006
let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it....

...it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families...

...that's all we're hearing about, are the people in New Orleans. Those are the only ones that we're seeing on television are the scumbags...
The Glenn Beck Show, various dates.

Nuclear Iran

If you have not been keeping up with Cernig at Newshog about the Iran situation, I highly recommend a click over. Cernig has been following the situation supremely well and, for anyone looking for in depth understanding of just what is going on with the negotiations and the accusations of nuclear weapons development that are being cast by the Bush adminstration, I can't recommend his work enough. Please, check it out.

Blast from the Past

It was amazing to see the top headline of the NY Times yesterday. With Iraq war ongoing, the infringement on Pakistani sovereignty by a CIA-launched attack that killed a dozen or more civilians, the Iran situation threathening to redline, congressional Republicans embroiled in Abramoff corruption, illegal NSA wiretapping concerning many, New Orleans still a mess and promising to get yet worse before, if ever, it gets better, what is the top headline in the Times yesterday? You may have had to rub your eyes and check it again:
Inquiry on Clinton Official Ends With Accusations of Cover-Up
It was a time warp. It was 1999 all over again. It didn't deflect things for long but it was an amusing attempt to counter the current and far more serious issues that are strangling the Bush administration right now.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy Meal

Certainly it is not surprising to see the political bickering currently underway between Democrats and Republicans regarding the Abramoff case. And while the Abramoff scandal is most assuredly a Republican event, GOP leaders are engaged in an all out effort to portray it as "bipartisan" corruption. The media, as usual, have adopted their mincing he said/she said stenography that passes as journalism these days. Despite Abramoff having ratted out a number of lumbering elephants, the media are more than content to allow the GOP to say that the Dems are just as involved with Abramoff as they are. As David Brooks commented awhile back, this is the GOP talking point on Abramoff: why, you're almost as corrupt as we are!

The media have failed to note the difference between GOP members receiving direct money from Abramoff and that some of Abramoff's clients, Indian tribes he was bilking for millions at the time, were still giving some cash to a few Dems, namely Harry Reid. For outlets like the NY Times, it is now and has been for sometime, simply sufficient to echo what each party hack says. For instance,
Republicans mounted a fierce counteroffensive. They ... accused Mr. Reid of ties to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
and the counter,
Jack Abramoff is a Republican scandal and a Republican crisis.
Strictly speaking, the first statement is patently false. Reid receiving money from Indian tribes that Abramoff was screwing over while calling them "clients" does not a tie make. Unless, of course, you're a Republican covering your ass. Does the NY Times clarify this? You probably already know the answer to that question.

Only one of the above statments is true, though, unless one is fairly well acquainted with the Abramoff story, a reader might at least believe both. The result of this stenography is that the GOP makes gains against some of their own rather scurrilous behaviour. And while Democrats past were certainly doing some shady wheeling and dealing, that is simply not germane to the current issue. By allowing the GOP to bring historic Democratic perfidy into the discussion, the media effectively buffers Republicans from current criticism about their behaviour in the Abramoff case. Which, of course, is why the Repubs do it.

Nonetheless, at some point in the not to distant past -- a few days ago -- both parties realised an overhaul of House and Senate "ethics" rules was necessary in order to provide a simulacrum of propriety. Even this, though, has devolved into acrimony, with each party vying to adopt new and better rules before the other. The whole process is now devolving into a typical Capitol Hill circus, with the Republican argument amounting to something like well, yeah we did it, but you did before, so there! It is so utterly obvious that these clowns have zero interesting in reforming themselves and are simply going through these motions to provide a veneer of virtue. Does anyone buy this nonsense?

Often, larger issues like wide spread government corruption and its ostensible "reform" can be boiled down by a single, ill-advised comment, delivered without much thought. Which is exactly why they can be so revealing. Trent Lott provided one such comment when, in response the new "ethics package" being consider by the GOP leadership, he said,
Now we're going to say you can't have a meal for more than 20 bucks. Where are you going, to McDonald's?
Lott is clearly concerned that, if lobbyists aren't buying pricey meals for him, he won't know what to do. How will he survive? Though it may be hard to imagine the well-fed senator going hungry, Lott seems to indicate that he would be at an utter loss -- might even get a tad peckish -- once it becomes illegal for Abramoff to wine and dine the fat and happy senator at Signatures.

Here's thought, Trent: buy your own goddamn dinner. For once.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Divine Retribution

Religious fundamentalists love employing God when explaining the world's disasters. Usually, I derive some amusement from this, in a head-shaking sort of way. Such events are often described as being the direct result of a terrible wrath. But only some of the world's disasters need explanation in this way. The Asian tsunami was explained by the incredible Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church that that devastation was really wrecked upon the Swedish tourists who were vacationing there. Sweden, you see, is quite tolerant of gay people, something that is clearly upsetting God, so he decided to wipe out a few hapless tourists in Asia. Though there were 175,000 others killed who were not Swedish tourists, Fred probably put this off as acceptable collateral damage. The deaths of 5,000 Swedes was a great victory in the struggle against Satan.

But it was really Katrina that sparked an outpouring of theologising about God's wrath, Allah's wrath, Yaweh's wrath. The gods were seething with wrath and, listening to the various wrath merchants, it seemed that they all got together and agreed on one thing: New Orleans must be destroyed.

In the Christian fundamentalist camp, it was believed Katrina had been an Almighty blow that demonstrated a certain disagreement with the disengagement in Gaza. While some may have believed this, Jerry Robinson seriously explains that this just can't be the case; while the Bible is adamant that we all will be judged, he doubts that the hurricane is that judgement. Jerry tells us that the "dispension of Grace" is actually the only thing keeping the earth and all of humanity alive and that this divine dispensation has yet to be shut off, or closed down, or however it works, it hasn't yet stopped working:
The Bible makes it clear that God's wrath will not be poured out upon mankind until the dispensation of Grace comes to an end. When does the dispensation of Grace end? At the rapture of the church.
Thank heaven for small mercies. Or maybe this is a large mercy. I don't pretend to know these sorts of things. Who can keep track of all the Mercies and Grace while God is busy reigning death and destruction upon humanity?

Now, it is not just vast calamities that are the result of godly wrath. On occasion, fundies will claim that God can and does inflict a very singular and personal pain upon some perceived ne'er-do-well, which is where Ariel Sharon comes in.

The Gaza withdrawal worked fundamentalists into quite a lather and cogger Pat Robertson, as usual, was foaming more than most. Amongst the bubbles of righteousness, Robertson claimed that just such a divine personal attack was evidenced by Ariel Sharon's stroke. This was God's higly focused retribution for Sharon's blasphemous Gaza disengagement policy.

To more impartial observers, just what was being witnessed here? On the surface, the claims appeared at odds; were we seeing a conflict of wrath-based reasoning? Did the Gaza pullout result in Katrina or Sharon's stroke? Maybe this was a holy trinity two-fer of Almighty Indignation. It was all quite confusing.

That confusion in the realm of divine retribution was the result of a number of schools of thought that emerged on the issue of Katrina. While some blamed Middle East policy, Robertson pronounced that it had, in fact, been Roe v. Wade that had cause a enormous pent up wrath that finally unleashed itself on Lousiana in the form of the catagory 4 hurricane. Robertson did not associate Gaza policy and Katrina, and to him, the abortion problem had to be settled by busting wide a few levees on the Mississippi.

But fundamentalist Christians were not the only nuts thinking that God's hand was involved in wiping out New Orleans. We might recall that Muslims, too, saw an opening and immediately began working Allah into the equation. Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, who is director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment, made this pronouncement:
The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda.
Apparently, Katrina viewed Al Qaeda's methods a little too severe. Again, small mercies.

Obviously, the divine nature of Katrina had become a sectarian battle of wrath and lent yet more confusion to this simple storm's provenance. But had we reached the end of it; were all possible explanations now laid out? Oh, no. No, no, no.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has now emerged from months of public attention slumber and has made himself only the latest political figure to explain the circumstances of Hurricane Katrina by way of God's wrath. But unlike Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, who claimed that God had smote the city for its wickedness, Nagin believes that God is just really pissed about the Iraq war and so chose to devastate New Orleans as a demonstration of his displeasure with our warring ways. Oh, as a coinincidental aside, God is also unhappy with black people and how they treat each other:
Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretences. But surely he is upset at black America also .... We are not taking care of ourselves. We are not taking care of our women, and we are not taking care of our children when you have a community where 70% of its children are being born to one parent.

If you don't understand how killing a thousand or more aged, infirm or poor people, tearing families apart and scattering them across the country demonstrates that African Americans should take better care of themselves and their communities, well, you obviously just don't get God, do you?

To me, though, this just demonstrates more confusion. For people who claim to know what God is doing and why he is doing it, they can't seem to get the story straight. You'd think they'd just ask and get this settled.

These public pronouncements of godly intervention and retribution all give me a rather ill feeling. Is what we're hearing from these public and political figures that much different than what might have been heard in the Middle Ages? Is it any wonder science is under attack with boobs like these at the controls? How much longer before prayer comprises emergency hurricane evacuation plans?

Oh wait, it already has.

All of this is absurd, of course, and none of it makes sense. But that is the beauty of fundamentalist theologising: it doesn't have to. What should give us all pause is that public officials in the twenty first century find it perfectly appropriate to make such ridiculous statements. Accountability flies out the door when so-called representatives will cite heavenly discontent rather than their own perfidy in such trying times. But that doesn't have to be the case. The people of this country must stand against these delusions and hold those responsible for their glaring faults. They make a mockery of the public when we do not.

There is one natural event that, should it happen, might actually give me pause regarding this question of divine retribution, cause some wonderment. If a tightly focused tornado ripped through a certain ranch in Crawford, Texas and, while George Bush was out doing what he does best, sucked him up into the sky, tore him limb from limb, scattered the parts hither and yon and in each and every place one of those parts landed, a bluebell blossomed.

Now that would make me go, hmmmm....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Republicans Unveil New Ethics Plan, Pt II

I've got say, this new GOP "ethics package" sounds just great. And this item is expecially interesting:
The package also includes a virtual ban on gifts.
A "virtual ban" on gifts. Excellent. Because we wouldn't want to see anything in a new "ethics" package that would indicate an actual ban on gifts, now would we? This virtual ban is likely possessed of some airy, inconsequential nature that, once the noisy, unpleasant media din passes, will allow the GOP to return to its regularly scheduled programming.

Just as a reminder,
vir·tu·al: Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name: the virtual extinction of the buffalo.
As we all know, with proper nuturing, the buffalo have made a remarkably healthy comeback.

Republicans Unveil New Ethics Plan

WASHINGTON - House Republicans moved to seize the initiative for ethics reform Tuesday with a comprehensive package of changes...
1) Launder ill-gotten booty.
2) Rinse thoroughly and repeat.*
3) Distribute lovingly to friends, clients, family
4) Don't Get Caught!*

* New features of the GOP ethics package.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Texas Two Step

Intoxication frequently leads to a lowering of one's inhibitions, and intoxicated people will do things they would not do while sober, often ignoring social, moral, and legal considerations.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin that acts as a depressant. One of the oft untoward effects of this is that it lowers inhibitions in people who consume alcohol. While the word "inhibition" has taken on a somewhat negative connotation over the course of the last several decades and is now usually inferred and implied to mean some sort of "hang-up," a recent social encounter that was fuelled by goodly amounts of liquor reaffirmed for me that we should probably treat our inhibitions with a little more respect, if for no other reason than the fact that certain inhibitions might very well spare the owners a severe ass-whoopin'. This encounter also served as a clear demonstration that there exist some people who, when thrown into an unfamiliar environment, should probably limit their alcohol consumption until they become better acquainted with their new surroundings.

The other night, we had stopped in at our favourite local pub, sat at the bar and proceeded to consume alcohol along with all the other people who were there. Liz and I sat next to a fellow we had not seen in the pub before and struck up a conversation with him. He had clearly been lowering his inhibitions for some time. The usual introductory chit-chat ensued: you're new here, what are you doing? where are you from?

We learned that he had just arrived in Baltimore by way of the University of Hawaii, having entered a graduate program in toxicology at Johns Hopkins. He grew up in Texas, Dallas to be precise. He further explained that he was bent toward environmental policy and he clearly displayed a concern about the various chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, that lace the food supply. He believed that proximity to the policy making center of Washington would enable involvement in the environmental policy process, which he indicated was in a shambles under the current administration. I immediately asked him what he thought of the latest news that the Bush administration planned to ease regulations regarding the required reporting of legal toxic dumping events. He asserted that this was necessarily a bad move as it restricted the public's right to know of such activity, something that Attorneys general in 12 states have also claimed in a letter to the EPA.

Well, this was interesting. An environmentally aware Texan who saw through the sham environmental policies of the Bush administration. Excellent. At this point, I was completely unaware that things would soon take a turn for the worse. Much worse.

No sooner had this fellow regaled us with the neurotoxic qualities of the various chemicals that lace the food chain in the United States than he began to move into a realm of social commentary that, frankly, took Liz and me aback. So puzzled were we by this chap's racist homilies, we really didn't quite know how to react. I don't think I had ever met an environmentally concerned racist before and we were both somewhat baffled, mouths agape I strongly suspect, at the odd political striping of this individual.

Katrina victims and the bungled government response to it was a rather large target as he proceeded to explain how, a number of years ago, the northern states had taken care of "their own" during a terrible deep freeze, keeping warm thousands of people who otherwise would not have survived the minus 40 degree temperatures. All this was done with nary a federal agent in sight and, he noted over and over again, that this had happened within communities of people who were descendents of northern Europeans. Unlike that Katrina disaster, this locally organised humanitarian effort was clearly the result of morally superior of white people. Liz pointed out that many surrounding states had, indeed, offered assistance and housing to hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims. Though it seemed obvious to us that there is a marked difference between severe cold snap and a city being flooded, we did explicitly point this out. The difference, though, seemed not to register with our conversational partner. And, in an odd and somehwhat disjointed aside, the Texan claimed that "we" weren't too happy about Texas having taken in all those displaced poor folk. The meaning was obvious. What that remark indicated to me was that, should you have been a black person in North Dakota during the brutal cold snap, this good ol' boy would have left you out there to freeze in the dark. Did this Texan understand what he really was saying here?

But this was not all we would hear about. After some considerable effort to make sure we understood that he was from Texas, he then proceeded to tell us about his guns, several of which he had brought with him. Lots and lots of guns. One of these guns was gifted to him by dear old dad as the young fellow was, on occasion, going to be venturing into the war zone of Washington, DC. I now had to believe he came by this notion via media hyperbole rife with reports of the DC murder rate. To Texans, DC was a drug war zone and venturing, unarmed, into that unruly morass was a fool's errand. DC was, after all, full of black people, people whom this chap had come to believe were an inherently dangerous element of American society.

Texas, Dallas in particular, is apparently rife with guns. Well-armed Texans stroll contentedly, comforted by their armaments. At least, this is the impression we got as the Texas toxicologist informed us that Texas establishments of various kinds required patrons to surrender their firearms at their doors. Bars, pool halls, strip clubs -- the places our Texan frequented anyway -- all had lock boxes into which armed Texans were required to deposit their concealed weapons. Our new resident of Baltimore used to frequent the "only white bar in south Dallas," which was no doubt a safe white haven in which guns would not be needed. But outside, well, one could only imagine the assaults and mayhem taking place.

The inhibitions normally associated with sobriety had obviously waned in this man as he occasionally tossed out the word "nigger" during his verbal exposition of the state of Texas and in other of his social pronouncements. It was all rather jarring and Liz finally said that that was an entirely unacceptable word to be uttering these days. In fact, she warned, he could easily wind up in a seriously bad way (in a metaphorical sense he was likely to be "eaten alive," I think she later said. But even literally this could be true. Perhaps not eaten "alive" per se, but certainly eaten. You get capped and dumped in the alley, well, let's just say, the rats here are the size of footballs). He seemed to acknowledge this minor reprimand only to utter the word again and again, meekly apologising for it after each transgression.

It really was a remarkable performance and one that I was not accustomed to coming from someone I would have otherwise considered well-educated. But his education was clearly lacking in some regards and Liz and I expect that, should these musings continue in this city, Baltimore would surely impart upon him an education that he likely would not enjoy. In fact, in a subsequent conversation with a friend of ours who asked him why he thought he could talk about people that way, he claimed a heretofore unknown right, indicating that "he had earned the right to call them such names and that he wasn't worried because he could box." This struck us all as entirely unsound reasoning and I realise that I now must fear for this nation's future environmental policy.

At some point in listening to this newly dislocated Texan, my bullshit detector, the needle of which had been ticking upward throughout the conversation, finally redlined. And that point came when the Texan firmly stated that Dallas, his home, was the only major city in these United States that did not have a public transportation system. What? we asked. Is that possible? Not only was this possible, he assured us, but this condition was brilliantly designed for one thing and one thing only: to keep certain kinds of people -- them, he gravely intoned -- out of the city of Dallas.

That is quite a statement, easily verifiable and certainly nothing I had ever heard before. Now, I can't help but wonder what all those people who work for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit System do, considering that DART doesn't seem to exist according to the Texan with whom we were speaking. Perhaps DART buses function only in the outbound direction. But that doesn't seem likely; DART has its own Spanish language website, where at least some of the multitudes of undesirables can get information about bus and light rail schedules in their mother tongue. In fact, DART boasts a rather extensive network of light rail lines, buses and commuter trains. The DART system looks pretty nice, actually, and it appears to be significantly better than the one here in Baltimore, which is about as terrible as any I've encountered.

Dallas, we have a problem. Suddenly most everything else Toxicologist Tex had told us was cast in long, black shadow of doubt. What sort of pathology would lead someone to make such an obviously incorrect and easily verifiable claim? Could it be the same one that had produced the Aryan Nation racism within this man's character? I can't begin to pretend to answer that but that evening was a revelation for me. We had been informed by this fellow that his parents were either well-to-do or just plain wealthy. It seems quite likely that this young man has led a rather sheltered life, perhaps had grown up in the suburbs where his contact with people unlike himself was, at most, limited to exchanges with the hired help.

As I said earlier, this Texan's political stripes were odd, to say the least. I've never encountered such a bizarre creature: the environmentally conscientious racist. I guess there is nothing mutually exclusive about those characteristics but it still strikes as weird. I can't help but wonder if this racism will inform his environmental advocacy. Though Bush's environmental policy is certainly informed, not only by corporate interests, but also by an unholy disdain for poor people -- his record as Texas governor is truly appalling in this regard -- I can't help but wonder how much different it would be with a racist making up the rules. To most racists, black people are poor and the poor are black. This is a "truthiness" onto which they hold.

I can't speak to him about this nor will I, but I hope for his sake that he works on erasing that big, white, racist stripe down the middle of his character and until he does, I hope he stops drinking himself to the point where that stripe becomes a prominent and uninhibited feature. Because in Baltimore, things will get ugly for that boy. Fast.