Friday, September 29, 2006

More gun violence at a high school in Colorado.

Déjà vu all over again. Another incident involving guns just occurred at a school in Colorado not far from Columbine High School, and not too far from where I grew up.

I haven’t noticed anyone even mention this country’s policy of absurdly easy access to guns in the aftermath of another horrendously chilling event. However, given the circumstances of this one, I doubt anything would have deterred this guy short of removing every single privately held firearm in the country. And that is not going to happen, I freely acknowledge that. I’m not even advocating an extreme position like that. I think this last week’s episode is probably more about a psychopath and sexual deviant on the rampage than it is about guns.

However, I will rail a bit here about how utterly indifferent this country has become to violence done to innocent people, including 16 year old girls, with guns. Yes, we will all feel terribly about what happened, and feel for the parents of a young girl who went to school one day and won’t ever be coming home. We will make noises about needing to do something about the security in schools. Shall we put in more metal detectors, or more visible police? Or maybe both? But we will not have a discussion about the access to deadly weapons by people who should not be trusted with a letter opener, much less loaded weapons. No, our civil liberties are “much too precious” to ever think about restricting access to guns. However, we seem to have no problem whatsoever with the loss of all the rest of our liberties, such as habeas corpus, freedom to dissent, separation of church and state and freedom of the press. Just so long as the person responsible for taking away those liberties is a Christian and is “protecting our country”, then people seem to have no problem with that.

I’m sorry, but I cannot reconcile all these contradictory positions that the right wing has these days. I know that I feel terribly for the 16 year old girl who lost her life the other day, as well as for her family and friends and all the other kids in that school who were terrorized by that evil person. Would things have turned out any differently if there had been stricter gun control laws? Most likely not. But maybe there is something that could be done to prevent the next lunatic with a grievance and a semi-automatic. I just seriously doubt that this country is willing to have that discussion. We are much too involved in the important stuff, like making sure that no gay persons can marry each other.

UPDATE: A student in Wisconsin just killed his principle because the principle disciplined him for having tabacco. The kid got the guns by breaking open his family's locked gun storage.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More from Andrew Sullivan on Christianism.

He has a very scary post regarding a recent meeting of something called the “Family Research Council/ Focus on the Family/ American Family Association” summit in Atlanta. The following is from one of his readers.

I went to the Family Research Council/Focus on the Family/American Family Association "Values Voters" summit this weekend at the Omni.

It is much, much worse than we know.

The first woman I spoke to (from Erie, PA) railed on about how Chuck Hagel is a flaming liberal and John McCain should be tried for treason. I thought that maybe I'd run into an isolated crazy. Oh no - it only got worse from there. The level of contempt for anyone who diverges from the Holy Word of W is beyond description. I was sort of 'undercover' so I could just let people talk to me, not leading the conversation, not baiting, and it horrified me to hear how many were perfectly comfortable with any form of torture in the name of patriotism if the Commander In Chief gave it the ok.


There is no room for disagreement, because it is tantamount to evil. Dissent is the same as blasphemy, and everything is approached in orthodox terms. I've always been a conservative because I believe that there is such a think as good and evil and that moral relativism is a crazy road on which logic can rarely stick. I believe in limited government and individual liberty. I know I can do things better than any bureaucracy ever will. But what conservatism has become with these people is horrifying. They'd trade liberty for a handshake from W., compassion for power. And they've got one amazing plan in place to make sure that future generations have a tighter, more limited, and clearly more hostile worldview. I went there hoping to prove myself wrong about what I thought was happening, but I just couldn't do it.

This is some very, very scary stuff. This is what I was talking about in one of my recent posts. These people know the have the full backing of God, whatever they decide to do and no matter how grotesque and contradictory their opinions become. God will always be on their side.

If these people were to gain control of this country, I think we would have something much worse in this country than has ever been envisioned by any of us this side of a fictional novel or science fiction movie. We would have ghettoes or concentration camps for gays and lesbians. We would have mandatory membership in a fundamentalist Christian church and no absences allowed on any of the scheduled services. Dissent would not be tolerated, and it wouldn’t be long before the “undesirable elements” in society would join homosexuals in those concentrations camps.

I don’t know what the rest of the world might think of a fundamentalist Christian country that abhors anyone that does not fit their ideal of a “true believer”, and one that is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons on top of loads and loads of your garden-variety military weaponry. Where might Bush’s notion of preemptive military strikes take us when the definition of what is threatening to us changes to “anybody who is not us”? I could see many countries lining up and waging a preemptive war with us because they feel threatened, which is otherwise known as “What’s good for the goose….”

In other words, if we, as a country, are actually contemplating dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran because they might, someday, somehow drop a nuke on us, well, maybe they might be thinking that they should maybe get the jump on us first.

Depressing reality.

There is very little I feel like writing about these days. I could make another supposedly “pointed and snarky” post about some current television ads that I find particularly insulting. However, given the political situation facing this country right now, I just don’t have the passion to put anything into a post that is not about politics and how the current Republican party is bankrupting this country; monetarily, physically, ethically, morally bankrupting it.

This is just not the country I was taught about in school. I was taught that we held ourselves up to high standards, and that our system of government, while not pretty or easy, ensured equal treatment for all, not just the current majority, and also ensured that no one person could run amok without the checks and balances coming into play in very short order.

Of course, much of what we were taught at that level turned out to not be totally true. I was never taught, at that level, the injustices that blacks, other minorities, and even women faced on a daily basis. Certainly, we learned about some of the scandals, such as Teapot Dome and the corruption of Tammany Hall. I think I heard something about Joe McCarthy back then, but didn’t know much about that whole episode until after I was out of high school. But all those “unpleasant” episodes were in the past, some relic of some long-ago age that really had nothing to do with the shining ideals to which our country always strived for.

I lived through Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. I was absolutely fascinated by the Watergate hearings. I watched them incessantly. I was impressed by the fact that the panel was made up of both Republicans and Democrats, all seeking the truth. Howard Baker’s “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” still rings with me. Baker was a true Republican, as were several other members of the committee, but I always felt that all of them had one goal, to get to the facts of what happened that a corrupt administration was trying desperately to hide. The entire response to the excesses of a President out of control seemed to show the best of this country. We may hit bumps in the road now and then, and some pretty severe bumps at that. However, the system that we have will protect us from really straying too far from the course.

All of this is an attempt to describe how utterly frustrated, disappointed, and frightened I am by the current situation. This is not a country I recognize.

Here is my assessment of our current situation. There is a very large element of the current Republican party whose goal is not to govern. Their goal is to implement their utopian, their “perfect society”. It doesn’t matter how many people they hurt or alienate to attain that goal. They will do anything they can. They will destroy any and all perceived enemies that stand in their way, or even those who slightly disagree with them. They will righteously hold up the Constitution when it suits their needs, but ignore it or actively try to undercut the very foundation that our country has depended on since its’ inception with ease when it becomes convenient to do so. They will lie, cheat and steal when they see that such activity might further their goals. They will manipulate and steal outright elections upon which our system of government depends. They will corrupt the infrastructure of our society, such as a free press and a free education for all who desire it. They will not hesitate to impose their set of neo-Christian beliefs on the rest of us. They will scream “foul!” whenever anyone tries to fight back against their tactics.

This is the road that I see this country on. This is nothing more than the willful destruction of the system of government, checks and balances, and free press that we have depended upon to maintain our freedom and our high moral status among the nations of the world.

A retired general on the war

Nice piece from Andrew Sullivan, who doesn’t really have the best of reputations among the liberal bloggers. But some of his recent posts that I have read really haven’t pulled any punches. Actually, this post doesn’t say too much from Sully himself. He lets recently retired General Batiste do the talking for him.

“My name is John Batiste. I left the military on principle on November 1, 2005, after more than 31 years of service. I walked away from promotion and a promising future serving our country. I hung up my uniform because I came to the gut-wrenching realization that I could do more good for my soldiers and their families out of uniform. I am a West Point graduate, the son and son-in-law of veteran career soldiers, a two-time combat veteran with extensive service in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, and a life-long Republican.

“Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense’s leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare. Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build “his plan,” which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today. Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and capability required to impose security, crush a budding insurgency, and set the conditions for the rule of law in Iraq.

“We were undermanned from the beginning, lost an early opportunity to secure the country, and have yet to regain the initiative. To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders are routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from one contentious area to another in places like Baghdad, An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah, and many others. This shifting of forces is generally successful in the short term, but the minute a mission is complete and troops are redeployed back to the region where they came from, insurgents reoccupy the vacuum and the cycle repeats itself. Troops returning to familiar territory find themselves fighting to reoccupy ground which was once secure. We are all witnessing this in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province today. I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus. This is no way to fight a counter-insurgency. Secretary Rumsfeld’s plan did not set our military up for success.”

Can anyone with more authority and knowledge in this area say it any more succinctly than does General Batiste?

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Reason

The President of the United States wants to torture people. How mind-numbing is that? The leader of the most powerful nation in the world, one that has long been a beacon of hope and enlightenment during the dark times of the 20th Century, is actively pushing our country in a direction that would make us resemble the worst of South America’s or Asia’s tin-pot dictators. We have secret prisons into which people “disappear”. We can grab citizens of another country, such as Canada, and send them to places like Syria, where they essentially cease to exist. They are tortured and brutalized into providing their interrogators false information, which is then used to cause panicked reactions in government institutions and terrify the general populace. And then, they are just “let go” when (and if) it was decided that they were picked up by mistake. And this isn't even going into the fact that most people who know about such things say that the information gained by torturing people is highly suspect.

But what is even more mind-numbing is that a very large percentage of the populace of this country agrees with him. Their rationale seems to be something like this. The people in question are Arabs, they are obviously guilty. If they were innocent, we wouldn’t have picked them up in the first place. It’s their fault. Besides, Bush is a God fearing person who would never do anything wrong, and those beyond-disgusting bleeding-hearted liberals and pro-terrorist Democrats really want to destroy Bush and America.

Reason has, without question, taken a leave of absence here in this country. Most people now do not know how to conduct civil discourse any more than they can comprehend particle physics. Facts and fact-based analysis have been shoved aside in favor of impassioned opinion. It doesn’t matter if the impassioned opinion comes from religious beliefs, a neo-con view of the world, extreme tribalism or just an egocentric view that “I am always right and since you disagree with me, you are always wrong.” It just doesn’t matter where it comes from. As a nation, we have lost any sort of ability to do any sort of critical self-analysis. If anyone does take that road, they are immediately labeled as part of the Blame America FirstTM crowd. It seems that most of the people who support the current Republican party suffer from a congenital lack of imagination. Would they support such a system of presidential power, free from any sort of oversight or checks-and-balances as promised in your third grade civics class, if someone like Hillary Clinton were president? Or can they not see that, by gutting the system that has been so carefully nurtured for so long, we risk letting in the world’s next Hitler?

But I am digressing from my original point. That point is that this country is becoming what we, for most of our history, actively fought against. And a large percentage of the people of this country are not only allowing this to happen, they are actively participating.

I find it very frightening that I can read a book like Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or watch a film like “V for Vendetta” and not dismiss it as total fantasy. In fact, I get the distinct impression that, if a few things went just right, ending up like those two incredibly scary examples is not that big of a stretch (except for there would be no one running around in a cape and a Guy Fawkes mask to deliver us). We could end up with a full-fledged dictatorship, but one that has the outward trappings of a democracy. However, it would be a democracy in name only. It would look a lot like Mussolini’s fascist Italy, except for several important differences. It would not have a centralized control of the economy; it would be just the reverse. Capitalism unfettered by any sort of government restraint would be the rule, as would the total suppression of dissent. It would be a very hard and unforgiving system for the workers, but generous in the extreme to the corporate executives and the lobbyists that help feed the system. And on top of this incredibly brutal system would be the religious underpinnings that give the powerful their basis for that power. Anything that is said or done to attempt to change the system would be accused of being “against Christianity”.

That is the future I am predicting could easily happen to this country.

What is it about this particular time that has seemed to have fundamentally changed the ways in which Americans thought about themselves? Is it just that we have collectively “crapped in our pant” because we were so frightened by those horrendous events of September 11, 2001? Is it somehow related to how much more control huge financial interests run our media and therefore can shape the way the country thinks?

I just don’t know. I know that the country didn’t distinguish itself by interring Japanese American citizens after Pearl Harbor. But it seems to me that we are reacting in ways that we, as a country, never have before.

UPDATE: Well, as everyone who is paying attention knows by now, the President and the three “maverick” Republican senators reached a “compromise” on Bush’s desire to use torture. Of course, no Democrats were included in this compromise, as they are totally outside any deal-making structure these days. This so-called compromise, as far as I can discern, gives Bush pretty much everything he wants. I guess the compromise is to just keep the Geneva Convention out of the discussion.

Great. What a great moral compass this country has these days.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Five Duquesne basketball players shot on campus

Apparently, a couple of players tried to de-escalate a situation with a person who had been disruptive earlier at a student union dance. After the players were walking away, they were gunned down. Several others came to their aid, and were also shot. At the time of this writing, one remains in critical condition, one in serious condition. The others appear to have non-life threatening injuries.

I haven’t mentioned this on this web site before, but I just cannot express how much I hate the gun culture of this country. I find it disgusting. And when one of these tragedies occur, like they seemly do on a yearly basis, and I bring up how asinine the pro-gun people are about this issue, the response I get is something along the lines of, “There you go, you anti-gun nuts, trying to bring politics into this tragedy.”

What a stupid response. Absolutely insane. How is being upset about innocent people being shot out in public in the richest, most powerful country on earth being “political”? People are dying and being seriously injured every single day by handguns, and being concerned about it is somehow a political issue? No, stupid, it’s concern about fellow human beings being gunned down. Please explain to me how that is being political.

One of the issues that is invariably brought up is the valid uses of guns by lawful gun owners in this country. I can understand that. Well, I don’t “understand” it but I will concede the point that many people do legitimately feel that way. There are many people who enjoy getting into the outdoors with their pals, sons, or daughters, for a bit of bonding. I, personally, do not see the thrill in sneaking up on and killing animals. Back in the days where the vast majority of human beings were in the “hunter/gatherer” classification, that made sense. You had to provide for your family. But that time has long passed. I really refuse to see the sporting aspect of spilling the blood of a deer or pheasant. But, yes. That is a lawful and mostly harmless use of rifles, shotguns, and the like. Except, of course, for the unfortunate hunting accident that does happen when people are around loaded guns. Ask Dick Cheney about this.

However, I will make this point very clear, right up front. Those kinds of guns and those kinds are uses are not what I am talking about. I am talking about handguns, those weapons whose only purpose is to be cheap to procure, easily concealed, and do other people bodily harm. Let us not muddy the waters with this attempt of obfuscation.

The retort that I next hear in response to this argument is that handguns provide a homeowner with an effective deterrent against unlawful entry and protection against bodily harm. Yes, in some cases, this last is a true statement. However, statistics show (and not the statistics compiled by the NRA) that many more people are killed and injured by loaded guns in their own houses than are actually used against assailants and the gun is used as a last recourse. Casualties includes many young children who end up playing with a loaded gun they got from their dad’s bedside table drawer or out of the closet. They end up shooting themselves, their friends who their were trying to impress, or the person living in the upstairs apartment.

The statistics of crimes involving guns are absolutely horrendous. I do not see how any rational person can look at what is going on in this country and conclude that everything is fine the way it is, except for maybe “tightening up” on the laws that we currently have. However, any time anyone attempts to do just that, the NRA howls up a blue streak and their impressive voter lists scare the crap out of any politician looking to retain his or her elective office. Even with the Right’s most illustrious President is shot with a handgun and could have easily been killed, that still presents no compelling reason to propose anything that might affect the ability of any person in the United States who wants a gun to have one, without any limitations, registration, or even training.

How, in God’s name, can we seriously require all the training, licensing, and taxes associated with getting a driver’s license and driving a car, which are not meant to do other people bodily harm, but we have absolutely no such requirements for owning a gun, which is intended for just that purpose? Would someone please explain that one to me, in a straightforward, logical manner? Emotional rants will not be accepted.

Another argument I have gotten is about why we should require such restraints for guns when knives can also be used to hurt and kill other people. I had this discussion with a pretty far-out-there during a long drive where I had no choice in the matter. This guy proudly proclaimed that he gets all his news from talk radio. However, when I directed him to other resources like the web, he claimed he was much too busy. I won’t go into that particular self-deception right now, as that is the topic of another post. But he seriously thought he was making a very important point by bringing up the fact that knives can be used to hurt people. When I pointed out that guns can be used at a distance, without having to actually confront your intended victim, and knives require a certain amount of proximity which can therefore involve a certain amount of risk to the knife-bearer, he claimed that he had never thought about this point before. How something so completely obvious can be overlooked by a very intelligent person is beyond me. Willful ignorance is the only thing that I can come up with. Plus, there is the fact that guns are designed with a single purpose in mind; that is to shoot someone. Knives are generally made for another purpose like carving turkeys, unless you have something like a Bowie knife.

Another point that is invariably brought up is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Here it is, in its’ entirety.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

This is the piece of a document that the pro-gun people use to justify their addiction to firearms. “The freedom to own handguns in contained in the Bill of Rights!”, they conclude with sense of finality. There are two things that make this argument, in my mind, really rather lame. The first is that most of the people who put some much stock in this Amendment are also the ones who would throw out the rest without any hesitation if it were to further their own political cause. Freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, and the rights of people accused of crimes are all under assault these days by the Bush regime. Gun-supporters almost always identify themselves as Republicans, and look upon efforts to do whatever is necessary to promote whatever illegal activity that Bush and his crowd of neo-cons want to further their agenda. So, I look at this argument as entirely self-serving. You cannot pick and choose from the Constitution. You either are in for the entire game, or else we have no basis for government. There is no middle ground.

The other specious argument about the Second Amendment is, of course, the United States currently has no standing well regulated militias that I can point to. The Montana Militiamen and the Posse Comitatus do not qualify. Those are rogue organizations that have absolutely nothing to do with the protection of the country. This Amendment was probably entirely necessary and reasonably back when the Bill of Rights was being formulated. A standing military of huge proportions was probably not envisioned by the Founding Fathers. This Amendment says nothing, absolutely not one word, about owning a gun for “personal protection”. The Supreme Court, over the years, has come down with several decisions that has done little to really answer the question. However, this is what the Findlaw web site concluded about this issue.

“In spite of extensive recent discussion and much legislative action with respect to regulation of the purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms, as well as proposals to substantially curtail ownership of firearms, there is no definitive resolution by the courts of just what right the Second Amendment protects. The opposing theories, perhaps oversimplified, are an ''individual rights'' thesis whereby individuals are protected in ownership, possession, and transportation, and a ''states' rights'' thesis whereby it is said the purpose of the clause is to protect the States in their authority to maintain formal, organized militia units. Whatever the Amendment may mean, it is a bar only to federal action, not extending to state or private restraints. The Supreme Court has given effect to the dependent clause of the Amendment in the only case in which it has tested a congressional enactment against the constitutional prohibition, seeming to affirm individual protection but only in the context of the maintenance of a militia or other such public force.” (Emphasis mine)

However, when looking at this piece of the Bill of Rights without any legalistic eyeglasses on (which, I agree, you really need to do), it is my claim that what the authors of this Amendment intended is not how it is being interpreted today. There is no such thing as a “public force” when the argument is for private ownership of guns. But I will admit right now, I am not a lawyer or anyone who is versed in legalistic language. But I know what that sentence in the Second Amendment says to me about its’ intent.

But the point that riles me the most is the fact that the vast majority of the pro-gun establishment is also part of the virulent anti-abortion/pro-life crowd. I just cannot reconcile these two positions. The “pro-life” people say that life is sacrosanct, that people should always err on the side of life whenever there is the slightest doubt. This position is used to validate the right wing’s position on the Terry Schavio case and stem cell research. How very nice. However, how can any rational person reconcile this extreme position and still not care anything about the injuries and deaths caused by handguns each year? If a bunch of cells that are just starting to come together that will ultimately end up as an unborn fetus can be worthy of such attention, why is not a real-life human being worthy of the same concern and attention? Some of these victims of accidental or purposeful gun violence are among the youngest and most innocent of our society. How can anyone argue that an unborn fetus is worthy of absolute protection, even if the mother-to-be were raped or impregnated by a family member, but a five year old’s assumption of well being can be safely ignored? Does emergence from the womb somehow remove any consideration of protection? Now who’s being political?

When I argued this point to the same person I described above, he just brushed it aside by saying that he didn’t see any conflict. He never explained why he felt that way, of course. But he was obviously comfortable with the surety of his convictions.

As an engineer and scientist by education and training, I cannot abide by illogical people who won’t even admit that their position is illogical. That takes away any chance of addressing any sort of conflict in a meaningful manner.

I will admit here that I do have a very personal interest in this issue. Some things just crystallize in your mind when, as a young adult, my younger brother and I were confronted with our drunk, raging step-father with a loaded gun, who waved it in our faces while bellowing out that he wanted us “to love him”. If that doesn’t really make some things plain to you, nothing will. My brother and I just waited until the he drank himself into a stupor and passed out on the kitchen floor, at which time we took the gun and hid it.

As a personal aside on an already personal story, this incident must have traumatized my younger brother to a very great extent. When I brought this up in a discussion many years later, he looked at me and it was obvious that he was wondering what the hell I was talking about. He obviously didn’t remember it. For me, there’s no way I would ever forget something like that. I am not sure if this failing of his memory was really due to the fact he just forgot the incident. He’s not that old, so I cannot ascribe this forgetting to normal memory loss associated with getting old. I don’t know if it was one of the mind’s mysterious “protection schemes”, which make you bury very unpleasant episodes of your life. I just don’t know. Several weeks or months after this discussion, I can’t remember how long now, he did call me and say, yeah, I guess I do sort of remember that.

One of the points that I have often thought about but have seen no one ever speak aloud is this. The people who most want guns are the people who I trust the least with them. I believe that guns speak to the person’s “inner-machismo”. If they don’t have a loaded gun, they would somehow feel emasculated and without any power, symbolic or otherwise. I find this trait in humans reprehensible. If you don’t have a sense of self-worth without a gun, then owning one isn’t going to give you anything but a false sense of being “a real man”. The value of a person should not be thought of in the context in the ability to threaten to blow someone away. I believe that, if the most vehement pro-gun people were to be really honest with themselves, they would admit that the self-protection aspect is really only a very small part of their actual position. However, they can’t admit to the other 90%, so they are stuck trying to make a case on the Second Amendment rights and personal protection.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Baghdad to be surrounded by a moat.

Well, plus checkpoints, walls, barbed wire, old tires, apples crates, anything that we can get our hands on.

Yeah, this certainly sounds like strategy for “winning”. Not. Actually, it doesn’t even sound much like a strategy for “staying the course”. To me, it sounds like getting behind the walls of the Alamo with Santa Anna approaching the last garrison.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The “Long War” and the Imperial Presidency.

John Yoo, the Preznit’s so-called legal council, has offered an opinion that in the time of war, the power provided by the Constitution shifts to the Executive Branch. Here is an excerpt from a story in Nation .

"At the Justice Department between 2001 and 2003, Berkeley law professor John Yoo crafted a series of now notorious legal opinions. In them, he spelled out the fundamentals of a secret emergency Constitution under which the President's inherent powers in the "war on terror" are essentially unlimited. In the wake of 9/11, Yoo argued, the United States was at war in a constitutional sense, and consequently Congress and the courts could no longer purport to second-guess or interfere with or even learn about the President's national-security decisions, however momentous."

Completely outrageous, of course. This guy is a constitutional lawyer? Where in the world did he come up with this? Couple this with this administration’s concept that this country is going to be at war with (insert scary name/catchphrase of the day here) pretty much forever, they are essentially saying that the President can do anything he wants to, irregardless of whether it has anything to do with this “war” or not, for as long as he decrees.

To recap: Unfettered presidential power for as long as we are at war + a war for as long a period of time as the president decrees = a cyclic argument + a self-declared king.

I would not be at all surprised (outraged, but not surprised) if Bush were to declare that, due to the “ongoing crisis”, the 2008 elections were postponed or cancelled. I am beginning to believe that he is that crazy, and most of his enablers would probably not only allow him to get away with it, they would probably be supportive. This is how much I think this guy has a God complex. He thinks he can do anything he wants and is not answerable to anyone.

I wish someone would slap Bush upside the head and remind him that he is only a temporary steward of this country, not the owner.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Super Colossal Titanic Never-Ending Clash Between Good and Evil - Just put it on my credit card, please

I have been seeing a lot of people point this out lately. President Bush keeps insisting that our war with…. whoever, is “the battle of our time” or “the ideological battle of the 21st Century.” That’s all fine and well, but if this is a true statement, why do we keep insisting it on fighting that battle without acting like it? Why no draft? Why no huge mobilizations? Why are we cutting taxes at the same time as we are running a four billion dollar a week tab just in Iraq along? Why are we not converting industry over to a wartime footing? Oops, scratch that last one. It has been for several decades now. But what is with this approach to an ideological battle-to-end-all-battles that will last several generations?

Dan Froomkin in the WaPo has this about how Bush views “sacrifices”.

More from Barnes: "Bush dismissed as cynical the charge that he hasn't asked the American people to accept sacrifices as American soldiers fight against terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere. 'You know what the definition of sacrifice is for a lot of people' who question him about the lack of sacrifice? 'How come you didn't raise taxes? That's what that means as far as I'm concerned . . . If we had raised taxes to create a sense of sacrifice, it would have caused even greater sacrifice because I believe raising taxes in a recession would cause the economy to get even worse.'"
But it was Bush himself who, unprompted, made the surprising association between sacrifice and taxes just last month in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams.

"WILLIAMS: The folks who say you should have asked for some sort of sacrifice from all of us after 9/11, do they have a case looking back on it?

"BUSH: Americans are sacrificing. I mean, we are. You know, we pay a lot of taxes. America sacrificed when they, you know, when the economy went into the tank. Americans sacrificed when, you know, air travel was disrupted. American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover. I think Americans have sacrificed."
And then there's the fact that by failing to raise taxes, he has just shifted the "sacrifice" of paying for the war to the next generation."

So, that’s it then. For Bush, sacrifices = taxes. And taxes are bad. No shades of gray discussion here. Nuance need not apply. Taxes are bad, in the same way as the Black Plague could be considered as bad. And you cannot obviously fight one bad thing with a different bad thing. Therefore, no new taxes or even slowing down the cuts of existing ones.

But it is nice to know that we have indeed made a sacrifice, made a genuine contribution to Operation “Support Our Troops” ™ by standing in line at the airport for several hours with our shoes in our hands and our water bottles in the refuse bin. Where’s my yellow magnetic ribbon?

Seriously, this guy is just amazingly narrow-minded and totally without any imagination whatsoever. Nothing is going to break his laser-like focus, I’ll have to give him that. But his aim of that laser is just so... bizarre. I am thinking that he has now probably already decided to drop a nuke or two in Iran, just because he is getting so many people telling him that he would be nuts to do this.

Nobody tells Georgie “No”!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Whatever happened to being ashamed when you are caught lying?

I cannot believe how much public figures lie to the public with a straight face. I suppose it was always like this, but to me, it seems much more blatant than it used to. Maybe it’s just the fact that the internet makes fact checking very fast and very simple. It’s just not a problem anymore to catch someone with their pants around their ankles. I just guess that they haven’t really caught up to the fact that there is a massive amount of data out there at the fingertips of anyone who has a computer and net access. They haven’t adjusted to the technology of the times, I guess.

Take, for instance, the strange and bizarre case of Robert Novak, aka Novakula. He was reporter whose column publicly named, for the first time, Valerie Wilson/Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. Emptywheel at The Next Hurrah shows that Novak has now changed his story four times, for a total of five different stories he has told about what he got from Richard Armitage.

Here’s a snippet of Marcy’s post.

“Novak wrote this column, clearly, to insist that Armitage told him that Plame worked in Counter-Proliferation, probably because if Armitage didn't say that, then either someone else did, or Novak was high when he used the word "operative." Novak makes this claim twice:

“First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.


“He had told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission.

“But Novak has been utterly inconsistent in his story about what Armitage said. Here's what he said in his original column:

“Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.

“Note, the only attribution he gives to the CPD identification is to the CIA. He changed his story the first time when he switched his attribution that Fall, when he blamed Armitage:

“During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife.

“He didn't make any claims as to how Armitage described Plame when he first started speaking this summer.

“But then he changed that story when Bret Hume interviewed him, now describing what Armitage said as something which would be either WINPAC or CPD. His wife worked in the office of nuclear nonproliferation in the CIA, and she suggested he go.

“In short, Novak's version of what Armitage said to him has taken 5 different forms since he first published this leak in July 2003.
· CIA labels Plame as Counter-Proliferation (CPD)
· Armitage labels Plame as CPD
· Armitage doesn't say anything about CPD
· Armitage labels Plame as Nuclear Non-Proliferation (not CPD)
· Armitage labels Plame as CPD”

O.K., you would think that, as a journalist and television personality, Novak would have some inkling that his past statements were on the record and still publicly available. He should have some idea that people who are very disinclined to believe anything he says about the subject are going to compare his latest statements with all his previous statements. He should also realize that, if they do, they are going to find out that he has been totally inconsistent about what he has been saying. But no. He goes along and utters them with the complete and utter conviction of the compulsive liar that he is, and he is offended if anyone dare question any of his current “trying to get my butt out of a sling here” blathering. And, when he is really up against it, he can always just stalk out of a television studio in the middle of a live broadcast. But shame or embarrassment? No, sorry. Not on the menu today.

This phenomenon seems to be an epidemic these days. George Bush and Dick Cheney with their “Saddam didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 but was intimately tied to Al Qaeda” line. Tom DeLay and pretty much everyone associated with the Abramoff scandal has caught it. George Allen and his three different versions of his Macaca comment seems pretty suspect. And it’s not just politicians. Rich Lowery of the National Review has it as well. He is now in favor of adding many additional troops to Iraq and takes on the stance that his is the perfectly logical position to take. Except he totally ignores that this is exactly 180 degrees opposite of what he was saying just one month ago. That’s not a lie, really, but it certainly seems dishonest unless you fess up to your sudden change of heart at the same time you are introducing your new position, and explain why you changed your mind. That is being truthful. To just come out and state it in a manner which suggests that has been your position all along is a lie of omission if not of commission.

There is one aspect of all these perpetually changing stories that remains constant. No one seems to ever be ashamed that they were caught in a lie or when they change their stories. They just bluster and are full of self-righteous anger that anyone would dare impugn their integrity. Even when the public record shows, unequivocally, that they are full of crap, they remain adamant that they have been consistent throughout and if anyone is at fault, it is the media’s fault for misrepresenting their statements or misunderstanding what was said. Or else, they just ignore the inconvenient fact that they have contradicted themselves in public. Yet, they have no problem with tarring someone like John Kerry as a “flip-flopper”.

There really isn’t any shame left anymore in this country. It has gone into the trash bin, along with other quaint concepts like personal responsibility for one’s actions and fiscal sanity.

UPDATE: I was watching Craig Crawford on Countdown with Keith Olberman last night. They were discussing the new developments in the Plame case. The last thing that Craig said (paraphrasing here) was that, if anyone has learned anything in this whole entangled mess of Plamegate, it is that Robert Novak is a very odd person.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Homeland is where the hearth is. Sorta.

The WaPo has a good commentary today by Eugene Robinson. It focuses on the use of language by Bush and his gang of thugs as a way to control discussions and even thought patterns. How Orwellian of them. (As an aside, I am somewhat amused by the fact that my Word spellchecker knows how to spell “Orwellian”, even though the Thesaurus feature has no idea what it means.)

One of the words that has bugged me from the first time I heard it was “homeland”, as in “protecting out homeland”. I had never heard that word applied to the United States before 9/11, and I don’t really like it now. It has some emotional harmonics that hearken back to Lenin’s Russia or the Third Reich. Homeland sort of sounds like Motherland, doesn’t it? The term is very territorial in nature, and rather implies without saying so directly that things inside our borders are good and worth defending (which they are) and everything outside our borders is suspect and dangerous (which is ridiculous). It seems to reflect, to me anyway, the worst traits among us; tribalism, isolationism, and xenophobia.

I am very, very suspicious of buzzwords, especially when they are so pre-loaded with emotional content. I REALLY don’t like it when the buzzword chosen has links back to the really horrendously evil ideologies we were opposing in World War II and in the Cold War. Indeed, I think this is a conscious effort by someone in the Bush Administration to control how we think about something. Frame the entire concept in a way that “speaks” at an emotional level to a large percentage of the populace, and it takes away a large chunk of what can even be debated. Because if you start debating the meaning of something, you automatically put yourself on the “other side” of something that has been defined as good and trustworthy.

Why else would BushCo try to work in the word “Fascist” when discussing the radical Muslims who are bent on doing us harm. They want to control the concept. I suspect that they might have a bit of a problem when they recently introduced the word “Caliphate” to describe what they perceive as Bin Ladin’s ultimate objective. I would hazard a guess that not too many Americans even know what that word means. However, it sounds like an Arab word, so it is something that will immediately engender suspicion.

Which is exactly what they wanted in the first place.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Automation in the Men’s Room

In the office building where I work, our men’s rooms (and ladies’ rooms, I assume as well) have been upgraded to include all sorts of labor saving, good-hygiene promoting automations. You can now go into “the facilities” and never touch anything but your Little General (h/t to Jesus’ General). The urinals flush themselves after you step away, leaving you to grapple with that all-important issue of the making sure your fly is zipped. Same for the commodes. Self-flushing when you remove your bum. You then wave your hands under the soap dispenser, get some hand soap squirted in your hand, wave your hands under the faucet and get some water to wash your hands. After you have been properly sanitized and ready to take your place in the company of your fellow co-workers, you then wave your hands underneath the paper towel dispenser to get towels to dry your hands. And you can even hit a button on the wall (presumably with your clothed elbow so you won’t sully your nice clean, germ-free hands) to automatically open the door. All very sanitary and automated. No germs here.

The problem with all this automation is the same as with a lot of automation; it doesn’t really work very well. In fact, it has some very distinct drawbacks. The soap dispenser squirts out a load of soap that looks like something best left unsaid here every time something comes with about two feet of the sensor. All the sinks always have a liberal coating of liquid soap on one side. The temperature of the water that comes from the faucets cannot be adjusted. Sometimes, it is the same temperature as cold tap water. At other times, it is so hot you can scald your hands if you leave them underneath the running water for more than a second. The towel dispensers are apparently programmed with frugality in mind (as opposed to the soap dispensers), as they tend to dispense a total of about three to four inches of paper towel. If you want more, you are usually left feeling vaguely foolish as you wave your hands back and forth underneath the dispenser like some amateur Houdini, invoking the unknown spirits to come forth and present you additional inches of towel. Alas, it usually is not to be. The towel dispenser does not appreciate your offer to reconsider its’ allotment of drying material to you. You are normally fated to leave the men’s room frantically waving your wet hands in the air like some “jazz-hands” refugee from a Bob Fosse musical.

All I can say is, if they change the toilet paper dispensers from the current manual version to an automated version, I’m quitting.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Flat Daddies and Mommies

I just cannot believe how utterly weird this concept is. It’s also very, vary sad.

Thanks to a Maine National Guard support group, families that are without their mommies or daddies because their unit got shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan can actually get a life size cardboard cutout of their missing family member as a replacement! The flat family member can be put in the car so he or she can ride around with the kids (see picture in the linked Boston Globe story). The flat daddy/mommy can be placed in front of the living room window so that potential burglars will be frightened off. Flat daddies/mommies will never experience crushing depression after learning they face a fourth deployment in Iraq when they really thought they were joining the Guard to assist the community during a local flood and perhaps earn some extra money. And, of course, they will never drink excessively or become violent toward their spouse after returning from a horrendous situation that they refuse to talk about.

I wonder if any of the kids involved in actually having a flat daddy or mommy around the house will look back at it later in life and ask themselves, “WTF?!” I can understand how an absent family member who face a very real possibility of bodily harm really has the potential for tearing a family apart at the seams. But a cardboard cutout doesn’t seem to fit any definition of a rational action to take. Maybe it’s just me, but having a bunch of photos hanging on the wall seems normal. Those are reminders of an absent family member that you can place in prominent positions around the house. Having a life sized cardboard figure that you can take in the car with you seems really, really creepy. That isn’t meant as a reminder, it’s meant to be a substitute for something that can never have an adequate substitute; the missing family member back at home in good mental and physical health.

The flat daddy/mommy concept is not to be confused with Tom Friedman’s Flat World or any theater lobby prop of Luke Skywalker or Princess Leah.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day!

Go picket someone today.

(And, as a bonus book review, here's one for anyone that might need a refresher about labor unions and the gains that have been made since the 1900's. Go find a copy of "Big Trouble" by J. Anthony Lucas. It is about the assasination of a popular political in Idaho in the early years of the 20th century. It reads like a novel at times, but is in fact a straight history lesson of the era of the Robber Barons. You get to experience what working conditions for the not-very-well-off were like back then, and why labor unions became as militant as they did. It also might give you pause about where this country is heading nearly 100 years later.)