Friday, December 30, 2005

Samurai Rage!

In a post on his blog a few weeks back, my brother, Malignant Vanilla, referenced one of my essays about Iraq. In response to that post, one of his readers, claiming to be a "former liberal", took me to task about my stance on the Iraq war. Now, normally I have a "live in your own delusions if you must" attitude towards right-wing posters on other blogs. However, I have grown increasingly agitated at accusations cast at myself and others who oppose the war as I do so I thought I'd take a moment to address what I found to be the individual's key point: that if you don't support the war, that means you wish Saddam Hussein was still in power.

That is complete garbage and I am thoroughly tired of listening to such accusations just because most conservatives are too dense to understand any foreign policy more nuanced than the plot of "Mars Attacks". No liberal supported the reign of Saddam Hussein. He was a brutal dictator, supported and armed by the United States, and the world is a better place without him in power. However, the case for removing Saddam Hussein as a benefit to the Iraqi people is not so cut and dried.

Recent estimates indicate that as many as 130,000 Iraqis have died in the U.S. invasion and occupation. I fail to see what great humanitarian goal the United States has thus accomplished by replacing Saddam Hussein as the oppressor of the Iraqi people. Further, if the goal of the Iraqi invasion was to "free" the people of Iraq, then why didn't George W. Bush take that case to the Congress and the world? I'll tell you why: because the Republicans in this country do not give two shits about the people of Iraq. This war was about protecting U.S. oil interests and furthering a geopolitical power restructuring to further U.S. interests in the region. I find it awfully disingenuous that the same Republicans that get so teary-eyed over Iraqi freedom fought tooth-and-nail against U.S. intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina or Rwanda. But, of course, Democratic President Bill Clinton was in charge then. Conservatives certainly wouldn't want a few hundred thousand lives to get in the way of their partisan hypocrisy.

I have no problem, per se, with military intervention for humanitarian reasons. But there has to be a clear and pressing need for such and it needs to be done as a united effort by the free world. Conservatives love to whisper in mock horror of all the lives lost to Saddam Hussein's brutality after the Gulf War, as if they really care one whit for thousands of dead Kurds and Muslim Arabs. There are thousands in Darfur whose deaths cry "Hypocrisy!" on such protestations. The fact is that atrocities happen all over the world and those that occurred in the 1990's under Saddam Hussein in no way justify the United States invading in 2001, killing thousands of its citizens. That makes us no better than the previous dictator.

Saddam Hussein's reign was coming to an end, with or without U.S. intervention. His power in Iraq had waned to almost nothing in its isolation and his sons did not have the support of the ruling Ba'athist party. However, none of that matters now. Instead, our invasion has left a country torn apart by a civil war which, in all likelihood, only stands to worsen with time, further destabilizing the region. A Shi'ite Iraq, allied with Iran, could potentially solidify a bloc of antagonism towards Israel, while a free Kurdistan nearly assures military mobilization by both Iran and Turkey. A destabilized Iraq puts upward pressure on oil prices and creates a breeding ground for the very terrorists against which Bush claims to be fighting a "generation-spanning conflict".

I refuse to be burdened any longer by the ignorance of those who cannot see any use for the United States military except as the stick with which we try and beat the world into submission. Our dragging occupation of Iraq is demonstrating quite clearly to the world that U.S. has long since ceased being the world's superpower and is nothing more than a fading bully, seeing death and destruction as it's only reliable tools of statecraft. Such is the final result and ultimate failure of the "good guys vs. bad guys" simpleton's view of the world to which conservatives cling so rabidly.

Every end does not justify every means. Ending the reign of Saddam Hussein was not worth the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis or thousands of American G.I.'s. Those men, women and children deserved better than to be slaughtered and maimed so that a few million American conservatives could live out their video game war hero fantasies from the safety of their living room couches. It was not worth the loss of the American reputation as a trustworthy member of the global community. It was not worth billions of dollars in U.S. debt; debt which my children will be stuck paying because of the gross fiscal irresponsibility of the Republicans.

Finally, and most importantly, not one, single conservative in America has any right or ability to speak for the Iraqi people. The nation of Iraq and the lives of it's people were not ours to sacrifice, no matter how much American conservatives pretend to some noble humanitarian airs. We haven't given Iraq "liberty and justice", we've given them death, destruction and war. We've shoved American arrogance straight in their faces and forced them to die for ignorant conservative idealism.

I opposed this war from the beginning and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. War is the greatest failure of humanity and I refuse to be bullied by those too ignorant to see the truth. I'll stand with some wiser Americans than today's conservative chickenhawks:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war. - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes. - Douglas MacArthur

But, just to be fair and balanced, I will end with a quote that perfectly encapsulates conservatives' support for the war:

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. - Hermann Goering

Friday Baby Blogging

Cecelia Rose - 3 Months

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Role Of Teacher Opinions In Public School

I was listening in this morning to Joy Cardin on WPR as she was interviewing Deb Mayer, a former teacher from Bloomington, Indiana. The impetus for the discussion was Mayer's dismissal from her position with the Monroe County public school corporation in 2001. The school district contends that several complaints were registered against Ms. Mayer at the time; however, the one that concerned the discussion was that she openly advocated for peace prior to the invasion of Iraq.

From The Education Wonks:

In the tense months before the United States invaded Iraq, elementary school teacher Deb Mayer was asked by one of her students whether she'd ever join an anti-war protest. The question was prompted by a Time For Kids magazine story that Mayer's students had just read about a peace march in Washington, D.C.

Mayer, who had never been politically active, told her Bloomington, Ind., class that she sometimes blew her car horn to support demonstrators carrying "Honk for Peace" signs at the local courthouse. Mayer also told the class she thought it was important to seek out peaceful solutions before going to war.

That conversation in January 2003, which lasted all of five minutes, launched a nearly three-year odyssey for Mayer, who now lives in Madison as she awaits the outcome of her federal lawsuit against the Monroe County, Ind., school system for firing her.

The school board of Monroe County has gone on to claim that Ms. Mayer was terminated for being a sub-standard teacher who was rude and confrontational to her students, not for her views on Iraq. Mayer claims this is absolutely false, which, of course, her federal lawsuit will attempt to settle out. I tend to believe Ms. Mayer in this case for several reasons.

First, I lived in central Indiana for several years and it is a very "red" state, to use the vernacular of the day. Given that Republicans overwhelmingly support the invasion of Iraq and given that parents tend to push their political beliefs onto their children, I have no trouble whatsoever believing that certain parents in Monroe County would find any anti-war message objectionable. President Bush and his ilk have done everything in their power to dishonestly frame the Iraq war debate as the strong, "patriotic" Americans versus the wimpy terrorist sympathizers and such divisive rhetoric is bound to result in cases like Ms. Mayer's.

Second, the allegations about Ms. Mayer's job performance really didn't surface until several years after the peace incident took place. A case such as this, where it at least appears that the free exchange of ideas has been stifled, cuts awfully close to the First Amendment and is the kind of publicity no school board wants. Also, given the performance of Republican-controlled school boards in Kansas and Pennsylvania (see here, here and here) in recent years, it's not much of a stretch to imagine some partisan hackery going on in Indiana as well.

Consider the actions of the school board:

Mayer said she never talked about it after the "peace incident," for fear of losing her job. Her concerns were heightened by the school's decision to cancel its annual Peace Month, a memo sent to teachers warning them "not to promote any particular view on foreign policy related to the situation in Iraq" and a note sent to her to "refrain from expressing your political views."

It seems terribly hypocritical of the school to demand that its teachers take no position on the discussion of an Iraq invasion and yet choose to cancel a school event promoting a study of peace.
This leads into the larger question of the role of teacher opinions in public schools. In the particulars of this case, it appears to me that the school is out of line. A discussion of peaceful alternatives is germane to a study of the current events prior to the invasion. But at what level, in a general sense, should the opinions and political views of an individual teacher be allowed as part of a curriculum of study?

A discussion of current events, especially today, can rapidly lead into some very ideologically charged areas. While I would readily agree that a discussion of peaceful alternatives to invasion, a discussion clearly not taking place in the White House at that time, was wholly appropriate, there are plenty of other topics where that clarity begins to blur. Should a teacher be allowed to discuss arguments for or against gay marriage, for example. Or the controversy over teaching "Intelligent Design" in biology. Is it appropriate for a teacher to express an opinion on an issue while teaching it to students?

My short answer to this question is "yes", though it's a qualified "yes". I absolutely think that a biology teacher should be allowed to express the belief that "Intelligent Design" is non-scientific garbage, especially in light of a court ruling that says the same. I believe that it should be permissible for a teacher to express an opinion on any topic they like, so long as they stop short of trying to convince their students to believe as the teacher does. Unfortunately, that can be a very subjective sticking point. I believe that a teacher telling my child that the teacher believes gay marriage is wrong due to that teacher's religious beliefs is just fine. I believe it's good for children to hear conflicting opinions; it stimulates critical thought. However, I recognize that there are many parents, both liberal and conservative, who feel that a teacher's position of authority implies a coercive aspect of opinion-giving; that my sample teacher, by even mentioning his/her view on gay marriage, is effectively sending the message to the child that said child should believe as the teacher does.

Further, I think the age, or more specifically, the maturity level, of the child has to be taken into account. Ms. Mayer taught a fourth-grade class and there is definitely a credible argument to be made that certain public policy issues are not appropriate for that age group. I would stridently disagree with this thinking, but I can understand from where it stems. I don't believe that there is any issue that cannot be broached with a school-age child; it's all in how the subject is treated. I believe we do a disservice to our children when we institutionalize ignorance under the guise of protecting the child's "innocence". This is the same kind of thinking that leads folks to accept a President breaking the law in order to "protect" them from terrorism. Children have a civil right to education and I believe that insulating them from public debate issues runs contrary to that right.

By way of personal experience, I can relate some frustration to the lack of attention paid in public schools to controversial issues. Even in high school, the history classes I took barely touched on Vietnam, The Great Depression, The genocide of Native Americans, The Civil Rights Movement, the AIDS epidemic...just to name a few. These are issues which define what America is today, but are almost completely avoided, at least at Forrestville Valley High School, due to their controversial natures. The classes I took stuck with "safe" topics, such as The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, World War II, the Industrial Revolution, The Space Age; important topics, all, but also topics that fit a certain "rose-tinted" view of what America is. I believe there is a great deal of nobility in the American ideal, but that nobility was forged in the fire of conflict and public debate. Americans have done some awful things in our short history, and we're a stronger nation when we confront those wrongs and redress them. Hiding them from our children teaches that our nation is beyond reproach and, I believe, plants the seeds of a misguided nationalism so prevalent, frankly, on the Right side of the political spectrum these days. The free flow of ideas in the classroom, even if they're opinions that may not be popular, is the surest way to cultivate adults able to think critically and take principled stands.

As a final thought, I think it's worth noting that this case could very well be headed towards the Supreme Court, as it meets at the intersection of two parties' rights under the First Amendment. This national prominence basically assures that Deb Mayer, like Cindy Sheehan before her, is likely to come directly into the crosshairs of the Right's "mighty Wurlitzer" of partisan attacks. So be it. If nothing else good ever comes from the horrendous governing of the Republicans over the past five years, at least they will have succeeded in motivating patriotic Americans to turn off "Survivor" and "American Idol" and take an interest in their country once again. To that end, Ms. Mayer, in her new role as a political activist, has started a veterans organization called Share the Sacrifice, dedicated to helping Iraq war vets get back on their feet. Given this, and that her son is a nuclear engineer for the Navy, when the Right crucifies Mayer the way they did Sheehan (and they will), the attacks will ring just as hollow and will serve to reveal once again which side of the political spectrum actually cares about the troops and which only cares about their misguided ideology and cathartic warrior fantasies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

When Beancounters Attack

In the first news in quite some time concerning the Enron debacle, former Chief Accounting Officer Richard Causey plead guilty to fraud today and is expected to become one of the government's primary witnesses in the upcoming trial of former Enron executives Jeff Skilling and Kenny Boy Lay.

From JS Online:

The accountant, Richard Causey, pleaded guilty to securities fraud Wednesday in return for a seven-year prison term - which could be shortened to five years if prosecutors are satisfied with his cooperation in the trial. He also must forfeit $1.25 million to the government, according to the plea deal.

Causey's arrangement included a five-page statement of fact in which he admitted that he and other senior Enron managers made various false public filings and statements.

Personally, I hope Mr. Causey serves the entire seven years, if for no other reason than because he sullied the fine reputation my profession used to possess. However, in light of the fact that he may have agreed to take down one of the Bush family's closest friends does make a five year sentence a bit more palatable.

Many liberals I've spoken with have grown quite frustrated at the time delay of this trial. To those good friends I advise patience. The Enron case is incredibly complicated and the bookkeeping acrobatics this company performed are spectacular in a horrifying sort of way. This case if far too important to rush, after all.

Personally, I believe this is really the money quote from the press conference, courtesy of Mr. Causey's lawyer:

"What is true to the extent that he has any involvement in any upcoming legal proceedings, he will do one thing: He will tell to truth, because that is who he is, that is what he should do, and that is what he is going to do," [Defense Attorney Reid] Weingarten said.

Pardon my French, but what a load of horseshit! Telling the truth is part of "who" Causey "is"? That's laughably absurd. Where was this vaunted integrity when thousands of Enron stockholders were getting taken to the cleaners? Where was it when thousands of Enron employees had their retirement savings wiped out by this man's criminal complicity? Sorry, Mr. Causey, but your integrity was tested by the responsibilities of your position and you were found very, very wanting.

Lay, of course, will be the big fish to fry in the upcoming trial, now postponed until January 30th. Lay was a close friend of the Bush family and an ardent supporter of the current White House resident, though Lay will likely find the Bush's to be fair-weather friends at best. George the Younger certainly doesn't need any more bad publicity hanging around his neck, though with his newly-revealed flair for committing felonies and violating the Constitution, it's a toss-up deciding which crook is a worse influence on the other. Lay has already begun prepping the "Sergeant Schultz" defense ("I know nothing!"), which would be humorous if it were not so insulting. The arrogance of the man to actually expect Americans to believe that he had no knowledge of executive-level transactions within the company of which he was paid millions of dollars to be CEO, is breathtaking. Obviously he and George W. Bush were friends; they think just alike. Both think being a chief executive means all privilege and no accountability. Must be more of those Republican "moral values and principals".

The major importance of this trial, outside of establishing some sort of lawfulness again within corporate America, is to demonstrate that there are some lines that even power and influence like Lay had cannot cross. Plus, from a completely partisan perspective, it should be very interesting to see if this trial both exonerates former California Governor Gray Davis and demonstrates some very close ties between Lay and the Bush White House.

"Thick as thieves" they say...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Could science offer us immortality one day? How about to those of us already living? Seems too good to be true, but then I'll bet so did cell phones in 1900.

From The Toledo Blade, via RedOrbit:

The immortalists argue that aging can be prevented and treated, just like medicine deals with other health problems.

Cambridge University's Aubrey de Grey, one of the leaders, claims it will happen in time for some people alive today. Much of the scientific knowledge, he argues, is already available. And de Grey has mapped out a project, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence ( to treat and cure aging.

I actually did some homework and went to the SENS site and prowled around a bit. Unfortunately, my sole excursion into the realm of biology academia was a single course on anthropology taught by a primatologist. In other words, I am in no way able to evaluate the science on its merits. So I won't even attempt to do so. Suffice to say, de Grey approaches the solution to aging in much the same way that treatment for AIDS is approached. Basically, aging is treated like a terminal disease, but one which its symptoms can be managed indefinitely. One would simply take the proper treatments to stave off the ill effects of the metabolic process, thus insuring a lifespan that could effectively never end.

Now, I take any such claim as this with a rather large grain of salt, as, again, I don't understand the science well enough and if it were truly a lock, it would be making the cover of Time, Newsweek, the NYT and so forth, today. It isn't. However, the idea that this type of science could be a reality raises some very interesting questions and predictions about the human existence.

Nothing defines the human condition like death. It's the one surety of a mortal existence; that it will one day end. Abolishing death by natural causes would facilitate a massive sea change in human consciousness. My first prediction is that life will become much more precious in its new limitless quantity. It will require a radical re-aligning of both our military policy and certainly our legal system to deal with the reality of endless life spans. For what could be the just punishment for murder when the victim has lost something immeasurable? How much greater the cost of war when lives are no longer "cut short" but now just "cut off"?

My second prediction is that most religions will face a dogmatic crisis. Mortality has long been the theological dividing line between the divine and the "earthly". How does the wheel of karma spin out new lives once immortality is achieved? What kind of salvation does belief in Christ hold when death has been conquered by science? Suddenly, death is no longer a certainty but a tragic accident or horrendous assault. I predict an unprecedented rise in humanist moral beliefs. After all, given that death is the gateway to joining with the divine, what separates man from God once mortality is removed? I predict also a frightening rise in the occurrence of ritualistic suicides, for once death is removed as a certainty, the choice for death takes on a greater spiritual significance. Death becomes a question of moral choice, which religion will no doubt encapsulate in some new spiritual paradigm.

My final prediction is that the full class stratification of the world will finally have its driving impetus from the rise of immortality. Capitalist market theory obviously dictates that the wealthy and affluent will have the first opportunity to purchase immortality "treatments", thus death becomes the final wall separating the well-off from the downtrodden. However, I believe a scenario in which the wealthy "own" the right to life will not persist for long. The entire social structure of the world will be poised for change, for what higher stakes can there be in a revolution than immortality? The very structure of society will radically shift, as the conflict between class becomes one of absolute life or death.

This may all seem a little bizarre to most, but it's worth noting that scientists like de Gray are quite serious in their goal to eliminate the effects of aging. They've even sponsored a contest encouraging scientists the world over to be the first to create a "Methuselah Mouse"; mice being so genetically similar to humans. Success at such will almost certainly spawn a flurry of human testing, for what greater medical goal could there be than the conquering of death? Volunteers would be lined up around the block, either for themselves or for the prospect of bequeathing immortality to their children.

For those of us wishing to have everlasting life, it's a fascinating notion that it could be within reach and that science, not faith, could provide it.


Scout Prime (whom you should be reading if you're not already!) has generously included me as one of the latest Eschatonians tagged on a little blogger survey. It's a welcome respite from the cascade of lousy news that's been coming down from both Madison and Washington lately. Contrary to what many conservatives believe, we liberals don't really want the Republicans to destroy our nation just so we can win more elections. We'd rather they just govern effectively and let U.S. politics become a competition of acheivement, rather than a race to the bottom.

Anyway, here we go...

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

1. Attempt to live forever. Failing that...
2. Write a novel (a goal all bloggers apparently share).
3. Finish my education.
4. Run for public office.
5. Be a guest/pundit on a radio/TV show.
6. Give Gifted-1 the fancy wedding she's always wanted.
7. Travel to every other continent (except Antarctica; I don't like the cold!).

Seven Things I Cannot Do

1. Play a musical instrument.
2. Win a public office.
3. Cook.
4. Understand the intersection between libertarianism and religious fundamentalism in the Republican party.
5. Work a job without access to the internets.
6. Sleep when one of my kids is crying.
7. Remember names (I stole that from Rorschach.)

Seven Things That Attract Me To...Blogging

1. The fame, the bling, the liquor and the wild women!
2. It helps me understand what I believe much more clearly.
3. Having a great group of people that believe what I have to say is worth reading.
4. Being able to contribute to the national dialogue, even a tiny bit.
5. It gives me good writing practice.
6. A feeling of community with other folks who care about the country.
7. It's free!

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. "Liam/Olivia, why are you not listening to me?"
2. "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?"
3. "Enhance your calm, citizen."
4. "D'oh!"
5. "If you weren't already my kid, I'd kidnap you."
6. "Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle!"
7. "I have no idea."

Seven Books That I Love (You'll notice a theme here.)

1. "DragonLance Chronicles/Legends" by Weiss & Hickman
2. "Dune"-series by Frank Herbert
3. "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkein
4. "A Song of Ice and Fire"-series by George R.R. Martin
5. "The Wheel of Time"-series by Robert Jordan
6. "Neuromancer" by William Gibson
7. "The Stand" by Stephen King

Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over Again

1. "Dead Poets Society"
2. "Star Wars - Episodes III-VI"
3. Any "Star Trek" except "Generations"
4. "Tin Cup"
5. "Pulp Fiction"
6. "Pump Up The Volume"
7. "The Crow"

Seven People I Want To Join Too

1. Comments are open; feel free to to leave your own list.
2. Dieselcreek
3. hisstorymn/Virgil
4. Horatio
5. My brother
6. spork
7. Michelle

If I missed you, consider yourself tagged as well.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Breaching The Fourth Wall

I don't normally do personal posts, mainly because I hate having to self-examine that much. However, Daniel Levesque, the Raving Conservative, tagged me with a blog survey that I will attempt to answer.

(Year-end financial accounting leaves one with little more than cream of wheat for brains by the end of the day. I need a fluff post!)

Five Odd or Unexpected Things About Samurai Sam

1. The first unexpected thing about me is that I grew up a conservative Evangelical Christian. I attended a Pentacostal church in Byron, IL for most of my formative years and attended the Lake Williamsen Christian Center camp in Carlinville, IL for 5 straight years. I had intended at one time to go to Northwestern Bible College to potentially become a minister. This background is what I think gives me a unique perspective on the issues that are important to conservative Christians. On a sort-of celebrity note, I attended church with Republican Congressman Don Manzullo, though that was before he held office in Washington. Small world...

2. An odd thing about me is that, even as an adult, I have a completely over-blown addiction to video games. I have actually been given a written warning at a previous job for goofing off, even though I certainly know better. Before I had kids, it was not unusual for me to sit down and play a good RPG for hours, neglecting both food and drink. I've also been known, if I have a new game I really like, to get up a few hours early for work (about 3:00 AM) to get some gaming in before work.

3. Another odd thing about is that, in addition to a video game addiction, I also have a plethora of "geek" hobbies. In high school, I was the Dungeon Master for our local Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I also collect trading card games and have thousands of cards on storage currently in my basement. I tend to read several books at a time and one of them is always high fantasy or science fiction (I'm currently reading The City of Golden Shadows by Tad Williams). Blogging probably qualifies as well.

4. My wife, Gifted-1 here, will testify that I have some very odd aversions to certain foods; mainly condiments. I cannot or will not eat mustard, sour cream, ranch dressing, nacho cheese, wasabi or, really, any kind of condiment except ketchup, which I consume in mass quantities. I get physically ill from malted milk balls and actually, on one of our first dates, nearly spit one all over Gifted-1 in the parking lot of a frozen custard joint in DeKalb, IL.

5. Finally, I have an odd tendency to break into song or dance at any time or place, rarely even at work. Especially around my kids, I make up songs to sing them all the time. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess also that my dad did the same thing when we were kids. If we get some good dance music rockin' on the stereo, I can be found doing all sorts of Mighty Whitey dances. Gifted-1 nearly dies of embarrassment, even if no one's around.

Well, enough about me. Feel free, any of you, to leave some odd or unexpected things about yourselves in the comments. We're all friends here and we won't be laughing at you; we'll be laughing near you.

Oh, and I have tagged five other bloggers that I've never visited before with this. Undoubtedly one of them is wondering, even now: "Who the hell is Samurai Sam and why did he send me this weird survey?" I'm building bridges... Anyway, time for bed!

No Oil For Uncle Ted This Christmas

At last, enough members of the Senate took a stand against Senator Ted Stevens' (R-AK) latest efforts to pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve.

From RedOrbit:

The Senate blocked oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge Wednesday, rejecting a must-pass defense spending bill where supporters positioned the quarter-century-old environmental issue to garner broader support.

Drilling backers fell four votes short of getting the required 60 votes to avoid a threatened filibuster of the defense measure over the oil drilling issue. Senate leaders were expected to withdraw the legislation so it could be reworked without the refuge language. The vote was 56-44.

Attaching this drilling amendment to a mandatory defense spending bill, that also contained aid for Katrina victims, is pretty despicable even by Uncle Ted's standards. Stevens has made quite a reputation for bringing home federal "pork" for the state of Alaska and the ANWR drilling issue is no exception.

The legislation anticipates about $5 billion in federal revenue bonus bids from oil leases, the first of which must be issued within 22 months and the second package in 2010. Half of the lease proceeds and future royalties from oil production would go to Alaska.

I think it's quite time we can set aside the tired "drill in ANWR for national security" canard. It's obvious that Uncle Ted is not attempting to address either national security or energy issues with his misguided legislative efforts. He's interested in securing future dollars to support Alaska's declining oil industry. Hopefully 25 years of being told "No, you may not destroy ANWR for oil company profits" has finally sunk in to Stevens' thick skull. He had actually threatened to throw yet another tantrum and resign if he didn't get his way on this amendment, so let's hope exercises integrity as one of those "moral values" in which his party pretends to believe.

As I've noted before, there really is no supply-side solution to our oil needs in the United States. Drilling in ANWR just adds more crude to the world market and is as likely to end up in China or India as in the United States. The only way to guarantee the United States would reap a kind of exclusivity advantage from the ANWR oil would be for the federal government to nationalize the ANWR drilling operation. Given the universal contempt Republicans have for anything resembling socialism or government regulation, this idea isn't even worthy of consideration. As usual, the real benefit to opening ANWR will go to the large oil companies able to bid for the leases. These same companies have already achieved record profits in 2005, so much so that they admitted in testimony before Congress that they didn't even need the $10 billion in tax subsidies passed for them in the Energy Act.

Clearly the benefits of opening ANWR for drilling are suspect at best, unless you've an ownership stake in a major oil firm or are a northern Alaskan factory working looking for a job. So what is the downside to opening ANWR for drilling? By way of example, it's worth looking at the Prudhoe Bay oil facilities (pictured above):

Prudhoe Bay is an important issue to consider when reviewing the ANWR controversy, because it provides an example of the consequences and effects of constructing a large oil field in an almost identical environment. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Data Base, there are on average 409 reported spills at Prudhoe Bay. While most of these spills are small, 1.3 million gallons of 40 different substances ranging from acid waste to oil have been spilled between 1996 and 1999. Studies of diesel spills in the arctic have shown that 28 years after the spilling occurred there is still little vegetation recovery and hydrocarbons remain in the soil, which is evidence that the future of wildlife surrounding oil fields is constantly in danger. The oil fields disrupt the symbiosis existing in nature; thus, when vegetation is destroyed, the survival of the animals relying on that vegetation as their sustenance is also at risk. Also, studies conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that the female caribou productivity around the North Slope oil fields, including Prudhoe Bay, has declined since oil production began because of the interruption of their calving grounds. The caribou demonstrate a 3-4 kilometer avoidance of the structures on the oil fields, including roads and pipelines, and the same result is to be expected if the ANWR is developed for oil production.

It's reasonable to assume that any oil facility in ANWR is not likely to have any less a negative impact on the environment as the Prudhoe Bay facility has had. The wholesale destruction of the environment and the wildlife living in ANWR are certainly not justified by oil company profits or a slight blip in the world's petroleum supply. As usual, the business interest that own the Republican party have no interest in any workable long term energy solution, nor do they seem to have much concern about befouling the planet we all live upon. Drilling in ANWR is just one more myopic Republican policy born out of corporate greed and it's time to send a message to the Republicans (and especially Uncle Ted) that ANWR belongs to all of us, not just moneyed interests in Washington.

And we'd like to keep the "Wildlife Refuge" in the name relevant, thanks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Samurai Sam: Capitalist Pig

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Thank you to everyone who has been ordering from my CafePress site! Considering I've never even mentioned it here, I'm rather surprised anything has moved. In any case, I have added a link to it under "Commerce" in my sidebar, if anyone is interested.

Also, I am currently working with Lung Monkey Ink on some personalized, Oriental-themed Samurai Swag. I hope to roll some of that out in the coming year. Plus, I really need to spiffy up this Blogger template, and some custom art should be just the thing. I may be obscure, but I've got BIG dreams, baby! Anyway...

A big thank you to my wife, Gifted-1, who designed all of the merchandise currently for sale.

Now back to our regularly scheduled opinionated hubris.

Peace and Love,

Samurai Sam

The New Scorched Earth Policy

In light of the blossoming domestic spying scandal, it's become clear that the Bush administration's preferred tactic in fighting the "War on Terror" is a frightening homage to the Soviet Union's "scorched earth" defense against the Nazi invasion during World War II. The tactic basically involves giving ground to an advancing enemy, but destroying that ground as you do. That way, the invading forces have fewer resources to draw upon and less incentive to continue their advance. After all, it does little good to capture a city once it's been burned to the ground. This tactic worked very well in bogging down the Nazi advance on the Eastern Front, though it exacted a hideous cost from the citizens of the Soviet Union.

Bush's approach to the "War on Terror" has been much the same, we now know. Per Bush, the stated goal of "the terrorists" is to "destroy what America stands for" because "they hate our freedom." Well, nothing defines what America stands for better than civil rights for the citizenry. The rights of the individual were the entire impetus behind the Declaration of Independence and the reason the United States broke away from England. The Framers of our Constitution envisioned a nation where the individual determined the character and scope of the government, instead of the reverse, as had been the case for centuries in Europe.

Bush and his cronies have engaged in a systematic "scorched earth" policy towards civil rights in the United States, all under the guise of protecting Americans from "the terrorists". Under Bush, American citizens have been arrested and held without charge or trial. American citizens have been subjected to warrantless spying on our communications and activities by the NSA. Bush has used the FBI to monitor the activities of political advocacy groups and charitable organizations, such as PETA and GreenPeace, again without legal cause or justification. Perhaps most disturbing of all, Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez have argued that the President has practically limitless power to act as Commander in Chief in a time of war, based on their interpretation of the Constitution and the Congressional authorization for the invasion of Afghanistan.

From AmericaBlog:

"This is not a backdoor approach," Gonzales said at the White House. "We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance." He acknowledged that the administration discussed introducing legislation explicitly permitting such domestic spying but decided against it because it "would be difficult, if not impossible" to pass.

It confounds the imagination to even begin to believe that Gonzalez and Bush actually think that Congress intended to grant expanded powers to the Executive implicitly within the use-of-force authorization for Afghanistan (and the greater "War on Terror") but would not have been willing to do so explicitly. This is either one of the stupidest lies ever used to defend the abuse of government power or else Bush and Gonzalez really believe that waging war is just another arena of partisan politics. Either criminal mendacity or clueless incompetence; a devil's choice if ever there was one.

Looking at this most recent and possibly most widespread offense, this spying on of Americans by the NSA without a FISA warrant, should be troubling all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. After all, the rights of the individual to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures" is guaranteed by the 4th Amendment. Of course, that assumes that both sides of the political fence want to live in the kind of America envisioned by the Founding Fathers. One side, clearly, does not, starting with its elected officials.

From The Seaxneat Project:

"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Truly the embodiment of the American Revolution. I guess if Patrick Henry were alive today, he'd certainly be singing the same tune, right? "Give me liberty, or give me-- No, wait. Give me liberty, unless there are some scary brown people out there."

What Senator Box Turtle has so artlessly expressed here is one of the basic coercive ideologies expressed by both Hitler and Stalin as ways to solidify their authoritarian power with the masses. If any form of imminent danger is reason enough to surrender our republic and void our Constitution then the United States is nothing more than an authoritarian police state. We should really just save ourselves the tax funds by canceling all further elections and disbanding the Congress. If American civil rights are not worth dying for, then neither is America, for one does not exist without the other. It's disgraceful that a U.S. Senator would actually place partisan loyalty to a Republican President ahead of the ideals upon which our country is founded. Since when is sycophantic loyalty to one man and one party considered a "moral value"?

These affirmations of Bush's policy by Gonzalez and Cornyn beg the question of whether or not such assertions pass expert muster. Does the Executive Branch actually have the authority, either statutorily or Constitutionally, to authorize the NSA to spy on Americans, with no warrant and no Congressional oversight? Not according to Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School (via a link from Scout Prime):

What happened in this case, I just tell you, I don't see any basis to conclude it was anything but a Federal crime that the President ordered. These arguments that have been made by the White House border on the legally absurd. I mean, I don't know anyone who seriously believes the force resolution gave the President this authority. And it raises very troubling questions. If this is a Federal crime, and I believe it is, the President ordered such a crime and ordered US officials to commit it. And that raises troubling questions, not just for the presidency, but for the President.

Finally, a very pertinent question has arisen already from the Conservative Right and essentially that question is: "Who cares?". This question seems to be coupled with the notion that anyone even worrying about this issue probably ought to be spied upon by the government, just in case. After all, the thinking goes, anyone with nothing to hide, who is "innocent", should have no fear of being spied upon. Only those who are sympathetic to the terrorists or not loyal to America need be concerned. The problem they fail to recognize with this line of thinking is that once our President grants himself nearly limitless power, there is no longer any objectivity to innocence. Innocence becomes whatever the thug in charge decides it is. The flip side to absolute power in a leader is absolute powerlessness in the people. History has shown time and again the dangerous slippery slope of trading civil rights away for the promise of authoritarian safety.

Bush's belief in the almost limitless powers of the Executive in a time of war harkens back to the time of another war in U.S. history, also an ideologically-driven invasion of a sovereign nation that bogged down into an inwinnable guerilla insurgency. In that day, it was President Richard M. Nixon abusing the power of his office in order to advance his political goals. Ironically, the FISA Act, which Bush and Gonzalez have argued is an obstacle on the Executive's power to conduct the "War on Terror", was actually passed just for that very reason, in response to such abuses by Nixon. It's entire purpose has been to insure that the President cannot do exactly what Bush is claiming the authority to do: ignore the law and the Constitution in order to fight a war more effectively. In a war in which Bush has admitted has no foreseeable end, this amounts to dictatorial powers for an American President, exercised in secret.

President Bush has abused his position as President and ordered a government agency under his control to break the law. In light of this, the remedy of impeachment must, finally, be given due consideration. Personally, I believe that the Iraq invasion itself should be sufficient grounds for such, though I recognize that establishing such a case would be nearly impossible. This domestic spying issue is entirely different, however. Not only do we have credible evidence that Bush both broke the law and violated the Constitution, Bush himself admits as much, while arguing that the Constitution doesn't really say what scholars have believed for 200 years that it says. So much for strict construction. It, along with most of our American concepts of civil rights and governmental powers, have fallen prey to the scorched earth policy of Bush's "War on Terror". If the goal of Al-Qaida is to destroy our way of life, then perhaps the NSA could find an operative complicit in those goals sitting in the Oval Office.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge Selects Against Intelligent Design, Naturally

[A two-part post]

Part I

Religious conservatives took a tough blow to their agenda of rolling back the Enlightenment today. U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "Intelligent Design" in place of evolution in the biology classroom violated the Constitutional separation of church and state.

From RedOrbit:

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Jones dealt a blow to U.S. Christian conservatives who have been pressing for the teaching of creationism in schools and who played a significant role in the re-election of President George W. Bush

"Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a public school classroom," Jones wrote in a 139-page opinion.

No big surprise, really, as this case is merely a stepping stone towards the U.S. Supreme Court for the religious fundamentalists pushing "Intelligent Design". "Intelligent Design" is nothing more than Biblical Creationism re-packaged to be more palatable to the U.S. judicial system and it appears at, least initially, to have failed in that capacity. Judge Jones clearly saw through this pseudo-scientific facade and struck down this latest attempt to institutionalize conservative Christianity in U.S. public life.

Unfortunately, the proponents of "Intelligent Design" have only just begun their work tearing down the wall between the conservative Evangelical Christian church and the state:

The six-week Harrisburg trial, one of the highest-profile court cases on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial, was closely watched in at least 30 states where Christian conservatives are planning similar initiatives.

[Emphasis mine]

What an embarrassment this whole issue is to the United States' reputation as a member of the world's scientific community! It's pathetic enough that so many religious fundamentalists in the United States cannot tell the difference between science and faith themselves, but their unflagging efforts to institutionalize their ignorance for our children is making the entire country a laughingstock and threatens the quality of our educational system. Our children deserve better and, fortunately, both Judge Jones and the voters of Dover, PA recognize this.

Part II

Reading the article from Reuters referenced in Part I above, I was continually frustrated by the loaded language used to talk about this issue. It's the lack of good reporting on science in general and evolution in particular that helps fuel this phony debate.

For example:

The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and unscientific and had no place in high school biology classrooms.

[Emphasis mine]

I recognize that the reporter is trying to be objective here, but there is no objective way to draw equivalence between science and religion as methods for explaining the natural world. Using the verb "claimed" makes it sound as though both sides of the debate carry equal weight, and they certainly don't. This appearance of parity continues to fuel the public debate on this issue.


Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they must have been the work of an unnamed creator rather than the result of random natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution.

[Emphasis mine]

This is an unfortunate example of how poor science reporting helps feed this controversy. Natural selection is not a "random" process. Quite the opposite, in fact. It very specifically explains how any given species either procreates or becomes extinct based on its adaptive qualities. Labeling natural selection as random as a way to contrast against the "unnamed creator" gives the impression of evolution as a purpose-driven process, which it is not. "Intelligent Design" gains it's rhetorical traction once this misunderstanding occurs by attempting to define a more "human" conceptualization of the driver behind the purpose. Put another way, it attempts to generate a more familiar spiritual tie between the natural world and human spirituality with the appearance of scientific reason. Such is not the case, in reality, but the error in perception remains.

Further, Darwin did not "argue" the theory of evolution or its corollaries. He created a reasoned hypothesis and then tested it to generate a theory. By saying he "argued" "his" theory of evolution again implies some sort of parity between "Intelligent Design" and the theory of evolution. One is a bedrock theory of science and the other is poor theology at best. There is no parity and, thus, should be no debate.


In a fierce attack on the Dover board - all but one of whom have now been ousted by voters -- the judge condemned the "breathtaking inanity" of its policy."

[Emphasis mine]

This is a minor bone of contention but saying that the judge "attacked" the former members of the Dover school board seems like a very weighted choice of words. An attack implies some kind of aggressive intent, as though the judge was taking some sort of political or philosophical position rather than engaging this issue on its Constitutional merits. It seems to paint these school board members as some poor unfortunates being trampled on by the legal system, rather than as the theocratic fundamentalists that their actions and words describe. Plain and simply, these men and women were only too willing to put their ideological beliefs ahead of the education of their students, at great cost to the school district, and they deserve to be severely chastised for it. Fortunately, the voters of Dover largely took care of that problem but, as stated in Part I above, there are 30 states worth of similar like-minded religious literalists waiting for their chance to erode one of our nation's most important safeguards.

Perhaps I'm being too critical of the article or reading more bias into it than is actually there. It's no secret to anyone that the state of scientific reporting in our country is sorely lacking. Plus, I understand that controversy sells. So I don't mean this as a sharp attack against Jon Hurdle of Reuters. It just seems that more accurate and informed reporting on the science of this issue would go a great distance in defusing the phony debate. Evolution is possibly the most thoroughly tested and supported theory in all of science, while "Intelligent Design" is nothing but political rhetoric wrapped in a faith-based veneer to give it legitimacy. There is no reason any media outlet should be granting this bastardized version of Biblical Creationism the same gravitas as a proven scientific theory.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Public Address From The Ministry Of Truth

The average Bush speech generally contains as little actual information as possible, couched in a delivery that is likely a violation of the Geneva Convention Against Torture. However, it is sometimes possible to glean a little truth from the propaganda when it's taken in written form. Let's take a look at President Bush's "Year in Review" speech and see what's on the mind of the world's most powerful faux-Texan.

This election will not mean the end of violence. But it is the beginning of something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. And this vote -- 6,000 miles away, in a vital region of the world -- means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.

So long as we're occupying Iraq, the violence will never end, no matter how many elections Iraq has. Plus, that violence allows the Iraqi government to essentially declare martial law under their constitution, which they've done already. Not much democracy going on in a police state. I have to say that I appreciate the President validating my "A Mirage In The Desert" post; he clearly knows that the Iraqi government will be on our side regardless of the election's outcome.

From this office, nearly three years ago, I announced the start of military operations in Iraq. Our coalition confronted a regime that defied United Nations Security Council resolutions, violated a cease-fire agreement, sponsored terrorism, and possessed, we believed, weapons of mass destruction. After the swift fall of Baghdad, we found mass graves filled by a dictator; we found some capacity to restart programs to produce weapons of mass destruction, but we did not find those weapons.

Interesting that Republicans always support U.N. resolutions when it fits their political goals. Iraq is certainly not the only country to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. Add China, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear powers, to that list as well. There is no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein was supporting terrorists of any kind, and certainly not Al-Qaida. Osama Bin Ladin was as much an enemy of Hussein's as he is of Bush's. No one has ever argued that Saddam Hussein was not a brutal dictator either, but that was not the reason we went to war in Iraq. There are brutal dictators all over the world, some of which are allies of the United States, and we haven't invaded any of those nations yet. Finally, no credible evidence has yet been found of any credible WMD programs in Iraq.

It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Weapons that the Reagan administration provided him with in exchange for Hussein's stance against Iran. I challenge the notion also that chemical weapons or biological agents are "weapons of mass destruction" anyway. Such a definition is more political spin than an actual descriptor of destructive capabilities. Further, what right does a nation packing a nuclear arsenal 10,000+ warheads strong have to tell other nations to disarm? While it's nice that Bush is admitting that responsibility for the war is his, admitting is not the same thing as demonstrating accountability. Bush admits that the intelligence was wrong and yet he awarded former CIA director George "It's a slam dunk!" Tenant with the Medal of Honor for his work! Essentially, Bush invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein refused to disarm himself of weapons he didn't possess and then Bush rewarded a government official whose job it was to know this.

Finally, it is NOT right that the United States unilaterally removed Hussein from power. It is "right" that he's gone from power as he was a brutal tyrant that abused the citizenry of the nation he ruled. However, not every end justifies every means. The U.S. is not the sole arbiter of world morality, nor justified in using its military power to enforce that morality.

He was given an ultimatum -- and he made his choice for war. And the result of that war was to rid a -- the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors, and declared America to be his enemy. Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant -- only now without a throne. His power to harm a single man, woman, or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it.

Again, Saddam Hussein was given an ultimatum to divest himself of weaponry that he didn't have. The choice for war was made, but not by Saddam Hussein. Also, it's impossible to understand how Bush can chastise Saddam Hussein for killing Iraqis after admitting last week that the U.S. invasion and occupation has killed at least 30,000 Iraqis as well. So Bush believes that murdering people by the thousands is just fine so long as you don't govern them first? Finally, Bush's "enemy of America" defense for invading Iraq sets a very frightening precedent. Imagine what could happen if suddenly China and Russia decided that being an enemy of either was grounds for an invasion? Not a pretty picture at all.

The reality is that for all his apparent personal feelings about Saddam Hussein, Bush just cannot credibly spin him into the super villain needed to justify thousands of Iraqi and American dead.

Since the removal of Saddam, this war, like other wars in our history, has been difficult. The mission of American troops in urban raids and desert patrols, fighting Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists, has brought danger and suffering and loss. This loss has caused sorrow for our whole nation -- and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we're solving.

That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

There is probably not one person on the planet that actually believes that "the terrorists" will leave the U.S. alone if we just stopped provoking them. Bush, like all Republicans, is intimately familiar with the straw man fallacy and clumsily dumps it out here once again. However, it likely is true that much if not most of the danger to the U.S. from terrorism could be mitigated by better U.S. foreign policy. Certainly occupying Iraq is having the exact opposite effect.

George W. Bush talking about the difficulty of the war is a slap in the face to those actually forced to fight and die in it. What sacrifice has Bush made for his war, or any war the U.S. has fought in his lifetime? None whatsoever. One more cynical attempt to spin the loyalty of the military to the Commander in Chief into a political advantage for the Republicans. I imagine that such abuse of the military is not going unnoticed in the ranks.

The rest of the speech goes on in much the same vein. Many lies and half-truths peppered with ignorant jingoism. Fortunately, a greater number of Americans today seem to be realizing that their President is an empty suit, long on rhetoric and short on effective leadership. This speech, like all of Bush's speeches, is nothing more than a ham-handed attempt at dredging up public support for his failed policies. Instead, they serve as a lesson in electoral politics: that wealthy connections and fake accents are no substitute for competency and integrity.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Note To Bush: "1984" Is Not A "How To..." Book

I am certainly not naive enough to think that the government has never spied on the American people before (anyone remember COINTELPRO?). The New York Times originally broke the story, which has since been picked up nationwide, of George W. Bush ordering the National Security Agency to use electronic surveillance on American citizens as part of the post-9/11 War on Terror. Sans warrant, this is patently illegal.

From the Washington Post, via, oh, just about every Lefty blogger there is (let's use AmericaBlog):

The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was "engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction," according to the law.

"This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration," said [Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies at George Washington University], who has been sharply critical of the administration's surveillance and detention policies. "It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans."

President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 authorizing the NSA to engage in what is essentially an illegal activity. Further, it appears that the New York Times was aware of the policy and chose to ignore reporting it at the request of the White House. It appears possible that the New York Times may have been aware of this information prior to the 2004 election.

Essentially what this amounts to is a crystal clear violation of the separation of powers in the Constitution. The President, by authorizing the NSA to undertake this activity, has effectively reversed a law passed by Congress. The President has openly stationed himself above the law, which is no surprise, given that administration officials, such as Cheney and Gonzalez, have been supporting this expanded role of the Executive since the beginning of the war. They argue, and Bush obviously agrees, that the President should have practically limitless power to prosecute the War on Terror without the oversight of Congress. There is absolutely no way to defend this under any interpretation of the Constitution, even by those conservatives normally given to strict reconstructionism.

There occasionally appears issues in the public arena that cut directly to the core of our national identity, and this is one of those issues. At certain points there is a hard line that demarcates where democracy ends and totalitarianism begins and the United States has now skirted awfully close to that line. The notion that military endeavors should warrant a suspension of both laws and civil rights is the type of public policy favored by some very unsavory world leaders of the past 100 years. This is not a road that the United States can afford to travel down very far.

The most frightening part of this story is not the willingness of the President to break the law to forward his national security policy. It's not even that the New York Times was willing, at the request of the White House, to sit on a story that would have likely had an impact on the 2004 election. Both of these things are hair-raising enough. But the truly horrifying aspect of this story is that a large number of Americans are going to read about this and say "So what?" George W. Bush is doing Osama bin Ladin's work by destroying the freedoms that make this country America and a large number of Americans will support him while as he does. They can't understand that without those freedoms, we have nothing left worth protecting from terrorism anyway.

In closing, I think Ben Franklin said it best:

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.

The 2005 Koufax Awards

It's that time of year again! Time to nominate your favorite lefty blogs for the Koufax Awards, named after the most famous left-handed pitcher in all of baseball.

The 2005 Koufax Awards - Nominations.

[Update: New Link for the Koufax nominations.

I want to stress that this is not, NOT a request from me for a nomination, though I'm flattered if you're considering it. There are many bloggers out there who work much harder and devote much more time than I do, do better research than I do and write a whole lot better than I do. They deserve some recognition for their hard work. The Koufax Awards are a great way to be introduced to some great work done by some exceptional writers and thinkers. It also helps build a greater sense of community among the lefty blogosphere. So, if you get a chance, stop over and throw some love at some very deserving folks (NOT some hobbyist Cheesehead blogging on his lunchbreak!). Also, if you find that your coffers are overflowing this year, maybe consider kicking some quatloos at the proprietors of Wampum, as they host the Koufax Awards each year and it's a significant cost to them.

Thanks! Now back to our regularly scheduled pedantry.

Samurai Sam

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Mirage In The Desert

The first Iraqi elections for a permanent, Constitutional parliament began in earnest today, after several days of preliminary voting by security forces and expatriates. Supporters of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have been out in force, crowing about the "spreading of democracy" in the Middle East. It's almost too bad that real life is not as simple as jingoistic nationalism. For there may be voting going on in Iraq today, but a "spreading of democracy"? That's a "wait and see" proposition for numerous reasons.

The first issue with the Iraq vote is that too much emphasis is being put on the vote itself. A popular vote doesn't make a functioning democracy. A democracy requires legal institutions and governing infrastructure. Iraq has the beginnings of these institutions but much work is still needed. This is the area where conservatives' comparisons of Iraq to post-WWII German and Japan really fall apart. Germany and Japan had these institutions and had democratic governments in their recent history. Iraq has no such advantage. While voting is certainly part of building and maintaining a democracy, it is not the only important part. In fact, given some of the other issues Iraq faces, today's vote may not move the democratization efforts along very much at all.

The growing sectarian divisions in Iraq also stand in the way of creating a fully functioning democracy. Essentially, the Kurdish north and Shi'ite South dominate the national picture in Iraq, both because of the Sunni boycott of the provisional elections in 2004 and because of the concentration of oil resources in those areas. The Sunnis find themselves in an almost untenable position, which gives them little reason to cool the insurgency. Allegations in the past several weeks of Shi'ites abusing Sunni prisoners feed directly into the fears of the Sunni minority that a Shi'ite and Kurd dominated parliament could relegate the Sunnis to a second class status. The seeds of civil war are already sown in Iraq and a popular election that effectively creates an apartheid state makes an escalation of this war much more likely.

The problems of the Iraqi constitution must also be dealt with swiftly in order to give rise to a stable democracy in the country. The Sunni minority very nearly defeated the constitutional referendum, even after having boycotted the provisional elections. While the Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders in the provisional government were willing to pay lip-service to the notion of amending the constitution to make it more palatable to the Sunni minority, the reality is that a reaffirmation of Kurdish-Shi'ite control after the current elections effectively removes any incentive that the majority has to make such amendments. The Sunnis are unlikely to gain significant enough legislative power in the current elections to force such changes from within the framework of a weak coalition government.

Finally, for all that the occupation's supporters in the United States may wish to downplay it, the reality is that Iraq is a nation under the boot of a foreign occupation. No matter how much the United States may speak of "freedom" and a better future, it is still an occupying power and is the real force that legitimizes any Iraqi government. Several Republican lawmakers have said in the past week that the U.S.'s role in Iraq will be determined by the new Iraqi government, which is laughably absurd. There is no possible way that the Bush Administration is going to allow an Iraq which aligns itself contrary to U.S. interests in the region. For all of Bush's talk of a "free, democratic Iraq", the reality is that Iraq will only have so much freedom and democracy as will fit the Bush Administration's agenda.

Liberal Oasis has more on this line of thought:

Bush said nothing to indicate the goals of the occupation have changed. If you were skeptical of the policy before, you should still be skeptical today.

What are those goals in the near-term? Manipulating the choice for president and prime minister after the parliamentary elections are over.

As the NY Times reports today:

American officials fully expect that for months after the Iraqi election on Thursday the American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will remain the critical behind-the-scenes power in the creation of a factious coalition to run the country.

Why should that be needed after the Iraqi people elect representatives with four-year terms, who are empowered to then choose a president and prime minister?

Khalilzad gave a hint while on CNN this past Sunday, in response to the question, "Who's going to win?":

"Well, I don't think that any single party will have outright majority in the next assembly...

... So the next assembly will have various groups. They will have to form coalitions. The concerns of various parties will have to be dealt with.

And I think it will be very positive for the future of Iraq."

Khalilzad would not confidently and comfortably predict a result that the Bushies would not want to see occur.


In other words, we're playing Syria to Iraq's Lebanon, influencing the composition of their government by making [sure] the country's (illegitimate) leaders are dependent on our military presence.

The occupation of Iraq has become such a muddled mess of political machination, that it's nearly impossible to sort out the actual goals of Bush's policy. In fact, it's becoming clear that the Bush Administration itself is not in agreement internally any longer as to what constitutes "victory" in Iraq. The elections have just become yet another political gambit by which Bush can attempt to garner support for the occupation from the American people. So long as Bush can keep his rhetoric goal-oriented, then he can keep up the charade that a legitimate goal is on the horizon.

All the goals thus far for the invasion and occupation of Iraq have either been discarded or fulfilled. No WMD's existed so that rationale has essentially been completely put out of mind by the war's supporters. No credible link has ever been found between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida, which was obvious to anyone with even an elementary understanding of either party's interests. Saddam Hussein has long since been deposed as the ruler of Iraq, so that's "mission accomplished" on that count. Building a free and democratic Iraq, however noble in principle, is a goal that may be beyond the U.S.'s ability to accomplish. Even if such is possible, the time frame and benchmarks are so amorphous as to render the Iraq war an open-ended affair.

Given that Bush's preferred hat in the Oval Office seems to be that of Commander in Chief, this raises some very disturbing questions. The most important being: Given that Bush's prodigious use of military endeavors to define a nationalist patriotism in America has been his political strength, is there any reason to believe that the Iraqi occupation will end while Bush is President? I believe the answer is a resounding "No". The idealizing of the Iraqi elections is just a mirage concocted by the Bush Administration to rally his ideological base and marginalize those in opposition. Cheering for "victory" in Iraq from the sidelines is easy, as Bush and the war's supporters well know. Unfortunately, achieving a lasting peace and prosperity in Iraq is a much more difficult task, as our soldiers and the Iraqi people know only too well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Giving Corporate Polluters A Helping Hand

At some point it bears asking: is the Bush Administration actually trying to be the worst on record? Is it some Machiavellian plot to prove the old conservative adage that "government is the problem, not the solution" by being the most irresponsible and ineffectual leadership possible, thus making such conservative drivel a self-fulfilling prophecy? One wonders...

From RedOrbit:

If the Bush administration has its way, some factories won't have to report all the pollution spewed from their smokestacks, making it harder for government scientists to calculate the health risks of the air Americans breathe.

Those changes would exempt companies from disclosing their toxic pollution if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical - the current limit is 500 pounds - or if they store it onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants. Those include mercury, DDT, PCBs and other chemicals that persist in the environment and work up the food chain.

The normal gauge by which the effectiveness of government is measured, or at least should be measured, is how effectively it promotes the common welfare. In this instance, the EPA is certainly not acting in that capacity for the people of the United States. These changes essentially amount to tacit permission to pollute from the Bush Administration.

Certainly this is just another gambit from the old conservative playbook, from the section on the evils of corporate regulation. Unfortunately, an equal commitment to corporate responsibility never seems to enter the conversation at the White House. After all, one of the cornerstones of Bush's environmental policy is an adherence to voluntary reductions in factory emissions in lieu of mandatory standards like the Kyoto protocols. Both of these policies place companies on the "honor system" for reducing hazardous pollution. Since they will no longer have the "regulatory burden" of measurement and reporting bemoaned by the Bush EPA, companies will have no real reason other than civic responsibility to curb emissions. In the America of Enron, WorldCom and Exxon-Mobil, an honor system based on civic responsibility is laughably naive.

Further, this proposed change also underscores the Bush Administration's love of restricting the flow of information. After all, with no measurement system in place, no reporting on the dangers posed by polluting companies is possible. Without that sort of meaningful reporting, it is impossible for scientists to generate any kinds of theories or predictions on the effects of pollution to human health. Perhaps most important of all to Bush, a lack of scientific data on the harm company's are doing to the health of Americans defangs the lobbying efforts of activists looking to curb corporate abuse of the environment. Big wins all the way around for a Republican Administration that values the privileges of corporations over the needs of the people.

So which Americans are most affected by industrial pollution and stand to be harmed even further? Sadly, it doesn't take much imagination to guess (via The Progress Report):

"In 19 states, blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to live in neighborhoods where air pollution seems to pose the greatest health danger," despite President Clinton's executive order to protect all Americans from pollution regardless of race or income. "Poor communities, frequently communities of color but not exclusively, suffer disproportionately," former Clinton EPA director Carol Browner said. "If you look at where our industrialized facilities tend to be located, they're not in the upper middle class neighborhoods."

It seems that, for Bush, there is no price too high for short-term corporate gain, especially when it's not his supporters picking up the tab.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Good First Step

Anyone familiar with environmental issues and the Bush Administration realizes that Bush probably owes Orwell royalties for borrowing liberally from "1984". The "Clear Skies Initiative" the "Clean Water Act"; The Ministry of Truth could do no better.

Unfortunately for anyone who actually cares about the environment, the Bush Administration has been a catastrophic failure. Bush has made it clear that he places his allegiance with irresponsible companies, his priorities with top-side economic growth and protectionism and is willing to find as many ethically-challenged "scientists" as he can to back his environmentally-unfriendly stances.

Fortunately for the country (and the rest of the planet), there is another major political party in the U.S. and it occasionally shakes off its apathy and gets down to the business of good government.

From RedOrbit:

Democrats launched a plan on Monday for energy independence by 2020 that seeks to relieve historically high oil and gas prices by cutting reliance on foreign sources of energy.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid Pennsylvania's Gov. Ed Rendell said greater use of renewable energy, mass transit and domestic fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel could cut oil and gas imports. A plan they unveiled on Monday is called Energy Independence 2020.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of either Hillary Clinton or Harry Reid, though I think Reid's done an excellent job of leading the Democrats in the Senate. Hillary Clinton is far too conservative for my taste and Reid's anti-choice stance is very troubling. One of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don't have the same "cult of personality" type of affection for our elected officials. Conservatives tend to support their party no matter what, while liberals tend to be much more critical of those claiming to represent our causes.

That caveat out of the way, I have to say I am very happy to see this step taken by Clinton, Reid and Rendell. It's become clear that the Republicans are not serious about a better energy future. They continue to cling to the old, tired ideal of increasing crude oil supply to meet energy demands. The reality is that there is no supply-side solution to our energy issues. Any policy which ignores that reality is really just corporate welfare for the oil industry and not a serious attempt to address U.S. energy needs.

For those on the Right who claim that "Democrats have no plans", well, take a good look because this is a plan. Drilling in ANWR and giving the very profitable oil industry more tax breaks isn't a plan, it's payola. Gutting environmental regulations and thumbing one's nose at the Kyoto Agreement is not a plan, it's corporate protectionism for wealthy Republican supporters. On most issues, Bush's "plans" have either been rewards to his wealthy supporters or ideological "crusades" that have helped no one. In the midst of these failures (Social Security reform, immigration reform, the War in Iraq), dissatisfied conservatives, unwilling to set aside their unconditional love for their Fearless Leader, vilify the Democrats for not making better policy to counter Bush's failures.

When it comes to issues like foreign policy or public welfare, it's good that the Democrats have offered no comprehensive plans to counter Bush's initiatives. The American people elected a Republican Congress and a Republican President and it's only fitting that those who voted thus should get the poor governance they deserve. After all, it's not as though the Republican party pushes its platform on the sly. Plus, it reminds those of good sense who stayed home on election day 2004 of just why their vote matters. On the other hand, given that energy policy is a good, bi-partisan issue and given that it's almost 2006, this plan is a welcome gift from a Democratic party that has, frankly, seemed out to lunch much of the last 5 years.

Plus, this plan comes none too soon, as energy costs continue to rise.

Last week homeowners suffered record prices for natural gas as a nationwide cold spike pushed the heating and cooking fuel to above $15 per million British thermal units. Analysts say low temperatures through December could keep a fire under prices.

U.S. oil hit a record over $70 a barrel this summer. They have since fallen as supplies swelled but prices rose above $60 on Monday as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries paved the way for a cut in output early next year.

It certainly takes no expert on the commodities markets to realize that a cut in production by OPEC means only one thing for oil prices: a quick ascension. Further, the oil industry at large has demonstrated repeatedly that they are quite adept at using public impressions to their greatest profitability. If the public believes that oil is going to increase in price, for whatever reason, the oil industry will certainly be willing to oblige that concern. While I would argue that higher prices for fossil fuels are an appropriate way to encourage conservation, I also believe those higher prices should come through taxation, which can redistribute the revenue to better help society. Record profits for the oil industry are certainly not helping the United States, particularly when such profits come out of the pocket of those least able to absorb the sticker shock.

Weaning our country off of its addiction to oil, especially foreign oil, needs to be one of the foremost public policy goals of the federal government going forward. Too many years of cheap oil have left the United States with an infrastructure that grossly over-consumes and we need a healthier energy diet for the future. There is no part of our society that doesn't benefit from better energy policy, be it the economy, the environment or public health. Trusting our energy future to a President and a political party that believes the world may end soon in a sea of Biblical blood and fire is just plain foolish. We need a positive social policy coupled with good science to lead us out of the dark wilderness of energy dependence and the plan proposed by Reid, Clinton and Rendell is a good start.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An Eye For An Eye Leaves Two Blind

Governor Schwarzenegger of California had an opportunity today to make a bold statement about crime and punishment in the United States. Sadly, he chose to take the politically expedient path instead.

From The Capital Times:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday refused to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, the founder of the murderous Crips gang who awaited execution after midnight in a case that stirred debate over capital punishment and the possibility of redemption on death row.

Schwarzenegger was unswayed by pleas from Hollywood stars and petitions from more than 50,000 people who said that Williams had made amends during more than two decades in prison by writing a memoir and children's books about the dangers of gangs.

One of the cornerstone ideals of a liberal society is that no person, regardless of past actions, is beyond redemption. In the realm of criminal justice, this ideal must manifest as an opposition to state executions. As such, I am a staunch opponent of the death penalty in any and all cases. Sadly, I'm in the minority, both locally, as several Wisconsin Republican legislators introduce bills to bring back state executions for the first time in 150 years, and nationally, as is evidenced by a resurgence of public support for the death penalty.

The "Tookie" Williams case is a prime example of one of the many reasons why state executions are abhorrent. No matter what Williams may have done (he proclaims his innocence to this day), it is clear from his actions and his writings that he is not the same young man convicted of four homicides and sentenced to death. Williams is a man that recognized the error of his ways, and justice would be served to let him continue to demonstrate his commitment to a better life. Schwarzenegger's decision will certainly be popular with some and will likely help boost his standing among the Republican party's more conservative members. But a man's life is a terrible price to pay for political expediency.

The question of clemency in this case was never about guilt or innocence, although supporters of state executions must tacitly accept that some innocent people will be killed. Our justice system is administered by humans and is prone to human error. Such acceptance of "collateral damage" seems somewhat hypocritical given conservative's frequent breast-thumping about "a Culture of Life". The question of clemency as it regards Williams is one of mercy and the answer from California was "No mercy for you".

State executions are an abomination, a sad throwback to a more medieval human culture. For those conservatives, both Republican and Democrat, concerned about the "coarsening of the culture" take note: nothing coarsens America like investing the government with the power to murder its citizens. Because that's exactly what the death penalty is: state sponsored murder of Americans. It's never been shown to deter crime, unless used to a draconian degree with which no American could be comfortable.

Proponents of the death penalty like to hide behind the word "justice". They seem to draw the idea from the Old Testament verse "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life", which is, in turn, taken from the Law Code of Hammurabi. Such a simplistic view of the law is an embarrassment to a civilized, modern society. This view results in a society of the lowest common denominator, where violence begets violence in an ugly circle of injury and revenge.

That's what the death penalty is really about: revenge. The animalistic need of many people to see swift violence carried out to avenge their crude sense of justice. The murder of "Tookie" Williams won't bring back any of his victims. It won't undo the damage done by any crime. It will only, briefly, satisfy many American's need to feel more powerful than those behind bars, to feel as though they are the Citizens giving a fatal "thumbs down" to the plebe in the arena.

Farewell, then, to Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a man whose murder will stand as mute testament to a populace willing to trade his life for a false sense of comfort and empowerment. And farewell, also, to another small piece of American idealism, the idea that anyone, no matter what their beginnings, can achieve a better life.

The War On Christmas

All of my hopes that Wisconsin would remain a demilitarized zone in the "War on Christmas" have come to naught. The Republicans in the State Legislature have sent a letter to Governor Jim Doyle asking that Madison's "Holiday Tree" be renamed the "Christmas Tree". I cannot, in good conscience, stand quietly by while the forces of legislative silliness assault my new home.

I am enlisting myself as a warrior in this great kulturkampf; a battle to decide what an aluminum evergreen covered with plastic trinkets really means, metaphysically. So let's take a look at some of the major fronts in the "War on Christmas" and take stock of the war effort.

The Battle of the Wisconsin State Capitol First Floor Rotunda

As referenced above, the Republican party of Wisconsin has initiated a ground assault against the fortified buttresses of liberal democracy in Madison, Wisconsin. The so-called "Holiday Tree" on the first floor rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol was thus named by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. For many years, the Christmas Crusaders observed an uneasy alliance with the state's Republican governor. But the geopolitics changed with the rise of mighty Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, who has displayed a terrible lack of timing by facing re-election next year. An election where he is thoroughly trouncing Republican challengers Green and Walker. Certainly the renewed hostilities over the Republican-named "Holiday Tree" have NOTHING whatsoever to do with 2006 being an election year.

The Holiday Trade Embargo

Numerous large retail chains have felt the chilling sting of the trade embargo initiated by the Christmas Crusaders. Thus far, both Kohls and Target have seen a completely non-existent change in sales due to their refusal to stop saying "Happy Holidays" as a store greeting. Even the normally stalwart Wal-Mart has taken some flack for its refusal to recognize Jesus' Official Birthday, though as the nation's leading seller of Bibles it has certainly carried the red-and-green Christmas torch for Him in other ways.

The Bush Card Incident

Sadly, this is not a joyful Fitzmas tale involving Bush's chief of staff; at least not yet. It seems that George W. Bush himself fell victim to the ideological wishy-washiness so pervasive in our Godless liberal society. The Bush White House has come under much criticism for its failure to acknowledge the "Reason for the Season" in its holiday greeting cards. Puzzling, given Fearless Leader's normally gluttonous appetite for divisive ideological stances in his politics. Perhaps the passage of his latest tax cuts have caused his heart to grow three times it's normal size this year.

The "X" Offensive

In a move designed to set the proper tone of public discourse, religious conservatives have also ramped up their attacks against those who refuse to acknowledge that "there is no X in Christmas". Surprisingly, they are actually correct about this, though they clearly don't know why. You see, the "X" in "X-mas" is actually the Greek letter chi. Clever folks, those ancient Greeks, in repressing the use of God's English in the ancient Bible. See, in the days before the printing press, it was quite laborious to write the full Greek for Christ (kristos) so only the first letter was used as an abbreviation. The loudest voices among the conservatives don't seem to be aware of this. Of course, if one considers how hostile conservatives are to other languages, then one can only imagine how they feel about other alphabets.

The Psy-Ops Campaign: Too Many Fa-La-La's, Not Enough Jesus

In further news on the Wisconsin front, the small town of Waukesha attempted this weekend to break the world's record for most carolers at one time. Unfortunately, the War on Christmas touches us all, and the village of Waukesha is no exception. Protestors at the event complained of not enough "traditional" Christmas carols in the mix and by "traditional" they mean "Christian". As one resident put it: "How can we be celebrating Jesus' Birthday without more songs about Him?"

These are just a few small examples of the struggle being waged for the ideological purity of our nation. Ain't war hell?

In all seriousness, this issue is more sad than anything else. Many who have called in to WPR's call-in shows about this topic have remarked at how ridiculous or how much a waste of time this issue is. But it's more than that. It's a very ideologically driven attempt to further divide the country along religious lines. It's difficult to imagine anything that could be further from the ideals of the men who enshrined a separation of church and state in our Constitution.

Christmas is first and foremost an American holiday, not just a Christian holiday. Christmas as a Christian holiday was essentially created out of thin air; no precedent exists for it in the Bible. Additionally, the Winter Solstice has been celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years, including in the times before Christ. Just because Christianity is given a privileged status in the United States does not mean that any other interpretation of the holiday must be quashed.

The American ideal of Christmas is a time of celebrating family and friends. A time of peace and joyfulness, celebrated for many reasons, some religious and some secular. Conservative Christians, largely being led around by Republican pundits and politicians, have taken one more important thing that mattered to all Americans and attempted to make it a flag to be captured in their culture war. It's nothing but cynical divisiveness, a futile attempt to bolster a faith that is failing grandly in this country. Once the symbols of a faith have become more important than the values of a faith, then that faith no longer has any meaning. Such is the case with the "War on Christmas" crowd.