Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The State Of The Union SnoreFest

I really try to diligently watch this mess every year, mainly to see just what new outrages to prepare for in the following year. This year's State of the Union speech, however, was notably dull even by the normal painful standards of a Bush speech. According to Bush, the State of our Union is about the same as every campaign speech he gave in 2004.

On the war in Iraq, Bush had nothing but empty platitudes about "being victorious" and "staying the course" and "ending well". I honestly wasn't sure if he was referring to our soldiers dying in Iraq or the Seahawks' chances on Sunday. Bush seems to have an almost sociopathic lack of connection to this war he has started. He offers nothing but comic book style jingoism and a basic warning that anyone disagreeing with him is a traitor. Typical Republican garbage, only slightly more offensive coming from the President. Basically, the war in Iraq will end about the same time as Republican control in Washington and no sooner, sadly. Bush has no clear plan, no exit strategy and an apparent lack of understanding about any aspect of democracy not involving actual voting.

On education, he calls for more science and math education, which is good, while expanding his egregious "No Child Left Educated" program to ruin high schools as well, which is bad. If only Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize hadn't killed it, I'd find irony in the President who supports "Intelligent Design" calling for science education. Perhaps he meant astrology and phrenology?

On energy, it was again rather ironic listening to a failed Texas oil man talk about weaning us from foreign oil. I'll bet Prince Bandar will be reluctant to hold hands any more if Bush doesn't commit to oil. I think Exxon's record profits are a pretty big guarantee that the business interests who own the Republican party have no interest in alternative energy. Sorry, Bush, but leave environmental concerns to the Democrats and Greens; your phony concern is nauseating.

On health care, he really...didn't propose much of anything. He sort of talked around the issue but is certainly not going to risk those valuable Republican donations from HMOs, insurance companies or drug companies. Medicare Part D is an unmitigated disaster that, again, will not get cleaned up until the Democrats regain control. Bush touched briefly on social security and my only thought is to hope he'll make it a central issue again. Trying to sell social security reform to older folks by guaranteeing their money at the expense of their kids and grandkids was a real winner of a strategy. Let's see him try that again.

On the economy, Bush clearly lives on another planet. Wages are flat, the stock market is flat, we still haven't gained back as many jobs as were lost in the last recession, etc. Basically, the economy is great as long as you're a major corporate stockholder or commodities investor. Otherwise, probably not really much getting done for you financially. Of course, Bush wants his tax cuts made permanent. That way, he can claim to cut taxes while actually borrowing from our children and grand children. Here's a quick note to Republicans: if you don't cut expenditures, then you haven't really cut taxes. You've only deferred them. He also trotted out the old standby of tax cuts giving Americans more money to spend and thus boosting the economy. Funny, but I was pretty sure that the government was awfully busy spending that tax money already. In fact, they were spending it on high risk, low return items like infrastructure and social programs. It's also worth noting for Bush that cutting a deficit in half that didn't exist when you took office just makes you a slightly less incompetent fiduciary manager.

On the wiretapping, Bush stuck to his guns that, regardless of what the Constitution says, he believes he's acting within his power as President. Must be a different Constitution than the one the U.S. normally uses. Also, judging by the applause, Republicans actually like having a President that breaks the law with impunity. Well, I guess if Osama Bin Ladin's goal was to destroy the American way of life, Bush has decided the best way to stop him is to destroy it first.

And that's really all I can remember of the SOTU. It was boring, full of meaningless rhetoric and political jargon and really articulated the only message that Bush actually seems to believe: "Stay the course".


As for the Democratic response, I was too mezmerized by Tim Kaine's wayward eyebrow to really internalize what he had to say. Given that he's an Anti-choice, Anti-Gay rights former Christian missionary, I have a feeling that he and I are probably on opposite ends of the Democratic tent from each other. The only point I will make about the Democratic response is that it struck a concilliatory tone, while looking to the future. Kaine took a few very polite shots at Bush's policy but basically said very little. No surprise, as there is really no need for any Democrat to be articulating policy specifics yet. The Republicans have control of all three branches of government; let them sink or swim with their own policy. Those who voted for them are getting the government they deserve. The rest of us will just have to live with their mistakes.

Someone's Pants Are On Fire (Just Like His Boss's)

My Senator, Russ Feingold, continues to make a brilliant case demonstrating why he should be the next President, while Attorney General Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez continues to make a brilliant case demonstrating that no Bush administration official can ever be taken at their word.

From the Washington Post, via Holden at First Draft:

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Apparently Gonzalez is experiencing memory loss comparable to, but not in excess of, that caused by organ failure, namely his brain. This revelation brings a few terms to mind for me; terms like "perjury" and "contempt of Congress". I guess when one supports torture and the abuse of executive power, merely lying to Congress doesn't stir one's conscience. Once again, the "party of moral values" at work.

The Congressional hearings on Bush's illegal domestic spying program begin next week and this revelation, along with the Glenn Greenwald's revelation that the Bush administration opposed expanding FISA in 2002, should make for some very interesting questions, at least from the Democrats. Obviously the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will just bloviate about the imminent danger of destruction from the ravening Muslim Hordes, while feigning polite interest in the Constitution and Rule of Law. They wouldn't be caught dead opposing their Fearless Leader or their party, especially in an election year. Well, unless Bush's poll numbers continue to fall. Of course, they don't pay attention to polls, except when they do.

The right wing spin machine has been working overtime of late to paint the President's actions in terms of the "War on Terror" and to confuse the issue in the minds of the public. It will do them no good. Fortunately in the United States, whether or not someone has broken the law is not decided by popular vote.

It doesn't matter if Bush claims the NSA was only spying on Al-Qaida suspects and every person in America but myself believes him: he still broke the law. It doesn't matter if Bush feels getting a FISA warrant is too time-consuming: he still broke the law. It doesn't matter if Bush and Gonzalez consider the Fourth Amendment threshold of "probable cause" too unworkable: he still broke the law. It doesn't matter if the President presents a "signing statement" saying that he reserves the right to ignore the law in the interests of protecting the country: it's no less the law and he's still breaking it. The President has no authority to break the law. Ever. It's an open and shut case and grounds for impeachment.

Of course, we on the Left realize that all of the excuses for violating FISA and the Fourth Amendment that Bush and Gonzalez have used are all just window dressing. They're framing the debate away from what the real issue should be. We KNOW Bush broke the law and will continue to break the law: he's admitted as much. The real question is why does he insist on breaking the law? In light of the circumstances, the ease of getting FISA warrants and the administration's stance in 2002, the answer is simple. Bush and his handlers knew they wouldn't be able to get a warrant or get Congress to give them the authority for the scope of domestic spying that they're doing.

The primary duty ascribed to the President of the United States and, by extension, his appointees, is to uphold the Constitution. It's right there in the Oath of Office for the President. No matter what Bush or Gonzalez may think of FISA or the Fourth Amendment, ignoring either just simply is not an option in their line of work. If Bush feels the Fourth Amendment is too restrictive, then he should get a Congressman to sponsor an Amendment to change it. That's his only option under the law. This is the job he agreed to take and if he feels he can't do it as required, then it's high time for George W. Bush to resign the Presidency. If he cannot safeguard our laws and uphold our Constitution, then he cannot be President. Period.

No matter how much lying, spinning and obfuscating Bush and Gonzalez do, one fact remains: Bush knowingly and intentionally broke the law. He continues to break the law, unabashedly, and he has indicated his intention to break other laws if he feels the need. Gonzalez should be only too happy to defend Bush's intentions to violate the McCain anti-torture amendment; "Abu's" been down that road before.

Lose The Battle, Never The War

Well, at long last, the multiple confirmation circus kicked off by Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement is finished.

From Americans United:

The Senate voted this morning 58-42 to confirm Alito. Alito's ascendancy to the nation's Supreme Court could not be impeded despite the array of public interest groups that had urged the Senate to defeat the nomination.

[Executive director Rev. Barry W.] Lynn, however, commended the 42 senators who voted against Alito's confirmation.

"History will prove that these principled lawmakers were the ones who stood to defend the rights of the people," Lynn said.

I have just a few random, final thoughts on the Alito nomination that I think are relevant in hindsight. Obviously the vote today is a big non-event, at least from the Left's perspective. We know that Republicans always vote in bloc, so there is really no chance of any outcome but confirmation. So be it.

My first thought on this matter is that, for the first time in too long, I'm proud to be a Democrat. I'm also proud of my support for John Kerry in 2004. Sure, the filibuster didn't work; no one really expected that it would. There was always hope but it was just a dim glimmer in the growing dark. However, it's worth noting that Senator Kerry was able to get 25 votes for the filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee; no mean feat. Take, for example, the judicial dark lord of far-right conservatism, Antonin Scalia. Scalia received 98 votes from a Senate controlled by Democrats. Or even look at Clarence Thomas, the most obviously unqualified Justice on the Supreme Court. Even he managed to clear a Democrat-controlled Senate, though by a very slim margin. The Democrats could have very easily filibustered Thomas and instead chose to play the "be reasonable" card and roll over. The point is that what Kerry and his fellow Democrats did is take a hard stand on principal, a stand they likely expected to be a losing one. Such principled stands are the key to re-invigorating support for the Democratic party.

My second thought, as my title indicates, is that this was just one more battle in the ongoing war for American society. It's very difficult under our system of government to score many political victories from a minority status. However, in politics, moreso than in many other arenas of conflict, how you fight the battle is sometimes just as important as whether you win or lose. The Alito confirmation was a battle for the Republicans; a battle for a party with monolithic control of Washington. Sure, the Republicans are going to get their way; they have the numbers to insure that sad reality. But the protracted public battles over each and every Republican initiative is demonstrating to the American people that the Republican party doesn't represent most of them. The polls show that message finally beginning to sink in to Average Joe American. The judicial philosophies of Alito, Scalia, Thomas and likely Roberts are beneficial to businesses and executive-branch governmental authorities, not to everyday Americans.

My final thought is that it's time to move on from this battle. The Republican party is fraying at the seams, Bush remains a steadfastly unpopular President that can't find a single winning policy issue and the 2006 mid-terms are fast approaching. It's a simple truth: the party that believes government is the problem and not the solution should NOT be in charge of running the government. That's just common sense organizational management. Compare the peace and prosperity of the Clinton administration with the wars and recessions of the Bush administration; the difference is the management style. In any case, the Republicans have nothing left to run on in 2006 and President Bush is only a 14 seat swing in the House away from answering some very tough questions about his abuses of power.

America will likely have some contentious times ahead, as the new ultra-conservative Supreme Court sets about re-making American life into a funhouse mirror reflection of the pre-New Deal era. Again, so be it. The focus for liberal Democrats has to be control of Congress first and the Presidency second. The ability of one party, while in control of all three branches of the federal government, to damage the country is too great. Control of Congress will go many miles towards mitigating the potential damage of the far-right Court. It's past time to get the responsible party, the party that believes in the beneficial role of government, back in control of Washington anyway.

One last note: thank you, Senator Kerry and those who joined with you in an attempt to have an actual debate about a Supreme Court nominee. You stepped up when it counted and I, along with many other liberals in Left Blogistan, definitely took note.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Keeping The Powder Dry (As Usual)

The true locking of horns takes place today in the Senate over the Alito nomination and the rumors are flying fast and furious. CNN's Ed Henry has already reported that the so-called "Gang of 14" Senators are conspiring to block the Kerry filibuster. While I expect that kind of pointless grandstanding from the Republicans, it's infuriating to watch the party I belong to cave in that way. It's sad that something as important to American life as a Supreme Court nominee doesn't even warrant an extension of debate.

Of course, the Republicans, especially President Bush, want this nomination debate over now. First, because Bush is desperately looking for something, anything to list as an accomplishment in tomorrow night's State of the Union address. Second, the Republicans, in spite of what they and certain of their supporting groups may claim, know exactly what they're getting in Alito and know that most Americans won't like it if they realize it too. He's nothing more or less than a rightwing ideologue whose judicial philosophy begets a remaking of American society. The few issues relating to civil rights and executive power that have come to light during the hearings are only the tip of the Alito iceberg.

The frustrating thing is that these 7 Democratic Senators don't seem to realize that this kind of "go along to get along" political tactic only feeds into the negative Republican narrative about what's wrong with the Democratic Party. It also reinforces the "winner takes all" theory of democracy that's so prevalent on the Right these days. The Supreme Court is not a high stakes dead pool, with the electoral victor setting the course for American culture by leaning the Court. The President isn't elected to shift American life in a certain ideological direction. He or she (well, let's be honest: "He") is elected to be the safe-guard of our nation's identity. Great Presidents past were not great merely for their leadership abilities and charisma, but their ability to chart a safe path for American life through very turbulent waters. Thus far, Bush has seen his role as President not as the caretaker of America life, but as its helmsman.

At the very least, concerning Alito again, the debate should continue. The American people need to know exactly what they're getting in Samuel Alito and if the Republicans don't think Americans will find that palatable, then perhaps Bush needs to re-think Alito's nomination. I can't think of many things more demonstrating a dying of democracy than a forced end to debate on such a controversial issue. The country will not collapse if the Alito debate continues into February, or even March. The only reason to end debate now is because every minute of disclosure tarnishes Alito's cherry shine with a little more lemon yellow.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Philosophy Friday: To Whom Does E.T. Pray?

NASA made a ground-breaking discovery this week; one that started me thinking about the changes wrought upon humanity by scientific discovery.

The details, via RedOrbit:

Using an armada of telescopes, an international team of astronomers has found the smallest planet ever detected around a normal star outside our solar system.

The extrasolar planet is five times as massive as Earth and orbits a red dwarf, a relatively cool star, every 10 years. The distance between the planet, designated OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, and its host is about three times greater than that between the Earth and the Sun.

The planet's large orbit and its dim parent star make its likely surface temperature a frigid minus 364 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 220 degrees Celsius). This temperature is similar to that of Pluto, but the newly found planet is about one-tenth closer to its star than Pluto is to the Sun.

Behold the wonders of gravitational microlensing! Astronomers now have the ability, in certain rare cases, to spot small, Earth-type planets around other stars. Part of the sheer "Star Trek" coolness of this is the increased possibility that humans may at last make contact with other beings in the universe besides ourselves.

I firmly believe the onus of first contact will be on we Earthlings. Certainly any extra-terrestrial society technologically advanced enough to reach or contact Earth will almost certainly be able to intercept our satellite transmissions. A few days of monitoring CNN should convince any exploring intelligence to leave humans well alone. We're dangerous and unpredictable! We're also very abusive to our environment and other species, though mainly just different members of our own kind. Pretty silly, when you think about it...

Anyway, I have to wonder about the religious faiths of those we may find on another planet, as well as the changes to our own faiths here. Most western religions are based around the ideal of human exceptionalism; that mankind has a special place and plays a special role in the grand scheme of Creation. But that leading role becomes very questionable when another strong actor enters the stage. Certainly the residents of a newly discovered planet would have their own beliefs on universal origin, and could very likely see themselves as the exceptional beings. We humans don't really have a great track record when confronted with new and different religious beliefs and our initial encounters with a new intelligent species would likely be tense, to say the least.

The more important question, however, is how would the morals and faiths of humanity change when confronted with a totally new paradigm of existence. At last, we will no longer be the cradle of life in the universe but only a small part of a larger community (many of us already believe this anyway). The very nature of humanity's relationship to the universe, in a spiritual sense, will change for most of the world.

The so-called "Earth faiths", such as Wicca, Druidism or various aboriginal beliefs, will actually not change much, I think. They tend to already be centered around an intimate sense of belonging to part of nature as a whole. Such faiths will likely just assimilate a new world and a new people as a newly understood part of that greater whole. In fact, Wicca and Druidism, faiths centered around wisdom and understanding of the universe as a means of spiritual fulfillment, would likely flourish in such a new reality. A new planet teeming with life would offer an untapped well of discovery.

Many eastern religions would probably fare decently as well. Taoism, which I am more familiar with, would easily adapt to a new reality of humanity not being alone any longer. Mystical faiths, such as Taoism, would be somewhat inoculated from change by their very introspective nature. Again, it would be an opportunity for personal growth, this meeting of cultures once separated by the vastness of space.

It's in looking at the western religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, that contact with a new alien race could really affect profound change. I will focus on Christianity, as I'm more familiar with it, though Islam also would face many of the same challenges.

The first big challenge Christianity would face in light of extra-terrestrial contact, would be a foundational question about the nature of humankind. Could humanity maintain the paradoxical place as both the pinnacle and depth of Creation that it currently holds in the Christian faith? Doubtful, in my opinion. A non-human intelligence able to build a society at least as advanced as ours would call into serious question human exceptionalism in Creation. If God created the universe, then he also created the folks from our newly contacted world. Perhaps they too believe they've been given the revelation of a One True God, one that conflicts with the Christian interpretation of God. Where does the determining factor lie in such a conflict?

A second challenge would be the roll of sacred scripture in this new time. Assuming the people of this other planet have their own faiths, it seems reasonable to believe they have their own texts as well. If those texts contain a revealed understanding of the universe in contradiction to that of Christianity, then which would be "the truth" dogmatically? Both would be religious constructs based around the reality of the worlds on which they were written, while dealing with the nature of a shared universe. In other words, how would each society settle which had the correct revelation of the universe's Creator? A melding could occur, as has often occurred as Christianity evolved through the centuries, but such a melding is rarely quick or easy. I predict a radical new understanding of scripture, one that settles around the notion of one Word, tailored by God for different worlds. A peaceful melding of mutual understanding that accepts vast differences between both faiths but accentuates the commonality. A utopian vision, probably, but still possible.

A final interesting dogmatic dilemma, from the Christian perspective, would be the roles of sin and salvation in the day of an alien sister society. Sin has always been the unique curse of mankind, exempted from the "lower" life forms unable to make the conscious choice of evil. But is sin the curse of humanity or the curse of human-like intelligence? Do our extra-terrestrial neighbors need or deserve absolution or were they not present in the Garden of Eden to partake in the Fall? If they were sinners or could be somehow tainted by this human curse, would the salvation of Christ be available to them? My reading of the compassionate, loving Christ would say, unequivocally, "Yes"; salvation needed would be open to all, even 20,000 light years distant.

For my part, as a secular humanist, I can't imagine a more exciting time than to be faced with learning from a completely new society. The potential for billions of new perspectives of morality and societal structure could be the push humanity needs to break away from some of our onerous history. It would be a second Enlightenment that would spark an interest in scientific discovery likely unparalleled in human history. I get chills just thinking about it!

So get to it, NASA, and find us our first counterparts beyond the solar system. We desperately need the widening of perspective here in the current Center of the Known Universe. No one knows to whom E.T. prays, but we on Earth will be better off once we can pray with him.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kerry Says The Magic Word

"Filibuster". The one word that we on the Left have been waiting anxiously to hear from one of our esteemed Democratic Senators. "Filibuster". Senator John Kerry, along with Senator Ted Kennedy, has announced a planned filibuster of the Samuel Alito nomination. For those not steeped in the exciting parliamentary procedure of our Senate, a filibuster is when a group of Senators, being at least 41 in number, prevent "cloture" or the end of debate on a matter. It essentially makes sure that no "up or down" vote is possible so long as the filibuster is in place. In years past, Senators actually held the floor, speaking during the entire filibuster. Readings of the Bible or various other documents was often used to fill the time. The intent of the filibuster is to basically tell the majority to table the matter at hand; in this case, withdraw the Samuel Alito nomination. It's perhaps the purest demonstration of how the minority is protected in the Senate. Which means that it, like most minority protections, is not needed by the Republicans now and is thus despised by them.

Kerry summed up the problems with Alito nicely in a speech yesterday:

President Bush has nominated Judge Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court. He has nominated a man who consistently defers to the government action regardless of how egregious it may be; a man who erects rather than breaks down barriers in the area of civil rights, a man who, to this day, has never retreated from his declaration that the Constitution does not protect a woman's right to privacy, a man who has demonstrated a persistent insensitivity to the history of racial discrimination in this country and, was even, at the government's request, willing to ignore overwhelming evidence that African Americans were intentionally stricken from an all-white jury in a black defendant's capital case.

The Alito hearings were largely a joke; a dog and pony show designated as a coronation by the Republicans, smug in their majority status. The real meat of Judge Alito's judicial philosophy is found in his writings and rulings and they render him unfit to sit on the Supreme Court. I've seen numerous ads on TV lately of purported Democrats throwing their support behind Alito because he's "supremely qualified". Another typical Straw Man fallacy by the Right, since no one was arguing that Alito wasn't qualified.

The reason Alito doesn't belong on the Supreme Court is because he's a rightwing ideologue whose judicial philosophy bears little resemblance to the United States in which we live. We don't need fewer civil rights, more corporate power and more executive authority in the White House.

We don't need a nanny state that dictates personal medical, sexual and reproductive decisions to us. Abortion is too personal and too important for the government to step in and criminalize just because certain religious fundamentalists can't deal with dissent. Roe vs. Wade and the right to a safe abortion is a necessary right in our society, as our own history shows. Overturning Roe vs. Wade will not stop abortions. It will only make them more dangerous and more expensive, while adding an undue burden on a minority (pregnant women wanting an abortion) that is already facing a very difficult choice.

We don't need a judiciary that gives even more unregulated privilege to business interests in America. The judiciary is often the only defense the average American has against the carelessness and malfeasance of companies like Enron and WorldCom. Giving such entities even more protection than their copious wealth already buys them is to structure a society against its own people's interests.

We don't need an America where the wall separating church and state is slowly torn down by Conservative Christians whose faith is too weak to stand in their own hearts alone. The United States has flourished as a spiritual nation because religious institutions were protected from the interference of the government. More importantly, we have been able to flourish as a secular nation because the Unconstitutional privileges granted to Christianity over the years have been rightly struck down in recent years. America is not the church, nor the church America.

We don't need an America where civil liberties can be curtailed because the President thinks such rights are inconvenient to his job. We don't need strip searches of children and illegal wiretaps to "protect" us; if we have no civil liberties, then we have nothing left worth protecting anyway.

All of these things, these curtailments of civil rights and assertions of executive and corporate power, all have something in common. They've been tried before. Samuel Alito and his judicial philosophy are nothing new. It's the America of the Great Depression. It's the America of the "robber barons" and the policing of morality by the government. Liberal ideals of equal rights for all, protection from corporate negligence and malfeasance and a strong separation between religion and government allowed our society to be a shining example of liberal democracy and break out of those darker days.

President Bush and his conservative supporters want to put an end to all that. They want their business interests to get preferential treatment, but lie to pretend it's to help the economy. They want to reinstate the societal privileges of the wealthy, white man, and lie about it by talking of "fairness" and "traditional values". They know nothing of either. Our traditional American values are rooted in the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, not religious medievalism and economic social castes. We don't need another Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia to further stamp out the very freedoms that make the United States a great country.

To John Kerry and his fellow Democrats I say "It's about time!" The line in the sand has to be drawn; the line from which liberals will retreat no further. Liberalism is the safeguard of our democracy and our supposedly "liberal" Democratic Senators have been absent too often of late. The filibuster is supposed to be saved for a time of great importance and that time is right now. President Bush is President over the entire United States, not just the conservative half that supported him in the last election. It's time he nominates a Supreme Court Justice to benefit all of America, not just the half that the President relates to ideologically. The Supreme Court is not a political prize for the President and his party, but the solemn safeguard of our American liberties.

Time to send Alito back home and remind George W. Bush that most of the 300 million folks he works for have had enough of his incompetent partisanship. Filibuster away!

Sometimes Democracy Is Messy

For all the talk out of the Bush White House about the wonder and brilliance of democracy around the world, sometimes that beloved ideal yields some surprising results. All the major news outlets are buzzing today about Hamas' landslide victory in the Palestinian elections. From the perspective of the United States, a Hamas-led Palestinian government is a tricky problem. The U.S. lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, thus creating some real questions about relations between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority.

Our naked Emperor had some thoughts on the issue in his press conference today:

So the Palestinians had an election yesterday, and the results of which remind me about the power of democracy. You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know. That's the great thing about democracy, it provides a look into society.

Maybe somewhat off-topic on the issue, but it gets so very tiresome listening to Bush explain the most basic concepts in his press conferences, as though the American people are small children unable to mentally process the most basic concepts of society and government. I suspect it's because Bush himself is a little shaky on just what democracy is and how it works. I also find it either charmingly naive or disturbingly cynical that Bush claims to believe that voting changes the status quo. If only that were true.

And yesterday the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive. But what was also positive is, is that it's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care.

Bush is probably partially correct here. The level of corruption in the Fatah party is widely known, or at least assumed. However, I think he's really missing the elephant in the room, which is the nation right next door. The Palestinian people seem to be voting on their perception of Israel as a partner for peace in the region. The dynamic changes once the militant fringe group becomes the mainstream political party. The support of the Palestinian people for Hamas could very well be indicative of a backlash against a potential rightward shift in Israeli politics. Certain hardline Likud members, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, have already used harsh language to condemn the Palestinian vote.

I like the competition of ideas. I like people who have to go out and say, vote for me, and here's what I'm going to do. There's something healthy about a system that does that.

Some more off-topic sniping at the President, but Bush saying he likes the competition of ideas deserves a loud snort of derision. Bush has demonstrated his love of competing ideas by listening to ideas from both the conservatives and Neo-conservatives. Plus, if Bush has so much respect for campaign promises, maybe he could try keeping a few of his own. I'm still waiting to see him restore dignity to the Oval Office, practice a humble foreign policy and be a uniter instead of a divider. I won't hold my breath...

I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing. The elections just took place. We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government. But I will continue to remind people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace. And we're interested in peace.

Finally, the President gets to the heart of the matter, though his hesitation about the formation of a new Palestinian government is an attempt to dodge a substantive answer. The new government is certain to be Hamas controlled, given the party's win and the resignation of the Fatah-controlled government. The question of the status of Hamas in the eyes of the United States and Israel is a difficult issue for the White House.

On the one hand, the United States has been right to place Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations. They've supported and perpetrated violent acts throughout the Middle East for many years. Though their political platform doesn't mention it, the group's stated aim has always been the complete destruction of the state of Israel. It also seems very unlikely that Hamas will be willing to disarm anytime soon, either, especially given the continued tit-for-tat violence between the two peoples.

A more optimistic look, however, could give indications of some real progress towards the peace process and the two state solution. Legitimate political power and a role in the administrative side of governing could bring about a change in the way Hamas operates, much in the way the IRA changed over time. It's also possible that a change in the Palestinian Authority away from the remnants of the Arafat regime could help engender trust between the two parties. Some ethereal hopes at best but all still possibilities.

Again, though, as with Iran, U.S. credibility when dealing in this issue has been badly tarnished by the Bush Administration's hawkish policies. Bush's stubborn insistence on compartmentalizing the entire world into "good guys" and "bad guys" along shifting lines of political expediency, not to even mention the invasion & occupation of Iraq, has left other nations wary of U.S. intentions in the region. The White House may, in fact, have to scale back its terrorist rhetoric a bit and give Hamas the chance to re-establish itself as a legitimate player. Continued marginalization could just exacerbate possible tensions between the PA and Israel, especially with bellicose warhawks like Netanyahu spoiling for a resumption of the hardline policies of Sharon's Likud government. Bush Administration foreign policy has the potential to move the process in both directions, for good or ill.

Whatever else the Palestinian elections may be, they are certainly a harbinger of change in the region, hopefully for the better. But some tense days likely lie ahead for all involved. Like the Israelis electing Likud, the Palestinians have chosen a harder line approach, and the mixture of the two could be explosive.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Defending The Indefensible

President Bush's greatest trump card with his base has been the misconception that he's a straight talkin' dude, just layin' it out proper for the American people. That's complete garbage, of course, as Bush is just as much a political animal as any other in Washington. That's why it comes as no surprise that he's back out on the road again, trying to defend the war in Iraq, again. However, he's added a new attraction to his dog-and-pony show of political spin: defending his abuses of executive power.

Now, I've written about this before but, given my recent absence and the maddening inability of the "So-Called Liberal Media" to cover this issue with any sort of investigative prowess, it bears bringing to the forefront again. First, here is some of what President Bush is saying, most recently at a speech given at the University of Kansas, via The Ministry of Truth's website:

It's what I would call a terrorist surveillance program. After the enemy attacked us, and after I realized that we were not protected by oceans, I asked people that work for you -- work for me, how best can we use information to protect the American people? You might remember there was hijackers here that had made calls outside the country to somebody else, prior to the September the 11th attacks. And I said, is there anything more we can do within the law, within the Constitution, to protect the American people. And they came back with a program, designed a program that I want to describe to you. And I want people here to clearly understand why I made the decision I made.

First of all, it seems likely that Bush may, assuming he's telling the truth, be the only person of his generation that actually believed being "separated by oceans" made America safe from its enemies. The oceans certainly didn't seem to slow the British much, and that was 230 years ago. I'm a member of Generation X, and even I can remember the almost constant undercurrent of fear in the country that, at any moment, the Soviet Union might launch its nuclear arsenal and begin WWIII. Especially for those folks living in Alaska, where Siberia is practically next door. As I've noted before, the "Straw Man" logical fallacy is one of the Right's favorites; predictably Bush's protected-by-oceans straw man fails to stand any scrutiny. Further, if Bush really did exhort his staff to work out the domestic spying plan, then he really needs to downsize some staff. They are not the one's risking impeachment for violating FISA; the President is.

First, I made the decision to do the following things because there's an enemy that still wants to harm the American people. What I'm talking about is the intercept of certain communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and outside the United States; and one of the numbers would be reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate. In other words, we have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda. And if they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why.

This addresses another charge lobbed at liberals frequently in the country, ie., that we don't understand the threat to the country. I say "au contraire"; I understand the threat to the country just fine. I remember September 11, 2001 with crystal clarity. I was one of the millions evacuated from the Chicago Loop by Mayor Daley and I can still remember watching people crouch in the street every time a jet flew over towards O'Hare, thinking the Sears Tower was next. I'll carry that memory with me until my dying day, I'm sure.

However, the reality of the 9/11 attacks didn't strip me of all reason and critical thinking ability, as it apparently did to a large chunk of the country. Unlike, say, our President, I actually understand the difference between religious terrorists and secular dictators. I also understand that the "price of freedom" that conservatives love to drone on about is often paid by innocent Americans. Sometimes our freedom costs us our lives and I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way. I'll die in a democracy any day before I live in a dictatorship.

Furthermore, the threat from religious fundamentalists and other fringe groups has always, always been a danger to the United States. The attacks of 9/11 were special for their theatrics, not their intent or their cause. It's a danger the U.S. will always face. However, I refuse to go into a pants-wetting paroxysm of fear every time some primitive Middle Eastern religious fundamentalist makes a new VHS tape. And I don't need Generalissimo Bush to strip the civil rights out of our society to make me feel better about the foreign religious nuts who want to kill Americans. Hell, we've had domestic religious nuts killing Americans for years, and the last time I checked, the country was still standing.

This is a -- I repeat to you, even though you hear words, "domestic spying," these are not phone calls within the United States. It's a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States. I'm mindful of your civil liberties, and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process. We briefed members of the United States Congress, one of whom was Senator Pat Roberts, about this program. You know, it's amazing, when people say to me, well, he was just breaking the law -- if I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?

It really incenses me further that our President seems to think that breaking the law is just a joke; a frat house prank that the popular kids are in on and the nerds are taking too seriously. Apparently Bush had the wrong kind of lawyers reviewing his work; perhaps even the strictly conservative monarchist type that believe in unitary executive power. Perhaps some other attorney's, such as the ACLU, might not have agreed with Bush's preferred view of Presidential authority.

Regardless of how the program was vetted, the facts remain simple and straight-forward. It is illegal to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Period. End of discussion, unless someone wants to start a bill in Congress to repeal FISA. Nowhere, not one place, in the Constitution is the President ever given the authority to ignore the law, for any reason. Nor is such authority ever implied anywhere, either in the Constitution or in the writings of those who wrote it. Eavesdropping on Americans' phone conversations without a warrant is illegal under FISA and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Bush continues to defend his law-breaking with the excuse that the NSA was only spying on those receiving calls from "the terrorists". A lie, plain and simple. If that were true, then the White House could have gotten a warrant from any court in the land. The fact that they did not can only mean that they knew or at least suspected that they could not get a warrant for those on whom they were spying. Some suggestions I've read have included journalists, such as CNN's Christianne Amanpour, or Leftist political organizations, such as PETA or Greenpeace. Regardless, the more Bush defends his domestic spying program with the "only spying on the terrorists" defense, the bigger the elephant in the room becomes.

Federal courts have consistently ruled that a President has authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance against our enemies. Predecessors of mine have used that same constitutional authority. Recently there was a Supreme Court case called the Hamdi case. It ruled the authorization for the use of military force passed by the Congress in 2001 -- in other words, Congress passed this piece of legislation. And the Court ruled, the Supreme Court ruled that it gave the President additional authority to use what it called "the fundamental incidents of waging war" against al Qaeda.

I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you what it means. It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics. It's an -- you've got the power to protect us, but we're not going to tell you how. And one of the ways to protect the American people is to understand the intentions of the enemy. I told you it's a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy. If they're making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why -- to protect you.

Again, more of the same misleading defense. Of course the President has the power to use surveillance techniques against foreign enemies; that's what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does! However, the President does not have the power to arbitrarily select the target of foreign surveillance. The President is required to take that request to the FISA court, demonstrate probable cause (which is the standard given in the Fourth Amendment for searches and seizures) and seek a judicial warrant. It's the separation of power that is key to our government structure. The FISA court has only denied 6 warrants since its inception in 1979. It is impossible to make a credible argument for illegally side-stepping the FISA court in the name of expediency. If the FISA court is too slow, then Bush can appoint more judges to the court. That actually is within the realm of executive power under the Constitution. Or Bush could go to any court in the land to get a warrant; establishing that they are calls coming from Al-Qaida is probable cause for surveillance.

The entire canard about the Congressional authorization for the use of force is complete garbage as well. The authorization does not, in any way, shape or form, repeal either the FISA or the Fourth Amendment. In fact, when asked why the White House didn't just take its surveillance plan to Congress, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez admitted it was because they knew Congress would deny the President that authority. They knew they were breaking that law and they knowingly continue to break the law. That must be grounds for impeachment under any reading of the Constitution.

For the curious, here is the text of the Fourth Amendment, since many, including Bush, Gonzalez and Former NSA Director General Hayden (via Atrios), seem confused about it:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Finally, I completely reject Bush's paternalistic nonsense towards "protecting" me. Do you really want to protect me, Mr. President? Then how about bringing our National Guard back from your illegal occupation in Iraq? How about a single-payer national healthcare plan in case I lose my job or get hurt in a car wreck (a very real possibility in my recent life)? How about a comprehensive plan for protecting our ports, our chemical factories and our nuclear plants? Most importantly, how about respecting the laws and the Constitution that are the bedrock of the nation I love? That'll do, for starters...

[Mia culpa for the infrequent posting of late. I've fallen victim to a common affliction that all accountants are in danger of, called "fiscal year end". It's symptoms include loss of time, loss of higher brain function and a loss of temporal orientation. Generally, those afflicted recover after a time, as I have, or shake out of the industry to become landscapers. Fortunately, my lovely wife Gifted-1 has helped to fill in and this absence has left me with a whole lotta axes to grind.

"I'm full of piss and vinegar! I used to just be full of vinegar..." - Abe Simpson]

While the Cat's away...

The mice will play...

In honor of year-end activities happening in the realm of accounting, Sam is super busy... so, I have decided to have a little fun with the blog. It'll be a slight break from the political, social & deep religious articles of norm.
We can play some games... just to get people talking (or it could turn into an all out brawl, you never know)! So today name five:

Favorite Movies
Favorite Bands/Musical Groups
Favorite TV Shows (past or present)
Favorite _________ (you fill in the blank with your personal choice)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Happy 4th Birthday to our Baby Boy!

Liam turned 4 today (January 22nd)... I can't believe how much he's grown up!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

We Do Dances, Brand New Dances...Like The Nuclear Bomb...

The revelation that Iran broke the IAEA seals on it's uranium enrichment facilities January 10th has sparked tough talk, across the region and across the world.

From The Capital Times:

Israel's defense minister hinted Saturday that the Jewish state is preparing for military action to stop Iran's nuclear program, but said international diplomacy must be the first course of action.

"Israel will not be able to accept an Iranian nuclear capability and it must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing," Shaul Mofaz said.


Germany's defense minister said in an interview published Saturday that he is hopeful of a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program, but argued that "all options" should remain open.


French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France could respond with nuclear weapons against any state-sponsored terrorist attack.

The players are all gathering in this drama, postponed but never cancelled some two years ago. Iran's challenge to the world on nuclear energy was an inevitability, and it seems unlikely that the claims of domestic power generation can be take with anything but a large grain of salt. The words, also, of President Ahmadinejad to "wipe Israel off the map" has virtually assured a tense stand-off across the Middle East.

The issue of the Iranian government building a nuclear arsenal is a thorny one for the western world. The United States, France, Germany, Russia and Israel (secretly), all maintain a nuclear weapons program. The unprovoked invasion of Iraq by the United States is certainly a contributing factor to a desire for the bomb in one of the nations labeled by President Bush as the "Axis of Evil". Certainly the fate of Saddam Hussein, while advantageous to Iran, also leaves the ruling mullahs very concerned over U.S. motivations in the region.

Nuclear proliferation is the most serious threat facing the world today, and any "War on Terror" that doesn't require a non-proliferation plan as a central key is only so much political rhetoric. Bush's belligerent foreign policy has effectively taken the United States out of the game where Iran is concerned. The U.S. has precious little credibility while the debacle in Iraq continues. It should make Americans very uncomfortable that the man who claims his job is to "protect Americans" has left us with very little practical defense against a new nuclear threat in the world.

The entire situation in Iran may turn out to be much ado about nothing. One more nation in the international game of nuclear brinkmanship may just keep the house of cards standing. But the growing danger remains. One cornered, desperate dictator or, worse, delusional religious zealot could end the game in a blinding flash of light. If only the United States had a responsible foreign policy, rooted in a sensible view of American power and American needs, then perhaps our nation could at least have a role in the drama unfolding. Sadly, the "Bush Doctrine" has left America backstage in the Iran showdown...

I'm now able to publish!


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Of Rats And Sinking Ships

Out of the dusky darkness of the Republican depths a dry, whispery wind has begun blowing. Carried on that malevolent breath comes the sour groaning of those ancient ancestors of today's American Conservative movement: the Paleo-conservatives!

From U.S. Newswire:

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, chairman of PRCB, was joined by fellow conservatives Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR); David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, in urging lawmakers to use NSA hearings to establish a solid foundation for restoring much needed constitutional checks and balances to intelligence law.

"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9-11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," said Barr. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."

Now, I would like to believe that the gross mismanagement of the country by President Bush has led to this sudden round of chastisement by the old guard conservatives. Sadly, I'm not quite that optimistic about the sudden feelings of civic responsibility bubbling up among the old anti-government crowd. After all, it's rather difficult to take these groups seriously given their silence over Bush's trampling of conservative ideals. Where were the conservatives when:

  • Bush launched an unprovoked and illegal war in Iraq, based on selectively chosen intelligence?

  • The Senate passed 99-1 (duly noted, Senator Feingold!) the USA Patriot Act, containing a vast expansion of government powers and curtailing certain civil rights?

  • Bush fiscal policies caused record deficits in the federal budget and ballooned the national debt?

  • Bush and the Republicans pushed numerous conservative religious social restrictions, forcing the federal government into the bedrooms, lives and even hospice beds of American citizens?

Their stony silence and lack of action on these and other issues makes their stance in opposition to Bush a little suspicious now. A principled stand? Perhaps. But more likely, a conservative movement that realizes its elected representatives are grossly out of step with the American people. Bush's approval ratings continue to dip below 40%, while Republican scandals grab headlines across the country. I suspect that Bob Barr and company have suddenly found their moral outrage because they realize 2006 mid-term prospects are looking very dim for the Republican party.

Still, it is nice to see that Bush's conservative base is crumbling apart. They finally seem to realize that this is not the man to lead them into the free-market feudalistic society of which they've dreamt for years. Enough of the shine has come off the man that even conservatives cannot delude themselves into believing he's a great president any longer. The Republican ship is listing badly, and the old conservative rats are heading overboard in a big hurry.

One other quote from the article:

"Public hearings on this issue are essential to addressing the serious concerns raised by alarming revelations of NSA electronic eavesdropping." -- Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform

This is my favorite of the bunch, not because I give two shits what a lunatic like Grover Norquist thinks; he's proven himself beyond the realm of responsible public policy plenty of times. I like this quote because of what it signifies regarding the President and his party. If George W. Bush, the biggest tax-cutter to ever sit in the Oval Office, has lost Grover Norquist, then he has truly lost the country.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Poetry Corner From Malignant Vanilla

thought dreams

blinked eye

How pretty can you be
in a world so ugly?
it doesn't matter really
if it's what you believe.
How happy can you be
in a world that's just like me?
it doesn't care, really,
it just wants you to leave.
How faithful can you be
when you're so sick of me?
we're all pretending not to see

mourning memories

an ebondy glow
lifeless body parts draped over chairs
bloodless and numb
Calm words float from perfect lips
north winds slide up backs like a cold tongue
smoke entwines the listeners
as they fight for conversation
each word a touch of the brush of her art
each day a canvas
plain white til she rips the stitches
and lets me see again
why can i not speak of such things
why will you never know these thoughts
why do i always think of you
when i see this same ebony sky
and when i'm draped lifelessly over a chair
ugly and drunk
listening to old words
like cold wet pants
until i can't stand to ever hear it anymore
and i hate her for ripping the stitches
so she'll never know these thoughts
so she'll never know i'm thinking of her


A ride between the breeze,
to see them when they're silent.
Lost in thought of being alone
Slow droning seconds of needs
after years and years becomes philosophy.
An exploration of what we can see
with new machines becomes photography.
Do we even know, that which we claim to believe
Can these really be my thoughts that are haunting me
Are we content with what we're pretending to be
or are we merely playing for the fear of consequence
and suddenly the words leave me
and it feels like another ending

A Lone Voice In The Wilderness

It can often times be difficult being a liberal in Bush's America. After all, I opposed a war that conservatives had been dreaming of for 10 years. I don't subscribe to the Republican myth of supply-side, free market economics. I don't believe that tax-free capital is a good policy, since it grossly exacerbates the income gap in the nation. I'm not a Christian and I don't subscribe to the notion of America being better off with a weak separation of church and state. I think consenting adults should be able to marry without state interference in the matter. I am hopelessly out of step with the conservative Republican view of what American life should be.

Unfortunately for myself, and many like me, our representation in the political realm, including the media, has not been stellar lately. I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that the media is biased against liberalism per se. I believe the media is biased towards its corporate ownership, towards sensationalism and towards the easily digested 30-second soundbite, which has been the most effective ideological weapon the Republicans have had against liberalism. The nuanced foreign policy positions of a liberal realist cannot compete in the No Attention Span media era with "Fightin' 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here!" or "Mission Accomplished!". The Right has perfected jingoism, allowing the masses to receive tiny blerbs of political-sounding information, while imparting no real knowledge or policy of any kind. The Republicans have been able to either box liberal ideas into phony corners of ideological nonsense, or gotten them excluded from the public discourse altogether. It's no accident that exit polling after the 2004 presidential election demonstrated that a majority voting for Bush believed him to hold views on issues that were the opposite of what he actually campaigned upon. The media, so afraid of the dreaded accusation of "liberal bias" so prevalent from the Right, avoids all pretense of reasoned discourse on substantive issues, instead turning politics into a struggle of personalities and power ties.

The result of all this tends to be that true, intelligent liberal voices rarely get much of audience in the national media or, when they do, are mercilessly pot-shotted for the most inane, empty-headed reasons (anyone remember the "Dean scream"?). As a liberal, I begin to feel as though perhaps the country has changed too far for my particular ideals to have any place here. I begin to wonder if perhaps a majority of the country really does want women's rights taken away, really believes we're locked in a global holy war with Islam, really does believe that social welfare and taxes are evil. It makes the nation of Jefferson and Madison seem awfully far away when looking at a reality of unending war, unchecked executive power and unabashed privilege for the wealthy and incorporated. The America I and like-minded folks want to live in seems an ethereal pipe dream some days.

Which is why, when a liberal intellectual finally breaks through the media's zone defense of pointless inanity, it feels like cool water in the desert. Such a moment came today, finally, on C-SPAN, with a well-timed speech by former Vice President Al Gore. Al Gore's loss in 2000 (even if questionable) was a wake-up call for me as a liberal. It really demonstrated to me that those supporting conservative causes place their ideology above all other concerns in an election. There is simply no objective measure by which George W. Bush could be considered better qualified to be President than Al Gore, and Bush's appointment to the Presidency in 2000 remains a stark indicator that conservatives would rather have their own incompetent ideologue as President than a superbly qualified and seasoned expert from the other side of the political spectrum. For conservatives today, "compromise" is synonymous with "surrender" and that is something they simply will not abide.

After reading the transcript of Gore's speech, I can only say that it was like manna from heaven hearing an intellectual of his stature confirm exactly what liberals like myself have been saying about Bush's activities of late. I care about the Rule of Law and the role of government under the Constitution, and Bush's belief in unchecked executive power during a contrived war flies right in the face of the ideals our country was founded upon. But don't take my word for it...

Former Vice President Al Gore, via firedoglake:

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

This is why the Alito nomination is important to every American. A unitary executive that is all-powerful during a time of ongoing and never-ending undeclared official wartime has no check, no balance, especially given a Congress which has abdicated its responsibilities of any meaningful oversight. In this context, an independent judiciary becomes more important as a balancing mechanism -- and a judiciary which has been purposely packed with rubber-stamping ideologues cannot provide an adequate balance.

[Bolded comments are from ReddHedd at firedoglake.]

More, via AmericaBlog:

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws...

The excruciating irony of Gore's speech is that it would have been met by thunderous Republican applause...if it had been given by Newt Gingrich in reference to President Clinton's impeachment. The Republicans pretended to be very interested in the Rule of Law and the limits of executive power then. How quickly their memories fade...

In the past few weeks, liberals have been subjected to Joe Lieberman's undying support of the President's invasion and occupation of Iraq, Joe Biden's scatalogical bloviating during the Alito hearings and Diane Feinstein's practical surrender on the Alito nomination. Not a very respectable showing for the party that liberals are generally forced to support for lack of a viable alternative. How spectacular it was, then, to see a true heavyweight like Al Gore thundering away at the depraved reality of Republican controlled government. It served as a powerful reminder that the Republicans don't own America and don't hold the license for patriotism. Perhaps a few more voices added to Gore's and Feingold's and Dean's, could help remind "Red State America" of why we Americans don't tolerate incompetent crooks in the White House and Congress.

Of course, I suppose the future of our nation really pales in importance compared to two men getting married, so I won't hold my breath.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - April 3, 1968

In his own words, as relevant today as when first spoken:

I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding -- something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same -- "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding.


Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."


It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.


Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.


Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I can't help but marvel at the faith and vision this one man had, in the face of some of the grossest inequity ever devised by mankind. It makes so-called Christians like James Dobson and Pat Robertson seem laughably banal and impotent by comparison. It's hard to comprehend a universe where men like that become old and fat, reveling in their Earthly rewards, while this lean and hungry man of the people was taken from us so young. A terrible shame...

I hope my children will one day live in Dr. King's America.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Philosophy Friday: Creationism Class

One of my biggest complaints about efforts to incorporate "Intelligent Design" into the school curriculums in Kansas and Pennsylvania has been the stubborn insistence by Intelligent Design supporters that it belongs in biology as an alternative to evolution. In light of the devastating Dover ruling, however, it appears that perhaps the Creationists have stumbled out of one briar patch and straight into another.

From Americans United:

On Jan. 1, the board of trustees of El Tejon Unified School District approved an elective called "Philosophy of Design" that advocates "intelligent design" and other concepts of creationism. The course is now being taught at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec.

I have said in several posts here that I believe that Intelligent Design can be taught in public schools, as part of an overall elective on world religions. That's not to say that I believe anything useful can be learned from Intelligent Design; as far as creation myths go it's about as stimulating as the back of an aspirin bottle. However, in the free market place of ideas, there is room for discussion of everything and Intelligent Design is no exception. However, El Tejon USD walks right up to a good idea and tramples right on over it in its zeal to promote a fundamentalist Christian agenda.

A good call from the director of Americans United:

"There is a national crusade under way to inject religion into our public schools, and it must not succeed," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Religious Right activists are looking for every opportunity to proselytize students into their doctrines. The so-called 'philosophy' course in Lebec is the latest maneuver in a long line of misguided schemes."

"This situation has nothing to do with academic freedom or teaching critical thinking, as school officials contend," Lynn continued. "This is a clear case of government promotion of religion, and it violates the U.S. Constitution. Public schools serve children of many faiths and none, and the curriculum should never single out a particular religious viewpoint for preferential treatment."

If only El Tejon USD had bothered to include a study of other creation myths, along with Intelligent Design, then I believe the class would have passed Constitutional muster. A better understanding of various religious beliefs, especially at a younger age, would go many miles towards easing interactions between members of different faiths, both within the U.S. and without. One of the biggest issues facing our country is how to deal with Muslim extremism and a good, comprehensive study of Islam could only benefit us as a nation. The same holds true for a study of Christianity and Judaism for countries that are majority Muslim.

The class description for this "philosophy" course is very telling:

The "Philosophy of Design" course description, which was given to students and their families in early December, stated that it would "take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

First of all, there is no other way to look at evolution other than as a scientific theory. Claims by conservative Christians that somehow evolution is a kind of pseudo-religious dogma is both wrong and insulting. It makes certain erroneous pre-suppositions about the religious beliefs of the scientifically informed, which of course run the entire gamut of belief systems. Science and religion, in the liberal mind, can and do compliment each other, not conflict. Further, such a view assumes that those who understand and accept scientific theories are just as inept as religious fundamentalists at telling the difference between science and religion; again insulting and untrue.

Second, again we see this notion of the "flaws" in evolution. No scientist anywhere in the world claims that evolution cannot be challenged; quite the opposite, in fact. The very nature of scientific discovery requires that our ideas be tested by new evidence. That's how scientific theories are created and modified. Some theories, and evolution is one, are so well proven and supported by evidence that the benefit of the doubt remains on their side. Now, reasonable people can disagree as to whether that's good policy but that doesn't change the fact that evolution is indeed "rock solid".

As for the claim that "physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting that the earth is thousands of years old", that's just an out-and-out lie. There is no such evidence. Even if the class was not a blatant attempt to indoctrinate public school students on the taxpayer dime, it should still be banned for its lack of educational merit. No school, public or otherwise, should be allowed to teach blatant misinformation and errors to its students intentionally.

So, who penned such a course for the El Tejon USD? Sadly, someone whose professional ethics were thrown completely out the window by doing so:

In its complaint seeking to block the high school from teaching the course, Americans United noted that teacher Sharon Lemburg proposed the course for overtly religious reasons. Lemburg wrote the course description and also prepared a course syllabus showing that intelligent design would be the primary topic of discussion. ID maintains that life is so complex that an intelligent entity, likely God, must have created it.

For example, Lemburg's syllabus asks why ID is "gaining momentum" and why it is "so threatening to society, the educational system and evolutionists." The original syllabus for the class listed 24 videos for potential use, all but one of them produced by religious organizations and centered on attacking evolution and advancing intelligent design. One video, called "Chemicals to Living Cells: Fantasy or Science," is produced by a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis.

I have much respect and admiration for teachers, and it saddens me to see one involved in such a misguided venture as this. Ms. Lemburg's proposed course may be perfect for a Sunday School class at whatever church she attends (assuming she attends), but it has no place in a public school and a teacher should know that. This was not a case of skating close to the line of church/state separation. It would be very possible for a good, qualified teacher to innocently slip close to that line, as the line of separation in public schools is not always crystal clear. But this course leaves little doubt as to Ms. Lemburg's intentions for her students and that's really a shame. She has not only likely ended her teaching career but has also been a lackluster witness for her faith. Mendacity and misdirection is a poor way to win hearts for Christ, even with the best of intentions.

It's instructive to see, in the El Tejon case, exactly where the Intelligent Design movement is heading next. The Dover ruling has largely insured that future attempts to undermine science education with Creationism have been largely stymied, though it's always possible that such a case could reach the increasingly conservative Supreme Court and be decided another way. Elective public school classes teaching comparisons of various religious beliefs are a good idea as religion is one of the most powerful forces shaping our world. But the role of advocate for a given religion is not given to taxpayer-funded institutions under our Constitution, and further attempts to side-step this by the Christian Right only exposes the weaknesses of their cause.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Getting By With A Little Help From His Friends

Looking over the itinerary today for the Alito Republican coronation/Democratic judicial hearing, I couldn't help but notice that one of the witnesses on the docket for today jumped right out at me. Peter Kirsanow is scheduled to testify in support of Alito today, so I thought it would be interesting to review a little bit about Mr. Kirsanow. The Republicans are counting on Alito gaining some favor with the ultra-conservatives by associating with an ideologue like Kirsanow, since you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. So what can we learn of Judge Alito by looking at his friend? Plenty.

First of all, a little background on Mr. Kirsanow is in order:

When Peter Kirsanow was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Bush in December 2001, the Commission's Chairperson told the White House that it would take federal marshals to seat Mr. Kirsanow. The majority on the Commission fought his appointment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justice Department prevailed in its lawsuit to seat Mr. Kirsanow, and he became a member of the Commission in May 2002.

Kirsanow was a recess appointment (big surprise, coming from Bush) and was an egregiously poor choice for the position. Appointing Kirsanow smacked of more Rovian political tactics; appoint a an extreme rightwing ideologue to a commission safeguarding civil rights. Given Alito's writings in opposition to women's rights and the rights of individuals to seek redress against business interests, Kirsanow seems an appropriate character witness. Kirsanow has been a vehement opponent of organized labor, women's reproductive rights and affirmative action.

Here is Kirsanow, in an interview with Citizens For Individual Freedom, a conservative activist group supporting the Alito nomination. He's speaking with Renee Giachino, general counsel for CFIF:

GIACHINO: Let me ask you about one other article that I recently read. This one by Cynthia Tucker, who is also a well-regarded columnist. She recently wrote an article titled "Civil Rights in danger if Bush is re-elected." Recognizing that you are not speaking on behalf of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, but that you are one of the Commissioners, what is your opinion of what she has written, that being that the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court, which we all know to be the case" that is that at least four of the Justices could retire during the next term or face some other unfortunate event, and she writes that if President Bush is re-elected "his Court could turn back the clock on the individual rights Americans take for granted." Do you agree or disagree?

KIRSANOW: I disagree vehemently. With all due respect to Ms. Tucker, who I think is very well respected, that is just tremendous hyperbole. I have seen that in a lot of other places and using the fact or the term "turning back the clock." If anyone is a historian of the Court, I would like to see under what circumstances, other than perhaps Dred Scott and a few others, where any clocks have been turned back. And, in fact, I think we have a court system, a legislative system and executive branch that are all committed to civil rights, and, in fact, we have a multi-billion dollar apparatus in place to insure that civil rights are protected. All we see and have seen for the last 50 years is an expansion of those civil rights and the protection thereof. I think it verges on irresponsible to make a comment like that.

While Kirsanow may be right that no "clocks have been turned back", I think that plays right into the heart of why conservatives want a Justice like Alito. They want the clock turned back on issues such as women's rights, affirmative action and separation of church and state. It's true that we've seen an expansion of civil rights over the past 50 years but that's because of liberal activism and ideology, in spite of conservative push-back. In terms of the power of the Executive, I agree also with Kirsanow that we haven't turned back the clock, nor do I believe that Alito on the Supreme Court will do so. An Alito Court will take Executive power somewhere it's never been; a radicalization that bears little resemblance to the Executive defined in the Constitution.

Finally, the issue of detainees from the "War on Terror" is one that Alito is likely to face as a Supreme Court Justice. Kirsanow, this conservative testifying for the character and judicial philosophy of Alito, had some interesting things to say about civil rights in a time of war.

[Kirsanow's] response to the testimony in Detroit from Arab-American representatives [who were complaining of civil rights violations following 9/11] was to argue they should support Bush's anti-terrorism program and stop complaining on the grounds that another terror attack linked to Arabs or Muslims would result in far harsher measures.

Should terrorists carry out another attack, he told the meeting, "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights."

Setting aside what a fascist and obtuse thing that is for a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to say, this clearly illustrates the conservative mind-set towards the War on Terror. They believe this is a global crusade of American Christians against Arab Muslims, and collateral damage doesn't even enter the picture. This is why such conservative luminaries as Michelle Malkin feel comfortable writing in favor of the Japanese interment camps. They believe stripping American citizens of their rights is an acceptable practice. If such a man as Kirsanow is willing to say so, and he's being called to represent the views of Judge Alito, then it is impossible to infer other than that Alito believes the same, along with the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

People are often judged by the company they keep, and if Peter Kirsanow is any indication, then Alito is clearly not fit for a seat on the highest institution dedicated to protecting American liberties.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Ministry of Truth: Decoding The Bushspeak

President Bush today gave another of his famous fake townhall meetings, this time in Kentucky. Another nice, pre-screened audience of fervent Bush supporters turned out to hear yet another repetition of the White House's choicest talking points.

As a public service to those in the reality-based liberal community, I will now correct the record a bit, to reflect what the President is really saying in his latest attempt to flog his flagging poll numbers.

Via the Ministry's website:

What I thought I'd do is maybe make some opening comments and answer any questions you got. I probably can't stay here all day since I've got a job to do, but I'm interested in your opinions and your point of view.

First of all, it's getting just a little tiresome having a President whose grammar is at a 6th grade level. Didn't this guy go to college or some such? As for cutting through the propaganda, well it isn't necessary here because he's telling the truth. He's always interested in the opinions and point of view of a room full of pre-screened Republican supporters. Oh, and I, for one, would not mind if Bush spent the entire rest of his presidency doing nothing but giving stump speeches. He's less dangerous when he's out doing what he does best: shilling for his party.

We got an economy that's going good, and perhaps you want to know what we're going to do to keep it growing.

Translation: "All you have to do is believe that until 2008. Oh please, oh please." Look, the economy is not doing all that well. It took until just last week for the Dow Jones Industrial Average to return to the level it was at when Bush took office. The Federal debt is growing quickly and China has recently announced it intends to shift its debt holdings away from dollars going forward. Bush is still running a huge budget deficit, which he has pledged to cut in half by 2008. Of course, it was a surplus when he took office. Bush is still on track to be the first President in the modern era to record a net loss of jobs during his tenure in office. Oh, and real wages and employee benefits have fallen while all major price indices have risen. As Holden would say, "Where's my Bush Boom?"

Let me -- I wish I didn't have to say this, but we're still at war. And that's important for the citizens of this commonwealth to understand. You know, no President ever wants to be President during war. But this war came to us, not as a result of actions we took, it came to us as a result of actions an enemy took on September the 11th, 2001. And I -- (applause) -- and I vowed that day, starting when I was in Florida and got on the airplane to head across the country, that I would use everything in my power -- obviously, within the Constitution -- but everything in my power to protect the American people. That is the most solemn duty of government, is to protect our people from harm.

Bush is sorry to say we're at war, eh? Not according to this quote, via TomPaine.com:

"One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief." And he said, "My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it." He went on, "If I have a chance to invade..., if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." - George W. Bush in 1999

Any claim by Bush that he regrets being at war is suspect at best.

It's also quite interesting that on his claim to do "everything in his power" to protect Americans, he seems to acknowledge the Constitutional powers of the Presidency as a subset of his official powers. Seems like King George let slip how he really feels about the power of his Presidency, but then throws a little bone to his supporters present so they can pretend that having a king is constitutional.

Secondly, after September the 11th, not only did I vow to use our assets to protect the people by staying on the offense, by defeating an enemy elsewhere so we don't have to face them here at home, I also said that if you harbor a terrorist, if you provide safe haven to a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the terrorist. And I meant it. And the Taliban in Afghanistan -- a barbaric group of individuals who suppressed women, suppressed religious freedom, suppressed young girls -- had harbored these terrorists; they provided safe haven.

While the invasion of Afghanistan is at least defensible, I don't believe for one second that that's the war to which Bush is referring. Yet another lame attempt to link 9/11 with Iraq, a link that makes no sense and has no factual basis. The entire "fighting them in Iraq so we don't fight them here" is both incredibly disrespectful to the Iraqis, who may not like having their home turned into a wartorn hell for the U.S.'s battle against Al-Qaida, and dishonest, as though huge boatloads of Al-Qaida terrorists are sailing this way ready to invade. Bush's "War on Terror" is a joke, designed to invoke a paranoid fear of imminent danger from some shadowy menace, a tactic popular with military dictators everywhere. Newsflash for Bush and his supporters: the U.S. has always faced the threat of terrorism. That comes with being a free country rather than a police state. And even if we could "fight them over there to avoid fighting them here" that still wouldn't save us from home grown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh.

That's quite enough of Bush's garbage talk for one evening. His administration is played out, its rhetoric stale and its initiatives failed. All that's left for Bush is to appeal to the Republican base as much as possible, in hopes of avoiding a Republican bloodletting in November.

A vain hope, I pray...