Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Recipe for Disaster...

We now find ourselves at a time when choice is neutralized in much the same way that dissent has been diluted. The result is clearly a recipe for disaster...

Three Ring Security Cordons


No less than 5,000 U.S. marines, snipers, and other military, and paramilitary, personnel will protect President Bush this week on his visit to India. The personnel are part of what has been described as a "three-ring security cordon" around the president and First Lady Laura Bush. Mr. Bush's presence, in Delhi, is posing one hell of a security nightmare including attempts to thwart any attack by rocket launchers. I think this may be an unprecedented (unpresidented?) effort to protect any head of state since there were heads of state. While we knew W wasn't even close to winning any popularity contests, this is ridiculous.

It's certainly not uncommon for Islamist militants to be arrested in the capital, as well as other parts of India which have sizeable Muslim populations and, especially in light of the Danish publication of cartoons lampooning Mohammad, it comes as no surprise that the president would need to hop around town in helicopters in order to take part in scheduled events. That said, one would think that it is the vice president who poses the greatest threat in terms of target practice.

This president who has worked diligently, and sedulously, to flex his military muscles must now be surrounded by more elaborate security, and bodyguards, than anyone in the Gotti family could ever imagine, but one can only wonder who's been given the sacred duty of protecting "the crown jewels?"

There appears to be one thing we can be grateful for, at least American taxpayers aren't footing the bill for this three ring circus the way we have been for all the others!

In the "hats off" department

Kudos to The New York Times who is suing the U.S. Department of Defense to demand the release of documents about this administration's domestic surveillance National Security Agency program. You may recall, in December, the NSA story broke, and our president later called the report about the program that monitors our phone calls, and e-mails "shameful." The Justice Department has already launched an investigation into who "leaked" news of this highly classified governmental practice.

According to Reuters, The Times has requested a list of documents including "all internal memos and e-mails" about this clandestine program, as well as the names of those individuals, and/or groups currently under surveillance. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon is dawdling with regard to giving up this material, hence the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the newspaper in response.

Hats off to The New York Times, for launching a preemptive strike against a government intent on muzzling the press by attempting to bully journalists, editors, and newspaper publishers, as well as anyone else who challenges their theocracy of secrecy.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Who will pay the highest price?

Woke up this morning thinking about what happened this week in South Dakota, and how the decision of one legislature, and a governor, in a small state, may be the catalyst the Supreme Court needs to overturn one of the most decisive (and divisive) victories for women since we were empowered with the right to vote, the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

On this overcast, and menacing Sunday, where I live in a suburb outside of San Francisco, I look out at my balcony, and the cobblestone garden below, up at the cobalt blue awnings, and I think about how fortunate I am to have come of age at the time a constitutional amendment affirmed my right to choose, as well as who will pay the highest price if the South Dakota case turns out to be the one that tests Roe v. Wade, and if it is overturned.

If a woman's right to choose becomes a matter of state, not federal, law, who will be most affected? Will it be women who can afford to fly from South Dakota, where abortion is banned, to California, where it is legal? I don't think so. An examination of who was most affected by Katrina will show that, once again, it will be those without cars, without credit cards, without bank accounts, and without funds, who will be forced into unwanted parenthood. According to Bill Quigley, civil and human rights attorney, and professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, nearly 80% of those who were unable to evacuate in the wake of Katrina had children below the age of 18, 72% had no insurance, 64% rented, more than half had no car, and nearly 60% had total household incomes below $20,000 a year. If Roe v. Wade is repealed, most likely, an equal number of households will be forced into greater poverty not because of their religious beliefs, but for no other reason that they are not able to obtain a safe, and affordable abortion. Is this any reason to start a family? Moreover, is this any way to raise a country?

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, what will happen to the incidence of domestic violence, spousal abuse, and homicide? What will happen if even more Scott Petersons, and Neil Entwistles, find themselves with pregnant wives, and/or small children, who they can't afford to take care of? How many more young husbands, who can't provide for their families, will feel backed into a corner, and in a moment of insanity, choose to take the lives of their pregnant wives, or infants? How many more women will have to suffer their partner's frustration, rage, and upset because they feel like men condemned to a lifetime of financial turbulence?

Moreover, if, once again, a woman's right to control her destiny becomes a matter of privilege, and not priority, how many young women will have to leave college, enter into dubious marriages, and be forced into motherhood prematurely? How many more frustrated, miserable women who were compelled by the state to go through a nine month cycle, labor, and then raise a child before they were ready, and at a sacrifice for which they were not emotionally prepared, will abuse or, worse, take the lives of their children?

What will become of all these unwanted children in a country that has no health coverage, and no social services to provide for them? When our childcare agencies can't provide for the record number of homeless children, and families living below the poverty line now, how would they be able to provide for the 50 million "babies" our pro-life friends would have among us if women, and their spouses, were forced to carry to term a pregnancy for which they are unprepared emotionally, and/or economically?

More frightening still, if, as "right-to-lifers" argue, birth begins at the moment of conception, what happens to contracepti0n down the road? Will the argument against ending a pregnancy lead to the position of sex only for procreation as the Puritans who founded this country would have it? Indeed, those same Puritans who are dead and buried where the Bill of Rights is concerned might then be conveniently resurrected to raid Planned Parenthood, and medical clinics, throughout America, and divest our working families of their constitutional right to self-determination.

Where is our outrage, is it hiding under the umbrella of apathy? Where is our outrage at the lawmakers of South Dakota, and at all those self-righteous Philistines whose hypocrisy may yet force a most egregious crime-infested, and spiritually bankrupt future on a generation of those yet to be born, and equally unsuspecting citizens? Where are all those Newt Gingriches, and Dan Quayles, who got us as a country, and as a planet, into the mess we're in now, what will happen to their great plans for doing away with "big government" when we have millions of poor men, women, and children added to our welfare rolls as a result of their grandiose delusion of protecting the lives of the unborn at the expense of the living?

More importantly, are we prepared as informed, and intelligent consumers to buy this insanity lock, stock, and barrel, or will we stand up now, and let it be known that those who cry out to save the lives of those yet to walk among us daily divest us of our pensions, savings, outsource our jobs, as well as send our sons and daughters to fight a war, so they can get more bang for their buck on their oil investments, and contracts, in the Middle East. More than half a century ago, a great leader, Winston Churchill, said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself;" indeed, it is not Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or terrorism, that poses the gravest threat to this democracy. it is apathy.

On an overcast Sunday morning, I think about what would have happened to me, more than 30 years ago, only weeks after Roe v. Wade was passed, if I had to go through with a pregnancy for which I was woefully unprepared. You may wonder if having an abortion was something I wanted to do. It was the single hardest decision of my entire life, and the most responsible one. When you get to crawl inside my skin, and feel my pain, you get to make those decisions for me. Until then, tend to your own garden, and leave me to tend mine.

Friday, February 24, 2006

We got to start paying people more in this town...

Somebody should have told the cop who pulled over film director Lee Tamahori that, as Oscar Wilde once said, "Experience is the only thing you can't get for nothing." You'll recall, about a month ago, the highly regarded director of the James Bond film, "Die Another Day," and "State of the Union," who is now preparing to direct the big screen version of the book, "The Golden Man," was arrested for soliciting an undercover policeman, and offering to perform "a sex act for money," according to the AP.

Frankly, I find uniforms rather sexy myself, but the quesion is why would a working motion picture director have to charge for his services? (unless, of course, he happens to be an independent.) What is equally baffling to me, in a town where gang bangers outnumber cops roughly 12 to 1, what is the vice squad doing in back alleys with their hands on their fly?

Attorney Mark Geragos has arranged for a plea deal which gets Mr. Tamahori off the hook by acquiescing to the charges of criminal trespass in exchange for having two counts of prostitution dropped. What's wrong with this picture (no pun intended); a director who can afford top gun Mark Geragos has to work the back alleys of Hollywood in an "off the shoulder" dress, and black wig, no less? This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of working on "spec."

In addition to being sentenced to three years probation, the New Zealand director was ordered, by the court, to perform 15 days of community service for the "Hollywood Beautification Project." One wonders what would happen to our biblical friend, Onan, were he to find himself a Southern California transplant who has fallen upon bad times. Were Onan, too, to be ordered to perform community service for the Hollywood Beautification Project, one can only imagine what that "beautification" might include!

It seems that those with the deepest pockets, in the only business with the chutzpah to call itself "the business," have found better things to do when sticking their hands in them than pull out cash.

From Pierre, South Dakota, a Post Script

A postscript to yesterday's breaking noose:

The Legislature, in South Dakota, today approved a ban on nearly all abortions, in the state, exempting only cases in which the pregnant mother's life is in danger. The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Governor Mike Rounds who said he's inclined to sign it. Evidently, an anonymous donor contributed $1 million to help the campaign for this abortion ban, and the governor reports getting widespread support from his constituents for him to sign, and implement, the new law.

Under this measure, doctors could get up to five years in prison for performing abortions on women except if their lives are at risk, even in cases of rape and incest. Moreover, if a woman gets raped, in South Dakota, once this new legislation goes into effect, the rapist will have the same rights to custody of the child as the mother; talk about genetic engineering!

As previously noted, Planned Parenthood has committed to fighting this new assault on a woman's right to choose, and stopping it from setting a dangerous precedent. I'm no lawyer but, I wonder, if Planned Parenthood sues the state of South Dakota to protest the new law, and/or its implementation, should it go all the way to the Supreme Court, what happens next; especially in light of new justices Alito and Roberts? Ay carrumba!

Should you wish to voice your concerns about the virtual ban on legal abortion soon to be implemented in the state of South Dakota, you may call Governor Rounds directly at: (605) 773-3212, or the S.D. state legislature: (605) 773-3251. We will all be impacted, directly or indirectly, by this bill which is all but certain to become law, and may be coming soon to a medical clinic near you.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


In the breaking noose department...

A federal judge in New York, Jed S. Rakoff, ordered the Department of Defense to release uncensored transcripts containing the names of some 550 detainees at Guantanamo Bay which represents a big victory for the Associated Press who, according to their counsel, has been working to obtain the names of those being held in this bermuda triangle of jurisprudence since back in 2004. The judge ordered the government to hand over the documents by March 3rd. Who can recall when the U.S. government was a sitting defendant in as many trials as it has been in the past 5 years which shows, if nothing else, that hubris isn't just for Greek tragedies anymore.

Speaking of tragedies, The Washington Post reports today that South Dakota lawmakers approved the nation's most expansive, and menacing, ban on abortion to date. With a comfortable, nearly 2 to 1 margin state legislators passed a bill yesterday which makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion in the state of South Dakota with the only exception being to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Stop for a minute, and think about a law which will criminalize participation by a physician, or health care provider, in an abortion on a woman for any reason other than to save her life. For the state to tamper with the ethics of health care providers is nothing new in a country where Medicare prescribes which procedures it will pay for, and which it won't, thus incenting HMO doctors to treat based on financial gain, or loss. We've already seen, in recent days, how the pharmaceutical lobby puts Jack Abramoff and big tobacco to shame, but this bill will make doctors answerable to courts and judges for decisions they ordinarily would base on the Hippocratic oath, and their own personal conscience.

So, if you happen to be among the unfortunate who get raped, or victimized by incest, in South Dakota, lawmakers voted 23 to 12 to prosecute your doctor if (s)he agrees to perform an abortion on you. For those who believe that life begins at conception to suggest that physical survival is the only reason to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is not merely reactionary, it's illogical. Those who want to overturn Roe v. Wade one state at a time will have to do so by not merely redacting, but by de-constructing the Constitution, as well as the moral, emotional, spiritual, and professional growth of women over the past 30 years or more.

If there is any good news to be had, in this story, it is that Planned Parenthood will challenge this newest ban on abortion, and has expressed shock and outrage at what is portentous of tougher restrictions yet to come that will infringe upon a woman's constitutional right to choose. Who can miss the irony inherent in the fact that those who say they are "pro-life" openly put the lives of those yet to be born above those of the living and, as a result of their myopic, backward thinking ways, have cost more lives through their nonsequitur wars, and socioeconomic inequity, than any family planning clinician ever will. Where ignorance breeds, disenfranchisement will follow. With disenfranchisement, comes revolt.

Among the many reasons...

Among the many reasons to subscribe to "The New Yorker" is the latest February 27 issue which features a cartoon, on the cover, which would bring a smile even to Richard Nixon's face, as well as make us all take a huge sigh, and be thankful we don't live in Denmark.

Oh, I know, it's cruel and unusual punishment to make you charge out the door right now, and head over to the newsstand to find out what I'm talking about. At the very least, a hint is in order. You won't be disappointed to see Dick Cheney and the president, in Brokeback drag, the vice-president trying to blow smoke out of his rifle. It all sounds terribly Freudian, but that's as much as you'll get from me except for this---
way to go, New Yorker!!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Intelligence Is Optional With the Vehicle

In recent days, in California, many activists and thinking people have been concerned with the concept of capital punishment, as well as what may be considered an ethical way to put a man down. Yesterday, we of the "show-me" faith witnessed a miracle of sorts when the execution of death row inmate, Michael Morales, was halted indefintely due to the courageous actions of anesthesiologists who refused, as a matter of conscience, to use the education they acquired to save lives for the purpose of ending lives. While this may be seen as one huge step for man, it is, alas, one small step for mankind. That those who witness an execution carried out by the state feel somehow cleaner than those who administer the lethal injection gives one pause to think. For one miniscule, yet signifcant, moment yesterday, the state of California blinked as the rest of the country, and the world, watched. This is not about vindication for a convicted murderer. This is about higher order intelligence, and ensuring accountability from the top down.

While capital punishment may be among the most important civil rights issues of our times, the underlying concept of wrongful conviction in and of itself must serve as a wake-up call to all of us that, if nothing else, the death penalty is unethical if only because it's irrevocable. While there will always be some dispute about what percentage of those inmates on death row are innocent of the crimes for which they've been tried, convicted, and sentenced, one thing there can be no disagreement about, and that is to execute someone means never having to say you're sorry. And even Dante couldn't come up with a circle, in hell, appropriate for a state that does away with those who have been wrongly convicted.

Late yesterday, I received a forwarded e-mail from Barry Bradford, a teacher at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Illinois. You may recall that three of Mr. Bradford's students were responsible for successfully reopening the Mississippi Burning case. The purpose of the missive was to make one aware of an African-American gentleman by the name of Clyde Kennard who, in the late 1950's, attempted to integrate the University of Southern Mississippi. Mr. Kennard was framed for a crime he didn't commit, and sentenced to prison as a way to preclude his efforts at integration, as well as send a message to others that if they followed in his footsteps, they would end up in the same place as he did.

Barry Bradford whose students exposed the most egregious civil rights murders of our times insists that he has "absolute and irrefutalbe evidence that Clyde Kennard was innocent." The only man who testified against Kennard, under oath, has since admitted that he lied. Fifty years later, there are more African-American males in our nations jails than in our nation's universities, and this gentleman was incarcerated for the simple crime of wanting to go to college.

Clyde Kennard died shortly after he got out of prison and, while he was pardoned by then governor of Mississippi for medical reasons, his name was never cleared. Mr. Bradford asks that justice be done, if posthumously, and that Clyde Kennard get his good name back. This is all his family wants. To find out more about this case, visit: http://www.clydekennard.org --there is a link, and a pre-written e-mail to the attorney general of Mississippi.

In an era when concern for victim's rights often outweighs concrete evidence for the defense, and reason often takes a back seat to raw vindictiveness, we must ask ourselves how it feels to be locked up, often for many years, or face the prospect of paying the ultimate price, for a crime we didn't commit, for which, all too often, we're convicted before even being tried, and sentenced by a rapacious hunger to sell newspapers, or boost broadcast news ratings. Too often, nowadays, intelligence is optional with the vehicle as we forget that a person is innocent until proven otherwise, and by a jury of his peers.

In the remarkable words of Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Don't wait a moment longer. Please join me, and all others, who are working for "simple justice," in Barry Bradford's words, the clearing of one good man's name, the pledge to speak up for accountability, and against wrongful conviction with the same tenacity, clarity, and grace as if it were our brother, or sister, who was fighting to preserve their good name as, indeed, it is.

This is not about the death sentence, right or wrong; this is not about guilt or innocence, but insisting upon undeniable proof. There may be crimes so horrific that they beg for the ultimate penalty, but if one person is convicted wrongfully, and put to death, then we are all diminished.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Look Who's Talking -- Again

Well, if it isn't America's favorite freedom fighter, Osama bin Laden, on President's Day, no less, in an 11 minute spot on Al-Jazeera, Arab TV, insisting he has "sworn to only live free" in a tape that was posted today to their Web site. It would appear that Mr. bin Laden has had ample time to reflect on the concept of freedom, as well as any other pressing existential concern that might occur to him, while our military has been busy hunting down flaccid dictators, and invisible WMDs.

Apart from proclaiming his jihad against the west alive and well, Osama makes a compelling assertion, especially for one who just crawled out of a cave; he claims that the U.S. military is as "barbaric" (his word) as the regime it replaced in Iraq! He then proceeds to threaten, once again, to attack innocent civilians on U.S. soil. We have to give the devil his due about one thing--tyranny, and "criminality" are the same regardless of which nation is the practitioner. That said, it looks like Osama is no better at self-analysis than his western counterpart, and enemy twin, Mr. Bush, insofar as the spilling of blood in battle is never righteous regardless of who's doing the spilling, or why. Hence, by extension, W's so-called barbarism in Iraq is no worse, or better, than the barbarism bin Laden has committed, and hopes to commit in future.

But, then, we know all that in this God-fearing Christian country of ours, we know an eye for an eye begets nothing but another bloody eye, we know that vengeance belongs to the Lord, we know that what separates us from those religious freaks who wreak havoc on the planet, those damn Jews and Muslims, is that ours is the God who teaches forgiveneness, compassion not violence; that is, we claim to own those teachings, yet we, of the righteous race, will take yet another human life when we execute a man on death row, in California, at midnight Tuesday, in the hopes of making the world a safer, and better, place.

Nearly two dozen years ago, I asked my father, who served as a master sergeant during World War II, what he thought about going to war back then. "Oh," he said "my views were anathema. I was ostracized when I expressed them." I asked why, and he explained: "It was very unusual, for a Jew, to say that both the Germans and the Americans were corrupt, that neither side had the moral high ground, and not be a flag waver."

After reading a transcript of Osama bin Laden's statement, I find myself thinking again about what my father said. Clearly, I would no more defend the words of an Al Qaeda mass murderer who now tries to pose as one who offers a long term truce than I would defend those who trained, and provided, him with arms when he was a mere pup in Afghanistan. How unfortunate for us that history has proven my father right. After all, the same Americans who took us to world war, more than half a century ago, became hugely wealthy as a result of their efforts. Time has shown, too, that those same "patriots" did business with the Nazis and, when politically and economically expedient, even arranged for Nazi war criminals to hide with impunity, for decades, in Argentina and elsewhere.

Indeed, war often makes for strange bedfellows. We can only hope that history won't make hypocrites of us all, once again.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ya-Ya Sisterhood

After seeing a photo of Britney Spears this morning, I started to reflect on the women's movement, or what remains of it. The death, two weeks ago, of Betty Friedan, who was widely touted as the founder of feminism, brought me back to the good old days, back in Buffalo, in the 1970's, when sisterhood was powerful. At that time, I lived in a commune, smoked my share of dope, talked the talk, walked the walk, protested another war, in Southeast Asia, and walked out of feminist gatherings saying "You don't get it, men are oppressed, too; we need "human liberation." Somehow, things aren't that black and white anymore; oppression wears many masks.

Now that enough time has passed, we can stand back and take a closer look at what it is that the Ya-Ya Sisterhood has created. We have "Britneys," "Madonnas," "Jens," and even "Paris," but instead of working together, women have seldom been more competitive, and cutthroat than we are now, and all too often confuse autonomy with attitude. Where once we had "macho," we now have Britney Spears, and if we thought macho was a tall order, check out "sister tude." No matter how you slice it, attitude is attitude whether in a skirt, or in a suit and tie.

While, way back then, I thought of myself as "a female misogynst," and bragged about being "about as much a feminist as Arthur Rimbaud," I was unwittingly fanning the flames of what was to be among history's greatest backlashes against women, a backlash which may well result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

It now occurs to me that what we fought for wasn't about feminism, or the war in Vietnam. The issue was then, as it is now, human rights, and the need to speak out against abuse of power. The ideas we had, a generation ago, seem to be frozen in time like a bunch of lonely figures in a wax museum. We, as a culture, are infatuated with what is remote, precious and, most of all, that which most resembles ourselves. Moreover, sadly, we have done to nature what we've done to those we detain, and torture, in foreign lands.

Just as conjugal rape is rape, holding dominion over another human being, or another sovereign state, whether it's female, or male domination, American or Russian domination, we have yet to learn that being assertive, in a progressive way, isn't about showing muscle any more than it's about showing thigh.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Who Needs Gin When We've Got Rummy?

Our secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld (aka "Rummy"), today dismissed calls from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the European Parliament, to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Rummy told reporters for Reuters that there is "no torture," that all violations to code of military justice are being handled, those culpable punished, "And by golly, that's the way it ought to be." Is it just me, or does the phrase "by golly" sound a bit like a nonsequitur, especially in light of the latest photos to surface from Abu Ghraib?

Even Don Quixote would envy the way in which our government has rounded up what Rummy calls these "bad people," or terrorists. Isn't it reassuring, as we approach President's Day, to know that our current foreign policy can be spelled out in terms that even a four year old would understand. And, indeed, maybe only a four year old can understand being incarcerated without charge, for four years, and with no end in sight.

Why would the one and only extant supreme organization of nations issue a report that accuses the U.S. of torture, arbitrary detention, denial of access to counsel, denial of access by counsel to evidence, denial of being charged with a specific crime, and/or a specific sentence, and the absence of even the remotest prospect of a fair trial, military or criminal? Rumsfeld insists that the report's authors, at the U.N., never bothered to stop by the naval base in Cuba for a cup of tea . He also observes that the International Committee of the Red Cross had visited the detention camp, and didn't suggest it be closed down. If the secretary of defense is so confident about this, why doesn't his administration release the findings of the ICRC, as well as transcripts of interviews they conducted with detainees?

Arguably, the only thing that gets absorbed into the bloodstream quicker than whiskey, vodka, or gin is power, sheer, undiluted, unadulterated power. While they may not be long on vocabulary, if nothing else, our esteemed leaders are not short on ideology, the four-letter kind that poses as a culture of life, but is instead a culture of bomb. Nothing can be more explosive, or expletive, than an idea run afoul of reason and, as we have witnessed, the politics of preemption are those of concealing grave, complex, notions behind simple words and phrases.

It only takes two to play gin rummy, as you know, a game in which the goal is to divide cards into sets, and keep the point value of unmarked sets low. In this game of cards our government is playing, Bush vs. the World, there is no question that the point value of those remaining sets is sinkng lower and lower daily, along with this president's job approval rating.

If only it were possible to channel that other George, the one with the wig and the wide grin, and sit him in the room where Rummy was speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, today, and give him the opportunity to ask one question, and only one question, of the secretary of defense, do you have any ideas as to what that question might be? Would the first president of the United States, the first George W., ask Mr. Rumsfeld where he learned to count cards? Or would he want to know how anyone that far up the food chain, by golly, can order humiliation and religious persecution the likes of which would make any proper forbear on his way over, on the Mayflower, want to turn around and go home.

Rummy also told the good Foreign Relations folks that "Any single example of abuse that's ever been sited has been investigated and to the extent appropriate, people have been punished." It's reassuring to think that our government is concerned with meting out punishment where wrongdoing is concerned, but maybe the first president would want to know, too, along with the rest of us, what "extent" is appropriate where torture itself is concerned?

Even George Washington might agree that we lost our virginity on 9/11, and have been getting screwed ever since.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

we have met the monster

"The monster that had resorted to arms must be put in chains that could not be broken.
The united power of free nations must put a stop to aggression, and the world must be
given peace." President Woodrow Wilson, address to the Senate, July, 1919

In his remarks, President Wilson was, of course, referring to Germany when he used the word "monster," and the "united power of free nations" was an allusion to the nascent League of Nations, precursor to today's United Nations. It is terrifying to think that Mr. Wilson might just as well make that same statement today, only "the monster" he would have in mind is the United States of America.

Every American who considers themselves a "patriot" should hold their head a little lower after today's release of the United Nations report detailing the travesties known collectively as Guantanamo Bay, and the flag should be flown at half-mast in honor of the framers of the Constitution who would be appalled to think that this world body calls for America to shut down what amounts to an internment camp at this naval base in Cuba. According to the Associated Press, who broke the story, the U.N. calls for us to "either release the detainees or put them on trial," a victory for human rights groups around the world, and a major defeat for an administration who has, yet again, introduced us to a most perilous age.

What our government likes to regard as its territorial imperative, and the dubious means by which it can circumvent due process, international law, and the Geneva Conventions in denying prisoner of war status to detainees, namely using the rationalization that Gitmo is a "protectorate" or colony of the U.S., has also met with unequivocal denunciation by the U.N. While the allegations made by the report, released today, are not new, the idea that this world body which for decades has represented "the united power of free nations" would call upon the United States to stop torturing people is, in and of itself, horrific and egregious.

That an organization which was the brainchild of an American president should receive an immense reprimand from a world organization, such as the U.N., is an irony, and one that must resonate in the heart, mind, and conscience of all reasonable men and women, regardless of nationality, but especially those of us who, in our formative years, pledged allegiance to a flag that is, daily, being disgraced, soiled, and undermined by those who continue to hide behind it.

Indeed, We have met "the monster," and it is us...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"home, home on de-range..."

How does the song go? "Home, home on the range, where the deer, and the antelope play, where seldom is heard, a discouraging word," well, you don't want me to sing it to you yet somehow, I think, that song will take on a whole new meaning in the weeks, and months, ahead now that the Veep has proven that birdshot and birdshit can be one and the same thing.

As if it couldn't get worse for the veep, his target is a prominent attorney from Austin, Mr. Whittington, who has now returned to Intensive Care after suffering an unexpected "silent heart attack" as a consequence of a cranky, but persistent pellet roaming free in his chest cavity. I don't know about you, but if the vice president of the United States, and founder of Halliburton, shot me, accidentally or otherwise, my heart attack would be anything but silent.

How can the symbolism, in this made for Letterman tragedy, escape anyone as being anything less than Shakespearean, even strangely reminiscent of Kurosawa's "Macbeth." We hear that Mr. Cheney was out of "the hunting line," and that his unintended victim was merely bending down to retrieve a downed bird. What's really deranged about the whole story, and which no one in the media, or late night comedy shows, is focusing on; forget that the vice president had a hunting accident, statistics show that friendly fire on the hunting range (and on the battlefield) are fairly common; think about this, the vice president of the United States is out shooting at birds for fun! Whoa, mama---what a statement! Can we expect leaders who kill wildlife to make diplomacy their weapon of choice?

Fox will carry Mr. Cheney's news conference live today at 6 P.M. (EST). (unless, of course, Mr. C has another Congress moment in which case there may well be a 5 second delay.) Among the many things the vice president must be thinking right about now is: "Forget Jack Abramoff. Where is the NRA when we need them the most?" And as for John Q. Public, and the lonely hearts club band, we can only wait to see how artful this dodger is when it comes to ducking the inevitable fallout, not from an accidental shooting, but from attempting to put a big, and impressive, silencer on the press.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

IRS Finds $345 Billion Tax Gap---but, hey, who's counting?

The IRS announced today that unpaid taxes, in 2001, amount to close to $350 billion (yes, ladies, that's "b" as in "boy.") Were these renegate Fortune 500's who evaded UncleSam? Nope---the unpaid taxes are traced mostly to individuals. Arguably, this may be more bad news for Mr. Cheney as the "error rate," in tax filings, appears to be more egregious, as the Associated Press reports, "among indivudals reporting income from a business." But, when Uncle Sam knocks, do you think anybody from Halliburton will be home?

You recall the marvelous photo op yesterday when our esteemed vice president managed to tear himself away from peppering his hunting partners long enough to sign a check for $7 to pay for a license which he seems to have neglected acquiring. It looks like Mr. Cheney may well have to pony up a lot more than $7 to the IRS. How come when you and I make this little $345 billion mistake, it's called "tax evasion," and when corporate lions underreport their taxes, it comes under the heading "error rate." Talk about double standards!

There is some good news, after all, in quail-gate. It turns out the president and vice president do have something in common--they've both committed acts that are considered "illegal," and not just by the opposing party, but by the American Bar Association. It was the ABA, earlier today, and not Hillary Clinton, that chastised the president for not working towards amending FISA if it was so outmoded, but instead opting to merely defy the 1978 legislation which requires that warrants precede searches. We live in dangerous times indeed when due process and equitable taxation can be disposed of in one fell swoop.


Just when we thought we've seen enough of Delays...

Members of the press, and others, have expressed concern about why there was a 15 hour delay in reporting Dick Cheney's hunting accident to the press. I think the delay was to give the vice president, and his team, time to find the best route to Chappaquiddick!

(looks like these fellas won't have Teddy Kennedy to kick around anymore!)

This may not be the first time a sitting vice president has ever been accused of shooting someone, but it is the first time Mr. Cheney has chosen a target, and missed!

An Oxymoron for Valentine's Day...

In light of the Frey fiasco, aka "memoir-gate," and this day that celebrates lovers, as well as one early Christian's stand against the remnants of the Roman empire, today's oxymoron is:

"True Confession."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"little white lies" and the White House

"I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky," President Bill Clinton. This may be a contender for the little white lie of recent memory, but let's stop, for a minute, and take a look at other rivals for first place.

A notable rival for the championship title, you may remember the whopper told by then vice president, George H.W. Bush (aka "pere"), when he said he was "out of the loop" at the time the Iran Contra story broke back in 1986. After doing his"see no evil, hear no evil..." dance, Bush pere then claimed he was unaware of the Iran initiative, and exchange of arms to the Contras for release of hostages in what came to be known as "Irangate," in which secret arrangements were made providing funds to the Nicaraguan Contras. It was the American government, you'll recall, that sold arms to Iran in an effort to placate the so-called "moderates" in the Iranian government. We, in this country, have learned a thing or two about placating "moderates" in recent years, too.

Our government, under Ronald Reagan, sold arms to Iran as a means of securing the release of American hostages held there. Stay tuned, this is one story that is bound to make a major media comeback in the months ahead as this administration, and the (hunh?) "international community" move in to disarm Iran, the same country to whom we sold arms. ( Deja vu; Bin there, done that? wasn't it the American government, too who trained and equipped Bin Laden, and his boys, back when they were called "freedom fighters," and not terrorists, but I digress...)

As you recall, aside from securing the release of American hostages held in Iran, Ronald Reagan wanted to help the noble Contra rebels in their campaign against the evil Sandinistas. Remember President Reagan's now infamous press conference in which he insisted that he didn't remember anything at all about the illegal exchange of arms for hostages?

Last but not least, under the heading of "I could have been a contender" comes Bush fils:
"I never once met up with that Jack Abramoff woman." (well, almost)
And here we are, 20 years after papa Bush said he was "out of the loop," and denied any complicity with his commander-in-chief in an illegal arms deal, et voila, The New York Times, and Time Magazine release a photograph which the White House now acknowledges proves indisputably that this president did, in fact, have his photograph taken with pariah lobbyist, and soon to be convict, Jack Abramoff.

A spokesman for the White House now openly acknowledges that the photograph in question showing Mr. Bush with Mr. Abramoff is the real McCoy, and was taken back in 2001 at a meeting of more than 20 state legislators when the president, along with the largest donor to his campaign ("Jumping Jack"), thanked these legislators for tax relief. The White House insists that the president has had his photograph taken with thousands of people, over the past 5 years, and that having one's picture taken with someone doesn't mean that one has had a "personal relationship" with that person. If a bit Clintonesque, apart from the inherent absurdity of this argument, who, for a red minute, would believe that someone would have his photo taken with a person who was the single greatest contributor to his campaign and a) not remember being photographed with him, and b) not recall ever having met him? I mean, when was the last time someone with whom you had no personal relationship gave you $100,000?

Clearly, there are lies and there are lies. It is one thing to try to protect one's family from a transgression, and conceal facts from a grand jury about an intimate, and private moment that was inappropriate but, to my knowledge, not illegal (remember it was lying to a grand jury for which Bill Clinton was impeached, not having sex with Monica Lewinsky), and it is another thing to selectively perceive, or totally ignore, prewar evidence, and take a country to war based on another "little white lie" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If nothing else, recent history has shown us that, while there may be stiff penalties for deceiving a federal grand jury, more often than not, regrettably, a president, and vice president, can lie to the American people, and Congress, with impunity.

That said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," a great man once said. After all, who among us hasn't fudged the truth a bit, here and there, but do keep in mind that it is this president, and the Neo-Con "Contract for America" which brought us Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, "family values," and that claims it has the moral high ground in being "pro-life" while, on his watch, this president's home state of Texas ordered more executions than any governor before or since.

Can an administration that relies more heavily on "executive privilege" than the King James Bible, and that insists that,with the Second Amendment comes the right to be a control freak, deny, defy, and obfuscate the truth in its jihad for power? Maybe it's time to consider criminalizing those who counterfeit values in much the same way we criminalize those who counterfeit dollar bills. It seems to me that if ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse for getting out of a traffic ticket, then the claim of having been given deceptive intelligence is not a rationale for getting this nation into a dubious war, and bringing the world inches closer to nuclear annihilation. If history shows us that it may be too much to demand truth, then we, as citizens, must at the very least demand accountability from those we elect to represent us.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Quote of the Week

"I support the free press, let's just get them out of the room."
President George Walker Bush

(comment made yesterday, February 10th, during a press
conference, in Maryland, when the president thought the
microphone had been turned off.)

Friday, February 10, 2006


For once, I agree with Vice President Dick Cheney! In a speech given last night, the vice president said that the National Security Agency's "international" surveillance should be an issue during this important midtern election year. He's absolutely right, not just about 2006, but 2008, as well.

If the radical right framers of the USA Patriot Act persist not only will we v9te them out of dodge but, more importantly, everyone, in this country, will have a far greater understanding, and appreciation, of the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments, as well as the Bill of Rights. Sad but true, much of the time, we don't appreciate what we have until we lose it and, more often than not, our education on the meaning of liberty comes at the expense of liberty.

Persons of Interest

If you've been watching network news lately, you've been inundated with the murder mystery of 2006, and images of a young, attractive Englishman, Neil Entwistle, whose 27 year old wife, Rachel, and 9 month old daughter, Lilian, were shot in their rented home in a suburb outside Boston nearly two weeks ago, and who stands accused of this heinous crime.

If you've seen the news at all, you're also aware of a feeding frenzy, on the part of the press and media, both here and in Great Britain, to expose each piece of circumstantial minutia connected to the case. Mr. Entwistle has now been assigned a motive, "financial ruin," and an opportunity to commit the crime. Moreover, a Massachusetts prosecutor coyly suggests they even have "the small pistol" which is responsible for the murders. All they seem to lack is concrete, and undeniable proof.

We have watched Entwistle be led away, with bowed head, in the custody of British police, and extradited to the U.S. where he will, no doubt, face indictment. My question is: who in their right mind can expect him to get a fair trial when the coverage so far has been, in the best sense of the word, prejudicial? Why not save American taxpayers a huge expense, and just convict, and sentence the young man? It appears that everyone, on the talk show circuit, has already convicted him in their mind; except, of course, for Mark Geragos. I mean, if Scott Peterson did it, then Neil Entwistle must have done it, too; ask Dr. Phil.

What a sad statement about Western Sieve, in this year of our Ford 2006, that our concept of a "person of interest" isn't that of someone who would invade a sovereign state, and wreak havoc with the planet in the name of world leadership, or embezzle workers' savings in the name of corporate earnings, but instead a sheepish 30-something lad who appears to be as much a victim of the crooks, and swindlers, who stole John Q. Public's savings account along with his paycheck for the past 5 plus years.

Mind you, by no stretch of the imagination am I suggesting that a person of interest in this bizarre, and heartwrenching, homicide, in Boston, deserves to be held harmless if, and when, he is found to have committed the crimes for which he is already being punished. All I'm saying is, give the guy the benefit of a trial---jeez, Louise, isn't that what our military is risking their lives over there in Iraq to protect, and defend---American jurisprudence which appears to be as much a victim, in this case, as the unfortunate mother and child.

To parody the immortal words of legendary Los Angeles defense attorney, Johnny Cochran, "If the glove don't fit, it don't mean shit." Who needs evidence when we have the National Enquirer? Tabloid justice---coming soon to a nightmare near you!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


A friend of mine, back east, just sent me the following bit of advice which you, too, may find more than a bit useful:



(only what happens when the universe doesn't return your phone calls?)

"The horror, the horror"

Chinese editor, Wu Xianghu, who has been in hospital since he was attacked, in October, by more than 50 policemen has died of his injuries today, the BBC reports. Wu's attack follows publication, by his paper, of a story that exposed police were charging "illegal bicycle fees," as well as implying an atmosphere of underlying corruption.

Wu had been suffering from a liver problem, for the past few months, which doctors claim was exacerbated by the intense beating he received at the hands of the police. Liver and kidney failure appears to be the cause of death, according to a reporter for a Chinese television news station.

While local media, in China, have reported widely on the initial attack on Mr. Xianghu, as well as a rash of beating, and coercion cases by police against journalists, they have been conspicuously quiet about his death.

Ann Cooper, a spokesperson for the Committee to Protect Journalists, released a statement saying that "The government must ensure the safety of the working press." Indeed, and this goes for the government in our country, as well as China.

That we can sit back, in America, with a remote control in one hand, a bag of cashews in the other, and watch Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the Christian Monitor, cry her eyes out, as well as the brutal slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, four years ago, and not call out against "the horror, the horror" that is American apathy speaks volumes about our descent into the heart of darkness, too.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It Now Appears...

It now appears that the youngster involved in the heinous attacks on three gay men, in New Bedford, last week, who then murdered his female companion in Arkansas was responsible for his own death.

According to the results of an autopsy performed on 18 year old, Jacob Robida, which was released today, Robida died of a single gunshot wound to the head which was inflicted by the same gun that killed his female companion, and the victims at the Massachusetts bar.

This is a sad, but just, end to a story that can only have a good ending when people take the time to look into why those youth who invariably dress in black exalt in premature postmortems. Is the "culture of life" breeding a culture of death? These teenagers give a whole new meaning to the phrase "the lost generation," and it's our loss, as a culture, our insanity that is transferred to our children; "the sins of the father are visited upon the son."

There can be no law and order where there is no understanding first.

after yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings...

In light of yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, on the NSA, or TSP (whatever they're calling it this week), today's question is:

Is it ever okay for "the law" to break the law?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Way to Go, Jimmy!

"To live outside the law..."

"Under the Bush administration, there's been a disgraceful and illegal decision---we're not going to let the judges or the Congress or anyone else know that we're spying on the American people," thus spake the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, to reporters at a union hall outside Las Vegas today where his oldest son announced his bid for senator.

Mr. Carter ought to know a little something about the FISA law our current commander-in-chief is trying to get around. After all, it was passed, in 1978, on his watch, and the former president is ready, willing, and able to testify before the Judiciary Committee, if invited, as to its intent which was to protect us from the kind of warrantless searches that have been visited upon us by this administration.

Jimmy spoke out, too, against Attorney General Gonzales' argument that the surveillance program is authorized under Article 2 of the Constitution. And you thought Howard Dean had moxie---whoa! The former president said that Mr. Gonzales' attempt at rationalizing spying is "ridiculous," but what do we expect from someone who tries to manipulate torture so that it falls within the law. Jeez, Louise--talk about stretch marks!

Go figure, I thought it was only the New Testament these Neo-Con men had trouble with. It seems they need to take Constitution 101 all over again, too. The good news is that they'll have plenty of time---after 2008!

As a line in the Bob Dylan song goes," but to live outside the law, you must be honest, I know you always say that you agree, but where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?"

"Can't get no?"

Those of you who tuned in to the NFL Super Bowl at half-time yesterday, and who know the lyrics to the Rolling Stones songs by heart, may have noticed that some of the words were deleted.

According to Agence France Presse News today, the Stones agreed to be censored twice for being "too sexually explicit for family viewing" bringing the concept of self-censorship to a whole new level. Frankly, I find the entire incident terribly Clintonesque in that Jagger actually sang the "offending lyrics," but the NFL switched off the mike, so that nobody in the stadium, or those viewing at home, was able to hear them. It's the old "If a tree falls in the forest" routine. If nobody can hear them, did he actually say the words, and does that also depend on our definition of what the word "is" is?

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy was quoted as saying: "As planned and agreed upon with the Stones, we turned down Mick's mike for two specific seconds." I suppose we should be grateful for small things---the mike was turned off for only two seconds. A spokesperson for ABC insists that the network had nothing to do with what must have been a rehearsed verbal outage. Clearly, Janet Jackson's bare boob was behind the NFL move.

Still, how can anyone compare exposing a body part, inadvertently or otherwise, during family hour with using a word that may have sexual innuendo? The word "rooster" may be seen as a double entendre, but you'd have a hard time convincing a hen of that! Mind you, I'm no expert on roosters though, from what I hear, pheasant hens prefer cocks with bigger spurs.

It seems to me that if we're going to pull the plug on anybody's testimony, or the language that they use, then we ought to bleep out two-thirds of what Alberto Gonzales had to say to the Senate Judiciary Committee today which was, in the best sense of the word, offensive, and all of which would be deemed viewable at any hour!

Personally, Mr. Jagger has always been among my favorite all-time performers not solely because of his remarkable dynamism, but for his impressive levels of testasterone which ostensibly have been seasoned, (or reasoned), over time. And, while his sparks may need replacing, he doesn't need new shocks; he appears to have more staying power than the ever ready battery. More importantly, as long as ABC doesn't censor his paycheck, it appears Mick Jagger is satisfied!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Shootout in Arkansas

As you know, late last week, a teenager, Jacob Robida, walked into a gay bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and bludgeoned three patrons. When local police later searched his home, they found evidence of Nazi paraphenalia. From the beginning, there has been no doubt that the attacks on the three men, in the bar, were hate crimes. What's worse, while no one is saying this publicly, these assaults may even have been a backlash against the popular movie "Brokeback Mountain." Were he to be given his day in court, the teenager would have been charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and violating the civil liberties of others.

After wreaking havoc in New Bedford, Robida then drove to Arkansas where he picked up what police believe to be a female acquaintance, shot and killed her, then proceeded to murder an officer who ostensibly pulled him over on a routine traffic stop. Under Arkansas law, the 18 year would receive capital punishment just for killing the police officer, let alone his other victims. A statement from the New Bedford district attorney's office made it perfectly clear that they had no intention of extraditing the youngster to face charges in Massachusetts, had he survived.

Instead, in what increasingly looks like a rival gang shootout, police fired twice into Jacob Robida's head. Critically wounded, he was taken to the hospital where he died early this morning. Undoubtedly, this youngster engaged in among the most horrific crimes, but doesn't our system of justice provide for a trial by jury, and conviction by 12 of his peers, before he is sentenced, or have we perfected fast forwarding such that law enforcement can now indict, convict, and sentence all with the flip of a trigger? I, for one, would like to have seen young Mr. Robida go through the long, and ugly, trial to which he is entitled by law, and that his hateful crimes deserve.

Clearly, while seeing one of their own cut down in such a senseless, and execrable, manner may have been devastating for the officers involved, what gave them the right to shoot this obviously deranged teenager twice in the head, execution-style and, in effect, carry out the death penalty on the streets of Arkansas. Wasn't there some way Robida could have been subdued that would have allowed him to survive, and stand trial? More importantly, who has the moral high ground here-- was the reaction of law enforcement in defending one of their own substantially different from what this twisted teenager might have argued he did to a perceived threat to his way of life? Is it ever okay for the police, or the state, to take the law into their own hands?

Rogue Nations and other Rites of Passage -- 2/5/06

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet tomorrow to consider whether this administration's surveillance of its citizens, on the part of the National Security Agency, is legal.

It is the contention of the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, that the NSA program is illicit, and violates a 1978 law which calls for a Foreign Intellligence Service Act court to approve, and issue, warrants before this government can spy on its citizens. Administration spokesperson, and attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, joined others, including NSA head Michael Hayden, in insisting that the FISA law is too cumbersome to deal with in a post 9/11 world. Indeed, this administration has also shown that it considers the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and the Geneva Conventions too cumbersome to deal with in its war against terrorists. Does life in "the new normal" give us the right to dispose of more than 500 years of jurisprudence, and international law, as a way of combatting an intangible, and mostly amorphous, "enemy." The underlying question is do we need a declared enemy; isn't corporate greed enough?

Further, one wonders if those liberties that have been taken with the word "torture" are being transferred to the term "terrorist," especially with regard to so-called "domestic terrorism," and why it is that members of Congress, to paraphrase a line from a Dylan Thomas poem, "go gently into that night." Linguistic sleight of hand becomes a crucial issue when considering that the label "terrorist" is applied to rationalize any intrusion into the personal lives, and activities, of its citizens on the part of this government

Attorney general Gonzales joined all the president's men and women (if you include Condy Rice) in citing a 2001 resolution, which was signed by Congress, authorizing the use of force in the war on terror, as granting permission to conduct surveillance in defiance of the 1978 FISA law. The government contends that the same Congress that wants to hold hearings about the NSA, and its electronic wiretapping, and phone taps, signed the 2001 resolution that gave this executive branch the power to circumvent FISA, as well as the Fourth Amendment.

Senator Specter calls the suggestion that Congress authorized unilateral, and universal, executive privilege, as well as the right of this executive branch to launch a pre-emptive strike against those citizens for whom it was elected to represent "strained and unrealistic." My, my, my, whoever said diplomacy is dead. The policy of hiding behind an American flag and, at the same time, keeping the increasing number of servicemen and women's coffins from view is not only disturbing, but egregious, precedent-setting, and makes the bungled break-in at Watergate look like a walk in the park.

Stay tuned---the Senate Judiciary Committee has requested that the Justice Department release all documents relevant to how they justify the NSA electronic international and domestic surveillance. Specter has been described as skeptical about the legality of the NSA assault on privacy, but it doesn't take a skeptic to see that, from a federal prosecutor in the Plame leak case to the president's refusal to make public photographs taken of him and fallen lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, this administration's policy of hide and seek engenders secrecy more than disclosure. Arguably, if half the politicians in Washington got the work-out that the Freedom Of Information Act has, over the past 5 years, they'd be one healthy bunch.

When asked by a reporter, were there to be a problem with the release of DOJ d0cuments that speak to the legality, and constitutionality (illegal search and seizure) of the NSA program. if the Senate Judiciary Committee would subpoena the reports, and/or those individuals in defiance of their request, Senator Specter responded by saying "I won't be timid." One can only hope that he will be as "timid" in holding those who defied the FISA law as accountable as government counsel will be in subpoenaing, and hunting down, those journalists, editors, and publishers involved in Leak-gate I, (aka Plame-gate), and its sequel,Leak-gate II, NSA-gate. It is also hoped that we, as citizens of what was once a thriving democracy, may see even greater revelations about this program that was created secretly, given "classified" status, and exists as an egregious effront to due process, the right to privacy, as well as the right to be charged, and convicted, before being deprived of one's constitutional rights.

Moreover, a government that stifles dissent in the name of national security is moving closer to the day when it will view its own citizens as "enemy combatants;" make no mistake, when that day comes, we will no longer be the United States of America, but instead a rogue nation in the midst of civil war. Sound familiar? It seems to me that we are fast becoming the kind of state we went into Iraq to eliminate, and maybe it is time, in the poet's words, to "rage against the dying of the light."

Friday, February 03, 2006

If they got it right the first time...

In a small prairie Colorado town, Bennett, about 25 miles outside of Denver, a group of irate parents are coming down hard on an elementary school music teacher for showing her students a video of the opera "Faust" whose character sells his soul to the devil in exchange for higher knowledge. One wonders why this school doesn't ban current events given the Abramoff debacle. According to the Associated Press, a parent of one of the youngsters reportedly have suggests that the protagonist "glorifies Satan in some way." Jeez, Louise---glorifying Satan, I thought that was Dick Cheney's job!

The music teacher in question, Tresa Waggoner, merely showed more than 200 first, second, and third graders segments of a decades-old series called "Who's Afraid of Opera" early last month. Members of the local PTA were up at arms about this, questioning whether or not it is appropriate to teach children about Mephistopheles, as well as show them a man being killed by a sword, both highly ironic challenges in light of the fact that the commander-in-chief of our military routinely refers to his enemies who comprise the "axis of evil," and children are as routinely exposed to TV reports of hostages being beheaded, as well as bombs being dropped on Baghdad, and Pakistan. Using this town's illogic, maybe we should dispense with modern history altogether, I mean is studying the Holocaust appropriate and, if so, at what age? Should we allow middle school students to learn about what the pilgrims did to Native Americans? I mean, what if they connect the dots, and we have yet another Columbine?

An unfortunate, and idealistic, first year teacher whose intention was nothing more than to introduce young children to opera has been branded a devil worshipper, has been a victim of character assasination, and is being run out of town. Welcome to Salem Bay, the sequel, folks. These fundamentalist poseurs who are preventing screenings of "Brokeback Mountain" at a theatre in Salt Lake City, and who will soon have the House in a stranglehold now that Gingrich's own Boehner is replacing Tom DeLay as speaker seem to have missed a step----if they got it right the first time, they wouldn't have to be born again!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chez Cindy--- looks like Herbert Marcuse was right...

Unless you've been hanging out on Mars, over the past 24 hours, you've no doubt heard that Cindy Sheehan was arrested for wearing a tee-shirt proclaiming the exact number of American casualties as a result of the American occupation of Iraq. You've probably also heard that Ms. Sheehan was released today, and all charges were dropped. Washington, D.C. police are to be lauded for their conscientousness in making amends to an American citizen who was merely exercising her First Amendment rights.

Fewer of us recall an op-ed piece written by Congressman Barney Frank about the arrest, on charges of trespassing, of a South Carolina man who attended a Bush press conference at an airport back in May, 2003. When he refused to surrender his sign protesting the exchange of blood for oil, Brett Bursey was taken into custody by South Carolina police. The trespassing charge was quickly dropped, but Mr. Bursey was instead indicted on a federal charge of violating rules of restricted access to the president. By refusing to stay within what Barney Frank calls "a free speech zone," this South Carolina man faced 6 months behind bars, as well as a $5,000 fine. Several members of Congress came to his aid, and wrote a compelling letter to then attorney-generalJohn Ashcroft, demanding that the federal charges against Mr. Bursey be dropped. Despite congressional protests, and high profile reporting, he has since been convicted of federal charges, and ordered to pay a $500 fine.

The Bursey case happened nearly three years ago, and attracted a great deal of attention from NPR's Democracy Now, and other alternative news media. While the analogy between the two cases is compelling, as well as disturbing, in that the same kind of arrest is taking place nearly 3 years later and in our nation's capitol, at a presidential state-of-the-union address, with all due respect to Ms. Sheehan, and with admiration for her efforts, one wonders if the reaction of the feds with respect to not indicting her, and with the D.C. police in making a quick, if perfunctory, apology has anything to do with how much of a celebrity she has become. Is there anything wrong with being high profile--especially when the cause for which one stands is, without question, a just one? Arguably not. That said, the underlying question, for dedicated activists, is one posed by Herbert Marcuse half a century ago; how can we have a "revolution" if it quickly disintegrates into a blueprint for a made for TV movie?

My intent is not to challenge, denigrate, or in any way deride Ms. Sheehan, but to question the media who have been scrupulously avoiding the real civil liberties issue while hungrily competing for ratings, and human interest story of the month. There is nothing that can compare with the loss of a child, especially the loss of a child to a futile, and unjust war, but an effront to our constitutional rights deserves our attention in every case, and not just those that receive more hype. It is only when this admininistration is called to task for each and every transgression against freedom of expression that we, as citizens, may anticipate progressive social change.

Importantly, one must ask whether Cindy Sheehan will ultimately become co-opted, and neutralized by her fifteen minutes of fame, and why wasn't Brett Bursey, who had an equally plausible case, given the same attention, from the media, as she was? In both cases, the executive branch showed its prowess in the exercise of testasterone over reason. Yet, one case is dropped almost instantly, in light of hyperfocus, while the other transforms from state to federal, indictment to conviction, with hardly a guffaw from the press corps. Does one have to sleep in a tent outside the president's Texas ranch in order to get CNN, ABC, and FOX to cover the fact that we have a constitutional right to freedom of assembly whether we have lost children in an illegal war or not.