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 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.