Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A More Refined Look at Gas Prices

On a day when gasoline prices are already climbing and are expected, at least in western Wisconsin, to continue climbing by as much as $0.30 per gallon by the weekend, it bears looking at why.

One of the first excuses always trotted out by the Bush Administration whenever the cost of gasoline is addressed is a lack of refining capacity. This basically means that the White House is tacitly admitting that crude supplies are not in jeopardy, but the oil companies' ability to turn it into gas is not sufficient.

Funny that, given this 2001 report from Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon):

In the mid-1990s too much refining capacity, not too little, concerned the nation’s major oil companies. At that time, the oil and gas industry faced what they termed “excess refining capacity,” a circumstance they viewed as a financial liability that drove down overall profit margins. The industry reduced the total amount of potential supply by closing down more than 50 refineries in the past decade. Since 1995 alone, 24 refinery closings have taken nearly 830,000 barrels of oil per day [out of production].

In other words, the U.S. had additional refinery capacity that was taken off line due to a depressing effect on the profit margins of major oil companies. Given that petroleum and, by extension, gasoline, is the very lifeblood of our economy, this seems like rather poor planning on the part of the major oil companies.

From the Wyden report:

“As observed over the last few years and as projected well into the future, the most critical factor facing the refining industry on the West Coast is the surplus refining capacity, and the surplus gasoline production capacity. The same situation exists for the entire U.S. refining industry. Supply significantly exceeds demand year-round. This results in very poor refinery margins, and very poor refinery financial results. Significant events need to occur to assist in reducing supplies and/or increasing the demand for gasoline.
Internal Texaco document, March 7, 1996

A reduction in supply, which would then drive prices higher, negatively affecting every aspect of our economy. Of course, rising energy prices affect the poor and middle class the most. The groups that are best able to weather high energy prices are business, which can pass the price increases along, and the wealthy. I call those two groups the "have's and the have-more's", Bush calls them "his base".

It's interesting to look at some of the factors which contribute to higher gas prices, such as Middle East instability, lack of fuel efficiency standards, lack of adequate emergency response when the U.S port which imports the most oil is devastated by a natural disaster and lack of viable alternative energy sources, to name a few. Funny how each of these things can be linked to a Bush (former oil executive) or Cheney (former oil executive) policy stance, isn't it?

Policies like the recently passed Energy Bill:

Whether there will be more refineries and domestic oil production depends on industry’s response to the Energy Act’s incentives. In addition to financial incentives, the Act requires an inventory of offshore resources, which signals the starting point for future offshore oil and gas leasing, exploration and production in areas currently off limits to leasing and drilling.

Interesting, again, that, after closing down a large chunk of refinery capacity in the 1990's, the energy companies are granted taxpayer-funded financial incentives to re-build new capacity in response to rising demand, while also helping the push to open up environmentally restricted areas for new exploration. Basically, the Bush Administration has let the American consumer foot the bill for changes for the purpose of better oil company profits and then, when the prices driving those profits become intolerable, the taxpayers get to pay again to undo those changes. I guess the "Free Market" is only for those without lobbyists and political connections.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns

Today, the day after what may turn out to have been the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, our ravaged nation looks to its President for support, and where does it find him?

At the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego giving a stump speech commemorating V-J day and, of course, shoring up support for his disastrous war in Iraq.

Now, certainly the end of the Second World War is an important part of our nation's history and the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in that war should be recognized. However, Bush's speech today is pure political fluff; a sermon of patriotism to an audience of loyal supporters custom-made for handsome photo opportunities and flag waving. I don't believe that one, single person in attendance for Bush's speech in San Diego would have been in the slightest bit offended if our President had cancelled today's speech and demonstrated some leadership in a time of crisis.

Of course, past experience shows that Bush doesn't deal well with a crisis. This is the same President that, when told the United States was under attack in 2001, was completely unable to take decisive action. Yesterday, as Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast states, President Bush was busy delivering another stump speech in support of his Medicare prescription drug program. In a time of national crisis, the President was more interested in selling his political agenda than in being a national leader.

Further, American Progress Action Fund, in its daily Progress Report, has an entire litany of shameful Bush Administration and Conservative Republican policy decisions that have both both potentially contributed to the disaster on the Gulf Coast and degraded the infrastructure at both the state and federal levels for dealing with the aftermath. More federal and state programs sacrificed to tax cuts for the super-wealthy and the illegal war in Iraq.

Our nation needed a strong leader today. What it got instead was a Republican party spokesman too busy shilling his unpopular policy initiatives and grandstanding for the party faithful.

[My thoughts and those of my family go out to those whose lives have been impacted by this disaster. For those wishing to aid those caught in the path of Katrina, please see the American Red Cross site or call 1-800-HELPNOW]

Monday, August 29, 2005

Closing the School of Hard Knocks

The issue of violence in our public schools returns to the forefront as the new school year begins, both here in Wisconsin and nationally. With the Rice Lake shootings still prominently in everyone's thoughts in this area, the push to lessen such violence takes on a greater urgency than in most years.

One of the most, if not the most, common causes of school violence is the occurrence of bullying, which is a term, first of all, with which I have a disagreement about right from the start. From my perspective, the term "bullying" carries with it a connotation of schoolyard prankishness; a glossing-over, in effect, of the seriousness of the types of behavior that are lumped under this term.

A quick definition, from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Bullying includes a range of behaviors that result in an imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim.7 Such behaviors include not only physical aggression but also verbal harassment and public humiliation (eg, name-calling and spreading rumors). [PEDIATRICS Vol. 112 No. 6 December 2003, pp. 1231-1237]

Clearly, by this definition, bullying is not something to be casually dismissed as just another hurdle that adolescents have to jump on their way to adulthood. Bullying is something much more dangerous and has long lasting consequences.

I find it outrageous that, to this day, the "kids will be kids" view of bullying persists in our culture. Somehow the idea that physical and verbal harassment is in some way excusable, written-off as the mere challenge of learning inter-personal relationship skills or, worse, as some kind of trial by fire for the "real world", has seeped into the common culture here in the Midwest.

Let's discuss that "real world" for a second, shall we? First of all, there is almost no low threshold for the tolerance of violence in the adult world; even the threat of violence perpetrated against another person is punishable under the law and often carries the threat of civil litigation. Not necessarily so in our public schools, where often the punishment could be as minor as a detention after school or loss of extra-curricular activities if the act in question is deemed "minor".

Physical violence is an obvious comparison, but what about emotional violence? Children spend a great deal of their formative years in an environment where tremendous psychological abuse can be heaped on them almost without consequence. Young people being ridiculed by their peers for being poor, unpopular, intellectual, unathletic, overweight, underweight, sexually promiscuous...the list could go on for pages. Harassment of this type often occurs on a daily or even hourly basis for many of our kids, and yet some still explain it away as a "school of hard knocks" approach to social development. Yet, out of these people that would downplay the damage bullying causes, what one of them would put up with this level of harassment in their workplace for one day, even one hour? To say nothing of 13 years!

The good news is that, at least in Wisconsin, the government is recognizing that student-to-student harassment is a problem in need of addressing. Democratic Senator Spencer Coggs, along with Republican Senators Neal Kedzie and Sue Jeskewitz, have introduced legislation that requires Wisconsin public schools to at least draw up some kind of plan for dealing with bullying and its effect on the students. It's a start, a jumping off point to get the issue under more consideration.

Unfortunately, most attempts at hashing out ideas about how to end student harassment tend to center, at least initially, around the tendency to place blame for the occurrence of such behavior. The culprits are many, and while I believe that each of the parties involved do bear some responsibility, I believe that any discussion centering around blame hinders the search for solutions.

The first party blamed is always the bully himself/herself. A certain level of personal responsibility is important, but blaming the adolescent abrogates responsibility for the problem at its root cause, the child's home environment. I don't believe that some people are just born evil and vindictive; that's just an easy way to avoid dealing with emotional and psychological issues. Every child, no matter how maladjusted, has the potential to have positive peer relationships, whether bully or victim. It begins with the establishment of a safe and secure home environment which, in spite of what the wingnuts would have people believe, does not necessarily require one mother and one father in a neo-"Leave It To Beaver" setting. It requires positive role models that can lead by example; be they family, friends, clergy, etc.

The second party blamed is the teacher, which I generally find grossly unfair. With the possible exception of a few archaic-minded athletics teachers I've known, I have yet to meet any educator that feels bullying is an acceptable practice in the classroom. However, a teacher's primary responsibility is, no surprise, to teach, and having to break away from that repeatedly to address conflict among students is terribly counter-productive. It creates an environment where no student is able to learn and makes an already difficult career excrutiating. Now, that's not to say that teachers don't bear some responsibility; they certainly do. But policing classrooms and acting as behavioral therapists in addition to what we already demand of our teachers is asking too much of anyone.

The third party I would assign some culpability to is the school administration, up to and including the school board. Maintaining a positive school environment, while not the primary role of the teacher, is one of the key responsibilities of school administrations and this seems, to me, to be an area where great improvement is needed. More and better counselors and student advocates need to be in place to meet the needs of both the victims and the victimizers. However, such infrastructure costs money, which leads into the next of the involved parties.

The next party that gets tough scrutiny is the political establishment of the district, state and federal government. This is where, I believe, a significant amount of the blame lies. One need look no further than the torturous re-writing of the Wisconsin state budget that was required by Governor Doyle to see where the problem begins: money. The same can be said for the egregious federal No Child Left Behind act, which further taxes the resources of cash-strapped schools and places entirely too much focus on standardized tests and benchmarks. It all comes down to money, from the government perspective, and in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature, the money for education is hotly contested. I find it appalling that, at both the state and federal levels, the Republican party has no problem throwing good money after bad behind military endeavors and tax breaks for the wealthy, but cringes at the thought of increasing spending for education.

There is much more going on in our public schools than rote memorization of math tables and Shakespearean sonnets; an entire generation of U.S. citizens is learning how to interact with one another. What kind of lesson are they learning when an atmosphere of open harassment is allowed to fester? Certainly such behavior is not allowed out in the "real world", so why should it be allowed in our schools?

Setting a positive environment for learning in our schools has a much better social reward than invading other countries and giving GE record dividends to distribute.

It is fundamentally unfair to expect our children to learn in an environment that we would refuse to work in ourselves. We would demand better and expect better, and so should they.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Dogs of War

It seems disturbingly clear, at this late hour, that in spite of the disaster that is the Iraqi occupation, the Bush Administration appears to be ramping up the rhetoric for a confrontation with Iran.

From The Rock River Times:

Once again, Vice President Dick Cheney is heading the propaganda push just as he did in 2002 in the run-up to Iraq. On the morning of Inauguration Day, 2005, he appeared on MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning program and stated that Iran “has a fairly robust new nuclear program.”

Cheney added that Iran sponsors terrorism and said Iran’s “objective is the destruction of Israel.”

Cheney’s protege and new U.N. ambassador John Bolton has been quoted as saying Iranian “deception” cannot be allowed to continue. “It will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons.”

The State Department already considers the Iranian government a leading sponsor of terrorism, thus completing the Iraqi-model causus belli "trifecta": human-rights violations against the people, state-sponsored terrorism links and, as mentioned in the article above, a nuclear arsenal that doesn't exist. Given all the same old excuses, can there be any doubt about which road the Bush Administration is looking at walking down yet again? This dovetails nicely with Bush's recent refusal to even entertain the notion of withdrawing troops from Iraq. After all, it makes little sense to withdraw our military forces now if plans are being laid for military intervention in neighboring Iran.

The plot thickens considerably when one considers the following story from Official Wire:

A number of political observers and activists today sounded ‘a red alert’ after reports surfaced this week Vice President Dick Cheney directly ordered Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to make contingency plans for a nuclear strike against Iran in the aftermath of another ‘9/11 type attack' on America.

Cheney’s orders first surfaced in an article by Philip Geraldi in the Aug 1, 2005, issue of The American Conservative. Geraldi was unavailable for comment, but excerpts of the article went on to say:

"Vice President Cheney's office has specifically told the Pentagon that the military should be prepared for an attack on Iran in the immediate aftermath of "another 9-11." That's "not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States," notes Geraldi’s article.

This terrifies me for several reasons, not the least of which is that, given our miliary's committments in Iraq and Afghanistan, what options are really left in regard to military intervention in Iran? Granted, Iran is not the military power it once was, but then, neither was Iraq. Given this, the nuclear option begins to take on a terrifying new dimension as Cheney and Bolton seemingly lay the groundwork for the third war of the George W. Bush presidency.

The other thing that really gets me about this STRATCOM plan initiation by Cheney is how the plans are contingent upon another large-scale terrorist attack, regardless of whether Iran is involved or not. If it weren't dealing with so deadly serious a topic, this would be almost comically absurd. Three years into a war with a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, and our Vice President is ordering a contingency plan for a repeat of the same mistake.

More from Joe Baker:

The problem is that several federal officials who have access to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) recently told The Washington Post that intelligence reports show Iran is a good 10 years away from any nuclear capability.

The NIE states that while there is evidence Iran is doing some secret work on nuclear power, no evidence exists linking that work directly to a nuclear weapons program. Further, U.N. weapons inspectors have found no proof that Iran is operating a nuclear weapons program or that it has a nuclear warhead design.

The similarities to the Bush case for war in Iraq are staggering!

Only this time, the stakes have risen to the deadliest level they can reach. Our world becomes a tremendously more dangerous place the instant the United States perpetrates the 3rd nuclear attack in world (and, sadly, U.S.) history. The Bush Administration has already demonstrated, via Iraq, that it places politics and ideology above the safety of the United States. It's clear today that Iraq has become an open breeding ground for terrorists; the mind shrinks from the eventuality of a Middle East that has suffered a nuclear attack from the United States.

No amount of re-built schools and talk of "spreading freedom and democracy" can bridge the gulf that will be left between the United States and the rest of the world.

A Cavalry Charge by The Anti-Peace War Whores

Good news at last for the Commander-in-Hiding: busloads of Pro-War Bush supporters have descended upon Crawford, Texas in opposition to Cindy Sheehan and the members of Camp Casey.

From JS Online:

Bush supporters gathered for an event marking the culmination of the "You don't speak for me, Cindy!" tour, which started last week in California. The crowd of about 1,500 chanted, "Cindy, go home!"

"You are giving hope and encouragement to the enemies of America(emphasis mine)," said former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, a Republican who co-founded the group that coordinated the rally.

I've bolded what I consider the money quote of the article. This entire view of the war just infuriates me to no end. First of all, this kind of thinking is the kind of faux-patriotic breast-beating that obscures the real civic duty of American citizens: to question our leaders. This has been one of the hallmarks of the Bush Administration's rhetoric for war support; that, somehow, disagreeing with the civilian leadership in this country means that one supports the enemies of America. I'm sure Bush loves having supporters such as these; supporters that are willing to completely abrogate their responsibility as citizens under the Constitution in favor of a "Let's Go, Team!" nationalism that threatens to keep the United States at war indefinitely.

Note to the Pro-War wingnuts: without our invasion, there would be no insurgency in Iraq killing our soldiers. Bush did that, not the Iraqis. Also of note: young Sunni insurrectionists in Iraq are not watching CNN or reading Newsweek to get motivation for their actions. Our invasion and occupation, coupled with 20 years of exploitative foreign policy, have given them that. Besides, it's pretty hard to watch much cable TV when you don't have dependable electricity.

The wingnuts have it exactly backwards: peace demonstrations in the U.S. give hope and encouragement to our friends, not our enemies. It shows our friends and allies around the world that, despite the questionable results of the 2004 election, at least half of this country do not support George W. Bush and his illegal war. It gives the Iraqi people the hope that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, it is possible that the United States does not intend to wage war in their home indefinitely; that perhaps they can look to a day in the not-too-distant future when American foreign policy involves something besides catastropic military intervention. Their hope is our hope!

In spite of the grim purpose of this Republican-sponsored Pro-War death march, there is still some humor to be found in the wingnuts’ antics:

There also were some heated moments at the pro-Bush rally when Bush supporters mistakenly identified two people as war protesters. The two walked in with a sign that read "Say No to War - Unless a Democrat is President."

Many Bush supporters only saw the top of the sign and believed the men were war protesters, so they began shouting and chasing the pair out. One man tore up their signs.

It challenges the rational mind, attempting to understand how consumed with hate these people must be in order to attack at even the slightest hint of disagreement. Is it any small wonder that they are avidly Pro-War? If, as the President is wont to claim in his torturous public speaking engagements, the terrorists wish to destroy our way of life, then isn't it clear that these Pro-War cheerleaders are giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted? Moreover, why are these people marching on Crawford to harass a peaceful demonstration instead of enlisting to fight in the war in which they are so proud to support? Allowing our young men and women in the military to fight and die for a war that these Pro-War demonstrators are too cowardly to fight in is the very height of hypocrisy. At long last, have they no shame?

But, in the end, I admire Cindy Sheehan, again, for her courage and optimism:

"I know that the Camp Casey movement is going to end the war in Iraq,"

I hope she's right.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Fresh Email from Outer Wingnuttia

Welcome to another edition of "Who Writes This Stuff?" from your humble blogger. Another wingnut propaganda email chock full of stump stupidity and pants-pissing terror.

And away we go!

(Thanks to KL for this gem!)

You gotta love Robin Williams... Leave it to Robin Williams to come up with the perfect plan .. what we need now is for our UN Ambassador to stand up and repeat this message.

The wingnuts always co-opt the names of Robin Williams and George Carlin for their mouth-breather diatribes. Of course, you would too if the only comedian you had was Dennis Miller. In any case, John "Gee, Tennessee" Bolton would never say this at the U.N. unless he got to beat one of his subordinates while doing it.

Robin William's plan. (Hard to argue with this logic!)

Only if you're a raving lunatic.

I see a lot of people yelling for peace but I have not heard of a plan for peace. So, here's one plan.

"Stop starting illegal wars" is a plan. But let's hear yours...

1.) The US will apologize to the world for our "interference" in their affairs, past and present. You know, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Noriega, Milosevic and the rest of those 'good ole boys,' We will never "interfere" again.

Well, to be fair, it was Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt that wanted to aid our allies in World War II. Republicans like Prescott Bush were too busy making money doing business with the Fascists; similar to Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld's support of Saddam Hussein. I guess the wingnuts resent our "interference" with their business partners.

2.) We will withdraw our troops from all over the world, starting with Germany, South Korea and the Philippines. They don't want us there. We would station troops at our borders. No one sneaking through holes in the fence.

Bringing some of our troops home is certainly a bi-partisan idea that the wingnuts can get behind. After all, they seemed to be happy when George W. Bush agreed to Osama Bin Ladin's demand that we remove our troops from Saudi Arabia. No need to post troops at the border; a few more years of Republican rule and we'll be the ones leaving to look for jobs.

3.) All illegal aliens have 90 days to get their affairs together and leave. We'll give them a free trip home. After 90 days the remainder will be gathered up and deported immediately, regardless of who or where they are. France would welcome them.

Great! The Sioux, Cherokee, etc., will be really grateful to have their land back. Actually, this will never happen. Republicans love cheap labor almost as much as tax cuts.

4.) All future visitors will be thoroughly checked and limited to 90 days unless given a special permit. No one from a terrorist nation would be allowed in. If you don't like it there, change it yourself and don't hide here. Asylum would never be available to anyone. We don't need any more cab drivers or 7-11 cashiers.

And the men with the rubber gloves will NOT be gentle! The author of this email clearly knows all about "asylum" as he/she obviously lives in one. Ooh, double-wingnut word score for an obvious racial epithet! The author wins his/her choice of the Minute Man Militia official cocktail dress or the Lou Dobbs privacy fence.

5.) No foreign "students" over age 21. The older ones are the bombers. If they don't attend classes, they get a "D" and it's back home baby.

Well, good. Too many educated people hanging around and we'll never get that Intelligent Design program instituted at Harvard.

6.) The US will make a strong effort to become self-sufficient energy wise. This will include developing nonpolluting sources of energy but will require a temporary drilling of oil in the Alaskan wilderness. The caribou will have to cope for a while.

Proof that even wingnuts aren't completely brain-dead; energy independence is a very noble goal. Oh, wait, despoiling ANWR to do it is asinine. It hurts when they come so close to humanity and yet fall short again. By the way, how do you "temporarily" drill for oil? Isn't that like "temporarily" burning down someone's house?

7.) Offer Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries $10 a barrel for their oil. If they don't like it, we go some place else. They can go somewhere else to sell their production. (About a week of the wells filling up the storage sites would be enough.)

Where, Iraq? Venezuela? We've destroyed one and threatened the life of the elected President of the other. Poor Saudi Arabia, now they'll have to sell all of their oil to China. Hopefully China will need some cheap American labor for its factories...

8.) If there is a famine or other natural catastrophe in the world, we will not "interfere," They can pray to Allah or whomever, for seeds, rain, cement or whatever they need. Besides most of what we give them is stolen or given to the army. The people who need it most get very little, if anything.

Typical wingnut dreck: since some aid is wasted or stolen, no one should get any. No soup for you! Of course, per capita, the U.S. is one of the least-generous nations in the world already so this is just par for the course.

9.) Ship the UN Headquarters to an isolated island some place. We don't need the spies and fair weather friends here. Besides, the building would make a good homeless shelter or lockup for illegal aliens.

If John "I am the Walrus! Goo goo gajoob!" Bolton goes with, then so be it. Our Republican government clearly has no need of diplomats while they have a military anyway.

10.) All Americans must go to charm and beauty school. That way, no one can call us "Ugly Americans" any longer. The Language we speak is ENGLISH.....learn it...or LEAVE...

Recently Mitsubishi announced that it was relocating a planned factory to Canada instead of Alabama because of the poor educational level of the locals. Somehow I think we should at least hold our red states to the same level as the foreigners they want to deport. Seems only fair...

Now, isn't that a winner of a plan?

Yes, if you're batshit insane.

"The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying 'Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.' She's got a baseball bat and she's yelling, 'You want a piece of me?' "

She's French so DEPORT HER!

If you agree with the above forward it to friend... If not, and I would be amazed, DELETE it !!!!!

And I'm spent...

Happy Women's Suffrage Day!

Today is the 84th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave the right to vote to women.

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of the 19th Amendment:

"The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls."
Though it's been only a short 84 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, at least it shows that the wheels of progress do turn, if slowly.

Or do they?


On August 22, Iraqi leaders released a draft of the country’s new constitution that makes Islamic law, or shariah, the basis of national legislation, thereby opening the door for conservative clerics to overturn secular laws that can protect women’s human rights.

The Bush Administration bears direct responsibility for this crisis. After inserting himself heavily into negotiations over the draft, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad backed demands for constitutional provisions that would give clerics control over family status laws governing marriage, divorce, and women's inheritance and property rights. Iraq’s current family status laws—among the most progressive in the Middle East—could be overturned by this move. Like religious fundamentalists in the United States and around the world, Iraq’s Islamic parties use religion as a means of pursuing a reactionary political agenda that begins with the subjugation of women within the family. By deferring to the clerics on family status laws, the US has handed a key victory to the clerics who are pushing for Iraq to become an Islamic state.

So much for leading by example. What does this say about Bush's view of women's rights in the United States? Isn't the equality of women one of those freedoms for which Bush claims the terrorists hate us?

George W. Bush: Proudly Leading the Way Back to the 14th Century!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Feingold & Schumer DARE Question Judge Perfect

As I've stated in previous posts, the more I read about John G. Roberts, Jr., the more I distrust the man.

From The Capitol Times:

U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Chuck Schumer sent a letter Wednesday to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts Jr., questioning his "continued participation" in a controversial Guantanamo Bay detainee case during his interview process for the high court vacancy.


Wednesday's letter focused on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a lawsuit filed against the Defense Department by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Roberts was one of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges who upheld a Defense Department appeal on July 15 of a lower court decision, ruling that Hamdan - who admitted to being Osama bin Laden's personal driver from 1996 to 2001 - should be tried before a military commission.

In the letter, the senators asked Roberts why he did not recuse himself from the case while he was being interviewed by President Bush and other members of the administration - parties with a vested interest in the success of the Defense Department's appeal.


The letter went on to point out that "several leading legal ethicists" have indicated that by not recusing himself from the case, Roberts may have violated the federal judicial recusal statute. That statute reads that "any justice, judge or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

Now, of course the Republicans, Arlen Specter being one, have come out to defend their Golden Boy. I'm certainly no expert on the federal judicial recusal statute so this may shake out to be nothing. However, isn't it interesting how, with each new bit of information we unearth about Roberts, the less a "consensus choice" he becomes?

All the information I've read about Roberts from the news and from his writings paint me a picture of a judge firmly in the pocket of the Republican party and its corporate interests. This story sounds like more par-for-the-course client work on behalf of the Republican Party that Roberts has served throughout his entire career.

Only, this time, it was while he was a federally-appointed judge. He's likely soon to be approved to a much higher federal judgeship, the highest in the land. Will he still be loyally representing his "client's" interests? Will his judicial philosophy just happen to match the Republican platform point-for-point? Funny, I always thought the Supreme Court represented us all and the President was supposed to be cognizant of that? I can remember a President that actually met with Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee before he even made his nominations. Too bad George W. Bush wasn't interested in being a "uniter and not a divider" as he's often claimed. Maybe Bush could have been more like that former President?

But then, Bush is no Clinton...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A True War Time President

The following is an example of how a President with character and integrity treats the soldiers he orders to war:

President Abraham Lincoln often visited field hospitals to talk with wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Once, doctors pointed out a young soldier who was near death and Lincoln went over to his bedside.

Is there anything I can do for you?" asked the president. The soldier obviously didn't recognize Lincoln, and with some effort he was able to whisper, "Would you please write a letter to my mother?" A pen and paper were provided and the president carefully began to write down what the young man was able to say: "My dearest mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty. I'm afraid I'm not going to recover. Don't grieve too much for me, please. Kiss Mary and John for me. May God bless you and father." The soldier was too weak to continue, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and added, "Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln."

The young man asked to see the note and was astonished when he discovered who had written it. "Are you really the president?" he asked. "Yes, I am," Lincoln replied quietly. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do. "Would you please hold my hand?" the soldier asked. "It will help to see me through to the end." In the hushed room, the tall, gaunt president took the boy's hand in his and spoke warm words of encouragement until death came. (author and date unknown)

I don't know if this story is true or not, but wouldn't it be nice if President Bush could even pretend to be this concerned for the young men and women he has ordered into harm's way? What a nice change that would be from the empty "They hate us for our freedom!" jingoism that is the sum total of Bush's engagement in the lives of our soldiers.

(Thanks to Eschatonian Unrepentant Fenian for finding this.)

Theocracy? What Theocracy?

Perhaps it is the wafting of the late summer breeze, cooling into autumn, that has brought the religious fundamentalists out in force this week. By now, everyone knows about Pat Robertson wanting Hugo Chavez bumped off; the entire mainstream media and approximately 99.99% of all blogs have now covered it to some degree or another. I'll pass on that one and pick on a slightly less visible member of the "moral minority": Indiana Republican Representative John Hostettler.

From the Evansville Courier and Press, via The Stakeholder:

"...divorce on demand is as dangerous as gay marriage..."


"The picture of marriage is the picture of Christian salvation," said Hostettler, who describes his elected office as a ministry. "Any diminishing of that notion - whether homosexual marriage or any other degradation of marriage - is something we must fight in public policy."

Hostettler is so backward on marriage issues, it's almost hard to know where to begin critiquing him.

First and foremost, the need for divorce on demand was born out of the economic and social inequality between men and women in the civic contract of marriage. At one time, a majority of women spent their lives in the home, raising children and rarely, if ever, working in careers outside the home. This made divorce an incredibly risky proposition for most women; an equality which many unscrupulous men were only too happy to exploit. "Divorce on demand" was an improvement in the structure of marriage and a great step forward for women in general. The concept helped to level the playing field between the sexes in the civic (not the religious) contract that constitutes marriage in the individual states.

Further, the spiritual side of marriage has nothing to do with the right of folks to file for divorce in the United States. Marriage, in the spiritual sense, is as personal and private as any other spiritual belief. Marriage, in the civic sense, is a legally-binding agreement between two individuals and has nothing whatsoever to do with "Christian salvation". Hostettler is blurring the lines between the religious sacrament and the civic institution in yet another blatant attempt by a Christian Fundamentalist to side-step the Establishment Clause.

Hostettler also, in true conservative wingnut fashion, takes yet another poke at the gay marriage issue. I have yet to meet a single conservative Christian that can, in any way, explain how two homosexuals marrying has any impact on any other marriage or the institution of marriage in general. It's just a meaningless talking point that Republican politicians and Evangelical Christian leaders use to keep their supporters distracted from any substantive issues. Look here, conservative Christians: you cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim that homosexuality is wrong because it is a "promiscuous" or "hedonistic" lifestyle and in the next breath condemn two homosexuals who want to live in a monogamous relationship with each other. That's intellectually dishonest.

The last thing of note from the Hostettler article is his purported belief that his elected office is a Christian ministry. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Representative Hostettler is not a religious leader, he's a democratically-elected official of the U.S. government. He was given the privilege of serving the needs of the people within his district, not given a taxpayer-financed platform to advocate for his personal religious views. Whether John Hostettler likes it or not, we are a pluralistic nation made up of many beliefs, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, secular humanist, etc., and while Hostettler may feel free to govern his own behavior according to Christian principals he has no right to use his office to legislate his beliefs onto others.

It's un-Constitutional and un-American. Just ask Mr. Jefferson (below).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Faith of the Founders: Thomas Jefferson

One of the most vocal beliefs that I hear today in the marketplace of ideas is a revisionist view of history presented by conservative Evangelical Christians. It's the notion that the Founding Fathers of the United States were Christian men that were founding a Christian nation. This ideology feeds into the notion that the past 30 years or so of Supreme Court decisions concerning the Separation of Church and State have been wrongly decided. They often cite the opinions of Justice Clarence Thomas on the Establishment Clause:

"The Establishment Clause provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' As a textual matter, this Clause probably prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion."
"Quite simply, the Establishment Clause is best understood as a federalism provision--it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right."

They use opinions such as this to bolster their belief in the Christianity of the Founding Fathers and their ideal of the United States as a Christian nation by design. I disagree and will start what I hope to be a series of posts on the topic by looking at the beliefs of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson, like many of the prominent Founding Fathers, was a deist by belief. Deism is essentially the belief in the "God of Nature" or a Creator that created the universe, set it in motion but does not actively involve itself in the workings of the universe any more. Deists also do not believe in "divine revelation" or that the Creator has revealed itself in any text or vision. It was a religious belief born out of the Enlightenment in 18th and 19th centuries and was quite popular among the upper class of Colonial America.

From Jefferson:

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear."

While it is clear, especially from the Declaration, that Jefferson believed in a Creator, he most certainly was believer in Reason over over the Divine.

In his own words:

"I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."


"Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ...Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."

Clearly while Jefferson was a religious man and seemingly a believer in the teachings of Jesus Christ, he certainly was not a follower of the religious faith that carries the name "Christianity".

In fact, Jefferson even composed his own version of the New Testament, called The Jefferson Bible, which extracted the life and teachings of Christ out of the existing Bible, leaving behind the miracles and mysticism. Again, obviously the acts of a serious moral philosopher that clearly was not a believer in any form of established Christianity that we know today.

Jefferson is also quite clear on the role of the Establishment Clause and the importance of a separation of church and state:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

When examined with a critical eye, it is clear that Thomas Jefferson was not a believer in Christianity, nor did he intend that religious ideology of any kind creep into our system of government. Jefferson was obviously a deist of a sort; a Unitarian that professed a belief in a Creator but held Reason and Enlightenment as the highest ideals of mankind. If, as Evangelical Christians now claim, the United States was intended to be a Christian nation founded on Christian ideals, then they most certainly must exclude Thomas Jefferson as a Founder and Framer of such a country.

Next up: James Madison...

Ladies & Gentlemen: The Party of Moral Values.

The Wisconsin GOP, whose motto is "Kansas is Too Progressive", has had a little trouble in the integrity department lately.


"Earlier this month, [GOP Chairman] Graber, Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) had the audacity to stand on the front lawn of the Milwaukee home of Stuart and Gayle Schenk to accuse their son Joseph of double voting. It is now clear why Graber, Stone, and Leibham refused to release their evidence – there wasn’t any.

Today, Republican appointed U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said investigators found no evidence of voter fraud in the Schenk case or any of the eight other cases wildly thrown around as double voting by the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Biskupic said the cases alleged by Republicans either involved sloppy bookkeeping or other recordkeeping errors."

This story is interesting on a larger scale because the cry of "Democratic Voter Fraud in Milwaukee!!" has been used frequently in Wisconsin to off-set charges of GOP vote fraud in Ohio. Now maybe some of the skeptics that have been hiding behind the lame "both parties did it in 2004" excuse will now start to take a closer look at just what went on in the Buckeye State last year.

Joe Winike, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, has demanded an apology from Graber, Stone and Leibham, which has yet to be delivered. I wouldn't hold your breath on that, Mr. Winike. Neither admitting mistakes nor apologizing for dirty political tricks is really in the GOP playbook these days. Just ask George W. Bush and Karl Rove.

I guess the Republican "values voters" don't consider integrity a moral value...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Terror Given a "Christian Identity"

The news came down just this week: terrorist Eric Rudolph was ordered to serve his multiple life sentences for the four bombings he perpetrated. Much time has been spent discussing Rudolph's bombing of Centennial Olympic Park; it doesn't need more coverage from myself. What interests me are his attacks on a suburban Atlanta abortion clinic and The Otherside Lounge, a gay and lesbian club in Atlanta. Rudolph refused to apologize for these two bombings. Wonder why?

Rudolph, on the abortion clinic bombing, via the CBC:

"What they did was participate in the murder of 50 children a week," he said. "Abortion is murder, and because it is murder, I believe deadly force is needed to stop it."

Rudolph has been linked to a loose organization of racist Christian hate groups called the Christian Identity movement. His unreasoning hatred of gays and women's rights led to several deaths and hundreds of injuries. Fortunately, his cowardice in the face of his own death has prevented Rudolph from being a martyr to the extreme right-wing causes with which he identifies himself.

The first thing that interests me about the Rudolph case is how it is an obvious foil to the racial profiling argument I've heard made as recently as last Friday on "Real Time with Bill Maher" (of which I'm normally a big fan). It's the idea that somehow all terrorists in the world are young, swarthy, Arab males which are members of Islamic extremist groups. This kind of blind racism is wrong and potentially very dangerous. Obviously terrorists come in many colors and descriptions; just ask Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh or Paul Hill. These are (or, were, in the cases of the latter two) young white, Christian men with an ideological point they felt needed to be made with some random carnage. If we spend our time profiling young Arab Muslims only as terrorist suspects, how long will it be before the next Eric Rudolph slips through unnoticed?

The second thing that jumps out at me is the amazing amount of coverage the "So-Called Liberal Media" has given to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, while being fairly quiet on the other two. I went with the CBC as my source mainly because most U.S. news outlets barely mentioned Rudolph's other crimes, except as a footnote. I find this most disturbing as these other two bombings showed a clear anti-social hatred towards those Rudolph ideologically opposed. How many more Fundamentalist Christian extremists are out there thinking that it is their responsibility to deliver final judgement in God's name? I think it's shameful that in the United States, a bombing that kills an innocent person at the Olympics is headline news, but subsequent bombings that kill and maim abortion providers and homosexuals is nearly brushed under the rug. Is it any wonder that animals like Rudolph feel they can enact their Old Testament belief of Biblical punishment with impunity?

The third, and probably most controversial thing I have to say about this, is that I believe it is high time in the United States that we take a good, long look at groups like Christian Identity, Focus on the Family, etc., and individuals like James Dobson, Randal Terry and Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps. I've read the Bible and at no time did Jesus ever say to commit murder in his name or to ostracize homosexuals from society. These are narrow-minded and bigoted interpretations of the Bible and should have the veneer of respectability torn from them. These so-called Christian groups which denigrate homosexuals and condone the killing of doctors have about as much to do with the teachings of Christ as Social Darwinists do with Charles Darwin.

I don't support the death penalty; in general, because I will not sanction any government's right to murder its citizens. I don't support it specifically in this case because I also don't want to see Eric Rudolph made a martyr to his sick ideals. Let him rot in prison, locked away from the country and culture he so despises. Maybe alone with his thoughts, he'll find a true spirituality and leave his twisted mutation of Christianity by the wayside.

(More from Juan Cole)

The American-led Invasion of Iraq's Constitution

It's apparent today that disaster is looming ever closer in Iraq, especially given that midnight tonight is the second deadline for an Iraqi draft constitution. According to CNN earlier today, the Shia and Kurdish majorities have signed an agreement on a draft constitution in order to meet the deadline. In order to do so, it is speculated that they may have side-stepped Sunni objections on certain issues.

One of them is the role of federalism in the new Iraqi republic.

According to Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's National Security Advisor:

"Without federalism it means that no community interest has been addressed or fulfilled and therefore different communities will try to find and defend and fight for their rights."

"I am worried about that. Yes. Absolutely. With a civil war you can't say 'today we don't have a civil war, tomorrow a civil war erupted'. Civil war creeps into the country very gradually."

It seems that Mr. al-Rubaie may be whistling past the graveyard at this point. For all intents and purposes, the Iraqi civil war began after the last national election. A nearly complete boycott of the elections by the Sunni minority, who had been in control of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, set the stage for the showdown likely to occur in the weeks to come over the draft constitution. The Sunnis are concerned, likely with good reason, that without a strong federal framework, their role in Iraqi politics could be severely curtailed in the future, to the point of leaving them under the control of the Kurdish and Shia majorities.

This problem, another out-growth of the sectarian divisions that have plagued the "liberated" Iraq, is one of the strongest examples of the Bush Administration's seeming lack of understanding of the intricacies of the ethnic divisions within Iraq. The motivations behind a national identity for the three major groups (Kurd, Sunni and Shia) indicates an atmosphere of distrust and conflict that should have been readily apparent to those in the White House banging the drums for war in Iraq.

The Kurds have had, for all practical purposes, their own nation in the Northern part of Iraq, protected by the No Fly Zones put into effect after the Gulf War. The Shi'ite majority spent many years living under an apartheid-like oppression perpetrated by Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist regime. The Sunnis are now fighting for recognition and equality in a system that they dominated politically but in which they, in fact, were a minority by population. Not surprisingly, the Kurds wish to keep their autonomy, the Shia wish to enjoy the freedom of statehood and the Sunnis are fighting both against the U.S. occupation and against an Iraqi Republic that cuts the Sunnis out of the picture nationally. Moreover, the provinces of Iraq which are mostly Sunni controlled happen to be the resource-poor center of the country, exacerbating Sunni concerns that, without a federal government, they will be substantially left out of any national prosperity in the new Iraq.

What all this means is two-fold; first, the Iraqi civil war has already begun. The insurgency shows no signs of stopping, despite claims to the contrary by Dick "Last Throes" Cheney. Second, and more importantly, Iraq has become a glaring example of why Bush's "good guys vs. bad guys" foreign policy is a disaster. All the empty-headed rhetoric in the world cannot change the fact that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has caused as much death and destruction by way of instability as Saddam Hussein's regime caused by oppression. Not only are the people of Iraq suffering and dying, but the United States has sacrificed our soldiers, treasure and good standing in the world and have nothing good to show for it for either nation.

The reality is that all the high-minded ideology espoused by Bush and his supporters cannot bring stability, prosperity and peace to Iraq. There has to be multi-lateral commitment on the ground by all three major factions, and if today's "deal" is any indication, I just don't see that happening any time soon.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Good Morning...Iraq?

Finally we're seeing a Republican, albeit one that has been critical of Iraq since the beginning, with the intestinal fortitude to make the Iraq-Vietnam comparison.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

"We're past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."

As I mentioned, Senator Hagel has been far from a strident supporter of Bush's policies in Iraq; he's been highly critical of both the White House and the civilian leadership in the Department of Defense. However, it's a whole new ballgame when a prominent Republican like Hagel at last dares to make the comparison that we liberals realized a year ago: Iraq bears a striking resemblance to Vietnam and none of the comparisons are positive.

I'm too young to remember Vietnam, it was largely over by the time I was born. So I can only imagine the frustration and anger that folks who lived through Vietnam must feel while seeing our country go down the same tragic road yet again. Still, I have to ask: Where is the outrage? Where are the demonstrations in the streets? Why is such a large chunk of the U.S. population seemingly unconcerned and uninterested in the disaster our government is perpetrating on both the Iraqis and us?

It took over 50,000 dead to end Vietnam; how many will Iraq take?

One is too many...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Guy I'd Like to See in the White House

I am a big supporter of Russ Feingold and the following quotes from The Capitol Times are just one reason why:

"If the party thinks it can win by taking a cautious and timid approach to the mistakes that have been made with regard to national security, we'll have the fate we had in 2000, 2002 and 2004," when Republicans swept the White House and Congress. "It's time to do something different."

Feingold says Democrats should have learned from the 2002 elections, which came a little more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We were winning on every domestic issue. Then the Democratic strategists decided we'd better just go along with the president on Iraq and that issue and cede international issues to them and win on the domestic issues," he said.

"There's no way, post-9/11, that people are going to put a party in power who they feel is not prepared to govern both domestically and internationally. But now it is No. 1 on the agenda, and any Democrat - especially progressives, of which I am one - who believes we can get away without having a firm and strong national security policy is asking for more defeat," he said.

I, for one, certainly hope that Senator Feingold is sincere in his aspirations to the highest office in the land. It is far past time that we had a true progressive liberal manning the helm of our wayward nation. I disagree strongly with the notion, often peddled by the DLC, that the Democratic Party needs to cleave more to the political center in order to maintain its relevance in national elections. What we really need to do is set our platform and stick to our guns. We are the party of the people; we need to support good populist candidates that will stand up for us. Wealthy business interests have their advocates in the Republican Party and it has become clear that those interests run counter to what the people of the United States actually need.

That's not to say that I don't think other potential Democratic candidates wouldn't make good Presidents; I firmly believe that, of the two major parties, only Democrats make good candidates. It should be clear to any reasonable person by now that Republicans cannot govern well; they are too pro-business, pro-war and anti-middle class to make a respectable job of governance. Moreover, that's not their purpose. Their platform and policies clearly define whom the Republicans support, and, sorry kids, but we in the middle class just aren't it.

I would hold my nose and support more centrist Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton (yes, she's a conservative Democrat) and Joe Biden, if only for the above reasons of Republican governmental ineptness. I especially find it easier to support Clinton due to it being far, far past time in the "greatest Democracy on Earth" to have a female President and because that makes The Big Dog the First Gentleman. However, I don't support political dynasties; look at what the Bush family has done to us, after all. Plus, Clinton's pro-Iraqi occupation stance is beyond galling. I don't want an "anybody but the Republican" choice for President.

I want a true progressive and a President that will represent the people in this country who most need representation.

I want Russ Feingold for President in 2008!

Now, if only he read obscure liberal blogs...

Happy 30th Anniversary!

To my wonderful parents-in-law, Rhonda and Dale.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Roberts' Rules Out of Order

I've been taking a read through some of the documents, dumped this week by the White House, written by the uberjudge, John G. Roberts. I have to say the more I read of this man's writings the more concerned I'm getting.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

On another topic, Roberts, who was nominated as a justice by President Bush last month, advised the White House to strike language from a description of a housing bill that referred to the "fundamental right to be free from discrimination." He said that "there of course is no such right."

Now, as I've written before, I understand that Roberts is an arch-Conservative and is not likely to support politically anything for which I stand. But I also believe that the country is ill-served by such a divisive figure, particularly given what I consider a great likelihood of Roberts being made Chief Justice one day.

It is true that there is no express right to be free from discrimination written into the Constitution. However, can Roberts really read the passage "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence and not believe that the Founding Fathers at least intended a nation where unfair discrimination is not tolerated? Moreover, I believe that even if no such right is explicitly expressed, it still makes our society greater to have such an unexpressed right. I view it in the same light as the right to privacy; not explicit within the Constitution but still an essential part of the commonly-held understanding of the relationship between the government and the citizens of the United States.

Now, I know that many supporters of Roberts say that his writings as an advocate for the Reagan White House do not necessarily represent Roberts' views on the topics on which he was writing. I have it on good authority from several attorneys that lawyers often write briefs in defense of their client's interests that may not necessarily be held by said lawyer. Fine. But the very fact that Roberts chose to associate with Republican administrations throughout his career tells me that his judicial views must be similar to the Republican platform in most respects.

So far in Roberts' writings I've read examples of anti-choice, anti-women's equality and staunch pro-business interpretations of the law. This latest leaves me more convinced than ever that John G. Roberts is not the paragon of lawyers that the so-called "Liberal Media" has made him out to be. I firmly believe that Roberts is a judge whose nomination should be stridently opposed by our elected Democrats, especially given that, again, I believe him to be a prime candidate for Chief Justice one day.

If Roberts is Bush's "consensus pick", does anyone want to even speculate about whom he'll nominate next?

I don't; I want to sleep at night...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Some Mild Lunacy

In honor of the full moon tonight!

By Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven's high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Attack of the Anti-Peace Wingnut

From CNN, via rorschach at No Capital:

Sheehan said she doesn't want to press charges against a pickup driver who early Tuesday allegedly ran over a makeshift memorial for the 1,800 Americans killed in Iraq. Police said he drove a pickup truck over 500 crosses and 40 American flags.

Court papers identified him as Larry Northern, 59, from nearby Waco.

This may be the clearest sign yet that the wheels are coming off of the "We Love the Iraq War" bus. I have a few suspicions as to what is going on here.

The first thing I see happening on the Right concerning the war is a recognition that the United States is not going to "win" this one in any useful sense. For all intents and purposes, civil war has already begun in Iraq and is likely going to escalate in the coming months. We entered Iraq either oblivious to or unconcerned by the potential for sectarian conflict following the end of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and, thus, seemed to be unprepared for this eventuality.

What I think rattles the Pro-war Right so much is the realization that our overwhelming military might may not be the overpowering force in world affairs that they would like it to be. It frightens me, the extent to which our national identity is tied to our ability to wage destructive war on other nations. The insurgency in Iraq has the Pro-war Right in fits, not because of the loss of American lives, but because the insurgency is carrying on its activities and our military might can't stop them. This wounds the pride and shakes the confidence of those for whom U.S. military intervention in other countries is a source of catharsis.

A further source of frustration for the Pro-war crowd is their strange morphing of our military into a sort of national team for which we root. The war in Iraq has become a strange sports contest, where "winning", whatever that entails, is the only worthwhile objective. The problem in Iraq is that the U.S. has already won the only part of the operation it could: the initial invasion. We cannot build a Democratic Republic of Iraq with our military might; cannot mandate a democratic Iraq at the point of a gun. The Pro-War Right wants to see decisive battles, war heroes, parades, a grateful populace of Iraq thanking us for liberating them; perhaps the Pro-War Right, starting with the President, should stop dreaming about Hollywood wars and take a good, long look at what a real U.S. invasion looks like. Then maybe they wouldn't be so quick to order other people's children into the fire.

Personally, I doubt that Larry Northern actually despises our soldiers, though desecrating a memorial to them is an awfully strange way to pay your respects, Larry. What men (and I use that term very loosely) like Larry cannot accept is that, in spite of all their pro-war bleating, the war in Iraq is a lie. They despise Cindy Sheehan because she exposes their vital lie; that somehow this war is justified and is making us safer. It isn't and it never will.

The Pro-War Right can cry and wail all they like about why they need to invade other countries to make themselves feel more virile. It won't change the truth: that real strength is a grieving mother challenging the callous and uncaring "Leader" of the "Free World".

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Who Writes This Stuff?

One of my geek political hobbies is correcting the wingnut chain emails I receive. I choose to blog one now because a) it amuses me to do so and b) Samurai Sam gave a big work presentation today and has no higher level brain function left to blog with at this point. Enjoy what passes for humor from a blogger-accountant with analysis paralysis:


I doubt it.

My Fellow Americans: As you all know, the defeat of Iraq regime has been completed.

Well, that's good news, I guess.

Since congress does not want to spend any more money on this war, our mission in Iraq is complete.

I doubt the credibility of any document that says "congress does not want to spend...".

This morning I gave the order for a complete removal of all American forces from Iraq. This action will be complete within 30 days.


It is now time to begin the reckoning.

Oh, shit! It's "Lynch the Liberals" time...

Before me, I have two lists. One list contains the names of countries which have stood by our side during the Iraq conflict. This list is short.

And they say common sense is dead.

The United Kingdom, Spain, Bulgaria, Australia, and Poland are some of the countries listed there.

What about Uzbekistan?

The other list contains everyone not on the first list. Most of the world's nations are on that list. My press secretary will be distributing copies of both lists later this evening.

Better include maps with those lists.

Let me start by saying that effective immediately, foreign aid to those nations on List 2 ceases immediately and indefinitely. The money saved during the first year alone will pretty much pay for the costs of the Iraqi war.

I doubt it, given that, per capita, the U.S. is one of the biggest cheapskates on Earth.

The American people are no longer going to pour money into third world Hell-holes and watch those government leaders grow fat on corruption.

As opposed to pouring money into corporations and watching those corporate leaders grow fat on corruption? See, it's always the rotten 50 that spoil it for the other 2 billion.

Need help with a famine? Wrestling with an epidemic? Call France.

Yeah, 'cause all that "All Men are Created Equal" crap is for liberals!

In the future, together with Congress, I will work to redirect this money toward solving the vexing social problems we still have at home.

Such as gay marriage, the death tax and partial-birth abortion. Oh, like you didn't know this was a Republican President...

On that note, a word to terrorist organizations. Screw with us and we will hunt you down and eliminate you and all your friends from the face of the earth.

Unless you mastermind a plot to kill 3,000 Americans and then flee into the Afghan wilderness with your dialysis machine. But we will get your #3 guy! Over and over.

Thirsting for a gutsy country to terrorize? Try France, or maybe

But not Uzbekistan! They're a Good pro-torture dictatorship...

I am ordering the immediate severing of diplomatic relations with France, Germany, and Russia. Thanks for all your help, comrades. We are retiring from NATO as well. Bon chance, mes amis.

It was a French reporter that said "We are all Americans" after 9/11. I think this "President" needs a diaper change.

I have instructed the Mayor of New York City to begin towing the many UN diplomatic vehicles located in Manhattan with more than two unpaid parking tickets to sites where those vehicles will be stripped, shredded and crushed. I don't care about whatever treaty pertains to this. You creeps have tens of thousands of unpaid tickets. Pay those tickets tomorrow or watch your precious Benzes, Beamers and limos be turned over to some of the finest chop shops in the world. I love New York.

The author of this email was clearly a disgruntled meter maid. And only Liberals love New York. Conservatives tolerate it the way we tolerate Kansas.

A special note to our neighbors. Canada is on List 2. Since we are likely to be seeing a lot more of each other, you folks might want to try not pissing us off for a change.

"Mr. President, Operation Hockey Strike is a go."

Mexico is also on List 2. President Fox and his entire corrupt government really need an attitude adjustment. I will have a couple extra tanks and infantry divisions sitting around. Guess where I am going to put, em? Yep, border security. So start doing something with your oil.

No need. By the time the Republicans are done being in power, we'll be the ones jumping the border looking for work.

Oh, by the way, the United States is abrogating the NAFTA treaty - starting now.

At last! A modest proposal...

We are tired of the one-way highway. Immediately, we'll be drilling for oil in Alaska - which will take care of this country's oil needs for decades to come. If you're an environmentalist who opposes this decision, I refer you to List 2 above: pick a country and move there. They care.

Yeah, destroy the environment, poison the Earth and the Air! That'll show those liberals and terrorists we mean business. "You can't kill us 'cause we're gonna kill ourselves first!"

It is time for America to focus on its own welfare and its own citizens.
Some will accuse us of isolationism. I answer them by saying, "darn tootin."

Yes, let's build Pat Buchanan's "Fortress America". I've always wanted to live in a military-industrial wasteland. We can re-name the U.S. "Geidi Prime".

Nearly a century of trying to help folks live a decent life around the world has only earned us the undying enmity of just about everyone on the planet. It is time to eliminate hunger in America. It is time to eliminate homelessness in America. It is time to eliminate World Cup Soccer from America.

Everybody hates us for our freedom. Our predatory capitalism, irresponsible energy policies, 25% contribution to the world's pollution levels and pre-emptive wars; other countries think those are charming quirks. They hate our freedom. Trust me.

To the nations on List 1, a final thought. Thanks guys. We owe you and we won't forget.

Yeah, look how we treat our other allies. Britain, you ARE on board for Iran, aren't you? You don't want us to start speaking Freedom while eating our Freedom muffins for breakfast...

To the nations on List 2, a final thought: You might want to learn to speak Arabic.

Or Freedom. Just sayin'.

God bless America.

"and no place else!"

If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you are reading it in English, thank a soldier.

If you can read this, thank a blogger. If you are reading it in Freedom, thank Uzbekistan. Good night.

What Every Homosexual Already Knows

I saw this article yesterday in the Boston Globe concerning the question of why certain people are homosexual and what the causes of homosexuality are exactly.

From the article, concerning two identical twin boys:

"What makes the case of Patrick and Thomas so fascinating is that it calls into question both of the dominant theories in the long-running debate over what makes people gay: nature or nurture, genes or learned behavior. As identical twins, Patrick and Thomas began as genetic clones. From the moment they came out of their mother's womb, their environment was about as close to identical as possible - being fed, changed, and plopped into their car seats the same way, having similar relationships with the same nurturing father and mother. Yet before either boy could talk, one showed highly feminine traits while the other appeared to be "all boy," as the moms at the playgrounds say with apologetic shrugs."

Why is this important?

"Proving people are born gay would give them wider social acceptance and better protection against discrimination, many gay rights advocates argue."

But, here's the caveat:

"And that's exactly what has groups opposed to homosexuality so concerned. The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, D.C., argues in its book Getting It Straight that finding people are born gay 'would advance the idea that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, like race; that homosexuals, like African-Americans, should be legally protected against 'discrimination;' and that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatized as racism. However, it is not true.'"

The issue here, as I see it, is two fold:

First, there is a sizeable chunk of the Conservative Christian community in the United States that is never going to be accepting of homosexuality, regardless of how much scientific proof is presented. I have copies of articles from various scientific journals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, that clearly show homosexuality has no negative effects on relationship stability or the welfare of children. In fact, a study released in 2001 by the AAP shows that children having homosexual parents:

"...fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes." (2002 American academy of Pediatrics, Technical Report: Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents.)

Clearly, Conservative Christian organizations like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, are not going to relax their stance on homosexuality in the face of scientific evidence. After all, their belief in the "wrongness" of homosexuality is rooted in faith not in science; in the Bible (though likely mistranslated and misunderstood) than in any medical journal. Moreover, any proof of biology will just shift the sin from "homosexuality" to "homosexual behavior". Thus, any debate with them on the cultural effects of homosexuality is likely to be labeled "moral relativism" and ignored.

The second issue I have with the "naturalness" of homosexuality is that, from a cultural, moral and legal perspective, it should not matter whether homosexuality is inborn or learned behavior. It's really not relevant to the argument. Homosexuals should have the same rights to marry, have children and pursue happiness as heterosexuals regardless of why they are homosexual. Whether by choice or by birth, homosexuals in this country are created just as equal as heterosexuals and our laws should reflect that.

(More on this at AMERICAblog)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Shootin' from the Hip in the Wild (Mid)West

As I was cruising my way through the mist-shrouded wilds of Wisconsin's Coulee Region this morning, I caught a call-in show on WPR about State Representative Scott Gunderson's latest re-introduction of a proposed "concealed carry" law here in the Land of Cheese and Brats. The guest was Ryan Kulik, program director for the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. Ryan was discussing the pitfalls and problems with Wisconsin adopting a "concealed carry" law.

Gun control, in general, is a tricky issue for me for several reasons. The first is that I don't own a gun and have no plans to own one in the future. While I think tramping around in the woods looking for animals to shoot is a rather strange way to spend the day, I only have a problem with hunting when it's done purely for trophy-collecting purposes and not for food. It just seems rather morbid to my sensibilities to hang the body parts of animals, that you have gunned down, on your living room wall. For me, that's really not a morally acceptable reason to be killing an animal, even if it is overpopulated.
Second, gun violence and violent crime in general mean something very different to someone in rural Wisconsin than it does to someone on the south side of Milwaukee. True, gun violence does occur even in rural areas. The Rice Lake shootings are an unfortunate example of that. However, by and large gun related crimes are more of an urban problem than a rural one, which is why there tends to be such a conflict in views. To a person living in an urban area prone to gun violence, the argument for needing firearms for hunting seems very remote. Likewise, to avid hunters in rural areas the claim that fewer guns will equal less crime seems a crudely disguised attempt to strip them of their Second Amendment rights.
Which brings me to the third complication in the gun control issue: The Second Amendment. The Second Amendment reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Supporters of gun owner's rights will stake their entire argument on the Second Amendment, saying it clearly grants the right to bear arms and does not explicitly limit the type or number of arms, nor conditions under which they may be born. Opponents will say that the term "Arms" in the Second Amendment meant something very different in the 18th century than it does today. Gun control advocates will argue that the Framers of the Constitution experienced war with end-loaded muskets and single-shot pistols, bayonets, knives and swords. Firearms were primitive and unreliable under the best of circumstances. Moreover, the early Colonialists were living on a very real and dangerous wilderness frontier, where the threat of war from both Britain and the Native American tribes was a very stark reality. Those conditions really don't exist anymore. The problem is that, unlike other parts of the Constitution, the Second Amendment has largely escaped legislative and judicial "detailing"; that is, the Second Amendment remains widely open to personal and local interpretation. This is why gun control laws can vary so wildly from one state to the next. Personally, I tend to support certain aspects of gun control as good public policy, though I am very reluctant to advocate for curtailing the rights given to us in the Constitution. I certainly believe more debate on the issue is in order.

Now, after that monstrous preface, I get to the issue of making it legal to carry a concealed weapon (which really means "gun" though it could apply to other weapons), an idea to which I am staunchly opposed. I would like to address some of the issues raised by those in favor of Gunderson's proposal.

The Second Amendment does not distinguish between concealed and non-concealed.

Perhaps not, though as I stated above, I believe there is room for interpretation and more public discussion is needed. I believe in the mutability of interpretation of the Constitution; what may have been an unrestricted right in the time of Jefferson and Madison may not be in the public's best interest today. The Second Amendment probably needs to be more precisely defined than what it's explicit wording in the Bill of Rights dictates.

Concealed weapons help deter crime.

There is no scientific evidence to support this claim or the counter claim that concealed weapons encourage more crime. Scientists studying states that have concealed carry laws have been unable to draw a definitive conclusion either way. For my part, I think that anyone claiming that, in a state where violent crime has gone down and concealed carry is legal, the ability to carry a concealed firearm is the cause for a lower violent crime rate is falling into the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. The evidence just isn't conclusive to support the claim.

A concealed weapon would make me feel safer.

This is what's really driving the push to legalize concealed weapons in Wisconsin (well, that and gun manufacturer and retailer profits; Gunderson is a Republican, after all). I believe it's not so much about feeling safe as it is about feeling in control and having power over life's circumstances. As far as safety is concerned, pulling a weapon in a confrontation is the very least safest action. A weapon instantly escalates the situation for both parties. The safest course is to give the mugger or car-jacker what they want, be it your wallet or your car.
However, that rankles, doesn't it? This is why concealed carry laws gain such momentum: it's the idea that when someone wrongs me, I may be able to revenge myself upon them, thus re-establishing my level of control over my environment and salving my wounded pride. While that sort of behavior may be appropriate on "Deadwood", it certainly is not the kind of Wild West justice we want on our streets, is it?
Moreover, if someone tries to steal my car by force and I gun them down to stop them, what is the net result? A potential robbery has now become a homicide! In Wisconsin, this can get me, the intended victim, sent to prison under the "equal force" statute; force used in self-defense cannot be excessive when compared to the force used by the attacker. Has a violent crime been prevented? No. Am I any safer for having that concealed gun? Not one iota. Is the cost to society from violent crime in any way mitigated by the right to carry a concealed weapon? No. Finally, is any one person's desire to "feel" more powerful worth the potential costs and dangers of a Right to Carry Concealed Weapons Law?

No, it is not.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Samurai Sam with Samurai Son

Thanks to my lovely wife, Gifted-1, for the marvelous photo editing.

Staring Into the Abyss on a Sunday Morning

I had been wanting to watch "Soldiers in the Army of God" for quite some time and it just happened to be on this morning. "Soldiers" is an HBO documentary exposing the strange mania of the anti-choice extremist movement. While listening to the spittle-flecked ramblings of such luminaries as Neal Horsley, I came to realize that one of the driving undercurrents of this extremism is a profound fear and mistrust of women in general.

In the midst of rantings about saving the unborn babies and the martyrdom of Paul Hill, a theme of anti-woman belief became apparent to me. I believe these people when they say, sincerely, that they see abortion-on-demand as the murder of unborn children. I strongly disagree but I accept that it's a free country and wingnuts have rights just like the rest of us.

However, what I see as the real issue with the so-called Army of God and other anti-choice religious organizations is a re-affirmation of the subordinate role of women in society. These are men (mostly) who view sex as a weakness that women tempt them to, and they say so often in the documentary. The so-called Pro-Life movement is less about "saving unborn children" than it is about controlling the sex lives of women (never men, of course) based on the Pro-Life lobby's view of proper sexual conduct. They want to punish and denigrate behavior that their view of conservative Christianity dictates unacceptable. Else, why not support programs such as sex education in schools and the free availability of birth control, given that these things are proven to reduce the number of abortions?

Answer: Because that takes control of reproductive authority out of the hands of religious ideology and places it into the hands of individual women. Which is exactly where it should be, by the way.

The only way to reduce the number of abortions in the United States is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Until anti-choice organizations bend their full support to sex education and birth control it will be clear to me that the real impetus behind their efforts is a curtailing of women's rights.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"You Coming Out Soon?"

Olivia likes to shout into mommy's belly button in order to talk to baby Cecelia. Wonder if she's getting a response?

Friday, August 12, 2005

How To Lose an Election Before It Even Starts

Is it wrong to laugh at the misfortunes of dishonest Republicans?

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

The State Elections Board voted Wednesday to levy a $5,000 fine on the campaign fund of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker for automated calls to residents days before a county budget vote.

The Elections Board decided that the Nov. 4 and 5 calls failed to disclose that Walker's campaign paid for them.


In the calls, Walker asked Milwaukee County voters to call their county supervisor and "tell him or her not to raise taxes" and "not to pay for the pension and sick-leave scandals of the past with higher taxes."

Despite the phone calls, the County Board rejected Walker's tax-freeze push and adopted a budget that raised the property tax by 3%, and then overrode 18 of his vetoes.

Nothing quite like having your partisan rhetoric blow-up in your face and then getting fined to boot.


Walker's campaign manager, John Hiller, said he was "disappointed by the unprecedented and partisan" vote to levy the penalty of $5,000.

Oh, of course, it must be the Democrats and Independents on the Elections Board that are at fault for handing out such a mean fine. Way to take responsibility for your campaign's actions, Mr. Walker.

If this is the level of competition Governor Jim Doyle is facing in 2006, it's going to be a good year!

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair!


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I MET a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Shelley's words make me hope that one day the Bush Administration will be forgotten; the statue of its arrogance buried in the sands of an unoccupied and peaceful Iraq. One day, the last person to die in this misbegotten war will be honored and remembered for his or her sacrifice, whether American or Iraqi. One day, we, as a nation, will get down on our collective knees and beg forgiveness of our military men and women, their families and the people of Iraq for not taking to the streets in response to this illegal war.

"One Day" can't come soon enough...

(Thanks to Moonbootica for reminding me how much I love this poem!)