Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Coming Soon: More "Big Brother" to Love

Over the past several months, the FCC and Justice Department have been working overtime, and fighting hard to tap not only your landline phone, your cellphone, but to tap Internet phonecalls, as well.

Effective in May, those who provide "voice transmission," and broadband services will have to ensure that their equipment is wiretap-ready, and accessible to your local police force, and the FBI. The new legislation is modeled after the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement, or CALEA, which was designed primarily to facilitate wiretaping of mobile phones. This new legislation is intended to expand governmental surveillance powers to cover companies like Vonage, so the progression evolves thus: first we can tap Ma Bell, then Cingular Wireless, then Yahoo emails, then Vonage.

The rules set to go into effect in a couple of months have been challenged by a U.S. appeals panel, back in July, at which U.S. District Judge Harry T. Edwards called courtroom arguments made by the FCC "goobledygook." (VoIP News Net) He was, in my opinion, being kind. Civil liberties groups have expressed outrage over the FCC expansionism claiming that this legislation doesn't take into account the fundamental difference between the telephone, a vehicle for conversation, and the Internet, a tool by which information is acquired and conveyed. Lawyers for the government argued only that the 1994 law was intended to be applied to future technology; the Judge wasn't buying that, and neither are we.

Moreover, claims by the Justice Department that not increasing wiretapping capability to encompass the rapidly proliferating Internet phone industry will transform the Web into a refuge for "criminals and terrorists" are not only hackneyed, they're transparent enough for a six year old to see through.

Alarmingly, with all the discourse about theoretical differences between online, and real time telephonics, what seems to have been lost in arguments for and against the FCC's new rules to require ISPs to ensure that their equipment can be hacked by law enforcement is that this is yet another pernicious step on the part of this administration to use technology that is so advanced that it can inherently sidestep FISA, and warrants and, in effect, cut right to the chase; the chase, of course, being access to your personal calls and mine.

Those judges on the panel who attempted to justify court-ordered wiretaps of Voice Over Internet Protocols, like Vonage, using the flawed logic that they are essentially no different from traditional telephones are myopic in their inability to acknowledge inevitable future technological inroads, and the potential threat to the First Amendment that inheres in laying the groundwork for this kind of Internet eavesdropping by the government on unsuspecting, and undeserving citizens.

Caveat emptor; if we, consumers, stand by and allow the expansion of federal eavesdropping from basic phone calls to cell phones to emails, and now to Skype, or Internet, calls, then we have only ourselves to blame. It's time that not only civil libertarians, but Internet Service Providers, stand up to this administration's ongoing assault on privacy, and the First Amendment. Congress is threatening to use the power of the purse to prevent military expansionism, we must likewise consider a boycott of those companies, and service providers, who comply with these new rules that are scheduled to go into effect in May.

Regarding the Court Martial of Army Lt. Ehren Watada

On February 5th, in the state of Washington, Army Lt. Ehren Watada, a career soldier, will be court martialed, and face the possible sentence of four years behind bars for refusing to return to duty in Iraq, as well as "conduct unbecoming an officer" for comments he made against the war. As Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." This is one time when not showing up is a sign of valor, and integrity.

Someone who has spent his life being where he is needed most, when he is most needed, often at his own expense, and peril generously shares his words to another soldier in the struggle for what is right in a world gone wrong:

January 29, 2007

Dear Lt. Watada,

As an actor, I am quite used to being judged not only for my acting but especially for political stands I may take. Over the years I have learned, and I'm sure you are discovering, that integrity ultimately will be measured by one's conduct and not by one's profession. This illegal war will continue until Americans test their own bravery by joining you and living up to this historic call to liberty.

I hope you take some strength in knowing that every one of us is served by one man's courageous actions. Before you made this decision you may have thought you knew who you were but now you are finding out who you can be. The truth is that the cautious person doesn't really live at all, and although you may be afflicted with doubt, sometimes it's braver to live than to serve. I hope you find the censure of those opposed to your courageous stance useful and proof that your conduct is emblematic of Democracy in its most exalted reflection.I humbly salute you for the true patriot you are.

Edward Asner

Operation Return to Sender...

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has expanded its round-up of immigrants, legal and illegal, coast to coast, last week, and has now set up shop in Los Angeles where INS teams have conducted impromptu raids of dwellings, and businesses of those it suspects to illegal aliens, and/or convicted felons.

We agree with the concept behind Operation Return to Sender, only we think that the government is going after the wrong folks: having made it perfectly clear that he's in Washington, D.C. illegally, this president needs to be sent home, as do the rest of his minions.

Oh, and as for Tony Snow, there's a parking space in Limbo with his name on it...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bonkers in Yonkers?

The assault on academic freedom of expression is nothing new, but this campaign has now reached new levels of absurdity. A seventh-grade anatomy teacher in Yonkers, New York has been removed from his health classes for asking students in this co-educational middle school "to volunteer to come to the board to draw the male anatomy." (AP) What's more, the school superintendent, Bernard Pierorazio, is working overtime to get the poor fellow fired.

Jerilynne Fierstein, a spokesperson for the school, said that his lesson plan was not "appropriate" for students in the seventh grade, and added: "There was no way we were going to let him be in front of children." What is going on in Yonkers? Have they gone bonkers? Most of his students probably know more about male genitalia than this middle school teacher does. Too bad I had to learn about male anatomy in the school of hard knocks.

It's a lucky thing for us that Michelangelo didn't study anatomy in this middle school in Yonkers, or western civilization would be minus one "David."
So far, reportedly, one parent has gone vocalized his defense of the classroom teacher who has now been banished to main office duties. What kind of message does it send to teenagers about genitalia that it's not permissible, in an anatomy class, no less, to depict them on the chalkboard? Are we going back to the days when sex was considered "dirty," and is this where this administration's absurd notions of abstinence as a deterrent to the spread of HIV/AIDS leads?

Shame on the school district, the superintendent, and all those parents who don't speak out, here and now, and demand that this teacher be reinstated. It's not like he was trying to teach evolution over creationism, or anything!

and this is the "old country?"

Former British home secretary Jack Straw referring to the Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park: "

In the UK we sometimes forget how lucky we are to have free speech and what an important part it plays in our modern day life."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Powers That Be...

Yesterday, a friend emailed me an article entitled "The Authority Question," by the media critic for The National Journal, a gentleman by the name of William Powers. In addition to writing for The National Journal, Mr. Powers is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic Monthly and was, at one time, a reporter for The Washington Post.

At first, I was baffled as to why this friend, who virtually never forwards pieces on to me, would send me this. I had never heard of William Powers, but confess to having been intrigued by the title. The article opens with "Does anyone in the media still speak with authority? Does authority even matter any more? By 'authority' I mean the prestige, clout, and trustiworthiness of the big brand-name newspapers, magazines, and TV networks, back in the 20th century?" He goes on to lament the passage of "traditional news outlets," suggesting that the concept of authority itself has become "outmoded and quaint, like milkmen and VHS recorders." Mr. Powers holds on to antiquated notions of authority the way an infant holds on to a security blanket.

One's focus is then instantly transported away from a provocative, and important discussion of recent statements by the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee, Charles Stimson, whose controversial condemnation of lawyers and law firms evoked almost universal contempt to a discussion of form, and how superior coverage of the Stimson debacle is by USA Today and The Washington Post, when compared with that of the blogosphere. Powers does a Google search for articles about Stimson which leads him to a laudable piece he finds in USA Today. It also leads him to a piece I wrote about Stimson's comments that appeared on The Huffington Post, which he describes as "an influential blog...near the top of the heap," but one that doesn't yet rise to the level of being called an authority. Nor do I, for that matter. Never trust anyone who claims to rise to the level of "an authority."

Powers chooses, to my chagrin, two phrases from my article, both meant to be humorous, to suggest that not only is my style of writing "inapt," a rather awkward word, in my opinion but, more importantly, who the hell am I to have anything posted on HuffPo in the first place? "And while Jayne Lyn Stahl may be a brilliant poet and playwright, I've never heard of her and wasn't ready to trust her." And I'd never heard of William Powers either, so we're even. I challenge Mr. Powers to name 5 contemporary poets, living, preferably. Somehow, I suspect Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson would figure prominently on his list, as does William Butler Yeats who he clearly read, but didn't understand any better than he understood me.

"Most journalists are serious people, and serious people are supposed to discuss politics as ideas, not entertainment...who exactly are these people who are working so hard, night and day, to seduce us?" Oh, so is that what the folks at HuffPo are up to, after all, not to show diversity of opinion, and worldview, but to seduce guys in pinstripe suits who appear to be missing a sense of humor? Obviously, someone like Hunter Thompson would be held in equal esteem to someone like myself, except, of course, that Thompson has name recognition.

"It would be marvelous if every voice in the new agora could have equal sway," Powers concludes, and yes it would be equally "marvelous" if those who suffer from metaphysical agoraphobia wouldn't loiter behind half-baked, duplicitous notions of moral, and professional authority. As Powers' "authority question" is, after all, more about context than anything else which is something one would expect him to know given that he's an "expert" on media matters.

Clearly, an image of the president "poll dancing," or the ironic use of the phrase "beloved Pentagon" wouldn't appear on the editorial pages of The New York Times anytime soon, but they were not submitted to the NYT, or WaPo either. Nor, for that matter, was the writer of those phrases awarded the stock options, or monetary compensation of, say, someone who writes for The National Journal, but this isn't about money; this is about inclusion. Yes, Mr. Powers, that's right, you can keep your 401 K, I want my ideas to count as much as yours do, so sue me, and the rest of the lumpen proletariat who are audacious enough to think that we, too, have a right to a space in the new frontier of online expression.

As one who copiously invests himself in what he calls "straight ahead journalism and centrist no-nonsense positions on public issues," one wonders if his "no-nonsense journalism" requires sitting squarely on the center, and maintaining that only traditional vehicles for news delivery, the mainstream media, matter? Not only are his notions of authority provincial but, like Columbus, he seems to have landed in the wrong town; Washington, D.C. is not the provinces. Moreover, his notions are also rigid, a scary prospect for an authority figure.

Lest there be any confusion, when Powers speaks of "authority" what he really means is that one has to have the right credentials, or pedigree to join the insider's club of "elite news outlets." So, in essence what he's saying is: free speech should only be for those who can afford it. This kind of antediluvian banter might be seen as predictable from someone who writes, too, that "Online media boosters often speak of establishment authority as a vestige of the media Dark Ages. The people have stormed the castle! They're speaking out in their own voices rather than through those arrogant go-betweens, the newspapers and TV networks." What is he so afraid of, that maybe someone he'd flunk in Journalism 101 could have a wider audience than he has?

For the media critic of a prominent Washington, D.C. news magazine, Mr. Powers appears not to understand that precisely what distinguishes the practice of blogging from that of editorializing, or writing traditional opinion pieces, is that one doesn't need to present one's press credentials in order to post their thoughts, and ideas, and while the two phrases, taken out of context, from an important piece I wrote were less than exemplary of my work, they didn't deserve the kind of personal attack on my credibility that ensued. Moreover, using the Powers prescription for reliable journalism, Walt Whitman, also a poet and an essayist, as well as W.B. Yeats, whose poem he quotes, would fare no better than I did. I doubt if either man would have passed Journalism 101 if Professor Powers were keeping score. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is a often a notable stylistic difference between writing for blogs, and writing an op ed piece for a daily newspaper.

Following his example, I decided to do a Google search of my own, and found another article by William Powers that appeared in "The National Journal" on March 3, 2006 in which he called blogs "overhyped and underperforming," referencing a Gallup Poll that stated that "only 9% of U.S. Internet users said they frequently read blogs. Worse, blogs are flatlining," he wrote. My, my, it seems he has yet to realize that bias is, to journalists, a four-letter word. Maybe he should have fessed up to this bias when he began to speak, with such egregious moral authority, on what he considered to be the best stylistic writing on the heinous comments of a high placed Washington, D.C. official. Given his preference for form over substance, it's no wonder Powers is no longer a reporter for The Washington Post; ah, but that's hitting below the Belt-way.

While Powers' obvious grief over our national loss of a sense of tradition and authority is moving, I, for one lament the his lack of disclosure about his bias against blogging. Clearly, this bias would affect his evaluation of my piece, and those of others less fortunate in that they have yet to come to his attention.

Indeed, if he is such a great friend to journalism, then why isn't he spending his valuable, professional time time and energy speaking up for a federal shield law to protect his colleagues from having to compromise the confidentiality of their sources this week in the trial of Scooter Libby instead of deriding the extemporaneous and, by comparison, inconsequential online posts of someone he's never heard of? Could it be because he doesn't care about a federal shield law? Could it be that he doesn't care about anything unless he has it, as they say, on good authority?

Conceding the "inaptness" of my diction, from the standpoint of the mainstream media, one can't help but notice that Powers' focus is how one says something rather than what is said, which is rather dangerous given that he positions himself in the nation's capital. He must have had one hell of a time with Donald Rumsfeld, as well as the president. And, for that matter, don't we have enough bullies in elected office, do we need them in cyberspace, too?

Regrettably, Powers misses the point altogether. What makes Web commentary revolutionary is that one doesn't need to show a press pass, or provide proof of citizenship in order to gain entry. One merely needs to have good ideas, and, more often than not, express them well. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, he never once denigrated, or even referenced, my ideas, only how I expressed them. He may have been too busy watching to see how that all the "i"s were dotted.

At a time when journalism, as a profession, has faced the gravest threat since the days of Joe McCarthy, it's ludicrous to think that a Washington, D.C. columnist, and former reporter for The Washington Post wastes his time with what amounts to little more than a bad pun. Instead of attempting to slap an "R" rating on what we read, "restricted to professionals only," the focus should be on this administration's attempts to contain the free flow of information, as well as its ongoing assault on a free press.

Obiously, whoever invented blogging obviously didn't intend it to be letter perfect, but to address the kind of exclusive, glass ceiling, professional elitism which Mr. Powers so articulately conveys. The fact that relative unknowns like myself can find their spontaneous ramblings posted on the same page as those of "establishment" writers like David Mamet, and Nora Ephron. shows, if nothing else, that one of the wonderful things about authority, in a democracy, is its capacity for change, and those who question that the concept of authority frequently morphs haven't studied history. What's more, anyone who resists change should be collecting fossils, and not working in news.

Weh thinking about "The Authority Question," I can't help but be reminded of a stanza from another poet, and one Mr. Powers has, doubtless heard of, Bob Dylan: "You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand, You see somebody naked, and you say who is that man, You try so hard but you don't understand, just what you will say when you get home, cause something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?"

what a government...

we've got a Bush, we've got a Dick, and now we've got a surge....

Thank Heaven for Rep. John Conyers

Appearing at today's historic Washington, D.C. anti-war rally, Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee warned that Congress will use the power of the purse to end the war in Iraq:

"George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, looking out at the masses. "He can't fire you."

(courtesy Yahoo News)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Global Enablers

On the day that the president delivered his State of the Union Address, Reuters released the results of a BBC poll of nearly 30,000 people in 28 nations that strongly disapprove of United States' foreign policy with respect to the war in Iraq, as well as our handling of those we detain at Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere. As those most closely involved with the poll have suggested, it is not merely U.S. mishandling of the war, and human rights, but the hypocrisy of claiming to bring law and order to the Middle East when the U.S. is seen as itself a law breaker.

And on that same day, from the Associated Press, comes news that the European Parliament has given thumbs up to release of a report which says that many of the most prominent European Union member states, including England, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Ireland, knew about, and enabled the CIA to use their air space to transport terror suspects to clandestine holding cells, a practice known as extraordinary rendition. Indeed, some of the countries who reportedly participated in making their air space available to U.S. agents refused to join coalition forces in Iraq, and/or withdrew their forces from the beleaguered territory. So it is then that while nearly 70% of the world condemns the American government's violations of Geneva Conventions, and conduct in Iraq, their own governments quietly look the other way, enabling the CIA to transport prisoners from countries that honor to Geneva and forbid torture to those where torture has yet to be proscribed. If the findings of this parliamentary committee report are conclusively authenticated, one way or another, as a result of the actions of this president and his regime, all of Europe now has blood on its hands.

While, at this point, there are only allegations of misconduct, and complicity on the part of many prominent European nations in their collusion with the CIA flights, charges that date back to 2005, the refusal of a few powerful EU officials to comply with the probe suggests that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and that the impetus for cooperation might involve some kind of behind the scenes quid pro quo.

Clearly, the actions of our own government with respect to the treatment of those we detain at Guantanamo Bay, and other openly acknowledged holding cells worldwide are, at best, dubiously legal, the practice of holding a prisoner secretly, and without access to trial, is against the law in Europe, and those governments who are proven to have collaborated with the CIA in covertly moving prisoners will be in violation of that continent's human rights agreements, and subject to penalties. What are the penalties in the U.S. for breach of international covenants, and agreements?

In Europe, if a country's collusion in extraordinary rendition can be substantiated, it will be in violation of the Chicago Convention, a global agreement to ensure that the military and police get special permission to land aircraft. To proceed with this practice without express approval, in advance, is analogous to the NSA electronic surveillance program's practice of not obtaining FISA court warrants before monitoring telephone, and/or Internet activity of alleged terrorists. Importantly, both aiding and abetting the CIA in its practice of covertly transporting detainees using of airspace of a EU member state, and in monitoring emails of suspected terrorists without first obtaining a warrant from a FISA court are illegal practices, and could have some serious consequences, at least in Europe. By way of contrast, our government's ongoing, and expedited, data mining, and snooping has resulted only in handwringing, and half-hearted threats.to date,

While, to date, no European government has ponied up to the report's allegations, or acknowledged any complicity in these CIA covert "anti-terror operations" activities" and, for the most part, the European Parliament dismisses these allegations as being based on "hearsay," at least they are on the table, and open for discussion. And, although Conservative members of the EU suggest that the wording of the report is tentative, and not definitive, there is consensus that measures need to be taken to stop European airspace from being exploited for purposes of extraordinary rendition again.

If nothing else, one thing is obvious: Europe has been actively investigating breach of international covenants with respect to secret activities by our government for nearly two years now. Where is the dialogue, and discovery, about extraordinary rendition in our own Congress? Will there be an investigation, and demand for accountability from those who have engaged in this pernicious practice? How much will we, in this country, come to know about what our government has been doing in secret, and to whom, in violation of international law, using our tax dollars, and compromising our national security? We have heard barely a word about the practice from Congress; that needs to change before our worldwide approval rating ever will.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Notes from the Undergrown: State of the Oilman Address

The president's speech last night was more important for what it didn't say than for what it did. In an address that could well have been titled "Hubris Unbound," the president delineated a domestic agenda which was replete with sins of omission among the most egregious of which was, of course how his administration dealt with Hurricane Katrina, and a f Iraq war policy linguistic surge that can only be described as "redux," and reductive.. Any illusions that we, his subjects, may have had about his "compassionate conservatism" have been irrevocably dispelled by both disaster.

For me, the part of the 50 minute monologue I liked best was watching Dick Cheney try to keep a straight face while his protegee attempted to do the math, embarking on a laundry list of numbers by which he hoped to prove how much he's decreased the national debt, and how his economic program is right on plan. And, as Senator Webb later mentioned, he is right on plan inasmuch as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies now earn as much in one hour as the average worker earns in a year.

While his comments about what's going on at home were clearly intended to be foreplay, and warm-up exercises for his foreign policy pep talk, there was just enough to make one nauseous when we heard the same tired rhetoric formerly applied to his abortive efforts at privatizing social security now being applied to the need for "medical savings accounts." The solution for the more than 40 million Americans who are uninsured is to be found in giving tax breaks, said the president which is all well and good, but how about the unemployed, and uninsured? How about those for whom tax breaks don't apply?

Mr. Bush's idea of offering federal help to those states that are trying to guarantee health benefits for all its citizens is a good one, but where are the specifics? And, more importantly,can we expect an administration that cut and ran from those we saw daily waving their hands in despair in New Orleans to honor its abstract, and generalized pledge to provide support for those states? The bottom line is that what we heard last night from this president was more of the same old, same old with regard to health care falling on the individual and not the state, a view which makes us a distinct minority in the industrialized world most of which, as you know, provides national health insurance. Go figure: we have $200 billion more for war, but nothing in the coffer to ensure that each, and every one of us has access to much-needed medical care, as well as affordable housing. With even half the amount of money we're now spending on this dubious war, we could provide low income housing for more than half of this naton's homeless.

And, alas, not only is the chief executive officer of this country in denial, but so is Congress if they think, for a minute, that the average American can live on a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It's time for those who are in the upper one percentile of the earning population to sit down and talk with the rest of us who aren't. Who can possibly face the escalating costs of housing, food, gas, and college with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? It's time for Congress to propose a "liveable wage," and not a marginal one.

What would a speech about what's happening on the domestic front be without mention of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The president's suggestions, on that front, all but stopped short of suggesting that everybody buy a Prius which he, no doubt, would have done had it not been that Cheney (and maybe daddy?) rehearsed the script with him before he read it.

But enough about the homefront, saving the best for last, Mr. Bush proclaimed: "This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in." My, my, my... picture this: a friend of yours walks into a club and thinks he sees another friend with his wife, pulls him from his stool, takes him outside and starts beating the shit out of him. When you tap him on the shoulder, and tell him he's got the wrong guy, he continues to wipe the sidewalk with the poor man. If this is the president's idea for a rationale for picking a war, or staying in it, we're in a lot more trouble than any of us thought, especially when his own pick for commander of Iraqi forces, Lt. General David H. Petraeus, told the Senate, the same day of the State of the Union Address, that "the situation in Iraq is dire." (NYT)

"And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure," Mr. Bush said. Indeed, we did not vote for Mr. Bush. Al Gore won the popular vote, by a wide margin, back in 2000, but no matter; that's water under the proverbial bridge. What's more, while everybody is delighted by the president's claim to have averted two or three more terror attacks on our soil. we did not vote for the illegal use of warrantless wiretapping, data mining, an abrogation of responsibilities under FISA, not to mention the unprecedented assault on a free press which is going on right now while something like ten renowned journalists are being called to testify before a grand jury in the Libby case, the kind of round up we haven't seen since the days of Joe McCarthy.

At best, the demander-in-chief's generalized, redundant, and facile foreign policy efforts may be summarized by the adage: "The operation was a success, but the patient died." The question is, which patient died? What kind of "democracy" are we exporting to the Middle East that redefines torture, that flies "terrorists" from countries that have agreed to abide by Geneva to those where Geneva does not apply to be interrogated (extraordinary rendition), that pummels habeas corpus, holding "enemy combatants" indefinitely without charge, and without access to counsel or evidence in Guantanamo and around the world, and engages in NSA spy programs? What kind of democracy is it that censors the writings of its leading scientists when their suggestions might cause inconvenience and hardship to their corporate bottom line?

Let's hope that Senator Webb of Virginia, in his Democratic response to Mr. Bush's address, meant what he said that if this president refuses to change direction, and soon: "we will be showing him the way." And, hopefully, the way to the door, too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"universal health coverage," the inside story...

Last year, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney announced a plan for "universal health coverage" which really means that citizens of that state are required, by law, to have minimum health insurance coverage, equivalent to liability on auto insurance. California governor Schwarzenegger recently followed suit proposing his own version of the Massachusetts plan. Both of these plans place undue hardship on those who can least afford it. Three years ago, I was declined for coverage by Blue Cross because of a "pre-existing condition" which was given as "perimenopause;' a friend was declined coverage because he went to the doctor three times in two years for the removal of ear wax. This is obscene; this is ludicrous; this must be stopped, but only if we speak out.

The president's plan allows for tax deductions for health insurance which don't apply to nearly two-thirds of those who would be required to take health insurance on their own. It's time that this president, and Congress, tell the truth, and come up with a real time solution to the growing health care crisis in this country. We not only need an increase in minimum wage, but a LIVEABLE wage in this country, and not mandated, unaffordable health insurance coverage which benefits HMO's and large pharmaceuticals, but guaranteed state, and employer-paid health coverage. The folks who should be getting tax benefits for providing coverage are the employers, and not the individual taxpayers who can barely afford to feed their children, or their cars.

Speak truth to power; don't confuse second-rate fibs for anything less. Demand a side order of action, along with the main course of accountability, from those we elected to represent us in Congress, as well as those who throw their hat in the ring in the presidential race.

oh, and how about that Israel Lobby...

all this time I thought it was just the waiting room.

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Open Letter to "The Decider"

While the odds are probably better of getting a response from Santa, there are a few things I'd like to say if you can spare a minute or two before you address the nation tomorrow night.

Respectfully, for openers, whoever told you that "the best defense is a good offense" was misleading you. To mislead one person is unfortunate, but to mislead a nation is a crime.

It seems you may have pushed the snooze button by mistake, this past November, and gone back to sleep when the citizens of your country exercised their legal, and democratic option to vote, something that has been become vestigial in recent years, and to vote overwhelmingly for a change of direction, and movement towards peace.in Iraq, and globally.

Your fellow Americans registered their opposition not only to your anemic attempts at a rationale for combat, but to your obstinate plans to perpetuate, and escalate a futile, and irresponsible troop commitment. The politics of preemptive war has become little more than a high stakes poker game, and one which the whole world loses.

More importantly, your government has proven itself to be as unresponsive to the needs, and desires of the least and greatest among us as it is irresponsible. Leaders who make laws to cover themselves when they break laws are not what George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson had in mind.

When the default position is defensiveness, there is no chance for real diplomacy, and without diplomacy, there can only be a global battlefield, and more blood shed. Those whose heroic efforts brought us the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights would be horrified by the abuse of power we have witnessed in the past 6 years, and the utter, unparalleled contempt with which the public trust, and the inaugural oath have been handled.

Yes, yes, we need commanders-in-chief who don't buckle under stress who don't take to the bottle like Ulysses S. Grant or to their bed in despair like Abraham Lincoln, but one who bears the awesome, and grave responsibility of sending our young men and women into harm's way owes it to them to listen to what his generals have to say, as well as to his nation's conscience.

Now that the umbilical cord has been cut, Congress will yet have the chance to do what their constituents elected them to do, and work sedulously to counteract the toxicity that continues to try to pass itself off as a war on terror.

No one on earth would want to close their eyes, and rest their head on your pillow tonight. The weight of the world is on your shoulders. We will all be watching, and hoping that you will decide to do what is right not for your minions, not for Chevron, not for Halliburton, but for the ever growing number of those who have given, and continue to give their lives.

It's not too late to change course. History is counting on you. Do it now, while there's still time. Do it now, send the troops home from Iraq, and sit down with Iran. It's time to make progress not war.

here's a quotable...

from Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank in response to fellow Democrats' accusation that new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is an autocrat:

"Accusing the speaker of trying to manage public policy is like accusing the fire department of trying to fight fire." (WaPo)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

On Hillary's announcement...

You may have read the transcript of a speech given by George McGovern in The Nation last week in which he rightly condemns the hubris, and inanity of those actions, by our president, that have cost the lives of more than the 3018 service members the former senator, and presidential candidate, cites. McGovern is right, too, to confirm what many of us already suspected which is that Bush pere was opposed to his son's preemptive manuevers in the Persian Gulf; right, too suggest that W. would have fared better had he listened to his "physical father" rather than the advice he claims came from a higher authority.

I confess, while I was a vocal, and persistent protestor against the war in Vietnam, and among the first on my block to speak out against that debacle, George McGovern wasn't at the top of my list for president the year he ran. He was too low on testasterone for me, at the time, though I now wonder if the warrior hormone, in the end, produces more worriers than peace.

After yesterday's announcement, we now have a candidate who has no shortage of testasterone, Hillary Clinton. What she lacks is credibility. Not only did Clinton vote in favor of the war, but she watered down her pro-choice statements, so they'd be more palatable to centrist Democrats and Republicans making one wonder just how far the Senator is prepared to bend with respect to Roe v. Wade, an important question in light of the current composition of the Supreme Court, and the tenuousness of a constitutional amendment that guarantees a woman's right to choose. One would also like to hear Clinton speak out against the Military Commissions Act, the USA Patriot Act, the NSA electronic surveillance program, and challenges to a free press instead of trying to look commander-in-chiefish during her Internet appearances.

We all remember what happened to the former Massachusetts governor, and Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis, when he tried to prove what a good cammender-in-chief he would make. We don't need more strength, and authoritarianism, or the illusion of responsibility. We need more responsiveness. Hillary, or anyone else who has designs on the Democratic Party nomination for president, will need to display a rare synthesis of humanity, gentility, integrity, as well as no-nonsense conviction. Personally, I don't question the senator's change of heart on Iraq. I would like to see higher octane on other matters like censorship, global warming, torture, and the illegal detention of "enemy combaants" at Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere in the world. While we've had enough preemption to make it through this millenium, anyway, it would be refreshing to see a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to both foreign and domestic policy. We need leaders who lead, not ones who wait for cues from public opinion polls.

Make no mistake, watching videos of Senator Clinton talking about setting up an "exploratory commission," coming across strong, and undeniably brilliant, makes me proud to be a woman, but we need a president who will make us proud to be an American.

This is one election the Democrats simply can't afford to lose. The candidate who takes his, or her party's nomination must be, in the best sense of the word, unimpeachable and, more importantly, one that can win.. This nation is in dire need of equal opportunity, and not political opportunism.

One way to avoid the draft...

is to send all the prospective candidates for president, in 2008, to Iraq instead. Boy, will that war come to an end quickly if these folks find themselves in the front lines instead of in front of the cameras.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Worldwide Open Season on the Press

On an otherwise quiet street in Istanbul, this morning, a 53 year old Turkish citizen of Armenian descent was gunned down outside his office on his way to work. Hrant Dink, the editor of Turkey's one and only Armenian language newspaper, "Agos," and an honorary member of PEN American Center, now joins the swelling ranks of reporters who have been killed in Russia, Mexico, Iraq, and Turkey this year alone. An eyewitness to the murder said only that he saw a young man, in his late teens, who wore a pair of jeans and a cap, run from the scene screaming, "I shot the non-Muslim." (Reuters) So, this is the sorry state we, as a planet, are in when our teenagers turn our weapons back on us.

Just last year, Mr. Dink was convicted of profaning his mostly Muslim country based on remarks he made about the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians before World War I, a crime the Turkish government insists never occurred. His appeals led nowhere, and Dink was sentenced to six months in jail. Like last year's Nobel Laureate, Orphan Pamuk, he was charged with "insulting Turkish identity," section 301 of Turkey's penal code. But, unlike Nobel Laureate Pamuk, the indictment against Hrant Dink led to conviction,and today he paid with his life, reportedly at the hands of someone young enough to be his grandchild.

Given that Turkey wants to join the European Union, they may be forced to reconsider their revisionism and denial of the Armenian holocaust. Ironically, and tragically, Mr. Dink's was among the few voices, in Turkey, calling for democracy and appealing to the European Court of Human Rights. In the last article he published in "Agos," he wrote: "Who knows what kind of injustices I am yet to encounter? ...Yes, I might see myself living in the timidity of a pigeon, but I know in this country people do not touch pigeons. Pigeons can live in the depths of the city, even among the human crowds. Yes, perhaps in a little timid way, but also in liberty." Clearly, his request to live in liberty was more than some could bear.

As, indeed, was renowned Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her apartment building in October. Politkovskaya, too, believed that speaking up for what she thinks is right was worthwhile; maybe, like Hink, she thought, too, that people in her country don't touch pigeons, that even though she feared for her life, she would be safe as the truth always finds a safe harbor somewhere. For both Anna and Hrant, there was to be no refuge. You will remember that Anna had not been convicted of "insulting" Russian-ness, but getting too close to the nucleus of who gives the commands to torture "terrorists" in Chechnya; possibly fingering her country's president who, after hearing of her death, would say only that the way she died is the only thing she will be remembered for. Shame on Mr. Putin. Shame on those who torture, assasinate, and rob their country of those who dissent, differ, or report on what is really happening instead of delivering the party line.

By way of contrast, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edrogan vowed to find Dink's assailant, and bring him to justice. In a televised speech, Edrogan said that the attack came as a "shock," and that "the dark hands that killed hiim will be found and punished." (CNN) What he didn't say is that Dink had received a number of death threats in the past, and had asked for protection which he clearly never got. While the prime minister said Dink's murder was an "insult" to the Turkish nation, he didn't say that the charges against Dink of "insulting Turkishness" would be dropped, and that efforts will be made to preserve and protect a free press in that country.

What we didn't hear around Thanksgiving from the Mexican government is the pledge to track whomever murdered Misael Tamayo Hernandez, editor of "El Despertar de La Costa," who was attacked in his hotel room only hours after finishing a report linking the actions of his government to organized crime. We didn't hear the anguished cries of his colleagues vowing not to rest until they found his assailants.

What we don't hear today is outrage from the mainstream media, around the world, at this open season on the press; this the deadliest year on record, a year in which some 75 journalists have been slaughtered according to PEN American Center. There have been moving tributes to murdered journalists, like Anna Politkovskaya, in which editors, and renowned writers have read from her work, but one can't help but think how quickly we become acclimated to that which is heinous, and unacceptable, and lose ourselves in memorializing, or the kind of catharsis which disfigures that which makes us moral animals, and not brutes.

We cannot afford to rest until we find out who ordered Anna's killing, and the assasination of Misael Hernandez. What's more, as members of the human race, we deserve and demand to know why anyone would kill someone else for not being a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, or for whatever reason. We can no more seek solace in the abandoned essays of Hrant Dink than we can in the absence of the truth of how, and why he died, and we will not be deterred from finding out, no matter what the price.

Let those three shots that shattered a man's life, on this dark day in Turkey, be heard round the world. Let it be known, from this day forward, that the murder of one editor, or journalist anywhere is a threat to journalists everywhere. Those who care about truth and freedom of expression must stand together and, as Hrant Dink wrote in his last published article, ensure that "we never have to go through such a departure" again.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

"And I think at some point engagement probably makes sense," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said when talking about military involvement with Iran, and the possible use of force. (AP)

Don't you think we should agree to get married before getting engaged?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Some Words from the Attorney General...

The below quotes comes courtesy of the Associated Press, and is taken from remarks made by Mr. Gonzales today before the American Enterprise Institute in which he describes those qualities, or characteristics he thinks best for a prospective Supreme Court judge. Please keep in mind, when reading this, that the attorney-general is himself a former Texas Supreme Court judge:

"We want to determine whether he understands the inherent limits that make an unelected judiciary inferior to Congress or the president in making policy judgments. That, for example, a judge will never be in the best position to know what is in the national security interests of our country.”

It remains to be seen just who is in the best position to know "what is in the national security interests of our country" when, later this week, the resolution condemning this president's decision to boost troop levels, in Iraq, goes before the Senate, and Congress gets to debate just what comprises our "national security interests," as well as who gets to decide that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Following in the Footsteps...

The manic warriors, in Washington, are at it again, only now they've found someone who can manage more than one syllable at a time to head their team. Yes, not only is this a new year, but we now have a "new" strategy, at least in Bushspeak. And. how's this for the defense department's latest policy in the Gulf; Donald Rumsfeld's designation of the phrase "bad guys" for Al Qaeda has now been replaced by Robert Gates' new and improved phrase "very negative" when describing the actions of Iran; same stigma, different target.

During a stopover in Brussels en route to Kabul where our newly installed defense secretary was going not to buy another Persian rug for his office, but instead to clarify why this president, and his team have decided to buff up their military presence in the Gulf. Gates gave as a motive for the enhanced military presence only that Iran was "doing nothing to be helpful" in Iraq (International Herald Tribune). Well, then, what better reason to occupy and pummel Iran next than that they're doing "nothing to be helpful?"

But, how can it be that this is the same Robert Gates who, only a few years ago, spoke, with equal gusto and credibility, in favor of talks with Iran. Has he been instantly transformed into a born again bomber? My, my, what a quick study! One barely notices Rumsfeld's departure. When asked about his radical metamorphosis, Gates responded that the bad guys have gotten worse, and that diplomacy is now only possible when Iran comes to the table "prepared to play a constructive role." (IHT) Considering the demolition of Baghdad, over the past four years, it would be refreshing to see the U.S. come to the table prepared to play a "constructive role," but indeed that might only be possible after the decimation of Iran, too.

Consider this: according to an article in the New York Times, as part of our plan to "stabilize" Iraq, the State Department has requested an addition $400 million for 2007, and intends to "more than double" reconstruction teams, add another 400 to facilitate "rebuilding and governance projects." And, to add insult to injury, approximately $2 million of our tax dollars will go to "office furnishings." We want our reconstruction teams to be comfy when they check their emails, right? Oh, and when they're not surfing the World Wide Web, they will also be expected to get a bit of fresh air, and lend a hand to the military's "counterinsurgency efforts."

We may rest assured that, when all is said and done, Tehran will receive the same royal treatment that we gave Baghdad, hangings and decapitations included, of course. After all, destruction has always been a prerequisite of Reconstruction 101, has it not ?

While Gates critizes Iran for aiding Hezbollah, he doesn't go into the question of how they got the weapons, and/or the wherewithal to use them from in the first place. And, more importantly, now that we hear that government officials are trying to get international cooperation in pressuring the Iranians to give up their nuclear enrichment program, why is it that we aren't urging India to give up its nuclear ambitions, or Israel? Can it be that non-proliferation like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, too?

In light of this administration's dogged determination to demonize its opposition, and its transparent tenacity with respect to longterm occupation despite international resistance and censure. One can marvel at the statement by the current secretary of defense that, by capturing Iranian nationals outside of their home country, and by openly acknowledging sending aircraft and "anti-missile batteries" to the Gulf, he is "simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time." Go figure, that must be why they call it occupation, and all this fuss about O.J.'s rumored confession to murder, hmmmm!

It might be worth noting that, of all the countries acting "in a very negative way," regrettably, ours is at the top of the list.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hitting the Bottom Line

While the president has been busy poll dancing, a senior member of his beloved Pentagon has surfaced with some stunning comments about boycotting law firms who represent prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. "I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEO's see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEO's are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms," said Charles D. Stimson, a senior Pentagon official who handles those at Guantanamo Bay who are suspected of being terrorists, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times. Alarmngly, not only is Mr. Stimson himself an attorney, and one who served as a Navy lawyer, but he speaks about retribution for merely providing the minimum judicial requirement on the part of our criminal justice system, namely the right of every accused to counsel, and the presumption of innocence. Stimson speaks of hitting the bottom line as if he were on the golf course.

What is it that this highly placed Pentagoner finds so objectionable? He's upset that attorneys at some of the nation's most prestigious law firms have chosen to defend those prisoners at Gitmo fortunate enough to get a trial; most, as you know, are denied what is their legal right, and something this administration has converted, like everything else, into a matter of privilege. But, not only is Stimson "dismayed," he is urging retaliation by those high octane corporations upon whom these law firms depend for their bread and butter, and suggesting that their CEO's not do business with any firm that represents a "terrorist." Stimson made these remarks in an interview he did for a Washington D.C. radio station targeting those who work for the federal government.

This is not the first time we've seen bullies run amok in the media, but what makes this bully special is not his bully pulpit, per se, but that he has a law degree, and that his remarks have not drawn severe rebuke, censure, and condemnation from those who sign his paycheck in the Pentagon, as well as from we, the taxpayers. We hear heads of the American Bar Association speak out, prominent professors of law at major universities speak out, but our esteemed attorney-general says only that he has no problem with the way criminals receive representation. How does big brass, at the DOD, respond to his remarks? Anonymously! Talk about profiles in courage!

Stimson's bosses at the Department of Defense say only that his comments "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership," and they do so off the record. (NYT) Anyone who believes, for a minute, that the head honchos at the Pentagon, or Defense Department, will pursue censure, rebuke, apology, or resignation from Mr. Stimson simply doesn't understand that the entire artifact of American jurisprudence has been deliberately, and consciously, dismantled piece by piece, over the past six years, such that, in order to even be eligible for a trial, a prisoner at Guantanamo has to acknowledge guilt first; so much for the presumption of innocence.

What's more, this Pentagon spokesman is, in a passive aggressive way, attempting to put the squeeze on attorneys who represent Gitmo detainees in much the same way the government has tried to criminalize doctors who perform late term abortions. It would not be stretching the truth to draw an analogy between the efforts at harassing lawyers who represent detainees and attempts to harass doctors who perform abortions, late term or otherwise. The concept is largely the same. If you disagree with the party line, the party's over. And, clearly, in this case, the "bottom line" Stimson claims that the terrorists hit is the fact that major corporations lost profits big time as a result of the World Trade Center bombing, an idea which should be repulsive to all those who remember the 3,000 lives lost due to 9/11, and this Pentagon puppet is now suggesting his own homemade jihad on those law firms who dare to pursue their practice of ensuring detainees receive a proper defense.

Who are these terrorists this senior Pentagon official is so convinced deserve to be denied a decent defense? According to a National Journal investigation of 132 men held at Guantanamo, 75 of them were not even accused of taking part in any actions against the United States. Not only are they being held illegally, they're now being convicted illegally by a senior officer of the Pentagon, no less, and one who has a law degree proving that a little knowledge can be dangerous.

Let's freeze frame, for a moment, and consider the significance of these appalling comments in light of measures taken, over the past few years, to secure information, through the frivolous use of grand jury subpoenas targeting journalists, and essentially denying them an essential tool of their trade: the right to guarantee anonymity and confidentiality to their sources. If Lt. Frank Watada is being court martialed, and faces six years in prison, for "conduct unbecoming an officer" in light of his comments against the war in Iraq, the least Stimson can do is return to the civvy trenches where he belongs.

F.O.I.A.: it's not just for civil libertarians anymore. Now that they're in the minority, thank gawd, it's heartening to see that our conservative friends have discovered the Freedom of Information Act. A conservative talk show host used FOIA to obtain a list of all lawyers and firms representing, in federal court, those held at Gitmo. With any luck, conservatives will soon discover the virtues of the First and Fourth Amendments, too. Make no mistake, the remarks heard late last week on Federal News Radio were made by a self-described "public figure," a lawyer, no less, who had to be reasonably assured that his controversial statements would not meet with dire consequences.

Consider the ignominy of the fact that this Pentagon employee, whose salary you and I pay, is urging chief executives of prominent corporations to boycott those law firms that defend prisoners held at the naval base in Cuba. Here's a better idea: why not encourage heads of Fortune 500 companies to pull the retainers on law firms that represent I. Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld? Clearly lies and torture have compromised the "bottom line" of our national ethics, and are as indefensible as terror.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Valley of the Dollars

If nothing else, last night's speech shows that, having all but spent his political capital, the president, like the rest of us, will now have to resort to relying on his ever shrinking line of credit.

Given that Congress has already appropriated more than $350 billion since the onset of the war, four years ago, apart from the obvious question of where the 20,000 additional troops to be deployed are to come from is this: when we already face federal deficits totalling $50 trillion, roughly four times the nation's Gross Domestic Product in 2006, where are we to find the monies to finance this obscenity? When the nation's total indebtedness was a mere $20 trillion, in 2000, per a report from the U.S. comptroller's office, and has now increased by nearly 60%, can we afford greater debt to bolster this president's "ideological struggle" between good and evil? ("The End of Money") We are, once again am-bushed by ideology at a time when we can least afford it.

As some pundits argue, CEOs of a few military defense contract firms have lined their pockets with much of the many billions of dollars already spent on his war, and the previous Republican-dominated Congress was nothing more than a shill enabling this regime to back the Shia, even their death squads, if only to be closer to the nucleus of oil in Iraq. Moreover, this president's concern about uranium enrichment is nothing more than an attempt to camouflage its own greed enrichment which poses a far graver danger to the planet than anything Iran, Syria, and others in the so-called "axis of evil" could presently devise.

Speaking of Iran, if his speech was about outlining a "new" strategy in Iraq, why did the president mention Iran something like five times? "Iran is providing material support for our troops," he asserted, but the question is who is providing "material support" to Iran now, and in the past? Clearly, a new strategy would have been if he announced that he intends to redeploy troops to Afghanistan in an effort at "democracy" that has clearly been allowed to fail there; not lucrative enough? .

But, now that Saddam is permanently out of the picture, wouldn't you think this commander-in-chief would want to go after Al Qaeda and bin Laden, and strike at their base? So far, the only thing this war has succeeded in accomplishing is the deconstruction of Baghdad which makes this president a partner-in-crime with Saddam Hussein in that, while wreaking havoc, he insists he has the best interests of the Iraqi people at heart. Indeed, only those of us who expect to see Santa coming down our chimneys, at Christmas, to bring us gifts would also expect this regime, and its gluttonous corporate cronies, to retreat from a territory that has made it rich to the point of embarrassment. Even more embarrassing is this president's argument that we must remain in Iraq to support a democracy that's "fighting for its life." The only democracy we, as Americans, can afford to support is the one that is being steamrolled, in the name of national security, on our own shores.

Despite appearances to the contrary, it isn't so much a case of diplomaphobia, or a fear of diplomacy, that afflicts this administration, and has inspired it to preemptive military attack, as well as threatens to bring us to Iran and Syria next, it is an expanding, deviant appetite for the dollar which, ironically enough, continues to be worth less and less, globally, as a result of our now legendary military misadventures. So, while the stock market remains strong, and heads of behemoth war contracting companies make obscene profits, the fact is, if we persist in the global exercise of greed, the dollar soon won't be worth the paper it's written on.

The president is right to suggest that "The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict." Yes, the challenge is to demand that the true numbers of those Americans and Iraqis who have been killed, maimed, and disfigured by this war be revealed, and not hidden The challenge is that the real intentions of this government see the light of day and not be signed away by presidential signing statements. The president is right, it's more necessary now than ever to "protect the American people" from those who wish to do us harm, and from another attack on our shores, and especially from those who have made careers of secrecy and deceit, and who are devout, and virile enemies of truth.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Another "Snow Job" from Tony

If the president took his role as commander-in-chief seriously, as his press secretary suggests, he'd do the right thing, and step down. It doesn't take a graduate of Leadership 101 to admit that one has made a mistake and, at the very least, begin a phased withdrawal.

Power that fears truth and the light of day is power that doesn't bend, adapt, or countenance dissent, but instead can only work to eviscerate and defy opposition.

A govenment that relies on hubris, and not consent from those it governs, can only exist in retreat from the ever growing tide of history.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Missing in Action

Missing in action from the mainstream media, and your friendly neighborhood TV news, is the announcement by the Veterans Association that more than 150,000 members of our military are now receiving disability benefits. Reportedly, while there are fewer body bags coming home from tours of duty in Iraq than either in Vietnam or the WWII, "an extremely high number" of wounded soldiers are coming home amputees.

A surgeon with the California National Guard, Dr. Imbascini, told Inter Press Service how he even had to amputate the genitalia of a few men every day of his four month deployment, saying that treating some of his men made him just want to cry. If only the good doctor could be persuaded to take a snapshot of one of his patients, and show it to this President, so he can see what his resolve to increase his "troop" size has done, and continues to do to men in uniform, as well as what it may do to yet more young servicemen.

But no, our television screens will be bereft of lurid images of those wounded in action, and images of the now more than 3,000 flag-draped coffins returned to Andrews Airforce Base withheld from our cameramen, and instead America will be treated to the spectacle of the digital image of Saddam Hussein's neck snapping over and over again ad nauseum for, in the supermarket of corporate profit, there is no room on either aisle for images of those who pay the real, and everlasting price of this evil war on the axis of evil. For in the supermarket of corporate profit, only Iraqis bear witness to the horror of a civilian family gunned down more as a symbolic gesture than as an act of direct retaliation.

Consider this when you hear the plan, on Wednesday night, to increase the number of service men and women in Iraq by 20,000, or even by 2,000, the loss of life or limb is not symbolism, it is irrefutable. Their loss is our loss, as a country, as a civilization, as a human race. Consider the 150,000 veterans who have returned from Iraq to collect disability, whose lives have been ravaged and ruined while makers of bulletproof vests, Halliburton, and military contractor executives record gargantuan profits. Generations from now will question how we stood by while they continued to profit at the expense of our children's future, a future that is maimed, and broken by corporate greed.

Make no mistake, if this government is allowed to enact the next phase of its cruel and unusual punishment of that which defies its command, the future will record a nation, and a civilization that wreaks of infamy. We must cut off a snake from the head down. Congress must immediately stop funding this illegal, and immoral war.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Tab

It doesn't matter whether this President is impeached or not. History is picking up the tab on this one.

Details Emerge

They say that truth is the first casualty of war, but the lessons of recent wars in Vietnam, and now Iraq show, if nothing else, that honor is not far behind. Despite the best efforts of those marines who ostensibly tore incriminating pages from an official logbook for Nov. 19, the day of the Haditha massacre, in order to keep word of how those 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered, as well as delay release of the information, a clearer picture of what happened that autumn, 2005 in Iraq is beginning to surface. And, in the face of a new majority in what may come to be known as the Congress of accountability, may even cause us to take a closer, if painful, look at how the massacre began .

According to eyewitness accounts, in the aftermath of American casualties from a roadside bombing, five unarmed Iraqi civilians were ordered out of a taxicab by Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich after which they were shot, execution-style, by another marine who "allegedly fired shots into the victims' bodies as they lay on the ground." A teenage girl, one of the only to survive the subsequent raid on her house in which she lost five of her family members, said of the marine who did the killing only: "He fired and killed everybody. The American fired and killed everybody." (AP) The "American" to whom this teenager refers is the same one sent to Iraq more than three years ago to save that country from a dictator who was subsequently hanged, only to be replaced by another generic dictator known simply as "the American." The monster to whom this sole survivor of a genocidial act refers could be your son, my son, your grandson, his best friend, or the fellow who gives him a ride to school.

This was to be an American president's one man mission to support, and nurture his fledgling "democracy," his raison d'etre for calling in more troops, and is every bit as political as targeting an innocent man for a crime he didn't commit to win a small town district attorney race. Make no mistake, the unconscionable delay in releasing this report was every bit as poliical as the efforts on the part of four commissioned officers to cover up wrongdoing on the part of the four marines who have now been officially charged with this heinous crime.

Yes, those in our military who commit acts of senseless, barbaric slaughter are in the minority, indeed, in the extreme minority. But, what is nearly as disturbing as this repulsive act of cold blooded killing itself is the appalling, and cowardly crime of attempting to destroy, and/or withhold physical proof that this crime ever happened. I say again, as I have before, that the one thing we can be sure of is that somebody high up in the food chain of command at least knew about, if not ordered the destruction of the evidence. We can also be reasonably certain that the four commissioned officers were not alone in their failure to investigate this massacre; their act of vandalism, in eliminating evidence, was, no doubt, also rdered by top military brass. But, the question remains: will Congress have the courage to climb that food chain no matter how high it goes, or will it become yet another victim of an agenda of secrecy and disgrace?

Importantly, the Pentagon stands by its story that there was no attempt at a deliberate cover-up, and that at worst "the commanders created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives." Talk about understatements. In its reporting of American casualties only, and its acquiescence with official Pentagon miscounts of Iraqi collateral damages, the mainstream media has, on balance, acted as an enabler of administration misconduct.

What can be the argument in defense of these brutal, and senseless killings? Attorneys representing the marines claim that they were only doing what they were trained to do, and responding to what felt to them like "legitimate force." What was the threat to their own safety that would compel a staff sergeant to order five unarmed Iraqi civilians out of a taxicab, in Haditha, and shoot them one after another as they stood next to the taxicab? Whose was the force here, legitimate or otherwise? And, more to the point, would Wuterich have acted this way, as deliberately, and methodically killed defenseless civilians unless he was reasonably confident that his actions would, at the very least, receive a big thumbs up from his commanding officers?

It was nearly a century ago that Senator Hiram W. Johnson said that, in times of war, the first casualty to emerge is truth, and in a hundred years from now, historians may look back upon the midterm elections two months ago today as yet another November Revolution, which rivals the one back in 1994. Still, there are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered from an administration that has, unequivocally and indefatigably, abandoned its domestic agenda to a foreign policy that was flawed from the get-go.The irony of this recent election is not that the president retains power by veto and signing statement, not that Congress is essentially gagged where decisions of war mongering are concerned as that is the domain of the commander-in-chief; there simply isn't enough time left to investigate all the wrongdoing on the part of a runaway executive branch and its counterfeit motives for taking our country to war.

Moreover, who's going to investigate the investigators when it is clear to the naked eye, and anyone who wishes to open their eyes, that what some pundits call "execution etiquette" doesn't just apply to deposed dictators, but innocent Iraqis, as well, and that the only way we, as citizens in the demoralized zone, can ever hope to know the truth is if, and when, the ACLU, or human rights groups, take this government to court with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.It's time for both the House and Senate to connect the dots between Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, Haditha, and other insults to human rights which have yet come to light in Iraqi prisons, as well as detention centers in Afghanistan, and demand answers as to who gave the commands, who knew about the actions, and why it has taken more than two years to get a glimmer of what happened on that terrible November day.

It's also up to those elected to represent those among us who are outraged, as well as those going along for the ride that is the carnage, and moral decline that is Iraq, to stand up to the hunting down of those principles for which ninety nine percent of our men and women in uniform now give their lives, and have given their lives for generations so that we may not merely ask the right questions, but get the right answers.

We express solidarity with those who march against this war, and for justice. We express solidarity with those who fight the forces of darkness, and with those who see that the taking of even one human life diminshes us all

Thursday, January 04, 2007

On Loan from Charlie's Angels...

After the lurid hangover that was the hanging of Saddam, ooooh, it does this transplanted New Yorker's heart good to see a fellow New Yorker come forward and give the boot to the shooter-in-chief; way to go, Charlie Rangel! Who better than the man whose name is synonymous with righteous indignation, integrity, and accountability to place himself as close to the pulse of power brokering, in the inner sanctum of Congress, as one can reasonably get.

Never one to parse words, the Congressman's rationale for giving the veep the heave-ho is that the office has been "historically designated" for the chair of the Ways and Means Committee; bravo. We can rest assured, with Charlie Rangel at the helm, that we will not only have the ways, but the means to put us on the path to national sanity, once again.

It does the heart good to know that somebody's angels were busy, over Christmas, filling the shelves not just with holly, but chutzpah enough to ensure that, come January 4th, the second floor office that was once the vice president's would now bear the words "Ways and Means Committee," yes!

Look at your Congress, America---barely in session for 8 hours, and already corruption is being asked to find a new place to hang its hat. Look at your Congress, and dance in the streets. You did this, we did this; this is isn't just symbolism, this is poetry, poetic justice, and what a vivid reminder that this President has spent his political capital; a reminder with a view, no less.

And, it makes this apple to the core girl proud to know that, as of today, the room just yards away from the House floor belongs to Rep. Charles Rangel, and not to Vice President Dick Cheney. Now that we're beginning to purge ourselves of that intellectual bulimia known as neo-conservatism, we may have stumbled upon yet another way to get rid of these overpaid termites besides impeachment; hell yeah, why not evict the whole lot? Trent included!

A spokesperson for the vice president says they've decided to take the "high road," and let Ways and Means have Cheney's office; moreover, they always thought of the office as being "on loan." Who cares whether they take the "high road," the low road, or any road in between, just so long as they get out of Dodge. What's more, for my money, the White House, and the government itself is on loan; it all belongs to the people.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Death of a Precedent

While about the business, and solemn duty, of burying a president, Gerald Ford, we must also prepare to mourn the loss of a precedent, that of the separation between press and state. The notion of a free press, along with free speech, and freedom of assembly were guaranteed by a constitutional amendment, the First Amendment, which has been under vigorous, and continuous assault by the Bush administration . 2006 ended while we, as a nation and a world , were diminished by the medieval and senseless hanging of a man whose gravest crime was his greatest infirmity, and the early weeks of 2007 will witness an unprecedented, and obscene procession of journalists from the most highly reputed newspapers called upon to testify as to the infamous role of Scooter Libby in outing undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

Consider that while we neutralize the Bill of Rights, we also set a dangerous precedent by calling nearly a dozen reporters to testify, on both sides of the aisle, and break their oaths of confidentiality. Consider, too, that the anonymity of the government officials, for and against whom they testify, may someday be a prerequisite in order to address "serious issues of public importance." (AP) So, while we're in the process of stepping on toes, note that we're stepping on some pretty big ones.

We recognize that we must respect the need for the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former aide to Dick Cheney perjured himself and, in order to do so, statements from those reporters to whom Libby spoke, such as Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Tim Russert, might be critical in order to make their case that Libby not only failed to remember, but deliberately lied about conversations with the journalists which resulted in outing the covert CIA operative. And, conversely, we recognize that Libby's counsel has a need to parade a bevy of lawyers of its own to corroborate their client's most convenient memory lapses.

But, though it didn't look like it, Karl Rove was pulling the strings not Valmont in "Dangerous Liaisons;" too bad for Scooter that his friend Karl couldn't figure out a way to finagle a holiday pardon out of Mr. Bush, then we'd have had two presidential pardons to celebrate. Bah humbug, indeed! And, as if the compromising positions in "'Dangerous Liaisons" weren't bad enough, what happens to the concept of investigative journalism when reporters unwittingly, and unwillingly, find themselves as governmental stooges in a case that has about as much to do with national security as Mickey Mouse has to do with Donald Trump?

Moreover, at a time when cynicism about the veracity, and integrity of the news media has been at an all time high, what better way to neuter information-gathering than by corrupting the notion of an independent, and confidential source? What happens to public confidence in the tamper-free, unobstructed flow of information when questions arise, legitimately or otherwise, about whether reporters were co-opted by the government to be cheerleaders for the invasion of a sovereign state, and an increasingly unpopular war? Who are we to trust to bring us the truth of what is happening, both home and abroad, when we witness governmental intrusion, and collaboration in the process of reporting, and journalists cooperating with a criminal investigation at the expense of their oath of confidentiality? Would "Deep Throat" talk to Bob Woodward about what he knew if he thought that Woodward would be called upon, under subpoena and against his express wishes, to divulge what he said?

While Mr. Bush, on the surface, has nothing in common with Oscar Wilde, both would agree, as Wilde said, "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it." And, in the final analysis, it doesn't matter whether these journalists testify on behalf of the defense, or the prosecution; what matters is that journalism not be compromised by the whimsy of a grand jury subpoena which, in itself, has become an agent of fear designed to stifle dissent.

Yes, Lucy Dalglish, head of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is right to call this assemblage of nearly a dozen journalists before a federal grand jury "horrifying." (AP)There are few things left, in this life, we can take for granted. Privacy ever eludes us, but appetite for information, and the desire to know, are about as American as apple pie. Presidents come and go; we have but one Constitution.

Right around the time of the Civil War, Walt Whitman wrote: "For our New World I consider far less important for what it has done, or what it is, than for results to come." Everyone who cares about responsive, ethical government, and fair elections must consider "results to come" when allowing this administration to capriciously, and copiously, intrude upon our inviolable, and unassailable right to a free press.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Bit of Perspective...

from another American president; President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

"We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient — that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity; and therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.”

May members of Congress, and the current president, keep these words in mind as we face the challenges that face us in 2007.