Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today-- for David Darwin Stahl

Today would have been my father, David Darwin Stahl's, 88th birthday. He was born on January 31, 1918, probably the best thing that happened to the planet in a fateful year when thousands died from the flu. His father, Sam, a screenwriter, named him "Darwin," but being the kind of guy he was, my father decided to switch his first and middle names. It turns out he was right, after all, as Darwin is a heavy name to wear about.

Being the kind of guy he was, he took the money the army paid him for service in World War II, and bought himself a Jaguar with it. When he met my mother, at a dance, she thought he was rich because of his car, and when he came to pick her up, on their first date, my grandmother Rose asked what he did for a living; "I'm a poet," he told her. My grandmother dragged my mother into the kitchen, and screamed, "a poet? Poets don't have money!" (the irony of those words was never lost on me, alas) "But he drives a Jaguar," my mother said morosely.

Oh, what a beautiful dreamer you were, David Darwin. Too radical for the Communist Party, and about the only person I know who loves politics more than I do. You brought me chocolate hearts every Valentine's Day, and laughed when I'd rip the paper off, throw the ribbons to the floor, so eager to get at the chocolate. You'd let me climb on your back, and give me endless piggyback rides around the livingroom. Most of all, you understood my restlessness, and need to be alone, a hunger to go off to those places where no one, and nothing, else was in sight.

I miss you, and love you, no less now than when you left the planet, nearly 17 years ago, and I rejoice at the sight of the twinkle in your eyes, now forever in my own. While you got a late start on fatherhood, fatherhood would never be the same without you.

(A footnote: Never had the pleasure of meeting my grandfather, Sam Stahl, who left his family, moved into the Times Square Hotel, where, rumor has it, he feverishly typed screenplays all night long making quite a commotion. He ultimately moved to California, and was never to be heard from again...)

the rapture

Am I the only one who noticed "the rapture" on Judge Alito's face upon hearing of his confirmation to the Supreme Court this morning?

A sad day has descended on Coney Island and the world...

sensitive to the environment

Nobody could ever accuse this administration of being insensitive to the environment. If nothing else, tonight's "state of the union" will show that that this president sure knows how to recycle speeches!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

remember when?

Remember when we called it paranoia? Now we call it foreign policy!

Exit Strategies...

Too bad Bush pere didn't have a good exit strategy when he paired up with Barbara, or we wouldn't have W. now...

Quote of the Week

Income Lift?

In a compelling article by David Cay Johnston, in Sunday's edition of The New York Times, "Corporate Wealth Share Rises to the Top," there are some hard, and fast figures proving that the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer. Not surprisingly, as a result of a trend, in this administration, to cut taxes on capital, concentration of corporate wealth rose significantly among the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Conversely, for 99%, or the rest of us, there was a marked, and substantial, decline.

What might ultimately prove to be the quote of the week, if not of the century, the article quotes Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman: "We want to lift all incomes, and wealth. We are starting to see that the income gap is largely an education gap." So, it's not that this government, under Bush, has been working sedulously to cut capital gains taxes, estate taxes, challenge "quotas" (affirmative action) in employment, and university admission, and to raise tuition such that only the privileged can get a higher education, they add insult to injury by suggesting that it is education, and not their antediluvian, trickle down policies that put 99% of us in the basement while they play ping pong with our earnings in the master's quarters! White House spokesman, Mr. Duffy, is right about one thing---an educated consumer is their worst customer.

And I thought that only scum rises to the top--not money!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Conrad Hall

This evening, ABC will be airing "Road to Perdition," an amazing film, for which cinematographer Conrad Hall won an Oscar in 2003. Back in the summer of 2002, while living in Ojai, California, I had the great pleasure, and honor, of meeting Conrad, at the Ojai Film Festival, on the evening that he was awarded the lifetime achievement award.

I had been recovering from a nasty summer cold, and was disinclined to do much of anything except stay indoors, but had planned to go to the film festival, with a friend, and sit in the outdoor park where one of Conrad's best known pictures, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," was to be shown. Being convinced that shivering my butt off, watching a movie outside, wasn't the wisest move, I cancelled the plans, then changed my mind later, and decided to attend only the reception instead.

The reception was at the Ojai Arts Center, alas, also outside, and at about 9:30, it was already cooling off considerably, so I swallowed what was left of my bottled water, finished off some hors d'oeuvres, and started to head out. No sooner had I ventured outside, then this 40 something, bubbly woman got out of her car, and asked why I was leaving so early. "I'm under the weather," I told her. She asked how the party was: "Just a bunch of people standing around looking at each other, nobody talking really, waiting for others to arrive to stare at..." She laughed. "How about this? If you come back inside with me, I'll introduce you to Connie Hall." I glared at her like a puppy about to be placed on a short leash, and followed her inside.

"Oh, there he is at that table," she said all perky. "Hmmmmmm..... I don't know. He's busy, talking to friends. Don't interrupt him," I urged. "Give me your name, quick," and she grabs me by the arm and takes me over to this gentle, sweet sixty-something guy wearing a brown leather vest, and the kind of hat one might expect to see in Denver. "Connie--this is Jayne Stahl." He looks up at me, and smiles.

"I like your hat," I tell him. He smiles some more. He is sitting at a table with several friends, and his wife is only a few feet away. He asks me a bit about myself. I mention something about being a writer. "A writer? What do you write?" Embarrassed, I lower my head, and say "I have to confess-- I'm finishing a screenplay, at the moment, but isn't everybody--even the busboy." He laughs, and asks: "What is your favorite movie?" He got me there. I tell him "The Natural." He melts, and for the next 15 minutes we are immersed in conversation, occasionally interrupted by people asking for autographs, or wanting to take a photo of him.

He tells me about the screenplays he's written, about how his father was a writer, James Norman Hall, who wrote "Mutiny on the Bounty," and how it's damn near impossible to get a screenplay produced. He talks, at some length, about a script that he got before Jack Nicholson, and that Jack turned down. "I can't sell a screenplay in this town. Does that give you some idea how tough it is? " Then he lowers his voice, and adds confidentially: "All you need is just one other person to believe in you," and at that I see his eyes light up. I tell him I'd seen "Road to Perdition," and that if he never made another film, he deserves his place in history for that one. "Oh," he says, "it wasn't me; it was the director, Sam Mendes. He's brilliant!" " Conrad was to receive an Academy Award for "Road to Perdition" posthumously the spring of 2003.

The entire time we spoke, his wife looked over at us affectionately. She knew he was enjoying himself. It was strange really the way he and I had become instant playmates. I felt the fickle, and sometimes icy, hand of fate run down my spine. He looked at me, and asked where he could find my work: "I'd love to read something you've written--your screenplay?" Don't ask me why I responded the way I did, "Oh, you wouldn't want to read my screenplay really. It's not something you would like," and then I put my hand on his wrist, and rubbed it gently for a moment; I knew my time with Conrad was running out. Everybody at that party wanted a piece of him. I just wanted to enjoy being a part of his life, for that moment, for no reason other than because I wanted to enjoy being a part of his life, for one moment. I didn't want anything from him in return.

Again, we were interrupted by a frisky photographer, so I left, and wandered out to the dark, cool, summer air. On the way home, I knew that something indescribable, and magical happened, something that would change my life, but it wasn't until a few months later, when I tried to see if I could find him to thank him, that I found out that Conrad passed away. Odds are, he knew his days were numbered the night we met.

Looking back, months later, I realized that among the many reasons I was meant to meet him was to let Sam Mendes know what Conrad thought of him, and the kind words he had to say about his work. I know Conrad would have liked that as much as Sam did.

Thank you, Conrad Hall, for proving it's possible to make art and movies at the same time, as well as for making believers of us all.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The "L" Word...

Counsel for Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, have asked a judge to order federal prosecutor Fitzgerald to release all documents related to the leaking of a CIA agent, Valerie Wilson's, name in a case that has come to be known as Leakgate which has resulted in 5 counts of perjury, and obstruction of justice, against Mr. Libby.

Stay tuned, while precious little is predictable especially in light of Hamas winning elections in Palestine, one thing we can count on is that we will not only see, in the coming weeks, an awesome representation of every major news organization, print and broadcast, in this country, being called to testify, including Tim Russert, NBC News; Matthew Cooper, Time Magazine; the Washington Post's very own Bob Woodward, and maybe even Judith Miller, but also the criminalization of the free flow of information and, by extension, a free press in America. This isn't just about divulging sources, this is about being able to have independent sources without succumbing to governmental oversight. This isn't merely a matter of confidentiality, or professional privilege, it's about credibility. When you compromise credibility, you challenge accuracy. When you challenge accuracy, you cut dissent off at the root.

While what we're witnessing is precedent setting with regard to journalists, this is hardly a first. You will recall that writers were interrogated, and forced to follow each other like a bunch of drunk lemmings down the slippery slope of covering their own hides at the expense of their integrity--forced to rat each other out, and turn on each other in order to provide for their families. Remember the McCarthy hearings? Instead of "Communist" plug in "terrorist," et voila! (Eco-terrorists? Domestic terrorists? ) An administration that can justify circumventing FISA courts, search warrants, the Fourth Amendment, and eavesdrop on your conversations, read your e-mails, isn't far from having to approve which version of the news hits your morning paper, or cable news program.

What may be even more terrifying is what will happen when editors, publishers, and the upper echelons of the newspaper food chain get summoned before a proposed DOJ hearing on the NSA leak, and who's feet are put to the fire for that one. Among the only thing certain about the Libby trial, and any upcoming NSA hearing, is that nothing learned in Journalism 101 could have prepared one for the road ahead.

"After Innocence" -- out of the mouths of babes...

Just when you thought you had it all wrapped up, and the younger generation pegged, those under 30 anyway, you encounter a 22 year old who works the box office at a theatre, in San Francisco, who totally turns your head around.

Just the other day, I decided to take myself to an afternoon matinee of an independent film you may have heard of, "After Innocence," which deals with several exonerees who were wrongly convicted, then vindicated by DNA. It was a cold, dreary day which, of course, is nothing unusual for January in the Bay Area. When I got off the train, I virtually ran to the theatre where I was greeted by the most delightful young man, Matt, the box office boy, who was thrilled to see a live human being, and greeted me with an enthusiastic "hey dude!" an expression which, I confess, unnerves me being of the female persuasion. "One for After Innocence," I proclaim greedily. "By the way, have you seen it?"

As it happens, in addition to being adorable, our keeper of the box office is also an accomplished film critic. "I caught glimpses of it here and there," he tells me. "What did you think?" "Oh, I think it's ecclesiastical." "Ecclesiastical," I gulped. "Yeah, you know, religious." Mind you, it's not that I'd never heard the word before. After all, in my day, we read the Old Testament -- now, of course, they're waiting until it comes to DVD. I was simply stunned that a reference to Ecclesiastes could come from the mouth of one who, minutes earlier, yelled out "hey, dude."

An interesting dialectic, I mused, as he proceeded to tell me how he had a hard time working up sympathy for a bunch of guys who were accused of rape, and murder, and who didn't look like poster boys for rehabilitation. "Besides," he adds, "they got something like $550,000 compensation for being locked up." At this, I stare at him roundly "Okay, how old are you?" "Just turned 22," he says. "How about if I give you $5 million, would you be willing to spend the next 23 years of your life on death row, in solitary confinement, for a crime you didn't commit? You'd be all of 45--relatively young, and a rich man, when you get out." He laughs, and agrees that no amount of money is worth giving up time. "Yeah, there's no getting the years back. If only I knew at 10 what I know now." It took everything in my power not to laugh outloud. "Are you against the death penalty," he asks. "I don't even want to go there. I'm against wrongful conviction, and the wanton disregard for innocence routinely displayed by this government." Up walks the theatre manager, a boy of about 25. "Oh," Matt says hurriedly, "I don't like political conversations; enjoy the movie."

Must say this about our box office critic, he hit the nail on the head when he called "After Innocence" ecclesiastical. This wasn't a movie for the "lay person" in that it was clearly preaching to the choir. There was no attempt to make an argument, or pry you loose from any preconceptions you had about the American system of jurisprudence. If you went in believing strongly in capital punishment, odds are this film won't change your mind, but I can say this--if you see this film, and then sit on a jury, you'll think long and hard before convicting the defendant.

As Innocence Project attorney Peter Neufeld suggests, if nothing else, the debate about wrongful conviction, and the death penalty, will remind us of a simple truth that most of us in this country seem, sadly, to have forgotten: a person is innocent until proven guilty, and not the other way around. If not in our lifetime, then maybe in the lifetime of our twentysomething friend, we will use DNA to convict, and not to vindicate following wrongful conviction. Better still, we may yet progress to where we ban the death penalty unless, and until, it can be proven, by DNA, that the person charged has been rightly, and not wrongfully, convicted of the crime for which he, or she, is paying the ultimate price. After all, if future generations come up with a sequel to this movie, we wouldn't want the title to be "After Ignorance."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

life, liberty, and the pursuit of suffering...

California's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, said today that there's no evidence inmates suffer when being put to death by lethal injection.

Think about this: a Florida inmate who won a stay of execution yesterday from the Supreme Court was strapped down to a guerny with an I.V. in his arm, for two hours, while he waited for the ruling. Consider, too, that most death row inmates wait more than 20 years from the time they're sentenced until they're executed. If you don't call being told you're going to be put down, and waiting around for decades until it happens suffering, what is?

"the Midnight Ridder..."

We have it on good authority that Knight Ridder, a conglommerate of 32 daily newspapers, myriad Web sites and weekly publications, is up for sale. According to "Editor and Publisher,' the Society for Professional Journalists is concerned about whether exploitative, mercantile profit-driven interests will compromise "public service journalism."

Forgive me, but I think "public service journalism" and the dinosaurs currently occupy the same place in history. That said, as a paradigm, printing articles of substance written by reporters who are on-staff, and not outsourced from a competing paper is certainly something to strive for, but alas the unilateralism that has infected our foreign policy appears to have spread to our printing presses.

If nothing else, the lesson of media consolidation is that the "same old, same old" is now not only in syndication, but coming soon to the evening news near you. In this climate, one wonders how the free flow of information, as well as diversity of perspective, will be affected, but then that is a structural flaw with any monopoly. The first step is recognizing the corporate takeover of the press, in America, as well as the government, and then figuring out how to factor dialogue, and dissent into the equation.

It is heartening that an otherwise arcane, and arguably esoteric, group, the "Society for Professional Journalists," is calling for "an urgent national conversation" about the impact this prospective sale will have not merely on those who report the news, but on those who read, and/or view recycled reports from Bosnia, and the Middle East. Hats off to the SPJ! But why aren't the editors of every newspaper under Ridder's umbrella meeting to discuss the possible impact of the sale; instead, they're busy meeting with the president about "shameful" leaking of the NSA story. Can it be that newspaper management has been coopted by fear of losing out on their profit-sharing plans if they so much as squeak? We have only to look at the recent changes at PBS, and their parent company, to know that some serious changes may be on the horizon for our nation's newspapers, and their consumers.

If only the media watchdogs were as wide awake, and human interest stories weren't allowed to overshadow news coverage. on CNN, during peak viewing hours. Don't get me wrong, I like to watch Anderson Cooper every bit as much as the next guy, he's cute, but I don't like having to learn about "federal halfway houses" from reading subtitles!

In a country where recycling the news has proven even more profitable than recycling diet pepsi cans, we all have to sit up, and take notice, when a company that controls 25 daily papers is up for sale. The question for today is: what in the hell can we do about it?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Consider the Out-Source

Go figure, on the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee votes 8-10 to confirm Sam Alito as associate justice of the Supreme Court, a report by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, who heads up European investigation into U.S. human rights violations for the Council of Europe, concludes that the U.S. has been outsourcing torture throughout Europe. What's more, as Senator Marty maintains, the Americans have established pervasive "cells," not unlike what Al Qaeda is alleged to have been doing on U.S. soil.

While this is not news, of course, The Washington Post broke the story about secret detention facilities that our military has set up in Europe weeks ago, it is especially troubling in light of this administration's argument for the NSA, and now the TSP (Terrorist Surveillance Program) as, indeed, it takes a cell to know one. With respect to this administration's new policy of playing legal peeping Tom, and finding the cells in your breakfast cereal, what we have here is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. That said, the report does reveal some new findings: 6 Bosnians were recently abducted, by U.S. agents, on Bosnian soil, and taken to Guantanamo Bay despite the ruling of a Bosnian court which prohibited their exportation.

Now that Sam Alito's confirmation, by the full Senate, later this week is all but assured, we. as a country, may soon find ourselves outsourcing justice and torture alike.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Today's Question...

The president declared, only minutes ago, that the NSA is legal, and that he intends to defend his electronic surveillance, and snooping, program when hearings, in Congress, convene on Febuary 6th. The phrase for the program this administration has initiated to spy on its electorate has now been changed to "Terrorist Surveillance Program," or TSP for short. Lest you sleep easier tonight, because of this change, think about this: one suggested topic of discussion, for congressional hearings, might well be-- what does a "terrorist" look like?

If, as has been suggested, there are now two classes of "terrorists," international and domestic (i.e. "ecoterrorists"), does this make the process of identifying, and tagging, "the enemy" harder or easier, and do we now have greater justification for shredding the Fourth Amendment where domestic terrorists are concerned?

More importantly, are we, as a nation, any safer today because of this president's directive to compromise our civil liberties, or in spite of it?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

What do Perrier and Halliburton have in common?

You may have seen the Associated Press report, released today, that the water that Halliburton has been contracted to introduce into Iraq is contaminated, and that the company which "was formerly headed" by Vice President Dick Cheney has knowingly kept word of both the toxicity, as well as the dangers posed by the toxicity, of the chemicals in the water which has affected both our military, and civilians, a secret for months now.

One phrase we repeatedly heard after 9/11 was how the intelligence community failed to "connect the dots." So, it's connect the dots time---do you see any resemblance to the tobacco industry which withheld information about the hazards of smoking to profiteer? Aside from being notorious for making huge profits off a product which, almost universally, produces death, the tobacco industry is famous for...
bingo---lobbying.... hmmmmmmmm..... wonder who's lobbying for the former president, and CEO, of Halliburton, Dick Cheney's contract in Iraq, and what connection, if any, these lobbyists have to Jack Abramoff?

More importantly, if a direct connection between Cheney, Halliburton, and Abramoff can be established, and proven, what impact, if any, will it have on the rest of a most troubling lame dame presidency? Have we, at one time a nation of laws, become so neutralized by corruption run amok that we cower, and retreat, in the face of the kind of inquiry that will make future generations proud to call themselves Americans?

Hats Off, Mr. Rove

Remember "compare and contrast" from your days of writing college essays? Lest you missed Karl Rove, the president's right hand man, the other day, he presented a better case for why people should vote for Democrats in 2006, or 2008, than any Democrat running for office. The thrust of Rove's argument is that Democratic view is "pre-9/11," or archaic, whereas the Republican Party is living in a "post-9/11," or back to the future world.

Might an Italian running for political office in Genoa, in the 1930's, have used Rove's defense for a "post-Mussolini," and "pre-Mussolini" world? Oh, I know what you're thinking-- there can be no comparing George Bush and Benito Mussolini. After all, Mussolini was much better looking! So, if not Italy, how about Spain, and a"pre-Franco," and "post-Franco" dichotomy? Joking aside: dominion by domination of the executive branch is subversive, in the best possible sense of the word, and an insult to what the framers of our Constitution had in mind.

There is no small irony in the fact that a strategist for the opposing party is helping to define the platform for its opposition. This comes as no surprise in a country that is grossly obese while more than 60% of its paid advertising is devoted to junk food. Why not junk politics? Why not the Jack Abramoff of junk politics? Maybe Karl Rove ought to run for president in 2008---after all, only Houdini could have escaped prosecution, in Leakgate, with such aplomb. but even Houdini didn't have hubris enough to believe he'd escape the iron jaws of history which will, soon enough, have, in their grasp, the Cheneys, Roves, Libbys, and others who break the law in the name of preserving the American way of life.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Been There, Done That...

To those who are most concerned with the recent revelations about the NSA, and electronic surveillance, think about this: three months after 9/11, your elected representatives, in Congress, voted to enact something called the USA Patriot Act which many of them openly admit to not having read. This same pernicious piece of legislation is currently being peddled by this administration, and its attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, as being necessary to combat the "war on terror."

Anyone who takes more than a casual glance at several sections of the so-called "Patriot Act" will see that built into the legislation are violations to the First and Fourth Amendments including, but not limited to, electronic surveillance, wiretapping, and "delayed notification," a policy which enables law enforcement to search your home, sans warrant, confiscate what they consider evidence ("seizure"), and not let you know about the search until afterwards, if at all.

Why is this an issue now? In the coming weeks and months, when the Justice Department orders hearings into who leaked the classified information about the NSA's activities, and when one prominent New York newspaper gets hauled over the coals again, remember you saw it here first---any prosecution of newspapers, reporters, and/or editors, for outing the administration's practice of spying on its citizens is nothing short of an all out effort to deflect attention away from those provisions in the USA Patriot Act which will finalize effronts to the First and Fourth Amendment. One prominent Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, has recently co-sponsored a bill to criminalize flag desecration. Scary, but true, we may soon need an amendment to criminalize desecration of the Constitution.

Let's keep the focus where it belongs--not on the press, but on legislation, and leaders, who p0se the most egregious, ongoing, and longterm threat to our civil liberties in the name of protecting our national security.

Question of the Week: What is an "Ecoterrorist?"

Not that I condone blowing up buildings, planting explosives, and threatening destruction in the name of protecting the rights of animals, or in any other name, mind you, but if you call members of the Animal Liberation Front "ecoterrorists," what do you call those who pollute the air, poison our oceans, rape our wildlife, inject our poultry with antibiotics, skin rabbits, dogs, cats, and generally decimate anything even closely resembling a civilized response to environmental integrity? An eco-patriot? I think this administration had better take a closer look at how it uses (or abuses) the word "terrorist"--- who was it who said "Judge not lest ye be judged?"
Caveat emptor---better to go to bed on an empty stomach, then eat any of that bologna!

On Hiatus

For those of you who have been reading this blog (if any have been), of late, you may have noticed that I've been missing in action for the past few days. I awoke, last Friday, with a horrific stiff neck, unable to move my head, and it is only today, Saturday, January 21st, that I have any mobility above my shoulders at all.
Thursday, I was able to move my head slightly to one side; it was then that I realized what it's like being in political office. Not having any flexibility above one's shoulders doesn't seem to pose a problem for our president, but poor Ah-nold, just when we had him pegged as a card-carrying neo-Con, the wind came in, or maybe it was W's latest popularity poll results, and blew him left of center.
Mind you, you'd have a hell of a time convincing me that the current governor of California is a Greenie, but anybody who gets into bed every night with a Kennedy must be alright. Some may think, when she married Schwarzenegger, Maria became a lapsed Kennedy, but she remains an indispensible member of the clan nonetheless.
The ability to see both sides of the equation has been called everything from bipolar to wishy-washy. Truth is, and has always been, not in black and white, but in the gray zone. So-called reality is a multidimensional affair, and anyone who sees life as a unilateral battle, literally or figuratively, is putting demons where daring should be.
Now that I'm back in the saddle, I hope you'll join me; one doesn't like to think of oneself as playing one-handed poker in cyberspace.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quote of the Day...

The decision yesterday to uphold Oregon's ruling on assisted suicide gave our new Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts, his first opportunity to dissent.

We already know how this administration views "disrupters" by their implementation of a "free speech zone" at public rallies, but here's a quote from Supreme Court Judge Scalia that is replete with the kind of irony which one finds in the best fiction.

The government, Scalia states, has long been able to use its powers "for the purpose of protecting public morality," and right he is. We've seen, over the past few years, just how well this government has protected public morality in Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, in redefining international law, as well as rationalizing torture. This is one kind of protectionism the world can do well without.


If Al Gore runs for president, in 2008, do you think he'll lose weight?

(all joking aside, the Dems have lost at least one too many elections to gamble on Gore or Clinton--messr. or madame...)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Question of the Day

When is someone going to put an expiration date on the news?

"other priorities"

E.J. Dionne, in today's Washington Post, quotes Vice President Dick Cheney as saying: "I had other priorities in the 60's than military service." Clearly, Mr. Cheney has other priorities than peace right now--Halliburton. One wonders why it is that the vice president is under the delusion that our nation's capitol, D.C., is named after him.

Dick Cheney is the strongest argument anyone can make against impeachment.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Execution Day for Clarence Ray Allen

Clarence Ray Allen is the oldest man the state of California will have put to death at midnight tonight. While he's clearly no saint, he is a human being.
To take the life of one is to compromise the lives of all.

Guilt by Association?

You may have read the piece in The Washington Post today about the conviction of Mohammed Yousry, a translator and U.S. citizen, on charges of "supporting terrorism." Mr. Yousry is currently a doctoral student at New York University. What was his crime? Translating a letter from imprisoned Muslim cleric Omar Abdel Rahman. Apart from the fact that indicting, and convicting, those whose vocation is to work with the written word sets a dangerous precedent, one need also examine the underlying premise here.

As it happens, Mr. Yousry works with radical lawyer, Lynne Stewart, who herself faced conviction last year for, among other things, supporting "armed revolution." It seems that, more than anything, this translator, and American citizen, is guilty more by association than by deed and, if this is the case, one wonders should the perjury, conspiracy, and other felony charges for which Scooter Libby was indicted lead to his conviction, whether the vice-president will be visited by the same prosecution as his one-time aide?

After all, fair is fair, and guilt by association should work equally well on both sides of the equation, no?

"La Dolce WiFi?"

The results of a study by a prominent Italian sexologist were released by Reuters today, and they show, not surprisingly, that watching TV, in the bedroom, "halves your sex life."

Evidently, a little more than 500 Italian couples were questioned, and they report that the frequency of their lovemaking doubles when there's no television to watch. Italians, sans Letterman, copulate, on average, twice a week, a number which is cut in half when a TV set is factored into the equation. Alas, regrettably, the study doesn't take into account findings for us single folk.

Ccertain programs also appear more likely to act as deterrents to libidinal impulses. For instance, violent shows deal a blow, so to speak, to all sexual activity, in the boudoir, while reality TV only dampens the fire for about a third of the couples. Again, there are no reported findings, in this area, for those of the single persuasion.

I can only speak from firsthand experience, and can tell you that the Bible always worked wonders for me--especially the Old Testament; it must have been all the "begat" stuff, and imagining Moses descending from the mountain with his Ten Commandments... well... clearly, the man worked out! And, arguably, that he played Moses may be the only good thing one can say about Charleton Heston.

Who knows? maybe someone will get around to doing a study on the impact the Internet has on one's sex life someday!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Question of the Month...

Here we are at the halfway mark, in January, and the question of the month is:

Forget Osama Bin Laden, where is Newt Gingrich now, and what does he have to say about his "Contract on America" after the fall of Tom DeLay, and the inevitable demise of the neoCon takeover of Congress?

Murtha's Medals

The Washington Post reports that a Web site, Cybercast News Service, and its editor-in-chief, David Thibault, are challenging the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two purple hearts to Congressman John Murtha, during the Vietnam War, due to his outspoken opposition to the occupation of Iraq.

The smear campaign of which Representative Murtha is the current victim reminds one of the Swift Boat fiasco which strove to bring down the candidacy, in the last presidential election, of Senator John Kerry. It seems that the time has come to give those who grab at straws to defend a policy opposed by grieving, middle America, mothers, and veterans of other futile wars alike, a swift boot.

There's nothing wrong with questioning records, but while they're at it, why don't the good folks at Cybercast News Service ask why the figures of war dead, on both American and Iraqi sides, that their commander-in-chief gives out are often at variance from the official counts given by his own Department of Defense!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Je Recuse --

This morning, the Associated Press announced the president's dissatisfaction with the Senate's delay in confirming Judge Alito to the Supreme Court. Is this what the phrase "unitary executive branch" means, the ability to pressure senators to confirm a presidential nominee?
We might remind the chief executive, of our country, that he, too, was appointed by the same Supreme Court he's currently seating.

In his propensity for coercion, abundantly displayed in an attempt to pressure elected officials to go along with his wishes, not only does this commander-in-chief display bias, in favor of the executive branch, a flagrant disregard for due process whether it manifest in a court of law or Congress, but an inability to respect the checks and balances that have, for centuries, separated our system of government from a monarchy.

Indeed, any president who abuses notions of "executive privilege" to such an egregious, and downright annoying, degree, may wish to consider, in future, whether he should recuse himself if another vacancy on the Court, heaven forbid, happens to occur on his watch.

We must give credit where credit is due and, if nothing else, the president has shown those of us who like to delude ourselves that we live in the 21st Century that the term "unitary" has other applications besides in quantum physics.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is it just me?

You must have read, in today's paper, that General Geoffrey D. Miller just took the Fifth Amendment in an investigation about his role in the food chain that was Abu Ghraib. At one time, Miller held a high position, in the chain of command, at Guantanamo Bay. When officers, in the military, refuse to testify on the grounds they may incriminate themselves, something sure smells fishy.

Is it just me, or is it getting harder and harder to tell who the bad guys are?

Caller I.D.

Many people, nowadays, have Caller I.D., a feature from their local phone company, which enables them to know who's on the phone before they pick up. I don't.
For the same reason I wouldn't want to know the sex of a child before giving birth; I like surprises! That said, I'm quickly reassessing my position in light of our president's recent attempts at justifying tapping the telephones of his esteemed citizens.

"If somebody from Al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why," asserts Mr. Bush.
So would I, Mr. President, especially if they're calling collect!

It seems having Caller I.D. might prove useful, after all, but the question is whether or not to pick up if it says "White House" on the display.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Question of the Day

Don't know what you'd ask, but if I could ask Judge Sam Alito, this president's nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, one question, and one question only, I would ask:

"What do you think of the role the Supreme Court played in intervening in an election, in 2000, overthrowing the popular vote, and appointing the president of the United States in a country that prides itself on free elections? What kind of precedent did that set and, by extension, what role should the Supreme Court play, in future, if faced with a similar set of circumstances, and in addressing the problem of voter disenfranchisement?"

Would you buy a used car from this man

Is it just me, or did "sleeze" get a bit sleezier?

I'm talking about Jack Abramoff who, under his wannabe Fedora, looks like what would happen if one were to mate a muskateer with John Gotti. Ooops, didn't mean to offend any muskateers; what I meant instead was mousekateers, given Mr. Abramoff's penchant for referring to his clients as mice.

Let's pause, for a moment, sit back, and examine what this unrepetant, poor excuse for a snake oil salesman did:

1) With Mike Scanlon, Jumping Jack is accused of scamming several Indian tribes out of more than $80 million.

2) Jack's "kiss and tell" list includes Tom DeLay who, Abramoff asserts, knew what was going on every step of the way, as well as another big conquest, top White House strategist, Karl Rove, who is, arguably, among the only one who has managed to find his way out of Leak-gate, and now Lobby-gate, unscathed.

3) And last, but not least, Jumping Jack lobbied for protection of sweatshops on the Mariana Islands.

Clearly, as the next several months will show, we have not heard the last of either this lobbyist, or the corrupt trail he's left behind, but the looming question, in my mind, is: will anything really change as a consequence of these revelations, or will both houses of Congress, the media, the executive branch, and everybody else in this God-forsaken country just go about their business as usual?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Position is Nine-Tenths of...

Some good news today!

A group of prosecutors, and framers of the death penalty initiative, in California, wrote a letter to the state Assembly urging passage of a bill that would endorse a statewide moratorium on capital punishment. District Attorney Ira Reiner will debate actor, activist, and president of Death Penalty Focus, Mike Farrell, on the subject at the Disney Hall, in the Redcat Theater, Los Angeles, after a performance of "The Exonerated," on the evening of Thursday, January 12.

One can think of nothing that better demonstrates that the adage should be changed to read: "Position is nine-tenths of the law" than capital punishment. We need to take a closer look at who gets put to death, and why, as well as how many of them are innocent, but don't have the wherewithal to contest their dubious convictions, and instead find themselves in the hands of state-appointed executioners.

The senator from Kansas was right yesterday in his introduction to Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito; we need to foster a climate that is friendly to the right to life, not just for those yet to be born, but for the living, too.

Question of the Day

Why is word getting out only now about Tim Russert's refusing to testify before a Grand Jury, which testimony would serve to further incriminate the executive branch, and why does The New York Times want his papers? More to the point, what is going on in a country where the house majority leader drops out for consorting with corrupt lobbyists, esteemed members of the press, and newspapers, are guilty until proven innocent?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rest in Peace-- Jerry Burns

From time to time, for about 5 years now, the face of someone from my past emerges before me like a song from a distant dream, or the faint smell of aftershave in a crowded highrise elevator. And a highrise elevator it is, memory.

Just today, I learned that this spark of light which was, at one time, tied to a body has left that body behind. Poet Jerry Burns, editor of Goliards Press, printer, roughrider in the way that Walt Whitman was, another manly cloud who I was privileged (nay, blessed) to have known, and lived with briefly, as a wee young thing, whose "PM in the AM," a poem carved from between the calves of an ornery old corpse, haunts me still.

I'm filled with sadness, Jerry, not merely for your passing at a young age, mid-50's, but that so few have had the honor, and joy, of living with your words as I have for the past 30 years.
Your last words, the ones you scribbled, by hand, on the side of a letter you wrote to me, the one that bore your lovely poem; "write, okay?" So, I write; I remember, and celebrate you, now and always. Rest in peace , Jerry Burns, for it is life, not death, that makes warriors of us, and I will rest, too, with the knowledge that where you go, the sun must follow.


The earth
as does the annual sea
is turning over.
Lost graves are purring
like a chorus of well-fed cats.
I can hear them when I put my ear
to the ground.

And the Red/Tide
glutted with white belly-up bodies
rolls along
flicking its red spray
at sea gulls
dressed as anxious doctors.

It is cold.
I know a blonde
with snow in her hair.
We have been standing here
on the edge of the cliff
for some time, now,

feeling the sea sing
and the earth shudder.

She is becoming worried.
The small space between her eyebrows
is growing ridges.

Love, I bring you oranges.

Love, in the dust of my forehead
trace the image of the truculent God
who sleeps within you.

I have come a long way, woman,
to give you
my one
black pearl."

by: Jerry Burns
Bellingham, Washington
September 29, 1969

He may not look like a swinger, but...

He may not look like a swinger, but make no mistake, Samuel Alito's vote will be the swing vote that could make or break all Supreme Court decisions that come down the pike for a generation, or more, depending upon whether the geneticists are right, and can extend human life another 30 plus years. If this president has his way, and Alito makes it through the Senate, he will replace Sandra Day O'Connor who, as you know, is stepping down, and may just roll back the clock to pre-Magna Carta days when governments didn't need to rationalize torture.

Mother Nature has managed to distract us, in recent months, to a degree where the most cynical might think she was on the government's payroll. It's entirely possible to have forgotten that Alito has expressed his opposition to Roe v. Wade while a Justice Department lawyer, and that he has maintained that the Constitution doesn't provide for a woman's right to choose.
Arguably, his views on constitutional powers of the presidency are even more terrifying.

As if the executive branch isn't hyperactive enough, with Alito on the Supreme Court, we may yet see carte blanche issued for invasions of other sovereign states, as well as the single gravest threat to checks and balances imaginable. Moreover, what we don't know about Mr. Alito may pose a greater threat than what we do know; e.g., what is his stand on domestic spying? compliance with FISA? National Security Letters? civil rights inroads we, as a nation, have made over the past 50 odd years?

Fast forwarding, if you have any doubt whatsoever as to the longterm impact appointing Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court will have, then go to your telephone right now, and call those senators who depend upon your vote for their payday. Below are names and numbers for senators in three states, or go to: www.senate.gov to find your representative in the Senate. Do phone, and ask that (s)he exercise restraint, yes the kind of restraint often attributed to this nominee, and not vote for Samuel Alito. A vote for this nominee is a vote against the progressive forces of history.

In California, phone: Senator Dianne Feinstein: (202) 224-3841, or email: feinstein.senate.gov/email.html, or Barbara Boxer: (202) 224-3553; boxer.senate.gov.
In New York, phone Hillary Clinton: (202) 224-4451, clinton.senate.gov; or Charles Schumer; (202) 224-6542,

In Florida (where we need it the most), call: Mel Martinez: (202) 224-3041, and Bill Nelson (202) 224-5274.

Or find your senator: www.senate.gov; In the immortal words of a former president, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country;" do it, go to your phones, and call! This may be the last chance we have to make our votes count for generations. History is watching you. Don't let her down!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Out of Focus

You may already have heard that Utah jazz club owner, Larry Miller's, theatre in Salt Lake City has decided not to show "Brokeback Mountain," a film that deals with two gay cowboys. A spokesperson for Focus Features, the distributors of "Brokeback," said that hours before the film was to open, theater management reneged on their licensing agreement.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative group, Utah Eagle Forum, issued a statement saying "maybe there is something wrong with this show" that it's best for young people not to see. I, for one, am glad that Ms. Ruzicka, and other family value conservatives, are so preoccupied by what's appropriate, and inappropriate, for young people to see, or read. If more people thought the way the Utah Eagle Forum spokesperson does, Jack Abramoff would not have had to take the fall for the Tom DeLays, Bill Frists, and other charlatans who counterfeit values, then try to pass them off as something they received from on high. Indeed, the DeLays would have given up the ghost of corporate corruption simply as it is the right thing to do.

Likewise, if those who think they have a patent on morality, and sanction remarks by Pat Robertson about Ariel Sharon's stroke, as well as the warped view that HIV is God's perverse revenge on sinners, then generations hence will be dealing with a population explosion crisis in hell, and not on earth.

Maybe we, as a society, are a bit out of focus when we are threatened by a movie that never for a minute confuses love with profanity and, at the same time, no longer know how to distinguish between profits and prophets.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Question of the Week

If the president perceives that there are "enemies," or "terrorists," in his breakfast cereal, does that give him the right to wiretap the makers of Quaker Oats?

Today's Question

Question for today:

Why can't the person who invented tamper-proof bottles invent tamper-proof news?

Confessions of a Chicken Bone Salesman: Laurel and Heimlich

Friends, Romans, and Countrymen,

Alas, two evenings ago, before settling down (if this is the correct phrase) to watch "360," with Anderson Cooper, I nearly choked to death on a chicken bone. There I was sitting (or half-sitting, given my ongoing bouts with ADHD), at the table, eyeballing a half-crocked candle when, lo and behold, there it was, the oddest sensation of something making it half-way down my throat (alas, nothing X-rated), and the sensation of gagging.

Naturally, at a time like this, one remembers Mama Cass, and other victims of that most nefarious of nightmares---the arrogant chicken bone lodger. It's funny what thoughts go through one's mind. "Will I stop breathing? When? Why not?" It's at a moment like that when you appreciate that, regardless how much you despise your miserable little life, you want to go on with it, or at least with the pretense that it will get bigger, and/or less miserable. In order to do so, first, and foremost, you must learn not to panic.

The only other time I came this close to lights out courtesy of a rogue bone was when I lived in Queens, back in 1981, and had just come home after having taken the infernal F train from Penn Station, and whoa was I stressed. I'll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say, here I am, 25 (ouch) years later and, until two days ago, choke-free, though not stress-less.

A dear friend wrote to me, this morning, from China, suggesting that I learn the Heimlich manuever. Jeez, it was hard enough to learn how to parallel park. Maybe our friend Mr. Heimlich has a great-grandson? I'm sure, if I had a man with me, I wouldn't need Heimlich (Depending on the man, I might need to learn other maneuvers, but not that one.) My women friends who are attached tell me that one might infinitely prefer a chicken bone to a man, after all. Look at all the work I'm getting done without one---(a man, not a chicken bone.) Maybe I should count my blessings which, of course, I do; the question is: do they count me?

At a moment when one stares down mortality, one takes stock of what to give thanks for. In the past few years, since moving to the Bay Area, the thing I'm most grateful for is having learned the fine art of sublimation, and learned it so well, I might add, that I could write a book on the virtues of sublimation---maybe even 2 books, 3 books...
Care to join me?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Question of the Day...Pour Christiane

Barely throw a blog in the fire, these days, to warm the place up when, lo and behold, there's another story about a journalist on the gallows. Pour Christiane, guess she's not Christian enough to be tamper-proof.

No doubt, you've heard the report that the NSA has been spying on Amanpour, a CNN regular, as revealed in a recent book by New York Times reporter James Risen. The turbulence began when NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell asked Risen directly, in an interview on NBC, if he had any knowledge that the government was, in fact, eavesdropping on the CNN reporter.
The entire transcript of the Mitchell-Risen interview appeared on MSNBC's Web site, which was edited, and the question about the NSA playing "I Spy" with Christiane "disappeared."
Rebuked for removing critical parts of the interview, NBC released what can only be called a bizarre statement: "We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry."

From where I sit, the question isn't so much about whether or not a reporter was spied on by her government (ahem, that's right, the U.S. government), senior CNN correspondent John Ensor's explanation that "from time to time" mistakes "inadvertently" happen, and "wiretaps overseas or other intercepts" may include American citizens, as well as members of the American media, but whether the comfort level of a well-respected news correspondent with his government's dubiously legal, but nevertheless federal, policy of surveillance is something that bears examination. Also, by extension, is it okay for portions of an official transcript to be removed without explanation, and explanation provided only under duress? Clearly, to err on the side of caution with respect to providing concrete evidence is always a good thing. We saw, earlier this week, how painful it can be when erroneous information gets broadcast widely. That said, can citizens of a so-called democracy, whether we be members of the press or otherwise, afford to be that nonplussed by the covert, and undesired, attentions of our elected representatives?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"the imperial presidency" -- currently in use

In her piece in yesterday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd rightly suggests that what she calls "the imperial presidency" is working out well for everyone in the Bush administration.

While we're on the subject of "imperial," you may have heard the rumor that England's Prince Charles wants to be called King George when he assumes the throne. Someone ought to tell his majesty that the name "King George" is currently in use.

Something else happened in Virginia this week...

In a state that has undergone emotional upheaval of biblical proportions, something else happened in Virginia, this week, that points to a silver lining. Just today, Virginia Governor Warner ordered that DNA evidence be re-tested in the case of Roger Keith Coleman who was put to death, by the state, in 1992, for raping and murdering his sister-in-law.

If the DNA now proves that a man was put to death for a crime he did not commit, it will be the first time in U.S. history that a man who was executed has been exonerated. As a nation, and a people of laws, we need to nurture the same moral outrage for the crime of putting an innocent man to death as we showed when O.J. Simpson walked free.

Now, more than ever, we need to call for a national moratorium on capital punishment, as well as consider a constitutional human rights amendment that prohibits torture, cruel and unusual punishment, and the death penalty.

Understatement of the Day

Understatement of the Day:

"Ours is a flawed business," Jack Schafer, Slate Magazine, commenting on media coverage of the mine disaster in West Virginia.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Question for the Day

Lest you missed it, top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harmon, told the president that his ordering the NSA to conduct a domestic spy program, and withhold information from full congressional oversight, was illegal. You may remember that initially we were told that this electronic, and telephone, surveillance was "international." Truth is, many of the details as to the extent of NSA's operations are as murky, and secret as just about everything coming out of Washington in the past 5 years.

Between the inquiry into which members of Congress and staffers were on the take in the Abramoff debacle, and the inevitable hearings that must result from NSA, one thing we can bet on---Congress is going to be cooking in the next couple of months, and if the shit don't hit the fan, the turkey will.

Okay, so here's today's question: If the president's actions were believed to be even remotely illegal, what does it say about the actions, or non-actions, of those members of Congress who knew this president broke the law, and did nothing to stop him? What does it say about our elected officials now who know that this administration has crossed the line, yet still don't come forward, and speak out; do they become accessories to the crime, or accessories after the fact?

"Of Pandas and People"

One small step for man; one huge step for mankind:

In Dover, Pennsylvania yesterday, the newly elected school board officially put "intelligent design" to sleep by unanimously rescinding school policy to teach Creationism along with evolution as another "theory" of the origins of the human race. This was not merely an affirmation of science, but of sanity.

After all, can some lunatic come along and claim that the sun revolves around the earth, and call Galileo's work "theoretical?" Bravo to one school board for standing up to the neanderthals, and showing that the only place for "intelligent design" in our schools is in a driver's education class!

the Media giveth, and the Media taketh away...

Tabloid Journalism -- coming soon to a television near you...

Don't know about you, but I find it challenging to recall the last time a major news network, CNN, devoted not one, but two hours of programming to the prospect of a "miracle" in finding all remaining 12 coal miners alive after a horrific, and wrenching mine disaster in West Virginia. My heart goes out, and rightfully, to the families of those 12 men who were lost, but we also need to see a huge RED FLAG when a news organization allows the word miracle to be repeated endlessly, by governors and commentators alike. Does the religious right have even the major media in its grip, or was the word "miracle" employed numerously because of its sex appeal?

More importantly, can reporting there are proven survivors without evidence be seen as ethical, and responsible, journalism, or equivalent to reporting election results before the polls close? What news outfit worth its salt would imbue its audience with false hope without substantial proof, in an obvious attempt to boost their ratings, and why aren't we, the American people, demanding more from our media?

While they may be pretty to look at, how can we allow anchors like Anderson Cooper to spend hours covering Katrina, earthquakes, coal mining disasters, and not even mention James Risen's book about the CIA having evidence there were no WMDs in Iraq before we went into Iraq, as well as that the NSA has been collecting evidence secretly since 2002? How can any purported news show not cover the fact that one major newspaper sat on the NSA electronic surveillance story for more than a year before reporting it, or that JackAbramoff pled guilty to 3 counts, and that a prominent member of the Senate, Tom DeLay, may well be taken down with him?

Clearly, the president isn't the only one getting a regular work-out in this administration, so is the Freedom of Information Act, and news programs that report on natural disasters while ignoring the man-made ones have been co-opted.

Yes, the Media giveth, and the Media taketh away, but it's up to us, the viewers, to make it clear that we're mad as hell; we want the news, and we want it now!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"you say you want a devolution"

How does that John Lennon song go...

The Senate takes up the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court next week which leads one to wonder how it is that those who make the most noise about "intelligent design," otherwise known as Creationism, and strongly favor an alternative way to look at the theory of evolution at the same time actively and aggressively put forth theories, and try to strip away constitutional protections, eagerly working , in effect, towards devolution. So, we now have evolutionists and devolutionists. One doesn't have to be a quick study to see which side of the fence Judge Alito happens to find himself on. The question is which side of the fence (defense?) will we find ourselves on when those who believe in evolution where it comes to social change only take control of what, in our system of checks and balances, was meant to be the ultimate check and balance to executive power, the Supreme Court. Caveat emptor, sooner or later, the empire will strike back!

Question of the Day

When the news becomes news as in the case of indicted Chinese journalist, and New York Times researcher, Zhao Yan, one wonders why those who manufacture bullet-proof vests made astronomical profits, last year, while those who report the news, and do so honestly, languish in prison in Beijing facing ten years in prison, or execution?
Mr. Yan's crime was merely having written a four sentence note which raised a question about the chain of command of those who govern his country. China has an overt department of propaganda to whom Beijing bureau chiefs of American newspapers, as well as the Beijing Times, are accountable.
The question of the day is:
To whom are members of the American press accountable, and why aren't news editors of every major American newspaper following the lead of news editors of The Beijing Times, on Thursday, who walked out in protest of the harassment, and firing, of one of their own? Has this become the home of the fraud, and the land of the lemming? What happened to the free, and the brave?
As for the rest of us who operate under the illusion that the same, or worse, couldn't happen to one of our esteemed, and honored, reporters, how about facing the music, and writing letters to Condy Rice, and the president, demanding that they intervene to save the life of a New York Times researcher, Zhao Yan, as well as speak out against his "shameful" detention, incarceration, and all but inevitable conviction, and butt out of who reports what, when, and where in America!

the haves and have nots...

"I did not have sex with that woman."
Jack Abramoff (?)

No, this is not another re-run of "The Love Boat," but is about how one former high powered lobbyist lined the pockets of friends, families, allies, enemies, members of Congress, congressional staffers, future congressional staffers, and anyone else who could be bought in exchange for a slap on the wrist, a plea bargain. I'm reminded of Tom Hayden's great line about capital punishment: "Those who have the capital, don't get the punishment." Indeed, plea bargains have been offered to those whose goal, according to a court document, was "to enrich themselves by obtaining substantial funds from their clients through fraud and concealment." Oh, yes, I know this is old news to some of you, but where was the plea bargain to spare the life of Tookie Williams, a man twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

We'll have to wait and see what testimony there will be about members of Congress, and their involvement in bribing, as well as conspiracy to affect the outcome of votes, but I, for one, can't recall the last time Native Americans have been screwed this much since Christopher Columbus landed on our golden shores. Mr. Abramoff was hired, in good faith, to advance casinos for Indian tribes in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and lord knows where else, and defrauded them out of umpteen millions.

While Abramoff has been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion, it's what, or who, is not being charged that is at stake here. Ultimately, alas, it is who, and what, will not be charged that is also at stake. If this investigation proceeds as it should, and doesn't get coopted by media coverage of how sexy the federal prosecutor is, we may end up with the most far-reaching political corruption investigation in Amercan history. Forgive my cynicism, but it'll be a cold day in hell before Abramoff fingers all members of Congress, and congressional staffers, he's tampered with. If Mr. A is half the gambler he appears to be, I wouldn't make book on the whole truth and nothing but the truth coming out in any testimony, or hearings that come out of this. We impeached a president for lying before a federal grand jury. What do you think the odds are of Abramoff spending serious time behind bars for the same? By the time the federal prosecutors are done with him, in about a year, if half the names of those members of Congress, and staffers, are revealed, we may find ourselves asking "Jack who?" It appears, yet again, in a contest of haves versus have nots, the haves will win.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Remember when?

Remember when they used to call it reporting? Now they call it "leaking!"

Pearls before Swine

Danny Pearl, and the Case Against Jose Padilla...

An editorial, in The Washington Post today, examines the absurdity of how posturing has changed in the case of "enemy combatant," and detainee, Jose Padilla, and how the government now wants his release from military detention to stand trial as a civilian while his defense team, after years of legal finagling, wants him to stay in custody so that his case can be a challenge to the illegal detention of hundreds, maybe thousands. Remanding Padilla to civilian custody, where he rightly belongs as a U.S. citizen, will enable him to face criminal charges instead of being held in a military limbo without access to evidence brought against him, and the due process, to which he is entitled not only as a citizen, but as a prisoner of war (according to the Geneva Conventions.)

Ironically, Padilla's defense team is arguing that he remain in detention so as to have a stronger case against the government, and the linguistic chicanery of the term "enemy combatant," or "unlawful combatant," a phrase dubbed by Donald Rumsfeld. The Post rightly asserts that to hold a man, even at his own request, so that he has a better shot at not merely vindicating himself, but challenging the illogic this administration uses in its "bogey man" war is equally ludicrous.

As the editorial asserts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that the president has the right to detain enemy combatants even if they're captured on American soil, thereby upholding Padilla's detention, and trial by a military tribunal. In essence, this ruling reduces someone who is, arguably, a breathing, thinking, feeling human being to an icon or symbol. The government, by way of the Justice Department, has had a change of heart, and decided to release Padilla, and allow him to stand trial in a civilian court and, ironically, his defense team is opposed, and wants Padilla to remain in detention, so instead of being an "unlawful combatant," he may be a poster boy for those who have been unlawfully detained.

The hubris, on all sides of the equation, is truly remarkable. All sides appear to have lost sight of the fact that Padilla is a human being, and not an icon of terror, or governmental inequity. Moreover, that Liberty itself has been placed at several removes from freedom is a concept which should be as odious to those who contend that we are fighting to preserve justice, and the American way of life, as the haunting image of another man who was used as a symbol, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl whose throat was slit from back to front by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, more than three years ago, and whose assassins made four demands, the first being the release of all prisoners held by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay. Tragically, after the senseless, and brutal capture and slaughter of Daniel Pearl, we are no closer to an understanding of why we're holding "terrorists" like Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and letting Bin Ladens hang out in caves, most likely in Pakistan. We're no closer today, more than three years after Danny Pearl's murder, to understanding who the butchers are, or why we're hunting "terrorists" in Iraq, not Pakistan, and why the courts want another charade, another kangaroo court, another effront to the system of justiceWestern Civilization has enjoyed for more than 500 years.

By affirming this government's right to detain a prisoner of war as an "enemy combatant" by the military even if they are captured in our own country, this court has opened the door for the Supreme Court to consider just who the enemy is, who are the terrorists, and what price we, as a nation, are prepared to pay in this so-called "war on terror."

By turning Mr. Padilla into a symbol, and icon, for all those detainees who are unlawfully held, in violation of due process, the Geneva Conventions, and international law, in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and "secret cells" throughout the continent of Europe., his defense team is, in essence, using Padilla as a pawn in their game in much the same way that those Muslim extremists used Danny Pearl. To prop up a man, dead or alive, as a symbol for the injustices of others is to engage in a miserable, inhuman, and egregious crime. In his last moments, Danny Pearl served at the pleasure of his Pakistani captors just as Jose Padilla now serves at the pleasure of his American captors. Clearly, while there are pearls and there are pearls, the concept of swine remains constant.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Question for the Day

Question for the day:

Is it still sex when you practice it alone?


"If you're a thug, you want to be on the committee that tries to condemn thugs."
Kenneth Roth, executive director, Human Rights Watch.
Lest you missed it, an article in today's New York Times points out that officials in the U.N. are anxious to replace the Human Rights Council, and "redeem its credibility in 06." Putting the irony of the word "redeem" aside, for a moment, it seems to me that one way to address the absurdity of having the inmates run the farm, or the most egregious "thugs," to borrow Roth's term, sitting on the council such as those nations in which human rights abuses proliferate, e.g., Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Libya, is by showing impartiality to world domination and power, and being sure to add the greatest rogue state of all, alas, the United States into the mix. Those suffering from that rupture of reason that goes by the unfortunate name of "the rapture" need to understand that torture is torture regardless of what credentials the torturer happens to carry just as murder is murder whether it is practiced by a member of a street gang, or by means of lethal injection administered by the state. What kind of moral paralysis are we, as a civilization, brewing when we hold those world leaders harmless who do the gravest injury to the Magna Carta, international law, and centuries of fair, and humane treatment of prisoners of war. We can only hope that the United Nations has the chutzpah to speak out against human rights abuses practiced by all thugs great or small.
In this blog eat blog world when the news happens faster than we scribes can take it down, there isn't much to say, on a monsoonal day in Northern California, except HAPPY NEW YEAR, and may the forces of light be with us!