Thursday, November 30, 2006

Privacy and Civil Liberties

Well the big news today is that the president (I simply cannot spell that with a capital letter, I just can’t) finally briefed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the NSA Warrantless Spying Program. It comes as no surprise that the Board thinks that he is doing a wonderful job of administering this illegal program.

Yes, of course they fail to address the fact that it is illegal in its entirety, and that comes as no surprise either. We’ll address that momentarily, but to finish the summarization of the Board’s report, they admire how much respect the president is showing for the privacy of the people he is spying on. I’m unclear on how one spies on a person and simultaneously respects that person’s privacy, but the Board seems satisfied, even quite pleased with the program’s performance in that respect.

As far as I can determine, the report does not so far address whether the civil liberties of the persons being spied upon are being respected, only the privacy thereof, so perhaps the Board should take another look at its name and assure us that civil liberties are being respected as well.

I rather doubt that civil liberties actually are being respected, but if the Board can believe that the privacy of the spyees is being respected, they should have no problem making the leap to a similar judgement regarding the civil liberties of those spyees.

The blogosphere is fulminating furiously about the report, but I’m not sure why. I mean, come on guys and girls, you knew a month ago who the Board was composed of so this report cannot come as any surprise.

"Fulminating furiously" Isn’t that a lovely phrase? It’s redundant, of course; fulmination is by definition furious. But I really like the way it rolls off of the tongue.

What amazes me is not the outcome, but the Board itself. Only the American Congress would create an oversight board the membership of which is in its entirety appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the person it is overseeing.

That is like deciding that our criminal system will allow the alleged criminal, by himself, to pick all twelve members of the jury that will be trying him. The new and improved “zero conviction” policy for reducing prison crowding.

The creation of this oversight board is in itself entirely corrupt in concept and execution. It was designed to have no purpose whatsoever other than to throw bullfeathers at the American people in an attempt by Congress to conceal the corrupt and illegal actions of the Executive branch.

So not only is the president violating the law, but Congress (or at least every member of it who voted for creation of this ludicrous Board) is entirely complicit in that illegality.

We elected a different Congress earlier this month. Now we need to keep an eye on it to be sure that it really is different. Pay attention America, our nation is at stake.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Failure of leadership, and...

There was a post on the Mahablog yesterday proposing a Civilian War Footing Act to involve the citizenry in wars started by our government. It was inspired by a New York Times editorial by Bob Hebert dealing with the image of Americans on a shopping craze while Iraq burned and people there died in large numbers. I can’t post a link to the editorial, because the Times doesn’t want anybody other than its privileged paid subscribers to read it.

I have written before that one of the most misbegotten aspects of this war is that the burden of it has fallen exclusively on the men and women of our armed forces and their families; that for the rest of us it is tax cuts, business as usual and, as mentioned by Bob Hebert, shopping. Once more for the record, I served in a diesel submarine in North Atlantic during the Cold War; I am 63 years old and I have Parkinson’s Disease, so I am not on the sideline by mere choice.

Like the Maha, I believe that any time we send our young men and women into harm’s way, any time we send them to place their precious lives between us and an enemy (real or imagined) that threatens us, we owe it to them to support them with every ounce of every resource that this nation possesses. That means not just putting the military on a war footing, but putting the nation into that status as well. That means paying taxes, rationing critical supplies, being confronted with the carnage of war in a way that does not allow us to ignore our responsibility – not on the back page of the local news.

That means seeing the flag-draped coffins as those who have lost their lives are brought home. It means being told the count of the wounded and the seeing the degree to which their lives and the lives of their families have been disrupted. That disruption is on our hands.

That “they die while we shop” is indeed a failure of leadership. Our leaders wage war abroad and promote false prosperity at home. They keep the war cost off budget, passing it as “supplemental” funding so that they can claim a lower deficit than actually exists and protect their pork barrel spending and tax cuts. They try to avoid the unpopularity of war by not asking the nation to bear the cost of that war either personally or financially. They popularize the war by fearmongering and promoting a false “war on terror.”

But in a larger sense the failure is us. We are a nation that overwhelmingly does not vote. Some sixty percent of us are too busy shopping to take time to go to the polls, to care who is running our country.

And those of us who did vote – we elected this government, and we reelected it. Bush preached fear and we allowed fear to rule us and we reelected him. Our legislature was corrupt, rubber-stamping presidential excesses and tax cuts and spending like whores, and we reelected its members in droves. Even in the current year of national revulsion, only something like 10% of incumbents were defeated. Voting for the incumbent is easy and we’re too busy shopping to research the challenger.

This country does not elect leaders. It elects people who can raise money.

Voters today do not listen to or read speeches. Votes are not based on in-depth evaluation of the candidate’s multifaceted persona. Votes are based on a single-issue sound bite aired hundreds of times on a thirty-second television commercial. That sound bite may very well be a lie, but it will get the person who has enough money to air it elected.

Don’t blame the person who raised the money and aired the sound bites. Blame the person who based a vote on that sound bite.

Taking time to read the life history of and the collected essays written by a presidential candidate is hard and it cuts into one’s shopping time. It’s easier to just react to a television ad that claims that someone beats their wife and vote for the other guy.

After all, there’s a sale on at Macy’s today.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank you

I know they will not read this, but…

To those whose loved ones are in harm’s way on this national day of thanks and who are, perhaps, not feeling much to be thankful for.

I cannot know what it feels like to be you.

I have served far from home and in hostile waters. Like your loved ones, I chose that service and I never regretted it. I did not enjoy the anxiety it caused those who worried about me, but I loved doing my duty. More than forty years later, having done that duty is still part of how I define who I am.

Do not think that they left you lightly. They do what they must do and so too must you. Willing or not, so too must you, because you love them.

Be the cause just or unjust it is this nation’s battle. Many remember to thank those who fight the battle, too few thank those who worry and wait.

And so, thank you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Military and Politics

Military officers, as part of the policy of civilian supremacy over the military, are not permitted to publicly criticize the President. I fully support that policy, but I cringe when it goes to the opposite extreme. As an example:

Reuters, 18 Nov 2006 01:21:37 GMT

Army Gen. John Abizaid compared the rise of militant ideologies, such as the force driving al Qaeda, to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s that set the stage for World War Two.

"If we don't have guts enough to confront this ideology today, we'll go through World War Three tomorrow," Abizaid said in a speech titled "The Long War," at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, outside Boston.

If not stopped, Abizaid said extremists would be allowed to "gain an advantage, to gain a safe haven, to develop weapons of mass destruction, to develop a national place from which to operate. And I think that the dangers associated with that are just too great to comprehend."

Abizaid said the world faces three major hurdles in stabilizing the Middle East region: Easing Arab-Israeli tensions, stemming the spread of militant extremism, and dealing with Iran, which Washington has accused of seeking to develop nuclear bombs.

"Where these three problems come together happens to come in a place known as Iraq," said Abizaid…

Military officers should not be used as a tool to implement the political ends of the civilian leadership, either. In taking this stance, Abizaid is betraying the troops he is supposed to be leading.

The military should be removed from the political process, apart from it. When the generals become tools of the civilian leadership, pawns in the games played by politicians, we are led into false wars.

Like into disaster in Iraq.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chaos Achieved?

I’m mostly listening and waiting to see what will be the effects of the newly elected legislature, but a few things still concern me.

Has chaos in Iraq been achieved?

The reports from Iraq in the English media are consistently much more horrendous than reports in any American media. It’s almost as if they are reporting on two different countries. According to the British reports Iraq is already in a state of complete and utter chaos, and they describe it in rather horrifying detail. More than one British conclusion is that Iraq is already a failed state and there is absolutely nothing we can do but leave. American reports, from media and from Generals “on the ground,” portray conditions that are admittedly bad but that are only "verging on chaos."

English reporters sometimes comment on that very fact, wondering why the American media does not report what they (the English reporters) are seeing. The English, as a people, do not have a reputation for melodrama; on the contrary, they are a people known more for understatement. I can imagine our Generals saying what their civilian superiors have ordered them to say. How many times in our national past has that happened?

But what is the American media doing? An important basis of a free country is an independent and free press, and I’m wondering if we have that.

I’ve asked this before…

Is George Bush insane? The entire country wants us out of Iraq. Congress wants us out. The American people who vote want us out. The people of Iraq want us out. Well, John McCain doesn’t want us out, but we all know that he is so dazzled by visions of the presidency that he has lost his mind.

The bipartisan commission has not yet submitted its report, and Bush is creating his own “internal review commission” which he has already determined will call for increasing military forces in Iraq by 20,000 troops. Which the military itself admits we don’t have.

The only good thing about this is that Bush and McCain are actually on the same page, and this policy will be so wildly unpopular and will fail so badly that it will reduce the chances that we will be stuck with McCain as president in 2009. Two madmen in the White House in a row would just be too much to be borne.

Will Congress improve?

As to being a rubber stamp for Bush, yes. Investigating the administration, probably, but we’ll have to see how deeply that probe will actually go.

In terms of reducing pork barrel spending and the influence of moneyed interest, things do not look good. The fact that Pelosi backed one of the most thoroughly ethics-challenged men in the entire House for majority leader leads me to believe that her “drain the swamp” is mere rhetoric. Murtha not only sold votes for pork, he sold votes to the opposing party in exchange for pork, and he avoided Abscam only because he was careful, not due to any abundance of honesty.

As an aside, the picture of him standing at the podium with his arm around Pelosi, and her grimacing as he fondled her was disgusting. She should have slapped him, not backed him for a leadership position.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Just a few thoughts

Today I’m just getting thoughts off of my chest about a few people.

Russ Feingold: I am delighted he is not running for president. I would vote for him, would probably campaign for him if he did, but we need him in the Senate. He has great honesty, the courage of his convictions, and he works for ideals not ideology. No person in either house of the legislature is more dedicated to the eradication of the corruption that has permeated our government. I believe he is one of the very best people in government today.

John Murtha: I find much to admire in this man. His military service and his dedication to his brothers in arms literally brings tears to my eyes. I greatly admire his courage in being the first to speak out against the Iraq war, and to do so as strongly as he did.

Many want him to become majority leader, but I do not: he is too much part of “the machine.” He sits in his corner of the House and “parcels out” favors, controlling earmarks in exchange for votes on major bills.

This “trading of votes” is a big part of the problem in government. I believe that each member’s vote for each bill in Congress should be based on the merits of that bill and only on the merits of that bill. John Murtha is a major part of the machinery that trades votes to get bills passed that are bad for the country and for the people, but that benefit special interests.

Hillary Clinton: as much as I admire Bill Clinton, and as much as I admire Hillary as a person and admired her as First Lady, I just cannot warm to her as a politician. She is just too much of a politician. Too much of what she says sounds not like what she really believes but like what she thinks is politically expedient. I’ve never been able to figure out where she stands in the Iraq issue, and the bottom line is she sounds to me like she’s merely trying to cater to voters on both sides.

Nancy Pelosi: her “drain the swamp” message is one I can really embrace if, and that is a big if, it is more than mere rhetoric. She certainly appears to be the strong leader that the Democratic Party needs. If the changes which I would like to see are to occur she needs to steer a course between shutting Republicans out of the process (as they did the Democrats), and weakening the change process by being too “bipartisan.” Right now it looks like she can get it done, and I’m pulling for her.

However, in endorsing Murtha for majority leader, Pelosi is effectively saying that she supports the "business as usual" method of vote trading and pork barrel spending, and that mitigates against her being real instead of merely symbolic in her promise to "drain the swamp."

John McCain: this man is one of the most devastating examples of the corrupting influence of power. I want to weep every time he speaks.

I once admired this man so deeply that I would have been willing to walk before him sweeping the ground so that he would not dirty his shoes. Navy pilot, unbroken by horrible torture, withstanding pain and humiliation that I cannot even imagine and emerging strong and with an undaunted and even renewed faith in God. Engaged in politics in a manner that earned national respect for the “Straight Talk Express.”

But now, so corrupted by desire for high office that he can do no more than offer token resistance, when he offers any at all, to the ideology of his party’s line. He now offers empty ideology instead of ideas and platitudes instead of straight talk.

He tells us with a straight face that he has thwarted a corrupt President’s attempt to legalize torture, when anyone with even modest intelligence can see that he has done nothing of the sort and that in doing so he made no attempt whatsoever to preserve habeas corpus. He says we need more troops in Iraq but when asked where those troops are to come from he spouts absolute nonsense and accuses the questioner of being biased. He refers to a religious organization as being “evil” one year and then two years later is speaking at their college’s graduation ceremony.

He would rather be president than be honest.

Duncan Hunter: this is a wingnut whose bid for the presidency is one entirely of corrupt self interest. He knows it will not succeed and he does not care. The campaign will collect a great deal of money and that is his sole interest. This is the politico who single-handedly inserted a clause terminating the investigation of corruption in Iraq into a bill after it had passed both houses of Congress. One of the first targets of Democratic investigations of corruption in government needs to be this man, who gets reelected only because he runs in California where gerrymandering has risen to unparalleled heights. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I loathe and despise this man.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: after the defeat of his initiatives (designed pretty much to “trash” the Democratic Party) two years ago, Arnold embarked on a bipartisan course. He talked the talk, and to a very large extent he walked the walk. I have wondered how much of that was pure pragmatism and to what degree Arnold had actually embraced a bipartisan working philosophy.

Then, after the 2006 elections, he spoke quite gracefully about the value of there being “new blood” in Washington. A Republican embracing a Democratic victory. He didn’t need to do that; he could have remained neutral. I can like a man who does that.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bush meets the Speaker

Ummm, does it look to you like Mr. Bush is guarding something quite carefully here? Like he thinks the Speaker of the House might yank them
off of him and put them down the garbage disposer?

Oh my, I do have a dirty mind.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Out of the Shadows

I feel better today. My heart is lighter and I feel stronger, my faith in America renewed. I know now that I had never really lost that faith, it was just drowned in the clamor of corruption and arrogance that was so constant and so loud for so many years

America spoke yesterday. All across this country, with one great voice America rose up and said that arrogance, fearmongering, greed, and corruption do not constitute our values.

America demanded yesterday that its leadership be responsible to the people, that its actions serve the people and not the moneyed elite.

And most of all, America supported our troops yesterday. Not by putting stickers on their cars, but with action. America told its leadership to end the meaningless deaths and injuries of our soldiers in a war gone wrong.

Today, for the first time in years, I am once again proud of my country and proud to be an American.

This country is its people, who gave up much in the name of fear but who have now stepped out of the shadows of  9/11 and spoken for values that matter more than mere survival.

Old Glory looks brighter today.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Overweening Arrogance

The phrase "overweening arrogance" popped into my mind when I was watching Cheney on a television interview the other day. That is a word one doesn’t see much these days, but it seemed to suit what I was seeing. The dictionary defines "overweening" as,

1. Overbearing; arrogant; presumptuous.
2. Excessive; immoderate; exaggerated.

One hardly would expect that the President, Vice President or Secretary of Defense of these United States would be persons of a shy and retiring nature. Actually, I daresay one would not want them to have such nature.

Bush has made the statement that he does not "flipflop" in accordance with each latest poll and I have no argument with that; doing so would not be leadership. But the elected leaders of this country are still accountable to the people, or should be.

As Keith Olbermann put it last night in his Special Comment, our founding fathers designed a government with "..checks and balances so that no one man may govern as he alone sees fit."

Yet Cheney baldly states that, to paraphrase as I don’t have the exact quote at hand, "The American public may not like it, but that doesn’t matter. We’re not running for election." He added that the election "..might change Congress, but it won’t change what we do. Once elected, he feels, his coterie may govern as, to paraphrase Olbermann, "..they alone see fit."

Unaccountable to Congress, unaccountable to the American people.

Overweening arrogance.

Bring them to account today.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Presidential Math

In his press conference of Oct 25th, President Bush used the following to attack the Democrats,

If you don't extend the tax cuts, if you don't make them -- in other words, if you let the tax cuts expire, it will be a tax increase on the American people. Take the child tax credit. If it is not made permanent—in other words, if it expires—and you've got a family of four sitting around the breakfast table, the taxpayers can be sure that their taxes will go up by $2,000: $500 for that child, $500 for the one right there; $500 for this one and $500 for that one. That is a tax increase. And taking $2,000 out of the pockets of the working people will make it harder to sustain economic growth.

First, the Child Tax Credit has already been extended at $1,000 per child until 2010, so he is raising his usual false scare tactic.

Second, he cannot name a single Democrat who has suggested altering the Child Tax Credit in any manner whatsoever.

Third, does anyone know of any "family of four sitting around the breakfast table" that has four children? Ummm, what happened to the parents? Not quite a typical American family.

Fourth, what is that $500 per child about? From ""

The credit was set to revert to $700 for each qualifying child in 2005, but Congress passed the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 to keep the Child Tax Credit at $1,000 per qualifying child through 2010, as long as you are within the income thresholds for your filing status.

So he could have used $300, or $700, or $1,000 but what hat did he pull that $500 figure from?

Or did he pull the whole thing from a region considerably lower than his hat?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Muzzled Media?

There has long been evidence that our press is muzzled; either voluntarily, by deception, or by coercion. They are lazy and report only what they obtain from “pr flacks,” or they are limited to “spoon fed” news by the administration and/or military media corps, or if they report what the administration does not want reported they “lose access.” I don't know that any of that is true, but I sometimes wonder.

Comparing American news to British is often revealing. Certainly our media is not suggesting that all is well in Iraq, but Baghdad is under siege, in the British publication The Independent gives me pause. No American news is reporting anything even close to this.

“Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.


“Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

“The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south.”

The article goes on to portray a U.S. Army rendered helpless by the force diversion to an encircled Baghdad,

“The impotence of US forces to prevent civil war is underlined by the fact that the intense fighting between Sunni and Shia around Balad, north of Baghdad, has raged for a month, although the town is beside one of Iraq's largest American bases. The US forces have done little and when they do act they are seen by the Shia as pursuing a feud against the Mehdi Army.”

Can this be true? Is all of this simply the product of a British reporter’s feverish imagination? If not, if these conditions are accurate, why are our reporters not reporting them?

A major event happened yesterday, which suggests to me that these conditions might be true. As reported here the Army abandoned one of its own to the Mahdi militia on orders of the Iraqi executive. One of our soldiers was captured and, on order of the Iraqi civilian executive, our Army has simply walked away.

This appears to be an Army that is simply no longer in command of the situation because our Army would never, absolutely never, willingly abandon one of its own. If the conditions reported by The Independent actually exist, the Army took down the roadblocks out of military necessity, not due to political consideration of the Iraqi executive.

Is the Bush administration playing a political game that is far more dangerous to our troops than any of us know? Will our reporters “get” these facts on November 8th? Is Iraq in a condition that will take the “cut and run” decision out of this country’s hands?