Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Iraq "Plan" is just more BS

As some may have noticed, I have been laying off George W. Bush of late. My attention has been diverted by more pleasant circumstances such as the World Champion White Sox and the First Place Bears. These indulgences are merely guilty pleasures and should never be confused with any softening of my disdain for the policies set forth by the current presidential administration. The president’s recent address that supposedly outlined his “Victory Plan for Iraq” (but was really pointless drivel more akin to yet another round of cheerleading) serves as an excellent summary of Mr. Bush’s failed intellect and cynical deceit. I’ll present examples to outline how this hollow fart of a man has obfuscated, lied and dissembled about the Iraq war to the detriment of our soldiers, our treasury and our diplomatic reputation around the world, but realize that this is only a sampling and hardly an exhaustive critique of Bush’s obtuse rationale for war.

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

This represents failed reasoning. I have no doubt Bush believes this, but then Bush believes a lot of things that are either unknowable, or just plain wrong. How can he possibly know that an Iraqi democracy will be our ally? The Shi’ite majority could align with Iran to form an anti-American theocracy, and such a sectarian government could act to destabilize Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other oil producing nations whose anti-American majorities are ruled by heavy-handed lackeys of the Western corporatocracy. Bush’s rhetoric may work among certain voters at home, but just hoping doesn’t make it so. This is a dangerous assumption, not unlike the failed reasoning that the US soldiers would be greeted as liberators in 2003, or that Iraqi oil money would pay for the re-construction of Iraq after the war, or that WMD stockpiles would be found, or that Iraq was complicit in 9-11... What’s one more canard for old times’ sake?

The war “has caused sorrow for our whole Nation--and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving. That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone."

This represents a profoundly disingenuous statement. Who ever said al Qaeda would “become peaceful”? Answer: nobody. Instead, the question is whether the Iraq occupation has a) diverted our attention from stopping al Qaeda and global terrorism and b) helped bin Laden and Zarqawi to recruit new soldiers from the millions of disillusioned moderate Muslims worldwide. Such propaganda is evidence that he expects the American people to scrub their brains of all rationality. If Bush wants to really decrease terrorism and increase safety, he must stop making shit up and start leveling with himself and the American people about the causes for the increase in Muslim terrorism over the last four decades, and he must realize that disillusionment of the disenfranchised has some pattern that can be directly linked back to the actions of their oppressors.

"My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens, and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share…America, our Coalition, and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal--a democratic Iraq that can defend itself--that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists--and that will serve as a model of freedom for the Middle East."

There is so much wrong with these three sentences, that they could be used as sole evidence for Mr. Bush’s commission to a state hospital for the criminally insane, and also for his excommunication from almost any Christian congregation (except, of course, Pat Robertson’s and Jerry Falwell’s).

I’ll take the second two sentences first: Iraq was not a “safe haven” for terrorists, and certainly not al Qaeda—at least not until we showed up to destabilize the region. Any number of reports including the 9-11 Commission, the Deulfer Report and the UN has stated that Iraq did not serve as a training area or “safe haven” for al Qaeda and Iraq was not involved in any aggression toward the US. More al Qaeda operatives resided in Jeb Bush’s Florida than in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For Bush to continue this connection is documentary proof that his brain is broke.

His first statement should be even more disturbing to any god-fearing Christian or really any US citizen who feels that our president should adopt some semblance of a moral code. To repeat what Bush stated, "My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad…” Now, I may not hold Jesus in the deified regard that George W. Bush and the Christian Right do, but I do have a passing relationship with His teachings, and I am pretty sure this statement is inconsistent with the Gospels. In fact, Bush’s “conviction” is in complete contradiction to anything that Jesus may have directed his disciples to do; the early Church had a name for people such as Bush: they called them the Anti-Christ, but I won’t go there today. A more modern understanding of the psychology of violent acts (and I’m sure my more erudite brother who holds a doctorate in psychology could provide a better discussion) submits that violence tends to beget violence, respect tends to beget respect, and killing others does not serve to further a positive agenda.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31, for you home-gamers.*)
Not that Jesus invented this concept, but Bush has said that His version is sufficient, and I won’t pick nits. Bush has called Jesus the philosopher who has had the greatest influence on his life, yet Bush doesn’t seem to comprehend the very kernel of Christian teaching. Christ’s succinct message notwithstanding, I’m afraid the memo hasn’t reached Mr. Bush that a significant minority of 1.1 billion Muslims would like to “do unto us” that which Bush and US policy has been doing unto them for the last few decades.

"At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi army and police battalions ready for combat. Now, there are more than 125 Iraqi combat battalions fighting the enemy--more than 50 are taking the lead--and we have transferred more than a dozen military bases to Iraqi control."

At this time last year, the administration had been predicting an imminent end to the violence with the rise of the
“purple finger”, but a look at the stats shows that the violence has only increased and shifted toward softer civilian targets outside the even more fortified “Green Zone.” At this time last year, the insurgency was in its “last throes”, according to Dick Cheney. To believe the Bush administration’s cheerleading now would only be a sign of feeble-mindedness on the part of the listener.

"It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done....We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us....To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor--and I will not allow it."

David Corn of the The Nation magazine has put it, “If the United States pulled out everything tomorrow, that would not ‘hand Iraq over’ to al Qaeda and other jihadists (who may number only 1000 or so). The Iranian-backed Shiites (and their militias) would hardly roll over. And whatever accommodation reached between the Sunni insurgents and the foreign fighters would probably go poof. Whether withdrawal is the right policy or not, it is a scare tactic to depict disengagement as leading inexorably to an Iraq run by al Qaeda.”

"We remember the words of the Christmas carol, written during the Civil War: 'God is not dead, nor (does) He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

Again, I’ll quote
David Corn: “Justifiably or not, many folks around the world see the war in Iraq as a war on Islam. Given this sad reality, is it wise to be quoting a Christmas carol to defend and promote the war?” Mr. Bush continues to live in the fantasy world that his interpretation of God’s intent will hold some influence around the world. I realize that many Americans’ beliefs may be in lock-step with Bush’s, but to allude to our violent actions as Right and prescribed by God is to exhibit profound insensitivity toward the religious beliefs of perhaps the only people in the world whose religious beliefs are more irrational and heartfelt than Bush’s. Please, tell Mr. Bush to stop this; he’s not helping.

In conclusion, Bush’s series of speeches hardly outlined any “Plan for Victory,” instead they contained the same worn out cheerleading that has served as a military plan for the past three years. To continue to make predictions about a war, when all his previous predictions have been shown to be completely wrong, seems like a sign of insanity to me. Will they be true this time? Mr. Bush, even your supporters have stopped defending you, so please stop talking.

My input represents only a quick perusal of a few pertinent statements that caught my attention. Bush’s rhetoric is usually so full of inaccuracies that most of his outright lies are lost in the sheer volume of bullshit, and I do not pretend to even scratch the surface. Paying close attention to the president’s activities is dangerous to one’s positive outlook, and I admit that for my own mental health, I must divert myself from our continued international nightmare known as George W. Bush.

(And, ummm, oh yeah… Go Bears.)

*Personally, I prefer the Confucian version, "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" (Analects 15:23). While it’s slightly different than the newer Christian version, this statement more accurately portrays proper ethical behavior in complex social situations. Regardless of one’s flavor of social justice, stick with it and live it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Year-end Quotes

The top ten best quotes of the year (OK, I couldn't edit it down past 15).


15) "In Saginaw, MI, the township opposes red and green clothing on anyone. [Laughing] In Saginaw Township, they basically said, anybody, we don't want you to wear red or green." Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor, Dec 9, 2005, (...arguing the "left" is waging a War on Christmas (TM). Later, the town manager of Saginaw, wearing red and green, refuted the claim.)

14) "You are the best governor ever." --Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, writing to Texas Gov. George Bush in 1997 on his 51st birthday, adding that she found him "cool" and that he and his wife, Laura, were "the greatest" and telling him: "Keep up the great work. Texas is blessed." (Source)

13) "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." --George W. Bush, Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005 (Source (Listen to audio clip)

12) "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." --Bill Bennett, former Education Secretary and author of "The Book of Virtues," Sept. 28, 2005 (Source)

11) "I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work." --Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked to estimate the number of Iraqi insurgents while testifying before Congress, Feb. 16, 2005 (Source) (Read more Rumsfeldisms)

10) "Get some devastation in the back." --Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, to a staff photographer as he posed for a photo op while visiting tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, Jan. 6, 2005 (Source)

9) "I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn't work." --President Bush, after being thwarted by locked doors when he tried to exit a news conference in Beijing in the face of hostile questioning from reporters, Nov. 20, 2005 (Source) (Read more about Bush's door gaffe)

8) "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." --Vice President Dick Cheney, on the Iraq insurgency, June 20, 2005 (Source) (Read more stupid Cheney quotes)

7) "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office. She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli." --Sen. Bill Frist, diagnosing Terri Schiavo's condition during a speech on the Senate floor, March 17, 2005 (Source)

6) "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." --President Bush, to a divorced mother of three in Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005 (Source) (Listen to audio clip)

5) "Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well." --FEMA Director Michael Brown, Sept. 1, 2005 (Source)

4) "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." --President Bush, to FEMA director Michael Brown, while touring hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, Sept. 2, 2005 (Source) (Listen to audio clip)

3) "What didn't go right?" --President Bush, as quoted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, after she urged him to fire FEMA Director Michael Brown "because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right" in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, Sept. 6, 2005 (Source)

2) "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" --House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 9, 2005 (Source)

1) "What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them." --Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 5, 2005 (Source)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Smoldering Lions

The Detroit Lions fired Steve Mariucci with a losing record as head coach over the past 30 months. We can conjecture all day whether he deserved the boot for mismanaging arguably the best talent in the NFC North. Regardless, the team sucks, and you can’t fire the team, so Mariucci, despite his past Super Bowl successes (something the Lions have never done), is left dusting off his resume.

A seemingly unrelated news item is that we recently bought a used Toyota Camry. No, it didn’t once belong to Steve Mariucci. After years of buying Tracers, Sables and Broncos, the Grodge Family eschewed Ford Motor Company for an Asian “import” made in Ohio. The heresy. Last year, the revelation was made that Ford ignored a faulty power steering switch in it’s F-150 that could catch fire even while the vehicle was park and the motor off. Ford knew of the problem but refused to re-call the trucks after running a cost-benefit analysis and figuring the few potential lawsuits would amount to less cost than a nationwide re-call to fix the $50 part. A woman was killed in her home when her F-150 ignited while she slept; and Ford could have prevented it.

That’s a deal breaker. That’s negligent homicide.

Granted, in over ten years, none of our Sables has ever caught on fire. My wife drives 40,000 miles a year and goes through cars like J-Lo goes through engagement rings. Every two to three years we've bought a 2 year-old Sable and she drove it until the fenders fell off. They have served us well, but I admit that I was growing uneasy about having a smoldering Ford product in the garage every night about to explode into flames. What isn’t Ford telling us this time? This past summer, she was due for another car and we both asked, how much is that Camry again?

Fast forward to yesterday and the Mariucci news. The common thread in these two poor product lines, Sables and Lions, is none other than the Ford family. William Clay Ford is the top of the heap, the owner of the Lions, and the CEO of Ford Motor Company is Bill Ford. The rot in both of these organizations comes from the top and the top is the same family.

I’m not about to make some bold prediction about Ford filing for bankruptcy, or the Bears winning the Super Bowl in Detroit this January (we can dream); but I will say that the automobile marketplace, like the NFL, is a very competitive arena. If the management cannot make a product that the consumers can trust, then your company is doomed.

I imagine little happens by accident in the business world. Quality ratings for Fords are dismal and their trucks catch on fire; Ford market share has dropped and their stock price has been cut in half. The spiral began when Bill Ford moved his laptop into the corner office. A coincidence? Doubtful.

Steve Mariucci should have learned a valuable lesson this week: be careful that the vehicle to which you've hitched your wagon is not a smoldering Ford product, because it may blow up in your face. Does Toyota have a football team?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Entertain Me, America!

When channel-surfing before dinner, invariably we gravitate to the America’s Funniest Videos show. Never underestimate the entertainment value of drunk and stupid people riding their bikes off roofs and obese women on children’s playground equipment. It’s funny stuff. Trust me.

As I’m watching a segment last week that had some skinny little kid screaming his tonsils out on a roller coaster, I realized that I was witnessing yet another dividend of economic globalization. Sure, my closet is full of cheap Nikes and I’ve enjoyed my inexpensive microwave made in some Southeast Asian sweatshop, but I honestly never had imagined the far reach of globalization in my nightly entertainment.

After the kid and his older brothers won the $10,000 prize for the “best” home video, they explained how it was made. The youngest boy, probably 10 years old, was mortally afraid of roller coasters and both of his brothers knew this. The oldest brother, about 16 years old, “made” his younger sibling go on the terrifying roller coaster just so that he could film his death screams and submit them to the video show. Needless to say it worked.

The show is increasingly entertaining as more and more people have access to video camera equipment, and that equipment is cheaper and more available to the average consumer due to globalization. When Uncle Elmer gets drunk on Thanksgiving and decides to drive his ATV off a makeshift ramp into the creek, it’s now much more likely that Cousin Sadie has a Sony digital movie camera running. Little Vern sets his pants on fire with a roman candle on the 4th of July? Don’t worry, Pa has it on the Samsung camcorder.

I know that video shows have been around for at least a decade and who can forget the Jackass movies, but my point is that never have the quaint activities of Americana been so available to the viewing public, and it’s always funnier when it happens to someone else. It’s as if every backwater and trailer park has constant surveillance video running just for our entertainment. Did Thomas Friedman ever see this coming?

Every baby who pees on his Dad or pours spaghetti sauce on Grandma’s dress is recorded for TV—their fifteen seconds of fame, and a chance at $10K. So, keep the cameras running, America. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to watch the news with my dinner.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thus Spake Mylo

My good friend Barry Mylo, a college acquaintance from the University of Chicago, has sent a recent correspondence and has given his permission to publish it on the Post. I’m not sure if he’s been drinking, or if this portends some deep psychological depression (I’ll have to ask his wife if she’s noticed any signs), but until I learn more, I’ll take Barry at his word, and accept his apology.

Dear Grodge,
OK. I admit it. I was wrong. You have endured my years of polemics on the benefits of the Bush administration, and now I realize that my usually keen sense of analysis missed some major failings of this presidency. Accept my heartfelt apologies and let me outline the specific items with which I take issue with the president’s administration.

1) The Libby Indictment. I am an attorney and I realize that this is the fatal blow to anything that the Bush administration wishes to accomplish over the next three years. This indictment is serious. Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald is serious. The eventual trial—and there will be one-- is serious. Why didn’t Bush uncover this in 2004 and clean house? As Grodge has intimated, isn’t he, after all, the president? Unlike the Clinton investigation, this one surrounds substantive charges of disclosing a CIA agent’s identity, the intelligence about Iraq’a WMD capabilities and the politicization of the war effort. Also, unlike Clinton’s investigation, this special prosecutor is not some political hack who will fold his tent on January 20, 2007, the last day of Bush’s presidency, like Starr did to Clinton. Furthermore, the indictment casts a long shadow on Cheney, Rove, Bush, the Iraq war effort, the morale of our clandestine services, and our diplomatic standing in the world. Now, even Italy’s Berlusconi, one of the more hawkish members of the “coalition of the willing”, is saying that he, too, warned Bush about the possible lack of WMD in 2003. The rats are jumping ashore just at the time when the US needs the international community to help in the transitional government in Iraq. Long, dark shadow.

2) The Iraq war. In the past I saw the value of invading Iraq, securing a government friendly to the US, and extracting oil for our national self-interest. To me, that was the only rationale that our military should have been involved in Iraq; didn’t we all know the WMD crap was bogus from the start? So far, and as far as anyone can see, that scenario is not playing out. Whether Bush failed by obtaining a valid international mandate, or he failed by conducting the occupation inadequately, or he has just been unlucky, one thing is for sure: Bush failed. The US electorate has lost faith that the war effort has been worth it, gas prices are skyrocketing, our federal budget is shattered, and the polls are correct. Never did I ever consider in 2003 that 30 months down the road we would still be holed up in Baghdad’s Green Zone and Iraq’s oil fields would still be on fire. The project has been a disaster, and it’s far from over. I am not a Christian, Humanist, Hindu or Buddhist, but maybe there is some real-world validity to the non-violence ethos portrayed in those varied and revered religions—I’ll have to talk to my rabbi about it.

3) The Supreme Court. Harriet Miers? Yikes. I am more qualified than Miers to be on the SCOTUS, and believe me, I am not qualified. The proper analogy would be if Bush asked his friendly general practitioner from Crawford to—no, not serve as Surgeon General, that’s an easy job—replace somebody’s heart defibrillator, and then set the rules on how heart defibrillators should be monitored and maintained for every heart patient in the country. This choice for SCOTUS, more than anything Bush has done, has shown just how lost he is. I have never claimed that Bush is an intellectual giant or some insightful savant-- no, he has unquestionably benefited by his family’s name and wealth more than anybody who has ascended to the Oval office-- but I have always trusted the system enough to believe that he would be surrounded with competent advisors who would take over the daily housekeeping chores, one of which is vetting potential SCOTUS candidates and presenting the president with a short list of viable folks. In Bush’s case, a very short list. Perhaps the latest Libby/Rove imbroglio, or the Iraq chaos, or the Katrina/Rita/FEMA mess, or a combination of these, has shed a dreary light on the usually opaque governance of this administration; but one thing is for sure: somebody actually let Bush choose his own SCOTUS candidate, and that never should have happened. More importantly, what else are they letting George do? That’s really scary.

Obviously, there is no way to know what would have happened if Kerry had been elected one year ago. The Libby/Rove mess would have still occurred, but perhaps it would have been relegated to page 3 of the Washington Post, and not have screamed to the world what complete imbeciles we are. Search Google News for “Libby indictment” and see what the international press is saying. Worse than Watergate, in spades. Perhaps the Iraq war effort would be no better, but I cannot imagine that it would be any worse; who knows, perhaps Kerry would have been able to recruit the UN or NATO or Asian allies to help in the peacekeeping during the Iraqi elections. Gas prices would still be high, but the blame would be put on the proper culprits: Asian market demand for oil, the lack of alternate fuel sources and obscene oil company profits, instead of the world blaming the US military intervention in Iraq.

Personally, I have grown more pessimistic over the last nine months. Sure, I have no problem filling up my Lexus, and sure, my kids are too young to go off to war, but I worry about my kids’ ability to drive their Lexuses and live the grand lifestyle I am enjoying. Maybe it wasn’t so bad when all we had to worry about were personal indiscretions and trumped up land-deal charges. So, Grodge, accept my heartfelt apologies. While I have not become some bleeding heart liberal, I am beginning to see that you have been correct: the Bush administration has not been conservative, in the classic sense of conservatism. The “neo-conservative” militarism is expensive and ineffective. The federal budgets are filled with even more outrageous pork than ever. And diplomatic isolation is not only lonely, but costly.

Grodge, you know that I am arrogant enough to be very reticent to admit my mistakes, but I have given this issue much thought. I realize now that you have not changed: you are still the arch conservative that you were in college, the true compassionate conservative who saw the enlightened self-interest of a reformed welfare system, the cost-effectiveness of some form of health care for everyone and reluctance for a violent and expensive war. The USA is the greatest nation on earth for a number of reasons, but the main reason is that we can admit our mistakes and vow to avoid them in the future. As an American, I admit it. My votes for George W. Bush have been a mistake. I appeal to your compassion to not kick me when I’m down.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank Barry for his heartfelt mea culpa. Such an admission mirrors the recent polls which put Bush's approval rating at 38% while a year ago over 51% voted for him. Kerry may be a liberal, but as I've always maintained, modern liberalism is more conservative than fifty years ago, and certainly more conservative than the radical "neo-conservatism" of today.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why I am (really) a White Sox Fan

OK, ok I grew up 7 miles form Sox Park (by the way, true Sox fans never refer to US Cellular or even Comisky, it’s always Sox Park). But my formative years in Chicago were marked by the success of the northside rivals and the squaky clean Cubs enjoyed the large media coverage of WGN and the Tribune Company.

Dick Allen was the prodigious power hitter whose off-field antics cost him prodigious fines. But in 1972, he earned the AL MVP while almost getting the Triple Crown for the White Sox and that was enough for any 11 year-old on the Southside.

Allen’s ignominious SI cover-- cigarette and all-- adorned my bedroom wall to the consternation of my dear mother. Despite her frustration, she took me to many ballgames to root for the Red and White. As the years wore on, my friends and I would root for Harold Baines in right field with chants of “HAR-ol’, HAR-ol’” with the two or three thousand other stalwart fans who braved the southside to see our desperate and beloved Sox. Those sporadic catcalls can be heard occasionally now whenever Baines peeks his timid countenance from the dugout where he serves as Ozzie’s bench coach.

Sox Park has since moved—across the parking lot—and the chronic losing has miraculously turned to winning. I’ve always promised myself that I’d go to a World Series game only if it was played in Sox Park. Now that it’s here, I’m reluctant to part with the $1300 needed to sit in a seat that just last month cost me 30 bucks-- it's as much principle as working-class frugality. But my heart will be next to Harold and Ozzie, and I may smoke a butt just in remembrance of Dick.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Something bad happened in 2003

I’ll admit that I am more than a casual observer to current events and news reports of the Fitzgerald investigation of the White House intelligence leak is familiar to me. The Fitzgerald Grand Jury is winding down, having interviewed every upper level Administration official about the political motives behind the leaks of US intelligence information. The buzz is that indictments will be handed down this week, and they may be big.

“Fitzgerald who”, you ask? That would be Patrick Fitzgerald, Special Prosecutor from Chicago, who has been assigned to investigate whether crimes have been committed in the disclosure of a CIA operative’s identity in the Summer of 2003. (If any of this is news to you so far, then I suggest you turn off your computer right now and either go to the library and pick up past issues of every periodical you can find over the last two years and READ them, or you should rescind your US citizenship, move to Easter Island, plant soybeans and decline from voting in any election as an informed citizen of any democracy ever again.)

Presidents and their administrative staff tend to be Teflon-coated when it comes to criminal indictments, but the current accusations are much more than the occasional Clintonian ejaculation or errant real estate transaction. What happened in 2003 is a big deal: we went to war to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Our allies disagreed with us, and knowledgeable officials expressed reservations, and they were all correct. We also know that in July 2003 somebody in the White House disclosed the name of a female CIA operative under “non-official cover” (NOC) to a group of journalists, and her name and identifying relationships were published in an article written by columnist Robert Novak. Fitzgerald has yet to determine if enough evidence is available to show that a crime has been committed.

So, what’s the big deal? You say, “yeah, sure, but it’s not like we have a blue dress with a semen stain or anything real, like, gross, or anything.” Valerie Plame is a former CIA operative who was “outed” by top administration officials. Accusations by her husband, former State Department official Joseph Wilson, state that the disclosure was for political retribution for Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq War and his July 2003 Washington Post article about the dubious basis for Bush’s claims of a nuclear weapons program in Saddam Hussein’s regime. The undeniable facts are that top secret US intelligence information was disclosed and published in July 2003. Speculation is that this disclosure was purposeful and politically motivated to punish critics of George W. Bush’s Iraq War.

The Agee Act of 1982, supported by then-Vice-President and former CIA Director George H. W. Bush, makes any known disclosure of a known CIA operative a federal crime. The reasons for this statute seem obvious: when a CIA operative is “outed”, the entire covert apparatus is jeopardized. Not only is the agent put in danger, but every contact that agent has made is also potentially compromised. Nobody knows what Valerie Plame has done over her decades-long career in the CIA (ie, it’s classified), but we do know she was NOC for some of that time. That means that every shopkeeper and delivery boy who may have been seen with her will now be viewed differently in the respective Third world backwaters in which they reside. They or their families may be threatened, or killed. Future operatives will be less likely to find cooperative allies when we need them most. The war on terror has been gravely compromised. Something very bad happened in 2003. Fitzgerald is now charged with determining if the disclosure of Plame’s status constituted a crime under the Agee Act. And if it did, who participated in the crime?

Likely, we will have an answer soon. Fitzgerald will finish his investigation and the grand jury will disband by next week. Whether criminal indictments are handed down or not, we will know one thing: something bad happened in 2003.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A funny thing happened on the way...

…to the Great White Sox Collapse (TM): the Indians choked.

I'm not one to gloat, especially when the mighty Red Sox are packing their bags for Chicago, but I've had to endure certain Tribe fans' premature celebration for the last two weeks (you know who you are).

I have nothing against Cleveland-- their young guns are will be worthy opponents for years to come, with at least three potential Hall of Fame contenders in their line-up. But for those who don’t know what a baseball choke really is, the Tribe’s hapless performance against the White Sox bench this weekend might qualify. The season lasts 162 games, and one 17-for-19 run in September does not a season make.

While the Indians are making tee times for Tuesday, Ozzie Guillen will be petitioning Bud Selig for the White Sox to play their home playoff games in Cleveland's Jacobs Field where the Sox sport a 9-1 season record.

Guillen showed wisdom beyond the mere two seasons he has managed, refusing to panic, or at least show it. "I'll be concerned," Guillen said two weeks ago, "when we're one game behind." They never were. In the final game he had El Duce and youngster Brandon McCarthy trying out or the fifth play-off start. Another master stroke at motivational psychology.

Good luck to the Indians, the team of the future for the AL Central... but for now, the White Sox have some more baseball to play.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bush helps bin Laden (again)

Karen Hughes, Bush’s favorite Texas housewife, was recently recruited to shore up our failed relationship with the Muslim world as the newly appointed Undersecretary of State. Unfortunately, a recent exchange with Eqyptian leaders demonstrates that this choice is yet another--I personally lost count years ago-- example of utter incompetence of Bush and his advisors. Here's the quote from the UK's Guardian:

"Many people around the world do not understand the important role that faith plays in Americans' lives," Hughes said. When an Egyptian opposition leader inquired why Mr Bush mentions God in his speeches, Hughes asked him whether he was aware that "previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our constitution cites 'one nation under God'."

"Well, never mind," he said. From the Guardian.

Never mind, indeed. As Kos at dailykos.com has asked, where exactly in the Constitution would one find the phrase “one nation under God”? Anyone?

Yes, everyone knows the answer; it’s not in the Constitution, and for good reason: the founders did not believe that the USA was “one nation under God.”

Now, I can hear everyone moaning, “there goes Grodge, on and on again about Bush, religion etc…”, but indulge me a few paragraphs, please.

This snippet underscores a fundamental tenet on which this nation is founded, and Hughes and Bush do not get it. The USA is not uniquely chosen, and the government of the USA is not based on nonrational “faith”. Rather, we are a community of many diverse states and cultures, and we rely on proveable, identifiable policies of human rights, rule of law and secular ethics. And secular ethics were around centuries before God spoke to Moses.

A recent LA Times op-ed by Rosa Brooks looks at a paper by a religious professor from Creighton University that studies the threat that religiosity poses to our society. The paper points out that secular nations in Europe are actually better off than the USA in terms of quantifiable standards of ethics and well-being: childhood mortality, homicide rates, poverty, etc. And I'll add abortion rates, which are lower in every western European nation than they are in the USA. While Brooks is careful to avoid drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between the USA’s relative religiosity and our social ills, she does correctly conclude that the paper shows at least that the lack of religiosity in society poses no threat.

Further, however, Brooks points out a more compelling argument against religiosity, namely, the dangers of absolutism regarding one’s nonrational beliefs. Like Muslim extremists, American evangelicals see their viewpoints as written in stone by God, and see no problem inflicting their value systems on others. Such justification for intolerance is scattered throughout history with wars and genocide becoming the eventual result.

So, when the Undersecretary of State, representing you and paid by you, goes to Muslim nations and misrepresents the US Constitution, you should be outraged. The sequence that will likely play out in the coming months and years—and has been playing out in Iraq-- is that moderate Muslims will see the US as becoming an unhinged religious extremist state, represented by our modern Christian mullahs, who have less understanding of Muslim culture than they do for their very own US Constitution.

These moderate Muslims will see only futility in attempting to reason with such American ignorance, and the pressure will mount to join the jihad against Western occupation. Do you think I’m wrong? Look no further than Iraq, where US generals now agree that the growing Arab insurgency is due to American military presence in their land. Liberal and pro-Western Muslims are either being silenced with murder or fear. And Karen Hughes has been pegged to fix this failed situation? Please, someone at least get her a copy of the US Constitution.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Letter to Honorable Fred Upton, US House

Dear Mr. Upton,

I am dismayed at the lack of substantive investigation on the Downing Street Memo, which is in fact a report of the minutes of a meeting with British and US officials in the summer of 2002. In that report, as you probably know, implication had been made that the Bush administration had already decided to invade Iraq and intelligence was being "fixed" around that scenario.

Mr. Upton, you had answered questions on WKZO-AM 590 Kalamazoo with Dave Jaconet (?sp) at one point in October or November of 2002 when you assured listeners that "your buddy Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the intelligence committee" was aware of "good intelligence" that WMD were present in Iraq, and you felt the US should overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Since 2002, we have learned that WMD did not exist in Iraq; and the intelligence was at best mistaken, and possibly manufactured. Our sons and daughters are dying in Iraq, Mr. Upton. Iraqi civilians are dying; our diplomatic allies have abandoned us and our treasury is being depleted. You are my representative in the US Congress, and I ask that you join Rep. John Conyers and perform your due diligence in pursuing this grave error in events that has taken place in the US foreign policy.

The 9/11 Commission investigated the quality of intelligence, but never pursued the administration's hand in effecting those faulty intelligence reports. The Downing Street Memo needs to be pursued, if for no other reason, to add transparency to our government.

As much as I disdain nearly everything the Bush administration has done these past few years, Mr. Upton, I believe that citizens elect persons not parties, so I split my ticket to vote for you in 2004, as I had in the past. My disappointment has been growing, however, with each congressional vote when administration policies are merely rubber stamped without critical thought or investigation.

This nation is heading toward an unfixable situation in Iraq, please pursue these issues as part of your service to your constituency and nation.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Santorum invokes Hitler

Ho hum. Yet another outrage by some wingnut. Check it out here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Evolution Ruse

My friend Halifax has asked my opinion on a recent article from the Boston Globe about Michael Ruse, a “philosopher of science” who supports evolution. He has teamed with a proponent of Intelligent Design in his latest book and offers theories regarding the fronts in the war between evolutionists and creationists. He believes that evolutionists have been ineffective in getting their point across to creationists and therefore Ruse teams up with a follower of Intelligent Design supposedly to promote evolution. I’ll summarize a few points about the article.

1) The social Darwinism mistake.

From the Boston Globe article, “Evolution is controversial in large part, [Ruse] theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.”

Darwinism pertains to biology, and biology alone. It is neither a social theory nor an economic theory. Granted, many scientists and nonscientists alike have been enamored with the sheer elegance of natural selection over the past century and a half. History has been littered with sociologists and economists such as Herbert Spencer, T.H. Huxley and Karl Marx who could not resist the temptation of (inappropriately) applying Darwin’s unique theory to various other fields of discipline, but that does not negate the eleganct usefulness of Darwin’s theory as it pertains to biology.

Supposedly, even Darwin himself considered the social manifestations of natural selection, but his conjecture was never pursued further than a few idle thoughts in letters to personal friends. This could hardly serve as the basis of widespread dissolution of Darwinian biology as certain creationists have argued. Creationist, David N. Menton, PhD states: “When man ceases to give credit to God as Creator, he generally gives the credit to nature (evolution). Not only is nature then perceived as ‘creator’, but also man's guide for morality and behavior.” As obtuse as this statement seems to me, after reading it a few times I guess I can see why Old Testament literalists would take issue with Darwinism taken to social and moral extremes. As someone who understands Darwinism, I would reassure Dr. Menton that biologists are not out to steal his morality or his faith in God—he can have them. We just want science taught in science class and religion taught in religion class.

Ruse says, ''This is a fight about different worldviews.'' I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth. This fight is about the purity of biological science and the ability for school teachers to present it as such. The fight is about diluting evolution as presented within a science curriculum with creationism and intelligent design, and any number of other improvable and irrational ideas that relate more to religion than science. Biology is one single natural science and it should not be made into a “worldview” of religion, philosophy, sociology and economics.

2) Science as knowledge; religion as belief.

The Globe article says that “according to a Gallup survey released last November, only about a third of Americans believe that Darwin's theory is well supported by the scientific evidence, while nearly half believe that humans were created in more or less their present form 10,000 years ago.”

This disturbing statistic demonstrates my point exactly that science as taught today is not presenting evolution in a responsible way. Every new finding since Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859 has corroborated his theory of natural selection and disproved the Biblical teaching of an earth lifespan of 10,000 years; yet more believe the latter than know the former. Science should not be subject to the wiles of democratic votes. Just because millions of red-state troglodytes believe something doesn’t make it true. Likewise, Galileo was nearly executed because he disagreed with the erroneous conventional wisdom of the day about planetary motion*. Our school systems are charged with turning out the next generation of scientists and researchers who will have a lot of problems to solve; let’s not prolong this conspiracy of ignorance any longer.

The Globe article states: “But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief…”

I feel that E. O. Wilson is one of the least understood philosophers of our time. His book Consilience has been much maligned by religious people as being anti-religious, and having read this work a few times, I cannot see the argument. As a scientist Wilson observes nature and attempts to reduce it down to its component parts. In Consilience, he casts his scientific eye on human social structure and religion and looks for reasons why we believe the things we do. Why do we have faith in irrational things? Wilson conjectures, sometimes wildly, and comes to no concrete conclusion. That’s philosophy.

Ruse unfairly castigates Wilson by describing his ''search for objective reality'' as a replacement for religious seeking. Rather than a “replacement”, Wilson is looking for a ‘rationale for religion.’ In my opinion Wilson’s Consilience is an unparalleled opportunity for us to benefit from a scientist’s truly philosophical appraisal of the human condition and his work hardly challenges the “validity of religious belief.” The fact that Wilson has drawn ire from religionists and rationalists alike could be evidence that he is either pushing the envelope of our understanding or that he is simply way off base; I prefer the former. If fundamentalist religionists cannot grasp Wilson’s point, then screw ‘em. I am less familiar with Dawkins’ religious views, and reserve judgment on his work.

3) Evolution vs. Mythology.

The Globe article says: “If the book raises hackles, though, it also raises critical questions. Given the inherent conflict between evolution and a literal reading of Genesis, does it really matter what evolution's advocates say? Or are creationists bound to attack evolutionary science regardless? And to what extent does Ruse's own approach, as the in-house critic of evolution's advocates, help or hinder his cause? ...Evolution is so embattled, Michael Ruse argues, because Darwinians have historically tried to compete with religion.”

Oh my. Ruse is exactly 180 degrees off on this. Evolutionists did not pick any fight with religionists; most understand the inability of fundamentalists to wrap their minds around anything more comlex than a football game. Unfortunately, in modern America irrational anxiety-based beliefs will trump rational scientific observation almost all the time (reference Iraq and the fear of WMD.) Creationists are certainly bound to attack evolutionary science on every front because they fear for their souls. Teachers are merely asking for a few hours within a science curriculum to present scientific findings of geology, biology, anthropology, genetics, and archaeology and to show how they support natural selection and species evolution. And not having to compromise their principles and waste valuable time passing off wild irrational theories and mythologies as science. Go ahead and teach the Bible and creationism-- in religion class. Is treating the Bible as an historical science book truly appropriate in 21st century America? Evolution is “so embattled” because raving religionists have irrationally targeted it as the cause of humankind’s social and moral undoing. Evolution led the 20th century assault on relegating the various stories of the Bible to allegorical mythology, and in so doing, evolution has attracted the wrath of innumerable panic-stricken ideologues.

Intelligent design is the theory du jour. It maintains that plant and animal species are too complex to be a product of gradual evolution and some higher intelligence must be responsible. Arguments fly back and forth, and evolutionists cite biochemical and genetic mechanisms and physical evidence in the form of fossils to support their theory that chemicals and energy can form single-cell life forms which in turn evolve over time into complex organisms. [Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God is an excellent summary.] In the end, intelligent design proponents shrug and state that while evolution may have occurred as theorized, so may intelligent design be correct, too. This is tantamount to watching the evening news and puzzling about the workings of a television set, having an electrical engineer explain in detail how it works, then scratching your head and concluding, “yeah, well I still believe that Tom Brokaw is sitting in that box talking to me.” I’m not sure even religion class is ready for this malarkey.

The Globe article says that “Ruse acknowledges this dynamic. But he says that precisely because scientists ‘are plunged into a situation not of their own making,’ they should change tactics, and seek out religious moderates who might be willing to accept evolution if it were presented in a more diplomatic manner….Ultimately, Ruse says, 'Evolution is true. Evolution works.' But as he sees it, the traditional ways of presenting evolution have hurt as much as helped. [emphasis mine]”

I appreciate Ruse’s sentiments and I welcome his diplomatic patience on the issue. My cynicism sees that religious ideologues have assaulted the moderates with fear-based irrationalism to the point that large numbers of Americans see all social ills as the result of “moral relativism” as supposedly espoused by Darwinists and rationalists. If "religious moderates" fall for this slop, then they are well down the path of ignorant banality, and certainly any chance of luring them back to reality would not be improved by espousing something as imbecilic as intelligent design. Back to E. O. Wilson: he would argue that social values and morality are somehow programmed into our biological makeup, and humankind would do well to pursue this connection and work toward real solutions to our problems instead of perseverating on with current fear-based tendencies which will eventually destroy our planet.

Eugenie C. Scott, an anthropologist who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education, is one of the most eloquent advocates for evolution. She argues that the debate should not be about the individual religious beliefs of scientists, but rather about the validity of the narrow scientific theory being discussed. Natural selection, as presented by Darwin in Origin of Species, is simple to understand. In fact, its elegance is due largely to its simplicity. It’s not morality, it’s not social science, rather it is a simple biological theory—which just so happens to have been supported by a mountain of other findings in the last 150 years. Not a single scientific finding in any scientific field—not one—has disproved or even legitimately countered evolution. Dr. Scott argues that to have another generation of school children grow up without proper instruction in such a fundament of science would be an egregious indictment of our educational system.

Ruse seems passionate in his support for evolution and for that I admire him. His tactic, however, of teaming with a proponent of intelligent design risks the degradation of pure science apparently to sell a few books. Intelligent design is not bad science, it is not even non-science. It’s certainly not religion. In fact, I do not know how to characterize it at all, except as one more snotty Kleenex cast into the waste bin of our pop culture. Not knowing him or having read his book, I can only conjecture on the motives of Michael Ruse and his recent collaboration. Certainly, the media hype will furnish generous readership from the religious right to this latest pseudo- “disproof” of the demonic Darwinists—which tells me that this philosopher may indeed be living up to his surname.

*thanks to Vorkosigan at www.dailykos.com

This blog has also been published at dailykos here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Election 2000 Redux

The erudite contributor known as Commonsensical has accused the Florida Supreme Court of “legislating from the bench” during the Florida 2000 election when they allowed Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris to delay her vote certification. I vociferously disagreed and I’ll explain why. (Furthermore, I feel that this issue of “activist judges” is pure unadulterated bullsh*t, and becomes dangerous when Republican politicians make veiled threats to judges who disagree with their views--but that’s another issue.)

We all know that I never made a big deal over the 2000 election results. As Vincent Bugliosi and others stated at the time, Gore was in a Catch-22, and coupled with partisan decisions made by Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, he was never going to win Florida. But for anyone to say that “Gore didn’t have the votes” is not only disingenuous, it is altogether unknowable—they were never counted. As Josef Stalin said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes [or in Harris’ case: refuse to count the votes] decide everything.”

From the USA Today, the Florida 2000 vote:

Gore lawyer David Boies said the Gore campaign's appeals raised two questions:

• When can Harris certify the statewide ballot?

• Should Harris wait for the manual recount tallies from Palm Beach and Broward counties, two Democratic strongholds, before deciding whether to accept or reject them?

According to Boies, Florida law says a statewide certification can be blocked if Harris rejects "a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the outcome of the election."


Boies appealed after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, ruled against Gore earlier Friday.

Lewis ruled that Harris "exercised her reasoned judgment" in deciding to reject manual vote recounts filed after a November 14 deadline.

All 67 counties submitted their vote totals by deadline.

But the counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward were conducting or considering manual recounts of some or all votes cast within their borders and told Harris they would file amended totals.

Lewis on November 14 said Harris has the authority to accept or reject such amended totals filed after the November 14 deadline.

However, [Judge Lewis] told [Harris] to base her decision on proper "discretion," ordering her not to reject any amended total simply because they were filed after the deadline.

On Wednesday, Harris announced that she would reject the amended totals.


On Thursday, the Gore campaign told Lewis that Harris had violated his order by acting in an arbitrary fashion, asking the Democratic judge to declare the preliminary statewide vote certification "null and void."

Lawyers for Harris and Bush argued that Harris exercised proper discretion.

They said the law requires counties to file by deadline unless natural disasters or malfunctioning balloting equipment prevented vote tallies. The counties did not raise such problems, therefore Harris rejected hand recounts, they said.

The problem from Gore’s standpoint is that the law allowed Katherine Harris to use her “discretion” and she made an arguably partisan move by rejecting the prospect of amended totals. We all know that the Florida SC agreed unanimously (7-0) with Gore that if manual recounts are allowed by the Florida Constitution, then a reasonable amount of time should be given for such recounts. Commonsensical, that’s an “interpretation of the law”, NOT legislating from the bench.

The US Supreme Court eventually intervened in a split decision (5-4) that the 2-county recounts should stop because they violated the equal protection of the other 65 counties who did not enjoy recounts. (SCOTUS never mentioned the lack of protection for the 5 or 6% of the 2-county vote that was not counted versus the 2 or 3% in the other more Republican counties: no equal protection there?) So, Gore was in a Catch-22: Florida law allowed only for recounts in counties that have suspicious vote tallies, yet SCOTUS disallowed partial recounts. Hmm.

I do not see Judge Lewis “legislating from the bench” as Commonsensical has accused him of doing. Now, if he had mandated Harris to delay the vote certification, then that would possibly be an example of “legislating from the bench”, but many would still argue otherwise. The courts are required to interpret the intent of the law, and to protect the rights of the minority—in this case the citizens whose ballots were not counted properly.

The Democratic argument has always been that:

1)According to the US Constitution, the states are allowed to choose their electors by their own prescribed methods, unless their methods do not allow equal protection for all voters.

2)Florida law states that the election judges have a duty to attempt to determine the intent of each individual voter, to the best of their ability. Running faulty ballots through scanners does not necessarily fulfill that obligation.

3) If equal protection is an issue in state Florida, then SCOTUS did not ensure proper attention to equal protection of the 2-county region whose votes were not counted to the same degree as the other 65 counties.

In conclusion, I have always opined that on that cold November morning, more Americans and more Floridians intended to vote for Al Gore. This, however, is an unproveable hypothesis and therefore I have never pushed the issue. As far as the Florida SC “legislating”, I would say that you should truly re-think this premise and come up with a better example of “legislating from the bench.” Furthermore, I would argue that the best examples of activist judges are actually Republican appointees, with Justice Scalia the best example (here’s the link of a NY Times opinion piece.)

I’ll go one step further and say that I feel that the events of the past 4 years have shown evidence of the Bush team lying and cheating and cooking intelligence to meet their predetermined goals; so, I am becoming more and more convinced that stealing the Florida election in 2000 is not as far-fetched as I once thought. And I cannot fathom how anybody, let alone a majority of supposedly informed Americans, could have re-elected Bush in 2004. A sad, dark and dreary time indeed. As John Dean, Nixon’s Chief Counsel and later detractor says, Bush’s presidency is “Worse than Watergate.”

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Kudos to Bush?

I will be the first to speak when I disagree with Bush, so it is only fair that I give the guy his props on the rare occasion that I agree with him.

Michael Kinsley has offered a magnanimous olive branch to the Republicans and I think the Democrats should heed his advice. Bush has inexplicably taken on Social Security, a federal program with a few problems; when other programs—Medicare and Medicaid-- are arguably in much more desperate shape. Let’s give Bush the progressive SS fix and privatization, as long as it’s voluntary. Then we can move onto more pressing issues…

Kinsley states:

"Even more to Bush's credit, the plan he's backing is highly progressive. Benefits for low-income workers would keep rising with average wages, as now, but benefits for middle- and high-income people would be geared more toward merely keeping up with inflation. This allows Bush to say that no one's benefits will be cut, although some people will be getting as much as 40 percent less than they are currently promised. But in the swamp of Social Security politics, that is really minimal protection from the alligators.

So Democrats now face a choice: Are they going to be alligators on this one? Why Bush has taken this on remains a mystery. There is no short-term political advantage, and there are other real long-term problems that are more pressing. But he has done it, to his credit.

As this column has argued to the point of stupefaction, Bush's privatization ideas are a mathematical fraud. There is no way that allowing people to manage part of the money they put into the system can produce a surplus to supplement their benefits or cushion the shock of the necessary cuts. But if privatization is truly voluntary, it can't do much harm. And if that is Bush's price for being out front on a real solution to the real problem, the Democrats should let him have it."

Kinsley goes on to opine that the Democrats know deep in their hearts that SS must change eventually, so why not let Bush take the heat—that’s what he is paid to do after all. This is not to say the Democratic leadership will be wise enough to heed Kinsley's advice; they seem to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Sen Reid, Rep Pelosi, are you listening?

Pope addendum

New evidence now shows that in 1997 Pope Benedict XVI, then a bishop, attempted to cover up the sex abuse scandal occurring in the US.

I also find it odd that many socially conservative, mostly Protestant, middle Americans feel they have an ally in this Pope merely because he has a reputation for conservatism. They seem to forget that the new Pope views them as heretics who have left the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The Boston Globe reports, “His 2000 statement Dominus Jesus (Lord Jesus) raised grave concerns among both Protestants and non-Christians. In it, he claimed that, because ``followers of other religions . . . are in a gravely deficient situation,'' the church must ``announce the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the church through baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God.''

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

An operating room nurse asked me yesterday what I thought of the new pope. My initial impulse is that I really haven’t given the new pope much thought. Sure I’ve seen him on TV and have read the news stories that he was a member of Hitler’s Nazi Party during his youth, has a reputation for social conservatism, and served as the Vatican theologian under Pope John Paul II. I also know that he authored a letter during the US Presidential campaign ordering bishops to refuse Holy Communion to Catholics who supported abortion rights (never mind capital punishment.) None of these items is especially noteworthy, and having grown up Roman Catholic none is too surprising to me: except maybe the fact that he eventually denounced his Nazi affiliation as a youthful indiscretion.

I suppose we live in a free and liberal society and one ramification is that we feel inclined to formulate opinions on all sorts of current events; no matter how little we may know about the details. We seem to feel that we can know enough about Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence, Terri Schiavo’s wishes about extraordinary means of life support, Tom DeLay’s ethical dilemmas, and the Constitutional rights of restaurant owners who allow smoking in their establishments, to formulate rock solid opinions. And we as a culture are not afraid to express these opinions, so why not a little banter about the new pontiff?

I initially demurred to expound on any opinion of the new pope, but this particular nurse, who converted to Catholicism as an adult, pressed me for my opinion. Although she admitted that she liked Pope John Paul II, she seemed pleased that the Roman Catholic Church would now have a new more conservative leader.

“The cafeteria is closed,” read one sign welcoming Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, if his reputation is carried over into practice, Catholics will no longer be able to pick and choose which dicta of the Church are acceptable to their lifestyles. The word is that with Benedict XVI, nothing is negotiable: the Pope is again the infallible final arbiter of issues related to God’s plan for earthly mortals who ascribe to Roman Catholicism.

Upon further discussion with this nurse, I learned that she 1) plays guitar at her local church, 2) has never been Confirmed, 3) has not confessed her sins in years, let alone prior to each Sunday Mass, 4) eats meat on Fridays during Lent and 5) uses contraception. I had heard enough. Perhaps only someone who had grown up in the Roman Catholic Church would find this religious resume humorous.

I grew up in the Church and attended parochial schools through high school. I realize that it’s been a while since I left the church to be married as a Methodist, but I am sure that the last 17 years have not seen that much change. If my memory serves correctly, four of the five lifestyle habits practiced by this nurse are actionable by the Catholic Church and punishable with an eternal sentence in a very hot place (and I don’t mean the Caribbean.)

My initial instinct is not to formulate an opinion regarding the new pope, but I have to admit that a sinister part of me is glad that an ex-Nazi has taken over the helm. If any institution should serve as the bastion of hard-line behavioral control, it should be the Roman Catholic Church. Over the next several years, we are certain to see either the Pope soften his historical views on religious life, or a severe crisis of faith among such cafeteria Catholics. My money’s not on the former; and if nothing else, it is certain to be entertaining. Seig heil, Benny!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Friday News Dump

Huf’s favorite website www.dailykos.com has noted the “Friday news dump” in the past whereby the current administration seems bent on releasing potentially damaging stories on Friday afternoon. The blogger noted during the Campaign 2004 that many of the economy’s missteps were released on Friday afternoons and promptly lost to most news followers. The tactic seemed to work, and the evidence shows that such burial of information continues.

News releases by the administration are usually most interesting on Fridays, and this past holiday weekend they were especially noteworthy. Four fairly significant revelations came out from administration officials on Good Friday. Far be it from me to conjecture on the motivations of various officials, but the timing of the release with the Easter weekend, the Schiavo distraction and other big news items such as the Pope’s health bears some interest.

Saturday morning’s paper contained three stories: “US to sell F-16’s to Pakistan”; “Army investigation uncovers abuse at Mosul jail”; and “Army says 27 Afghans and Iraqis murdered in custody.” As a corollary to the last story, the Army also announced on Friday that 17 US soldiers implicated in some of the prisoners’ deaths would not be tried in court. Perhaps this is all a massive coincidence, but personally, I doubt it. Also this weekend, the conservative Judicial Watch released information from the FBI that after 9/11 Saudi officials and bin Laden family members were indeed given special privilege and flew out on chartered flights before general aviation traffic had resumed. Hmmm… it seems Michael Moore was correct.

Although each of these items seems alarmingly controversial, essentially no news coverage is forthcoming. As Monday rolls around, the media are perseverating on the inane death watch for Terri Shiavo, a woman who for all practical purposes died several years ago. So much for the duty of the fourth estate.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Big Government Stomps!

Big government and slippery slopes

Recently the argument drifted toward smoking bans in restaurants and the dangers of second hand smoke. Proponents of big government are pushing for broader legislation banning various activities in private enterprises, namely, smoking in restaurants and bowling alleys. When first discussed, and as presented Monday night, the ban was to exclude bars and bowling alleys, but no such exclusion exists in this Wayne County iteration.

The strongest argument made by these big government types is that waitstaff workers are exposed to dangerous carcinogens from second-hand smoke and their only protection is to ban smoking in their workplace. However, coal mines, steel mills and chemical plants likewise all expose workers to potentially noxious fumes. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration actually has fairly rigorous statutes regarding which airborne chemicals pose health hazards to workers, with various facemask and air-exchangers available for those workers. If a hazardous chemical from cigarette smoke can be identified, then I am sure our free market system will also provide a mask that will protect workers from it.

“Who is in a better position to determine what restaurant patrons actually want?" asks Tim O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Libertarian Party. "We used to have a couple of powerful institutions in this country called 'private property' and 'the free market.' When you respect those concepts you have a society based on voluntary relationships rather than political muscle. Then you don't have to try and guess what people want -- in order to impose it on them. People vote with their money. If you leave the market free to meet the wishes of consumers, it will do just that. Some restaurants will cater to smokers. Some to nonsmokers. Some to those who don't care one way or the other. Instead of imposing a single standard which must necessarily exclude wishes of some, all preferences can thus be accommodated. And not only will the market show what people want, it will even tell you in exactly what proportion because its natural selection process will replace businesses that do not satisfy the wishes of their customers with ones that do.” For that matter, if restaurant owners want to allow mace and pepper spray, I say go for it, as long as the workers are provided face masks.

Current topics as wide ranging as the Terri Schiavo case and Ten Commandments display bring up interesting corollaries to the big government bullying that we see prevalent today. The tyranny of the majority not only tramples on restaurant owners, but also on the brain-dead. We have blurred the concepts of public and private and now the tyrannical majority, when they fail to win a court interpretation of current law, they scamper down the slippery slope and make new laws that further their various causes, only to be found (thankfully) unconstitutional. In the Federalist Papers, Publius warns that good leaders must ignore bad fads and the citizenry must not be taken in by “the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the avaricious, the deperate, by the artifices of men possessing more confidence than they deserve…” (Federalist 71:2). Publius agrees that the people commonly intend to do good with their laws, even when they err; but deceptive legislators may be different. The judicial and executive branches are designed to protect the minority from the wiles and errors of the majority, however, that does not negate the importance of citizens being ever vigilant for bad laws and self-promoting leaders.

While Terri Schiavo may seem far afield from local smoking bans, the case points out the propensity for “avaricious” legislators to inflict their will upon any issue whatsoever. Even assuming the best of intentions of Mr Delay and Dr Frist, the idea of the federal legislature successfully intervening on a local judicial case is unprecedented. What have the Florida courts been doing the past 15 years in regards to Schiavo? They have been deliberating the issues as they pertain to the best interests of Terri Schiavo, and have tried to ascertain what she would have chosen in this sorry circumstance. The courts have interviewed her physicians, family, friends and co-workers, and have judged that 1) she is in a persistent vegetative state and 2) she had stated on multiple occasions that she wished not to continue living in such a state. After years of careful thought and deliberation, the Florida courts have decided to order the withdrawal the extraordinary means of survival for Terri Schiavo—not because it is popular, nor because the majority want it. The judicial order came because, to the best of their ability, the Florida judges have determined that it is in Terri Schiavo’s best interest.

Enter the bungling Republicans, whose ideas of big government intervention show no limit. Senator Frist, a licensed physician, said that by looking at an undated video of Terri Schiavo, he determined that she was not in a persistent vegetative state. Whoa! Wait a minute! In a recent Boston Globe opinion, Leonard Glantz, a Boston University Public Health professor noted, “Frist's long-distance diagnosis clearly deviates from anything resembling good medical practice. It is nothing short of remarkable that this surgeon, who has never been in the same room with Schiavo, feels free to disregard the diagnosis of the neurologists who have had extensive contact with her and who have been subject to the scrutiny of the Florida courts.” Dr Frist seems to be a man “possessing more confidence than he deserves” just as Publius has warned us two and a half centuries ago. I have always given broad latitude to Frist over the years; perhaps because we are brethren within the same profession. But what does such wild conjecture on his part tell us of his skills at decision-making?

Terri Schiavo’s parents are empathic, loving people who deserve our compassion. Their daughter has been rendered brain-dead and their personal lives have unnecessarily been put on public display for over a decade. Perhaps coming to terms with their daughter’s dire predicament, as well as her wishes would serve them in a positive way. I find it hard to imagine a thoughtful and compassionate physician (or any physician, or any person for that matter) making flagrantly irresponsible statements such as those by Frist, and as part of the public record of the US Senate no less! Alas, Dr Frist has done a great disservice to the portrayal of a medical professional as legislator. I cannot know the intentions of gentlemen such as Delay and Frist, but if their purpose-- whether implicit or explicit-- is to further their political careers at the expense of the Schiavo family, then I would think that we have discovered a new form of evil. And quite frankly, I see no other motive for their legal maneuvers.

The Ten Commandments display is yet another example of the majority enlarging government and attempting to inflict its will on the minority. The Alabama case has been settled, and Judge Roy Moore has been removed from office for refusing to remove a religious display, but the “parasites and sycophants” continue to display the Decalogue in order to promote their own legislative careers. Michigan State Senator Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) has made the display his personal project, and is promoting the presence of a Ten Commandments display in public buildings. Why? What could be the purpose of such efforts, except for the demagogic appeal to his constituents? The current strategy is to marginally change the display—call it “historical”—thereby quieting the critics. (Never mind that the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with US or Michigan history.) Why does the state government need historical displays about religion? Why should my public buildings be cluttered with irrelevant pseudo-historical chachkas? Again, the big government legislators take another opportunity to enlarge government for suspect reasons. In Hoogendyk’s case, he cannot even make the feeble claim of promoting public health that smoking ban proponents claim; nor can he claim to follow Dr Frist’s (albeit faulty) logic about the best interests of a private citizen. No, Senator Hoogendyk’s demagoguery is pure and unadulterated and devoid of any claim to propriety or sanity.

Perhaps it is time for Republicans to seriously re-think the foundations on which conservative government is founded. To paraphrase Dr. Glantz, these people are not conservative; they are radicals who eagerly ignore the rights and wishes of others. These three cases exhibit the willingness to pander to the emotions and muddled thinking of the political base, when common sense and a cursory review of the US Constitution would indicate that such legislative shenanigans have no other purpose. The current Republican majority clogs our legislative chambers with moronic arguments—and for what? To pass unconstitutional laws that gain them political favor by attempting to limit the rights of private citizens such as bar owners, the brain-dead, or the religiously indifferent? We have already skidded down the slippery slope; can the avalanche be far behind?